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Cruising through Muswell Hill on his carbon-framed bike, his hands resting lightly on the alloy handlebars, Dennis Cradle feels a pleasing exhaustion. It’s a longish ride from the office to his north London home, but he’s made good time. It’s something that he would hesitate to confide to his colleagues or his family, but Dennis sees himself as the upholder of certain values. The hard cross-town ride satisfies the Spartan in him. Cycling keeps him lean and mean, and, incidentally, looking pretty damn sportif in his form-fitting Lycra shorts and tactical-fabric jersey, given that he’s going to be forty-eight next birthday.
As the director of D4 Branch at MI5, responsible for counter-espionage against Russia and China, Dennis has reached a level of seniority where he can, if he wishes, get chauffeured home in one of the Service’s fleet of anonymous, mid-range vehicles. Tempting of course, status-wise, but a slippery slope. Let the fitness go, and it’s all over. Before he knows it, he’ll be one of those paunchy old shags propping up the Thames House bar, nursing his Laphroaig and complaining about how much better things were before the fembots in HR took over.
Cycling helps keep Dennis in touch. Keeps his ear to the street and the blood racing through his veins. Which is where he needs it, given Gabi’s raging libido. God, he wishes he was going home to her right now, rather than to Penny, with her diet-drained body and her incessant fault-finding.
As if on cue, as he glides the final hundred meters, the “Eye of the Tiger” theme from Rocky III kicks in on the Bluetooth player in his cycling helmet. As the big chords punch home, Dennis’s heart begins to pound. In his mind, Gabi is waiting for him on a king-size bed in the master cabin of a superyacht. She’s naked, except for a pair of fluffy white tennis socks, and her gym-toned legs are invitingly parted.
Then, incomprehensibly, a steel-strong hand grabs his arm and wrenches him to a halt, the bike skidding to the ground beneath him. Dennis opens his mouth to speak, but is silenced by a vicious short-arm punch to the gut.
“Sorry, squire. Need your attention.” Dennis’s captor is fortyish, with the features of a well-groomed rat, and smells of stale cigarette smoke. With his spare hand, he removes Dennis’s cycle helmet and drops it on the fallen bike. Dennis writhes, but the grip on his arm is unyielding.
“Stand still, yeah? Don’t want to hurt you.”
Dennis groans. “What the fuck…?”
“I’m here for a friend, squire, who needs to talk to you. About Babydoll.”
The remaining color drains from Dennis’s face. His eyes widen with shock.
“Pick the bike up. Put it in the back of the vehicle. Then get into the front seat. Do it now.” He releases Dennis, who looks around him with dazed eyes, noting the elderly white Ford Transit van and the pasty-faced youth with the lip-piercing at the wheel.
Opening the van’s rear door, his hands trembling, Dennis turns off the helmet’s Bluetooth sound-system, which is now playing “Slide It In” by Whitesnake. He hooks the helmet over the handlebars and loads the bike into the van.
“Phone,” Ratface says, following the demand with a stinging slap that leaves Dennis’s ears ringing. Shakily, Dennis hands it over. “OK, into the passenger seat.”
As the van pulls out into the traffic, Dennis tries to remember the Service capture and interrogation protocols. But suppose this lot are the sodding Service, and part of some internal investigation team? They’d have to have gone to the DG to authorize turning over someone of his rank. So who the fuck? Could they be hostiles? SVR, perhaps, or CIA? Just say nothing. Take each moment as it comes. Say nothing.
The drive takes less than ten minutes, with the Transit van weaving in and out of the rush-hour traffic. They cross the North Circular Road, and then pull in to the car park of a Tesco superstore. The driver selects a bay at the furthest point from the store’s entrance, brings the van quietly to a halt, and switches off the ignition.
Dennis sits there, his face the color of raw pastry, staring through the windscreen at the boundary fence. A faint fuel haze rises from the traffic on the North Circular. “Now what?” he asks.
“Now we wait,” says the voice of Ratface behind him.
Further minutes pass, and then a ringtone sounds. Grotesquely, it’s a laughing duck.
“For you, squire.” From the back seat, Ratface passes him a cheap plastic phone.
“Dennis Cradle?” The voice is low, with a tinny electronic twang. Voice-changer, he notes subconsciously.
“Who is this?”
“You don’t need to know. What you need to know is what we know. Let’s start with the big one, shall we? That in return for betraying the Service, you’ve accepted the best part of fifteen million pounds, and parked it in an offshore account in the British Virgin Isles. Do you have any comment to make about that?”
Cradle’s world contracts to the windscreen in front of him. His heart feels as if it’s been packed in ice. He can’t think, let alone speak.
“I thought not. So let’s continue. We know that earlier this year you took possession of a three-bedroom apartment in a building named Les Asphodèles in Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera, and that last month you bought a forty-two-foot motor yacht named Babydoll, presently moored at the Port Vauban marina. We also know about your association with twenty-eight-year-old Ms. Gabriela Vukovic, currently employed by the fitness club and spa at the Hotel du Littoral.
“At present neither MI5 nor your family know about any of this. Nor do the Metropolitan Police or the Inland Revenue. Whether that state of affairs continues is up to you. If you want us to remain silent—if you want to retain your freedom, your job, and your reputation—you need to tell us everything, and I mean everything, about the organization that’s been paying you. Short-change us, hold a single fact back, and you will spend the next quarter-century in a Belmarsh Prison cell. Unless you die first, obviously. So what do you say?”
The faint drone of traffic. Somewhere in the distance, the sound of an ambulance alarm. “Whoever you are, you can fuck yourself,” Dennis says, his voice low and unsteady. “Assault and kidnapping are crimes. Say whatever you want to whoever you want. I don’t give a shit.”
“You see, here’s the problem, Dennis,” the tinny voice continues. “Or maybe I should say, here’s your problem. If we send a report to Thames House, and there’s an investigation and a prosecution and all that sort of thing, it will be assumed that you’ve talked to us, and the people who are paying you all that money—and fifteen mill is a lot—will be forced to make an example of you. You’ll be dealt with, Dennis, and it’ll be nasty. You know what they’re like. So really, you don’t have a choice. There’s no bluff to call.”
“You haven’t the first idea what you’re talking about, have you? I may have concealed certain things from my wife and my employers, but having an affair isn’t a crime, at least it wasn’t when I last checked.”
“No, it isn’t. But treason is, and that’s what you’ll be charged with.”
“You’ve got no grounds whatever to charge me with anything of the sort, and you know it. This is just a cheap attempt at blackmail. So whoever you are, like I said, go fuck yourself.”
“OK, Dennis, here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to get out of that van in five minutes’ time, and ride your bike home. You might want to pick up some flowers for your wife; they’ve got some very reasonably priced roses at the petrol station. Tomorrow morning a car will pick you up at your house at 7 a.m. and drive you to Dever Research Station in Hampshire. Your deputy at Thames House has been informed that you will be spending the next three working days there, attending a counterterrorism seminar. In the course of that time, you will also, in another part of the station, be privately interviewed about the subjects we’ve discussed. No one else there will be aware of this, and there will be no outward sign of any break in your usual duties. Dever, as I’m sure you know, is listed as a government secret asset, and is completely secure. If these interviews go well, which I’m sure they will, you will be free to go.”
“And if I say no?”
“Dennis, let’s not even begin to think about what happens if you say no. Seriously. It would be a total shit-storm. Penny, for a start. Can you imagine? And the kids. Their dad on trial for treason? Let’s not even go there, OK?”
A long silence. “You said 7 a.m.?”
“Yes. Leave it any later and the traffic will be impossible.”
Dennis stares into the hazy twilight. “OK,” he says.
Laying the phone on her desk, Eve Polastri exhales and closes her eyes. The tough, authoritative character she’s been playing for Dennis Cradle is nothing like her own, and face to face with him she wouldn’t have been able to keep up the mocking tone, not least because he seemed so stratospherically senior to her when she worked at MI5. But with that final “OK,” he’s effectively conceded his guilt, and if he’ll almost certainly be shocked to see her sitting opposite him tomorrow, it won’t be anything she can’t handle.
“Neatly played,” says Richard Edwards, removing the headphones through which he’s been listening to Dennis and Eve’s conversation, and settling back into the Goodge Street office’s least uncomfortable chair.
“Team effort,” says Eve. “Lance scared the hell out of him, and Billy drove like an angel.”
Richard nods. The head of MI6’s Russia desk, Richard is technically Eve’s employer, although he’s an infrequent visitor to the office, and her name is not on any official Security Services personnel list. “We’ll give him tonight to meditate on his situation, ideally in the presence of that short-tempered wife of his. Tomorrow you can set about stripping him to the bone.”
“You think he’ll be there at 7 a.m.? You don’t think he’ll cut and run tonight?”
“No. Dennis Cradle may be a traitor, but he’s not a fool. If he runs, he’s finished. We’re his only chance, and he’ll know that.”
“No chance he’ll…”
“Kill himself? Dennis? No, he’s not the type. I’ve known him since we were at Oxford together, and he’s a ducker and diver. The sort who thinks you can sort out any problem, no matter how tricky, over a decent bottle of wine in a good restaurant, preferably on someone else’s expense account. He’ll tell us what we need to know, and he’ll keep quiet about it. Because scary though our people can be, the lot he’s betrayed us to have got to be infinitely more so. Any suggestion he’s compromised, they’ll shut him down straight away.”
“With extreme prejudice. They’d probably send your lady friend to do it.”
Eve smiles, and the phone in her bag vibrates. It’s a text from Niko, asking when she’s going to be home. She answers eight o’clock, although she knows that her actual arrival time is likely to be at least eight thirty.
Richard stares through the office’s single, long-uncleaned window. “I know what you’re thinking, Eve. And the answer is no.”
“What am I thinking?”
“Wring Cradle out, then use him as bait. See what swims up out of the deep.”
“It’s not a wholly bad idea.”
“Murder’s always a bad idea, trust me, and murder’s what it would amount to.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll stick to the plan. Dennis will be back in the arms of the lovely Gabi before you can say full-blown mid-life crisis.”
Rinat Yevtukh, leader of Odessa’s Golden Brotherhood crime network, is frustrated. Venice, he’s been assured, is more than a city. It’s one of the high citadels of Western culture, and perhaps the ultimate luxury destination. But somehow, standing at the window of his suite at the Danieli Hotel in his complimentary dressing gown and slippers, he can’t quite engage with the place.
Partly, it’s stress. Kidnapping the Russian in Odessa was a mistake, he sees that now. He’d assumed, quite reasonably, that the thing would play out in the usual way. A flurry of back-channel negotiations, a cash sum agreed on, and no hard feelings on either side. In the event, some lunatic chose to take the whole thing personally, leaving Rinat with six men and the hostage dead, and his house in Fontanka shot to pieces. He has other houses, obviously, and men are easily enough replaced. But it’s all extra work and, at a given point in your life, these things begin to take their toll.
The Doge’s Suite at the Danieli is reassuringly luxurious. Winged cherubs disport among candy-floss clouds in the ceiling fresco, portraits of Venetian aristocrats hang from walls shining with gold damask, antique carpets cover the floors. On a side table stands a meter-high, multicolored glass statuette of a weeping clown, bought in a Murano factory that morning and destined for Rinat’s Kiev apartment.
Katya Goraya, Rinat’s twenty-five-year-old lingerie model girlfriend, is sprawled barefoot across a rococo chaise longue. Dressed in a Dior crop top and Dussault thrashed jeans, Katya is gazing at her phone, chewing gum, and nodding her head to a Lady Gaga song. At intervals she sings along, insofar as the chewing gum and her limited English permit. There was a time when Rinat found this endearing, now he just finds it annoying.
“Bad Romance,” he says.
Unhurriedly, her expensively augmented breasts straining against the lacy fabric of her top, Katya removes her ear-buds.
“Bad Romance,” Rinat repeats. “Not Bedroom Ants.”
She looks at him blankly, then frowns. “I want to go back to Gucci. I’ve changed my mind about that bag. The pink snakeskin one.”
There’s nothing Rinat wants to do less. Those superior San Marco shop assistants. All smiles until they’ve got your money, and then you might as well be dogshit.
“We need to go now, Rinat. Before they close.”
“You go. Take Slava with you.”
She pouts. Rinat knows that she wants him to come because if he does, he will pay for the bag. If the bodyguard takes her it will come out of her allowance. Which he also pays for.
“You want to make love?” Katya’s gaze softens. “When we get back from the shop I’ll fuck you up the ass with the strap-on.”
Rinat shows no sign of having heard her. What he really wants is to be somewhere else. To lose himself in the world beyond the gold silk curtains, where afternoon is shading into evening, and gondolas and water taxis are drawing pale lines across the lagoon.
He closes the bedroom door behind him. It takes him ten minutes to shower and dress. When he returns to the reception room, Katya hasn’t moved.
“You’re just leaving me here?” she asks, incredulous.
Frowning, Rinat checks his reflection in a silvered octagonal mirror. As he closes the door of the suite behind him, he hears the sound, not unimpressive in its way, of a twenty-kilo Murano glass clown shattering on an antique terrazzo floor.
In the hotel’s top-floor bar, it’s blessedly quiet. Later it will be thronged with guests, but for now there are just two couples, both sitting in silence. Installing himself on the terrace, Rinat leans back in his chair, and through half-closed eyes watches the soft rise and fall of the gondolas at their moorings. Soon, he muses, it will be time to leave Odessa. To get his money out of Ukraine and into a less volatile jurisdiction. For the last decade sex, drugs, and human trafficking have proved themselves the ultimate gilt-edged trifecta, but with new players like the Turkish gangs moving in, and the Russians cracking down hard, the game is changing. The wise man, Rinat tells himself, knows when to move on.
Katya has her gaze set on Miami’s Golden Beach, where for less than $12 million, including bribes to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, you can get a luxury waterfront home with a private dock. Rinat, however, is increasingly of the opinion that life might be less stressful without Katya and her incessant demands, and the last few days have got him thinking about Western Europe. About Italy in particular, which appears to take a relaxed view of crimes of moral turpitude. The place is classy—the sports cars, the clothes, the fucked-up old buildings—and Italian women are unbelievable. Even the shop-girls look like movie stars.
A grave young man in a dark suit materializes at his elbow, and Rinat orders a malt whisky.
“Cancel that. Make the gentleman a Negroni Sbagliato. And bring me one too.”
Rinat turns, and meets the amused gaze of a woman in a black chiffon cocktail dress, who is standing behind him.
“You are, after all, in Venice.”
“I am,” he concurs, a little dazedly, and nods to the waiter, who silently withdraws.
She looks out over the lagoon, which shimmers like white gold in the dusk. “See Venice and die, is what they say.”
“I’m not planning to die yet. And I haven’t seen much of Venice, except the inside of the shops.”
“That’s a pity, because the shops here are either full of tourist trash, or the same as those in a hundred other cities, except maybe more expensive. Venice is not about the present, Venice is about the past.”
Rinat stares at her. She really is very beautiful. The amber gaze, the oblique smile, the whole artfully expensive look of her. Belatedly, it occurs to him to offer her a chair.
“Sei gentile. But I’m interrupting your evening.”
“Not at all. I’m looking forward to that drink. What was it again?”
She sits, and with a whisper of silk tights, which Rinat does not fail to appreciate, crosses her knees. “A Negroni Sbagliato. It’s a Negroni, but with sparkling wine instead of gin. And at the Danieli, naturalmente, they make it with champagne. For me, the perfect drink at sunset.”
“Better than a single malt whisky?”
A faint smile. “I think so.”
And so it proves. Rinat is not an obviously handsome man. His shaved head resembles a Crimean potato, and his handmade silk suit cannot disguise his brutal build. But wealth, however acquired, has a way of commanding attention, and Rinat is not unused to the company of desirable women. And Marina Falieri, as he learns her name to be, is nothing if not desirable.
He can’t take his eyes off her mouth. There’s a faint scar on the bow of her upper lip, and the resultant asymmetry lends her smile an equivocal quality. A vulnerability that speaks, quietly but insistently, to the predator in him. She is flatteringly interested in everything he has to say, and in response he finds himself holding forth freely. He tells her about Odessa, about the historic Cathedral of the Transfiguration, where he is a regular worshipper, and about the magnificent Opera and Ballet Theatre, to which, as an enthusiastic patron of the arts, he has contributed millions of rubles. This account of himself, if wholly fictional, is richly and convincingly detailed, and Marina’s eyes shine as she listens. She even persuades him to teach her a couple of phrases in Russian, which she repeats with endearing inaccuracy.
And then, all too soon, the evening is over. She has to attend an official dinner in Sant’Angelo, Marina explains apologetically. It will be dull, and she wishes she could stay, but she’s on the steering committee of the Venice Biennale, and…
“Per favore, Marina. Capisco,” Rinat says, discharging his entire stock of Italian with what he hopes is a gallant smile.
“Your accent, Rinat. Perfezione!” She pauses, and smiles at him conspiratorially. “It’s not possible, by any chance, that you’re free for lunch tomorrow?”
“Well, as it happens, I am.”
“Excellent. Let’s meet at eleven at the hotel’s river entrance. It will be my pleasure to show you something of… the real Venice.”
They rise, and she’s gone. Four empty cocktail glasses stand on the white linen tablecloth, three of his and one of hers. The sun is low in the sky, half obscured by oyster-pink cirrus clouds. Rinat turns to beckon for the waiter, but he’s already standing there, as patient and unobtrusive as an undertaker.
In the bus, moving at a snail’s pace up the Tottenham Court Road, the only person to give Eve a second glance is an obviously disturbed man who winks at her persistently. It’s a warm evening and the interior of the bus smells of damp hair and stale deodorant. Opening the Evening Standard, Eve flicks through the news pages and the descriptions of parties and serial adultery in Primrose Hill, and settles pleasurably into the property section.
There’s no question of her and Niko being able to afford any of the living spaces so seductively laid out there. All those Victorian warehouses and industrial units reimagined as fabulous, light-filled apartments. All those panoramic river-views framed in steel and plate glass. Nor, in any real sense, does Eve covet them. She’s entranced by them because they’re deserted, and not quite believable. Because they serve as the imagined backdrops to other lives that she might have led.
She reaches the one-bedroom flat that she and Niko rent shortly after eight forty-five, and pushing past the accretion of footwear, bicycle accessories, Amazon packaging, and fallen coats, follows the smell of cooking to the kitchen. The table, which holds an unstable pile of math textbooks and a bottle of supermarket Rioja, is laid for two. A hissing sound and a tuneless whistling from the bathroom tell her that Niko is in the shower.
“Sorry I’m late,” she calls out. “Smells delicious. What is it?”
“Goulash. Can you open the wine?”
Eve has just taken the corkscrew from the drawer when she hears a frantic clicking sound on the floor behind her, and turns to see two substantial animal forms hurtling through the air and landing on the table, sending the textbooks flying. For a moment she’s too shocked to move. The Rioja rolls from the table and smashes on the tiled floor. Two pairs of sage-green eyes watch her quizzically.
He saunters damply out of the bathroom, a towel round his waist, slippers on his feet. “My love. I see you’ve met Thelma and Louise.”
She stares at him. When he steps over the widening lake of Rioja and kisses her, she doesn’t move.
“Louise is the clumsy one. I expect it was her that—”
“Niko. Before I fucking kill you…”
“They’re Nigerian dwarf goats. And you and I are never buying milk, cream, cheese, or soap again.”
“Niko, listen to me. I’m going to the off-license, because I’ve had a bitch of a day, and every drop of alcohol we have is there on the floor. When I get back I want to sit down to your goulash, and a nice bottle of red wine, possibly two, and relax. We won’t even mention those two animals on the table, because by then they will have vanished as if they’d never existed, OK?”
“Excellent. See you in ten minutes.”
When Eve returns with another two bottles of Rioja, the kitchen has had a superficial but adequate makeover, there are no goats in sight, and Niko is fully dressed. With a simultaneous lifting and plummeting of her heart Eve notes that he smells of Acqua di Parma, and is wearing his Diesel jeans. Neither of them has ever put it into words, but Eve knows that when Niko wears these particular jeans and that cologne after 6 p.m., it’s to signal that he’s romantically inclined, and would like the evening to end with them making love.
Eve has no equivalent of Niko’s sex jeans, as she calls them. No fuck-me shoes or flirty dresses, no lace and satin lingerie. Her work wardrobe is anonymous and utilitarian, and she feels silly and self-conscious wearing anything else. Niko regularly tells her that she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t really believe him. She accepts that he loves her—he says so too often for it not to be true—but why he should do so is wholly mysterious to her.
They talk about his work. Niko teaches at the local school, and has a theory that less well-off teenagers, who do all their shopping with cash, are much better at mental arithmetic than richer kids who have been given credit cards.
“They call me Borat,” he says. “Do you think that’s a compliment?”
“Tall, eastern European accent, mustache… Kind of inevitable. But you’re wonderful with them, you know that.”
“They’re good kids. I like them. How was your day?”
“Weird. I phoned someone using a voice-changer.”
“Actually to disguise your voice, or for fun?”
“To disguise it. I didn’t want the guy to know I was a woman. I wanted to sound like Darth Vader.”
“I’m not even going to begin to imagine that…” He looks at her. “I think you’d like the girls. Truly.”
“Thelma and Louise. The goats. They’re very sweet.”
She closes her eyes. “Where are they now?”
“In their house. Outside.”
“They have a house?”
“It came with them.”
“So you’ve actually bought them. They’re permanent?”
“I’ve done the math, my love. Nigerian dwarfs give the richest milk of all breeds, and they only weigh about seventy-five pounds fully grown, so they eat the least hay. We’ll be completely self-sufficient for dairy products.”
“Niko, this is the arse end of the Finchley Road, not the fucking Cotswolds.”
“Also, Nigerian dwarfs are—”
“Please stop calling them that. They’re goats, period. And if you think I’m getting up every morning—or any morning, for that matter—to milk a pair of goats, you’re insane.”
In answer, Niko gets up from the table, and goes out onto the tiny paved area that they call the garden. A moment later Thelma and Louise come bounding joyfully into the kitchen.
“Oh God.” Eve sighs, and reaches for the wine.
After the meal Niko does the washing-up, then takes himself to the bathroom to freshen up the Acqua di Parma, wash his hands, and run his wet fingers through his hair. When he returns he finds Eve fast asleep on the sofa, a spoon in one hand and an ice-cream tub trailing from the other. Thelma is lying contentedly at her side, and Louise is standing with her forelegs on the sofa, scouring the tub for the last of the melting chocolate chip with a long, pink tongue.
Rinat Yevtukh has dressed carefully for his morning rendezvous, and after some thought has selected a Versace polo shirt, raw silk slacks, and Santoni ostrich-skin loafers. A solid-gold Rolex Submariner completes the impression of a man who espouses quiet good taste, but is by no imaginable means to be fucked with.
- Shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award
- "But it's all good, nasty fun for lovers of James Bond and Modesty Blaise--although Jennings is much more sexually explicit than Ian Fleming or Peter O'Donnell. This espionage romp keeps readers slightly off balance as it brilliantly walks the line between thriller and spoof--and readers will find the experience irresistible."—Shelf Awareness
- "The obsessive relationship between the two women deepens. Nonstop action moves between London, Venice, Paris, Moscow, and the Swiss Alps, as the two women track each other, and amoral Villanelle continues her murderous ways. . . . Jennings provides plenty of spy craft and scenic and sensual atmosphere laced with betrayal in this adrenaline-fueled sequel to Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle, the book that spawned the BBC America series."—Booklist
- "When Killing Eve crashed on our screens last year, it felt like a breath of fresh air: a feisty and funny entry in the recent revival of the staid, stuffy and overwhelmingly masculine spy genre. With a second season about to air in April and the coming release of the second book in Luke Jennings's Codename Villanelle series, it is clear Eve and Villanelle - the MI6 operative and the talented assassin she is tracking - will be with us a while longer."—Washington Post
- "Like Ian Fleming, Jennings is at once tongue-in-cheek and serious. . . . His version of 007 is great fun."—Sunday Times (UK)
- "A memorable protagonist . . . There is an extra sheen of glamor that makes Villanelle more a James Bond than a mere killer."—The Daily Mail (UK)
- "Exciting and fun."—Daily Express (UK)
- On Sale
- Mar 26, 2019
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Mulholland Books