Mumbai, November 16th, 2061
The last thing Sir Robert Maitland remembered before his body exploded from the inside was, as he a put it, ‘an infernal damned itching’ in his ear. His first recollection after the internal blast was the thundering urgent roar of helicopter blades. The IBI air-ambulance swept across the Mumbai peninsula, swerving between glittering skyscrapers and massive, brilliantly lit digital billboards advertising holographic TV’s and the latest blockbusters from the city’s thriving movie industry. Projected images of Bollywood idols of all nationalities crowded the skies above the sprawling city – gazing down on rich and poor alike with the beautific smiles of benevolent twenty-first century deities. The helicopter banked steeply, arcing past the impressive Mahatma Gandhi tower – the tallest structure in Mumbai. Dazzling strips of colour rippled across the black-mirrored surface of the helicopter as it sped by – reflections of the colossal neon sculpture of the Hindu elephant-god Ganesh erected on the tower’s roof.
Maitland couldn’t move. Everything inside his body was numb – not from the aching cold he’d felt minutes before or the pain which had subsided – but from a terrible absence he couldn’t explain. Only on his skin did he feel any sensation at all and that was gradually fading. He felt the grip of two hands tighten on his forearms when the helicopter banked steeply again before swooping down towards the roof of the International Bureau of Investigation HQ. The Minister tried again to open his eyes to escape the awful oppressive blackness, but couldn’t. A man’s voice shouted above the noise of the roaring blades.
“Grace, please,” said the paramedic, “His wife’s waiting for him down there. The last thing she needs is to see her murdered husband looking like that. Please, for Heaven’s sake, close his eyes.”
The full horror of the words barely registered before he felt two fingers pull down his eyelids.
“Malayalam,” said Suresh Rajal.
“Mala-what?” said Raymond Page.
“Malayalam. It’s a South Indian language – the note in the Minister’s pocket.”
The older agent exhaled loudly and, leaning back on his chair, threw his pen deftly back and forth between his palms.
“Just what we need – an obscure foreign language to …”
“It’s not that obscure Ray – and hardly a foreign language here. It’s the …”
“Ok, ok – another ‘complication’ to make matters even worse. Do you suppose, my young friend, that the murderer,” he leant forward across the desk conspiratorially, “was aware of the alliteration the gutter press in the UK will seize on?”
“I don’t follow you.”
“Malayalam. Murder. Minister. I can see the headlines now. Perhaps the minister was murdered by a hack journalist to create a memorable headline.”
Suresh sighed. “Your cynicism knows no bounds Ray.”
“ ‘MURDERED MINISTER IN MALAYALAM MYSTERY’. How did the poor bastard die? Do we have an autopsy report yet?”
“No, not yet. It’s proving difficult. I don’t know why. Early indications suggest some kind of neural paralysis.”
“ ‘MAITLAND MURDERED IN MUMBAI‘. Any entry or exit wounds?”
“ ‘MINISTER MURDERED AT MEETING’ … ”
“Sorry … Neural gas maybe? Anyone else affected in the Chamber?”
“Unlikely then. Are we talking assassination or a terrorist attack?”
“We don’t know.”
“Anyone seen near the guy? Before or afterwards?”
“Anyone claimed responsibility?”
“None. Possibly the note in Malayalam. Cyberensic have it.”
“Jesus wept Suresh! What the hell are we dealing with here?”
“No idea, Ray. No idea at all.”
“Why Robert Maitland – and why the fuck here in Mumbai?”
“We’d better get moving Ray or we’ll be late for the IBI briefing.”
“ ‘MYSTERIOUS MURDER OF MINISTER IN MUMBAI’ ”
Waiting outside the Bureau Commanders office, Raymond Page was hung-over, fractious and feeling his age.
“I discovered something the other day that might interest you,” said Suresh.
“Really. Anything to do with sex or alcohol?’
“Then it can’t be that interesting.”
“Just passing the time. I thought …”
“Sorry, Suresh. I hate to be kept waiting. What the hell is going on in there? ”
“Have you ever heard of John Dee?” persisted Page’s young assistant.
“I presume you don’t mean the snotty kid in my class at school whose breath smelt of old socks and armpits?”
“No I don’t Ray,” sighed Suresh, “John Dee founded the Rosecrutian order in the sixteenth century – a secret organisation devoted to occult beliefs. He was also a spy for Elizabeth I in Europe …”
“Patience, Ray, patience. He had a codename … wait for this.” Suresh paused melodramatically.
“His codename was – Double O Seven.”
“You’re winding me up.”
“No seriously – I’m not. It’s well documented.”
“Well I’ll be damned.”
“I don’t doubt it Ray. What’s your codename these days?”
Raymond Page, much to the disgust of the others waiting outside the office, lit a contraband and blew the tobacco smoke noisily across the room. A high-ranking Indian Airforce Officer opened his mouth to speak. Page leant forward and glared at him icily.
“Codename?” said Ray. “ ‘Double-Oh-Fuck’ to most of my superiors.”
Suresh laughed out loud. “Oh, very good Ray, very good.”