Chapter One: The Hunt Club
Money, power, lust and blood... these were the elements that shaped the world. The tall man with the bleak face thought darkly of these things and of his destiny. Standing on the topmost deck of the hovercraft-ferry crossing the English Channel, the tall blond man's thoughts turned to his meeting some three hours past at a fashionable men's club on Park Street, off Sloane Square, in London. That meeting had been tense and unpredictable, though necessarily restrained, and it had been very secretive.
No one could talk about this. No one could ever be caught referring to anything that occurred in that meeting. No one could ever acknowledge that they had attended the meeting. To do otherwise, to advertise in any way that the events put into motion through negotiations and planning at that meeting, would be to invite a very painful and violent demise.
And that was exactly why he had immediately afterward gone to his closest friend and confidante with spy camera snapshots of the attendees to the meeting and taped transcripts of what they had discussed there, delivered for safekeeping. Then he had anonymously called his superiors at the Kremlin and tipped them off that it had occurred, including vague and paraphrased references as to who had said what to whom and when. Then he'd set about covering his own tracks.
The blond man with the hard face was a ranking Russian GRU Colonel, hardly the type of individual who'd be meeting with a Belgian investment banker, an Italian Parliament member, a British industrialist, a Korean narcotics czar, and two former Japanese Red Army terrorists -- now international security specialists. Each of the men at that meeting had files several inches thick at KGB headquarters at Dzerzhinsky Square, in Moscow, and the soulless gray gangsters there had once had these men under constant surveillance. They'd been classified, of course, as Enemies of the State by the KGB but, as usual these days, the senior-most Russian spy apparatus kept an extremely low profile in dealing with European profiteers who funneled vast amounts of illegally-obtained money into the crumbling, now-democratized, remains of the former Soviet Union. And since the antagonism between the GRU and the KGB was no great secret, the more-militaristic service housed in 10 Knamensky Street could not afford its high-ranking specialists to be seen meeting secretly with known criminals outside the borders of Russian governmental influence.
Frankly, if the GRU Colonel had been seen, he would have been immediately "quarantined" and kidnapped and then taken to a diplomatically-immune safe-house where he would have been debriefed and disciplined before being shipped unceremoniously back to Moscow. Once in Moscow, his troubles would truly begin.
But that wasn't going to happen. The Colonel had already made arrangements to totally circumvent that eventuality. If they caught him, he'd do the unthinkable: he'd unhesitatingly tell them everything they wanted to know and deliver his photographs and tapes.
After that, they'd forget all about him. The horror that they would discover in those transcripts would drive any ideas about disciplining or punishing him completely out from their minds. As a matter of fact, it was likely that what the transcripts would reveal would drive them completely out of their tiny little order-obsessed minds.
The men the Colonel had met with called themselves "Diocletian" and they were going to kill a lot of people. They were going to change the course of human history, virtually destroy the current international status quo, and make for themselves and their organization about two hundred twenty billion dollars in international currency.
They were going to do that by unleashing hell on earth. Literally.
His "business partners" in Diocletian were men who were continuing a one hundred and eighty-seven year-old tradition as an ultra-lethal executive arm of the international crime scene. They represented an organization so powerful and so well-respected that even La Cosa Nostra and all its branches, even the Drug Lords of the Golden Triangle, even the mighty Yakuza and the vicious Hong Kong Triads, all deferred to their power. Diocletian was that well entrenched. Diocletian, named for a cruel pagan emperor of the 2nd century AD, originating in England during the reign of Queen Victoria by a rogue archbishop of the Catholic Church, a German Viscount and two British noblemen, didn't really hit its stride until the beginning of the Edwardian era. However, that shadowy amoral organization had helped change the destinies of nations and was responsible, if not wholly then in part, for the First World War. They had a large role in the start of the Second World War, as well, but let the Illuminati, crackpots and paranoids and deviants all, take the heat for those odd rumors of strange outside influences that popped up during its history. So-called "true historians" didn't like to investigate any theories concerning occult activities and influences on the great wars between the nations. It skewed the results of their own private agendas and bruised their fragile academic egos. Also, it frightened them to put any credence into theories of ancient Objects of Power manipulating the course of human history. Whatever.
Diocletian was going way beyond merely starting a World War this time.
The GRU Colonel smiled frostily at that thought. He rather liked the idea of putting his own indelible mark on human history: the mark of the Beast.
Money, power, lust and blood indeed.
Lieutenant Miriam Lautec of Interpol's Criminal Conspiracy's Division, currently assigned as Liaison to France's DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire) sat inside the lower deck of the ferry and her mood was grim. The sky outside was a hard steel-gray down to the horizon and it matched the thoughts running through the tall slender woman's racing mind. She thought about the events of the past three weeks with clinical clarity, events that brought about the death of her division's Section Chief, one Andrew DuMont, and brought her to follow the ice-blooded Russian soldier on the deck overhead. Her partner, a man she reluctantly worked with on this assignment, shadowed the Russian out on the deck.
He was a private investigator from London, a man prone to dark-hued Italian designer suits and very large automatic pistols. He was the initial source from which the investigation had sprung. His name was Hugh Marks. The London underworld respected him as much as the police did, although both factions referred to him as "The Marksman" because of his very American penchant for resolving tense situations with his guns. Marks, a specialist in computer network security and an intelligence officer, had served in Her Majesty's Royal Marines and had achieved the rank of Commander and a recommendation to service in the SAS, the Special Air Services, before he'd been drummed out of the Corp because of an act of insubordination. He'd publicly referred to his commanding officer as an "overbearing anal-retentive closet pederast" and had broken the nose of the Commodore's aide-de-camp over an issue surrounding a rescue operation in eastern Wales that had gone badly.
Miriam was a quieter and more precision-oriented law operative who did not believe in drawing her weapon unless it was positively the last resort. However, she was a ranked marksman with no less than four automatic pistols and with two different sniper rifles. If she needed to be, she could be lethal. But she was more proud of the fact that in her years of service with Interpol, she had only ever fired her weapon once and the criminal perpetrator had survived the shooting. Her career as a special law operative was all about evidence, science, logic, arrests and prosecution. She was the sort of law enforcement agent who drew no conclusions other than those the evidence supported, whereas her new temporary partner, the Englishman, had a tendency to distrust anything that looked too pat or too simple. He did not believe in simple answers or in the shortest distance between any two points. For him, life was far too complex to be delineated by mere angles and simple equations. To him, the world was a series of overlapping broken webs, laid one atop the other, full of interconnections and intersections and false paths.
He often irritated her.
Miriam's late boss, Andrew DuMont, had, in recent months, focused the attention of his twenty-six officer CCD force on the rumored existence of a highly secretive and lethal group of criminal occultist powerbrokers called "Diocletian." Occultists. No one in true law enforcement actually believed in the existence of an organized and powerful covert group of rich criminal spiritualists-mediums-psychics-witches. This was the stuff of tabloids. People who lived on the lunatic fringe of society were seldom in positions of power and influence, and if they were, they were quickly deposed from power. By their very nature, corporate business and criminal business enterprises were both very conformist and reactionary: they were endeavors that didn't react well to explosive change nor did they react well to hypotheticals. The tried and true, that which guaranteed the most return on the smallest expenditure for the least amount of risk or of effort, was often the rigidly enforced norm. There was no place for crackpots and cultists.
At least, there hadn't been until the discovery and then verification of Diocletian's existence.
This frightened DuMont and his superiors far more than they cared to admit. Diocletian. The Illuminati. Black Covens. The Crypteia. These were legends that spoke of a secret bloodier history to the creation of the modern world than anyone wanted to admit. The Puppet-masters existed. DuMont, a relatively imagination-less, but dedicated career police officer could not deny where his trail of evidence was leading and he decided that he would not turn a blind eye to the path. He would fight them. His superiors were not quite so quick to tilt at windmills, on the off-chance that they really were dragons and not mere windmills, and so they left DuMont with few resources and fewer options.
Interpol officials had laughed nervously at this fairy tale of death and corruption and ancient magic until Hugh Marks had arrived at their Geneva headquarters. He brought with him photographs, bank statements, file folders stolen from Diocletian cell-chiefs, and a dead pornographer's taped confession referring to Diocletian as "behind everything from the disappearance of Judge Crater and the Profumo Affair to the deaths of Trotsky, Franco and Sadat to the fall of Allende's Chile, the CIA and the Mafia notwithstanding..."
Three days later someone with a high-powered rifle blew out Andrew DuMont's brains from over a quarter mile away. Interpol then decided to take the CCD investigation seriously and they deputized Hugh Marks. As the third ranking officer in the division and as the officer with the most filed experience and most government intelligence contacts, Miriam Lautec drew duty as Marks' partner and chaperone.
They had only one name to work with, that of a Belgian Banker named Matillon, in connection with the laundering of the dead pornographer's dirty money. So Lautec and Marks had shadowed the supercilious Belgian and then become very confused and nervous when his path crossed that of a mysterious former Soviet national, an attache to the London embassy, on no less than three occasions. The third time had been this very morning, on Park Street, in front of an ultra-conservative and very select men's club that had a charter dating back to the mid-eighteen hundreds.
The club was very different now, but no less elitist in its restricted membership, although it had fallen upon some very hard times public relations-wise, due to scandals wherein several of its members had been exposed as adulterers, embezzlers, and transvestites in the last two decades. Still, it had a great deal of influence in the House of Lords and on Fleet Street. Today, the Russian and the Belgian had met with two very infamous members of the Japanese Communist League, a Red Army terrorist faction operating from within North Korea. Interesting. It was especially interesting considering that one of the Japanese was picked by Interpol's Weaponry-Forensics Unit as the likeliest of the four or five terrorists in the world who could've made the shot that killed DuMont.
So they'd watched and they'd waited outside the club because to enter the club displaying their ID badges would have created enough of a stir to get them noticed and, of course, if they were noticed that would have blown their surveillance -- and probably have gotten someone killed. After their targets had left the club, they'd followed the Russian and the Belgian separately; the Belgian went to his hotel and had made a lot of phone calls (there'd been no time yet to trace the calls and identify with whom he'd spoken) and the enigmatic Russian had met with a diplomatic courier at Charing Cross station. The courier passed the big man a leather valise. Then the former GRU Colonel had traveled across the city to the German Embassy and from there, had traveled the slow hour it took to reach the ferry station.
Miriam was pulled from her quiet reverie as Hugh Marks dropped into the seat next to her.
"Got some news," he began quietly in his straightforward way. "My contacts at MI-5 came through."
Miriam nodded and watched the choppy waters of the channel through a portal window.
Marks had been topside not only to keep an eye on their quarry, and with whom he may have met, but also to meet with one of his own covert contacts. The anonymous little man had been a ferret he knew from a gambling case not so long ago. Marks had saved the man's career and life and Marks knew he'd eventually have to capitalize on that act. Today had been the day this particular bill had come due.
"Whoever this bloke is, he's not attached to the London Soviet Embassy. Not now and not ever. The diplomatic corps aren't even aware that he's in the country, but they're a right bunch o' bumblers anyways. He's definitely not Russian Mafia; doesn't fit the profile and, would you believe it, they're in a bit o' a snit that there's even a possibility that he may be here. That's scary. They're so afraid that he's in GB that they've ceased all their criminal activities so as not to be noticed by him. What's that about, eh? To the damn Ruskies it's like he's a cross between Dracula and the bloody Pope. An' these are people who'd put a bullet through your head as soon as say 'Hello.' "
"I can't say I like that much," Miriam agreed softly.
"Too right that. And he has no reason to be associating with the likes of Kaspar Matillon at all, they hardly run in the same circles," Marks continued. "Odds are that our bird is ex-Soviet Military Intelligence and that could be bad for us and for a lot of other people. For one thing, unless we can link him directly to a crime, past or present, there's a damn good chance we're going to get told to bugger off by MI-6. Whitechapel won't like Interpol interfering in any tradecraft ops they have running and they can get damn obstinate about pissing over territoriality. We have to keep a low profile if we're to continue shadowing him and we are never, repeat, never to personally confront him in any public setting. The fewer people who know about him, us and the Diocletian-connection the better it will be down the line."
"For whom will it be better? For Whitechapel? For MI-6?" Miriam asked irritably. "Damnable Scotland Yard's Terrorism Containment Section have already made a formal protest to Interpol headquarters. Seems they have reservations about us not handing over surveillance of the Russian to them while he's in British territory. They even contacted Le Surete in Paris to see if they could get me recalled from the case. What the hell is going on here?"
Marks shrugged. "I don't know enough to even begin to guess. I would hazard to say that this could mean that Diocletian could be into the international spook scene, but I can't see how interfering in tradecraft black ops would benefit them, unless they're trading arms or selling stolen cyber-data on the Eastern market, maybe to the Saudis or the Iranians, maybe even to the Chinese. I can't say. Anything from the Yanks?"
Miriam snorted and shook her head. "Of course! The Americans are always so forthcoming about their covert intelligence affairs. Let's see: the CIA can neither confirm nor deny that they can identify the Russian, but clearly let it be known that if we were to share anything we find out, it would be looked on favorably. The London US Embassy's FBI and Justice Department representatives both agreed to share their files on this individual as soon as we can definitively link him to any criminal acts of terrorism within American borders. And, this one is my favorite, the National Security Agency representative at the Embassy pointed out that as far as he was concerned, I was only two-steps up from a 'dumbass' beat cop and if I ever again contacted him in any way he guaranteed he would 'force feed me a steaming plate of shit piled high enough to dwarf the Eiffel Tower.' That's a quote."
" 'Steaming plate of shit?' He really said that? Colorful blighter, he was. Well, I'd have to say you had a most productive morning, then, Miriam m'dear," Marks said with a cackle.
"Such a funny man you are," she murmured, suppressing a grin of her own. In spite of her misgivings about his professional character, Miriam could not help but find Marks occasionally charming and even a bit disarming. She thought she probably felt the way that owners of pit bull dogs felt when their animals indulged in the goofier sides of their nature. Still, no matter how much they could charm and endear themselves to you, one couldn't forget that they were essentially living weapons, deadly at moment's notice. So it was with Marks.
She made a face and glanced sidelong at her fashionably dressed partner and said, "I should think you'd be thrilled with this new information. The possibilities of a shooting war have increased geometrically."
Marks sensed the disapproval and warning behind her comment and ignored it. He smiled viperishly and remarked, "Bloody great, isn't it?"
"A little," she consented, "because this means that we're definitely on to something very, very large."
"What it means," Marks concluded, "is that all the major players know this man and they know him well. They know enough to be very afraid of him or at least of what he represents. The dissolution of the Soviet State has done little to degrade this bloke's power and reach, I'll wager. In which case we'd better be very, very discreet and, when we decide to act, very, very decisive. We have to remember, the American from the NSA had a point: we're cops, this isn't our usual field of play and I can bet we haven't been filled in on all of the rules. We could very quickly be in over our heads."
"Okay," Miriam agreed. "Point made. But I will not back off."
"Never asked you to, darlin', never asked you to," Mark said, settling in beside her for the rest of the ferry ride.
Copyright © 2004 by Joseph Armstead