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Cell

Colin Forbes

Prologue

'It is now three weeks since Linda Warner, wife of the Minister for Home Security, disappeared overnight,' Superintendent Roy Buchanan told Tweed emphatically. 'Three weeks and not a clue as to what has happened to her.'

The senior detective from the Yard looked round Tweed's office at Park Crescent. He sat facing Tweed across from his desk. Gazing round he nodded to Paula Grey, Tweed's close assistant, seated at her own desk; at Bob Newman, ex-international news reporter. Behind him near the door a corner desk was occupied by Monica, Tweed's office assistant, a middle-aged woman with hair fastened back in a bun as she worked at her word-processor. It was the attractive Paula, in her thirties with long glossy black hair, who responded.

'Three weeks is a long time. Worrying. Has there been any kind of ransom note – assuming she was kidnapped?'

'No,' Buchanan told her. 'Which makes her disappearance even more worrying.'

'The news was splashed for a while in the papers,' Paula recalled, 'but now it's barely referred to.'

'Because the papers,' Newman explained, 'are full of rumours that, after September 11 last year in New York, Britain is now the System's next target.'

'Just how did she disappear?' Paula persisted.

'Victor Warner has two homes,' Buchanan reminded her. 'His penthouse in Belgravia and some place in the country at Carpford. That's a weird village hidden away in the North Downs. Mrs Warner's Porsche was found on the wrong side of the road just beyond a curve. No signs of any attack. The engine switched off, key left in the ignition. Mysterious.' He turned back to Tweed. 'I'd like you to drive down there with me to see for yourself.'

'Have you forgotten I'm Deputy Director of the SIS?'

'Of course not.' Buchanan paused. 'But you did break that Arbogast case* concerning five murders across two continents, to say nothing of the involvement of the Vice-President of the United States. And before you joined this outfit, you were the youngest homicide superintendent at the Yard. Arbogast proved you hadn't lost your touch.'

'Not possible. I have to concentrate on this job.'

Tweed was a man of uncertain age, of medium height, and wore horn-rim glasses. He was the man you passed in the street without noticing him, a characteristic he'd found invaluable in his profession. But recently he seemed to have grown younger, his fabled energy even more noticeable. His blue eyes were more lively, as were his gestures.

'As a favour to me,' Buchanan coaxed.

'I said no, Roy.' Tweed hammered his fist on his desktop. 'Also I've heard Warner has persuaded the Cabinet to give him full powers with no interference from any other service. He meant me…'

He paused as the door was thrown open, almost taken off its hinges. The Director, Howard, stormed into the office with sheets of paper in his hand. Six feet tall, he had developed a paunch from frequenting expensive restaurants and clubs.

He sagged into an armchair opposite Newman. Impeccably clad in a Savile Row blue bird's-eye suit, a crisp white shirt, a speckled bow-tie, his voice was upper-crust. He was, Tweed felt, the ideal boss – he dealt with the senior civil servants in Whitehall, where he was popular, leaving Tweed free to run the Service in his own way. * Author's previous novel, The Vorpal Blade.

'Triumph!' Howard boomed. 'Just returned from the PM. I persuaded him to cancel Warner's edict that only he can handle everything over here. Tweed, you can check out the mystery of Linda Warner's disappearance. PM's worried. Ugly rumours are circulating that Linda was too friendly with another key member of the Cabinet.'

'So,' Buchanan interjected with a smile, 'Tweed, you can come with me to Carpford, scene of Linda Warner's strange disappearance.'

'And,' Howard intervened, 'here is a copy of the authorization from the PM that we are completely independent of the Ministry of Security, that we continue to function as in the past.'

'He hasn't minced his words,' Tweed commented after scanning the document. 'But I'm still sticking to my decision not to investigate Linda Warner's disappearance. That's your problem, Roy, I don't think there's anything in these newspaper rumours that Britain is the next target of the System, as Victor Warner keeps calling it.'

'You did know Linda,' Paula coaxed. 'Maybe not well but she liked you.'

'I've made up my mind…'

The phone rang. Monica answered, placed her hand over the mouthpiece, pulled a wry face as she called out to Tweed.

'There's a Peregrine Palfry on the line. Warner's personal assistant. Insists on speaking to you.'

'That crawler. Probably bows to Warner every time he enters the room. All right, I'll speak to him for a minute… Tweed here.'

'Mr Tweed…' The voice was arrogant. 'I have been asked to inform you by the Minister…'

'Then put the the Minister on the line. I don't take calls from civil servants.'

'This is important, I would have you know…'

'Put the Minister on the line before I break the connection.'

There was a choking sound, a pause, voices whispering, then Warner himself came on the line. Not best pleased.

'Tweed, I'm a busy man…'

'That makes two of us. What is it?'

'Now listen carefully.' The tone was polite and determined. 'I have heard that you were considering investigating the strange disappearance of my wife. I absolutely forbid you to interfere with the investigation. It is in the hands of Superintendent Buchanan and Jasper Buller, Chief of Special Branch. Is that understood?'

'Absolutely.' Tweed, smiling, paused before continuing. 'I have to inform you there is a road-block to your request – my Service does not come under your jurisdiction. Thank you for calling. Goodbye…'

Tweed sat up straight, eyes blazing. He lifted his clenched fist, banged it on his desktop so ferociously Paula jumped. She was fascinated. Recently Tweed had undergone a change of personality. Normally calm, passive, he was now commanding, far more energetic.

'That does it,' he snapped. 'Warner telling me to keep off the grass. Obviously hasn't heard yet of the PM's edict. Roy,' he went on, speaking quickly. 'I don't want to start by driving with you to Carpford. Give me the address of Warner's pad in Belgravia. Also the name of his housekeeper.' He was standing up, hauling his overcoat off the stand, slipping quickly into it. 'Paula, you'd better come with me. You're good at spotting some detail about how people live that I might miss.'

'There's the address,' Buchanan said, hardly able to conceal his delight. 'Name of the housekeeper is Mrs Carson. I've seen her. Like talking to an iceberg. Got nothing out of her. Want me to come with you?'

'No!' Tweed gave Buchanan a friendly punch on the shoulder. 'Obviously you didn't ask the right questions. Now, Paula, I'll drive.' He handed her Buchanan's directions. 'You can navigate.'

'Maybe it would be best to phone first,' Paula suggested.

'No, it wouldn't. Catch the iceberg on the wrong foot. If icebergs have feet…'

Warner's London base was a penthouse on the fifth floor of a modern apartment block, fortunately hidden behind the grandeur of Belgrave Square, since its modernity was quite out of keeping with the square's stately buildings. Tweed used his SIS pass to shut up the aggressive porter. The elevator was luxurious, with gilded mirrors and red leather seats. It climbed silently and the doors slid back on the fifth floor to reveal wide corridors with deep-pile carpets.

'Warner owns the whole top floor,' Tweed remarked as they turned left, following Buchanan's instructions. 'Half of it he doesn't use. Just doesn't want other people near him, I presume.'

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