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This United state

Colin Forbes

Prologue

Paula Grey's nightmare began at exactly 10 pm. on a cold February night in Albemarle Street, the heart of Mayfair, London.

She walked out of Brown's Hotel, left hand clutching the collar of her coat, shoulder bag slung over her right arm. A taxi pulled in to the kerb, the door was flung open, a man dived out. Cord Dillon, Deputy Director of the CIA. The last person in the world she'd expected to see. He stopped abruptly, close to her.

'Paula, get away from me. You'll get killed.'

'Cord, what the devil-'

'That white Cadillac coming up the street. Full of men trying to shoot me-'

'Come this way. My town. Don't argue!'

She grabbed the right arm of the large American, guided him swiftly up the street, away from the approaching car. The rear window on their side lowered as she hustled Dillon. She had a glimpse of a bald man holding a handgun.

A taxi cut in front of the Cadillac, delaying it. They were already beyond the facade of Brown's Hotel. She hauled Dillon into the partial shelter of a setback, in front of a large plate-glass window. Crack! She had heard no sound of a shot fired. Glancing behind them she saw the bullet hole in the window. A huge triangular section of plate glass toppled. Inwards, away from them.

'Keep moving,' she ordered. 'A truck has swerved in front of the Cadillac.'

'You'd better leave me-'

'Shut up! Keep moving,' she repeated. 'I didn't hear a shot.'

'They use silencers on their weapons.'

Arriving at a T-junction, she urged him across the road, turned right along Grafton Street. This was crazy – trying to murder someone in Mayfair. At that time of night Albemarle Street was usually a haven of peace. Just a few parked cars. No one on foot – not in this cold. All the buildings without lights – except for the hotel. Out of sight of Albemarle Street she heard a vehicle coming up behind them. A taxi with its lights on. She flagged it down.

'Victoria Station,' she told the driver.

'Hop in, then.'

They were already inside, the door closed. The taxi drove off. Paula glanced through the rear window. The Cadillac had turned the corner. The driver had seen them board the taxi. Paula extracted a ten-pound note from her wallet. Leaning forward, she passed it through a gap in the glass partition separating them from the driver.

'This is your tip. There's a white Cadillac behind us. Please lose it well before we reach Victoria. My husband's behind the wheel.'

'Righty-ho, lady. Will do.'

The cockney cabbie tucked the banknote inside a pocket, closed the partition, pressed his foot down. Paula lost track of the devious route the cabbie took, racing down side streets, turning at speed round corners. When she looked back there was no sign of the Cadillac. She heaved a sigh of relief.

'Why Victoria Station?' Dillon asked.

'Don't want to lead them to Park Crescent.'

'They know about Tweed's HQ…'

'Leave it to me.'

'Have you got a gun?' he whispered.

'Yes.'

Her right hand was inside the special compartment of her shoulder bag, holding the butt of her Browning. 32. She glanced at Dillon. His craggy, clean-shaven face was so familiar She noticed a touch of grey in his hair, his haggard drawn look.

'Better let me have the gun,' he suggested.

'No. Leave it to me. You're short of sleep, aren't you?'

'I came straight off a flight from Montreal at Heathrow. Didn't sleep a wink during the whole flight. Never stopped checking the other passengers.'

'Why from Montreal?'

'I guessed they'd be watching flights from Washington to London. So I flew to Montreal first.'

'Who is after you?'

'A small army. Let's keep that for Tweed…'

Arriving at Victoria Station, she paid the driver, led Dillon inside the cavernous terminus. Very few people about. An old man in shabby clothes sat on a seat, drinking from a bottle of beer. She scanned the concourse, then led the American back the way they had come.

'What are we doing now?' he asked.

'I wanted that cab we took to go away. I saw a passenger get inside while we were walking in. There's another taxi. We'll take that to Park Crescent.'

Dillon wore a camel-hair coat, carried a large executive case. In his late forties, he had a pugnacious jaw, a strong nose and a determined mouth. In many ways he was a typical American – tall, wide-shouldered, the build of a quarterback. He lapsed into silence during the drive. Paula sensed he was near the end of his tether and kept quiet. She checked the re-a1-window several times. No Cadillac.

She was paying the driver generously as he turned into Park Crescent. They left the cab and she pushed open the heavy door with a plate alongside it on the wall. General amp; Cumbria Assurance. George, the guard, was standing behind his desk as they entered the hall.

'Tweed's in, I hope?' she queried.

'Yes. He has Bob Newman with him.'

'Ask Monica to tell Tweed we're on our way up. This is Cord Dillon.'

'I remember Mr Dillon.'

'And I remember you, sharpie,' the American growled.

'The strain's telling on you,' Paula rebuked him as they mounted the staircase.

When she opened the door on the first floor Tweed was seated in his swivel chair behind his desk, hands clasped behind the back of his neck. Of medium height, clean-shaven, of a certain age, he wore horn-rimmed glasses. The Deputy Director of the SIS was a man you could pass in the street without noticing, something which had proved invaluable in his work. He stood up to shake hands, his penetrating eyes studying his visitor as he ushered him to a chair facing the desk.

'You look washed out, Cord.'

'You could say that. Tell you about it when I get my heard screwed on again.'

'You've met Monica:'

Dillon twisted round to look at the small middle-aged woman who kept her grey hair tied up in a bun. Tweed's close assistant for many years, she sat behind her desk which supported several telephones, a fax, a word processor.

'Guess I should remember you, Monica, by now. Can't understand why you- go on working for this monster.'

'Coffee?' Monica suggested, standing up. 'How do you like it these days?'

'Black as sin.' Dillon grunted. 'And there's plenty of that comin' into town here from the States.'

'What kind of sin is that?' queried Bob Newman.

The world-famous foreign correspondent, in his forties, had fair hair, a wry smile on his strong face. Also clean-shaven, five feet ten tall, he was well built and women found him engaging – an advantage he exploited only spasmodically. Fully vetted, he had worked with Tweed in a number of dangerous situations.

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