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Black Ice: Chapter 47

...He was fast, I'll give him that. The gorilla next to me had my hands before they had Ivan's neck, but not by much. He slammed me back in the seat, smacked me once on the side of the jaw, then held me there. I didn't mind.,,

Journalist/spy Sam Craven is taken on a car ride into danger.

Colin Dunne continues his dramatic Cold War spy thriller.

To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

As soon as I drove into the square I saw them. A Range Rover so we were equipped for rough country with three heads showing.

I drove right round the square and pulled up behind them. When I got out I took a quick look around. The square was deserted, but from open yellow windows in the houses I could hear people being young and carefree. It was a thousand years since I'd felt like that.

For the first time in my experience there were no men working on the new church. Its tall elegant grey columns, which look as though they've been dripped down from heaven rather than built up from this end, were black against the light sky.

'In the back,' I heard Ivan call out. I got in.

We'd got one murderer each, which seemed fair enough. They were the two non-fishermen that Petursson had pointed out to me that day on the harbour. The two men who, with a third, had called on Solrun's mother. One was driving, with Ivan beside him, and the other was beside me in the back. When he turned I saw that his right eye was almost closed and he had a fat lip and a missing tooth.

'Ah,' I said, always keen to communicate, 'Oscar or Palli?'

He gave me a look that almost melted my fillings.

'You're keeping classy company these days, Ivan.'

He'd turned so that his arm hung over the seat. He looked dishevelled and distraught and repeatedly kept sweeping back his lank hair in a troubled way. I wasn't quite sure how sorry I felt for him any more.

'Needs must,' he said.

'I'd like to think you didn't make up the trio when these gents called on the old lady.'

He did look genuinely appalled at that. 'Sam, my dear boy, however could you even begin to imagine that?'

'Christopher Bell, then?'

He pulled a don't-ask-me face and gave a deep sigh at the same time. 'Whatever are we doing mixed up in all this?'

'I can only speak for myself, Ivan, and I'm not.'

He shook his head rapidly, drawing in his breath at the same time- a gesture of deep distaste. Then he opened his eyes wide.

'I mean, it's nothing to do with us really, is it?'

'Not to do with me, but then, I'm not a patriot.'

He bit his bottom lip and jerked his head to the front. I was almost sorry then. He was a delicate little flower, our Ivan, and I suppose he'd hoped that I'd let him play innocent-victims with me. And I thought we'd got well past that stage.

'One thing you can tell me - why me?'

He turned back, his head on one side, and appeared genuinely surprised.

'Why you, Sam? Well, because apparently a gentleman in Whitehall thought you would be a sound influence on the delicious Solrun. As a matter of interest, were you?'

'I didn't join in. Is she going to defect? Is that it?'

He raised his eyebrows. 'Dash for freedom you always call it when they come from East to West.'

'It is rather a one-way traffic' Outside, the houses had slipped away and we were heading out into the country. The driver spoke to the other man in the back and he studied the road behind, then answered him. Whatever he said, it meant there's no one behind.

'That's why our chaps wanted you there,' Ivan went on. He was choosing his words with care. This was Ivan being official. 'Whenever we give a press conference in Moscow of someone who's run Eastwards, our fellow diurnalists tend to mock and say it's staged. So we thought, since you were here already, that you might like to act as an independent witness.'

I remembered what the others had said about my neutrality. At this moment, I wasn't sure I liked it any more.

'I'm hardly likely to write it your way, am I?'

He made a beautiful gesture of indifference with hands, shoulders and every facial muscle. 'You'll write it in your inimitable style, as always, dear boy, but I think you'll be obliged to admit it isn't fixed. That's all. But, as you'll see, we're doing it anyway.'

So that was why he'd fed me titbits of information. Oscar's name. The young Russian. Whenever I came to a halt, good old Ivan was always there to point me in the right direction. And I'd followed the trail they'd left me like a faithful old hound, right up to this point. At least it wasn't a kill. So far.

As Dempsie said, they'd become the world's best PR men. They even wanted me to endorse their product now.

'How do you know for certain that Solrun will turn up?'

Ivan turned again. 'I do wish you wouldn't talk to me as though I'm responsible for the whole thing.'

'You're not?'

His face sagged and, side-glancing at the driver, he mouthed: 'You know how I hate all this.'

I still wanted an answer. 'I was under the impression she'd gone missing.'

'Apparently, she had. She was in one of those summer-house things. Everyone was looking for her, including your tattooed friend and his exotic visitor. We were all ready for this press conference when I flew in, then she did a runner which led to any number of frayed nerves all round, as I dare say you noticed. However, she turned up.'

'Last night?'

'Yes, last night. Apparently she was hoping that an old chum would throw her a lifeline but he declined.'

I was trying to work out who that could be when I saw the watchful look on his face, and suddenly I knew. He meant me. I wanted to ask him how he knew she'd been to see me, and what he meant by it, but he cut off my thoughts.

'Don't worry, we know all about her late-night call. You rather muffed your chance there, I think. So she returned to Kolai, our handsome prince. No doubt someone will give him a biscuit.'

'Wasn't he . . .' I didn't trust myself to ask him about my part. 'Wasn't there a time when he was supposed to be coming West?'

It was a silly question and it showed all over his face.

'Really? I should be most surprised if Kolai's superior officers encouraged too much of that line of thinking.' He even managed a small laugh.

Piece by piece, it all began to slot together. Poor old Oscar gets pulled out by the Americans to avoid diplomatic embar-rassment. Heartbreaker Nikolai is put in by the Russians to fill the gap. He offers to defect to demonstrate his sincerity, then asks her to do the same instead.

Then, in case she's in any doubt, the Russians provoke Oscar into returning on a half-mad mission to find his daughter. Oscar was the ferret they'd put in to frighten her into the net.

No wonder the Russians had the best ballet. The choreography was perfect.

The only remaining puzzle was why Ivan thought Solrun had appealed to me for help. The rest of his information was uncannily good - that was a puzzle in itself- so how could he get that so wrong? Muffed my chance. That was what he'd said.
I didn't understand. Why did he think that I might stop playing Switzerland, abandon my neutral status and try to drag her back? Surely he knew me better than that. Unless he knew something I didn't.

'There's something else I have to tell you.'

This time he didn't turn round. I found myself studying the back of his scrawny neck.

'What's that?'

'It's not . . .' I could see him plucking at his fingers. 'It's not something that makes me terribly proud actually. I'd like you to know that.'

The driver was whistling through his teeth with some country music on the car radio. The one beside me was fingering his swollen lip. All I could see was Ivan's neck. My heart was bouncing against my ribs.

'Tell me, then.'

'Well, have a care before you speak out of place, Sam. As a friend, I suggest you simply watch the proceedings. No more.'

'Why?' One blank word.

'For Sally's sake.'

'They've arranged . . . someone's holding her in London. If you do anything to make yourself unpopular . . .'

He was fast, I'll give him that. The gorilla next to me had my hands before they had Ivan's neck, but not by much. He slammed me back in the seat, smacked me once on the side of the jaw, then held me there. I didn't mind.

Ivan was cowering forward to get out of my reach. He needn't have worried. The urge to kill him went as swiftly as it came. All I wanted now was to hear the explanation.

'Don't worry, Sam. It'll be perfectly all right. It's all under control. They're holding her, that's all. And when this has gone off successfully, as it will, the word will go back and she'll be released. Not a hair of her head . . .'

My mind was spinning but I was beginning to grasp it. 'Just to make sure I don't foul things up for them tonight?'

'Yes, that's all.' He was almost pleading. 'I mean you can imagine how I feel about this, can't you, old dear? You know how I love the wondrous Sally.'

I thought of all the drinks and dinners we'd had and how I'd laughed at his limp jokes about cricket. Friends. Yes, we'd been good friends. No doubt about that. I heard the catch in his voice and saw his sad wet eyes.

'You disgusting bastard, Ivan, you must've told them. That's the only way they could know what a good arm-twister that would be.'

'I swear I didn't, Sam. On my life. Insurance, they said. It's only insurance. Do please remember that nothing at all will happen to her. She is perfectly safe.'
I stared out of the window. I couldn't bear to see his face. The gorilla eased his grip on me. He knew it was over.

'As a matter of interest, what made you give them that tasty morsel, Ivan? What did they say to tease that out of you? It must've been good.'

'Oh, Sam,' his voice whined with self-pity. 'Moscow. Imagine it. Me in Moscow. I'd die, dear boy, I'd simply die.'

There were a lot of things I could've said to that, and none he'd have wanted to hear. But I didn't. Ahead, I'd just seen a foaming spout of water shoot up into the air. It was Strokkur. We were there.


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