Hawke was the kind of man to prefer bread, water, and solitary confinement to just about any kind of organized meeting. He had just suffered through two solid days of DNI briefings at British Naval Headquarters on the Rock. CIA Director Patrick Brickhouse Kelly, the guest of honor, had given a sobering presentation on the final day. He had identified another serious crisis brewing in the Gulf. The nub of it was, Red Chinese warships were headed into the Indian Ocean for a rendezvous with the French navy.

China and France? An unlikely alliance on the surface. But one with grave implications for stability in the Gulf region. And thus, the world.

No one in Washington was exactly sure when, or even if, this much-ballyhooed naval exercise would occur. But all of the blue-suit Royal Navy boys at Gibraltar were quite exercised about it. The very concept stirred their blood. Not a few of them were fantasizing a replay of Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar, Hawke thought. And Blinker Godfrey had provided more than enough charts, facts, figures, sat photos, and mind-numbing reports to whet their brass whistles. Endless stuff.

Why? Hawke had wondered, squirming in his chair. It was not a difficult concept to comprehend: France and Red China, sailing jointly into the Indian Ocean. You can actually express that notion in one sentence. Maybe ten words. Most situations Commander Hawke dealt with were like that. Straightforward and not irreducible. In Royal Navy parlance, however, that one sentence had translated into forty-eight hours of squirming around in a smoke- filled room trying to find comfort on a hard wooden chair.

British Naval Intelligence, Gibraltar Station, had an especially nasty habit of providing far too much unnecessary detail. This tendency was personified in one Admiral Sir Alan “Blinker” Godfrey, a pompous chap who never should have been let anywhere near a PowerPoint computer presentation. Even back in the day, when the old walrus had his antiquated overhead slides to present, he simply didn’t know how to sit down and shut up. More than once he’d caught Hawke at the back of the briefing room fingering his Black-Berry and made unpleasant remarks about it.

So, overbriefed and underslept, Hawke finally escaped. He cleared the Spanish border checkpoint at the Rock and headed out along the sad and condo-ruined coast of Spain. As he wound up the C Type’s rev counter, he found himself turning over the salient points of the prior evening’s brief in his mind.

The bloody French were at the heart of the matter. Their Foreign Trade minister, a corrupt and virulent anti- American somehow related to Bonaparte, was a constant worry. No surprises there; the man had been making relations with France increasingly difficult for some time. No, the truly worrisome mystery at this point was French involvement with the Red Chinese. Eyebrows were raised when Brick Kelly called them that; but “Red” was an adjective CIA Director Kelly had never stopped using, since, as he said in the briefing, “If that group of Mandarins in Beijing ain’t red, then I don’t know who the hell is.”

Kelly then put up a chart: in the preceding year, Red China had quadrupled her military budget to eighty billion U.S. dollars. She was buying carriers and subs from the Russians and building her own nuclear missile submarines as fast as she could. In the preceding months, Kelly said, hard American and British intelligence had shown France and China engaging in secret joint naval exercises in the Taiwan Strait on seven different occasions.

Christ, what a stew.

The Taiwan Strait, between the People’s Republic of China on the mainland and that offshore thorn in her side, Taiwan, was as dangerous a stretch of water as there was; it, rather than the Gulf, got Hawke’s vote as the place most likely to spark a world war in years to come. Not that anyone in the Admiralty was asking his opinion. He wasn’t paid for his geopolitical savvy. He was in Gibraltar for the briefing solely at Kelly’s request. There was, the director said, a new assignment. A matter of some urgency, he said.

As his dear friend, Ambrose Congreve of Scotland Yard, had observed on numerous occasions, it was simply cloak-and-dagger time again. This notion, the prospect of his immediate assignment, a hostage rescue, soon had a salutary effect on his mood. Hawke had always found the classic covert snatch to be one of life’s more rewarding endeavors. The former hostage’s appreciative smiles upon rescue were priceless reminders of why one played the game.

This particular hostage was exceptionally lucky. According to Kelly, only the actions of an alert station chief in Marrakech had alerted the Americans that one of their own was in trouble. He’d been stepping out of his car at La Mamounia just as a drunk was being loaded into the rear of a black sedan. The drunk looked American, the two men “helping” him were Chinese. Sensing something was amiss, the station chief jumped back into his car and followed the sedan for hours, all the way to the harbor at Casablanca.

Armed guards at the foot of the gangway made intervention impossible, and he’d watched helplessly as the unconscious man was hauled up the gangplank of the Star of Shanghai. He’d called Langley immediately. His suspicions were confirmed. The drunk was likely one of their own all right, due out of China a week ago and presumed dead.

Feeling much rejuvenated (driving at speed also worked wonders), Alex Hawke found himself grinning foolishly after only an hour or so behind the wheel. The sun was shining, his recently restored C Type was screaming along the Grand Corniche straightaway at 130 mph, and, for the moment, all was right with his world. His two hands firmly positioned at quarter to three, Hawke relished the notion that he was officially back in the game.

A sign marker flashed by: Ste. Tropez. Only a few hours from his destination, the old resort at Cannes. Executing a racing change down into second gear, going quite quickly into a built-up S-bend, Hawke inhaled deeply.

Provence was delightful in June. Glorious. Somewhere, bees were buzzing. He’d always felt a certain kinship with bees. After all, were they not similarly employed? Zipping around all day, doing the queen’s work, ha?


Spring itself was in the air. Not to mention the scented vapors of hot Castrol motor oil wafting back from one’s long, louvered bonnet. Good stuff. The feeling of raw power as one smashed one’s shoe to the floorboard and, whilst exiting a descending-radius curve, hearing the throaty roar of the naturally aspirated 4.4-liter XK Straight-Six responding beautifully. He’d been listening to the newly rebuilt motor carefully all day and had yet to hear any expensive noises.

Nor did he, until he arrived in Cannes and checked into the fabled Carlton and heard the chap at Reception say how much his bloody seaside suite would cost him per night.

Chapter Two

Hampstead Heath

AMBROSE CONGREVE LAVISHED A DOLLOP OF TIPTREE’S LITTLE scarlet strawberry preserve onto his warm toast and held it up for closer inspection. Satisfied, he contemplated the two three-minute eggs in their Minton blue china cups with unbridled relish and a shudder of warm satisfaction. Songbirds trilled outside his sunny windows and the teapot was whistling merrily on the Aga. To say that Ambrose was enjoying his early breakfast in the sunny conservatory of his new house would be gross understatement.

It was pure, unadulterated bliss.

Moments precisely like this one, the legendary New Scotland Yard criminalist reflected, had been the stuff of keen anticipation for lo these many months.

Just as there had been times, shivering with damp cold in his drear little Bayswater flat of many years, that he’d never dared dream these happy domestic circumstances might ever come to pass.

His present situation, newly acquired, was a lovely brick-and-stone cottage in Hampstead Heath. The house proper, and some of the outbuildings, had been bombed almost into extinction by the Nazis during the Blitz. It had been the property of his late aunt, Augusta. The dear woman had spent the last half of the century in a loving restoration of house and gardens completed just a few short months before her sudden death at age ninety-seven. Augusta had died peacefully in her sleep. Ambrose, standing at the graveside, had hoped this exit method ran in the family.

Attending the reading of the late Mrs. Bulling’s last testament at her solicitor’s drab offices in Kensington High Street, Ambrose’s remorse had been tempered by the vain hope that he might inherit. There was, after all, a

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