Published by Prelude Books on April 8, 2021
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Tom Winscombe is having a bad day. Trapped at the top of the tallest building in Minsk
while a lethal battle between several mafia factions plays out beneath him, he
contemplates the sequence of events that brought him here, starting with the botched
raid on a secretive think tank and ending up in the middle of the Chernobyl exclusion
More importantly, he wonders how he's going to get out of this alive when the one
person who can help is currently not speaking to him.
Join Tom and a cast of disreputable and downright dangerous characters in this witty
thriller set in a murky world of murder, mystery and complex equations.
Today, as part of the promotional tour for Bad Day in Minsk, I’m delighted to share chapter 1 of this new exciting thriller from Jonathon Peacock.
There’s also the chance to win a copy of the book through my twitter and Instagram accounts. Click through to enter.
As instructed, Dorothy parked the car a couple of streets away. We were a minute or two early and there was a fine autumnal drizzle in the air outside, so neither of us was in any great hurry to get out.
‘Are you sure about this?’ I said.
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ said Dorothy.
‘Because maybe it might be nice to relax and enjoy life for a little while?’
Dorothy looked at me and raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’ she said. ‘Really?’
I sighed. She was right, I suppose. We’d come too far to give up now. I checked the pavement for passing pedestrians and then opened the car door. Dorothy got out too and locked the doors.
‘Come on,’ she said, pulling up the collar of her jacket against the rain and marching off into the dusk.
The flat was situated over a dusty second-hand junk shop, and I couldn’t resist looking in the window.
‘Hey,’ I said, ‘we should come back in daylight and buy some of this stuff. Is that a Geiger counter or something there?’ I was pretty certain it was, and you never know when you might need one of them.
But Dorothy was already pressing the buzzer at the side of the door. ‘Focus, Tom,’ she said. She was always the practical type.
A window opened above us and then slammed shut straight away before we had time to look up. The buzzer crackled and the door clicked open.
‘Come on,’ said Dorothy. I followed her up the stairs.
Katya showed us into the front room.
‘Coffee?’ she said.
We both demurred. When she had been our intern at Dot Chan, Katya had been an excellent developer but she was spectacularly bad at making coffee. Indeed, it wasn’t until the previously healthy ficus elasticus in the corner of the office died that it became apparent that everyone in the office apart from her had been emptying their mugs there. She herself had been completely unrepentant, claiming that she was merely being true to her Belarusian heritage by making coffee that way, although it was impressive that she still managed to do this with Nescafé Gold Blend.
Katya shrugged. ‘My uncle will be with you soon,’ she said and left the room.
The room was sparsely furnished, with a sofa and a couple of moth-eaten armchairs that exuded a vaguely musty smell, as if they’d been left out in the rain overnight a few months previously. The Anaglypta wallpaper had a thin sheen of nicotine to it and was torn in several places. An attempt had been made to cheer things up a little by putting up a poster advertising what I assumed was ‘Minsk the Beautiful’, although my Cyrillic was poor, so it might just as well have been advertising ‘Minsk the Fairly Unpleasant’ for all I knew. The carpet was dark with some kind of long-lost pattern that had blended over the years with a series of stains that could have come from food spillage, drinks or one of any number of bodily fluids.
I glanced at Dorothy, trying to give her an encouraging smile. She said nothing. After a few minutes, the door flew open and a massive, muscular figure entered the room.
‘Arkady!’ I said, standing up. He walked over to me and made a decent attempt to crush my hand into a fleshy sac stuffed with bone dust.
‘Tom!’ he said, slapping me on the back with his other hand. There was going to be quite a bruise there too. He turned towards Dorothy and feigned delight as if some goddess had dropped in. ‘And your lovely woman Dorothy! She is still with you!’
‘Don’t sound so surprised,’ I said.
‘Ah, but you lose your women too easily,’ said Arkady. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this. My previous girlfriend, Lucy, had after all left me for him. But then again, he hadn’t lasted that long himself.
‘You too, Arkady,’ I said.
He grimaced and gave a sad shake of the head. ‘Lucy was fine woman. Also very good at the sex.’ He tilted his head on one side and looked me in the eye. ‘Tell me, did she do that thing with you where she—’
I glanced nervously at Dorothy and held up my hand. ‘I think maybe we need to talk about why you asked us to come here,’ I said quickly.
‘Yes,’ said Dorothy. There was an edge to her voice.
‘Yes,’ said Arkady. ‘Yes, of course. I am sorry. But I miss Lucy. She happy? I hear she engaged or something.’
‘She’s with some junior proctologist,’ I said. I was about to go on to describe how I ended up accidentally impersonating him when I joined a stag party on the artificial island of Channellia just before I unwittingly set it circulating on a course based on the Fibonacci sequence, leading to it collapsing into the sea five miles off the coast of Burnham-on-Sea. But then Dorothy gave a discreet cough and I stopped myself just in time.
‘Arkady,’ she said. ‘Katya said you mentioned something about the Institute for Progress and Development.’
‘Ah, yes. I am sorry,’ he said. ‘I am leading difficult life at the moment. I do not see many people I know and when I do, I ask too many questions.’ He looked sad and lost for a moment, and it struck me that, underneath all the bluster, Arkady didn’t seem quite the man he once was.
‘Where should I start, then?’ he said.
‘Maybe at the beginning?’ said Dorothy.
‘Ah, if I knew when that was, perhaps. But no.’
‘Maybe you can tell us what happened to the Vavasor papers, and then go on from there.’
I sighed. It was always going to come back to the Vavasors, wasn’t it? The mathematical papers belonging to the long-dead twins Archie and Pye Vavasor had attained something of a mythical status for Dorothy. I’d briefly ended up with them in my possession after bumping into the Vavasors’ biographer on the train, shortly before he was murdered by the rogue financier Rufus Fairbanks. Then Dorothy was kidnapped by the Gretzky gang, who Rufus Fairbanks had previously assisted with money laundering using algorithms developed by the Vavasors – at least until both Vavasor twins had independently had affairs with Fairbanks’s wife Cressida, leading to Archie killing Pye and then subsequently killing himself. So I ended up trading what I thought were the papers for Dorothy, although it turned out that the briefcase containing them had also been packed with high explosive by Arkady’s friend Sergei, who had something of a grudge against the Gretzkys because they had killed his brother Maxim.
‘Hold on,’ I said, coming out of my reverie. ‘Surely the papers were blown up in the explosion?’
‘Tom,’ said Dorothy, ‘we’ve been through this. Sergei could have removed them first.’
‘He did,’ said Arkady. ‘Remember, he work for Isaac at the time.’ Oh god. I’d forgotten that bit. Isaac Vavasor was the twins’ younger brother. He was now dead himself, killed by one of the Fractal Monks while trying to escape from their monastery in Greece.
‘So, hold on, then. Does that mean that the papers simply went back to Isaac?’
‘Not quite. Sergei didn’t get the papers back to Isaac. He disappear as soon as he hear you successfully deliver bomb to Gretzky gang.’
‘Can I just point out that I had no idea I was delivering a bomb?’ I said. I didn’t like the idea of being some kind of terrorist. It really wasn’t my style.
‘Sssh, Tom,’ said Dorothy. ‘Carry on.’
‘I disappear too, of course,’ said Arkady. ‘Is risky for me too.’
‘That’s something I’ve never really understood,’ I said. ‘How come no one associated with the Gretzkys came after us?’
‘No one knew you involved. Gretzkys are small operation here and not many left after—’ here, he mimed an explosion. ‘The only car anyone saw driving away was the one you borrow from me, Tom.’
‘But they expected trouble from Sergei.’
‘Yes. And they know of me, too. It is small community.’
‘So what happened to the papers?’ said Dorothy, with more than a hint of desperation in her voice.
‘Ah,’ said Arkady. ‘As I say, Sergei disappear. I not know where he is and I not hear anything for week or two. Then he call me. He say he worried he being followed.’
‘And I guess he would know,’ I said. From what I knew of Sergei, his primary skill set was counter-intelligence.
‘He would, Tom. He would. So next day I get another call and he tell me he find out who following him. He – what’s the word? – he turn the table, he follows the follower. And guess where he come from?’
Dorothy and I looked at each other, then shrugged.
‘He come from this Institute for Progress and Development,’ said Arkady, triumphantly.
‘So not the Gretzkys?’ said Dorothy.
‘No, not the Gretzkys.’
‘But why the Institute?’
The Institute for Progress and Development was one of those shady libertarian think tanks with a sketchy funding stream and an inordinate amount of influence on government policy. Although in their case, Dorothy and I did at least know where some of their money came from.
‘Are they still around?’ I said. ‘I thought they went down with Channellia.’
‘The Institute’s still there,’ said Dorothy. ‘Only last week they brought out a paper advocating zero taxes on tobacco to boost the economy. Got a lot of publicity.’
‘Oh, that was them, was it?’ I remembered wondering who was managing their PR. However you felt about the morality of it, it was impressive stuff. ‘But Channellia was their main source of income, wasn’t it? The cryptocurrency scams and drugs were all run out of there, and now it’s sitting at the bottom of the Bristol Channel.’
‘Well, they’re still getting money from somewhere,’ said Dorothy. ‘But that’s neither here nor there,’ she added. ‘Why were they following Sergei?’
‘Ah, well this is where it get difficult,’ said Arkady. ‘Next day, Sergei calls me again, say he has new job and he have to leave country. Won’t say where he go.’
‘So what happened to the papers?’ said Dorothy.
‘Last week, I get call from this lady Carla. She say she Sergei girlfriend and she very worried. She come home three days ago and flat all a mess.’
‘Oh no,’ said Dorothy.
‘And here’s interesting thing. Before Sergei go away, he show Carla important papers he keeps under mattress. Sergei say if anything strange happen, burn them. So she go to find papers and they gone.’
‘The Institute must have stolen them,’ said Dorothy.
‘I think you right.’
‘But why would they want to steal a bunch of obscure mathematical stuff?’ I said.
‘The same reason as everyone else,’ said Dorothy. ‘There are some valuable algorithms in those papers. Probably.’
‘Well, I didn’t get much chance to look at them properly, did I?’
The fact that the extreme complexity of the mathematics involved, combined with the Vavasors’ appalling writing and idiosyncratic presentation had baffled even Dorothy still rankled with her.
‘So are we saying that the Vavasor papers could be in the hands of the Institute for Progress and Development?’ I said.
‘I think yes,’ said Arkady.
‘And we still don’t know where Sergei is?’ said Dorothy.
‘No. Carla not know either.’
‘She doesn’t know?’ said Dorothy.
‘No. Sergei very secretive guy. He good guy but he keep everything close. Too close.’
‘But what are we going to do?’ I said. ‘Break into the Institute and steal the papers back?’
Everyone looked at me in silence.
‘I think that would be an excellent idea,’ said Dorothy eventually.
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