The Persona Protocol - By Andy McDermott


Being Giorgi Toradze

Peshawar, Pakistan

The voices in Adam Gray’s head were being controlling, as always.

‘There’s an intersection on your left, thirty metres ahead,’ said Holly Jo Voss through the tiny transceiver implanted in the American’s right ear. ‘Go down it.’

‘Okay,’ he said under his breath, lips ventriloquist-still. He raised the brim of his heavy black umbrella to check the street. The torrential downpour had scoured the thoroughfare of its populace, those few Pakistanis not taking shelter scurrying along with coats shrugged up over their heads. A narrow side road was visible through the spray where Holly Jo had said. ‘I see it. How far to the rendezvous?’

‘Less than sixty metres, at the far end.’

‘Anyone waiting for me?’

Another voice came through the ‘earwig’: male, young, cocky. ‘I see two assholes chilling on the corner,’ Kyle Falconetti told him. Somewhere above, a compact remotely controlled quadrotor was tracking Adam’s progress through the city. Even without the rain, he doubted he could have spotted the little drone; it was designed to be stealthy, and the New Jersey native was a skilled pilot. ‘Either they don’t got the brains to come in out of the rain, or they’re your new buddies.’

This was it: first contact with the targets. He swelled his chest with borrowed confidence as he rounded the corner, shifting the weight of the large, heavy black case in his right hand. ‘Here we go.’

Let’s do the deal, said a third voice.

This one was not in his ear.

Giorgi Toradze: age forty, Georgian, a former mercenary who had discovered more profit in selling weapons to those who wanted to fight wars than participating in the conflicts himself. The case contained samples of his deadly trade. However, the arms dealer was small fry, of limited interest to American intelligence.

The same was not true of his potential clients.

Toradze had been intercepted en route to Pakistan. Adam had replaced him, his dark hair dyed fully black and a fake moustache painstakingly applied, contact lenses turning his grey eyes blue. He was slightly taller and in much better physical shape than the Georgian, and a full decade younger, but with an overcoat concealing his build and Toradze’s gold jewellery on conspicuous display, he would superficially match the description the Pakistanis had been given.

The deception would instantly collapse if any of them had previously met the real arms dealer. But Toradze knew that was unlikely.

And everything Toradze knew, now Adam did too.

He made his way along the side street, rain pattering loudly off his umbrella’s strong fabric. Ahead, a man leaned against a wall. Early twenties, scraggly beard, a grubby sky-blue nylon jacket open despite the deluge. Right hand held pressed against his chest, fingertips edging under the zipper as he saw the approaching figure.

Look at this cretin. Could he make it any more obvious that he’s got a gun?

Toradze’s assessment, but Adam shared it. The man waiting for him was doubtless a recent recruit to the terrorist group, eager to prove his worth. Adam looked him in the eye as he got closer, challenging without being aggressive.

The Pakistani met his gaze with a twitch of belligerence. In the highlands of the country’s north-western provinces, where his organisation operated in the open, such provocation would have met with an angry, even violent response. But here in the city he had to tread carefully. He regarded Adam for another moment, then said a single word in Pashto over one shoulder.

A second man, a few years older, came round the corner. He looked the new arrival up and down, comparing what he saw with what he had been told to expect. Black hair, moustache, about a hundred and eighty centimetres tall. Gold watch.

Toradze had specifically mentioned the Rolex in his self-description, being very proud of the ostentatious timepiece. Adam made sure it was clearly visible on his wrist as he lifted the umbrella higher. ‘Is there a dentist near here?’ he said, the English heavy with Toradze’s native accent.

The second of the pair replied. ‘Do you have a toothache?’

It was a simple pass code. Adam gave the agreed response. ‘I have a delivery.’

The man nodded. ‘You are Toradze?’

Adam gave him a cheery smile. ‘Call me Giorgi. And you?’

‘Umar. This is Marwat.’

‘Good to meet you. Okay, I think we better get out of this rain! Let’s go, hey?’

‘This way.’ Umar set off down the street, Adam following. Marwat took up the rear, right hand still poised across his chest.

‘They’re moving,’ said Kyle. One of the large flat-screen monitors before him showed the three men