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Oracle by Julie Anderson | Book 2 in the Cassandra Fortune Series


Cassandra Fortune jolted awake.

The soft leather seat and the powerful purr of the engine had lulled her into a doze, but now the engine had stopped. Through the tinted windows she saw a forecourt beneath a floodlit concrete canopy, but dark, moving shapes obscured the light. People. They were surrounding the car and pressing up against the glass. There was a pounding on the roof above her head.

What? What’s the hell’s going on?

With an oath the driver shoved his door open, allowing in a rush of icy air, accompanied by the sound of shouts and yells. Seconds later her rear door was opened.

Cassie slung her satchel and handbag over her shoulder and began to climb out of the car, clutching her laptop case close to her chest. She placed her palm against the heavy door, anxious that it wouldn’t be forced closed and trap her, but the driver held it open long enough to pull her out into the mass of bodies. It slammed shut behind her. Together, they struggled through the chanting mob in the direction of the brightly lit glass entrance doors.

The glow from the building was the only light to be seen. Beyond the forecourt was absolute blackness. High on the slopes of Mount Parnassus the European Cultural Centre nestled snugly in the middle of its own illumination, glistening in the surrounding darkness. Now it was under siege.

Cassie felt someone grab at her upper arm and yank her sideways.

She yelped and pulled back, gripping the precious laptop even tighter. In the confusion she couldn’t see who had hold of her, there were too many people crushed together, faces straining. A shouted order sounded harsh above the din and the grip on her arm slackened. Now the movement of the crowd changed direction, carrying them forwards. The driver battled his way, swearing and shoving, to one side, dragging Cassie in his wake, but the attention of the crowd had shifted and no one bothered them further. They stood beside a concrete pillar and watched.

The besiegers reached the glass doors, which shook at their pounding, but didn’t open. A knot of people formed, creating a battering ram to try and gain entry. Within, Cassie could see other people, youngsters dressed in jeans and camouflage jackets, struggling with Centre staff. Protesters. More instructions rang out as a large man in combat fatigues strode forward. Older than many in the crowd, a leonine mane of unruly brown hair framed a strong, bearded face. He wore a determined, if sardonic expression as Cassie watched him. She knew a man in charge when she saw one.

With a hiss the glass doors suddenly slid open and jeering protesters spilled into the high-ceilinged hall. Those already inside were clinging, limpet-like, to whatever they could grasp, wooden banisters or brightly upholstered furniture. Men, some in kitchen whites, were trying to drag them towards the doors to eject them into the night.

High-pitched screams of protest sounded as fingers were prised loose, chairs screeched, sliding across the floor tiles, all the sounds amplified by the rough stone walls. Slipping into the reception, Cassie ducked behind her half-raised arm, fearing that missiles would soon start to fly.

The protesters seemed to take heart as their reinforcements arrived, but the blare of a police siren caused anxious looks, dismaying them all. A battered police car drew up beneath the canopy on the forecourt next to the limousine, its flashing lights fracturing the darkness. Those demonstrators still hovering outside decamped at speed into the surrounding shrubbery.

From the car a heavy-set man in his late forties, his dark hair streaked with grey, stalked into reception. He wore a protective police gilet and carried a wooden baton. Two black-suited men with walkie-talkies strapped to their belts ran around the side of the building to join him.

Security detail. Is the Minister here early?

More men wearing kitchen whites arrived to help the Centre security staff haul protesters away. They took much greater care than the two ministerial security men, who were far less gentle. Cassie winced as one of them brought an elbow down sharply on fingers which clutched a wooden sofa arm, causing their owner to shriek in pain as she was pulled away.

Increased numbers and the mounting violence persuaded some of the protesters to leave, while others were ejected. Cassie and her driver scurried to one side as the last of them, a young man with dreadlocks, was pulled to the doors and thrust out into the night. A black-suited security man slapped his hands together as the policeman questioned the man behind the reception desk.

Exasperated, Cassie looked at her driver for help. She spoke several European languages, but Greek wasn’t one of them and she was unaccustomed to not understanding.

‘He asks if that is all of them?’ the driver explained.

The clerk, suit neat and hair unruffled, replied in the affirmative, but added something Cassie couldn’t understand. She frowned.

‘The leader seems to have gone missing,’ the driver translated.


‘They’re going to do a sweep search.’

The policeman man pointed at two of the kitchen staff, giving orders.

‘They are to help him search the ground floor. He,’ the driver pointed to the desk clerk, ‘is to lock the doors and see that no protesters get back in.’

As the first security man set off up the stairs, Cassie and her driver picked their way between overturned chairs toward the desk.

‘May I help you?’ The desk clerk’s voice was absurdly bland.

‘My name is Cassandra Fortune. I’m here for the public administration conference. I’m afraid I’m late, my suitcase didn’t arrive in Athens and I missed the conference coach.’

Her voice didn’t convey the rising panic she’d felt at the airport when she realised what had happened and that she had no way of getting to Delphi on time. Encountering the protest was nothing in comparison to her fear of failure on her first mission for David Hurst, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Many anxious calls to her secretary back in London had resulted, to her immense relief, in the arrival of the dark grey ambassadorial Rolls Royce at the arrivals bay, a stately thoroughbred among the tooting local yellow taxis.

‘Ah, yes.’ The man consulted his console. ‘Welcome, Ms Fortune, we have been expecting you.’ He reached below the desk and handed her an old-fashioned key on a large metal fob marked 17. ‘First floor, upstairs and turn right.’ He gestured towards the foot of the staircase then turned to the pigeonholes behind the desk. ‘You have a message.’

He handed her an envelope.

‘Also we have managed to find a room for your driver. It wasn’t easy, the guesthouse is fully booked for the conference.’

A torrent of Greek between the two men followed. Cassie waited, foot tapping.

‘I’ll go park the car,’ the driver said to Cassie, pocketing his room key.

‘You need me?’

‘I don’t think so, thank you, unless...’ she turned to the man behind the desk. ‘I’ve lost my luggage and need to buy things, something casual and warm to wear.’ She indicated her formal suit and mackintosh. ‘Will the shops be open in Delphi?’

‘No, madam. It’s much too late. The town will be closed now.’

‘I thought it might be.’ She spoke to the driver. ‘No, I don’t need you any more tonight, though it would be good to go into Delphi tomorrow morning. Thank you for all your help out there.’

‘It’s my pleasure.’ The man gave a crooked smile. ‘Good night, Ms Cassandra.’

Cassie climbed the staircase, which was made of the same glossy red wood as the smart modern reception furniture. A solitary security man scowled as he passed her on his way down, his search for the missing protest leader evidently fruitless. Room seventeen was along the corridor on the right.

Tossing her laptop and handbag on to the bed, Cassie ripped open the envelope. The message was from her secretary, Siobhan, saying that Cassie’s bag had never made the flight. She had arranged for it to be flown to Athens and forwarded to Delphi as soon as possible. Cassie thought about phoning her, it was about eight o’clock in London, but the lack of bars on her mobile showed that she didn’t have a signal. She sighed. It was being in the mountains. She didn’t want to speak over a public line, so she’d try and make contact tomorrow from different places around the Centre.

She removed her laptop from its case, added a European adaptor to her charger and plugged it into a wall socket. Her hotel-type room held a bed, bedside tables, a wooden unit of drawers and cupboards and a wall-hung TV. A fan of glossy brochures lay on the desk next to her laptop.

She picked one of them up. It was about the Centre, she recognised the lobby from the photograph on the cover, though the image looked a great deal neater than the real thing currently did. Built in the 1960s and opened in the late 1970s, at a time of forward-looking optimism, the Centre was a showcase of a new and civilised Greece, she read. This was after the military dictatorship had been toppled and its generals put on trial for crimes against their own people, before Cassie had been born, but she’d seem grainy TV images of the trials. The age of the authoritarian strongman was over; Greece was ruled by law, it had joined the European Union. The Centre was a symbol of the new democracy, a promise to the younger generation, many of whom had suffered for their opposition to the government.

What would those young people downstairs say to that?

She sighed and dismissed the thought, massaging her upper arm where it had been grabbed. A bruise was already forming. She riffled through the other booklets; there was one on the nearby Temple of Apollo, a guide to the Delphi Museum and a map of Delphi town. She’d take a look at them tomorrow.

Within minutes she was standing under the jet of hot water. It was only afterwards, wrapped in a bath towel, that she remembered that she didn’t have a hairbrush or comb.


Working her fingers through her tangled hair she wondered if the night manager could find something for her. The guesthouse wasn’t a hotel, it was accommodation attaching to the Centre, but it might have something, a vanity set, maybe. Perhaps he could also rustle up a sandwich − the  itchen staff was still here, she’d seen some of them − and she hadn’t eaten since lunchtime. It wasn’t quite ten o’clock. She picked up the bedroom telephone.

No reply. Perhaps he was dealing with another guest. She gave it ten minutes and tried again. The phone rang but no one picked it up.

I’ll have to wait until breakfast.

She switched on the hair dryer, then switched it off as she heard a noise. Her neighbours had arrived in the next room, a man and woman, talking in low voices. She heard gentle laughter. The walls of this place were certainly thin. She returned to drying her hair.

Tomorrow morning she would go into Delphi to buy clothing and other necessities. The conference would be opened in the afternoon by Theo Sidaris, Greece’s Finance Minister. He was the reason why she was here. She had to make a good impression.

Cassie still couldn’t quite believe that this was for real, the international jet-setting on behalf of the Prime Minister. It was a long way from her previous post overseeing minor procurement projects.

Her smile of satisfaction faded as she picked up and sniffed the blouse she’d travelled in.


But she had to wear it tomorrow morning; she had no choice.

Her hair dry, Cassie placed her little bottle of sleeping tablets on the bedside table, along with the diazepam.

She was very tired, even though for her body clock it was still early. Her nap in the car aside, sleep had been hard to come by after the end of her last assignment and she was still weary with a deep exhaustion. She’d helped solve a criminal investigation, which had wide ramifications in government. In doing so she had aided the rise of David Hurst to become Prime Minister and attracted his notice and his confidence. Now she was a member of a small group of people who Hurst trusted to do his personal bidding. It was an odd collection, ex-intelligence agents, fast-tracked PAs and Cassie supposed, herself, until recently a disgraced civil servant.

Halfway up a mountain and far from London, she’d surely be able to get a good eight hours sleep. She climbed into bed and switched off the light.

Oracle is available in paperback and ebook

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