Chapter 1

The tyres of the brand new Aston-Martin V12 Vanquish squealed as their driver stomped on the brakes. The driver in question, one Mikhail Alexandrovich Petrovsky, swore in seven languages as his torso jerked against the custom five-point harness inside the car. As he accelerated around the recklessly merging semi, he reflected that it must be amateur's day on the San Francisco expressway.
Mick, as he was known by his very few close friends, coasted down the 25 m.p.h. ramp doing about 65, and merged into city traffic, neatly inserting the Vanquish into a momentary gap between a yellow cab and an airport shuttle. He turned up the stereo and let Nickleback and POD drown out the obscenities of the drivers behind him. Not really paying attention to the traffic around him, or needing to, Mick speculated about what could be so important. Soon after arriving back at his mansion in the Sierra Nevadas, he had been called down to San Francisco by one of his "informants". They were the unofficial channels he used to find jobs, and that the more legal organisations used to find him.
The man Leonardo was small, with a dark Italian look. He stood against the bar, sipping a double bourbon. He grinned when he saw Mick coming toward him. If the "boss" was pleased with the job, there was an extra $25,000 for Leonardo. After Mick had sat and ordered a drink, Leonardo remarked, apparently offhandedly, "The crickets are chirping loudly to-day." Only Mick was paying attention, or knew what he really meant. Someone had bugged the bar for sound, and probably video too. Mick wondered who would go to such lengths at this early stage. He didn't even know what the job was yet. Mick sighed, concluding that it must be one of the government organisations.
"Dully noted, but what do you want?" Mikhail asked.
"Oh, you'll like this one, Jaguar," Leonardo persisted in using Mick's "street name" when addressing him, "It's a CIA shindig. Some sort of kidnap involving a Russian chick and some guys with big guns and bigger egos. And the best part is I hear that she is very hot."
Mick sighed once again, this time inwardly. Why did people insist on assuming that just because he liked guns and cars, he was also some sort of womaniser? It's wasn't like he was a real James Bond or anything, he continued in his head, and he just hadn't found any woman worth having a relationship with yet. He certainly wasn't lacking in physical attraction, and sometimes merely his presence in a room seduced women. If only - "So do you want the job or what?" The informant shattered Mikhail's reverie. "This one must be real important; the take is 11 mil. And, I'm not supposed to know this, but they might start employing you on a more permanent basis if you don't screw this up." Mick considered his options, which were up to two; to do or not to do. The only reason the CIA tolerated his minor transgressions was that he came in very handy for jobs of this nature. Not to mention he was, to a certain extent, expendable, and his existence could be denied by the CIA. The job sounded more dangerous than usual, but Mick wasn't stupid. At least not stupid enough to turn down some relatively easy money staring him in the face. "Sure, I'll do it. How hard could it be?" "I will communicate your interest to the Company, Jaguar," Leonardo said with a crooked smile, "but first collect my small fee?" "Yeah, here you go, worm." Mick tossed the 25 grand onto the bar and walked out. As soon as the ally door closed behind him, however, Mick felt a hand on his collar. He whirled round, drawing two Walther P99s from their holsters under his duster as he did so. But then he heard the clicks of three safeties coming off.