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Paranormal romance by Lilian Roberts
“THE COLOSSAL BUILDING in the center of St. Petersburg Square displayed an impressive architectural style with a strong Byzantine influence. The corbel arches and domes were gilded or brightly painted, giving the building a seventeenth century appearance. The walls and ceilings throughout the building were covered with decorative carved panels. The staircases leading to the upper floors were with fitted bookcases. Each door was carefully made from walnut with heavy bronze handles attached on either side. The leather upholstery for the walls was carefully selected. The carpets, the curtain fabric, and the upholstery for the furniture were imported from Europe. The furniture was exquisite, each piece made of the fashionable walnut with rich texture. Every desk, table, and bench was fretted in Gothic patterns, including lancet arches, rosettes, and trefoils. Nikola Vasilovitch, the head of Russian Intelligence, was sprawled in a huge chair behind one of those amazing desks. He held a cigar in his left hand, and his eyes were half closed.
The sun burst through the huge window on the east side of the room, creating an unusual brilliance. There were three tall, broad-shouldered men sitting on the large sofa across from Nikola’s desk, waiting in silence for their boss to speak. Rainer Heinrich and Hahn Dussel were German born theoretical physicists, both experts in creating and handling bombs. They had spied for the Russians while working in England as well as the United States. The third man on the sofa was Larue Legrand, a French born citizen who stole secret documents from the French military and passed them along to the Russians. He was an expert in penetrating and decoding secret documents and designs. Nikola was their single point of contact. He was the one they turned over secret information to, not caring whether the information harmed an individual, a business, or an entire country.
These three individuals oversaw an espionage ring with cells working throughout the world. They had central posts in Paris, Berlin, Milan, Athens, Brussels, Vienna and Warsaw.
From these cities, their spies received assignments, and then moved quietly to swap identical black bags containing important items or information. They possessed skills to uncover, steal, or forcefully take what they wanted for their own purposes, keeping the heat away from St. Petersburg. They embedded coded texts in ordinary-looking images posted on the Internet and communicated with one another using special software on their laptops. They had bombing specialists working for them, specialists who developed many types of bombs and detonated them remotely to create chaos in train stations and government buildings. The men did not care who was killed and who survived.
Nikola coughed, clearing his throat as he lit the cigar in his hand. He blew thick circles of smoke towards the ceiling. He stood up and started to pace back and forth in front of the three men. Nikola was a stocky man with thick brown hair and dark brown eyes that seemed full of anger and contempt.
“What have you got worth discussing on the International Industrial Research Laboratories?” His voice was husky and cold. He spoke in a no-nonsense tone. “I want to know the history behind this company, and why our first attempt failed so miserably.” He stood in front of the large sofa looking down on the men, grinding his teeth while waiting for an answer. They knew their boss wouldn't accept excuses. The three exchanged nervous glances. Hahn was the first to speak.
“I did a background check on IIRL after the first attempt to steal the designs. I found out that the company has roots that go back to the sixteenth century. The Gaulle family started the business, which changed names three times in the last five hundred years. The name IIRL was established during the nineteenth century, and the only heir to the business is the young Sebastian Gaulle. He’s a brilliant businessman who has established offices and laboratories around the world. He works very closely with his chief advisers at each location, however he is closest to Nathan Shilton, his chief adviser at the London headquarters. A few months ago, he hired Troy Vasser, a young Italian man, as his chief security officer for the entire company. The strange thing is that both Sebastian and Troy attend the University of Brighton while running the business.”
“And, why is that so strange?” he asked.
“Well, they both hold several degrees from distinguished universities around the world. Don’t you think that’s a bit strange?”
Nikola rubbed his chin, a puzzled look on his face. “Indeed, that is something,” “he said. “But to come back to the more important issue at hand, why did we fail last time? The documents were of the utmost
importance, and the scientists even more so. They were both within our reach, and we lost them. I had promised the prime minister that we were going to deliver, and I failed. Why did we put inexperienced people in charge of such an important assignment?” A twisted scowl appeared on his awkward face.
“Actually, Alexie Miroslav was one of our best agents, but something must have gone terribly wrong. Interpol showed up at the exact moment he picked up the briefcase that contained the documents at the museum. There’s no way anyone could’ve known the meeting place. There must be a mole among us, and that mole set them up,” Hahn said.
Nikola walked around the huge desk, and then turned to faced them. His brown eyes were cold as ice. The men shivered. They remained silent; they didn’t dare to make up a story. Nikola was skilled at detecting deception and absolutely unforgiving.
His fist slammed on the desk, making the three men jump. “The prime minister is heavily funding our group, trying to restore the prestige we deserve, but we must deliver to prove ourselves. He was furious at the scale of our incompetence. We spent huge amounts of money to get our hands on those documents, and we didn’t only fail miserably, we lost several agents because someone didn’t do their job right. I expect you three to find the mole and punish him or her in the appropriate way. If you succeed, I’m willing to forget this, but there’ll be no more failures.” His look was venous.
“I want you to go back to your offices and come up with a plan that is foolproof. There will be no miscalculations and no slip-ups because this time a bad outcome will be devastating to you three. I want you back in this office tomorrow morning to lay out your plan right here on this desk.” He slammed his hand on the top of his desk one more time.
“I’m sure this Sebastian Gaulle has family or loved ones. I want you to set up surveillance and find out exactly who is most important to him. Use any means necessary to convince him that cooperating with us is his only option. We’ve got to have the IIRL documents and designs. I don’t give a shit how you go about it. It’s one of the most important items on the agenda, and I want to have a firm plan on how we are going to accomplish this by tomorrow.”
The men took deep breaths after Nikola finished, and then summoned the strength to get up and walk out after promising they’d be there first thing in the morning.
Their faces were tense, but showed a small sign of relief as they stepped outside the building. Nikola’s crazy stare, full of bitterness and hostility, had terrified them.
Nikola was the kind of man that had no conscience, no scruples, and who thought anyone outside Russian Intelligence was a potential enemy. He thought of outsiders as objects, not human beings. Making a commitment to work for him was a life sentence with no outs, no alternatives.
They knew they lived in a frantic world, and they were products of their own trials and tribulations. They used fear and torture to get power. Nikola was like a live grenade ready to go off in a matter of seconds. By the time anyone realized that being part of this group was a mistake, the only way out was the morgue. The three criminals walked silently to the car and piled in. Rainer pushed on the gas as Hahn let out a long sigh of relief.
“What the hell was all that about?” Larue screamed from the back seat.
“I guess Nikola didn’t receive the proper thank you gift from the Prime Minister and he’s holding us responsible for sending Alexie over there to do the job,” Rainer said abruptly.
“I don’t remember you negotiating with anyone on this assignment,” Hahn said, bemused.
“Hell…I know that, and he knows that. I never met Alexie, and never had anything to do with the last assignment. It was all his doing, and now he is throwing the blame on us. If it had been a great success he would have taken all the glory and praise, but since it was a total failure he’s got to blame someone else.” He let out a loud growl and cursed angrily.
“You mean us?” Larue said.
“Yes, us, and we'd better come up with a better plan,” he said, and cursed under his breath again as he stared straight ahead. The three men pondered failure and tensed up absentmindedly. Rainer felt anxiety spread across his body. Fear made him shiver. He, more than the other two, was familiar with Nikola's response to failure.
“He wouldn’t really hurt us, would he?” Larue’s voice was filled with anguish.
“Listen, Larue, I’ve worked for that son of bitch for fifteen years, and he shows absolutely no mercy. I think he would execute his own mother if he had to. He has no soul. He is the real d’yavol.”
The car moved down the busy streets without another word spoken until the men arrived at their destination, a building located on the south side of the Neva River about five kilometers from headquarters. They climbed out of the car and walked towards the entrance, moving through the revolving glass door and stopping inside the huge lobby.
Rainer turned to face Larue and Hahn gazing at them for a short moment. He took a deep breath and ran his tongue over his dry lips with a twinge of annoyance.
“I think we should take this to the conference room and put our heads together. Whatever plan we come up with will have to be strong, foolproof, no nonsense. Our lives depend on the outcome.” He turned and walked into the elevator. He hit the button for the fourteenth floor. They rode the elevator in absolute silence. The doors opened into a large, elegantly decorated corner office. Two glass walls provided an amazing view of the river and the city below. Rich mahogany paneling covered the other walls. An antique sofa covered in gorgeous designs and two beautiful antique chairs sat on the opposite side of the room from where they entered. Huge flowerpots occupied each corner of the room, and an awesome mahogany desk sat right in the center. Stylish curtains in dark blue silk with decorative valences and gold trim complemented the accessories on the small tables next to each chair. The curtains were held open on either side of the glass walls by gold handles.
A very beautiful young lady sat behind the desk talking on the phone and taking notes while a couple of guests waited to meet with someone on that floor. The woman looked up as the elevator doors opened. She put down the receiver and gave the men a delighted smile.
“Hello, Mr. Heinrich,” she said, in a soft voice. Rainer met her gaze and returned her greeting with a wide smile on his face. It was clear to everyone from his smile that he was happy to see her. He approached the desk and laid his hand on top of the young woman's hand, his eyes never leaving her beautiful green ones. His voice transformed into something surprisingly tender.
“Georgiana, could you please bring some coffee to the three of us in the conference room?”
She nodded, never losing her beautiful smile as she turned bright red from the excitement of his touch. She had been his secretary for six months. He knew that she had feelings for him and they were both single, but despite their mutual attraction he hadn’t said or done anything to cross the professional line. He shook his head, remembering that he was in the middle of an important assignment here; he couldn’t lose focus, not for one moment. He suddenly turned and walked down the long, narrow hallway with Larue and Hahn on his heels. They passed several offices on the way including his. He stopped at the end of the hallway in front of a door with the sign, “Intelligence Security Services Conference Room,” and flung the door open.
“I’ve an idea,” said Larue as soon as they'd entered the room.
Rainer took a seat and motioned for them to sit. “Let me hear it,” he said eagerly.”
“How about talking to Jorrit Van Cleef in Brussels? He’s an expert in administering malware to a company's main systems. He can make those systems vulnerable to access, and get a hold of vital information. Or he could take control of their browsers and monitor their activities.”
“Can he do that?” Rainer asked, curiosity piqued.
“He sure can, he can infest their system with a virus that would create chaos in their company. I’ve seen him do it before.” His eyes were filled with excitement.
“We don’t want to destroy any of their documents, we need that information,” Rainer said.
“The spyware he uses isn't a virus that spreads and destroys their documents. It installs software that explores security holes and packs them with user-installed software.”
“I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“In simple words, he’ll install a malicious program to their main system that is completely concealed, a program capable of defending itself against removal, and that'll allow him to gain administrator access, therefore gaining access to passwords and other sensitive information in the system.”
Rainer got up from his chair and put his hands behind his back. He paced back and forth without saying a word. He finally stopped in front of Larue.
“Are you sure he can do that?”
“I know he can. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.”
“All right then, I like it. We’ll go with that, but let's have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. Do we agree? We don’t want to take any chances at all.” Hahn looked at Larue and asked, “How is that going to help us?”
“He’ll take control and monitor their system, get complete access to every piece of information they own, including the details on the documents that Nikola wants to get his hands on.”
“All right, let's move to the backup plan,” Rainer said impatiently.
“What do you suggest?” Larue asked.
“I want tight surveillance on Sebastian and his family if he has one. I want to find out who are the people that mean the most to him. I want a detailed daily schedule for his and his family’s activities. I want photographs documenting where they go on their daily routine.”
Rainer dragged in a deep breath, and then started pacing again. A moment passed in silence. He finally stopped pacing and glancing at the two men still sitting at the conference table, he said, “If Jorrit’s plan doesn’t work, we’ll have to set in place a logical strategy that will terrorize Gaulle’s family and force him to surrender the documents.”
“Hahn and Larue merely nodded, but their heads remained filled with fretfulness. What did they really know about Gaulle and his family? What if they failed again? The fear of Nikola’s retaliation was enough to cause panic throughout their bodies.”
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