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Book excerpt

Chapter 1

Pins and needles were the first thing Euri Peterson felt as he began to ease back toward consciousness from his drug-induced sleep. Pins and needles in his hands, similar to when he woke in the night having slept on his arm – only this was different. Somewhere far off in the real world, away from the dark spinning pool in his semi-conscious mind, he could feel sharp pain, pain in his wrists and pain in his ankles. As the seconds ticked by, the drug began to wear off, allowing him brief, fleeting snippets of reality: pins and needles and pain, the hum of an air-conditioning unit, the chill on his sweaty brow. Then he slipped back, reeling and falling into the depths of his cloudy mind. The unconsciousness was far more tempting than reality. Desperately, Peterson tried to hold on to it as he felt himself spinning once again – he wasn't ready to wake yet and face whatever it was that awaited him, but it was too late! The spinning pool released him, and he opened his eyes. If it hadn't been for the hammering pain raging through his head, Peterson wouldn't have even known he was conscious, as the room was completely dark. Blinking with slow, deliberate actions, he tried to clear the pounding, woolly fuzz in his head. Attempts to move his wrists and feet only caused the chair to which he was bound to scrape and skip across the floor, emitting a sound like nails scraping down a blackboard. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, a thin bead of light on the far side of the room gradually revealed itself, followed by the dim, faint outline of a door. A chill ran through his body. Whoever was in charge of the air-conditioning had it cranked up high, and the cool air hit his brow, chilling the sweaty sheen which matted his greying hair to his head.

What can I remember, Peterson asked himself. I remember the meeting, and giving the speech. I remember leaving the Convention Centre, the rush hour traffic of Kuala Lumpur and almost being late for the Presidential dinner at the JW Marriott. After dinner and a few drinks, I went to my room and showered before heading straight to bed. The memories flooded back, one after another, each encouraging the next. So, I remember going to bed, he confirmed. But then? That's where the memories stopped and gave way to confusion. Then I woke up here, bound to a chair in a dark room. Peterson’s heart hammered in his chest like a drum; the sound of it flowed through his body and filled his ears with a rhythmic throbbing.

He cleared his throat and forced back the dry, parched sensation on his tongue. “Hello, anyone? Hey?” he cried in a cracked and broken voice, the effort causing sharp pain to flare up in his throat. In almost immediate response to his plea, heavy footsteps emanated from the other side of the door, followed by the click of a latch and a blast of light which forced him to lower his head and close his eyes to protect them. Someone flicked a switch and more light flooded the room when an array of fluorescent bulbs buzzed and pinged reluctantly into life.

Small, deliberate blinks allowed his vision to adjust to the bright, light which filled the room. Lifting his gaze and ignoring the searing pain in his head, Peterson took a moment to take in his surroundings; the room was small, no more that fifteen feet square. Bright white walls were complimented by matching tiles on the floor. There were no windows and only one large, strong-looking metal door. The footsteps belonged to a tall, thick-set male with dark brown, swept back-hair. His jet black suit looked fresh from the dry cleaners and the shirt underneath was as dazzling as the walls. Reaching behind him, the stranger pushed the door closed with a heavy metallic clunk.

“Mr. Peterson,” the man began, fixing him with chilling ice-blue eyes and the type of smile usually associated with overly-keen used car salesmen. “Firstly, let me apologise for the way we had to meet. It was believed that this was the only way possible for you to listen to what I have to say. What happens after that is entirely down to you.” Something about his whole demeanour gave Peterson the chills, and as the stranger spoke, the false, crazed smile never once left his lips.

“Judging by my position,” Peterson croaked, “I find it hard to believe I have any control over what happens next.” Speaking was getting easier with each moment, but it was hard to hide the panic that was setting in. Whatever drug they had used on him was slowly wearing off, but not fast enough for him to figure out a way out of the situation.

“On the contrary, your destiny is entirely in your hands,” the stranger contradicted. “You see, Mr. Peterson, we know who you are.” Peterson watched him cross the room, the heels of his well-polished black shoes clicking on the white tiles like the ticking of a clock.

“Of course you know who I am,” Peterson snapped. “I've been at the World Summit for the past week! I addressed almost every head of state in the world this afternoon!”

The suited stranger beamed at him, presenting a row of perfectly white, unnatural-looking teeth, “Oh I think you underestimate what I know,” he sneered. “I saw your speech by the way. It was excellent!” His heels continued to click rhythmically on the spotless floor, the sound almost falling into rhythm with Peterson's heartbeat, which still pounded in his ears. Circling around behind Peterson, he slid his jacket off. “It’s rather warm in here don’t you think?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Peterson replied. “Mr.— I don't think I got your name.”

“My name is not important,” the stranger answered curtly, then seemed to reconsider. “But I am a firm believer in good manners.” The man approached Peterson's chair, “Robert Finch,” he said, extending his hand. “Oh, excuse me, I forgot, your hands are otherwise indisposed at present.” Finch treated him to a mocking smile before turning. His shoes clicked their way to the back of the room. Bound and helpless, Peterson watched as he neatly folded the jacket and placed it in the corner. The removal of the blazer made Peterson very uneasy; in truth, it wasn't that warm, in fact it was positively chilly. The monotone drone of the air-conditioner continued to hum away above the door, pumping more frigid air into the small room. Peterson suspected Finch had removed the jacket to prevent his blood from soiling it, and the thought terrified him.

“Enough games!” Peterson snapped. “If it's a ransom you're after, I'm sure you have the details for my people. They will pay. You must know both my company and I are good for millions of whatever currency you desire.”

“Oh, you misunderstand the situation, Euri,” sighed Finch, shaking his head. The use of his first name took Peterson off guard. Obviously the time for formalities was gone. “Euri Peterson, the Swedish businessman and director of Zeon Developments, the man who rose to fame two years ago with patents for hydro powered engines, as well as a host of other ingenious ideas to rid the world of its dependence on fossil fuels. Those very ideas secured you a scientific Nobel Prize last year. I'm guessing after today's keynote speech, there are a whole load of oil companies baying for your head on a stick.” Finch walked behind him and clamped both his hands down on Peterson's shoulders, like an overzealous masseuse. The physical contact made Peterson want to retch. Finch brought his face down level with his ear, so close Peterson could smell the warm, garlic-scented breath on his cheek. “That is who you are, is it not?”

“Yes, of course!” Peterson's mind was reeling. Could this really be about his patents? And would the big oil companies sink this low? “I know my products are going to hit some businesses hard,” he admitted in a shaky voice, “but really, kidnapping! People like me don't just disappear, you know.”

Finch ignored the statement. “But that's not who you really are, is it, Euri?” he continued, whispering as if he were about to tell a secret no one else should hear. His hands were still clamped tightly around Peterson's shoulder blades, doing nothing to improve the restricted circulation caused by the restraints. “You see, Euri, we know who you really are!” Finch let the words hang in the air. Peterson froze. Finch must have felt every muscle in his body tense, the grip of those strong, vice-like hands not relenting for a second. “And the reason you are here, Euri, is because of who you really are.” Finch finally released his hands and threw them up in the air like a manic preacher. “We're not interested in your inventions, or the fact that you might have pissed off a few fat-cat oil barons, Euri, it's much bigger than that! We not only figured out your true identity, but also the identity of the other three.” Finch was standing in front of him now, that smile back and his eyes full of loathing. He resembled a venomous snake about to strike.

“Impossible!” Peterson spat, shaking his head.

“Entirely possible,” replied Finch, obviously pleased with the impact his revelations were having. “It's taken us almost nine years to get to where we are today!” he shouted with glee, his words bouncing off the bare white walls. “Nine years to figure out who the four of you are. You were the last piece of the puzzle. Once we had you all figured out, it was just a matter of time. So just in case you are in any doubt, let's see who else makes the list. We have Jaques Guillard the EU politician, saviour of the Euro, the man who helped avert a pending economic crash.” Finch counted them out on his fingers, “That makes two. Then we have Archbishop Francis Tillard, the holy man, head of the Catholic Church in France.” Finch laughed. “A holy man, I mean come on, what a ruse. Even you must appreciate the irony in that one. Personally, I find it disgusting.” Finch regarded him for a few seconds – the way a person might look at dog mess on his shoe – before continuing his rant. “Last, but by no means least, and coming in at number four, we have none other than John Remy, President of the United States of America.” Finch grinned, his smile as wide as that of a Cheshire Cat.

Peterson’s insides turned to ice. For this Finch character to know so much, there was only one thing he could be, one place he could be from, and the thought terrified Peterson more than anything else had in his life. This moment, here and now, was his very reason for being, the one thing he was supposed to prevent. He had failed, they’d all failed!

“Well, you seem to have this all figured out, Mr. Finch.” Peterson couldn’t hide the anger brewing in his voice. “But as you said, I’m only one of four. What about the others? Just killing me will get you nowhere!”

“Oh I wouldn't worry about them.” Finch grinned. “They're dead already; well, two of them are, anyway.”

The statement hit Peterson like a train and he stared up at Finch in disbelief.

“You're the next on my agenda! The other one requires a more, shall we say, gentle approach.” Finch paused, mulling over his own words, running a hand over his cleanly-shaven chin. “We have people in places and roles you can't imagine, places and roles you all missed!” He let the words hang once again, allowing Peterson to soak them in. “But I'm sure you can appreciate,” he continued, “even we can't just whisk away the President of the United States in the middle of the night. No! As I said, that requires a more delicate approach. Unfortunately for him, he won't get the option you have; the chance to choose, the chance to live.” Finch was pacing around the room again, seemingly enjoying every moment, knowing the torment it was causing. “You see; this World Summit was just what we needed: all four of you in one city at the same time. It gave us the chance to take you all out, in one fell swoop.”

“Kill me,” Peterson exclaimed in a shrill, panic-ridden voice. “Do it, because I won't accept any bargain you offer, any more than the other two would!” At least for the moment, Remy was still alive, and that afforded Peterson a spoonful of hope in this fast-developing ocean of doubt.

Finch chuckled and nodded in understanding, “Euri, I'm impressed; your courage is admirable, just as I would have expected, and while I knew all along none of you would choose to side with us, I'm going to lay out the offer, nonetheless.”

Peterson tugged at the hand restraints,  making the chair rock dangerously. “Why? What's the point?” he snarled through gritted teeth. “You’ve killed them, and I want no part in any deal. Just get it done.”

Finch stopped pacing and spun around to face him. “Because I want to! Because I can, and because I know how much it will eat you up, in the brief moments you have left, before I have the pleasure of ending your long, worthless life! It's not every day I get to have a Watcher as a captive audience, let alone three of you! And to have the pleasure of killing you, –one by one, repaying some of the suffering and anguish you’ve caused to my people over the long years! When I watch you die, I'll enjoy the defeat on your face, knowing you’ve failed. Then, once I'm done with you, I will personally be attending to President Remy.”

“How the hell do you intend to get to the US President?” cried Peterson. “Not even I can just walk up and speak to him, despite our role behind the scenes.” His tongue scraped over his mouth like sandpaper. He desperately needed water, but he very much doubted he was going to get it.

“Like I said, Euri, we have people everywhere, infiltrated into places which are key to tonight's plan, as well as the bigger picture. Trust me when I say I will have no issue at all getting to President Remy; in fact, I'll just walk right into his personal quarters. He's staying not far from here; you know?”

“Aghhhh!” cried Peterson in a mixture of frustration and anger. He was tugging so hard at his restraints, the skin on his wrists felt as if it was being shredded away from the muscle beneath. “Do you really think that just killing the four of us will solve all your problems? These deaths won't go unnoticed, and the repercussions for you and your people will be massive. Do you have any idea what you're starting here?”

Finch smiled mockingly at the outburst. “What we're starting?” he sneered. “What we are ending is a more apt description. We know everything about you, Euri – you and the other three. We know how you operate. It’s thought by my superiors that if just one of you chooses to help us, it will buy us time to complete our plans unobstructed. That said, we’re not overly concerned. You see, what we have in store will only take a few weeks, before it becomes irreversible. Of course, we’re not naive enough to think it will never go unnoticed, but when your people do eventually realise what’s happened, we’ll be more than ready.” Finch paused and allowed himself a smug grin. “So, you will appreciate why I'm more than happy to kill you right now. It's your choice.” Finch held his hands up like a set of scales. “Live?” he raised the left, “or die?” He pointed his right hand at Peterson's head and formed his fingers into the shape of a gun.

“What could you possibly hope to accomplish in just a few weeks?” Peterson’s fear had turned to anger and it boiled in his gut.

To Rise Again

To Rise Again

The Silent Neighbours

The Silent Neighbours