Tuesday teaser: The Sokolov Agenda

It’s launch day for the newest thriller from the master of the action thriller,

Alan McDermott

Alex Mann pulled the heavy coat collar around his ears and once again cursed his government for not being in a cold war with Jamaica. Even with his thermals underneath the tuxedo, the piercing cold seeped into his bones. In a grey sky, laden clouds shed their load.

Mann stamped the snow from his feet as he reached the entrance and joined the queue waiting to get in to see an opera by Modest Mussorgsky. Once inside and out of the biting wind, he fixed the parting in his short black hair, presented his ticket and made his way to the box on the fourth floor.

As he neared the rest rooms, a woman with short black hair walked towards him. She wore a cream dress that fell just below the knee, and a string of pearls hung around her neck.

Helena, right on time.

Her work in the Russian Ministry of Defence gave Helena access to a lot of classified material, and she’d been passing most of it to the British for the last three years. In days gone by, she would have been run by an agent working out of the British Embassy, but the staff there was under so much surveillance that it simply wasn’t feasible anymore.

Mann kept his left hand down by his side ready for the brush, a manoeuvre where two people walk past each other and hand over intel. It could be in the form of a slip of paper, a flash drive, a coin with a secret compartment, anything. In this case it was a capsule less than an inch long that unscrewed in the middle. It could be mistaken for cold relief medicine, except that it was made of ceramic. Inside would be the microfilm containing everything Helena could dig up on the new missile.

The handover didn’t go as Mann had expected. Instead of brushing his hand, Helena stumbled on her high heels and fell into him. They stood there for a couple of seconds, like lovers in an embrace, as Helena whispered to him, her voice trembling.

‘Find Sergei Belyakov. Stop him.’

She straightened up and apologised profusely in Russian, ensuring her hair was in place and flattening out her dress.

Mann assured her that it was no problem, then continued to the rest room. He’d felt her hands on his waist, and once he reached the toilet, he entered an empty stall and locked the door. He found the capsule in the outside pocket of his jacket. He unscrewed it, checked that the microfilm was inside, then screwed it back together tightly. He put it in his mouth and swallowed it. There was little chance of his being frisked at the airport on the way home, but he wasn’t about to take any chances. Once he got back to England, it would simply be a case of waiting for Mother Nature to do her bit. He could always help things along with a dose of laxative if needed.

With his main task complete, Mann turned his attention to Helena’s breach of protocol. She wouldn’t have made such a risky move if it weren’t of the utmost importance.

Who the hell is Sergei Belyakov?

He couldn’t do a search while he was in Moscow. The Russians had sophisticated electronic intelligence—or elint—capabilities and would easily pick up any internet searches he performed. Instead, Mann would have to get back to London before he could look into the question.

It was time to cut the mission short.

Mann flushed the toilet, then washed his hands and returned to the box. Kirov had ordered champagne and canapes, and the plate was already half-empty. Below them, the auditorium was filling quickly and the orchestra was warming up. Mann took his phone out.

‘I must get a selfie for my Instagram account,’ he said, standing.

Ludmila got to her feet and pressed herself against him so that she could be in the photo. Mann looked at Kirov, but the Russian sipped his champagne and waved him away politely.

Mann took a few snaps, selected the best one and uploaded it to the social media account that was being monitored by a team of operatives back in London. The Instagram post was a signal that he wasn’t compromised but needed an excuse to get out, and Mann knew they’d be checking the next available flights as part of his cover story. Each social media account had a different meaning. If he posted a random BBC News article on Facebook, the mission had gone well and he was returning home. A three-word post on Twitter—any three words—meant the shit was flying and he needed an out.

Mann took his seat and looked out over the opera buffs below him. He spotted Helena’s cream dress. She was seven rows from the back, browsing the programme.

Mann’s phone rang, and he saw from the caller ID that it was the office of the yacht manufacturer.

‘Stuart Davenport,’ he said, using his cover name.

‘It’s Elaine. I’m afraid we have a problem with one of the builds,’ the voice said. ‘How soon can you be in Amsterdam?’

Mann pretended to be annoyed at the intrusion, then promised to be on the next flight out.

‘I’m so sorry, Anatoly,’ he said to Kirov as he put his phone away. ‘I have to go and sort out an urgent issue with one of the boats we’re building. You stay and enjoy the performance, and I’ll try to get back as soon as possible.’

Kirov assured him that it wasn’t a problem, but Mann’s attention was on the auditorium below. Specifically, the men in dark suits who were converging on Helena. They had FSB—Federal Security Service—written all over them. There was one at either end of the row she was sitting on, and both were talking into microphones on their cuffs.

Mann knew he should leave, but like a car crash, he couldn’t take his eyes off the scene playing out below. He saw the men walk along the row, ignoring the protests of the seated patrons, and when they reached Helena simultaneously, they leaned in and spoke to her. Helena seemed to be protesting, but the men quickly put an end to that. They took an arm each and marched her to the aisle, then out through the exit.

Mann knew he’d outstayed his welcome. ‘I’ll see you soon,’ he said to Kirov. He flashed a smile to Ludmila, then walked out of the box just as the orchestra burst into life.

Mann headed for the rear exit. If the FSB were onto Helena, they would no doubt be looking for him, too, and if that was the case, there were bound to be operatives covering the lobby.

Mann pushed through the wooden doors to the street, straight into two men who were clearly waiting for him.

‘He’s here,’ one of them said into his cuff in Russian.

The Sokolov Agenda

Alex Mann is MI6’s top operative in Moscow, but when his cover is blown, it’s a race against time to get him home. Not only is Mann facing certain death in a notorious penal colony, but only he knows the identity of a Russian terrorist who has London in his sights.

The Sokolov Agenda is the latest blockbuster thriller from million-copy bestseller Alan McDermott.

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Alan McDermott

Author Alan McDermott

 is a full time author from the south of England, married with beautiful twin daughters. He used to write critical applications for the NHS, but now he spends his days writing action thrillers.

His debut novel, Gray Justice, has been very well received and led to the 10-volume Tom Gray series. He was subsequently picked up by Thomas & Mercer, who published his first 10 books.

Alan’s seventh title, Trojan, is a spinoff featuring MI5 agent Andrew Harvey. It was shortlisted for the ITW Best E-Book Original Novel award 2018.

His latest series is the Eva Driscoll thriller series: Run and Hide, Seek and Destroy, Fight to Survive, and soon, When Death Strikes. He has also written two stand-alone thrillers, Motive and Fifteen Times a Killer.

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