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The Vorpal Blade

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A headless corpse has been discovered in the Thames just outside London, the body of a man who once worked for Tweed. Three thousand miles away, on the east coast of America, another headless body is found. Sensing instinctively that there must be a connection, Tweed, Paula Grey and Bob Newman follow the tortuous trail left by the killer, from London to America and into the heart of Switzerland. Paula, haunted by nightmares of the dreadful killings, takes the lead in their desperate search to put an end to the bloodshed and puts herself in extreme danger...

Chapter One
The following morning Tweed sat behind his desk in his large office on the first floor at Park Crescent. The windows which faced him along the opposite wall overlooked Regent's Park in the distance. This was the real HQ of the Secret Intelligence Service. The hideous modern building on the bank of the Thames was a 'front' -- mostly occupied by administrative staff. The action was controlled from Park Crescent.

Paula, seated at her own desk in a corner facing Tweed, suppressed a yawn as Newman walked in. She called out to Tweed.

'How do you like your new desk - or perhaps I should say old, as it's an antique?'

With the financial support of the rest of the staff she had bought the desk in the Portobello Road. It was Georgian and had a green leather top. She had even had new locks put on the drawers.

'I think I'm getting used to it.' Tweed smiled. 'I may even get to like it.'

'You'd better,' chimed in Monica, his secretary of many years, who wore her grey hair in a bun tied at the back.
'It cost a pretty penny.' She ducked down behind her word processor, feeling she'd said the wrong thing.

'And I'm very grateful to all of you,' Tweed assured her.

'Get any sleep after what you went through yesterday?' Newman asked Paula.
She looked at him. In his forties, five feet nine tall, well-built with an impressive head to match his body, he had fair hair but was clean-shaven with a jaw that discouraged louts coming anywhere near him. The most famous international foreign correspondent in the world before Tweed persuaded him to join the SIS, he had proved to be a great asset to the unit.

'Not a lot of sleep,' Paula admitted. `Which surprised me. When I got back to my flat I threw off my clothes and dived into the shower. It soothed away the aches and pains, I flopped into bed and fell fast asleep. Then I had the most horrible nightmare, which is unusual for me.'

'What kind of nightmare?' Tweed asked.

'It was night, I was near a river, watching the back of a black-coated figure. It was stooped over Holgate, sawing off his neck with a chainsaw. I woke up screaming, "Stop it, stop it." Then I realized it was a bad dream. Checked the time. 3 a.m. I remember thinking a chainsaw couldn't have been used. The neck would have been so ragged. No sleep after that. One of those things.'

'I had Roy Buchanan on the phone just before you came in,' Tweed told Paula. 'He congratulated you on your brilliant work last night. Said he'd take you on to his personal staff any day.'

'That's two job offers I've had in less than twenty-four hours,' Paula replied, pushing a curl of her black hair behind her ear. 'I'll have to think about them,' she teased.

'Let me know when you decide which one, then I can start looking for a replacement,' Tweed teased her back.

He had no more intention of letting her go than he had of resigning his position as Deputy Director. She just seemed to get better and better.

'Buchanan also told me,' he went on, 'that he phoned the local Chief Constable at three in the morning. He wasn't very popular but he told Colonel Crow, the Chief Constable, that he'd better send out another team of men to patrol the two taped areas and search thoroughly round the so-called execution block area. Crow ended the conversation by warning Roy that it was no longer his case and to keep off the grass. Roy told him his team would have to walk all over the grass to check for clues, then slammed down the phone. He was quite right to warn Crow, a pompous idiot I met once. The type who bullies his subordinates, then creeps and grovels to people who can help to hoist him higher up the ladder.'

Besides desks, the room was furnished with a mushroom-coloured wall-to-wall carpet and three armchairs for visitors. Newman was settled in his favourite armchair, taking in what was being said while he read a copy of the International Herald Tribune. He looked up.

'Odd, this copy is a fortnight old -- I pile them up, then go through them when I have time, in date sequence. A fortnight ago there was a similar murder at some nowhere place called Pinedale, south of Portland in Maine. A headless corpse inside a body bag was washed up on the cliffs during a storm. Victim a caretaker called Foley. Head never discovered.'

'Very unlikely there's a connection,' Tweed told him. 'Maine is three thousand miles or so across the Atlantic.'

'There are such things as aircraft services.'

'Oh, and did you know the Vice-President of the US of A arrived in this country two days ago?'

'Yuck,' Paula commented, 'we can do without someone like Russell Straub. I've seen him yacking away on the TV. Thinks he's the cat's whiskers.'

'They think Straub is likely to succeed the present President in the White House,' Newman informed her. `He's already making campaign noises.'

'Well, I wouldn't vote for him,' Paula said savagely as the phone rang.
Monica answered it, frowned, carried on a brief conversation. Then she put a hand over the phone and gazed at Tweed.

'You're not going to believe this.'

'Try me.'

'George has had a fierce argument with someone who has just arrived.' She paused. `Nathan Morgan, Head of Special Branch. Morgan arrived with two of his thugs, demanded to see you, was coming up with the thugs.
George forced the two thugs to go into the waiting room, locked the door on them. He's still holding Morgan in the hall.'

'I see. Ask George to escort Mr Morgan up here.'

Newman stood up. He walked to the door, opened it and stood half in the way. Morgan arrived, tried to push Newman out of the way. Newman smiled as he slowly stood to one side.

'Easy does it,' he said amiably.

Their visitor stormed into the room. Wearing a smart trench coat with wide lapels, which gave him a military appearance, he marched up to Tweed's desk. Heavily built, he had a large squarish head, black hair, thick black eyebrows, a pugilist's nose, a thin-lipped mouth and a prominent jaw. A brute, Paula thought to herself.

'Your gangster downstairs has imprisoned two of my men in a room, locked the door on them,' he roared.

'Well, if you want to talk to me we don't need them to be present,' Tweed said quietly. 'And it's normal to phone for an appointment before calling on me.'

'You were out at Bray late last night. The policeman who was going to relieve the man already there recognized you.'

'I thought he seemed familiar,' Tweed remarked.

'You don't deny invading territory, a crime scene under the control of a local police force?'
'One of my staff with me was able to detect how and where the victim was beheaded. Something the local force had overlooked. Do sit down. You're not looking very comfortable, standing there like a waxwork in Madame Tussaud's.'

'This whole matter is confidential,' Morgan snapped. 'We can't discuss it with all these people hanging around.'

'Then let me introduce you. The lady sitting in the corner is Miss Paula Grey, my chief assistant. Incidentally she is also the person who solved the problem of how Holgate was murdered.'

Morgan turned, saw Paula for the first time. His whole manner changed. He walked over to her desk, smirking as he held out his ham-fist of a hand.

'What an attractive assistant. Somthing to keep you warm on cold nights.'

Paula stared straight at him. As she did so she used one hand to open a drawer. She took out a bottle of Dettol, placed it on her desk close to him, her eyes still meeting his.

'There's some Dettol to wash your mouth out with.'

Morgan was speechless. He opened his mouth, closed it without saying anything. Then he swung round, pointed a stubby finger at Newman.

'I recognize you. Robert Newman, news reporter.' He made the last two words sound like something out of a sewer. Newman, his expression bleak, stared straight back without saying anything. It was Tweed who spoke.

'Mr Newman has been fully vetted, trained at our place in the country, has completed the SAS course, which few do. He's worked with me for years.' His voice rose. 'For God's sake stop making a fool of yourself. Sit down or leave.'

The vicious expression receded from Morgan's face. He looked round as though not sure what to do next, then sat in one of the armchairs.
'Why have you wasted your time -- and mine -- coming here?' Tweed demanded.

Tweed sat upright, hands clasped together on the desk. He was gazing at Morgan, his eyes hard. Paula was waiting for an explosion. Normally so calm and watchful, there were times when Tweed could explode and the results were devastating. Morgan reached inside his jacket pocket, wrestling to find it under his trench coat. At that moment the door opened and Marler walked in.

Five feet seven tall, Marler was slim, in his late thirties, always impeccably dressed. He was wearing a stylish pale-grey suit, crisp white shirt, a Valentino tie. Among his many talents he was the deadliest marksman with a rifle in Western Europe. He walked quietly across close to Paula's desk, took up his usual stance, leaning against a wall. His trim hair was corn-coloured and he was clean-shaven. He took a long cigarette out of a gold case, lit it.
Morgan turned, stared at him.

'Another one. Who is this?'

'Marler,' Tweed called out, 'meet Nathan Morgan, newly appointed Head of Special Branch. He has just gatecrashed his way into our sanctum.'

'I hear he does that,' Marler remarked in his upper-crust voice. 'New boy.'

Morgan again opened his mouth, then closed it without responding. He was still struggling with his jacket pocket, clearly embarrassed by his performance. Everyone waited in silence. Then he produced an envelope, took out a sheet of paper stamped with Home Secretary at the top.
'It has been decided,' Morgan began in what he imagined was an official tone, 'to create a system of close collaboration between the Special Branch and the Secret Service. We shall be appointing an observer to stay on the premises here, so you will need to give him office space and all communication facilities.'

He handed the letter to Tweed, who read it quickly. Then he opened a drawer, dropped the letter inside, looked across at Paula.

'That's for the shredder along with the other junk.'

'The shredder!' Morgan was outraged. His expression became ugly. 'You can't do that with--'

'On whose authority was this absurd idea thought up?'

'Whose authority?' Morgan's rage was growing. 'You have just read the letter from the Home Secretary.'

Tweed stood up slowly, placed his hands inside his trouser pockets. He walked slowly round his desk and there was something menacing in his movements. Disturbed, Morgan jumped up out of his chair so he was standing when Tweed reached him. There was a hard edge to Tweed's voice when he spoke, only inches away from his visitor.

'There will be no observer, so-called, infiltrated into this building. Apart from anything else the question of security arises. Also, you do not seem to realize I answer only to the PM--'

'I did ask for Mr Howard when I arrived--'

'Don't interrupt me again. What I have just said also applies to Howard. Then again your organization comes under the control of New Scotland Yard. In case you did not know that--'
'There's going to be a restructuring...'

'I did tell you not to interrupt me. I did not work well with your predecessor, a man called Bate. Rather like you. Thought finesse was a French pastry. Before him Special Branch was run by Pardoe, a man I respected and collaborated with from time to time. I cannot possibly work with someone like you.' His voice rose. `So, Mr Nathan Morgan, please leave the premises at once. You will be escorted downstairs by Mr Newman.'

Tweed returned to his chair behind his desk. Newman stood up, opened the door, smiling broadly.

'This is the way out, Nathan.'
Morgan was trying to straighten up his trench coat as he walked towards Newman. At the open doorway he turned to fire a parting shot.

'You'd better realize the investigation into the murder out at Bray has absolutely nothing to do with you.'

'Goodbye,' said Tweed, studying a file without looking up.

'Paula,' he said, closing the file when the two men had left, `I have an appointment in an hour to meet Roman Arbogast at ACTIL headquarters in the City. He kindly agreed to see me since Adam Holgate was once on my staff. Newman will drive us there and I'd like you to come with me.'

'Well, that should be a change from listening to that piece of rubbish you just threw out. I gather you are still investigating the case, but you look worried.'

'After Colonel Crow's extraordinary action -- snatching away the body from Saafeld -- and Nathan Morgan's boorish intervention, I sense the government is anxious that Holgate's brutal killing is never solved. Which happens to coincide with the unexpected arrival of the American Vice-President, Russell Straub.'

'Surely there can't be a connection?'
Copyright (c) Colin Forbes, 2002

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