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The Diamond Seekers [MultiFormat]
eBook by David Coles & Jack Everett

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: When a courier for the powerful crime family descended from Niccoli Machiavelli realizes he's being followed by a rival family assassin, he takes a detour through the English countryside to shake his pursuer. He manages to hide his precious cargo--a fortune in blood diamonds from Sierra Leone--before his pursuer collides with an English family on a holiday drive. The courier drowns in a swollen river; the mother and son die in the crash. The father is emotionally devastated, and retires in despair from his MI5 cipher career. Five years later, the head of the Machiavelli crime family, Alberto Lorente, is still in pursuit of his missing diamonds and is ready to launch an ambitious scheme to recover them. What follows is a twisted trail of murder, kidnapping and layers upon layers of subterfuge. The British Security Services are seriously compromised, but no one knows how or by whom. And suddenly, our former MI5 cipher expert is on everyone's shopping list.

eBook Publisher: Virtual Tales/Barking Rain Press, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2012




Prologue

2 March 2006--Leeds

Enrique was not paranoid. In his job, it was not a useful trait. However, he had felt the pressure of eyes upon him ever since he'd boarded the flight in London. A visit to the washroom confirmed his suspicion; the eyes belonged to a man six rows behind him--watery blue eyes like those of a fish too long out of water. The eyes stared out of a large head, noticeably higher than those around him. As he passed by, it was plain that the man was huge, with hands like hams and shoulders like bookshelves. There was a brief moment of eye contact, for an even shorter time he thought the other was going to smile at him.

When Enrique looked back, the other made no attempt to avert his gaze, no attempt to pretend to an interest elsewhere. It suggested he was no spy, his interest was personal. Only as Enrique was about to sit did the man choose to smile at him, a smile filled with silver scales, like the scales on the back of some huge extinct fish. Steel teeth which could only have come out of Russia. Enrique shivered. My God, he thought, this guy is seriously ugly.

Enrique had learned to recognize a killer--as a courier for Alberto Lorente, he had seen more than a few. How did I pick up this tail? The courier sat down with a shudder and went through the preparations he had made. The flight had been booked at short notice; a Hertz car would be waiting for him at the end of the hour-long journey. Without some prior knowledge, Enrique could think of no way the man could have known of his travel plans. He hefted the briefcase, gauging its weight; it contained a snack, a book and a change of clothing--light enough to run with. The package he was bringing for the Leeds contact to value was in his inside jacket pocket, the one with a zipper; the payment he was carrying was in the other side, the one with the button.

Enrique thought about it. There's nothing he can do on the plane, of course--or in the airport itself. The problem area was between the car rental desk and the car. It meant he would have to move fast and unpredictably. The Leeds and Bradford airport was ten miles or more from the city center although, as he understood it, the parking was within walking distance of the airport concourse. The aircraft landed and Enrique hurried to get off and put some distance between him and the ugly man.

Once the passengers had disembarked and Enrique found himself in the airport itself, he headed for the toilets. The fish-eyed guy had not followed him, however, so he turned away before reaching the restrooms and went outside. He spotted the Hertz section and rented a Vectra, it took far longer than he expected--though that might have been his anxiety affecting him.

He came to the first roundabout at the airport entrance and, unsure of the right of way, hesitated. He made up his mind and at that moment, Enrique saw his pursuer behind him in a dark blue vehicle, but could not identify the make in the mirror. Where can I go? In a panic, he put his foot down and the front tires shrieked. He came around the traffic island too fast, missed the first exit but took the second; it brought him out to a meandering country road. Still travelling as fast as he dared, he hurried through woodland, up and down small hills and around blind corners. Ultimately, he came to the edge of what he assumed to be the City of Leeds; large expensive-looking houses with wide green lawns to the road. He followed the road to another roundabout, another crossroads; he had no idea where he was. It didn't look like the center of a busy city.

Half an hour later--more or less--Enrique reached a two-lane road. It was the northern loop of the city ring road and the junction was a vast, intimidating roundabout. Taking the easiest route east, he continued. The traffic eased up, and his eyes were glued to the rear view mirror. No sign of the blue vehicle. He breathed more easily, and narrowly avoided smashing straight into the car braking in front of him; his heart pounded anew but at least his pursuer was not in sight.

There were several signs to the city center and all with heavy streams of traffic; if he were to get involved in a traffic jam, it would be too easy for Fish-eyes to catch up, even to jump out and... Enrique locked his door and heard the locks close on the other doors. He came to yet another roundabout and braked well short of the car in front. Roundabouts everywhere, what was the matter with crossroads and lights?

Damn. Just as he was starting off again, he saw the dark blue car, the huge head and gleaming teeth of Fish-eyes behind the wheel. The sign at the roundabout junction indicated "Leeds City Centre--6 Miles," to the left was a second sign, to Tadcaster and to York. Enrique put his foot down as soon as the way was clear; the other driver was in the wrong lane and couldn't make a left; he turned right and went right around the island coming onto the York road seven or eight cars behind the courier.

Enrique spun the wheel and turned across the oncoming traffic stream, ignoring the sound of protesting car horns. Still paying more attention to his mirror than to the road ahead, he passed through Scholes and made turns at random. Ahead, a tractor bounced out of a field to his right and turned towards him, swerving far into his own lane to make the turn. Enrique stamped on the brakes and his briefcase shot off the seat and onto the floor.

"Idiot," he cursed, reaching down to pick it up. "Aha!" It gave him an idea: he undid the catches and took out a travel bag of toiletries from which he removed an innocuous box of tissues. The box was an airport-security-proof carrier for a sizeable knife. He placed the knife in his pocket--and felt reassured. He also took out his rosary, caressing the gold crucifix before slipping it over his head.

Enrique started off again; he passed signposts to places with mystifying, untranslatable names, heading east all the time to eventually reach a wider, straighter road. Approaching a village, a sign lit up to warn him to slow down and the Spaniard obeyed. But just as he reached the other end of the village, there was the blue car behind him again. Enrique turned off at the first road he came to, to Ulleskelf. It was a narrow road but, apart from the first bit, straight. He sped up far beyond the speed limit until an "S" bend appeared, it was more of a chicane than a bend but for a few moments, he was out of sight of anything behind him and--good--here was a tiny, winding road off to the left with high hedges to both sides.

The courier turned into the road and in moments was out of sight. He came to a village and slowed. Should I turn around here? he wondered. There was nothing behind him now; Fish-eyes must have gone straight on.

"No," he said out loud. "No turning round." He drove on past the houses and the road ran out. A narrow muddy pathway continued ahead, but for a car it was a dead end. He pulled over and killed the engine. Close by was an iron gate beyond which a path led to a church. He could leave the package here, hide it...

He left the car with his briefcase and ran through the church gate. He nearly tripped and slowed down to avoid the potholes in the badly worn tar macadam. The church was locked and at the sound of a distant car door being slammed, Enrique became ultra-alert. He ran along a less defined pathway, glancing behind him, then ahead at each pace, stopping every few steps to look carefully around.

A metal sign: the numbers 16--4 and an arrow struck him. The numbers meant nothing to him but he knew he could find it again later. "There," he breathed, seeing just what he needed. He took out his knife and set to work. When he was finished, he straightened up, tucked papers inside his jacket and folded the knife closed, breathing just a little more easily.

There was a sound then, a footstep; Fish-eyes just turning the corner. "Bastardo," he whispered. "Found me already!"

Enrique snatched up his briefcase and ran for the church, rounded the corner and found a point where the crumbling wall was falling down. He climbed over and continued at a dead run across the field beyond. The far side was bounded by woodland, if he could reach it; he could probably evade Fish-eyes until the other gave up.

As he approached the woodland, he threw away his briefcase, reasonably sure his pursuer would stop to retrieve it. Looking back as he reached the trees, Enrique was pleased to see the other bend over and reach for it. He ran on, and feeling happier for an instant, sprang over a bush. Just beyond was a hole filled with water; he could not halt his rush and he plunged into the cold, wet embrace.

It was a river, not just a hollow. Floundering, he waded along the margin until he came to a thick stand of bulrushes and other weeds. He dived into the thicket and squatted down. Well-hidden but by no means secure, Enrique pulled his mobile phone out and prepared a coded text message which included the numbers he had seen on the sign.

Enrique often had to know exactly where he was and his phone had an exceptionally good GPS app. A few moments were all it took, two buttons: one to fix the GPS position, another to encode the message using UTM coordinates.

"Signore." It was Fish-eyes. He spoke in Italian with the hard edge of a Russian accent.

The Spaniard compressed his lips and answered in Russian.

Fish-eyes looked surprised and replied, "Come out of there. I am not here to harm you."

Enrique was not reassured.

"I am here to help you. Come out, I have a bottle of vodka in the car. Share a glass with me."

Enrique's immediate reaction was to run. He stepped back as quietly as he could, trying not to move the tall rushes. His pursuer weaved from side to side, attempting to glimpse Enrique. Enrique moved backward again, hoping to reach deeper water where he could swim until suddenly, he found his legs swept away from under him by the speed of the current. He floundered, splashed; the Russian heard him but still could not see him.

Moments later, the river sucked him free of the weeds and the mud, pulled him along the bank and out into deeper, colder water. Enrique's suit soaked up the water; it grew heavy and began to drag at him. For a few moments longer, he struggled against the drag; he held the phone up and pressed send. "Bajo la tapa de hierro," he shouted and screamed as rusty barbed wire wrapped itself around his legs.

The speed of the water dragged against the clutch of the wire, pulling him deeper but Enrique was in no position to notice. His lungs were filling with water and intense pain filled his head, blocking out all thought.


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