Back at the safe house, towels wrapped about damp clothing for warmth, James and Felicity studied a map of northern Italy and the Alps. “We tracked the container from Venice to the rail port in Domodossola,” Felicity said, tracing the route with her finger, west via Verona to Milan, then up into the Lepontine Alps past Lake Maggiore.
“From there through the Simplon Tunnel into Switzerland,” James said.
“That was my first thought,” Felicity said, “but we managed to get the truck driver on the phone. He said the container was transferred to a smaller truck. Yesterday I flew up to Domodossola, spoke to the operators, who put me in touch with the other driver, who lives in Baceno.” She moved her finger north, and much higher into the mountains. “He showed me the barn where the container was delivered. Said he’d been delivering a lot there recently. He thinks some rich Russian is building a private ski resort up in the mountains somewhere around there. A helicopter carries the stuff from Baceno, heading northwest across the mountains.”
“Did you take a look inside the barn?” James asked.
“Yes, and the container was there, a jumble of steel tubes of various sizes inside, and lots of polystyrene. Before I had a chance to phone in, they zapped me. Bastards. Woke up in that cabin, tied up, a red-haired Russian bitch telling me to make peace with God.”
James laughed. “The Red Queen has a taste for the melodramatic. Well, dawn is still a couple of hours away and I need a shower and clean clothes, but after that you and I can go a-hunting.”
“If you bring the helicopter, I’ll bring the guns.”
James woke Felicity at ten. “Domodossola,” she said, pointing down. The town was five hundred metres below them, but the snow-capped mountain peaks ahead reached high into the sky
Felicity yawned. “Seen it. Done it. Follow the river – and if you see a red helicopter, it’s mine.”
“Found it,” James said, a few minutes later. The burning wreckage was difficult to miss, as were the emergency services vehicles that ringed it. They flew on towards Baceno without stopping.
As the helicopter set down outside the barn, Felicity jumped out, sniper rifle at the ready, a pair of Glocks in her belt. James followed quickly, scanning the surrounding area. Together they advanced on the barn, seeing nothing but assuming nothing. A movement in the shadows inside was all the warning they had before the gun fired, but it was enough. James flung herself sideways, rolling back onto her feet and running to the side of the barn. Felicity threw herself onto the ground, rifle ready, and fired into the shadows.
James peered inside, ready to jump back or to shoot, but there was no immediate threat. In the shadows, one of the men in black sat, slumped awkwardly, his breathing ragged. His gun was still in his hand, but he made no attempt to lift it as James advanced on him. She recognised him as one of the two men who had accompanied the Red Queen.
By the time Felicity joined them, the man was dead. “Nice shot,” James said.
“Can’t get answers from a dead man.”
“I doubt he would have said anything.”
James searched the body, the only thing of interest being a phone, and together they searched the barn, finding only a tranquilizer gun and a Russian romance novel. “Either he had a heart after all,” James said, “or we now have the key to the latest Russian code.”
Felicity shook her head. “It’s probably some propaganda about a beautiful virgin girl pining for her brutal assassin lover.”
“Like the way you pine for me?”
Felicity merely rolled her eyes. “Come on. Let’s go.”
For two hours they surveyed the slopes and vales to the north of Baceno, staying always on the Italian side of the border and working gradually west. The scenery was dramatic. The day was cloudless and the late autumn sun made the south-facing slopes bright, while the north-facing slopes were cast into deep shadow.
James was about to point out that the fuel was running low, especially since they had to get to Milan, when Felicity spotted the other helicopter. It was flying west from the San Domenico ski slope towards the high peak of Monte Leone. “Follow that chopper,” she said.
James raced after the distant helicopter, but lost line of sight as it crossed Lago d’Avino, a small lake in a high valley surrounded by even higher slopes. “What now?” James asked as she held position over the water.
The hammering of bullets against metal was answer enough. James spun the helicopter round, heading for the drop. If she could reach it they could make a fast getaway. A fresh hailstorm of bullets tore through, punching holes in glass and metal. She saw rather than felt the bullet graze her leg, but the metallic shriek from the back and sudden wrenching spin of the helicopter demanded her attention. She’d lost the stabilising fantail. “Get out!” she screamed at Felicity as she fought to keep enough control to bring them down safely.
Felicity leapt out moments before the helicopter crashed into the water. Icy cold water flooded into the craft around James’s legs as she struggled out of the pilot’s seat, out of the door that was twisted in its frame. She couldn’t see Felicity, so looked for the nearest part of the shore and swam for it. The Adriatic had been tropical in comparison to the bitter water of the mountain lake.
She was shaking from the cold as she climbed out of the water. Two men in black awaited her, their specialist AN-94 assault rifles pointed at her. She glanced behind her to see the helicopter disappearing into the water. Of Felicity there was no sign.