As James was checking into the Hotel Rialto, a man twice her age, dressed in a white silk suit, walked over to join her. “Will you be staying in Venice long?”
“Marco! How lovely to see you again! I would introduce you to my husband, but I seem to have misplaced him. This is going to be a most tedious honeymoon.”
“No man could survive you, James. Why are you really here?”
“Merely to reassure the Agenzia that we are all on the same side, that Brexit may mean Brexit but terrorists, whatever flag they may hide under, will always be scum. And anyway, you survived me, no? Do you not wish to rekindle that flame?”
“That was long ago, James, and no. Truthfully, why are you here? Don’t make me arrest you.”
James sighed dramatically. “Don’t worry. I won’t be staying long. I came only to collect Elizabeth’s effects.”
“Ah, I am sorry about that. She –” For a moment he struggled to breathe, the pain reflected in his eyes as genuine as James had ever seen. “Elizabeth was like a daughter to me.”
James squeezed his arm gently to console him. “I know, Marco. She loved you too. When did you last see her?”
“A week ago. In Florence. She wished to see the war machines. Leonardo’s.”
James laughed. “I think she spent more time in Italy than at home. Marco…” She waited for him to look at her, to see how serious she was. “Who knew her here? Who knew she was here? In Venice. How did the authorities identify her?”
Marco stiffened with anger. “Are you suggesting I betrayed her?”
“No, Marco. I’m asking who else she might have trusted. Because she was betrayed, and I intend to make whoever it was pay for their treachery. But I can’t do that with the Italian authorities breathing down my neck.”
He nodded, the simmering anger now directed elsewhere, at some internal vision perhaps of Elizabeth’s murderers roasting over a bonfire. “I’ll do what I can, James, but staying out of sight was never your specialty.”
“No,” James agreed. “It was Elizabeth’s.”
The Honeymoon Suite was elegant and cosy, and had a fantastic view across the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. James wanted to lie on the bed and sink into its soft embrace, but to be in a Honeymoon Suite without a lover, without Olga, whose warmth and passion she had grown accustomed to during the past few days, was a cruelty that robbed her of joy in her surroundings.
Besides, the imperative of tracking down Elizabeth’s murderers, of hunting for the Red Queen, would not let her rest. She freshened up quickly, and changed into dark jeans and a cashmere turtleneck, both Dolce and Gabbana, finishing off with a touch of Raven mascara and Impulsive lipstick, both Illamasqua. Despite which, she still felt naked, not having her gun with her.
Marco’s eyes widened when he saw her. “I should arrest you for carrying a concealed weapon,” he said, making her laugh.
James linked arms with him as she led him outside. The sun was setting, casting the narrow canals and roads into deep shadow, and reflecting brilliantly off the water in shades of orange and pink. “Have the police found where she was staying?”
“Not that I’ve heard, though I imagine it’s the usual.”
“She always was a creature of habit.” They reminisced as they followed a circuitous path past La Fenice to Ponte dell’Accademia, until they could walk no further. Elizabeth’s pensione was a sixteenth century building on the corner, a narrow canal at the side and the front overlooking the Canale and the Giudecca.
Marco flashed his credentials, and the young man at reception took them upstairs and unlocked the door, while Marco questioned him in Italian. “Did he say ‘police’?” James said, interrupting.
“Apparently Elizabeth was visited by a policeman. She seemed friendly with him. Also, we’re not the first to ask to see her room. There was a young American lady last night, two Russians this morning, and the Agenzia at lunchtime. He insists that only the Agenzia have been allowed into the room.”
It was a lovely room, with a fantastic view, but there was nothing to be found of Elizabeth. Indeed, it had the appearance of a room that had been thoroughly searched. James gave it another thorough search, but without success. “Was there anything at San Martino?” she asked. “Phone? Clothes? Anything?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry, James. Maybe the Agenzia found something here earlier.”
James shook her head. “Let’s go.”
Back in the lobby, she halted suddenly. “Ask around. See if you can find out more about this policeman.” She nudged him in the direction of the hotel reception, then walked over to join a young woman who sat drinking espresso and reading a book. She had long strawberry blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, and wore a black T-shirt and white shorts – and shoes that were at least a size too big. “Aren’t you a little young for this?” James asked.
“Aren’t you a little old for this?” she replied, not looking up from her book. “You should have been here hours ago. It’s not like Britain’s the other side of the world.”
“I was busy.”
“Yeah, I heard. Screwing the Russians, or something.”
“Worth every minute. Did you search the room?”
“Then why are you still here?”
She finally put her book down and deigned to look at James. “To see you, of course.”
“Or, Felicity, because you did find something, but can’t use it.”
Felicity shrugged. “Such a shame they’re not my size.” She slipped the shoes from her feet and placed them on the table. “All yours, James, but remember: sharing is good. I share. You share. We all – fuck anyone who gets in our way. Agreed?”
“I love it when you talk dirty.” James grinned at the younger woman. Felicity was more army brat than CIA, and one of the very few people James could trust absolutely in a firefight. “Not that it’s not a pleasure to see you, but why are you here?”
Felicity glanced at Marco, who was deep in conversation with the receptionist and someone else, probably the owner. “What I am about to tell you is for your ears only, James. No one else must know. Hell, outside of the President and the Joint Chiefs, only a handful of people know any of it.”
James nodded her agreement.
“During the coup in Turkey in July this year, air access to Incirlik Air Base was denied for twenty-four hours and the external power cut. At the time we assumed this was just posturing, but subsequent events have led us to suspect that security was breached. We still don’t really know what, or who, started the coup, but the base commander appears to have been part of it.
“What really terrified people at the time was that we lost – temporarily – control of a base where fifty tactical nukes were kept. And right by the Syrian border too. It was only a matter of time, they said, before ISIS stormed the place, stole the nukes, and started raining holy hell on the world.
“Of course, stealing a nuke is one thing, setting it off quite another, but nukes scare people. A lot of people think we shouldn’t have them at all. A lot of very powerful people think we should, but that we certainly can’t trust anyone else to look after them.
“So, we’ve been moving them to Romania, which has been a nightmare operation. Politically and technically. Halfway through, we lost a plane. Literally lost. Carrying two nukes. Eighty kiloton payloads each.”
James shook her head in sheer amazement. “How could you lose a plane carrying two nuclear missiles?”
“Planes are easy to lose. Warheads aren’t. A far better question is how we lost a satellite. We were, of course, tracking the plane from orbit and suddenly… nothing. I mean, the satellite’s still there, in orbit, but it’s space junk now.”