Never Say Die ePUB Ù Never Say Epub /

Never Say Die Thin Air Fifty thousand people had come to the Suffolk Air Show on the east coast of England But only one of them was there to commit murderIt was the third week in August, the height of the summer The schools were closed, and whole families had taken advantage of the fine weather to arrive at the old air base, less than a mile from the sea They had strolled around vintage planes from the first and second world wars single seat biplanes parked next to Spitfires and Hurricanes That morning, the Red Arrows had put on a dazzling display, twisting and crisscrossing each other in the sky before swooping down, trailing plumes of red, white, and blue There had been fly pasts by the Tornado GR, the two seat attack aircraft that had been used in Iraq and Libya, and by the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, one of the most sophisticated andatmillionone of the most expensive aircrafts in the world The grounds were packed with simulator rides, motorbike displays, drones, face painting and fairground stalls Everyone was having a good timeAs with every public event in the UK, an extensive, almost invisible security net had been put in place It was impossible to stop and search all the cars, but CCTV cameras recorded every arrival and every license plate was instantly checked People might notice police and even a few sniffer dogs moving among them These were a common sight But they would have been unaware of the plainclothes policemen, many of them with concealed weapons, mingling with the crowd In fact the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre JTAC had met in their offices close to the Houses of Parliament just a few days before and had agreed that the threat level at the Suffolk Air Show would remain at moderate They werent expecting any troubleAnd so nobody had paid very much attention to the woman who had arrived just after three oclock She had driven into the parking lot in a Ford Transit van that, according to the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, belonged to the St John Ambulance service This was the countrys leading first aid charity, and indeed, the woman was dressed in the green and black uniform of a local volunteer She was carrying a nylon bag marked with a white cross that, if opened, would reveal medicine and bandagesShe was short and round shouldered with dark red hair that had been cut very badly so that it stuck out straight on one side of her skull and curled on the other There was something quite aggressive about the way she walked, like a boxer about to enter the ring She was overweight, breathing heavily with beads of sweat on her upper lip As she walked, she slipped on a pair of cheap sunglasses They concealed the smoldering violence in her eyesThere was a separate entrance leading into the air base, reserved for paramedics, technicians, organizers anyone working the event She stopped and showed a pass that identified her as Jane Smith, but this was not her real name, nor had she ever worked for the St John Ambulance service The security man at the gate might have wondered why she had arrived so late in the day, when the event was almost over He might have asked her why she was alone But he was tired and he was looking forward to getting home He glanced at her pass and waved her through He didnt even look inside the bagThe womans real name was Dragana Novak She was forty six years old, and until recently she had been a lieutenant colonel in the Serbian air force a highflier in every sense of the word Her career had ended following a drunken fight with another pilot He had been twice her size, but even so, she had put him into the hospital In fact he was still there Inevitably, there had been a court martial, and she had been looking forward to an uncertain futureperhaps even a return to the turnip farm where she had been brought up That was when she had received the telephone call There was a unique job opportunity It would pay two hundred thousand dollars a day for two days work Was she interested Dragana didnt need to think for a minute She had met her contact in a local tavern in Belgrade, where she had tucked into her favorite dish of sarmaspicy beef wrapped in cabbage leaveswashed down with a large glass of rakijathe local plum brandy The man, who had never given her his name, had told her what was needed It was a tricky operation that would demand all her skills Dragana hadnt asked any questions All she cared about was the money It wasthan she had been paid in her lifeShe was still dreaming about jewelry, fast cars, and expensive chocolates as she made her way past the various exhibition stands, the bars, the fast food outlets People were already drifting toward the seats for the last flying display of the afternoon For many of them it was the high point of the entire show The aircraft was sitting out on the tarmac, patiently waiting for the pilot to walk over and take the controls Dragana stopped at the barrier that ran the full length of the runway and took out a pair of binoculars Without removing her dark glasses, she raised them to her eyes Slowly, unable to help herself, she smiledThis was what she had come to stealThe American built Sikorsky CH E is also known as the Super Stallion, and theres really no helicopter in the world thats quite like it Looking at it, its hard to believe that it can fly at all For a start, its huge as tall as a three story building and longer than three London buses parked end to end Its also surprisingly ugly, bolted together as if the designers had never actually had any plansThe Super Stallion can flyat two hundred miles per hourand what makes it special is that it can carry an enormous load It is the workhorse for the United States military, capable of lifting sixteen tons of cargo When the Americans mount an assault, it can transport a platoon with enough weapons to obliterate an entire army How does it even get off the ground Part of the answer is that it has no fewer than three hugely powerful turboshaft engines It also has enormous titanium fiberglass rotor blades, seventy nine feet in diameter Most helicopters have just four blades The Super Stallion has sevenDragana Novak examined the Super Stallion, running her eyes over the gray painted fuselage, the cockpit, the tail rotor The Serbian air force couldnt possibly afford a machine like this, but Dragana had briefly flown one when she was on a training exercise with the United Nations and still remembered the thrill it had given her In less than thirty minutes time, it would be hers She had no children She had never married But right now, looking at the helicopter, she felt its power reaching out to her and knew that she was completely in loveIt was time to move Everything had been planned down to the last second, and she had been shown exactly where she had to go There were several hangars on the other side of the runway, but two buildings dominated the airfield closer by, both of them left over from the last war One was the control tower The other was a low redbrick building with about twenty evenly spaced windows and several doors This had been an office complex, but it was being used to house the pilots and technicians during the show with changing rooms, rest areas, and a cafeteria at the far endHoisting her medicine bag over her shoulder, Dragana strolled toward the entrance where twouniformed officials were standing behind a conveyor belt that fed into an X ray machine, exactly the same sort of device that could be found at any airport First, visitors would have their cases and shopping bags scanned Then there was a metal detector that everyone had to pass throughHello, she said Im here to see Sergeant Perkins She had spent five years studying in London before qualifying as a pilot and spoke good English but with a heavy accent that made her seem as if she disliked everything she was sayingWhy The officials glanced at one another, puzzled They had been here all day, and this was the first time they had seen herDragana smiled, showing gray teeth, discolored by wine and cigarettes Her right hand slipped into the pocket of her jacket He has a headache I have some aspirin for himOf course the story was ridiculous The two men should have rung the control tower to get confirmation But just like the guard at the main gate, they came to all the wrong conclusions This was a single woman She was wearing a St John Ambulance uniform It was the end of the day, almost the end of the entire event What possible harm could there be All right, one of them said Your bag has to go through the machine, and remove any metal objects from your pocketsOf course Dragana placed the medicine bag on the belt and watched as it was carried slowly into the machine She knew that there was nothing inside to cause any alarm Next, she stepped through the metal detector and smiled to herself as the light flashed green She collected her things and continued on her way This was going to be even easier than she had thoughtShe continued down a long corridor with a wooden floor and old fashioned hanging lights A few people passed her but didnt give her a second glance Again, the uniform saw to that She came to a door at the end and knocked politelyCome in Even in just two words, she could detect the American accentThere were two men sitting in the room, both wearing flight suits First Sergeant Brad Perkins was in his early thirties but looked much younger clean shaven, fair haired, with blue eyes He had recently graduated as a pilot from the US Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker in Alabama, and this was one of his first deployments He was a little annoyed to find himself not just in England but in some place hed never heard of Suffolk Where the heck was that There was a copilot sitting with him, also American, about the same age, drinking Coke Dragana didnt know his name Nor did she careHow can we help you Perkins askedWell, actually, you can die Dragana had taken an unusual looking gun out of her jacket pocket It was white and made of ceramic, which was why it had passed unnoticed through the metal detector She squeezed the trigger twice The gun used a small chamber of compressed air to fire not bullets but plastic needles, each one tipped with tetrodotoxin, one of the deadliest poisons on the planet Tetrodotoxin, or TTX as its known, is a neurotoxin found in certain fish and octopuses and is extremely fast acting Brad struggled to his feet but died before he was halfway there His partner tried to say something, stared, then collapsedDragana put the gun away and went over to the two men Sergeant Brad Perkins stared up at her with empty eyes He was the smaller of the two, about her size She reached down and unbuttoned his uniformTen minutes later, she walked out of the building, now dressed in a flight suit and carrying a leather folder Nobody stopped her as she reached the Super Stallion and climbed inside The ground staff had been expecting two men, not a single woman And she was twenty minutes early But still nobody challenged her After all, she looked as if she knew what she was doing She was dressed for the part And the very idea that somebody might be about to steal a gigantic helicopter in broad daylight was so bizarre, so outrageous, that nobody even considered itAnd so she was completely relaxed as she slipped on a set of headphones and strapped herself in Out of habit, she ran her eye over the various gauges, checking the fuel levels She flicked on the master battery, the avionics, and the fuel valve master, then watched as the seven huge blades began to turn, picking up speed until they were nothan a blur Even with the headphones, she was deafened by the engines She rested her left hand on the collective control, then leaned over and adjusted the throttle She could feel the downdraft underneath her, beating onto the tarmac at ninety miles per hour Stallion One You are clear for takeoffThe voice came from the control tower, a young man, very English, stupidly cheerfulA final check She had reached proper operating RPM revs per minute Using the throttle and the foot pedals, she steered the Super Stallion along the runway, gently guiding it This was the moment she loved, when this huge machine belonged only to her She found herself whispering to it in her own language, urging it to obey her commands as it tilted forward then rose, impossibly, into the airAs they left the ground, she thought briefly of the two men she had killed She had no pity for them After all, she was a military officer who had been trained to kill peoplealthough she had been disappointed that she had never had the opportunity until today Ten minutes in the air and two hundred thousand dollars in the bank She would have killed fiftypeople for that She reached out and pressed on the cyclic lever, bringing the nose of the helicopter down and urging it forward Obeying her commands, the Super Stallion shot out beyond the coastline and over the sea Stallion One Turn left heading zero five zero and ascend flight level one hundred, overThe man in the control tower was still jabbering in her ear Of course she wasnt going to do what he said In fact, he was beginning to annoy her She reached down and turned the volume off Then she turned rightThey would know almost at once that something was wrong The path of the helicopter would be traced by primary and secondary radar systems Very soon, there would be a red alert at the National Air Traffic Service center at Swanwick It might have happened already They would know that she had strayed from the agreed flight path and was not responding to their commands They would already be tracking her There were dozens of satellites in outer space, and they would be directed to watch her every move And of course, the Super Stallion was filled with communications equipment that she had been unable to neutralize and that would be transmitting even now She loved the helicopter It belonged to her But she couldnt stop it from giving the two of them awayTiming was everything She had memorized the exact route she had to take and made the necessary adjustments The gray surface of the North Sea was beneath her, but now she brought the helicopter around, traveling south Looking out of the window, she saw the port of Felixstowe, the lines of cranes and gantries lined up along the docks, the two riversthe Stour and the Orwellstretching inland She checked her course and accelerated, sweeping low over the pier and the seafront She knew she would be seen, but that didnt matter In a way, it would helpThe field she was looking for was just south of the A, the road that led from Suffolk to London There was a scattering of buildings, an abandoned farm She had already been shown the maps and photographs and had studied them so many times that she recognized them instantly She noticed a few cars parked around the edges She knew that there would be half a dozen men waiting for her to complete her short journeyAnd there was her target She saw it from two thousand feet and immediately began her descent It was a rectangular block of steel lying flat in the grass, a landing pad just big enough for the helicopter to fit onto Three thick metal hoops had been welded into the steel, forming a triangular shape This was the difficult part The Super Stallion had three huge wheels Each one had to be positioned right next to a hoop Otherwise, the plan wouldnt workThere was no way that Dragana was going to fail She was in command of the helicopter and it would do everything she asked It weighed , pounds, but she brought it down as gently as a falling leaf For a few seconds she hovered over the metal plate, then dropped She felt the hydraulics take the great weight and immediately flicked the engines off The rotors began to slow down Already, the men who had been waiting for her were running forward, carrying with them locking devices that looked remarkably like wheel clamps, the sort of thing the police used to immobilize carsNobody hesitated Dragana got out of the cockpit and walked over to one of the cars At the same time, the men were kneeling underneath the helicopter, locking the wheels to the three hoops The clamps they were using were made of magnesium alloy, the lightest and the strongest metal in the worldIt took them two minutes Before they had even finished, Dragana Novak had already left the field, sitting in the backseat of a fast car, on her way to London The Super Stallion was securely locked in place It was only thirty miles from the airfield where it had been stolenOne of the men had a remote control device with two buttons He waited for a signal, then pressed down At once, hydraulics hidden beneath the metal slab sprang to life, and slowly, inch by inch, the slab began to rise It was like the lid of a trapdoor opening in the ground, even though there was nothing underneath it The Super Stallion tilted backward, the cockpit pointing upFinally, it was vertical The next part of the operation could begin And then Sitting in her office on the sixteenth floor of the building in Liverpool Street, London, the chief executive of the Special Operations Division of MI examined the report that had just been pressed into her handsIt was just four weeks since Mrs Jones had been appointed head of Special Operations, moving into the office that had once been occupied by her boss, Alan Blunt Slim and dark haired, she was wearing a black suit with only one piece of jewelry, a silver brooch shaped like a dagger She looked exhausted From the moment Blunt had resigned, she had felt the weight on her shoulders, understanding what it was like to be responsible for the security of the entire country And now this There had been problems, fears, dangers But this was the first real crisis she had encountered since she had taken chargeThere were four men facing her across the desk two from Special Operations and two others in uniform, from outside She had addressed her question to her chief of staff John Crawley had been with the service for as long as anyone could remember He had once been an extremely effective field agent In fact it was said that in just one year, three rival organizations had tried to recruit him while threehad tried to assassinate him Now, with his thinning hair, his tired eyes, and his very ordinary appearance, it was all too easy to underestimate him That would have been a serious mistakeThe helicopter went out to sea, heading toward the Continent, he explained Our first thought was that it was being taken to Russia But then after traveling four and a half miles, it turned south and headed back toward the coast It was tracked by the National Air Traffic Services primary and secondary radar systems from Swanwick It was last seen flying over Felixstowe And then it vanished into thin airWhat do you mean Exactly what I say, Mrs Jones It was tracked by our satellite systems We have the signal from its own transponder And then nothingSo where did it go Crawley shook his head We have no idea It may have crashed into the River Orwell That seems most likely But weve already got people on the scene, and theres absolutely no sign of anythingMrs Jones turned to the man sitting next to Crawley Do we have anything from the site The second agent was the youngest person in the room, in his late twenties, black, with very intelligent eyes and hair cut close to the scalp He was smartly dressed with a crisp, white shirt and bright tie He moved slowly as the result of a gunshot wound he had suffered recently, on duty in the Timor Sea He had recovered with amazing speed and had insisted on returning to work Mrs Jones liked him It was she who had recruited him from the SAS and brought him under her wing His name was Ben DanielsHe opened a laptop and tapped a button At once, an image appeared on a seventy two inch screen mounted on the wall Were ninety percent certain that the helicopter came down in one of these fields, he said We tracked it right up to the last minute, but then, as Mr Crawley says, it just disappeared He pointed As you can see, there are some farm buildings, a barn, a windmill, and some houses Theres a church nearby The trouble is, none of them are big enough to conceal a helicopter the size of the Super Stallion even if you somehow took off the roof and landed insideMrs Jones examined the photographs There was indeed a barnbut it was half collapsed There was no way the helicopter could be insidebut anyway, someone would have checked She had seen plenty of windmills in Suffolk, and this one was typical, wooden fronted with white blades, used for grinding corn long ago but now abandoned What about the church No Just as Crawley had said, it was too small She looked through the other photographs A hill, a haystack, two electricity pylons, the river If it wasnt here, where was it It could have landed on a truck, Ben Daniels continued That way, it could have been driven out, and wed have no way of knowing where Youd clearly need a very big truck, thoughThis really isnt good enough, Mrs Jones It was one of the military men who had spoken His name was Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Baker, and he was the vice chief of the Defense Staff, the second most powerful man in the British armed forces He was small, bald, and angry looking with a ginger mustache He tended to bark every word The Americans arent too pleased They lost two of their men Murdered I can understand that, Sir Norman But were doing everything we canWere clearly not doing enough We need to search the area again And if the Super Stallion was transported by truck, surely to goodness we should be able to get some sort of CCTV pictureTheres a ratherserious question we should be asking ourselves The second military man spoke slowly, as if he was testing his every word His name was Chichester, and he worked in naval intelligence He was a very gaunt, serious man He spoke slowly, as if he was testing his every word What exactly are they going to do with the helicopter he went on Could this be the prelude to some sort of terrorist attack It seems unlikely Mrs Jones had already considered the possibility It had been her first thought when she heard the helicopter had been taken The Super Stallion has a range of only six hundred twenty miles, and although it can carry machine guns, this one wasnt armed Its used for transportYes, of course But who is transporting what Sir Norman snapped From the way he was talking, the whole thing could have been Mrs Joness fault The prime minister is extremely concerned, he added Were talking about a massive piece of equipment here We cant just have lost itWe havent stopped looking, Crawley said We have the police out in full force Our agents are all over Suffolk Weve managed to keep this out of the newspapers, and were on full alertMrs Jones sighed Her instinct was telling her that this had all the hallmarks of a Scorpia operation Firstly, the theft had been completely ruthless Why had it been necessary to kill the two American pilots They could just as easily have been knocked out It had also been extremely efficient And finally it was totally unfathomable, a bit like a magic trickBut that should have been impossible The criminal organization known as Scorpia was finished Its members were either all dead, under arrest, or on the runWe need to go back to the immediate area around Felixstowe, she said Lets get divers into the river and into the sea She gestured at the photographs And we need to search here the farm, the hills, everything Weve already searched there, Crawley saidMrs Jones looked straight into the eyes of her chief of staff Then search again Even as she spoke, MI agents were sweeping the area It was already getting dark, but they had powerful flashlights The beams swept across the grass, picking out the trees, the electric pylons, the empty and derelict barns They didnt go into the windmill It was too small There was no pointNobody saw that the outer shell was actually very flimsy, made out of plywood that had been bolted together recentlyNor did they notice that, unusually, the windmill had seven bladesOnce again amid races, chases, hails of bullets, and increasingly spectacular explosions, the teenage James Bond pulls off one awesome feat of derring do after another This fresh caperroars along to a naturally explosive climax Booklist In his usual breakneck fashion, Horowitz whisks Alex from one improbable situation to anotherthis installment is sure to please Alex s legions of fans Kirkus Reviews

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