Warnings - See Part 1.
SAY GOODBYE TO BOSTON
The heart monitor alarm had been shrilling for so long, Jemma was no longer aware of it. Blade's tanned skin was waxy and abnormally pale, and her striking blue eyes were hidden beneath slack eyelids. There was no point in continuing the cardiac compressions and mouth to mouth.
She sat back on her heels and bowed her head in grief. The moment I injected her with that drug, I signed her death warrant.
Legs stiff from kneeling awkwardly for so long, Jemma climbed down from the interrogation table and went to stand by its head. Carefully, she reached over and brushed a strand of dark hair from the cold forehead...
Jemma awoke with a gasp and sat up, wondering for a moment where the hell she was. Dazed green eyes tracked round the room, alighting on the open suitcase with her clothes spilling out of it, the guidebook she had bought at the airport that afternoon, and the photo of Blade flaunting her fish.
She craned her head and peered at the alarm clock. 2.06 a.m. Urk!
Already the vivid dream was fading, the distress she had felt at Blade's 'death' receding into the background. With a sigh of relief, she plumped up her pillows and lay back against them, her pulse returning to normal.
That's what happens when you eat foreign food right before you go to bed.
Ramirez and his wife had insisted on cooking Jemma and Remington yet more traditional Canarian dishes. Sopa de pescado turned out to be a rich mixture of fish and seafood; then had come ice cream and bienmesabe, a confection of almonds, sugar, honey, eggs, lemon and sponge cake. (Absolutely delicious, and much too rich for her blood.)
She stared at the shaft of moonlight that had found its way between her shutters and wondered where Blade was and what she was doing. Sleeping soundly, she hoped.
The toughest thing about this assignment, she decided, plumping her pillows again, wasn't the running around that Remington had made her do all day. It was that her instincts were so at odds with her boss's and there was no one else she could turn to. During training, Jemma had frequently discussed problems with her classmates. They had bounced ideas for a mission off one another, talking utter rubbish a lot of the time, it was true, but there was safety in numbers and if one student made a slip, another would catch it. And if they didn't, well, there was always Mac on hand to tear them off a strip but also to show them the way to get the job done. This mission was real and if it went wrong people could get killed. She had never felt more alone. And Blade must feel even more so.
Thinking of her old teacher had given Jemma an idea. She checked the alarm clock again. England was in the same time zone as the Canaries, and he wouldn't thank her for disturbing him at this hour. Still...
She reached for the mobile phone she had placed on her bedside table and called up a number from its memory. After a couple of rings, the receiver at the other end was picked up.
"Yes?" croaked a man's voice.
Silence. "Who is this? How did you get this number?"
"It's Jemma Jacobs. I donít know if you rememb-"
"Of course I remember you, Jemma. I remember all of my students." A pause. "Should we scramble this?"
"Oh... yes." A sheepish Jemma keyed the new scrambler code in and waited for the resulting white noise to clear. A few seconds later, it did so.
"You still there?" asked her ex-teacher.
"Where are you?"
"All right for some! Are you in trouble?"
"No. Ashley Blade is."
"Blade?" A gravelly chuckle. "Tell me something I donít know already."
"I'm serious," said Jemma. "They think she's 'gone over'."
A long silence met that. "What do you think?"
"I think she's been set up."
She could picture his craggy brows drawing together. "I see." Another long silence. "My influence with the Organisation is limited, Jemma. You should be speaking to your Section Head."
"I know, but it's difficult. Mr Remington -"
"Remington? Ah!" There was a wealth of meaning in his tone. "I thought you applied for Counter Intelligence."
"I did." She sighed. "So did everyone else. They were oversubscribed."
"I see." Another pause. "Well, Jemma, I'll start putting out some feelers this end, but I don't think much will come of it. You're in a much better position to help Blade than I am."
"No, hear me out. Donít underestimate yourself. You may not have much experience in the field yet but you have good instincts and a good heart."
Jemma felt her cheeks grow hot. "Thank you."
"Trust your instincts. And trust Blade."
She waited for him to continue and, when he didn't, blinked. "That's all?"
"Yes." He was smiling, she could hear it in his voice.
"Oh. OK." Surprisingly, his words had helped. Just knowing someone else shared her opinion of Blade made her feel much better, she realised. "Thanks, Mac," she said sincerely.
"My pleasure." Then came a huge yawn. "Now let me get some sleep. It's 2 in the bloody morning!"
When Jemma woke again, it was 7am and the sun was shining directly in her eyes. Over a hasty bowl of cornflakes (Jemma couldn't face the full English breakfast her boss was having) Remington outlined his plans for the day.
Blade might not have left by plane, but there were other ways of leaving Tenerife. Santa Cruz was a major port, with frequent ferries and hydrofoils to La Gomera and the other islands, and more importantly weekly sailings to the Spanish mainland. A ship had sailed only yesterday, in fact, and if Blade was on board, they would need to arrange a reception committee for her in Cadiz. While he checked it out, Jemma could do the same for Los Cristianos, he informed her.
Jemma thought their chances of finding Blade were slim. The agent would have disguised herself so as to be unrecognisable or chartered a private boat well away from the busy tourist routes. But what did she know? She shrugged and acquiesced. Remington nodded in satisfaction, finished his coffee, and headed off with his police escort.
Her own police escort would be a few minutes late, Ramirez informed her, so she grabbed her sunglasses and went outside to soak up some early morning sunshine while she waited.
A big man, cigarette drooping from his mouth, was walking along the pavement towards her, and she stood to one side so he could pass. Even so, he managed somehow to bump into her, his hand brushing over her backside as he did so.
"Hey!" She jumped back sharply. "Watch it!"
"Perdóneme," he said. But an unrepentant grin curled his mouth up and he continued on his way whistling.
"Pervert," she muttered, glaring after his retreating figure. He was just turning the corner and disappearing from view when, with a screech of brakes, a police car drew up alongside her.
"Buenos dias, Señorita Jacobs," came a familiar voice. She turned to see Carlos and Pablo, resplendent in freshly pressed brown uniforms.
"Buenos dias." She opened the back door and climbed in, having barely fastened her seatbelt before they were speeding away.
The route to Los Cristianos was simplicity itself - straight down the motorway. And since the speed limit on the Autopista del Sur was 120kph, they were there within the hour. From a distance, it didn't look promising - modern high rise hotels set against a backdrop of barren, dust-dry mountain slopes. But as they sped through the city streets and past church squares, heading towards the old harbour, the holiday resort gradually acquired a more human face.
They pulled to a halt by a promenade, the police car attracting nervous glances from tourists and locals alike. This seemed to be a favourite spot to watch the harbour goings on. There were certainly plenty of those, thought Jemma, watching a fishing boat unloading its catch, several pleasure craft buzzing to and fro, an ocean-going yacht preparing for departure, and a hydrofoil bringing tourists from one of the islands.
The next couple of hours, though, she had little time to enjoy the view. She was too busy showing harbour masters and boat captains the photo of Blade and asking them if they had seen her, with Carlos and Pablo taking turns to translate her questions into Spanish where necessary.
Her heart sank when a fat old woman in a black dress, who had been nosily taking an interest in their discussion with one captain, interrupted to insist that she had seen the woman in the photograph. The sighting was undoubtedly authentic - how many other six foot tall, dark-haired women were there who shinned up balconies and over rooftops while helping boy thieves to escape? But to Jemma's relief, the encounter with Blade had apparently happened pre-interrogation, much to her avidly listening police escorts' disappointment. Her hammering pulse returned to normal.
They stopped for refreshments at midday, and in a little tapas café on the promenade settled down to a snack of olives, herring fillets, smoked ham, and potato salad with herbs. Her escorts drank café solos, but Jemma had some freshly squeezed orange juice.
They had picked a window seat, and as she drank she stared out at a glass-bottomed boat taking tourists to see the whales and dolphins, and wished she was here on holiday. Then she brightened; at least she wasn't back in that dingy London office with Jonathan, surrounded by stacks of manuals.
Her bladder made its presence known then. She stood up, wiping hands made moist by the chilled glass on her backside, and froze as her fingers felt the outline of something in the back pocket of her jeans.
"Everything all right, Señorita Jacobs?" asked Carlos.
"Oh..." She realised she was frowning and forced a smile. "Yes. Fine. I just have to go to the... you know." She gestured to the door at the back of the café marked servicios.
He nodded and resumed his discussion with Pablo, about something called lucha Canaria. From their enthusiasm and raised voices, she guessed it must be a sport of some kind.
As she walked towards the toilets, her mind was racing. The 'pervert' outside the Field Office hadn't been copping a quick feel after all. He had deliberately slipped something in her pocket. There was only one person who knew she was here....
She closed and bolted the door marked Señoras behind her, then pulled the folded piece of paper from her pocket and smoothed out the creases. The words were written in a bold, flowing script:
If there were any other way, I wouldn't involve you. But I need some photos of Abdusamad and al-Akhdar by tonight. Hide them in a newspaper, and leave them in: the Bar el Aperitivo, rear corner table, nearest the toilets.
The last bit had been written in a different, much less flamboyant hand. Blade's contact must have chosen the drop point himself. She recognised the name of the bar. It was just down the road from the Santa Cruz Field Office.
'By tonight'. Damn it! I need to get back there now.
Thoughtfully, she repocketed the note. She used the toilet and flushed it, then washed her hands at the basin, staring into the mirror while she did so. Her nose was starting to peel, she noted absently. Have to get a higher factor sunblock.
The drop point for the photos was in Santa Cruz but that didn't mean Blade was there too... just that she had tried to make things easy for Jemma. Well, easier, she thought ruefully. If Remington caught her slipping information to a traitor...
The word brought her up short. Suppose Blade had gone over to the Libyans. Suppose... No. Mac had told her to trust Blade, and she did. And what was more, from the note it looked like Blade trusted her.
The thought gave her a warm glow and she smiled wryly at her reflection. When it came to Blade, she had always had a bad case of hero worship, possibly more (none of her friends had ever managed to make her heart beat faster the way Blade did). It had been the source of much good-natured ribbing at training school.
Jemma checked her watch. Carlos and Pablo would be wondering where she had got to. Time to convince them she had done all she could in Los Cristianos and Remington could use her help back in Santa Cruz. She squared her shoulders and unlocked the door...
Waiting for news was hard on the nerves. Ash sighed and tried to concentrate on the book Vito had lent her. She had read You Only Live Twice before, of course, but never in a foreign language. It was slow going but it kept her mind off things, and was certainly helping her to brush up her Spanish.
The photos Jemma had provided had been copied and distributed and dozens of pairs of keen eyes were keeping watch for the suspects throughout Los Cristianos. Vito's Uncle had also set up a round-the-clock surveillance on the waterfront warehouse. If the Libyans showed, they would know it, he assured her... But the waiting was driving her nuts.
Bond would never have stayed put like this, she decided grumpily. He would have disguised himself as a peasant and headed for where the action was. Now there's an idea.
The door opened and Vito popped his head round. "Uncle just telephoned." There was no mobile phone signal in the mountains, so Ignacio had arranged to use the mayor's landline.
Ash got to her feet at once. "At last. Let me talk to h-"
Vito waved his hand peremptorily. "He rang off. But I have a message for you." His brow creased as he recited from memory. "A delivery truck just drew up outside the warehouse. Three men are unloading cases labelled 'machine parts' and carrying them inside. The man in charge is Khaleb Abdusamad."
Yes! "Did Ignacio get a look inside the cases?"
Vito grinned. "He said you would ask that. No. He will take a look later when all is quiet."
"I need to be there," muttered Ash. She was pacing up and down, she realised, and halted abruptly. "Is there some way I can get back to Los Cristianos?"
"Is that wise? Your picture..."
She waved aside his objections. "I'll change my appearance."
He face lit up. "Will you wear a wig and make your eyes look Oriental?" She folded her arms and looked at him. He grinned unrepentantly.
"Nothing so elaborate. Most people donít scrutinise strangers thoroughly. They're looking for a woman, so if I dress like a man...and walk like one too...."
She considered each of the male villagers in turn, looking for one whose build resembled hers. Old Bartolo might do. He was a bit stooped, but he had once been about her height. Of course, she could really do with those brown contact lenses but they were back in her flat in Primrose Hill....
She became aware that Vito was watching her keenly, and shook her head. "Are you still here."
"I need some transport out of here. Think you can sweet talk the Mayor into providing it, hmmm?" She raised an eyebrow.
"No time like the present."
"OK. Can I come with you?"
"But I can help y-"
"I said no, Vito. Itís too dangerous! Besides, you might blow my cover."
The boy scowled and locked glares with her, but in the end he sighed and gave in. While he darted off on his mission, she went in search of Bartolo. As she had hoped, the scrawny old man did indeed have an old suit he no longer wore, stored away in an old chest, and with the aid of three 10,000-peseta notes, he was more than willing to let her have it.
The banana lorry dropped Ash in Los Cristianos' red-light district then disappeared into the dusk.
As she strode towards the waterfront, she shoved her hands in her trouser pockets, put her shoulders back, and tried to walk like a man. The gloom should make it harder for people to tell she wasn't who she was pretending to be. She would be glad to get rid of the disguise though - Bartolo's suit was itchy and smelled of mothballs and, with her hair tucked up inside it, his cap was too small.
"ŅQuieres un casquete?" came a woman's voice from a doorway across the street. A scantily clad hooker had issued the lewd invitation, Ash saw.
"Estoy ocupado," she called, lowering her voice's register and making it as gruff as possible.
The woman shrugged and turned away. So far, so good. Ash strode on, keeping her pace steady and brusquely declining invitations from three more hookers. It was a relief to leave the red-light district at last and approach her destination: the building opposite the warehouse.
As she mounted the stairs to the second floor flat where Ignacio had set up his observation post, she saw no guard and frowned. They were dealing with Libyan terrorists after all. She was about to knock, when she heard raised voices. One was Ignacio's, the others she didn't recognise.
She pushed open the door and stepped into a blue cigarette haze... then froze. Two pistols were aimed at her heart and one wicked looking knife was poised for throwing.
"Nice to see you too," she said dryly.
"Blade?" The big man's scowl changed to a smile.
She took off her cap and ran a hand through her hair.
"I thought you were a man." He put his gun away (a Super Star automatic, she noticed interestedly) and gestured to the others to put their weapons away too.
"That was the intention." She threw her cap onto a table littered with empty plastic cups and doughnut cartons, took a seat and looked up at him expectantly. "Care to tell me what you're arguing about?" His expression changed and her heart sank. "The consignment's gone, hasn't it?"
He nodded. "I'm sorry, Señorita." He pulled out a packet of cigarettes and offered her one. She shook her head. "The Libyans were too smart for us. Once inside the warehouse they must have transferred the contents of the crates somewhere else. When I got to them, they were already empty." He lit up, and sucked in a lungful of smoke. "It wasn't a total waste of time though." He let the smoke out slowly. "Guido, show Blade what you found."
Guido turned out to be the skinny man who looked like a ferret. The object he obediently handed her looked like a little lump of Plasticine and was slightly greasy to the touch. She held it to her nose and sniffed. Barely any odour.
"It was in the corner of one of the crates," said Guido.
Ash chewed her lower lip. "Presumably they have detonators and timers too."
Ignacio nodded. "That would be logical."
"So where is the Semtex now?"
"We were just talking about that when you came in." He gestured at the remaining man, who was dark and stocky and had a crescent-shaped scar on one cheek. "Conrado here thinks it must have been aboard a boat that left here an hour ago."
"There is some doubt?"
"No," said Conrado firmly. "No doubt."
She pursed her lips. "Any idea where the boat was heading?"
"One of the islands." Ignacio grimaced. "Unfortunately, we donít know which one."
"Do not worry, Señorita," said Conrado. "I recognised the owner. When he returns," his smile became menacing, "I will ask Capt. Aznar where he took the cargo."
"No you won't," said Ash. She gave Conrado a menacing smile of her own. "I will."
It was lucky they'd known the captain's identity, reflected Ash, as she eyed the sweating man standing in front of her. If they hadn't, he'd now be dead.
What the greedy fool had failed to take into account, when he took the Libyan's money, was that dealing with terrorists was like dealing with the devil. On her instructions, Ignacio and his men had found Capt. Aznar's car down near the waterfront. Soon afterwards, Ash was carefully removing the Semtex hidden inside the engine.
She took great pleasure in telling the recently returned Captain of his narrow escape and showing him the plastic explosive primed to detonate when he keyed the ignition. The peaked cap crushed between his shaking hands would never be the same again.
Offered Ignacio's protection, he was only too eager to spill the beans. "La Palma," he stammered. "I took them to Santa Cruz de la Palma."
"You're certain you saw them unload the cargo there?"
"Si, Señorita. On the waterfront. There was a truck waiting for them."
"Did you get a look inside the boxes?"
"No." He glanced fearfully at Ignacio.
"Pity." Ash drummed her fingers on the table. "Did you listen to their conversation, overhear any names?"
He shook his head. "They were speaking a foreign language. I could not understand. And no, Señorita, there were no names."
Damn. "Did you see either of these men?" She pushed aside a coffee cup and slid the photos of Abdusamad and al-Akhdar across the table towards him. He leaned forward and regarded them with a frown.
"Him." He stabbed a grimy forefinger at Abdusamad. "The other man was not one of them."
She considered this piece of information for a moment, then nodded. "Thank you." Relief spread over the captain's grizzled face and he visibly relaxed.
Ash turned to Ignacio. "His family will need protection too."
He stubbed out his cigarette. "We will take them all to the mountains. They should be safe there."
She spared a sympathetic thought for the villagers who would be playing host to yet another of Ignacio's waifs and strays.
"What about my boat?" bleated the captain suddenly. "My business?"
She curled her lip. "Let me put it this way. Which is more important to you: your boat or your life?"
A chastened look crossed his face and he subsided, muttering.
"Donít worry," she consoled him, "it wonít be for long." I'll make damned sure of that.
While Ignacio's contacts scoured La Palma for signs of the truck loaded with Semtex (and frustratingly came up empty), Ash used the laptop and internet connection he had provided for her.
In between eating and sleeping she trawled the world wide web for information about possible terrorist targets on La Palma. By evening, she was no further forward. She leaned back in her chair and stretched, feeling the bones in her abused shoulders and neck realign themselves with a click. Why had the Libyans picked that particular island? There was nothing on the westernmost one of the Canary Islands except bananas, tobacco, and dormant volcanoes. Oh, and telescopes - the atmosphere in the Canaries had a clarity not found elsewhere in the world.
She closed her tired eyes, massaged the bridge of her nose, and tried to picture La Palma. Before she had gone to El Hierro, she had visited the other island and hiked up into its national park. There she had spent hours simply sitting and gazing at the spectacular scenery that was the Caldera de Taburiente, relishing the deep quiet that soothed her battered psyche.
It was possible the astronomers at the Herschel telescope were doing research for the military, she supposed, but unlikely. The Libyans must have some other target in mind. But what the hell was it?
I need to know if there are any secret military installations. If only I could access the Organisation's records...
She sighed then and conceded defeat. Nothing else for it. She would have to ask Jemma for help.
"Anything you need, Señorita Jacobs?"
Jemma looked up from her sheaf of printouts to find Ramirez regarding her enquiringly. You could show me how to use that computer over there to retrieve spy satellite photos, then leave me alone for an hour or two. "No, thank you," she said aloud. "I'm fine."
The Canarian nodded and went back to his own desk where he was working on a gadget that looked like a surveillance bug.
She glanced down at the transcript of Blade's Copenhagen mission debriefing. It had been Remington's idea to go over it with a fine tooth comb and find out if Blade had revealed 'more than she meant to' about how her partner died. He had given Jemma the task then been called away to take an urgent, top secret phone call from London.
The transcript was a waste of time - as anticipated there was nothing to incriminate Blade - but it had been interesting to read the details of the mission.
It had started out routinely enough. Someone at the British Embassy in Copenhagen was passing military secrets to the Russians. Blade and her partner Sam Carney had flown out, bugged the embassy, and kept the members of staff under observation. They had whittled the possible suspects down to one: the Vice-Consul, Brian Jepson. Then they had set a trap.
A young Dane named Berde Dyhr whose mother was British and who had helped the Organisation in the past, contacted Jepson and offered to sell him military hardware schematics - misinformation Blade had requisitioned specially from London. At first the Vice-Consul had treated Dyhr's offer cautiously, but after two follow-up meetings, Jepson had taken the bait. A few days later, the Organisation's Russian mole reported that the schematics were in Russian hands.
It had seemed cut and dried. Blade and Carney took Jepson into custody and were taking him back to London for interrogation about his Russian handler, but somehow the Russians got wind of it. Desperate to stop Jepson, they had thrown caution to the winds and intercepted the three Britons as they walked along the Vesterbrogade towards the Central Station. The Russians' guns were silenced, and the first Blade knew of the ambush was a zzzzzzp followed by a searing pain in her right hip, which turned out to be a bullet.
The next few minutes were hectic. As Blade told the officer debriefing her: "Shoppers were screaming and ducking for cover. Bullets were zipping past us like angry bees." They managed to get Jepson into the shelter of a shop doorway.
Though in pain and bleeding from her wound, Blade had taken out two of the Russians - one stationed on the rooftop across from their hiding place, another crouching behind a post box further down the Vesterbrogade. Her partner, meanwhile, was having trouble keeping the increasingly panicky Jepson subdued and in the end knocked him unconscious.
Based on their assessment of bullet trajectories, Blade and Carney decided there were at least two more hostiles out there. But the Danish police were on their way, so all they had to do was sit tight and wait for reinforcements. Then the Russians changed their tactics - they took hostage a civilian loaded down with shopping and demanded an exchange: Jepson for the terrified young Danish woman.
The stark words of the transcript couldn't convey Blade's tone as she recounted what happened next. Jemma could imagine it though - controlled on the surface; underneath, anger and grief, and - if the tall woman's reaction under the truth drug had been any indication - self-recrimination.
Carney's position was awkward. He had to stay with the unconscious Jepson, but the doorway severely limited his field of vision. Ash was better placed and could see both the Russian zigzagging to get a clear shot at Sam and the one holding a gun to the terrified hostage's head.
It was an acknowledged fact between Blade and her partner that she was the better marksman. So Carney had shouted to her that she should take out the hostage-taker while he took care of the other Russian. She had agreed to do as he asked.
It was a tricky shot. Her hands were slick with her own blood, and the frightened woman obscured her target almost completely. Almost. A square centimetre of the Russian's head was just visible. It was an almost impossible shot... for anyone except Blade.
Bystanders reported how the man's head exploded, covering the hostage with blood and brains. (The poor woman screamed, then fainted.) Blade, meanwhile, was otherwise occupied. As she fired, so did the other Russian. She turned in time to see her partner, a shocked look on his face, slamming into the door behind him, a red stain spreading rapidly across his chest.
According to the debriefing transcript, Blade couldn't remember much of what happened next. A bystander said she had shot the remaining Russian through the heart, limped across to the now conscious Jepson and bashed him over the head with her gun (the barrel of her Browning automatic was later found to be dented), then tried vainly to staunch the blood coming from Carney's chest. The police and ambulance arrived minutes later, but by then he was dead.
There had been an enquiry, of course. The panel heard that, at the vital moment when Carney was firing at the Russian who subsequently killed him, Jepson had recovered consciousness and distracted him. It was bad luck, they concluded. Blade was reprimanded for giving Jepson a severe concussion (it delayed his interrogation by several weeks). The Danish police gave her a commendation for saving the Danish woman.
And you haven't forgiven yourself for not choosing the other target, have you, Blade? Even though it would probably have cost that hostage her life.
Ramirez was humming as he fiddled with coloured wires, and Jemma bit back an irritated sigh. Blade's note was burning a hole in her pocket. She needed to use the computer, but what excuse could she possibly make? I'm looking up sensitive information so I can give it to a traitor?
The note, unsigned but written in an instantly familiar hand, had somehow appeared beneath Jemma's napkin while she eating lunch in a local restaurant. It had raised far more questions than it answered. The other agent wanted to know if there were any secret military installations on La Palma. Blade had also suggested that if any spy satellite photos existed, they might enable her to trace the whereabouts of a truck full of Semtex. Jemma knew in theory how to obtain such information, but she had never done so in practise. If only she could ask Ramirez -
He stopped fiddling with the bug, stood up, and reached for his jacket. "I have to go out, Señorita. There are some parts I need."
There is a God!
"If you need anything while I am gone, my wife -" He gestured then fell silent so they could both hear the sound of typing coming from the office next door.
"I'm sure I'll be fine. But thank you."
The moment he had gone, she scuttled across to the computer, and keyed in her ID and password. Five minutes later, she knew that there were no secret military installations in La Palma and the telescope observatory was doing purely scientific research. OK. Satellite photos next.
Keeping one eye on the open door, and one ear open for the keys clattering in the other room, she worked out the Global Positioning System co-ordinates for Santa Cruz de la Palma's waterfront. Then she ran an enquiry to see if any Spy Satellite had been in the vicinity and taken photos at the time specified by Blade. It took a few nail-biting minutes, but the answer came back in the affirmative - by a fluke, two separate satellites had passed overhead within an hour of each other, bracketing the time Ash had specified..
Excitedly, Jemma called up the first referenced photo. From space, La Palma looked remarkably like a giant Stone Age axe, its point forming the southernmost tip of the island. She zoomed in on her grid reference, about halfway down the eastern edge of the 'axe'. The increasing magnification slowly brought Santa Cruz's harbour into view and she blinked in amazement. The level of detail was astonishing. Not only could she see the quay, she could see the boat moored to it, the white pickup truck parked nearby, and the men loading the last of several containers onto it. In fact the picture was so clear she could make out the truck's license plate... or most of it anyway - some letters were obscured by mud.
Just wait until Blade hears about this!
Frame by frame she advanced through the available photos, following the progress of the white pickup truck. Unfortunately, the spy satellite was moving rapidly out of range, and the last frame available showed the truck turning onto a road leading west. Damn!
She pulled up a road map of the island and peered at it. The road was the C-812 which climbed steadily west, winding up and over the island's central spine, the north south trending ridge called the Cumbre Nueva, before heading for Puerto de Tazacorte on the west coast.
Was that where the truck was headed? She frowned. Wouldn't it have been simpler to sail the boat straight to Puerto de Tazacorte? Perhaps the photos from the second satellite, which had come into range an hour later that night, would shine some light on the matter. She retrieved the relevant photos and zoomed in once more.
It took her a while (giving her eyestrain in the process) to locate the white pickup truck again - mainly because it wasn't where she expected it to be. She had been concentrating on the coast, but it was still up on the Cumbre Nueva, parked right where the C-812 met the hiker trail that followed the line of the ridge south. What the hell was going on?
She zoomed in further and stared at the magnified picture. Three men were carrying containers single file along the Ruta de los volcanos, heading towards the island's southern spine, another north south trending ridge called the Cumbre Vieja. As she advanced the photo, frame by frame, the men hiked further along the trail, heading towards the summit. Abruptly, the pictures stopped. The second satellite had moved out of range.
Jemma leaned back in her seat, clasped her hands behind her neck, and stared unseeing at the screen. Those containers were heavy. They wouldn't want to carry them far. Which meant... Why the hell are the Libyans hiding their Semtex on the Cumbre Vieja? It's virtually inaccessible.
The sound of typing coming from next door stopped abruptly and was replaced by the low murmur of conversation. She logged off the computer hastily and scuttled back to her desk. When Remington put his head round the door, she was engrossed in the debriefing transcription once more.
"Change of plan, Miss Jacobs," he said without preamble. "There's a bit of a flap on. I've been recalled."
"The Americans have received an ultimatum... from a Libyan terrorist group. They're threatening to disrupt the US economy if they donít give in to their demands."
She blinked. "Can they do that? 'Disrupt their economy' I mean?"
"Who knows?" He shrugged. "This particular group doesn't usually make idle threats."
"What do they want?"
He counted off the points on his fingers. "US withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. Lifting of sanctions. Unfreezing of Libyan assets. Compensation for American bomb damage. Release of all Libyans held prisoner in the US."
"They donít want much do they?"
"They must think they hold all the cards."
"So, am I to come with you?"
"No. Stay here and keep up the search for Blade. Though - " he looked suddenly thoughtful, "- she could be in the States by now."
Should she tell him about the Semtex cache in La Palma? Blade hadn't said she could, and it might endanger the other agent. Reluctantly, she held her tongue.
"I'd better get moving. I've got a plane to catch." Remington turned and headed for the door.
"It could all be a bluff," she called after him.
He paused and looked back at her. "And it could be that at this very moment, they're planting nuclear devices in major centres of commerce throughout the USA."
Then the man in the pinstriped grey suit was gone, and Jemma was left with a chill running down her spine.
Ash read the note from Jemma again and frowned. The Cumbre Vieja?
She ground her teeth. It would be so much easier to work out what the Libyans were up to if she had access to the Organisation's ample resources. Still, at least this latest 'flap' the little blonde had mentioned meant Remington would be out of the way, and that would make communication between them easier.
As she powered up her laptop and logged onto the internet, she wondered what the threat to the American economy could be. Just a bluff, probably.
Ash called up her favourite search engine and typed in Cumbre Vieja. It resulted in a surprising number of matches. But once she had discarded amateur accounts of hiking holidays and bird-watching trips (the world wide web meant it was no longer just relatives and friends who could bore you with their holiday photos, she reflected ruefully) not much remained except geological reports.
A page at the New Scientist was listed. She clicked on the link and blinked as the title 'The Drowning Wave' came up. The first line was certainly attention grabbing:
When 500 billion tonnes of rock plunge into the sea off the west coast of Africa, people in the US had better head for the hills.
'Off the west coast of Africa'? That could be us. She remembered the conversation she had had with the waiter in the clifftop restaurant in El Hierro. What had he said? "A section of the island collapsed... the result: El Golfo." Intrigued, she read on.
Any day now, a gargantuan wave could sweep westwards across the Atlantic towards the coast of North America.
He had beamed at her, she remembered, as he said: "The wave, it not stop until it reach the Bahamas, until it reach the USA itself!" Her mental alarm bells were ringing, and, heart pounding, she skimmed forward through the text.
La Palma, the most volcanically active island in the Canaries, is now unstable. "If the flank of the volcano slides into the ocean, the mass of moving rock will push the water in front of it, creating a tsunami wave far larger than any seen in history..."
Though the article had begun in dramatic style, it eventually revealed that there was little to worry about at present. A college student had used the GPS to monitor the positions of 20 markers planted around the Cumbre Vieja on both sides of the significant faultline, and it had completely stopped moving.
So that's all right then, thought Ash. Except that it isn't.
Distractedly, she ran a hand through her hair, appalled at the scenario unfolding. The scientists might deem La Palma's volcano safe, but what if someone, Libyan terrorists, say, used Semtex to give its western flank a little nudge?
CONTINUED (AND CONCLUDED) IN PART 5