Masquerade by Christopher Hoare
Gisel went out onto the landing when she heard the rumble of cartwheels and clatter of hooves. She leaned over the crumbling stone wall at the head of the wooden staircase to see down into the alley. Yep, the cart they expected, a two wheeled unsprung affair with a semi-circular canvas canopy. It reached the closed gate and the heavy chestnut dray horse slowed to a stop; their city security guard looked up from the bench beside the driver and signalled to her – the passengers had arrived.
She straightened to call down to the two guards inside the small courtyard. “You can open up.”
She watched until the gates swung aside and the cart started in before returning to the ruined warehouse. “It’s them, Colonel.”
M’Tov acknowledged and continued talking to Hannan. “You may as well hear this, Gisel. I don’t want any of this discussed once our Burgundene members join us.”
She seated herself behind the cluttered desk; she was duty officer today. “Yessir.”
The guardroom office was the only habitation inside this old shell of a building. Their own quarters were inside the second warehouse along Hidden Creek – not in a much better shape, but easily shored up with a modern addition by an Iskander construction crew when they’d taken a lease on the old smugglers’ anchorage on the river. The creek’s situation, a short way beyond the city’s Southwark suburb, made it distant enough that snoopers could be seen from afar. The three warehouses on the other side of the creek were sound and almost leak-proof, but these two ruins served to camouflage the fact that the anchorage was again in use.
M’Tov stared at her, as if weighing her for something. “Iskander has split this operation into a number of phases . . . of increasing difficulty. The first is to make the stealth insertion of Sirius into the River Megalon and journey upstream to make contact with the Crown Prince’s agents at Eifel.”
Hannan inclined her head. “That should take us five days.”
M’Tov turned his eyes to Hannan. “Right. You have the new remote sensing maps we made from the Intruder overflight. That phase is a must-do. The next is to make arrangements with the agents to procure the DNA samples from the occupant of the Grand Duke’s apartments. Let them do all the heavy lifting if you can.”
Hannan shook her head. “We must ensure the samples are collected competently – no contamination. One of us will have to do it.”
They both turned their eyes to Gisel. Shit – that means the junior officer gets the job. “I’m not experienced at breaking into palaces.”
M’Tov snorted. “That’s why the Prince’s agents make the entry. You will be a passenger.”
She shrugged. “We’ll have to see what plans they come up with. Countess Felicie is the only one who knows the secret passages.”
“Right,” M’Tov said. “But that phase is also a priority. Iskander has undertaken to secure the DNA proof.”
Hannan grinned at her – more a smirk than a grin. “And the next phase?”
M’Tov resumed his scrutiny of Gisel’s face. “The agents will search for the real Grand Duke – if our tests indicate the man in the palace is an imposter....