The Matarese Countdown - By Robert Ludlum

Chapter One
In the forests of Chelyabinsk, roughly nine hundred air miles from Moscow, there is a hunting lodge once considered a favorite retreat by the elite rulers of the Soviet Union. It was a dacha for all seasons, in spring and summer a festival of gardens and wildflowers on the edge of a mountain lake, in autumn and winter a paradise for hunters. In the years since the collapse of the old Presidium, it was held inviolate by the new rulers, an apolitical resting place of Russia's most venerated scientist, a nuclear physicist named Dimitri Yuri Yurievich, a man for all seasons. For he had been assassinated, brutally led into a monstrous trap by killers who held no respect, only fury, for his genius, which he wanted to share with all nations. No matter where the assassins came from, and no one really knew, they were the evil ones, certainly not their target, regardless of the lethal implications of his scholarship.

The white-haired, balding old woman lay on the bed, the huge bay window in front of her revealing the early northern snow. Like her hair and her wrinkled flesh, everything beyond the glass was white, frozen new purity from the skies, bending branches with its weight, a paradise of blinding light. With effort, she reached for the brass bell on the bedside table and shook it.

In moments, a buxom woman in her thirties with brown hair and eyes that were alive and questioning rushed through the door.

"Yes, Grandmother, what can I do for you?" she asked.

"You've already done more than you should, my child."

"I'm hardly a child, and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you, you know that. May I get you some tea?"

"No, you can get me a priest-doesn't matter which variety. We weren't permitted them for so long."

"You don't need a priest, you need some solid food, Grandmother."

"My God, you sound like your grandfather. Always arguing, forever analyzing-" "I wasn't analyzing at all," interrupted Anastasia Yuriskaya Solatov.

"You eat like a sparrow!"

"They probably eat their weight every day... Not that it matters, but where's your husband?"

"Out hunting. He says one can track animals in the new snow."

"He'll probably shoot his foot off. Also, we don't need provisions.

Moscow is generous," the old woman said.

"As they should be!" interjected Anastasia Solatov.

"No, my dear. Because they're frightened to be otherwise."

"What are you saying, Maria Yuriskaya?"

"Bring me the priest, my child. I'm eighty-five years old, and someone must be told the truth. Now!"

The elderly, black-robed Russian Orthodox prelate stood over the bed.

He knew the signs; he had seen them too often. The old woman was dying, her breath growing shorter, with each moment more difficult.

"Your confession, dear lady?" he intoned.

"Not mine, you ass!" replied Maria Yuriskaya.

"It was a day not unlike this-the snow on the ground, the hunters ready, their guns strapped over their shoulders. He was killed on such a day as this, his body mauled, torn apart by a crazed wounded bear driven into his path by madmen."

"Yes, yes, we've all heard the story of your tragic loss, Maria."

"They said at first it was the Americans, then that it was my husband's critics in Moscow-even his jealous competitors, but it was neither."

"It was so long ago, madame. Stay calm, the Lord is waiting for you. He will take you into his bosom and comfort you-" "Guvno, you fool! The truth must be told. I learned later-calls from all over the world, nothing written, only words spoken through the ajr that I and my children, and their children, would never live to see another daybreak should I speak of what my husband said to me."

"What was that, Maria?"

"My breath is leaving me, Father, the window grows dark."

"What was it, my child of God?"

"A force far more dangerous than what exists between all the warring factions on this earth."

"What 'force," dear woman?"

"The Matarese .. . the consummate evil." The old woman's head fell back. She was dead.

The huge, glistening white yacht, its length over a hundred fifty feet from bow to stern, slowly maneuvered its way into the marina at Estepona, the northern point of Spain's opulent Costa del Sol, a retirement haven for the wealthy of the world.

The gaunt old man in the luxurious master stateroom sat in a velvet covered chair, attended to by his personal valet of nearly three decades.

The aged owner of the ship was being groomed by his servant and friend for the most important conference of his long life, a life that spanned over ninety years, the precise Copyright 2016 - 2024