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Chapter One

Don Brawn woke early, with a bad taste in his mouth. Not the taste of fear, which, he’d be only too willing to admit, he’d tasted many times before – but there was nothing to be ashamed of of tasting fear, as long as you swallowed it down and spat it out in contempt. No, this was some other taste… the taste of… what?

All in the first split-second of waking.

Brawn thrust himself out of bed, naked, and dropped to the floor. One hundred push-ups: twenty-five on fingertips; then one-handed, twenty-five each way on the knuckles of clenched fists; then twenty-five more on both palms, launching himself into the air on each push and clapping before landing again.

Then he flipped over and did some other exercises.

Twenty minutes later, lightly dusted with sweat, he entered the en-suite bathroom to clean his teeth. Stood before the mirror, he checked out his physique – still tight, despite his currently directionless life. For a moment, brush clenched between his teeth like a cork pipe, Don Brawn struck a pose before the mirror, tensing that way tubby men do to look buff – except all his muscles were real. He brushed, spat, rinsed – never once looking himself in the mirrored eye.

He stopped in the kitchenette for a swallow of OJ, then after pulling on running shorts, a tee and training shoes he trotted down the steep narrow flight of stairs to the front door, having managed not to face himself at any point through his morning routine – he hadn’t seen his own reflection for the whole two weeks since… since then. Eyes lowered as he unlocked the door, his gaze was down as he swing the door towards him – perfectly placed to see what was waiting for him of the welcome mat outside.

Suddenly Brawn knew what that taste in his mouth on waking had been.

The Taste Of Foreboding.

He stooped, then rising with the waiting object held in his hands he swung the door closed and – only now – was he confronted by his own face, reflected in the twin misted glass panes in the door.

He paused, eyes darting.

Don Brawn was unfashionably handsome; the kind of square-jawed, cleft-chinned handsome that, back in the 50s, probably would have brought women in hip-hugging pants and ICBM-cup brassieres running. His hair was a thick, smooth burgundy-black and fell into a left-side parting so sharp – even after a fortnight of total disregard – that it could have been cut with a razor. Clear square temples, dynamic eyebrows, an even symetrical shading of early-growth beard.

But it was his eyes that captured his own, as they had many others’ eyes in different times and places. The pupils black, focused, their aureolas dark and liquid, the whites clear and hypnotic. They were the kind of eyes that could draw both a sigh or a confession, without him speaking a word.

He was the kind of handsome – and they were the kind of eyes – that, nowadays and before, were considered most comfortable viewing the world from behind mirrored aviator shades – considered that way both by those who gave the orders and by those who would be on the receiving end of the effects of those orders, as embodied by him. For those eyes seemed to see straight into the soul of whoever faced them, and nobody with secrets ever wants to be known that deeply.

Now, however, these windows onto Don Brawn’s own soul showed only uncertainty – and maybe even a hint of that fear which, he had always told himself, he was unafraid to feel.

When Brawn got it back to the kitchenette he sat it on the table, and just stared at it. Scrutinised. Assessed. Contemplated. It. What it meant, at that moment, he couldn’t say. But Don knew that that would change, in time. For good, or, for evil. One way or the other.

Nothing special about it, perhaps – A4, light tan, unpadded – but full. Of something.

Nothing written on it, either. No sender or recipient, no stamp or postmark – but Brawn knew it was intended for him.

He’d received one just like it before – several times before.

It was the reason he had been forced to leave the World Security Agency in disgrace.

A Manila envelope.

Reluctantly, but inevitably, Don Brawn tore through the glued flap and shook out the contents.

His eyes flew wide.

X

Prologue xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Chapter Two

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