Henry Porter: Empire State

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Henry Porter Empire State
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    Empire State
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Empire State

Henry Porter



The passenger known as Cazuto arrived in the Immigration Hall of Terminal Three, Heathrow, in the early afternoon, carrying a raincoat and a small shoulder bag. He joined one of the lines in the non-European Union section. Looking mildly about him, the American registered the two uniformed policemen with Heckler and Koch machine guns on the far side of the immigration desk, and then a group of men who were clearly searching the lines of travellers about to enter the United Kingdom on that stupefyingly cold day in May.

Larry Cazuto, in reality Vice-Admiral Ralph Norquist, guessed they were looking for him and noted the urgency on their faces. This interested him because they could not have known which flight he was on. His schedule was kept secret even from his wife and secretary, who knew only that he would be in Europe for a time, not on what day he was travelling or that he would be seeing the British Prime Minister and his intelligence chiefs.

The President’s special counsel on security matters decided that he would not at that moment make himself known. Instead he did what comes easily to a middle-aged man with a paunch and a slight academic stoop – he merged with the crowd and turned his benevolent gaze to the line forming behind him. He glanced upwards to the security cameras but none was trained on him and it was clear they weren’t sweeping the surge of travellers in the Immigration Hall. In front of him, a woman in her late forties – rich-looking and attractive in a brash way – was struggling to change her phone from an American to a European service while keeping hold of several pieces of hand luggage. He leaned into her vision to ask if he could be of assistance, and as she replied she dropped the open passport clamped in her teeth. He picked it up and returned it to her, noticing the semi-circular impression of lipstick on one of its pages. ‘You’ve given yourself a visa stamp,’ he said pleasantly.

The woman smiled. As she took the passport, one of the bamboo handles of a large tapestry bag escaped her grip and the contents tumbled to the floor. He crouched down and helped her again. As she swept everything back into the bag with the speed of a croupier, he examined her and wondered whether he imagined the intent that pulsed briefly in her eye. She got up, thanking him profusely and they went together to the desk, where he made a point of looking over her shoulder to see if the name in her passport matched the initials on the silver cigarette lighter that he’d retrieved from the floor. This was second nature to him and it struck him as odd, and almost certainly significant, that they did not tally, not even the first name and initial.

By now the men on the other side of the barrier had spotted him. Norquist recognised one of them; the knobbly faced Peter Chambers, a senior bureaucrat from MI5 whom he’d met eighteen months before.

‘I’m afraid we’ve got an emergency, Admiral,’ said Chambers. ‘We’re going to escort you into London.’ He gestured to a man who had come up behind him. ‘This is Sergeant Llewellyn from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch. He will…’

Before Chambers could say any more, Norquist held two fingers to his chest then jabbed them in the direction of the woman, who was now headed down the escalator to the Baggage Hall, her bags hooked over her shoulders and the little gold-coloured mobile raised to her ear. ‘Can you check her out? Her passport says her name is Raffaella Klein but she has the initials E.R. on her cigarette lighter. She seemed to be making a point by dropping everything. This may help,’ he said, slipping Chambers a chip of plastic the woman had failed to pick up and which he’d palmed as a matter of course. It was the SIM card for her US phone service and it would tell them everything they needed to know.

‘We’ll get right on to it,’ said Chambers. He beckoned to a lean, casually dressed man who had been hanging behind the two armed police officers and gave him the card. ‘Get Customs to search her and then keep her under observation.’ He turned back. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, sir, we’re in a bit of a hurry. Your luggage has been taken directly to the car. I’ll explain everything once we’re on our way. We really must go, sir.’

‘If you’ve got the baggage it means you know the name I was travelling under.’

‘That’s rather the point, sir. Your security has been compromised. ’

They made for a door at the side of the hall, which opened from the inside as they approached, and passed along a corridor of mostly empty offices. Here two policemen in anoraks and fatigue trousers joined them, so a party of more than a dozen descended three flights of a metal stairway, causing it to vibrate with a dull ring. At the bottom the corridor turned right and led to a fire exit where a security officer was on hand with a swipe card. He signalled to a surveillance camera above and operated the lock, throwing both doors outwards. The fumes of aviation fuel and the noise of taxiing aircraft filled the corridor. Rain slanted through the door. Norquist began to put on his raincoat, but Llewellyn took it from him and passed it, together with Norquist’s bag, to one of the policemen behind. He waved the two uniformed police out to a line of four cars just visible off to the right.

‘We’re having to make this up as we go along,’ said Chambers. ‘We’ve had very little notice.’

Norquist shrugged. ‘Right,’ he said.

They waited a few more moments until a voice came over Llewellyn’s radio. The rest of the men bunched round Norquist and they spilled from the door in a security rush, holding his head down until he was in the back of a black Jaguar. Chambers climbed in beside him; Llewellyn got in the front. The rest of the men divided between a dark green Range Rover, a Ford saloon and a BMW which brought up the rear.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Norquist.

‘We understand they are going to make an attempt in or around the terminal. I’m afraid this arrangement is far from ideal. We’d have preferred to use a helicopter to get you into town. We may yet have you picked up on the way, but the main thing is to get you away from public areas of the airport now.’

Norquist nodded patiently as if being told of some further minor delay in his schedule. The plane had already stopped for two hours at Reykjavik with a computer fault.

‘We think it’s a big operation. No details though,’ continued Chambers, giving him a significant look which was to say that he couldn’t talk in front of the driver and Llewellyn.

The cars moved off, weaving under the piers of Terminal Three. They had to slow for aircraft manoeuvring in and out of the gates and occasional service vehicles that blocked the route across the concrete apron. The squall that had blown in from the south-west didn’t help their progress either, and several times the Jaguar hesitated, either from poor visibility or disorientation in the sprawling tentacles of the airport. After a few minutes they cleared Terminal Two and set off at speed over the open ground between the take-off and landing runways, towards the vast hangars on the east side of the airport. They were held up once by a yellow airport car to allow a 747 to be towed across their path from the service hangars. Instead of taking the exit by the British Midland hangar off to their right, they moved towards the head of the runway a few hundred yards away, close to the eight aircraft waiting to take off. Rain and exhaust from the engines blurred the landscape and they had to slow to look for the exit. Someone spotted a policeman on a motorbike waving in the distance.

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