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Sidney Sheldon's Reckless

Sidney Sheldon


  For Belen.

  With love.




















































  Officer Cadet Sebastian Williams burst into Major General Frank Dorrien’s office. Williams’s complexion was white, his hair disheveled, his uniform a disgrace. Frank Dorrien’s upper lip curled. If he closed his eyes he could practically hear the standards slipping, like turds off a wet rock.

  “What is it?”

  “It’s Prince Achileas, Sir.”

  “Prince Achileas? Do you mean Officer Cadet Constantinos?”

  Williams looked at the ground. “Yes, Sir.”

  “Well? What about him?”

  For one appalling moment, General Dorrien thought that Williams might be going to cry.

  “He’s dead, Sir.”

  The Major General flicked a piece of lint off his jacket. Tall and thin, with the wiry frame of a marathon runner and a face so chiseled and angular it looked like it had been carved from flint, Frank Dorrien’s expression gave nothing away.


  “Yes, Sir. I found him . . . hanging. Just now. It was awful, Sir!” Cadet Williams started to shake. Christ, he was an embarrassment.

  “Show me.”

  Frank Dorrien took his battered attaché case with him and followed the distressed cadet along a windowless corridor back towards the barracks. Half walking, half jogging, the boy’s limbs dangled like a puppet with its strings tangled. Frank Dorrien shook his head. Soldiers like Officer Cadet Sebastian Williams represented everything that was wrong with today’s army.

  No discipline. No order. No fucking courage.

  An entire generation of dolts.

  Achileas Constantinos, Prince of Greece, had been just as bad. Spoiled, entitled. These boys seemed to think that joining the army was some sort of game.

  “In there, Sir.” Williams gestured towards the men’s bathrooms. “He’s still . . . I didn’t know if I should cut him down.”

  “Thank you, Williams.”

  Frank Dorrien’s granite-hewn face showed no emotion. In his early fifties, gray haired and rigid backed, Frank was a born soldier. His body was the product of a lifetime of rigorous physical discipline. It was the perfect complement to his ordered, controlled mind.


  “Sir?” Cadet Williams hovered, confused. Did the Major General really want him to leave?

  Not that he wanted to see Achileas again. The image of his friend’s corpse was already seared on his memory. The bloated face with its bulging eyes, swinging grotesquely from the rafters like an overstuffed Guy on bonfire night. Williams had been scared to death when he found him. He might be a soldier on paper, but the truth was he’d never seen a dead body before.

  “Are you deaf?” Frank Dorrien snapped. “I said ‘dismissed.’ ”

  “Sir. Yes, Sir.”

  Frank Dorrien waited until Cadet Williams was gone. Then he opened the bathroom door.

  The first thing he saw were the young Greek prince’s boots, swinging at eye level in front of an open stall. They were regulation, black and beautifully polished. A thing of beauty, to General Dorrien’s eyes.

  Every Sandhurst cadet should have boots like that.

  Dorrien’s eyes moved upwards. The trousers of the prince’s uniform had been soiled. That was a shame, although not a surprise. Unfortunately the bowels often gave way at the moment of death, a last indignity. Dorrien wrinkled his nose as the foul stench assaulted him.

  His eyes moved up again and he found himself looking into the dead boy’s face.

  Prince Achileas Constantinos looked back at him, his glassy, brown eyes fixed wide in death, as if eternally astonished that the world could be so cruel.

  Stupid boy, Frank Dorrien thought.

  Frank himself was quite familiar with cruelty. It didn’t astonish him in the least.

  He sighed, not for the swinging corpse, but for the shit storm that was about to engulf all of them. A member of the Greek royal family, dead from suicide. At Sandhurst! Hung, no less, like a common thief. Like a coward. Like a nobody.

  The Greeks wouldn’t like that. Nor would the British government.

  Frank Dorrien turned on his heel, walked calmly back to his office and picked up the telephone.

  “It’s me. I’m afraid we have a problem.”



  CAPTAIN BOB DALEY OF the Welsh Fusiliers looked into the camera and delivered the short speech he’d been handed the night before. He was tired, and cold, and he couldn’t understand why his captors were going through with this charade. His captors weren’t stupid. They must know that the demands they’d made of the British government were nonsensical.

  Disband the Bank of England.

  Seize the assets of every UK citizen with a net worth above one million pounds.

  Shut down the stock exchange.

  No one in Group 99, the radical leftist organization that had kidnapped Bob Daley from an Athens street, actually believed that these things were going to happen. Bob’s kidnap, and the speech he was giving now, was clearly just a big publicity stunt. In a few weeks his captors would let him go and think of some other way to grab the international headlines. If there was one thing you could say for Group 99, they were masters at self-promotion.

  Named after the 99 percent of the global population that controlled less than half of the world’s wealth, Group 99 were a self-described band of “Robin Hood Hackers” targeting big business interests on behalf of “the dispossessed.” Young, computer savvy and completely non-hierarchical, up until now their activities had been confined to cyberattacks against targets they perceived as corrupt. That included multinational companies like McDonald’s, as well as any government agencies seen as being on the side of the wealthy, the hated 1 percent. The CIA had had its systems hacked and seen the publication of hundreds of highly embarrassing personal emails. And the British Ministry of Defence had been exposed with its metaphorical trousers down after accepting bribes to give places at Sandhurst to the sons of Europe’s wealthy elite. After each attack, the target’s screens would fill up with images of floating red balloons—the group’s logo and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the eighties pop song “99 Red Balloons.” It was touches like this, their humor and disregard for authority, th
at had given Group 99 an almost cult following among young people all across the globe.

  In the last eighteen months, the group had turned its attention to the global fracking business, launching devastating hacks against Exxon Mobil and BP, as well as two of the top Chinese players. The environmental angle had given them even more cachet among the young, as well as winning them a number of prominent Hollywood supporters.

  Captain Bob Daley had rather admired them himself, even if he didn’t share their politics. But after three weeks locked up in a mountain cabin in some godforsaken forest in Bratislava, the joke was wearing thin. And now they’d woken him up at two in the bloody morning and dragged him outside to record some ridiculous video in subzero temperatures. The air was so cold it made Bob Daley’s teeth ache.

  Still, he told himself, at least after this I’ll be going home.

  His captors had already told him. He would go first. Then, a few weeks later, it would be the American’s turn. Hunter Drexel, an American journalist, had been snatched off the streets of Moscow the same week that Bob was ambushed in Athens. Hunter’s kidnap had appeared almost random, a spontaneous act to generate publicity back in the U.S. Bob’s had been more carefully planned. It was his first trip abroad for MI6, a training exercise, and someone in Group 99 clearly knew exactly where he was going to be and when. Bob was convinced they had someone on the inside at MI6. There could be no other rational explanation. His kidnap had been designed to cause maximum embarrassment to both the army and MI6. It helped Group 99’s cause that Bob was also in fact the Honorable Robert Daley, from a wealthy and connected, upper-class British family. No one liked a toff.

  “Don’t take it personally,” one of his captors had told him in perfect English, smiling. “But you are a bit of a poster boy for privilege. Just think of it as an experience. You’re doing your bit for equality.”

  Well, it had been an experience. Hunter Drexel had become a good friend. The two men were polar opposites. Bob Daley was traditional, conservative and deeply patriotic, whereas Hunter was a maverick, individualist and lover of risk in all its forms. But there was nothing like three months stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to bring people together. When he finally got home, Bob would be able to sell his memoirs and retire from both the army and his abortive career as a spy. His wife, Claire, would be delighted.

  “Look directly at the camera please. And stick to the script.”

  It was the Greek who spoke, the one they called Apollo. Everyone in Group 99 had a Greek codename, which they also used as their handle online, although members came from all over the world. Apollo was a real Greek, however, and one of Group 99’s founding members. The group traced its beginnings to Athens, and the euphoria following the election of the country’s most leftwing premier to date, the union firebrand Elias Calles. Perhaps for this reason, the Greek codenames had stuck.

  Bob Daley and Hunter Drexel both disliked Apollo. He was arrogant and had no sense of humor, unlike the rest of them. Today he was dressed in black fatigues with a knitted balaclava covering his face.

  Playing soldier, Bob Daley thought. The big man on campus.

  It was pathetic, really. What were these kids going to do when they grew up? When the whole Group 99 adventure was over? When Apollo was caught, as Bob didn’t doubt he would be eventually, he’d be looking at serious prison time. Had he even considered that?

  “My name is Captain Robert Daley,” Bob began. Looking right at the camera he delivered his lines perfectly. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could get back inside the cabin to his warm bed. Even Hunter Drexel’s snoring was preferable to being out here in the snow, jumping through hoops for this muppet.

  When he finished, he turned and looked up at Apollo.


  “Very good,” the balaclavaed man replied.

  “Am I done now?”

  Through the slit in his mask, Bob Daley saw the Greek smile.

  “Yes, Captain Daley. You’re done.”

  Then, with the camera still rolling, Apollo pulled out a gun and blew Bob Daley’s head off.



  ALTHEA WATCHED ON HER laptop screen as the bullet ripped through Bob Daley’s skull. She was sitting with her long legs crossed on the suede couch of her $5-million apartment. Outside, snow was falling softly over Central Park. It was a beautiful winter’s night in New York, clear and cold.

  Captain Daley’s blood and brain tissue splattered across the camera lens.

  How wonderful, Althea thought, a surge of satisfaction flooding through her, to be watching this in real time, from the comfort of my living room. Technology really is quite amazing.

  She reached out and touched her screen with her perfectly manicured fingers, half expecting it to be wet. Daley’s blood would still be warm.

  Good, she thought. He’s dead.

  The Englishman’s body slumped forward, hitting the forest floor like a sack. Then Apollo walked towards the camera. Pulling off his balaclava, he wiped the lens clean and smiled at her.

  Althea noticed the bulge in his pants. Killing clearly excited him.

  “Happy?” he asked her.


  She turned off her computer, walked to her refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Clos d’Ambonnay, 1996. Popping the cork, she poured herself a glass, toasting the empty room.

  “To you, my darling.”

  In a few hours, Captain Daley’s execution would be front page news around the world. Kidnap and murder had become commonplace across the Middle East. But this was the West. This was Europe. This was Group 99, the Robin Hood Hackers. The good guys.

  How shocked and appalled everyone would be!

  Althea ran a hand through her long, dark hair.

  She could hardly wait.



  Julia Cabot, the new British Prime Minister, put her head in her hands. She was sitting at her desk in her private office at 10 Downing Street. Also in the room were Jamie MacIntosh, Head of MI6, and Major General Frank Dorrien. A highly decorated career soldier, Dorrien was also a senior MI6 agent, a fact known only to a select handful of people, which did not include the General’s wife.

  “Please tell me I’m going to wake up.”

  “It’s Bob Daley who isn’t going to wake up, Prime Minister,” Frank Dorrien observed drily. “I hate to say I told you so.”

  “Then don’t,” Jamie MacIntosh snapped. Frank was a brave man and a brilliant agent, but his tendency to assume the moral high ground could be extremely wearing. “None of us could have predicted this. This is the E bloody U, not Aleppo.”

  “And a bunch of teenage geeks in red-balloon hoodies, not ISIS,” Julia Cabot added despairingly. “Group 99 don’t kill people. They just don’t!”

  “Until they do,” said Frank. “And now they have. And Captain Daley’s blood is on our hands.”

  It was hard not to take Bob Daley’s murder personally. Partly because Frank Dorrien knew Bob Daley personally. They’d both served in Iraq together, under circumstances that neither Julia Cabot nor Jamie MacIntosh could imagine, never mind understand. And partly because Frank had warned of the dangers of treating Group 99 as a joke. These groups always began with high ideals and, in Frank’s experience, almost always ended with violence. A splinter group would rise up, nastier and more bloodthirsty than the rest, and end up seizing power from the moderates. It had happened with the communists in Russia after the revolution. It had happened with the real IRA. It had happened with ISIS. It didn’t matter what the ideology was. All you needed was angry, dispossessed, testosterone-fueled young men with a thirst for power and attention, and in the end bad things, very bad things, would happen.

  MI6 had been sitting on intelligence for weeks about where Captain Daley and Hunter Drexel might be being held. But no one had acted on it, because no one had believed the hostages were in serious danger. Indeed, when Frank ha
d proposed sending in the SAS on an armed rescue mission, he’d been shot down in flames by both the government and the intelligence community.

  “Have you lost your mind?” Jamie MacIntosh had asked him. “Bratislava’s an EU country, Frank.”


  “So we can’t send our troops into another sovereign nation. A sodding ally. It’s out of the question.”

  So nothing was done, and now hundreds of millions of people around the globe had seen Bob Daley’s brains being splattered across a screen. Celebrities who only last week had been lining up to be photographed with red balloon badges on their dinner jackets, in support of the group’s lofty aims of economic equality, were now scrambling to distance themselves from the horror. Kidnap and murder, right here in Europe.

  “I understand you’re angry, Frank,” Julia Cabot said grimly. “But I need constructive input. The Americans are screaming blue murder. They’re worried their hostage is going to be next.”

  “They should be,” said Frank.

  “We all want to get these bastards.” Cabot turned to her intelligence chief. “Jamie, what do we know?”

  “Group 99. Founded in Athens in 2015 by a group of young Greek computer scientists, then rapidly spread across Europe to South America, Asia, Africa and around the globe. Stated agenda is economic, to address poverty and the global wealth imbalance. Loosely classed as communists although they have no stated political, national or religious allegiances. They use Greek codenames online, and they are very, very smart.”

  “What about their leaders?” Cabot asked.

  “One or two names have cropped up. The guy codenamed Hyperion we believe to be a twenty-seven-year-old Venezuelan named Jose Hernandez. He’s the fellow who leaked the private emails of the former Exxon boss.”

  “The chap with the transsexual mistress and the cocaine habit?” Cabot remembered Group 99’s sting on the hapless oil executive. Despite the CEO’s resignation, hundreds of millions of dollars had been wiped off the share price.

  “Precisely. Ironically Hernandez comes from a wealthy establishment family. They may have helped him avoid detection by the authorities. But part of the problem is that there are no clear leaders. Group 99 disapproves of traditional hierarchy in all its forms. Because it’s web-based and anonymous, it’s more of a loose affiliation than a classic terrorist organization. Different individuals and cells act independently under one big umbrella.”