Title: Shiva (Hugo Hyde #2)
Author: Simon Sloane
Release Date: 24th July 2018
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
When disgraced scientist Hugo Hyde is abducted by Secret Service agent Diana Holborn, they pick up the trace of a powerful artificial intelligence that is bound to annihilate humanity within twenty-four hours. Fighting their way to Mumbai, Hyde and Holborn must unveil the secrets of an ultraconservative dynasty and their Shiva temple before facing the indestructible AI. Led astray by heiress Maya Singh, will Hyde unlock Shiva’s mystery before the clock runs out?
EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT: CHAPTER 1: THE SHEIK
Friday, 10:30am CET (12:30am local time)
Diana Holborn smiled. They had fleeced her, only to hand her a weapon. The Venetian mask would be sufficient to deal with her target.
“The sheik will love you,” Farid said with a barely concealed grin as he pushed the top button on the chrome elevator panel. “His taste is exquisite.”
“What is his taste exactly?” A grainy five-second video was all she had seen of the man.
“You’ll see,” the staffer said, tight lipped once again.
Diana let her hands glide down the snakelike patterns on the amethyst-coloured dress that had been tailor-made for the occasion. She feigned a shrug. “I just wonder how to address my client properly.” Surely, someone in the hotel had to know his bloody name!
Farid tilted his bald head. “I’d be surprised if there was much conversation.” He squinted as if deliberating whether to let her in on a secret—a small secret in any case. “You’ll meet a man of extremes,” he said in a hushed voice. “The sheik even commissioned a life-size replica of the Holy Kaaba for his suite.”
Diana received the sort of leering grin she had seen too often from middle-aged Arabs. “The ceiling height of the penthouse is in excess of fifty feet,” Farid said. “It has a private pool, a gym, even a tennis court. That’s how we attract the most illustrious clients in the world.” The concierge grabbed Diana’s arm as they stepped out of the elevator. “We protect their privacy at any cost. And you better do the same.”
Diana nodded. The five-quid-an-hour servant probably didn’t know he had provided more insight than her Oxbridge-educated analysts. Maybe he shared her suspicion that the sheik was the terrorist financier whom everyone had believed dead for months.
The camera on top of the leaden gate swerved around and zoomed in on Diana’s face. Then the door unlocked with a click, and she put on her Venetian mask.
“You’re on your own now. But it would be a privilege to meet you again.” Farid gave her an effusive bow after handing her a textured business card with his private number. “All my clients are distinguished gentlemen.”
“I’m sure they are.” Diana’s high heels clicked on the Peruvian marble as she walked away.
She dropped Farid’s card on the floor the moment the door closed behind her. Having expected an army of aides, instead, she was hit by a wall of silence. A musky scent filled the air, freshened by a whiff of lemongrass and jasmine. She ignored the dimly lit bedrooms to the right of the corridor as well as the pool on her left.
Having walked through a maze of antechambers, she arrived at the lounge. Farid had told her the truth: the cube at its centre was as daunting as the one in Mecca. Wrapped in a silken black cloth like the original, the religious artefact was surrounded by a golden band of Arabic scripture: There is no god but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. Allah is great, powerful and sublime . . ..
The monolith’s sheer size pointed to a man whose capture would catapult Diana to the upper echelons of her profession. Her heart pounded at thought of standing within a few yards of Nassor Sharkhor.
She was taken aback when a young woman moved against the backdrop of the shrine. No one had told her this was going to be a threesome! Only when she approached the blonde from a slightly different angle did she spot the projector. The girl was a hologram, although a strikingly realistic one.
“Over here!” a youthful voice called from the far end of the lounge.
The sheik’s pronunciation revealed at least a few years of boarding school in southern England. Diana tried to place its melancholic timbre when a tall man in a thobe emerged from behind a U-shaped arrangement of computer monitors. She almost caught a glimpse of his face, but then he put on his Venetian mask as well.
The sheik’s fingers ran through his waves of jet-black hair as he examined her with a predator’s smile. His beard was more fashionable than religious. After a moment of silence, he gestured at the beige leather sofa in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. Maybe it was the panoramic views of Dubai that turned him on, making him feel like the king of the Gulf.
Diana’s smartwatch vibrated. There was no message, but its background colour switched from black to violet.
Damn! A rival team was closing in.
But then anyone with state-of-the-art wireless decryption tools could have picked up the video and traced it to the oasis of luxury on the artificial island.
Surely, Control would terminate Diana if she let her prized target slip away now. She smiled at the sheik as she held her watch close to the router beneath the glass table. Her team would require only moments to hack his network.
Only then did she notice the water pipe beneath his desk. The sweet scent of opium revealed that the sheik had used it during the last half hour. Even men of great wealth and power needed to soothe their nerves sometimes.
A humming sound drew her gaze back to the Kaaba replica. The noise reminded her of a data-processing hub she had visited in Vauxhall’s vaults.
And then it hit her.
The artefact didn’t serve a religious purpose. On the contrary, it was a powerful new technology, and the “sheik” was one of its most ardent purveyors. They would reward her beyond imagination if she brought him in. Even better, she would make the French look like a bunch of amateurs.
Slowly, Diana’s target disposed of his thobe. Its V-shaped golden embroideries testified to his elevated social status. The scars on his torso revealed his struggles, adding to his masculinity. His toned body might have pleased her in other circumstances, even though she rarely enjoyed the act itself. Coitus felt like five minutes on a treadmill, but it was often the only way to place a prominent man in a vulnerable position while removing his security staff from the scene. Satisfaction in her job was the sight of life draining from her target’s eyes.
Alas, not today.
The sheik ogled Diana as she leaned against the sofa, her spine arched to enhance his view of her curves. He grabbed her waist and pulled her close.
Her palms glided up his biceps as he unbuttoned her silken dress. “I’m Lucrezia.” She spooled off her introduction with the smoky voice she had practiced for years. She smiled when the garment slipped off her shoulder.
The sheik responded in the non-verbal manner to which Farid had alluded. Diana knew she had to hurry when the distant clattering of rotor blades revealed she had only a couple of minutes left. She kissed her target but then withdrew her mouth when she spotted a Glock 17 beneath the sofa pillows.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, slightly bemused. He must have sensed he was in danger. His tint lightened closer to his hairline, making her wonder why an Arab would use spray tan. He was even more attractive than he had seemed on the low-resolution video, but . . ..
Diana realised her intuition had been wrong. Someone else must have taken over Nassor Sharkhor’s network—a younger cousin, perhaps?
Pressed for time, she grabbed the sheik’s shoulders and pushed him down on the sofa. Pinning down his torso with her thighs, she seized the Glock, pointed the barrel at his forehead, and ripped off his mask.
No! This couldn’t be . . .
Simon Sloane resides in London at the moment but has previously lived in seven countries on three continents and visited dozens more—including a highly insightful assignment in India. These places have helped to inspire his books. SHIVA is the second book in the Hugo Hyde Thriller series.