The Coil

Eight venues name The Coil one of the Best Thrillers of the Year!
● Chicago Sun-Times
● Chicago Tribune
● Library Journal
● Readers
● Deadly Pleasures magazine
● The Mystery Bookstore of Los Angeles
● BookPage: Notable Title
● Affaire de Coeur: Best Contemporary Novel

The Story

Liz Sansborough thought she had left her past behind forever. A former CIA field operative as well as the daughter of perhaps the most notorious Cold War assassin — the man known to the world only as the Carnivore — Liz is now a university professor in Southern California, specializing in the psychology of violence. Then her dead father’s legacy sweeps back to overtake her.

Someone, somewhere, is claiming to possess the Carnivore’s secret files and is using information from them to blackmail prominent world figures to promote some clandestine agenda. Files that Liz swore her father never kept. When Liz’s cousin is kidnapped, the only ransom they’ll accept is the assassin’s records, and if Liz is to save her cousin, she must somehow resurrect her old tradecraft skills and, in a desperate hunt across two continents, locate the files and uncover a dark and dangerous conspiracy linked to a shadowy group known only as the Coil.

A note from St. Martin’s Press: With her bestselling thriller MASQUERADE, Gayle Lynds earned her reputation as one of the most exciting new writers of international suspense. Now with THE COIL, the sequel to MASQUERADE, she is at the very top of her form, proving herself one of the finest writers in the field today.


February 1998

Fredericksburg, Virginia

As the State department limousine sped through the wintry forest, Secretary of State Grey Mellencamp pressed the button to raise the sound-proof glass that provided privacy from his driver. He stared out at the leafless trees and bushes, cold and black in the twilight. They formed a dark wall on either side of the Virginia road, almost a tunnel as they crowded together, lined with mounds of dirty snow. There was no movement out there in the shadowy timber, no sign of life.

With a sense of foreboding, Mellencamp sat back. He had just left his meeting with Liz Sansborough, where he had failed to get the information he needed. He was angry and disappointed, but, as he thought about it, relieved, too, because she had been slated for sacrifice. Someone would be eventually. In the end, probably many. He hoped each was guilty, so their executions were justified. He did not like any of it, and now that he believed Liz Sansborough was innocent, he liked it even less.

He continued to stare out the window, forcing himself to relax, inhaling the scent of expensive leather upholstery. He had made thousands of successful deals around the world first for his corporate law firm and now as secretary of State, and he recognized a situation he could handle.

He removed his cell from inside his coat and dialed Brussels.

Instantly, an English-accented voice answered, “Cronus here.”

Mellencamp put authority into his words: “I’ve finished my interview with Sansborough at the safehouse. She claims she saw no files, that it would’ve been out of character for her father to keep them. She never varied from her story.”

“Bloody hell! He had to have files,” Cronus said, his voice rising, the English accent crisp. “He must have kept track of whom he’d worked for and what he’d done. His contacts, for God’s sakes. Who was secure; who wasn’t. What worked. What failed. Addresses. Phone numbers. Aliases. No one can stay in business, especially one like his, without records. Certainly she’s lying!”

The secretary of State bit back an irritated retort. “Sansborough says the Carnivore had a photographic memory, which means he had no reason to record details for himself. He told her he always destroyed everything that was on paper — plans, maps, timetables, that sort of thing — once he’d completed a wet job. Sansborough’s mother told us the same thing, when she was debriefed, and everyone knows the main reason he lasted so long was his hyper vigilance.”

The Englishman’s tones were dismissive. “From all that’s happened, they must exist. And Sansborough must know where they are. She’s the only logical one, now that her mother’s dead.”

“Yes, obviously there are records, but her parents kept her in the dark. If she hadn’t spotted her father in the middle of that wipe job in Lisbon, she might never have found out about their secret life, and we probably wouldn’t have either. Ignorance was the best way to keep her safe, so what possible reason would they have to tell her about files? Besides, when she went over to them, they quit the business. She never actually saw them plan a hit. All in all, it makes no sense she’d know about files.” He paused, and his heavy shoulders squared. “We’ll find them, but it won’t be through her.”

“She must be playing you, Themis. She’s capable of it. One of Langley’s best.”

Mellencamp was growing angry again. “Do you think that if she were holding back I wouldn’t go after her with everything we have? I’m the one at risk here. This is a hell of a lot more important to me than it is to you. You’re not being blackmailed because of what’s in those damned records.” He felt his heart pound. He was overweight and had a coronary condition, which frightened him when he allowed himself to think about it.

He closed his eyes and tried to get his emotions under control. Liz Sansborough was the only child of Hal Sansborough — the Carnivore, who had been one of the Cold War’s most feared and elusive independent assassins. Despite competition for notoriety from others like Carlos the Jackal, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, and the Abbot, the Carnivore was the real legend among those who knew about such things — hated, but hired by all sides. He had never made a mistake big enough to jeopardize his identity. No photos of him existed, and until near the time he killed himself, no one had been able to discover his real name. He had been a chimera, a chameleon in the world’s soft underbelly of spies and international criminals, indestructible. The man without a face.

When Cronus spoke again, his voice was less accusatory. “Are you going to do what the blackmailer wants, Themis?”

“Never.” The secretary of State’s tone left no doubt. “We’ve got to find those records ourselves. I keep thinking about the three clippings I sent you. The answer may be in one of them.” He removed them from his briefcase.

“If it is, I don’t see it.”

Mellencamp said nothing, studying them.

The Times, Great Britain

Sir Robert Childs, MP, was found dead in his bathtub today, his wrists slashed in an apparent suicide. His maid, who discovered the popular parliamentarian’s body, says she found a note that relayed deep regrets to his family about his secret life with call girls….

Bild, Germany (translated)

The nation awoke in shock this morning to discover Chancellor Hans Raab had resigned at midnight. Hounded by charges that he accepted illegal donations in return for political influence during his 16 years in power, he …

The Washington Post, U.S.A.

In yet another electoral surprise, the sixth congressman in as many weeks has announced he is dropping out of his congressional race. Jay White (D-OR) cited the birth of his third child, saying he needed to return to the private sector to earn a larger income to support his family.

That makes a total of three Republicans and three Democrats, each from the extreme right or left wing of his party, who will not run for reelection. None faced a serious challenge….

“Take Sir Robert,” Mellencamp said. “He bled out in a bathtub like some mad Roman senator, supposedly because he’d been discovered sweating up the sheets with a few whores. Ridiculous that he’d kill himself over such a minor matter.”

“In certain circles around London, it was known he used call girls.”

“Exactly. He must’ve been afraid something else would come out. Something huge, for him to commit suicide.”

Mellencamp sighed. “And now Raab’s resigned, with the excuse of financial shenanigans. It’s unbelievable he’d resign at midnight like a run-of-the-mill thief, because of some minor illegality like a slush fund.”

“At least he can’t ram through his choice for director-general of trade now. The environmental restrictions would’ve set back international markets ten years.” The voice on the other end of the line hesitated and resumed thoughtfully, “Maybe that’s it. Maybe Raab was blackmailed into resigning because of some appointment he was going to make, and the slush fund was just an excuse to give the public.”

Mellencamp nodded. “But how does that relate to all the congressmen who’ve dropped out before the next election? Three from the far right, three from the far left. If we’re correct, and the Carnivore’s files are what the blackmailer’s using — ”

“Then something has to connect the congressmen, Robert Childs, Chancellor Raab, and you. Perhaps you should do what the blackmailer wants, Themis. After all, he threatened your life. It’s not such a big request. A minor change in that new EU-US agreement — ”

Mellencamp erupted: “I told you no!” and then sank into stony silence. He had revealed to Cronus what was necessary about his being blackmailed, and no more. He would not discuss it further.

But Cronus was already talking again, his voice intense as he pondered: “What is it that you have in common? You come from different countries. Different lines of work, although all of you are involved in politics somehow. All of you are men. White men and in power. We know you hired the Carnivore, or your wife did — ”

Mellencamp snapped, “Leave her out of it.” Ruth had died five years before, and he still grieved. She had made a misstep when she was young. With a boyfriend, she had gone to the Carnivore to stop a U.S. Senator who had raped her younger sister. The senator and his powerful father, who had always protected him, died together in a yachting accident in the Mediterranean.

Cronus continued, “Our investigators found the Carnivore was connected to Raab and two of the six congressmen. The blackmailer doesn’t seem to be after money. Is there some kind of overall plan, or is this simply a madman operating on whim?”

“Lord knows,” Mellencamp said tiredly.

“Our people have come up with nothing but dead ends. They say it’s like looking for a ghost in fog. Whoever’s got the files seems to know exactly how to remain beyond our reach. Which makes me ask again . . . are you sure the assassin’s daughter knows nothing?”

Mellencamp sat up, wary. “Almost completely certain.”

The voice was cold, businesslike. “She’s the last living link to the Carnivore. She must be eliminated before she can hurt us.”

It was what Mellencamp had feared. “Each death draws a spotlight,” he argued. “The greater the accumulation of light, the more attention is attracted. Kill her, and we increase the risk to ourselves that we’ll be discovered. Instead, it’d be much better for us — much safer — to control her.”

There was a surprised silence.

Mellencamp spoke into it, his tones now disinterested. He must not act as if it he were asking a favor. Cronus would want to negotiate, and this was not negotiable: “If we arrange it right, Sansborough could turn out to be useful. Perhaps vital, if we can get a handle on who has the files, or if she remembers something that she doesn’t realize is important. As you said yourself, she’s our last link.”

“Possibly,” the voice from the distance admitted. “You have a plan?”

“Of course.” Mellencamp smiled to himself. “Consider the situation. Right now, Sansborough is at loose ends and probably depressed. Both her parents are dead, and her husband was killed long ago. She has no brothers or sisters, and because of the life she’s been leading, she has no real friends, except her cousin in California.”

“Sarah Walker, yes. I remember. And?”

“What she wants most is to go back to work for Langley, because that’s what she understands. It’s familiar, comfortable.”

“Your DCI considers her a security risk.”

“Of course Arlene does, and she’s right. Arlene will continue to offer her the hope of contract work, just to keep her quiet. But there’s nothing Sansborough can do to make it right with Langley. She’s been keeping busy by working on a graduate degree in psychology at Georgetown. I’ve encouraged her to continue. What we must do is create an opportunity for her in that field. Something irresistible. But we must move quickly before she finds some other interest or gets in our way somehow. If we handle this right, she’ll vanish into academia, just another woman with a past she’d like to forget. A cipher in some college or university. Small. Then as long as she stays quiet and out of the way, we can watch her. She won’t be a danger to us. Or to herself.”


Grey Mellencamp lived on a thoroughbred horse farm some forty miles east of the safehouse. The limousine had left the country road for the Beltway, where the night-time traffic was thick and frustrating, normal for this hour. The moon was rising, casting a wash of silver across the speeding cars and the houses and the businesses that spread in a vast ocean of winking lights everywhere he looked.

He returned the clippings to his briefcase, relieved Cronus had agreed to his plan. His mind wandered tiredly, avoiding the touchy parts of his past, but as soon as the limo paused at the farm’s front kiosk and the security guard waved the limo onto his land, he began to relax. Although he had not located the Carnivore’s files, at least he had saved an innocent woman’s life.

The limo pulled up to his front portico, where lighted carriage lamps sent a yellow glow across the brick drive. Chet jumped out from behind the wheel and ran around to open the door.

Mellencamp emerged into the cold, carrying his briefcase. He nodded at Chet and climbed the front steps wearily.

“Six a.m. tomorrow, sir?” Chet called to his back.

“Yes, of course. See you then.” Unaccountably, Mellencamp turned to add a final few words to his driver. “Have a nice night, Chet.”

“Thank you, sir. You, too, sir.”

The secretary of State walked inside, where the house was aromatic with the scent of a pine fire. He headed down the hall, shrugging out of his overcoat, and entered his den. Cherrywood wainscoting lined the walls, and heavy drapes on the French doors protected the room from the night’s freeze. He dropped his coat onto a sofa and fell heavily into his chair beside the fireplace.

The flames licked up orange and blue. It was a real fire with real logs, none of that fake nonsense so many young people used now to avoid cleaning out the ashes. He leaned forward and rubbed his hands together, warming them, again nervous about who had the files and what it meant to his dead wife’s good name and to his future.

His housekeeper called out from the kitchen. “I heard you come in, sir. Would you like a drink?”

He raised his voice. “Don’t concern yourself, Gretchen. I’ll fix my own.”

He loosened his tie and pushed himself up, feeling all of his more than three hundred pounds and sixty-six years. He moved ponderously to the bar. He was measuring out a whiskey sour when chill air gusted from behind the drapes. He looked up and caught his breath.

A black-clothed figure stepped out.

Before Mellencamp could think, could react, the figure moved behind him and yanked back his forehead.

“No!” Mellencamp dropped his glass and grabbed for the hands, too late.

The short needle of a loaded syringe pierced his fleshy cheek where it would be unnoticed among the salt-and-pepper hairs of his evening shadow. As his head was released, a wave of dizziness swept through him, and he turned in horror, trying to focus, while the killer vanished behind the drapes. Pain seemed to crack open his heart. He realized with outrage that there was a human sacrifice tonight after all. His legs collapsed, and he pitched back, dead.

The Assassins The Book of Spies The Last Spymaster The Coil Mesmerized Mosaic Masquerade The Altman Code The Paris Option The Hades Factor
The Assassins The Book of Spies The Last Spymaster The Coil Mesmerized
Mosaic Masquerade The Altman Code The Paris Option The Hades Factor
Back to Top
© 2024 Gayle Lynds

Web Hosting Provided by Maine Hosting Solutions