That September morning in Berlin, leaves of blood and gold littered Unter den Linden from the columns of the Brandenburg Gate to the Schloss Bridge. Saskia Brandt kicked through the drifts without stopping.
Sunlight caught the distant glass dome of the Reichstag. Tourists drank in the open street cafés. At Potsdamer Platz, the shoulder of the Federal Investigation Bureaus headquarters poked through the jostle of buildings, and Saskia strode inside, ignoring the blind man and his collection tin near the entrance. She covered the inlaid insignia Ex tabula rasa in five paces, dumped her weapon into a bucket, and retrieved it on the other side of the detector while the guard folded his arms haughtily.
Kopf hoch, he said.
Saskia marched on. Attacked by the air conditioning, her sweat dried cold. She passed a copy of the European Union constitution in a glass case. A tour group had clotted around it while a guide recited trivia. Saskia found the lift and rose to the fifty-first floor.
Her office was spare. To the left was a screened section for her secretary. In the centre was her black desk. On it sat only an antique blotter and a framed photograph of Simon, her English boyfriend. To the right, beyond some abstract art, was a separate kitchen and bathroom.
Her office was haunted by a computer that she had failed to name. The air conditioning is broken, it announced.
Saskia walked to the window. Two cameras hung in the dark corners of the ceiling. They tracked her mouth.
I do not know. A repair man has been called. Perhaps you could take a cold shower.
Saskia turned to one of the cameras. Thanks for the advice.
Where is my secretary? Why didnt she report it?
Your secretary is on holiday. The computer paused. You should also be on holiday. In London.
Her holiday had been one day old when Jobanique, her immediate superior, had interrupted it with an urgent case. Simon had been cooking pasta for a romantic meal when the call came through and, without discernible romance, had thrown the boiling pot across the room. A stray tassel of spaghetti had branded her forehead in the shape of a question mark. She had packed with a coldness that, in itself, told her that she and Simon were no more. In the taxi, she had stretched across the back seat and cried.
She walked into the bathroom, drew some water and splashed it over her forehead. She walked into the kitchen and surveyed it: a microwave, some cupboards, a coffeemaker and a large refrigerator. Her eyes stopped on the refrigerator. It promised cold, sparkling mineral water. Saskia pulled the handle and her secretary rolled out, taut and twisted, dead joints creaking as she unfurled. Their eyes met and Saskia crouched slowly, her attention finally moving from the dry orbs to the hole below the secretarys left ear.
Around midday, the rain drew back. A car arrived at the Park Hotel. The ruin of the West Lothian Research Centre lay beneath its foundations. Its entrances were capped. It lay dormant. No longer were approaching vehicles checked, or visitors searched, or the expansive woodlands patrolled.
The single occupant of the taxi was a man with a friendly, forgettable face. He was halfway to baldness and kept the remainder of his hair long, swept over his ears and rakishly curled at the collar. His jacket was tailor-made but his jeans were fashionably cheap. He was David Proctor, Oxford academic, and it was twenty years since he had cradled the head of his dead wife in the darkness below.
One moment, please, said his computer. You have a phone call.
Tell them Im busy.
He opened the door and relished the damp air.
It is your daughter.
David pulled his leg back into the car and closed the door. He steepled his fingers to help himself think. It didnt work.
Put her on.
I cannot. The communication is encrypted. I do not know the cipher.
David smiled. Find Jennifers high school maths project.
Ive found it. Decrypting.
The image of his daughter appeared. David straightened his back. She looked like her mother.
David laughed. She had an American accent. Im glad you called.
Yes. He paused. I wanted to talk to you.
David watched the rain on the windscreen. This conversation had arrived too soon. I Im sorry. After you went to New York, I thought you needed some time to yourself.
You sent me away. You sent the freak to the freaks, then skipped the country.
You couldnt stay in Oxford any more. You wouldnt have realized your full potential. David sighed. Weve been through this.
I was the one who had to go through it, not you. Do you know what it was like in that school?
I got your e-mails.
I didnt get yours.
Jennifer, why did you call?
Not to sing happy birthday. I have a message for you.
What is it?
She moved closer to her camera. Where are you?
Actually, Im at the old research centre in West Lothian.
What are you doing there?
I cant tell you that on the phone.
This isnt a phone, Dad. She was almost smiling.
I know. Youve encrypted the transmission.
She nodded. You remembered the cipher.
Whats wrong, Jenny?
You need to go back to Oxford.
Through the windscreen, the hotel was a tearful blur. Has someone been talking to you?
Dad, something may happen.
His expression was grim. Something already has happened. And Im late. Can I call you later?
Jennifer smiled. It was hollow. Sure.
The screen went blank.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.