If you’d like to try before you buy, you can read the opening chapters of Blood Summit below.
A novel by Robert Pimm
Two years earlier
There were children playing in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
The surface of the door was rough with dirt and spray paint. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name.
There was a crackle. ‘Yes?’
‘Post,’ Uli said. ‘A package.’
‘OK.’ The door popped open.
The hallway was cool and dark and smelled of damp stone. Two bicycles stood against a wall. Uli climbed the stairs. At the second floor, he took from his shoulder-bag a cardboard carton and a blue and yellow postman’s jacket. Then he trudged up the final flight and rang the bell.
This was the moment. If another door on the landing should open, Uli would walk slowly back down the stairs. He counted the seconds. Patience was everything. She was behind the door. She was looking at him through the spy-hole.
The door opened.
‘Hello, is that – ‘
Uli Wenger barged into the apartment and wrapped his arm around the target’s face, crushing her nose and mouth. He reached for the knife at his belt. He had used it twice today already.
But unlike the men whose throats Uli had cut that morning, the woman did not struggle. She was a head shorter than him, wiry and angular. He never relaxed his grip. Suddenly she was dropping to the floor, a dead weight. He staggered. In that instant, she hooked one leg behind his and threw herself backwards.
Self-defence classes, Uli thought as he fell. It would make no difference. His head smashed into the bare floorboards. The woman landed on top of him. He lashed out instinctively with his free hand. His fist connected with her head, a solid, satisfying blow.
Uli jumped up. Already, the woman was scrambling to her feet, backing away. He edged towards her, fully alert. She would be dead in sixty seconds. Behind her on the wall he saw a poster of a man in a tunic brandishing a sword at an army of skeletons. The image meant nothing to Uli. He held his knife forward, ready to slash her throat. She must not scream. His fall had made too much noise already. The neighbours might be calling the police.
But the woman did not cry out. She lifted her hand to a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth. When she spoke, her voice was filled not with fear, but with anger.
‘What is this? Are you crazy?’
Uli felt a pulse of panic. It was as if she knew his history. His weakness. But that was impossible. Only Mouse had known, and she was dead. He hesitated, gripping the knife more tightly in his hand.
‘Leave me alone!’ An order. But then she made a mistake. ‘Please.’
The spell was broken. Uli stepped forward. She tried to trip him again, but this time he was ready: when she reached out her foot, he grabbed her and threw her down. She gasped as she hit the floor. For a moment, she lay still. It was enough. He fell on her, pressing his left hand over her mouth and slamming the knife into the carotid triangle at the base of her neck. When he jerked the blade free he was rewarded with a torrent of blood. For twenty seconds, he held her. Then he knelt, and cleaned the knife on her shirt.
The woman’s eyes were open.
‘Why?’ she whispered. ‘Why kill me?’
Uli did not know the answer. His employer had named today’s targets without giving a reason. The objective might be to test the efficiency with which Uli could kill. Or it could be something else entirely.
He shrugged. ‘Do you not know?’
Her eyes widened, but she could not speak.
‘I do not know either,’ Uli said. ‘And I do not care.’ He waited a few seconds longer, with his hand on her pulse. Then he rose and left the apartment.
Helen Gale was briefing the ambassador on the Children’s Summit when the first rock hit the window.
‘The Prime Minister flies in at 1500 tomorrow,’ she said. ‘The trouble is, Air Force One is due at 1450. Obviously, the German Federal Chancellor won’t have time to greet the President of the United States at the airport.’
‘Who wants to meet a child in a sandpit?’ the ambassador said.
‘The President’s been called worse things.’
‘Not by the Chancellor. After a speech on US foreign policy. When someone’s left the microphone on.’
‘So now the big story is when they’re going to kiss and make up.’ Helen shook her head. ‘Not literally, more’s the pity.’
‘Any idea who the Germans will send to greet the PM?’
‘No,’ Helen said. ‘The No.10 press office are insisting on a cabinet minister at least.’
‘They insist? Bully for them.’ Sir Leonard Lennox ran his fingers through the white thicket of his hair, making it wilder than ever. ‘And won’t you say three p.m.? We’re not soldiers. Though sometimes I wish we – ‘
‘What the hell is that?’ The ambassador was on his feet.
‘Stay away from the window.’
Now there were two stars in the wall of bandit glass which fronted the street. Helen fought the urge to run and look out. Remember Paris. She didn’t want to be diced alive by flying shards if a bomb went off outside. But the ambassador was already standing there.
‘If they had a bomb they’d not be throwing stones, would they, now?’ The lowland burr was calm. ‘The police are moving in already.’
‘What about the intelligence warnings?’ Helen said. ‘We know G8 targets are under threat.’
‘We can’t bolt for cover each time GCHQ eavesdrops on a seditionist.’ The ambassador shook his head. ‘Come and have a look-see. It’s not every day we’re attacked by a mob.’
Salvos of stones were rattling against the toughened glass. Because the panes were larger at one end of the ambassador’s office than the other, each impact had a different tone, like a monstrous xylophone.
Helen covered the distance to the window in three strides. ‘When the ambassador instructs a lowly first secretary to break the rules, she must obey.’
‘Don’t give me that nonsense, Helen. You don’t know what rules are.’
Thousands of faces stared up at them through the summer rain. JOBS NOT BOMBS, a banner read. GLOBALISATION WITHOUT US. Most of the protesters seemed peaceful. A child on someone’s shoulders carried a placard reading CHILDREN’S SUMMIT: JUST SAY NO. Helen smiled. If you took politics seriously, you’d go mad. Like the people across the street. A dozen masked figures were tearing up the cobblestones and flinging them at the embassy building. At her, Helen Gale. A phalanx of police officers was pushing towards them through the crowd.
How could the stone-throwers be so sure they were right? Helen’s own life held no such certainties. Eight months earlier, she had been unsure whether to move to Berlin. Only Nigel’s refusal to leave London had convinced her she must go to Germany. He had told her to quit her job, stay with him, and start a family.
Helen had longed to throw herself into the arms of the only man she had ever loved. She had also felt an urge to slam the door on the only man who sometimes roused her to hatred. At last, she had come to Berlin, despising Nigel for not understanding her, and despairing at herself for not making him understand. She watched the crowd. Did she belong inside the building looking down? Or out in the street, looking up?
‘How much longer will the glass hold?’ The ambassador might have been asking when the rain would stop.
‘In theory, it’s fine. But I’d hate any demonstrators to be injured by one of their own rocks falling on their heads. I’ll call Dieter Kremp.’
‘The most arrogant man in Berlin? Good luck.’
‘I like confidence in a man, up to a point. But you – ‘ Helen wagged her finger at the ambassador as she gave the mock order ‘ – must get away from the window. I’m telling you in my official capacity as Post Security Officer.’
‘Yes, miss.’ The ambassador raised his considerable eyebrows but did not move. Helen reached for her phone. Before she could dial, the door burst open.
Jason Short, Head of Political Section and Deputy Head of Mission, was Helen’s boss. He was, indeed, limited in stature: in an embassy where first names were standard, he was widely referred to as Mr Short. He was the proud owner of a colossal collection of fitted suits and silk ties and had long, thinning hair, like an ageing rock star. Short was always keen to impress Sir Leonard Lennox, and the Summit would coincide with a decision in London on the appointment of the next British ambassador to Bangkok. This was a job to which Short aspired. Unfortunately for Helen, Jason saw office politics as a zero-sum game in which the best way to look good was to make everyone else look as bad as possible.
He stared at her.
‘What are you doing here? Don’t you know there’s a riot on?’
‘I am aware, yes,’ Helen said.
‘You’re Post Security Officer. You should be talking to the staff, reassuring them.’
‘I’m trying to call Dieter Kremp at the Summit Security Unit.’ Helen held up the phone. ‘If you’ll give me a moment.’
‘Phoning your boyfriend?’
Short was avoiding eye contact, focusing on a point around Helen’s neck. Was he looking at the cornflowers on her cotton dress? Or was he staring at her breasts? She turned to Leonard Lennox.
‘Ambassador, we’re in your way here. Shall I make this call from my office?’
The ambassador shrugged. ‘You’re not in my way. Speed is of the essence.’
At that moment, something happened. Helen’s first impression was of a colossal thunderclap directly above her head. As she winced and started to bring her hands up to her ears, the lights dimmed. There was a click as the computer on the ambassador’s desk flickered and began to re-boot.
The ambassador. Helen whirled round. The toughened windows were intact except for a single tiny hole in the glass. Sir Leonard Lennox turned towards her. There was something wrong with the top of his head. Blood was streaming down so fast she could see it dripping from his chin onto his shirt. He lifted a hand to his forehead. Then, slowly, he fell to his knees.
‘A bomb,’ he said. ‘I think I’m hurt.’
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