The quiet that fell in the room was interrupted by the chatter of a printer going full pace not too far away. Sam quirked an eyebrow.
“Reports of exactly what I’ve found. Four copies. Can you?”
“Yeah. You go on digging.”
Jim looked at his older sons. “Twins. You wanna take the little men into the sitting room and maybe play a computer game with them.”
The twins each picked up a small brother. “Okay you two. Wanna go kill some aliens?”
Charlie turned his round-eyed and strangely wise gaze on his father. “You hunt the bad men. I will keep an eye on this lot.”
Jim barked out a reluctant laugh.
Sam quickly collated the reports and the four adults read them carefully, with Jim passing each page to Jamie as he finished with it.
When everyone had finished reading Rod made a disgusted noise in his throat and Jim swore bitterly.
“Okay. We now know who. But what the fuck are we gonna do. The man has money coming out of his ears, and it don’t look as if he is gonna rest while there is a Cracksman left alive.”
Patsy turned haunted eyes on her husband.
“I don’t even mind that much for me, but the boys…” her voice cracked.
“You can stop that right now, Mrs Cracksman,” Anna’s voice had quite the bite of a whip. “We need you out there fighting, not crawling up your own ass because you are afraid.”
Patsy sat up straighter in her chair, and her eyes flashed dangerously.
“Better.” Anna said briskly. “I’ve been talking to people in Russia, and I have some ideas.” Every eye turned to her as she ticked off points on her slender fingers. “One. This particular oligarch is actually clean. Two. No mafia connections. Three. No connection to organised crime. Married. Settled. Four. Devout member of the Orthodox Church.” Jim opened his mouth and she silenced him with an upraised hand continuing in a dry emotionless voice. “Yeah. I know. Turns out the two men shared a mother. But the dead guy was fathered by a vicious paedophile who had mother between the ages of ten and twelve. Threw her out when she fell pregnant. The ‘family’ took her in and adopted the child. Oligarch came from a later marriage. But our boy was raised by papa from the time he was seven.” She stopped and drew breath. “So. We have to persuade little brother of exactly what his older sibling was like. It’s our only chance this side of all out war.”
“And just how do we go about that?”
“It’s not going to be easy. But we do have some levers. Firstly, there’s a rather nasty little video on the darknet. It shows an unconscious Bill in a room full of instruments of torture with a voice over explaining what has been planned for him. My sources say the voice is recognisably your man. We need to get that to our oligarch’s parish priest. Secondly, Patsy gets to speak to a very old lady in Cannes and persuade her to tell her remaining son how she got his big brother.”
Jim looked mulish. “Why does it have to be Pats?”
“Because the lady has retired to a convent. No males other than sons and brothers allowed to visit.”
“Oh. But. She can’t go in there alone.”
“She ain’t gonna be alone. I’ll be with her.”
Sam opened his mouth, then shut it again.
“Fine. But me and some boys get to sit outside the place in case you need the cavalry.” It was Rod who spoke in a low dangerous rumble. “And yeah it has to be me. Jim needs to be with the kids. And Sam needs to be with Jim.”
Anna and Sam shared a look. It was Sam who spoke.
“Okay. But if you get yourself killed, Anna Henderson, me and Bonnie will never forgive you.”
“Fair enough. Now shut up while I try to find a conduit to a Russian orthodox priest.”
Anna worked on, with Jim and Jamie at her side doing drone tasks without complaint. Some three hours later it seemed she must have done all she could as she leaned back in her chair and groaned.
Sam went round behind her and rubbed her knotted shoulders while Jim looked around with a fierce light in his eyes.
“We have a workable plan,” he said with some satisfaction evident in his tones. “Now I need to talk to some people about insurance. Then maybe somebody will feed me.”
“You mind if I forage?” Pats asked.
“Be quite honest I’m so wrung out I’d even let Rod loose in the kitchen.”
“But I wouldn’t let him near the booze,” Sam capped Anna’s mild jest.
As a mechanism to release tension that worked as well as anything could have and the twins eyed Sam with ever growing respect. Cy even went so far as to offer a high five, which Sam accepted before ambling off to find liquid refreshment.
It was late that night before anybody got to bed and Anna lay across Sam like a limp dishrag. He stroked the velvet skin of her narrow torso and worried quietly.
“I’m sorry Sam,” she said softly. “I know that you must be beyond worried, but I have to go with Pats.”
“I know you do. But that doesn’t help with the pain in my chest.”
She stirred in his arms and plastered that chest with tiny kisses.
“Honestly not a lot. But I know I’m being a wuss and I need to get over it.”
She crawled up his body and kissed him with some intent…