8.52pm, 24 July
The telephone conversation had also been recorded by one of the American Navstar satellites. Along with millions of other electronic data, it sent recordings to the National Security Agency’s secret data centre somewhere in the deserts of Nevada.
The conversation had been automatically scanned using specialist software. Amidst the endless stream of bits and bytes, the digital eavesdroppers had recognised a word from the key-word list, marked it, edited the recording down to 90 seconds before and after the word and sent the clip to the NSA analysts. The net tightened.
Anne’s message on Winter’s voicemail was at 8.41pm. Probably a status report. Or Al-Bader’s private Gulfstream jet had been late again.
‘Hi, Tom! It’s me. Everything OK. Twenty-minute delay but we’re in the air now. The sunset’s fantastic, incredible.’ The background sound of rotors. ‘I’ll call again when I’m back at the airport …..’
Someone shouted: ‘Fire! Fire’
‘Al-Bader’s on fire!’
Winter froze. A chill spread across his back. As if an icy bolt of lightning had struck his neck and discharged itself through his spine and into the stone floor.
Muhammed Al-Bader was one of the private bank’s top clients, a relative of the Saudi king. He was a global investor and had interests in every part of the world. A liberal businessman. A target in fundamentalist circles. He sometimes met his business partners in the Swiss mountains.