From her position inside the imposing, marble-clad bank lobby, Emma Makepeace cast a glance through the bulletproof glass of the front window to the traffic beyond.
The tiny electronic receiver tucked inside her right ear had been crackling with updates for the last fifteen minutes as a young man made his way through the streets of London, unaware that his every movement was being observed.
She pretended to peruse a page on the computer screen in front of her as a gleaming scarlet Bugatti prowled into view, stopping abruptly on the double yellow line in front of the private bank. As the bus behind it—its own red shading drab by comparison to the ruby glow of the sports car—adjusted to this unexpected obstruction, the car door swung open and a tall young man with a shock of dark hair jumped out, a leather duffel bag in his hand.
Sergei Gorodin was twenty-two, smooth-faced, and dressed entirely in Gucci. He didn’t glance at the bus as he strode from the car toward the bank with all the confidence of a billionaire’s son. The liveried doorman hurried forward to welcome him.
“Little Bear is on site,” Emma murmured, angling her chin down toward the microphone built into the lapel of her dark blazer as Gorodin stepped inside.
She kept her eyes on the door as a thin man in a navy-blue bespoke suit approached her and asked quietly, “Is there anything I can help you with, Miss Davies?”
Craig Reece was one of the bank’s investment managers. Everyone who worked with him described him as unfailingly polite, with a natural ability for turning money into more money. He was incredibly popular with the bank’s many Russian clients. What none of them knew, of course, was that he also worked for MI5.
Reece had brought Emma in today to gather evidence against Sergei Gorodin and his father, a property investor whose wealth had proved very hard to trace. The other bank workers believed she was a consultant specializing in international currency exchange, helping Reece with a complex transaction.
“I’m almost finished,” she said, her quick nod indicating she had already spotted Gorodin.
“Excellent.” Reece stepped back. “If you need anything . . .”
Emma kept her focus on the young Russian man, who walked past her desk without a sideways glance, heading straight to a glass-walled office at the back.
“I just need to look one thing up.” She stood, and gave Reece an easy smile. “Two seconds.”
Her heels clicked against the marble floor as she hurried after Gorodin, who opened the office door without knocking. Inside, the bank manager stood to greet him.
Emma watched as the two shook hands, and then the bank manager reached over to close the slatted blinds, screening the glass room from outside view.
Casually, Emma paused at the row of filing cabinets next to the office, opened a drawer and pulled out a file.
The blinds didn’t quite meet the edge of the wall, and from this angle she had a clear view as the manager opened a safe behind his desk and began pulling out thick stacks of cash, setting them on the desk.
Taking a pen from her pocket, Emma pointed the tip at the window and clicked the tiny button on the side.
“Cash is changing hands,” she whispered.
“Copy that. Pursuit is in place,” said Adam’s voice in her earpiece.
In the glass office, the bank manager handed Gorodin a sheet of paper, which he signed with a careless scrawl. Then he gathered the thick stacks of money and shoved them into the bag. Emma clicked the pen again.
Gorodin didn’t stick around for long goodbyes. As soon as the money was in place, he snapped the bag shut and swung toward the door.
Hastily, Emma closed the filing cabinet and headed back toward her desk.
“Get ready,” she warned the microphone on her lapel. “Little Bear is on the move.”
Reece stood up as she approached, a question in his eyes. Emma inclined her head in response. “I’m all done here,” she said, angling her body so she could see Gorodin crossing the lobby with long strides.
“Of course. Thanks for your help on this project,” Reece replied smoothly as the Russian passed his desk.
Emma smiled. “It’s been a pleasure. I’ll be in touch.”
She followed Gorodin past the doorman and out onto the Strand.
After the heavy quiet of the bank the noise and bustle of the street was jarring; the squeak of brakes, the shrill complaint of horns, the rattle of trains from nearby Charing Cross Station: all seemed louder now. Gorodin appeared not to notice any of it as he headed straight for the red sports car and tossed the leather duffel casually onto the passenger seat.
Emma had to admire the way he treated half a million pounds in cash like a bag full of gym clothes.
The Bugatti started with a throaty, predatory roar and shot out into traffic.
“Target is on the move,” she said.
“I have eyes on,” Adam said in her earpiece.
A black BMW rolled by, and Emma caught a glimpse of Adam’s low forehead and wiry dark hair before both cars melted into the blur of city traffic and disappeared.
He would tail Gorodin across the city, although they already knew where he was heading. For the last three weeks he’d come to the bank every Wednesday with an empty bag, and walked out with it looking much heavier, before driving straight to his father’s office. Now they had proof of what was in the bag. The next step would be finding out where that money ended up.
Emma’s phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. The number on the screen was the Agency’s emergency line.
She answered quickly. “Makepeace.”
“I have a message from R. Are you in a safe place?” It was a woman’s voice—as emotionless as a machine.
Frowning, Emma stepped out of the flow of pedestrians. “Yes. Continue.”
“This is the message: ‘You’re off the Gorodin case. I need you elsewhere. An address will be sent. Go to it immediately.’ ” The woman’s flat monotone paused. “The message ends. Do you need me to repeat?”
“No. I’ve got it,” Emma said.
The line went dead and a text appeared on her secure screen: 75 Thames Mansions, Flat 652, W6.
Emma’s heart began to race. The Gorodin project was just getting underway. If the Agency wanted her off it already, something big must have happened.
Dropping the phone into her pocket, she began to run.
Emma was part of a small intelligence unit so secret it didn’t have a name. The Agency didn’t appear on any government lists. It wasn’t in any phone book. Only a handful of very senior officials even knew it existed. The reason for the secrecy was obvious, once you understood that the Agency’s work focused on identifying and stopping Russian spies working inside Britain.
Lately, that work had been constant. Tensions between London and Moscow were the worst anyone could remember. Everything felt dangerous—as if the world had become flammable and each nation clutched a lit match.
In that febrile atmosphere, the Agency’s work was silent. Invisible. And absolutely necessary.
At twenty-eight, Emma was the youngest intelligence officer on the team. She’d only been with the organization three years, but after an undercover operation last autumn in which she’d single-handedly fought off a Russian assassination unit, her star was in the ascendant. She was being trusted with bigger operations. And as she parked in front of a glass-and-steel apartment building so close to the River Thames the blue-gray water reflected in its windows, she had a feeling this was going to be one of them.
There were no police cars on the street. No ambulances. Just one lone guard stood by the door and she recognized the unmarked black van used by MI5’s forensics team parked near the corner.
Other than that, there was no evidence of any activity.
Whatever had happened here, the Agency didn’t want anyone to know about it yet.
It was June, but the damp air had a chill to it, and Emma buttoned her jacket as she walked to the front door. England was never ready to accept summer until July arrived. It had to be dragged into the warmth against its will.
The Special Branch officer outside the front door gave her a doubtful look as she approached.
“Emma Makepeace,” she told him. “I’m expected.”
He scanned her fingerprint on a glossy black device and glanced at the readout before reaching into a bag at his feet and handing her a respirator mask.
“Put this on before you go in,” he said. “The lifts are safe to use.”
Emma stared at the mask, her nerves tightening as she absorbed its significance.
“Can you tell me what happened here?”
The officer shook his head. “They’ll explain when you get up there.”
Copyright © 2023 by Ava Glass. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.