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The Matarese Countdown

Robert Ludlum

  The Matarese Countdown [181-142-181-4.4]

  By: Robert Ludlum

  Category: fiction espionage


  The master of suspenseful and page-turning fiction delivers a stunning new thriller for the twenty-first century.

  The Matarese dynasty, first encountered in The Matarese Circle, is back in all its questionable glory and evil. And the one man with enough knowledge to stop it, CIA case officer Cameron Pryce, may not have enough time. The Matarese countdown has begun and Pryce's only chance to cut it off is to follow the trail of blood-money and stone-cold killers to the heart of this deadly conspiracy.

  Matarese assassins have already struck with brutal efficiency, eliminating all who stand in their way. But on Spain's Costa del Sol, one victim survived long enough to breathe these dying words: "Find Beowulf Agate'words that reverberate all the way to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Beowulf Agate is the code name for legendary retired agent Brandon Scofield, the only man ever to penetrate the Matarese and survive.

  Now Cameron has to draw Scofield and his wife, Antonia, out of their Caribbean paradise hideaway and back to a place of evil they thought they'd never have to go again. Back to the Matarese circle of death.

  From the oilfields of the Persian Gulf to the boardrooms of Manhattan, from the hills of Corsica to the halls of power in Washington, the circle is closing, the noose is tightening, the panic is spreading. And Pryce has made a chilling discovery: the Matarese have broken new ground deep inside the CIA. _

  Last printing: 03/31/02 'A5<' THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN

  By the same author






















  HarperCollins Publishers HarperCollins Publish 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB Published by HarperCollins Publish 1997 135798642 the moral right to be identified as the author of this work This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination.

  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

  A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: 0-899-00 225347 X ISBN 0 00 225672 X (trade pbk) Set in Times Roman with Helvetica and Weiss display Printed and bound in Great Britain by Caledonian International Book Manufacturing Ltd, Glasgow All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  For Karen-"Suzie" She came with laughter when there was none. And brought joy to life once more.


  In the forests of Chelyabinsk, roughly nine hundred air miles from Moscow, there is a hunting lodge once considered a favorite retreat by the elite rulers of the Soviet Union. It was a dacha for all seasons, in spring and summer a festival of gardens and wildflowers on the edge of a mountain lake, in autumn and winter a paradise for hunters. In the years since the collapse of the old Presidium, it was held inviolate by the new rulers, an apolitical resting place of Russia's most venerated scientist, a nuclear physicist named Dimitri Yuri Yurievich, a man for all seasons. For he had been assassinated, brutally led into a monstrous trap by killers who held no respect, only fury, for his genius, which he wanted to share with all nations. No matter where the assassins came from, and no one really knew, they were the evil ones, certainly not their target, regardless of the lethal implications of his scholarship.

  The white-haired, balding old woman lay on the bed, the huge bay window in front of her revealing the early northern snow. Like her hair and her wrinkled flesh, everything beyond the glass was white, frozen new purity from the skies, bending branches with its weight, a paradise of blinding light. With effort, she reached for the brass bell on the bedside table and shook it.

  In moments, a buxom woman in her thirties with brown hair and eyes that were alive and questioning rushed through the door.

  "Yes, Grandmother, what can I do for you?" she asked.

  "You've already done more than you should, my child."

  "I'm hardly a child, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you, you know that. May I get you some tea?"

  "No, you can get me a priest-doesn't matter which variety. We weren't permitted them for so long."

  "You don't need a priest, you need some solid food, Grandmother."

  "My God, you sound like your grandfather. Always arguing, forever analyzing-" "I wasn't analyzing at all," interrupted Anastasia Yuriskaya Solatov.

  "You eat like a sparrow!"

  "They probably eat their weight every day.. .. Not that it matters, but where's your husband?"

  "Out hunting. He says one can track animals in the new snow."

  "He'll probably shoot his foot off. Also, we don't need provisions.

  Moscow is generous," the old woman said.

  "As they should be!" interjected Anastasia Solatov.

  "No, my dear. Because they're frightened to be otherwise."

  "What are you saying, Maria Yuriskaya?"

  "Bring me the priest, my child. I'm eighty-five years old, and someone must be told the truth. Now!"

  The elderly, black-robed Russian Orthodox prelate stood over the bed.

  He knew the signs; he had seen them too often. The old woman was dying, her breath growing shorter, with each moment more difficult.

  "Your confession, dear lady?" he intoned.

  "Not mine, you ass!" replied Maria Yuriskaya.

  "It was a day not unlike this-the snow on the ground, the hunters ready, their guns strapped over their shoulders. He was killed on such a day as this, his body mauled, torn apart by a crazed wounded bear driven into his path by madmen."

  "Yes, yes, we've all heard the story of your tragic loss, Maria."

  "They said at first it was the Americans, then that it was my husband's critics in Moscow-even his jealous competitors, but it was neither."

  "It was so long ago, madame. Stay calm, the Lord is waiting for you. He will take you into his bosom and comfort you-" "Guvno, you fool! The truth must be told. I learned later-calls from all over the world, nothing written, only words spoken through the ajr_that I and my children, and their children, would never live to see another daybreak should I speak of what my husband said to me."

  "What was that, Maria?"

  "My breath is leaving me, Father, the window grows dark."

  "What was it, my child of God?"

  "A force far more dangerous than what exists between all the warring factions on this earth."

  "What 'force," dear woman?"

  "The Matarese .. . the consummate evil." The old woman's head fell back. She was dead.

  The huge, glistening white yacht, its length over a hundred fifty feet from bow to stern, slowly maneuvered its way into the marina at Estepona, the northern point of Spain's opulent Costa del Sol, a retirement haven for the wealthy of the world.

  The gaunt old ma
n in the luxurious master stateroom sat in a velvet covered chair, attended to by his personal valet of nearly three decades.

  The aged owner of the ship was being groomed by his servant and friend for the most important conference of his long life, a life that spanned over ninety years, the precise age kept secret, for much of that life was spent in the cutthroat arenas of men much younger. Why give those avaricious turks the advantage of his rumored senility, which in reality amounted to several generations of superior experience? Three cosmetic operations on his features might have left his face partially masklike, but that was merely superficial, a misleading image to confuse the opportunists who would usurp his financial empire, given half a chance.

  An empire that meant nothing any longer. It was a paper colossus worth over seven billion American dollars, seven thousand times a million, built on the manipulations of a long-forgotten entity. It began with a vision of revenge and turned ever more violently satanic, further corrupted by underlings who had no vision beyond themselves.

  "How do I look, Antoine?"

  "Splendid, monsieur," replied the valet, applying a mild aftershave lotion and removing a lap cloth to reveal formal clothes complete with a striped cravat.

  "This isn't too much, is it?" asked the elegant employer, gesturing at his finery.

  "Not at all. You are the chairman, sir, and they must understand that. You can brook no opposition."

  "Oh, my old friend, there'll be no opposition. I plan to instruct my various boards to prepare for destructurization. I intend to give generous benefits to all who have devoted their time and energy to enterprises they essentially knew nothing about."

  "There will be those who will find your instructions difficult to accept, man ami Rene."

  "Good! You're dropping our pretenses, you're about to tell me something." Both men laughed softly as the old man continued.

  "If the truth were told, Antoine, I should have put you on some executive committee. I can't remember when your advice was in error."

  "I only offered it when you asked and when I thought I understood the circumstances. Never in the areas of business negotiations, of which I understand nothing."

  "Only of people, correct?"

  "Let's say I'm protective, Rene.. .. Come, let me help you up and put you in the wheelchair-" "Wo, Antoine, no wheelchair! Take my arm and I'll walk into the meeting.... By the way, what did you mean when you said there'll be those who won't like my instructions? They'll get their benefits. They'll all be more than comfortable."

  "Security is not the same as active involvement, mon ami. The workers will be grateful, indeed, but your executives may feel otherwise. You are removing them from their fiefdoms of power, of influence. Beware, Rene, several who'll be at this conference are among that group."

  The yacht's large dining room was a low-ceilinged replica of a fashionable Paris restaurant, the impressionistic murals on the walls depicting scenes of the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and various other Parisian sights. The circular mahogany table held five chairs, four occupied, one vacant. Seated were four men in severe business suits, bottles of Evian water in front of each, ashtrays with boxes of Gauloises cigarettes beside them. Only two ashtrays were in use, the others firmly set aside.

  The frail old man walked into the room, accompanied by his valet of twenty-eight years, known by all around the table from previous meetings. Salutations were exchanged; the ancient "chairman" was lowered into a middle chair, as his servant sat behind him against the wall.

  The procedure was accepted, none objected, nor could they, for it was tradition.

  "So here are all the attorneys. Mon avocat in Paris, ein Rechtsanwalt in Berlin, mio avvocato in Rome, and, of course, our corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C. It is good to see you again." There were muted acceptances of the greeting; the old man went on.

  "I can see by your eager reception that you are not enthralled by our meeting. That's a pity, for my instructions will be carried out, whether you like it or not."

  "If you please, Herr Mouchistine," said the attorney from Germany, "we have all received your coded instructions, now locked away in our vaults, and, frankly, we are appalled! It's not merely your intention to sell your companies and all their assets-" "Excluding rather extraordinary sums for your professional services, of course," Rene Mouchistine abruptly, firmly, broke in.

  "We're most appreciative of your generosity, Rene, but that's not our concern," said the lawyer from Washington, D.C.

  "It's what follows.

  Certain markets will crash, stocks plummet .. . questions will be asked! There could be investigations .. . all of us compromised."

  "Nonsense. Each of you has been following the orders of the elusive Rene Pierre Mouchistine, sole owner of my enterprises. To do otherwise would result in your dismissal. For once, tell the truth, gentlemen. With the truth, no one can touch you."

  "But, mon signore exclaimed the avvocato from Italy, "you are selling assets far below market value! For what purpose? You delegate millions upon millions to charities everywhere, to nobodies who cannot tell a lira from a deutsche mark! What are you, a socialista who wants to reform the world while destroying the thousands who believed in you, in us?"

  "Not at all. You are all part of something that began years before you were born, the vision of the great padrone, the Baron of Matarese."

  "Who?" asked the French attorney.

  "I vaguely remember hearing the name, mein Herr," said the German.

  "But it has no relevance for me."

  "Why should it?" Rene Mouchistine glanced briefly over his shoulder at his valet, Antoine.

  "You are all nothing but the webs of spiders that spun out from the source, hired by the source, making its operations appear legitimate, for you were legitimate. You say I'm giving back millions to those who lost the games-where do you suppose my riches came from? We became greed gone berserk."

  "You cannot do this, Mouchistine!" shouted the American, springing to his feet.

  "I'll be hauled before Congress!"

  "And I! The Bundestag will insist on investigating!" yelled the Rechtsanwalt from Berlin.

  "I will not subject myself to the Chamber of Deputies!" cried the Parisian.

  "I'll have our associates in Palermo convince you otherwise," said the man from Rome ominously.

  "You'll see the logic."

  "Why not try it now yourself? Are you afraid of an old man?"

  The Italian rose in fury to his feet, his hand reaching under his tailored jacket. It was as far as he got. Kesitch! A silenced, single gunshot blew his face apart, fired by Antoine, the valet. The Roman lawyer fell, soiling the parquet floor.

  "You're insane!" screamed the German.

  "He was merely showing you a newspaper article in which several of your companies are linked to the Mafia, which is true. You are a monster!"

  "That's sheer irony coming from you, considering Auschwitz and Dachau."

  "I wasn't born then!"

  "Read history.. .. What do you say, Antoine?"

  "Self-defense, monsieur. As a senior informer to the Surete, I will put it in my report. He reached for a weapon."

  "Shit!" yelled the lawyer from Washington.

  "You set us up here, you son of a bitch!"

  "Not really. I simply wanted to make sure you would carry out my orders."

  "We can't! For God's sake, don't you understand? It would be the end of all of us-" "One certainly, but we'll get rid of the body, fish for the fish under the sea."

  "You are insane!"

  "We became insane. We were not at the beginning.. .. Stop!

  Antoine! .. . The portholes!"

  The yacht's small circular windows were suddenly filled with faces covered with rubber masks. One by one, each smashed the glass with his weapon and began firing indiscriminately at every corner and shadow of the room. The valet, Antoine, pulled Mouchistine under a bulkhead armoire, his own shoulder blown apart, his master punctured around the chest. H
is friend of thirty years would not survive.

  "Rene, Rene!" cried Antoine.

  "Take deep breaths, keep breathing!

  They've gone! I'll get you to the hospital!"

  "No, Antoine, it is too late!" Mouchistine choked.

  "The lawyers are gone and I do not regret my end. I lived with evil and I die rejecting it.

  Perhaps it will mean something somewhere."

  "What are you talking about, mon ami, the dearest friend of my life?"

  "Find Beowulf Agate."


  "Ask Washington. They have to know where he is! Vasili Taleniekov was killed, yes, but not Beowulf Agate. He is somewhere and he knows the truth."

  "What truth, my closest friend?"

  "The Matarese! They're back. They knew about this conference, the coded instructions that are meaningless without the ciphers. Whoever's left had to stop me, so you must stop them!"


  "Fight it with all your heart and soul! Soon it will be everywhere. It was the evil that the archangel of hell prophesied, the good that became the servant of Satan."

  "You're not making sense. I'm not a biblical scholar!"

  "You don't have to be," whispered the dying Mouchistine.

  "Ideas are greater monuments than cathedrals. They last millennia beyond the stone."

  "What the hell are you saying?"

  "Find Beowulf Agate. He's the key."

  Rene Mouchistine spastically lurched forward, then fell back, his head resting against the bulkhead. His last words were so clear they might have been gutturally whispered through an echo chamber.

  "The Matarese ... the evil incarnate." The old man with the secrets was dead.

  Six months earlier.

  n the rugged Corsican hills above the waters of Porto Vecchio on the Tyrrhenian Sea, there stood the skeletal remains of a once-majestic estate. The exterior stonework, built to stand for centuries, was by and large intact, the insides of the various structures destroyed, gutted by fire decades ago. It was midafternoon, the skies dark, heavy rain imminent as a late-winter storm made its way up the coast from Bonifacio. Soon the air and the earth would be drenched, mud everywhere, the overgrown, barely visible paths around the great house to be slogged through, not walked over.

  "I would suggest that we hurry, padrone," said the heavyset Corsican in a hooded parka.