NIGHT DESCENDED LIKE a curtain of scuttling insects, coming alive with the setting of the sun. The noise was atrocious, as was the stench of unwashed bodies, human excrement, rotting food, and decomposing bodies. The garbage of Bangalore shifted back and forth like a sludgy tide. Leonid Danilovich Arkadin sat in a darkened room that smelled of hot electronics, stale smoke, and cooling dosas. Firing up a cigarette with his chrome lighter, he stared down at the ribbed skeleton of Phase Three, part of the ever-expanding Electronic City rising out of the slums clinging to Bangalore like a disease. Electronic City, built in the 1990s, was now the world capital of technology outsourcing; virtually every major high-tech company had IT offices here, making it the hub of the technical support industry spawned by technologies that morphed every six months.
Gold from concrete, Arkadin thought, dazzled. He’d read up on the history of alchemy, because of its transformative nature it had become a special interest of his. At this early hour of the evening — early, that is, for the outsourcing crowd whose offices by and large filled the buildings to capacity — the lobby and corridors were as quiet and still as they would be if they were in New York City at 3 am . The outsourcing crowd was geared to the workday in the United States, which made them as virtual as ghosts when they were at their consoles, cordless earphones wrapped around their heads.
After the fiasco in Iran, when he had royally screwed Maslov, he had set up operations here, away from those he wished eventually to hunt, who were already hunting him: Dimitri Ilyinovich Maslov and Jason Bourne.
From his suite of offices he had a perfect view of the block-square work site, a pit excavated out of the earth where the footings for the foundations of another office tower were being laid. Usually the site was lit by glaring floodlights, so the crews could work through the night, but work had stopped unexpectedly two weeks ago and hadn’t yet resumed. As a result the excavation had been invaded by the city’s ragtag army of beggars, whores, and gangs of young kids trying to fleece everyone who passed by.
Now and again, as he let the smoke drift from his nostrils, he could hear the stealthy cat-like padding of his men strategically placed throughout the suite, but he was alone in this room with Hassan, a large, square software magician who smelled faintly of circuits and cumin. Arkadin had brought his men with him, loyal Muslims all, which presented a problem only insofar as the native Hindus hated Muslims. He’d looked into using a detail of Sikh mercenaries, but he couldn’t find it in himself to trust them.
Hassan had proven invaluable. He had been the computer programmer for Nikolai Yevsen, the late and unlamented arms dealer whose business Arkadin had appropriated out from under Maslov. Hassan had made a copy of all the customer, supplier, and contact data on Yevsen’s mainframe before wiping it clean. Now Arkadin was working Yevsen’s list, raking in unimaginable mountains of money by supplying war matériel for virtually every local warlord, despot, and terrorist organization around the globe.
Hassan sat hunched over his computer, using encrypted software slaved to the remote servers Arkadin had set up in a secure location. He was a man who lived to work. In the weeks since Hassan’s defection and Yevsen’s death in Khartoum, Arkadin had never once seen him leave these offices. He slept after eating a light lunch, from one to three thirty precisely, then it was back to the computer.
Arkadin’s attention was only partially on Hassan. On a sideboard nearby lay a laptop, with hot-swappable drive bays, into which he’d slid the hard drive from the laptop one of his men had stolen from Gustavo Moreno just before the Colombian drug lord was shot to death in his Mexico City compound. Turning to it, Arkadin felt his face bathed in the eerie blue electronic glow, hard as marble, hard as his father’s callused fist. Stubbing out his cigarette, he scrolled through the files, which he’d already pored through again and again; he had a number of computer hacks on his payroll, but he hadn’t allowed any of them — even Hassan — to comb through this particular hard drive. He went back to the ghost file that had reluctantly shown its enigmatic face only under the duress of a powerful anti-virus program. He could see it now, but it was still locked away, encrypted with a logarithm his cryptographic software still hadn’t been able to crack despite running for more than twenty-four hours.
Moreno’s laptop, which was hidden in a safe place, was as mysterious as this ghost file. It had a slot in the side that lacked the receptor for a USB plug-in and was too big to accommodate an SD card, too small to be a fingerprint reader. Clearly, it was a custom retrofit, but for what?
What the hell was in that file, anyway? he wondered. And where would a drug lord get an unbreakable logarithm like this one — not at your local hacker’s mart in Cali or Mexico City, that was for sure.
Lost in thought as he was, Arkadin’s head nevertheless came up as if he scented the sound, rather than heard it. His ears practically twitched like a hunting dog’s, and then, moving back into the shadows, he said,
“Hassan, what’s that light moving down in the construction site?”
Hassan glanced up. “Which one, sir? There are so many fires . . .”
“There.” Arkadin pointed. “No, farther down, stand up and you’ll see it clearly.”
The moment Hassan rose, leaning forward, a spray of semi-automatic fire demolished the office windows, spraying Hassan, the desk, and the surrounding carpet with an ice storm of glass crystals. Hassan, slammed backward, lay on the carpet, gasping and drooling blood.
Arkadin ejected the hard drive just before a second hail of bullets flew through the shattered windows, gouging the wall opposite. Taking shelter within the desk’s leg hole, he took up a Škorpion vz. 61 submachine gun and shot to ribbons the computer Hassan was working on. By this time staccato semi-automatic gunfire had begun to erupt from within the office suite itself. The overlapping noises resounded, peppered with shouted commands and the screams of the dying. No help from his men, that much was clear enough. But he did recognize the language in which the laconic orders were being delivered: Russian. And more specific than that, Moscow Russian.
Arkadin thought Hassan was speaking or at least making sounds, but whatever he was saying was lost within the explosions of gunfire. Since the attackers were Russian, Arkadin had no doubt they were after Yevsen’s priceless information. He was now trapped inside a pincer assault both from within the suite and from the grounds outside the blown-out windows. He had only moments in which to act. Rising, he scuttled over to where Hassan lay, his hot, bloodshot eyes staring up at him.
“Help . . . help me.” Hassan’s voice was thick with blood and terror.
“Of course, my friend,” Arkadin said kindly, “of course.”
With luck, his enemies would have mistaken Hassan for him, which would buy him the precious time to escape. But not if Hassan began to scream. Jamming the hard drive deep into his pocket, he pressed his shoe onto Hassan’s throat until Hassan arched back and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head. But with his windpipe crushed, he could make no sound. Behind him, Arkadin heard a confused swirl of sounds on the other side of the door. His men would defend him to the death, he knew, but in this case they seemed to have been caught off guard and might even be outnumbered. He had only seconds to act.
As in all modern office buildings, the large windows were sealed shut, possibly as a safeguard against suicide attempts, which now and then occurred in any event. Arkadin cranked open a side window and slipped out into the unquiet night. Six floors below him was the excavation pit from which the cavernous new building would rise. Enormous earthmoving machines reared up amid the makeshift cardboard hovels and cook fires like long-necked dragons slumbering in the semi-darkness.
The sleek, post-modern building had no horizontal sills outside the window, but between the windows were lengths of decorative outcroppings of concrete and steel running vertically. Arkadin swung onto one just as a fistful of bullets pinged through the door to his office — his men had lost their valiant battle with the intruders.
The smells of the Bangalore night, of ghee, frying dosas, betel juice, and human waste, rose up from the excavation pit six floors below like a noxious mist as he began to shinny down the concrete-and-steel column. At that moment he became aware of crisscrossing beams of light below him: Having determined that they hadn’t shot him to death up in his office, they were beginning the search for him in earnest on the ground. Acutely conscious of how exposed and vulnerable he was clinging like a spider to the side of the building, he stopped at the fourth-floor level. The panes were smaller and more evenly spaced here because this floor was given over to the air-conditioning system, the water and electrical systems, and the like. He kicked at the windowpane on the floor below using the toe of his boot, but to no avail, the glass was impervious to the blows. Lowering himself farther, he swung his foot into a metal plate below the window. It dented, a corner twisted up but would not come off, so he scuttled down until, in this precarious position, he was able to insert his fingers into the space between the metal and the wall. Applying pressure, he levered the plate off. Now he was confronted with an oblong hole that appeared to be just large enough for his body. Grabbing onto the pillar with both hands, he swung his feet into the gap, pushed, inserting his legs, then his buttocks. Only then did he let go of the pillar.
For a moment his head and torso dangled in space, long enough for him to see, even upside down, the searchlights rising toward him, creeping up the facade of the building. An instant later he was dazzled, caught in their light. He heard raised voices, guttural shouts in Russian before he gathered himself and pushed himself fully into the gap. Followed closely by the explosive sounds of gunfire, he tunneled into utter darkness.
He lay still, regaining his breath and equilibrium. Then, using his feet and knees, he urged himself through the space, wriggling first one shoulder, then the other. This method served him well for three or four feet, until he came up against what seemed to be a barrier. Craning his neck, he could just make out a faint patch of gray floating somewhere in the blackness ahead of him, which meant he hadn’t come up against a barrier at all — the space had narrowed unexpectedly. He pushed with his legs, but this only seemed to wedge his shoulders in more securely, so he stopped and did nothing at all, willing his body to relax while his mind ran through strategies to extricate himself.
He began a series of deep-breathing exercises, slowing with each exhale. He willed himself to think of his body as boneless, as infinitely malleable, until his mind was utterly convinced. Then he contracted his shoulders, bringing them in toward his chest as he’d once seen a contortionist do in the Moscow circus. Slowly, ever so gently, he pushed with the outer edges of his boot soles. At first nothing happened; then, contracting farther, he began to inch forward, coming through the narrow section and out the other side. Soon enough after that the top of his head butted against the inner grille. Drawing his legs up as far as the confined space allowed, he imagined them going through the grille. Then all at once he slammed his legs straight, battering the grille with such force it popped off, and he tumbled into what appeared to be a closet, stinking of hot metal and grease.
Closer inspection revealed that the cubicle was an electrical switch station for the elevator. Coming out the other side, he found himself in the elevator shaft. He could hear the shouts of the Russian assassins. The elevator car was moving downward toward the fourth floor; the men outside must have informed those inside of where he had reentered the building.
He looked around and saw a vertical ladder bolted to the wall directly across from where he stood. But before he could make a move the hatch on the roof of the elevator car swung up and one of the Russians poked his head and torso out. Seeing Arkadin, he brought up a submachine gun.
Arkadin ducked as a burst of gunfire sparked off the wall at the spot his head had just been. In a crouch, he aimed from the hip and sent a hail of bullets into the Russian’s face. The top of the car was almost level with him, and he vaulted upward, landing on it. The moment his boot touched the roof, a burst of bullets exploded upward through the open hatch almost knocking him off his feet, but he kept going. Taking another long stride to the far edge of the roof, he leapt across the gap to the vertical ladder, down which he immediately scrambled. Behind him, the elevator car began to descend. When it was a good six feet below him it stopped.
He braced himself, swung his upper torso around, and the moment he saw movement out of the open hatch, sent three quick bursts pinging against the roof. Then he continued down the ladder, dropping two and three rungs at a time in order to make himself a more difficult target to track.
Answering fire started up, sparking against the metal rungs as he spidered his way down. Then abruptly the firing stopped, and risking a glance upward, he saw at once that one of the surviving Russians had crawled out of the open hatch and swung down onto the vertical ladder, coming after him.
Arkadin paused long enough to raise his weapon, but before he could fire the Russian let go of his hold and, plummeting down, grabbed onto him, almost ripping his arms out of their sockets. He swung wildly with the added weight and the momentum from the falling body, and in that moment the Russian swatted the weapon out of his hand. It went banging down the shaft, clanging and caroming this way and that. At the same time, the elevator resumed its descent.
The Russian had one hand pressed against Arkadin’s throat, while the other ripped a K-Bar knife out of its sheath. The Russian pushed Arkadin’s chin up, exposing his throat. The thick, wicked blade arced through the air and Arkadin drove one knee upward. The Russian’s body bent like a bow, intersecting with the bottom of the elevator as it came down.
Even braced as he was, Arkadin was almost dragged into the side of the elevator as the Russian’s body was ripped from him. For a moment he dangled upside down, and only his ankles hooked through a rung of the ladder saved him. He let himself swing while he oriented himself, then he reached out, his powerful hands gripping the ladder as he unhooked his ankles and swung down until he was right-side up again. The strain on his shoulders was enormous, but this time he was prepared and did not falter. His feet found a rung below him and he resumed his downward climb.
Below him the elevator continued its descent to the ground floor, but no one poked their head out of the open hatch. Landing on the roof, he peered cautiously inside. He counted two bodies; neither one was left alive. He dropped down, stripped one of the corpses of its weapon, then hit the basement button.
The basement of the tower was a vast, fluorescent-lighted parking garage. It was not, however, well used, since most people who worked in the building couldn’t afford cars. Instead they called taxi services to take them to and from work.
Apart from his own BMW, two gleaming Mercedeses, a Toyota Qualis, and a Honda City, the garage was bereft of vehicles. Arkadin checked them; all were empty. Avoiding his car, he broke into the Toyota and after several moments of fiddling with the electronics managed to defeat the starter cutoff switch. Settling himself behind the wheel, he put the car in gear, drove across the bare concrete and onto the up-ramp to the street.
With a spray of sparks from the undercarriage Arkadin bounced out at the rear of the building onto the roughly paved street. Directly ahead of him lay the construction pit. So many fires flared among the rubble and the gigantic machines, the entire site seemed in danger of bursting into flame.
To either side of him he heard the throaty roar of powerful motorcycle engines as two Russians rode their mechanical beasts toward him in a pincer movement. It seemed clear that they had been waiting for him at either end of the street so that no matter which way he turned, left or right, they could head him off. Pressing the accelerator to the floor, he drove straight ahead, crossing the street, and crashed through the flimsy fence that encircled the building site.
Immediately the Toyota’s nose dipped down as the car descended almost precipitously into the pit. The shocks took most of the force of its landing, but Arkadin still bounced in his seat as the car hit bottom and, tires squealing, leveled out. Behind him the two motorcycles lifted into the air as they followed him into the pit — landing, bouncing — and took off after him.
He headed directly toward one of the fires, scattering vagrants as he went. Passing through the flames, he veered hard to his left, threading the proverbial needle between two huge machines and — just managing to avoid one of the slicks of greasy garbage — turned hard right toward another fire and another group of lost souls.
Glancing in his side mirror, he saw one of the motorcycles still on his tail. Had he lost the other one? Approaching the flames, he waited until the last minute, when the glare was at its height, then jammed on the brakes. As people ran in every direction, the motorcycle, with its driver half blinded, plowed into the rear of the Toyota, launching the Russian off the seat. Tumbling head-over-heels, he smashed into the top of the Toyota, bounced, and slid off.
Arkadin was already out of the car. He heard the rider groaning, trying to get up off the dirt, and kicked him hard in the side of the head. He was on his way back to the car when the shots struck the fender near him. He ducked; the assault rifle he’d pulled off the dead man in the elevator lay on the passenger’s seat out of reach. He tried to crabwalk to the driver’s door, but each time he was driven back by shots that plunged into the Toyota’s side.
He lay down, scrambled underneath the car as the syrupy, pungent air struck him another hammer blow. Emerging on the opposite side, he hauled open the rear door of the Toyota, and almost got his head shot off. He dived back under the car to regroup and within seconds realized that he had been given no choice but to abandon the car. Understanding that this was what his adversary wanted, he determined how to neutralize, or at the very least minimize, the mounted Russian’s advantage.
For a moment he closed his eyes, picturing where the Russian cyclist must be by the direction from which the bullets came. Then, turning ninety degrees, he pulled himself out from under the Toyota by hooking his fingers around the front bumper.
Bullets caused the windshield to shatter, but due to the safety glass it held together in a spiderweb so complex that it turned the windshield opaque, cutting off his pursuer’s view of his escape. Down low was the dense, stinking mass of the homeless, downtrodden, disaffected. He saw their faces as he ran, zigzagging madly through the morass of skeletal humanity, pale as ash. Then he heard the guttural cough of the motorcycle engine through the chatter of Hindi and Urdu. These goddamn people were moving like a sea, parting as he scrambled through their midst, and it was this movement that the Russian was following like the ping on a sonar screen.
In the near distance he could make out a support structure of metal beams attached to the deep-set concrete footings, and he ran toward them. With a throaty roar, the motorcycle broke free of the surf of people, zooming after him, but by that time he had vanished into the jungle gym structure.
The Russian slowed as he approached the beams. To his left was a temporary fence of corrugated iron, already rusting in the gluey Indian air, so he turned to the right and began a tour around the side of the metal beams. He peered down into the darkness of the abyss into which the massive footings had been set like molars. His AK-47 was at the ready.
He was halfway along when Arkadin, lying along an upper beam like a leopard, leapt onto him. As the Russian’s body twisted backward, his hand reflexively squeezed the throttle, and the motorcycle surged forward, its balance off as the momentum of Arkadin’s leap tipped its front end up. The chassis accelerated as it spun out from under them, and they were both thrown against the metal beams. The Russian’s head struck the middle of a beam, and the AK-47 flew out of his hand. Arkadin tried to lunge at him but discovered that a shard of metal had penetrated the flesh at the back of his thigh all the way to the bone. He was impaled. With a violent wrench that momentarily took his breath away, he pulled the shard out of his leg. The Russian rushed him while he was still seeing sparks in front of his eyes and his breath felt like steam in his lungs. He was pounded by a flurry of blows to the side of the head, his ribs, his sternum before he swung the metal shard around, driving it into the Russian’s heart.
The Russian’s mouth opened in surprise, his eyes looked at Arkadin with incomprehension, just before they rolled up in his head and he sank to the blood-soaked ground. Arkadin turned and walked toward the ramp to the street, but he felt as if he had been injected with a paralytic. His legs were stiff, barely responding to commands from a brain that seemed increasingly encased in sludge. He felt cold and unfocused. He tried to catch his breath, couldn’t, and fell over.
All around him, it seemed, fires burned, the city was on fire, the night sky was the color of blood, pulsing to the beat of his laboring heart. He saw the eyes of those he’d killed, red as the eyes of rats, crowding in on him. I don’t want to share the darkness with you, he thought as he felt himself about to plunge into unconsciousness.