Chapter 8


It’s quiet in the Security Operations Center of the Mandarin Hotel. From time to time the walkie-talkies emit beeps in the charging dock panel as they recharge. The monotonous drone of fluorescent ceiling lights brings on a yawn. A long table, upon which sits a huge control panel with buttons and levers, spans the room.

Nothing of any interest lies behind the security operators—only several black uniform jackets, ties, and a bunch of empty hangers in a row on a coat pole.

In one corner is a chrome-plated safe containing weapons. The safe is locked. In order to avoid any possibility of weapons getting into the wrong “dirty” hands, there is a lock with a code on the door and an electronic pass swiper. These are, of course, understandable and correct safety precautions.

Anyway, the chances of even one pistol or cartridge falling into the wrong hands are absolutely—I repeat—absolutely nil. Only the head of security, his deputy, officers on duty, and the security surveillance operators are allowed entrance into that holiest-of-holies inner sanctum of security. Even ordinary guards can’t come in; they are rarely allowed entrance there, and only in special occasions. Of course, everything there is also protected with codes, with magnetic strips, secret locks, and so forth.

Enough about the technology in the Security Operations Center. That isn’t of interest, at least in any case not to Roy, who sits with his back to the coat pole, to the safe with the weapons in it, and to the doors.

In front of him there is a panorama of screens. Five big screens, disconnected from the internal and external video surveillance of the hotel, are dedicated to one single woman, a woman without the slightest relation to the Hotel Mandarin. Each of the five screens can be divided into four, eight, or sixteen parts, thereby multiplying Carmen eighty times.

Carmen at times grew, then shrunk, and then turned almost transparent on these screens. A series of metamorphoses occurred with her face as well: it first became enlarged to the point that the pink spots of barely visible pimples were discernible on her cheeks, then it exploded like a firecracker scattering fiery fragments in the forms of pieces of her nose, eyes, and ears.