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By Paul Eddy
An exceptionally talented undercover policewoman, Grace Flint nearly dies in a botched sting operation. Months later, physically healed but psychologically scarred, she gets an unexpected clue about her attacker, and disappears on a mission of revenge-unaware that she is about to pull the first string that will unravel a vastly complex web of international treachery, extortion, and murder. Pursuing her, using whatever clues he can find, is Harry Cohen, the former chief legal adviser to the British Security Services, who has been drawn back in as an impartial outsider because everybody is worried about Flint's safety. Or are they? Much to his surprise, he finds himself tugging on a string of his own that leads him high into governments on both sides of the Atlantic-and into a conspiracy with unexpected resonances, not only for him but for Flint.
Grace Flint has a device smaller than a packet of cigarettes that she can hide in your car, or on your boat or plane -- even, if it suits her, in your briefcase that will track your precise location for the next six months.
Unless the batteries give out, or the satellite goes on the blink.
Grace Flint has a microphone the size of a shirt button, connected to a transmitter as thin as a credit card, that will relay any foolish admissions you might make to her from around the corner, or across the city, or from just about any place on earth.
Unless the lower atmosphere is dirty, or the transmitter spikes, or something else goes wrong; things that the tech boys don't like to talk about.
And even when the technology works, it can be totally irrelevant.
Grace Flint is in the stairwell of a multistory parking garage in Belgravia, with the microphone taped to the underside of her left breast and the transmitter high up inside her left thigh, secure in the knowledge that the backup teams are only yards away, listening to every word, waiting for the first sign of trouble, unaware that between her and them is a steel-lined door installed by the right-thinking management of the garage to deter theft and vandalism at night, but which, on this particular day, someone has neglected to unlock.
"I don't want to talk to your friends," says Frank Harling to Clayton Buller, apropos of nothing. "Know who they are? They're the law."
Watch their eyes, the instructors at Hendon used to say. Don't listen to what they're saying because they're lying, just like you're lying. Watch their eyes.
But she can't see Clayton Buller's eyes because of the dark glasses he wears, and DI Pendle doesn't seem to be alarmed. Besides, in this heart-stopping moment, she wants to believe that Frank Harling is only trying it on, that he can't possibly know the truth of his assertion.
"You're paranoid," snorts Buller. "You think I didn't check them out?"
"Oh, did you?" says Harling, his voice now loaded with contempt. "Trust me, dickhead. They're the filth."
If the subject makes any sudden move, assume it is hostile and react immediately, but Buller's move isn't sudden; it is slow and even graceful for a big man. He leans over and reaches down into the depths of his lawyer's case and suddenly the neurotransmitters in Flint's brain are passing frantic messages about a gun.
Afterward, Flint will not be sure if she saw the gun or heard it first. There is a lot she will not be sure about at the subsequent inquiry. The individual details will be clear enough, each one perpetually etched upon her memory. It is their precise sequence that will evade her.
Pete Pendle has begun to react when the sound of the first explosion fills the stairwell, stunning her with its intensity. It is still resonating when the second explosion comes and then the third. Pendle is pushed backward by the impact of the first bullet but the stairwell is narrow and with his back against the wall he and Buller are still no more than four feet apart. She will remember his body jerking as the second and third bullets entered his chest, as though he were being shaken by some unseen hand, and she will tell the inquiry it was after the second shot, though it may have been the third, that the spray of blood erupted from his mouth. She will remember very clearly that its color was a brilliant scarlet and that when it reached her it was warm.
She, too, has her back to the wall, on the other side of the stairwell, and she sinks down onto her haunches when Buller turns the gun on her. She recognizes it immediately as a nine-millimeter Browning, though the inquiry will incline to the view that she probably learned that fact subsequently. She will not recall closing her eyes or covering her face with her hands as she waits for Buller to kill her.
That he does not do so will be easily explained, to the satisfaction of the inquiry, by the fact that the fourth bullet jams in the clip, and Flint loses count of how many times he works the slide in an attempt to clear it. She is by now aware of too many other sounds and impressions. She is aware of DI Pendle's labored efforts to breathe. From too far away she hears the raised voices of increasingly desperate men and the pounding of solid objects against a steel door. She hears Frank Harling say, in his unmistakable south London cadence, "Finish it, Buller. For fuck's sake, get it done."
Above all, she is aware of the grunted exertions of a seriously overweight lawyer from Beverly Hills who is now standing over her beating on her skull with the butt of his otherwise impotent Browning.
She will concede she must have put her hands over her head, for both her thumbs and seven of her fingers are broken. What she will vividly recollect, however, is falling onto her back and feeling the weight of Buller as he comes down on top of her. She feels his elbow in her throat and his manicured fingernails gouging into her skin as he seeks to gain a firmer grip on the fabric of her blouse and bra and rip them away. Absurdly she thinks he is going to rape her but having exposed her breasts, and having found the microphone he is looking for, he gets to his feet. She hears him say, "Bitch, bitch, bitch," over and over, and then the real pain begins.
He leans against the wall to maintain his balance while he methodically stamps her chest with the heel of one of his handmade Italian boots. Perhaps out of some irrational impulse he is trying to destroy the microphone as if by doing so he can erase the evidence it has collected. He only succeeds in driving it deep into her abdominal wall.
Then he goes to work on her face, the heel of his boot raining downblows on her with the indifferent brutality of a jackhammer. She loses consciousness -- though not for long if her recollections are accurate. She will recall for the inquiry lying in the stairwell like a broken doll, tasting her own blood and the gritty enamel of her shattered teeth, smelling her own urine, listening to the sound of footsteps running up the stairs, listening to Pete Pendle die.
Clayton Buller did not get far. Perhaps the realization that he had just killed one British police officer and stamped the face of another into pulp was too much for a heart already overtaxed by the strain of his excessive weight and a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit. In any event, it gave out. They found him in Elizabeth Street, dead behind the wheel of his Hertz car that came to rest in the interior of what had been, until his arrival, a fashionable boutique.
But they did not find Frank Harling, either on that day or in the course of one of the most intensive manhunts ever mounted by the Major Crimes Task Group. Detective Inspector Pete Pendle had been as popular with his men as any supervisor is likely to be, and they did not take kindly to his murder, or their own failure to prevent it. And any and all of those detectives who saw Grace Flint's shattered face, or heard descriptions of it, wanted to get their hands on Clayton Buller and, having been denied that gratification by his death, they transferred their anger to Frank Harling.
Righteous anger that churned their stomachs for, after all, it was Harling who had provoked and encouraged the mayhem.
They're the law, said with utter certainty. Finish it, Buller, an incitement to murder if ever there was one.
And it was Harling who had rendered the backup teams helpless by arranging for the door to the stairwell to remain locked, or so the police strongly suspected. How that was achieved, and how Harling knew he was walking into a police trap were gnawing questions that ate at their collective consciousness like a canker.
So every favor owed Major Crimes was called in. Throughout metropolitan London, and then the south of England, and then the length and breadth of the country, every police force was enjoined into the hunt. Every port and airport was placed on full alert, and it seemed safe to assume that if Harling left the country he did not do so by any means of public transportation, unless under a convincing and ingenious disguise. Nor, if he remained in Britain, did he, or anyone fitting his description, check into any hotel or boardinghouse or squat, nor did he take refuge in any sanctuary known to any of the countless police informants who, coaxed by threats or sometimes reckless promises, did their best to please their masters.
No, Frank Harling simply vanished and remained invisible. They raided his house in Virginia Water and in it they found evidence of four different identities he had employed. They found the wife from whom he was separated -- or rather the woman who thought she was his wife, though they were obliged to tell her that Frank Harling was, among other things, a bigamist. Through her they found his modest office in Surbiton, rented in the name of UniFi Consulting, and evidence of 182 bank accounts he had maintained, each one in the name of a different and obscure corporation, through which vast amounts of money had passed. They also found a Compaq personal computer holding on its hard disk some two gigabytes of encrypted data. Major Crimes pulled another favor, and the computer experts at the FBI laboratory in Washington said they were confident they could find the key that would decrypt Frank Harling's secrets. But in the course of first copying the contents of the hard disk-a seemingly sensible precaution-they triggered the hidden program that irrevocably destroyed them. Like the man, Harling's secrets ceased to exist.
Eventually they gave up the hunt, if not in spirit then in actuality, because they did not know where else to look. They did not admit that to Grace Flint, however, for her doctors considered it important to her recovery and even her sanity that she continue to believe that Frank Harling would be found.
It took them almost a year to rebuild her shattered face. The photographs that record the progress of their painful work (painful for her, that is) are not pretty. In the interim her husband, Jamie, left her. He said it was because he could neither understand nor accept her determination to return to Major Crimes once she had recovered, a determination that never wavered. One day, not long after she had endured yet another session under the surgeon's knife, he took a mirror from her dressing table and thrust it in front of her face to reflect the livid scars and the bruising under her eyes. "Look at yourself, Grace," he said, as though she didn't know how she looked. "I can't stand this. I simply can't take it."
He packed some of his things and left their apartment, pretending it was only temporary; a breathing space, he said. It was a month before she discovered he was living in Pimlico with a woman named Caroline. Caroline, it transpired, had a child who was already one year old; a son that Jamie had fathered.
Still on sick leave, she went to the small village and the Georgian farmhouse where she had grown up, to where she knew at least the physical scars would heal.
Her father called her "Amazing Grace." In the depths of the night, he might pray that she would never again be the bait on the end of Major Crimes' hook, but Dr. John Flint did not believe it was his place to tell his daughter what to do. Though he had never understood where her instincts came from-certainly not from him-he saw it as his duty and his pleasure to love her for what she was.
In the wholly unquestioning climate he provided, Grace slowly mended. When she was not in the hospital for further bouts of reconstructive surgery, she worked in his operating theater, where the patients paid no mind to her disfigurement.
"You know, Gracie, you'd make a hell of a good vet," her father told her, but that was the nearest he ever came to voicing his deep dread.
Reprinted from "Flint" by Paul Eddy by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Paul Eddy. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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