They traveled for two hours, taking the M4 toward London. Alex glanced occasionally at Sabina and she caught his eye once and smiled nervously. This wasn't her world. The men, the machine guns, the biochemical suits . . . they were all part of a nightmare that had come out of nowhere and that still made no sense --- with no sign of a way out. Alex was baffled too. But the suits suggested a dreadful possibility. Did Cray have biochemical weapons? Was he planning to use them?
At last they turned off the expressway. Looking out of the back flap, Alex saw a signpost to Heathrow Airport and suddenly he knew, without being told, that this was their true destination. He remembered the plane he had seen at the compound. And Cray, talking to him in the garden. Henryk is very valuable to me. He flies jumbo jets. The airport had to be part of it, but it still didn't explain so many things. The president of the United States. Nuclear missiles. The very name --- Eagle Strike --- itself. Alex was angry with himself. It was all there in front of him. Some sort of picture was taking shape. But it was still blurred, out of focus.
They stopped. Nobody moved. Then Yassen spoke for the first time. "Out!" A single word.
Alex went first, then helped Sabina down. He enjoyed feeling her hand in his. There was a sudden loud roar overhead and he looked up just in time to see an aircraft swooping down out of the sky. He saw where they were. They had stopped on the top floor of an abandoned multilevel garage --- a legacy of Sir Arthur Lunt, Cray's father. It was on the very edge of Heathrow Airport, near the main runway. The only car, apart from their own, was a burned-out shell. The ground was strewn with rubble and old rusting oil drums. Alex couldn't imagine why they had come here. Cray was waiting for a signal. Something was going to happen. But what?
Alex looked at his watch. It was exactly half past two. Cray called them over. He had traveled in the jeep with Henryk and now Alex saw that there was a radio transmitter on the backseat. Henryk turned a dial; there was a loud whine. Cray was certainly making a performance out of this. The radio had been connected to a loudspeaker so that they all could hear.
"It's about to begin," Cray said. He giggled. "Exactly on time!"
Alex looked up. A second plane was coming in. It was still too far away and too high up to be seen clearly, but even so, he thought he recognized something about its shape. Suddenly a voice crackled out of the loudspeaker in the jeep.
"Attention, air traffic control. This is Millennium Air flight 118 from Amsterdam. We have a problem."
The voice had been speaking in English but with a heavy Dutch accent. There was a pause, an empty hissing, and then a woman's voice replied. "Roger, MA 118. What is your problem, over?"
"Mayday! Mayday!" The voice from the aircraft was suddenly louder. "This is flight MA 118. We have a fire on board. Request immediate clearance to land."
Another pause. Alex could imagine the panic in the control tower at Heathrow. But when the woman spoke again, her voice was professional, calm. "Roger your mayday. We have you on radar. Steer on 0-90. Descend three thousand feet."
"Air traffic control." The radio crackled again. "This is Captain Schroeder from flight MA 118. I have to advise you that I am carrying extremely hazardous biochemical products on behalf of the Ministry of Defense. We have an emergency situation here. Please advise."
The Heathrow woman replied immediately. "We need to know what is on board. Where is it and what are the quantities?"
"Air traffic control, we are carrying a nerve gas. We cannot be more specific. It is highly experimental and extremely dangerous. There are three canisters in the hold. We now have a fire in the main cabin. Mayday! Mayday!"
Alex looked again. The plane was much lower now and he knew exactly where he had seen it before. It was the cargo plane that he had seen in the compound outside Amsterdam. Smoke was streaming out of the side and even as Alex watched, flames suddenly exploded, spreading over the wings. To anyone watching, it would seem that the plane was in terrible danger. But Alex knew that the whole thing had been faked.
The control tower was monitoring the plane. "Flight MA 118, emergency services have been alerted. We are beginning an immediate evacuation of the airport. Please proceed to twenty-seven left. You are cleared to land."
At once Alex heard the sound of alarms coming from all over the airport. The plane was still two or three thousand feet up, the flames trailing behind it. He had to admit that it looked totally convincing. Suddenly everything was starting to make sense. He was beginning to understand Cray's plan.
"Time to roll!" Cray announced.
- hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Puffin
- ISBN-10: 0399239790
- ISBN-13: 9780399239793