The First Time
p=. First published by DN Publishing in 2016
Copyright © Mike Winter, 2016
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The second Tom Black novella – “Rogue” is released in January 2017.
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December 1st 2008 – M4 – Swindon, 17:30
Tom Black had been stuck in traffic close to the junction he needed for almost thirty minutes. The rain pounded on the windscreen, the wipers working overtime to clear the water that was obstructing the view of the target in the car in front. The series of blue flashing lights which had passed him on the hard shoulder five minutes ago indicated there had been an accident somewhere in front of him.
His target was driving a silver Ford Mondeo, which blended in perfectly with the driving rain and the clouds which had descended earlier that afternoon.
This was Black’s first official mission as an agent working for TEP (Threat Elimination and Prevention). The remit was to follow Ross Scott, a member of the local CID, who was suspected in assisting an Islamist terror suspect in the supply of weapons, as well as a little drug dealing on the side. Once at Scott’s home, the order was simple: confirm the location of the terror suspect, eliminate them both and secure the weapons.
Black began his training with TEP six months ago, after spending four years in the armed forces. Late-twenties, he was considered naïve by his superiors, but with undoubted talent, hence his selection despite his young age and troubled upbringing. Drink, drugs and petty crime had seen Black through his teenage years fuelled by the unexplained disappearance of his father on his twelfth birthday which set him on a path to almost complete destruction.
“Agents with fucked up backgrounds make the best recruits,” was the statement uttered to him a few weeks into his training. “They rarely have anything left to lose, which suits us fine.” Will Hamilton, head of TEP didn’t have a sensitive side. He was brutal with the facts, and delivered them with a chilling honesty. Nothing was held back. “You’ve lost your father, wife, daughter, and your mother can’t remember your name. Your country is all you have left, you may as well try and save that hadn’t you?” As heartless as it sounded, Black agreed. It was his escape. If it hadn’t been for TEP, he’d probably have died from alcohol or drug abuse; either that or serving a lengthy prison sentence for car theft, or worse.
It was all true. Black returned from Afghanistan every bit as troubled as he had been after his father disappeared. His family took the brunt of his frustrations on a daily basis, and when the offer from TEP was put to him, he decided it would be best for everyone. He would no longer have to see his daughter cry or his wife tremble every time he became agitated.
The traffic ahead starting to move, albeit at a snail’s pace. Black let out the clutch slowly, and the car inched forwards, ensuring the gap between him and the Mondeo stayed at just a few feet. The torrential downpour wasn’t subsiding and the build-up of water on the tarmac was almost lake like. Cars on the opposite carriageway were misjudging the depth, aquaplaning on their way past. Gradually the junction to the motorway appeared and the Mondeo in front signalled to exit. Black pressed down his indicator and followed it down the slip road.
TEP Headquarters, Tower Gateway – London, 17:45
“Black is almost on target,” said Sarah Barnes, her eyes glued to one of her two monitors sat on her untidy desk. Paperwork and open files were strewn across every possible space. The clear desk policy memo had fallen on deaf ears. “He’s five minutes from the address.”
“Why the hold up?” A voice shouted from the other side of the office. Will Hamilton walked over to Sarah’s desk, his long face red with rage. He stood over Sarah, his bulky six foot three frame was intimidating. “He should have been there an hour ago.”
“Traffic, sir. There’s been an RTA on the M4. All clear now.” Sarah replied. She felt nervous; she needed to get something off her chest, unfortunately Hamilton wasn’t the most approachable of people. “Sir, I have a few concerns over the mission brief. I should have aired them before Black went to ground, I’ve just not had the opportunity.” Hamilton’s face was now a deep purple; the veins in his neck pulsating. He looked as if he could self combust at any moment.
Sarah Barnes was in her early thirties with long, dark brown hair. She was plain to look at, but had a friendly approachable look about her. She had worked at TEP for three years, starting work as an analyst, quickly working her way up to run the IT and communications department. She also had involvement in prepping agents prior to missions and highlighting and potential reasons for concern to her superiors. Those reasons often fell on deaf ears as far as Hamilton was concerned. He handpicked the agents and allocated the missions. He didn’t like being told he was wrong.
Unfortunately for her, Sarah had developed a particular fondness for Tom Black. On the face he was cold, heartless, devoid of any emotion, however she had seen glimpses that there was more to him than meets the eye. She had spent time with him. There were things he had said about his past. She had read his file. It was heart breaking.
“Sarah,” his tone was surprisingly calm, given his threatening pose. He knelt down by her desk. “We are on the verge of Black being on point with the target, and you tell me you have concerns. The briefing was over a week ago. What in God’s name are you concerned about?”
Hamilton had run TEP since its inception in 2002. It was a covert branch of MI5; off the books so the Government could maintain deniability if anything went wrong. Hamilton ran a tight ship.
Sarah knew what she wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t make their way from her brain to her mouth. She was stumped and fearful of saying the wrong thing. Hamilton rarely listened to other people’s opinions, whether it be one of an agent or of an analyst like herself, although now she felt cornered, he wouldn’t leave until she had said her piece, no matter how ridiculous she felt.
“I’m concerned Tom, sorry Agent Black isn’t ready for active field missions.” Shit! Sarah thought to herself. She had referred to him by his first name.
“Tom? Are we on first name terms with our agents now Sarah? I don’t recall you ever referring to one by their Christian name before.” Hamilton wasn’t particularly interested in her concern over Black’s competence, he now had a hunch; the seed had been planted that there was more to Sarah’s doubts than meets the eye. TEP agents were forbidden to have any kind of relationship other than professional with anyone in the organisation.
It was at this moment she decided she wasn’t going to hold back any longer. Hamilton would never let the matter drop anyway. “I’m concerned he isn’t ready. I’ve read his file. The things he witnessed in Afghanistan; what happened with his wife and daughter; the disappearance of his father. This man is emotionally and mentally unstable. He may have flown through his training, but we’ve seen men like this before, sooner or later, they snap.”
Hamilton was far from impressed. “A word of warning Sarah-do not become involved with our assets. Do not concern yourself with their history or what happens to them in the field. Agent Black possesses all the skills and experience we need. If he fucks up, we cut him loose, he’s on his own. It’s the way it has always been, you know that, you’ve been here long enough to see it with your own eyes.” Hamilton now went for the kill, his voice was now more threatening, with a certain intent. “Whatever the fuck is going on with you and Black ends now, with this conversation. Unlike him, you have plenty to lose. Now get back to what you do best and push some fucking buttons!”
Sarah didn’t look back as Hamilton walked back to his own office. The door slammed. She glanced to her left and right; none of her colleagues seemed to have noticed. With relief, she looked back towards her monitors. Black was on target, his GPS position showing on a satellite view of the area surrounding Swindon. His voice startled her as it came through her earpiece. “Sarah, I’m 300 yards from the target address. Standby.”
Target Address – Swindon, 17.55
Black parked his Vauxhall Astra at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. He made sure he was away from the street light; he wanted to be under the cover of darkness as much as possible. The rain continued to fall and there was barely any wind, so the torrential stream of water was almost vertical. The sound of the water on the roof of the car was tranquil and soothing, although for Black this wasn’t the time to relax. He opened up the glove box. Inside was a reel of metal garrote wire, with a handle at each end, his only weapon for this particular mission. The aim was to cause as much pain to the target as possible, to extract the information needed, before finishing him off. A gun was no use in those circumstances, half of the time, the target would think you are bluffing, or simply not care.
Ross Scott had entered his home five minutes ago. It was a modern detached house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, a small grassed garden to the front, his Mondeo parked on the gravelled driveway, a path leading to the rear of the property and similar sized properties to either side. The fact that Scott lived in a detached house was a relief to Black. There would be less chance of being heard by neighbours should the situation become a little noisy.
The majority of the houses on the small street looked like family homes; the standard two cars on each drive, all the gardens perfectly kept. Black looked through the windscreen, which was becoming ever more clouded with condensation from the damp air. A sense of sickening regret occupied his mind. This was once his life; after his return from one of the tours of Afghanistan, he bought a family home with his wife after the birth of their daughter, Kayleigh. Less than two years later, that perfect, clichéd family life met an abrupt end.
Black snapped out of his state of reminisce. The anger would soon follow; the anger he felt for himself for what he had done to done to his family and the suffering he had caused them from his own hands. That anger would soon be unleashed on Ross Scott.
The house adjacent to Scott’s was unoccupied. A for sale sign stood crookedly on the front lawn. Black could make out its silhouette in the warm orange glow of the street light. Black had visited the street every evening for the last five days. He’d learned from his recces that viewings on the house were pretty much non existent, and he would be uninterrupted making his way through the side gate of the property, into the back garden and over the four foot high fence separating the two houses.
Black checked the time on his watch. Scott had been inside the house fifteen minutes. The faint glow of the living room light made its way through the curtains and persistent rain. The weather was perfect for Black; it meant very few people would be wandering the street, and the rain and darkness, coupled with his black hooded bomber jacket would make it difficult for him to be identified with any clarity by passers by.
Black took the garrote wire from the glove box and placed it in the inner pocket of his jacket. He tapped the miniature ear piece which was fixed in his left ear. “Sarah, do you copy?”
There was a brief silence, before some slight static and Sarah’s voice. “Yes. Are you ready to move on the target?”
“Copy that,” replied Black. “Moving in now.” Black opened the door of the Astra and slowly exited the vehicle. He looked round; there was no one to be seen, and the only noise was the constant pattering of the rain falling on his jacket and the metallic thud of the drops hitting the car. Black made his way down the cul de sac; it was around two hundred and fifty yards to the target house. Black made sure he kept close to the inside of the footpath whilst walking on the pavement, to stay out of sight of any unlikely passers by as much as he could. He needn’t have worried, no one was foolish enough to be taking a stroll on an evening like this.
Black reached the house next door to Scott’s. He stood at the end of the front lawn; there was no fence separating the road to the grass, all completely open plan. Black made his way down the block paved driveway, slowly, constantly checking his surroundings. A house on the opposite side of the street had a down stairs window partially open, he noticed a rising cloud of steam rushing out from the gap in the frame. Whatever was cooking smelt good.
Black stood silent for a few minutes. He looked at the house in front of him. There were no lights in any of the windows, which he was guessing meant no one was inside. The last thing he wanted to do was surprise a would be house buyer. Black grinned to himself. It would take a lot longer for the seller to find a buyer after tonight.
Still checking his surroundings, Black moved towards the side of the house, where the narrow passage way led to a tall iron gate. Pools of water were collecting, the rain clearly too much for the drainage to cope with. There was a small padlock on the gate, pointless thought Black as it would never be sufficient enough to stop even the most novice of thieves. Black pulled a bolt cutter from his jeans pocket. It cut through the padlock with ease. Black removed it from the gate and put it in his pocket. He slowly pushed the gate open; there was a soft moan from the hinges, masked by the continuing downpour. The rear garden was enveloped in darkness. It took Black’s eyes a moment to adjust, the glow of the streetlights now behind him.
There was a sudden noise which pierced through the damp night air. Black looked over the fence to the adjoining garden. A glow of light spilled out onto the rear lawn. The figure of Ross Scott appeared in the opened doorway, cigarette in his mouth. Black moved silently back to the side of the house, out of view, he hadn’t been spotted, yet. Black peered round the corner of the house; he could see the condensation rising from Scott’s breath, along with the smoke from his cigarette. He would have to wait until he had returned inside the house, then make his move.
Each second seemed like minutes, and the rain continued to fall. It was so torrential that it had started to seep through Black’s waterproof jacket, giving Black the first sense of a cold chill since he had left the vehicle. After five minutes or so, Black heard the thud of the back door slamming; he slowly looked round to Scott’s garden; he was no longer visible and Black was confident he had returned inside. Black moved quickly, checking his surroundings as he moved, he sprinted across the adjoining garden, leaping over the fence which separated the two. Black almost slipped as his feet touched grass on the other side. The grass was waterlogged and his feet sunk into the sodden ground with every step. Black slowly knelt down, and lay spread out on the grass lawn. He wanted to check in case Scott was looking out the window for some reason and the lower down he was, the less likely he was to be seen. Even though the blinds were closed, Black could see the light was turned on in the room downstairs, so his entrance would have to be sudden as there would be no darkness to hide him. He inched up, and slowly made his way to the door where Scott had been stood moments earlier. Once Black had reached the door, he stood and waited for a moment. The rain was subsiding; it had turned into a mere trickle. He listened. Silence. Black was now fully focussed on what lay in wait on the other side of the door as he slowly pulled down the handle.
There was no resistance as Black slowly pulled down the handle; the door wasn’t locked. He thought it was unusual, however he didn’t have time to think about why. The point of entry had been made, and to turn back now would be foolish. It was likely Scott simply hadn’t locked the door. Black inched the door open, light forcing its way out of the orifice. The light quickly darkened, a shadow moving its way in between the light and the door. He had to move now. Black put his full weight behind the door, and with his shoulder, slammed into it with full force. There was a cry from the other side, and a dull thud, the sound of wood connecting with something equally as hard. Black looked round; he was stood in a modern kitchen, white cupboards, with spotlights shining down on Ross Scott lying in a crumpled heap on the black tiled floor, blood pouring from a large gash above his eye. He was still conscious, but barely.
Black knelt down, and grabbed Scott by his wrists, dragging him across the kitchen floor to the dining table. He picked him up underneath his arms and sat him on one of the brown wooden chairs. Scott was still dazed. He looked up at Black, blood slowly pouring down his cheek. “Who are you?” he muttered softly, not full realising what was happening.
“I’m the man you’re going to tell all your secrets to.” Black needed to get his point across quickly. “And if you do, I might spare your life. But if you don’t, I certainly won’t spare the life of your son.” Black had no hesitancy with the second part of his statement, even though it wasn’t true. However, whatever happened, Scott wasn’t going to come out of this mess in one piece.
“Secrets?” Replied Scott. “I’ve no idea what you are talking about. Why are you in my house? Are you someone I’ve had sent down before? Someone I’ve arrested? I don’t understand, just don’t hurt my family.”
“I’m going to make this really simple for you.” Black pulled out the garrote wire from inside his jacket. “Tell me what I need to know about the weapons you brought down from Liverpool two weeks ago.” Black slowly unravelled the roll of garrote wire. He walked round to the back of the chair and placed it around Scott’s neck. “This isn’t going to be pleasant.” He pulled back, with little force at first, but enough to cause Scott some pain and discomfort. Scott fought for air, spluttering saliva over himself, his arms wildly swinging. Black eased off the pressure around Scott’s neck before kicking the back legs of the chair. Scott crashed to the floor the chair on top of him. “It’s only going to get worse for you, now talk.”
Scott crawled from under the chair and turned to lay on his back. He looked up at Black.
“Please,” he begged “I don’t know anything.”
Black was becoming frustrated. “Tell me where the weapons are. And where Saad Khan is. We know you gave him the weapons. Assault rifles, explosives, grenades. We know you are in debt up to you eye balls, and this, along with the class A’s you are smuggling, is what you’re using to pay those debts with.”
“You aren’t the Police; I am. Assault of a Police Officer, you’ll do some serious time for this.”
Black could tell he was wavering; there was fear in his voice. Another couple of minutes with the garrote wire, he would tell the full story.
Scott clenched his fists and rolled up his face as Black approached him again. “I’m not playing games.” Black’s tone becoming more vicious. He could see the terror in Scott’s eyes as a single tear rolled down his bloodied cheek.
Black once again placed the garrote wire around Scott’s neck and pulled back with force, applying significantly more pressure this time round. There wasn’t as much resistance from Scott; he was becoming notably weaker. He would soon start to loose consciousness. Black needed to keep him lucid so he slapped him round his cheek with the back of his hand. Scott groaned in pain before wrenching violently, coughing up more blood and saliva.
Slowly, Black moved to face Scott. He knelt down in front of him and moved his face in close. He could feel Scott’s heavy warm breath on his face. His lungs were gasping for air.
“This is the last time I’m going to ask you”, there was a strange calmness in Black’s voice. He knew he had broken Scott down, and he would give him everything he needed. “Tell me what I need to know, or the next one will finish you off.”
There was a brief silence while Scott continued to fight for air. “I…..I had no choice,” he mumbled awkwardly. He knew the game was up. “I owe thousands – tens of thousands of pounds. My son hates me – I owe him money. They offered me a way out.”
“Saad Khan and his friends. All I had to do was collect a van full of goods from the docks in Liverpool. They said ask no questions and I didn’t. I didn’t even ask what it was I was collecting. I thought it was drugs. That’s what it usually is. I’ve been delivering drugs for him for months”
“Where is Saad Khan now?” Black was on the verge. All he needed was Khan’s location.
“He……he……I don’t know”
The hesitancy in Scott’s voice made Black frustrated again. “Don’t take the piss, mate. You’ve given me everything else. Think of your son. It’s over for you either way, but it doesn’t have to be for him.” Scott said nothing. There was a genuine fear in his eyes. He was no longer looking at Black; his eyes were moving around the room and he began to blink quickly. He was panicking. “I’m going to give you thirty seconds. Get a grip of yourself.”
Scott continued to breathe heavily, the blood still pouring from the wound above his eye, down his reddened cheek. Whatever police training he had taken part in over the years hadn’t prepared him for anything like this.
“Ten seconds.” Said Black. “Ten seconds. Then I call it a day with you and travel to Bath. I know exactly where your son is.”
The look of fear on Scott’s face increased.
“Where is Saad Khan?!” Black shouted angrily.
“He……He’s behind you.”
Black barely had time to register what Scott had told him before he felt a heavy blow to the back of his head. Then darkness.
Sarah Barnes dialled 100 on her desk phone. After one ring Hamilton’s voice bellowed into her headset.
“What now, Sarah?”
“Sir, we have a problem. I have lost contact with Black – I believe it may be an ambush.”
There was a panicked tone to Sarah’s voice and Hamilton could sense that Sarah was worried. It was become more obvious that she had clear feelings for Black and this would need to be addressed. “Talk me through what has happened Sarah. I need the detail.”
“It was going to plan. Black had most of the information, Scott admitted to picking up the consignment of weapons from Liverpool. Black was drilling him on Khan’s location. I heard Scott say “He’s behind you” – then nothing. I have lost communication. Sir, I believe this may have been a set up. Scott knew Black would be arriving and arranged for Khan to be there, it can’t be a coincidence.”
“Sarah – do nothing. The mission is proceeding as planned. Update your report to reflect this. Do not deviate from the plan, is that understood?”
“But sir, we have lost communication. We…”
“Enough, Sarah. Do nothing and wait for an update from Black. Do not concern yourself with the situation. Continue to provide me updates as usual. That is all.”
Sarah was confused, she dwelled on the situation for the moment before bringing the mission brief on her screen and reading it back to herself. Was there something she had overlooked?
TEP have been surveilling Ross Scott, Police Inspector with Wiltshire CID for the last ten weeks. The TEP comms team have uncovered internet chatter linking Scott to Saad Khan, a suspected terrorist cell operator living in Croydon. Saad Khan has links to Al-Qaeda and spent time in Afghanistan in 2002. He was allowed to return to the UK after no firm evidence was found linking him to terrorist activity. TEP have spent the last twelve months gathering intel on Khan, following known links to Zahid Abbas. Abbas was arrested in 2006 following a failed car bomb attempt in London.
CCTV footage (attached file 0001) shows Scott meeting with Khan and a bag exchange is clearly shown. We suspect this to be money in cash being handed to Scott. Scott deposited four separate payments into different bank accounts in his name totalling £40,000 two days after the exchange.
Further CCTV (attached file 0002) shows Scott loading a van in Liverpool with what we suspect to be a consignment of weapons and ammunition illegally shipped over from Ireland.
Agent Tom Black is briefed to interrogate Ross Scott at his home address with regards to the supply of weapons and also determine the current location of Saad Khan. Khan has slipped off the radar in the last two weeks following the consignment arriving from Ireland.
Once determining Khan’s location, Black is to eliminate Ross Scott before making contact with Khan, obtaining the weapons before also eliminating Khan.
More specific information can be found in the attached file (File 0003)
Sarah couldn’t understand why Hamilton was disregarding her concerns. There was no mention of Khan also being at Scott’s address, and now she had lost communication. She checked the GPS locator again on her screen. Black had a GPS chip placed in the sole of his boot. Providing this was still in place, she was confident he was still at the target address. She waited. It was all she could do.
A punch to the face woke Black instantly. The room was spinning as he opened his eyes, he felt nauseous. Eventually the sensation balanced out and the room came into focus. He was still in the dining room, sat on one of the wooden chairs, his arms behind his back and tied to the rear of the chair with the garrote wire he had been using on Scott. His head pounded from the inside, the pulsating pain caused a ringing in his ears. He then saw from where the punch had originated.
Saad Khan stood in front of him. He was short, around five foot six, but stocky. He had medium length black wiry hair and hadn’t shaved for a few weeks. Thin dark eyes stared down at him with a chilling menace.
“Mr. Scott tells me you are looking for me.” Khan had a typical London accent. “Well here I am.”
Black stayed silent. This wasn’t how the mission was supposed to pan out, and speaking now would be foolish. He had been trained well on remaining calm in these kinds of situations, and conversing with the enemy when captured was unacceptable.
Black looked on the tiled floor. He spotted his earpiece next to one of the kitchen units, luckily it hadn’t been spotted, although it must have taken a foot during the earlier melee, as it appeared considerably flatter than it should have been. Ross Scott was scrambling through a drawer in the kitchen, attempting to find something to cover the deep cut above his eye. He was in a bad way, still visibly shaken and coughing loudly. Even from distance, Black could see the deep red marks that had been left around Scott’s neck.
Khan spoke again. “Who are you? Policeman? Drug dealer? What do you know about me?”
“The tables have turned for you now. You’ve caused pain for my friend here, now I will give you the same punishment.” Khan’s fist connected with the bridge of Black’s nose. Blood exploded outwards, landing on Khan’s pale coloured shirt. His nose was broken. “Argh! Fucking bastard! Seen what you’ve done to my shirt?” Another first reigned in, this time connecting with the side of Black’s head.
Black was dazed; he was struggling to keep focussed on the situation. Once again the room starting to spin uncontrollably. He could make out the figure of Ross Scott making his way over to him.
“Anything?” Asked Scott.
“Nah. He ain’t talkin’. Strange situation this. What do you make of it Policeman?”
“Dunno,” replied Scott. “Like I told you earlier, I had a call this afternoon – about 1pm. A man warned me someone knew about the weapons and they’d be at my house tonight. I called you straight away. That’s all I know.”
“He ain’t Police. No ID; No mobile phone. He’ll be Government – fucking Government. You’ve messed up here, you’ve led them to us.”
Scott took offence. “Hey, don’t be putting this on me. You approached me remember. I was happy making a few quid on the side, bit of dealing. I’d have had stuff paid off eventually.”
“Shut up! Let me think.” Khan was becoming agitated. He was young and naïve, and hadn’t expected a situation like this. He was trying to impress others who followed his cause, and make himself a martyr. He hadn’t accounted for Government involvement. “We need him to talk. We need him to tell us who he works for and what they know. The attack can’t be carried out with these bastards knowing our every move.”
“I didn’t sign up for this,” Scott said. “I did my bit bringing the weapons down. What happens now has nothing to do with me.”
Khan turned his head towards Scott and inched towards him slowly. The size difference between the two was notable. Scott was a good six inches taller than Khan, although Khan was clearly more aggressive.
“You are in this until the end, do you understand?” Khan was becoming impatient. “You’ll do as I say, or you’ll regret ever meeting me. I’m going to make a call to Asif – let him know we are compromised and that we need to move the weapons. I’ll lie low here for a few hours, see if any of his friends turn up. I’ll rendezvous with Asif tonight and you can take care of him.” Khan pointed towards Black.
There was reluctancy in Scott’s body language as he nodded. Khan walked through the adjoining door into the living room holding his mobile phone to his ear. He closed the door behind him, although his agitated voice was still clearly audible. “2am. Meet me at the compound. Just you, no one else. I’ll be bringing my guy here.”
Black sat silently, taking in the information. He knew Khan wasn’t prepared for a situation like this. He was young, foolish and controlled by his ideology, although undoubtedly dangerous. After a few minutes, Khan re-entered the dining room. He looked calmer, as if he had regained a sense of control.
“Change of plan,” Khan said. “I’m leaving now. Finish him off and leave his body here, and meet with me at the compound at 2am. Whatever happens after that, you’re on your own.”
Scott looked terrified, he was in way over his head. “You told me this would be an easy job. You want me to kill a Government agent and what – just disappear? His people will know he is here, it’s only a matter of time before they know something is wrong.”
“I don’t have time for your pathetic worrying. Make sure you are there at 2am, if not, I’ll make sure this little problem is the least of your concern.” Khan moved to face Black. He grinned. “As for you – I’ve no doubt, within the next hour, there will be someone else turning up here to see what has happened to you. Maybe you should have checked the house first, before you beat the shit out of the Policeman here. Your mistake.”
Black remained silent, keeping eye contact with Khan. The pain in his nose was dull and constant, and he could only breathe through his mouth, however he remained calm and in control, with no increase in his heart rate.
Khan laughed. “Such a good soldier. Sworn to silence by his country. I’ve heard about people like you. People who have been caught, and tortured, but never crumble, never speak. Loyal to their country – and for what? Your country, your Government, they don’t care about you, or anyone here. All they care for are themselves, their pockets and their power.”
Black continued to stare at Khan. There was no emotion.
Khan continued. “They believe they can control the people I represent, the ones who I am fighting for. They bomb our countries, kill our civilians, our children. They think they can show us and the rest of the world how powerful they are, without consequence.” He paused and moved closer to Black. “I know these words mean nothing to you. You believe in what you fight for, just as I do. Your people will care though, when they find your body here, in this house, gutted like a fish. Your country will care when women and children are running for their lives, before being shot down for the world to see.”
Khan stepped back, before landing another crushing blow to the right hand side of Black’s face. Khan walked past Scott, who was stood watching in the kitchen. “Finish him,” said Khan, before he left the house through the kitchen door.
The operations room at TEP had become quieter over the last thirty minutes. Sarah Barnes had tried calling Black at five minute intervals since contact was lost; there had been no reply. It was almost 7pm. Sarah glanced over her shoulder. The door to Hamilton’s office remained closed; no one had entered or left it since she had spoken with him last. The normal procedure in responding to an agent who was believed to be captured or under duress would be to send a second agent to the location to provide a real time update on what the situation was. If it was decided the agent was severely compromised, they would be cut off from the organisation, their records erased, and he or she would be on their own. It was clear Hamilton did not want a second agent sending to assess what had happened, which concerned Sarah as this was against protocol.
Sarah accessed a file on her system. It logged all calls in and out of the office in real time, and made a recording of them. She selected Hamilton’s number; he had made more than forty calls from his land line since he had arrived at 8am that morning. Sarah cross checked the numbers; thirty six of those were recognised as other people working for TEP. The remaining six weren’t. Sarah selected the first of these six calls, made at 8:20am and double clicked on the file name. She was immediately asked to enter a password but this didn’t faze her. She could run a patch file which would get round the password protection. Ultimately, Hamilton would find out about it, although she would have a little time to listen to the calls before he realised the file had been accessed.
It took a few minutes for the patch to open the call file. Sarah pressed play. After a few seconds, it was clear this particular call was of no interest; Hamilton had called his wife. She listened for a moment; it was strange to hear Hamilton speaking like a family man. That side of him never made its way into the office.
The next call was at 8:28am. Again it was password protected. Sarah ran the same process as before to open the file. The recording started to play back; this one was of more interest.
“Hello. Is this Ross Scott?”
“Speaking. Who is this?”
“Don’t concern yourself with that, Mr. Scott. You have bigger things to worry about right now.”
“Sorry? What are you talking about? Who is this?”
“Mr. Scott, listen to me carefully. It may just save your life. Someone is aware of the weapons and ammunition you collected at Liverpool two weeks ago. You’ve been under surveillance for quite some time. This person is aware of the money deposited into your bank account, and where it came from.”
“I……I……who are you?”
“Mr. Scott, when you return home from work this evening, a man with instructions to kill you will arrive shortly after. He has been briefed to obtain the location of Saad Khan, the consignment of weapons, and once he has these, he will kill you. If you listen to me carefully, you can avoid this. Do you understand?”
“After you have finished speaking to me, make a call to Saad Khan. Tell him you have been compromised and to be at your address this afternoon and to wait there. Tell him to hide somewhere in the house, upstairs, in a cupboard, anywhere, it doesn’t matter just make sure he is out of sight.”
“Tell him to enter through the front door, not the back. I understand the house is empty at the moment, he will have to be creative and enter without being seen. Once you’ve done this, go about your daily business and your work as normal. Drive home as normal and wait. The man will enter your house through the rear door. Do not resist him. He will hurt you – badly. Give him nothing, do not give him the location of the weapons. He won’t know Khan is there. Khan can then take him out.”
“What if he….”
“No questions, just do it. If you fuck this up, you’re a dead man, so just think about that. You’ve been a very stupid man, Mr. Scott. This is your way out. Take it.”
The play back of the file came to an abrupt end. Sarah sat rigid in her chair. She was stunned, her body awash with a mixture of fear and anxiety; why was Hamilton setting Black up like this? Was he involved with the terrorists somehow? She needed answers. She thought for a moment about confronting Hamilton himself, then stopped; this would be a bad idea; she knew he would turn it on his head, and twist it so she would be blamed for accessing protected files. Either that or the file would be deleted without trace, and she would be prosecuted.
She had to act fast; Sarah stood up and walked over to the desk nearest to her. A middle aged man sat crumpled over his desk looking at reams of paper, hurriedly making notes as he worked his way through it.
“Graham,” said Sarah. “I need to go out for an hour, will you cover for me?”
The man turned and looked up at her inquisitively. Graham Adams was forty-five although the years had been unkind to him, he was completely bald, with heavy blue eyes, he constantly looked stressed and burnt out. His face was pale and featureless, with thin lips which rarely mustered a smile. The only saving grace was that he was good at his job, thorough, meticulous, and he had a soft spot for Sarah. Unfortunately this wasn’t reciprocated.
“Why, what’s up?” He asked, with a south western twang in his voice.
“I’ve had a call from Craig. He’s lost his key again, he can’t get in the flat.”
Graham knew she was lying, although he didn’t care. He had met her husband Craig once before; they had been out for a drink after work and Sarah had become a little worse for wear, and he had to call him to pick her up. It was obvious she didn’t love him any more.
“Sure, no problem. What do you want me to tell Hamilton, he’s bound to ask?”
“Tell him exactly what I’ve told you, like I said I’ll be back in an hour.”
Sarah knew there was no way she would be back in an hour. The drive from London to Swindon was a two hour journey at the best of times; you could add another hour on to that for traffic. She didn’t have a choice; Black was in trouble, and no one but her could help him right now. She would deal with the consequences later. Sarah walked back over to her desk, got her car keys from the top drawer. She gave Hamilton’s office a quick glance; the door remained closed. He hadn’t noticed the call log access yet. She walked across the office, past the bay of desks where the other analysts were still working. None of them gave her a glance as she walked through the exit door to the elevator.
Tom Black could see that the panic in Ross Scott’s eyes hadn’t diminished. He had been holding an eight inch chef’s knife for the last fifteen minutes, plucking up the courage to bury it into Black’s chest. Sweat was dampening his white shirt and he was breathing heavily, probably on the verge of having a panic attack. He had seen plenty of cut up bodies during his time working for Wiltshire CID, but he never had to create one of those bodies.
Black had remained silent; still composed and keeping eye contact with Scott the whole time, although he couldn’t stay sat there all night. His hands remained tied behind the back of the chair with the garrote wire he had been using to strangle Scott with. He had been trying to gain movement between his hands on the wire. Any bit of play in the knot could be worked on to give him some leverage, but there was nothing, no movement at all. He needed to think of something else. He had held off on talking to Scott in case he said something that pushed him over the edge, but as the minutes wore on, he would have to change his tactic.
“The clock is ticking if you’re gonna do it. It won’t be long before others like me come knocking on your door.” Black was convincing in his delivery. During the brief, it had been made clear to him he was on his own for his first mission. No one would be coming after him to pick up the pieces if it went wrong.
“Shut up!” Was the reply. “I’m trying to think.”
“There’s nothing to think about is there? You need to kill me and go and meet your mate. He’s expecting you. 2am remember? He doesn’t strike me as the kind of man you want to let down. If you do as he says, he might be able to get you out of the country, get a new life for yourself, that sort of thing.”
“I’m not stupid. I’m done. Finished. There’s no getting out of this one. I’m going down for life whatever happens.”
“The do the right thing and tell me where he’s gone. Where is the compound where the weapons are?”
Scott said nothing. He turned away and looked at the door. The sense of fight or flight was taking over, and Scott wasn’t built to stick around for the fight. He was in a foreign situation; overwhelming panic and fear gripped him and wouldn’t let go. He needed to escape this situation. He made a bolt for the back door, but before he could reach the handle, he heard a crash come from the open plan dining room. Black had lifted the chair up with him, lent backwards and used all his weight to fall back onto the laminate flooring. The chair buckled under Black’s weight, and the prefabricated wooden legs detached almost immediately.
Black quickly picked himself up from the floor. There was a sense of relief now his hands were now free of the chair, but still tied behind his back making balancing himself difficult. Scott was startled for a moment, not knowing what to do. Black made a move towards him and at the same time, Scott mirrored him and charged in Black’s direction. Black paused his movement, allowing Scott to run at him. As he got within reaching distance, Black arched back his neck and powered his head forwards making a clean, solid connection with his forehead on the bridge of Scott’s nose. Scott’s body crumpled, the pain coupled with the pressure he now felt in his head affected his balance. He was arched over, his head down by his knees. Black lifted his foot and aimed it at Scott’s head; he pulled back his foot and swung it with force and hit his temple hard. Scott fell to the floor unconscious. Black struggled to maintain his balance but managed to steady himself by leaning on the nearby worktop. He knew Scott wouldn’t be out of it long; the blow to his head wasn’t hard enough. He needed to get his hands free of the garrote wire.
Black made his way to the oven at the other side of the kitchen. He backed up to it, and with his hands, struggled to turn the knob to turn on one of the electric hobs. He could feel the hob gradually warming up; Black placed the back of his hands onto the hob. The garrote wire would warm to the point of fracture; he just had to blank out the inevitable pain once his skint started to burn.
It took a couple of minutes before any real heat was generated. Black’s muscles tightened as the burning sensation began to take hold of him. He gritted his teeth as the pain became more excruciating.
After a further ninety seconds, Black moved his hands away from the hob. The pain was almost overwhelming, but the fuel of adrenalin was enough to keep him focussed on what he needed to do. He could now feel some play in the garrote wire wrapped round his hands. Black started to move has hands in a rhythm and could feel the tightness finally loosening. He looked down on the kitchen floor; Scott was starting to come round. There was a faint groan coming from his bloodied lips. Black worked hurriedly, and eventually he felt the resistance that had kept his hands together give. The wire became brittle and snapped. He brought his hands up in front of his face; the burns round the back of his hands and wrist were bad. Various patterns of red combined with flaking skin and blood. He would need to cover the wounds as soon as he could. Black carefully removed the remaining garrote wire from around his wrists before picking up the chef’s knife which was lying on the floor next to Scott. Black knelt down next to him, pondering his next move
Black spoke softly, even though he was on the edge, he wanted to give Scott a false sense of comfort. “This has gone on too long, mate. Tell me where he’s gone, where the weapons are, and I’ll make sure it’s quick. I’ll make sure your son is safe too, you have my word.”
Tears began to roll down Scott’s face, making trails in the dried blood as they fell down his cheek.
“Croydon,” he said. “He has a compound there. That’s where you’ll find the weapons. It’s where I took them when I brought them down from Liverpool. That’s where Saad Khan will be meeting Asif.”
“What’s the address?”
“Endeavour Way. Unit 11. There’s a key in my coat pocket upstairs, in the bedroom.”
“If you’re lying, I’ll be back for your son.”
Scott didn’t say another word. He was too preoccupied by the cold sensation he could feel on his throat. The coldness quickly turned warm as the chef’s knife cut though his skin. He could see the blood pouring down his white shirt at pace. Then came the pain, but only for a moment before the knife hit his artery. He saw his own blood fire across the roof, hitting the perfect white kitchen cupboards, before a wave of calmness, almost euphoria took over. Whatever pain he had felt had now subsided and he no longer cared about what was happening, he accepted his fate and slumped back to the floor.
Black dropped the knife in the pool of blood which was starting to collect and congeal around where Scott was laying. He looked at his hands; the burns now masked by Scott’s blood. He walked over to the sink, ran the cold tap and placed his hands under the stream of water, clenching his fists as the searing pain of cold water on his wounds took over.
Once he had removed the majority of blood from his hands, he padded them dry with a kitchen towel and headed through the living room to the stairs. Black entered the main bedroom to the house and switched on the light. The bedroom was as he expected; a double bed, perfectly made was in the centre of the room, with modern fitted wardrobes to the back wall. Nothing was out of place. Scott was obviously highly organised, and it first glance there would be no evidence to suggested he was involved in terrorism.
Black spotted a black parka coat hung on the back of the bedroom door. He checked the pockets and immediately felt a large key. He pulled it out and attached was a yellow job with the words [_Unit 11 _]written on it. He had what he needed.
Black walked across the landing to the bathroom. Again the bathroom was meticulously tidy. He looked into the mirror on the cupboard on the bathroom wall; his nose was swollen to twice its normal size, but the bleeding had stopped. He opened the cupboard door and rummaged inside. He found enough bandage to strap up the wounds to his wrists, and along with it, a number of various pain killers. He pressed out four from their packet and swallowed them. His job here was done.
M4 – Swindon, 21:30
Sarah Barnes had been trying to call Black repeatedly since she had left the office; it was ringing, but no one was answering and each time she was greeted by the network’s voicemail message. The satellite navigation system told her she was ten miles away from Ross Scott’s house. The sat-nav paused for a moment as a call came through the Bluetooth system. Sarah ignored it; the number was unknown, but she knew it was Hamilton who was calling. She was a little surprised; it had taken him over two hours to call.
Sarah took the exit from the motorway, down the slip round and followed the directions as they came through the car’s speakers. Another call came through; unknown caller again.
Sarah drove for another ten minutes before reaching Scott’s address. She knew from the mission brief that he drove a silver Ford Mondeo, and she spotted it parked on the driveway as she pulled up outside the house.
She got out of her car, walked up to the front door and knocked. There was no movement or sound that she could hear from inside. She walked down the side of the house to the back garden. She could make out the kitchen light glowing from behind the closed blinds. Sarah walked slowly to the back door and gently pulled down the handle; it wasn’t locked. She inched the door open gradually and was greeted by the rich smell of blood. Her stomach wretched at the sight of Ross Scott. His head was half decapitated, clinging on by the spinal chord; the pool of blood that surrounding him on the tiled floor had thickened and become clotted. Sarah vomited violently. She stepped back outside into the garden, the night air a welcome relief.
Her mobile phone vibrated in her coat pocket. It was Hamilton again. This time she answered; she was scared.
“Barnes,” Hamilton was furious. “What the fuck do you think you’re playing at? We’ve been tracking your mobile for the last hour, we know exactly where you are.”
“Sir, I was concerned about Black, his safety.”
“Black is fine, I’ve just spoken with him. Sarah – I know you’ve listened to the call. There will be serious repercussions as a result of this. Wait at the house, Agent Jones is en route to clear up this mess. He’ll bring you back to the office. Tell your husband you’ll be working late tonight.”
The call disconnected abruptly. Sarah was now terrified; she played through the situation in her head. Her career was more than likely over, and that was just to start with. Maybe Hamilton would be lenient and not bring criminal proceedings upon her. She couldn’t bring herself to go back into the house. The sight of Scott, the blood and the smell was too much for her. She stood in the garden and waited.
It was cold and the ground was wet, but the rain had passed and the night sky was clear. The moon was bright, and the stars glistened, peppering the blackness above her. She looked up, taking it in. It gave her sense of escapism, albeit momentarily; the sound of a car engine from the front of the house brought her back to reality.
Sarah heard the sound of two car doors closing, followed by footsteps coming down the side of the house. Two figures appeared; she recognised the first. Stephen Jones was Lead Agent for TEP. He’d been there with Hamilton from the beginning. He was tall, about six foot four, a shaved head, large, bushy eye brows, wide shoulders and extremely well built. He reminded her of a doorman, the kind you would see frequenting town centre clubs on a Saturday night. He’d spent time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia, Korea; he was vastly experienced and equally as formidable.
Behind him was a shorter man who was unknown to her. He had medium length blonde hair combed to the side, but again well built. They looked quite the double act.
“Evening, Sarah,” said Jones. “You’ve got yourself into a bit of a mess, haven’t you?”
Sarah couldn’t help herself. “It was a set up. Hamilton arranged for Black to be ambushed. I was listening to the comm channel. Someone else was here, and Hamilton arranged it. I……”
Jones cut her short. “I’m not interested in that Sarah, I’m just here to clear up the mess and take you in. Matthew here is going to take care of the body, and I’m under orders to drive you back to London in your car.”
Sarah knew she had no choice. She looked at Matthew as he walked into the house; he was probably from another part of MI5, or someone they were giving a little field experience to before bringing him on as an agent.
Jones waited until Matthew was inside the house before he spoke again to Sarah.
“What were you thinking?” He asked.
“I knew something was wrong,” replied Sarah. “Then I found the call. He rang Scott and tipped him off. Why would he do that?”
“I’m sure he had his reasons. Hamilton is as straight as they come, there must be more to it.”
“Where is Black now?” Sarah made her concern obvious.
“He’s still working. He has the location on the weapons and he is moving in.”
“Can I speak with him?”
“No. Sarah, it is obvious you have feelings for him. Why have you let yourself become involved with an agent? Is it worth losing your career, your husband, or even your life over?”
Sarah didn’t answer; she looked down at the floor.
“We have to leave now. Give me your keys.”
Sarah handed Jones her car keys and followed him back down the side of the house to her car. Neither of them spoke as she got in the passenger seat and started the journey back to London.
Endeavour Way, Croydon, 23:30
Tom Black arrived in Croydon around ten minutes ago. The journey hadn’t been too bad, there had been a quick stop for fuel and an overpriced service station sandwich. He had called Hamilton on his journey to inform him of the situation. He didn’t seem fazed that Khan had been on the property unexpectedly, and that Scott had received a call tipping him off. “These things happen,” was what he said. All he wanted to know was if Black had confirmation of the weapons. Black had informed him of the body in the kitchen; Hamilton said he would take care of it.
Black scrolled through the call log on his phone. Several missed calls from Sarah Barnes showed in the call log which he had purposely ignored. He didn’t want anything to distract him away from the mission. He’d lost his earpiece, so had no direct communication with her, and Hamilton had told him liaise through him going forward.
Black had parked his Astra at the bottom of Endeavour Way. The road was dimly lit; the faint glow of the orange street light bounced back off the grey steel fence which was failing miserably to keep back the overgrowing trees and shrubbery. He was early; the rendezvous wasn’t until 2am, although this gave him plenty of time to think and prepare. Unit 11 was round the corner, out of sight. After completing two drive-bys of the unit, Black was confident there was no sign of life, and no vehicles parked at the unit.
Black stared out of the windscreen; the pain of the burns on his hands and wrists had subsided slightly, although they were still noticeable. As the minutes passed, the image of Ross Scott came into his head; had he deserved to die in such a brutal way? Should he have been brought to justice via more conventional methods? He had a son. That son no longer had a father.
Black had killed before. During his time in Afghanistan, he’d taken out several enemies, mainly using his firearm and from distance, not up close and personal like he had with Scott. Apart from once; he had been part of a task force sent to rescue American prisoners in Helmand. He was part of a six man team, and he was the sole survivor. He managed to take out 8 Al Qaeda fighters and rescue the Americans. His team had been killed with a variety of IEDs, enemy fire and grenades and despite Blacks best efforts, he couldn’t save any of them. He returned home a shadow of his former self, filled with rage and anger. His wife didn’t recognise him and his daughter was terrified of him.
He had been contacted by Hamilton two months after returning from Afghanistan. There had been a fight in a local pub; Black had been on a three day drink and cocaine binge which resulted in him putting a pint glass in the landlords face. Hamilton travelled up to Manchester and visited Black in the Police cell. He offered him a way out. Retribution and solace serving his country. Black was highly regarded by his superiors following his heroics in Afghanistan, and the Government wanted to utilise his skills.
His daughter was four years old on the day he left and he hadn’t given her a proper goodbye. He waited until she was at nursery before packing a small suitcase of belongings; only clothes, nothing sentimental. He thought it was quite ironic; regarded a hero for his country, yet he felt a coward, not able to face his little girl to tell her what was happening. Not that she would understand, but that wasn’t the point. His wife was relieved. She’d hoped he might return one day, if he could get the help he needed. For Black however, this was a one way ticket. There was no going back.
An hour passed. Black reached down into a carrier bag in the foot well of the car and pulled out a can of Coke and some more pain killers. He needed to stay alert, and he hoped the sugar and the caffeine would help. He downed a few more pain killers and waited. Rain drops started to appear on the windscreen, slowly at first, before the downpour set in. Black turned on the wipers and took another drink of the Coke.
It was midnight when Sarah arrived back at the Tower Gateway office. Jones had ushered her into a meeting room on the sixth floor and locked the door behind him when he had left. It was cold, and she was tired and nervous. She had seen what happened when employees got on the wrong side of Hamilton. Her phone, keys, and handbag had all been confiscated by Jones before they had arrived back in London. He seemed to pity her and kept asking why she had been so stupid. Sarah hadn’t given him much in the way of answers.
Twenty minutes passed before Hamilton unlocked the door and entered. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds, but Sarah tried to avoid eye contact with him.
“Well, Sarah, I must say, this is not what I expected or needed on a night like tonight,” Hamilton walked over and sat in a chair at the opposite side of the desk to where Sarah was sitting. “What were you hoping to achieve? I employ agents to do the eavesdropping round here, I don’t expect it from my analysts.”
Sarah looked blank, her eyes focussed on the door Hamilton had just walked through.
“You’re facing some serious charges here. Accessing protected files is an offence.”
Sarah knew she had to say something, but here she was, sat in the room with the man she viewed as responsible for setting up Black. The evidence would be deleted, and the powers at be would believe his story every day of the week.
“Sir, I……What I did was wrong. It was foolish. I just had concerns over Black, and when I came to you with those concerns, you ignored them. I wanted to ensure his safety and to protect the mission.”
“I told you the mission was proceeding as planned. It still is. Sarah, I need people on my team who I can trust. You are a brilliant analyst, you’ve exceeded all expectations during your time here, but I cannot and will not have people on my team who disobey orders and show the disrespect you have. There is also this situation with Black. You know you cannot become involved intimately with our agents – and for this very reason. You have become emotionally attached. It is dangerous.”
Sarah sensed a degree of sympathy in Hamilton’s voice. She thought it was strange, he had never showed a side like that to her before. Maybe he just felt sorry for her.
“Sir, I’m sorry for my actions. What can I do to put it right?”
“Nothing Sarah. You’re suspended immediately, with pay. I’ll give the matter my full attention once the mission I am working on is complete. Go home, and I’ll call you in due course.”
“Is Black okay?”
“Sarah, that doesn’t concern you. You are to have no further communication with him. If you care about him, you’ll leave him to his work. He works for us, he belongs to us. We control him, Sarah.”
Sarah could feel her eyes begin to water. She breathed in heavily, she didn’t want Hamilton to see an outpouring of emotion. Hamilton handed her back her handbag; her phone and keys were inside.
“Go home. Get some sleep. I’ll speak to you in a few days, and let you know what happens next.”
Sarah got up and left the room in silence. She was still confused, and no nearer to knowing why Hamilton had tipped off Ross Scott. She had some sense of comfort that Black had managed to get out of it in one piece, but now she was no longer involved in the mission, she couldn’t keep tabs on his safety.
It was 1.30am. Black was cold; he didn’t want to keep the car engine running, one it would be too noisy, and two, he wanted to make sure he had as much fuel as possible left in the car. There was just under three quarters of a tank remaining.
The can of Coke had long since been drunk and he was beginning to feel tired. He had seen no other sign of life since he had arrived at the industrial park.
Another ten minutes passed, then in the distance down the road, he made out a set of headlights driving up the road towards him. Black inched down in his seat so he was almost completely out of view. He could still just make out the headlights coming up the road. They made a turn to Blacks left and continued to head in the direction of Unit 11.
Black hadn’t been able to make out the model of vehicle, however he could tell that it was a large 4×4 type, and he knew from the mission brief that Saad Khan owned a Land Rover, so he was fairly confident it was him.
He continued to wait. He needed to make sure both targets were on site before he moved in, and there was no sign of Asif. From the conversation Khan had had earlier, they were due to arrive separately.
Black sat up again in the seat of the car. Almost immediately, he spotted another light, this time much brighter, and only one travelling at speed up the road. The engine was loud. Black knew it was a motorbike, and a powerful one at that. The bike also headed in the same direction as Unit 11. This was the confirmation Black needed that both men were now on site. He would leave it a few minutes before moving in on foot.
Black took out his mobile phone and dialled Hamilton’s number. He answered almost as soon as the call had connected.
“Black – talk to me, what is happening?”
“Two vehicles have arrived, Sir. One a 4×4, the other a motorbike. I Was unable to confirm the identities of the drivers, but I suspect they are the targets.”
“Okay, are you ready to move in?”
“Okay. Black – no mistakes. Take them both out. Once they’re down and the weapons are secure, call me and I’ll arrange for a team to collect the weapons. We’ve taken care of Scott. Nice job you did on him son, very creative well done.” Black couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic. “Oh and Black – Sarah Barnes is no longer involved in this mission so I’ll be carrying out the initial debrief with you when you return.”
“Sir? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. Don’t concern yourself with her, focus on the job in hand. Don’t fuck this up.”
Hamilton end the call.
Black put the phone into the glove compartment. He ran through the situation in his head. He had no weapons, just the element of surprise. Khan thought he was dead, and he would be in a panic about moving the weapons in case the unit was compromised. Hopefully, he would be able to put his hands on one of the weapons in the unit if things got out of hand.
Black got out of the Astra and put his hood up. The rain was a drizzle now, his clothes barely drying out from the earlier rain in Swindon.
He made his way down the road as it took a left turn. He could make out the silhouettes of the various industrial units which lined the road in front of him. The first one he came to was Unit 6. He kept walking past the other units, ascending in numerical order. Unit 11 was the last building, on the left hand side. Black could hear voices is the distance. He backed up against the corrugated fence and edged along sideways. Once he reached the edge of the fence, he slowly turned his head sideways to peer round the corner.
The Land Rover was parked in the yard in front of the unit. Its rear doors fully open. Black could make out the figure of Saad Khan loading boxes into the back. He could hear his voice clearly now.
“Quickly, man, hurry the fuck up. I want us out of here in the next twenty minutes.” Khan was rushing. This gave Black an advantage. Black always remained composed in these situations, if his enemy was flapping, unorganised and unexpectant, they wouldn’t be able to react effectively.
“There’s another twelve boxes,” came the reply from Asif. “Are they all gonna fit?”
“They’ll fit, just keep them coming.”
“You’ll need to give me a hand with this one. What the fuck is this? An RPG?”
He saw Khan walk back into the unit shaking his head, clearly unhappy with how long things were taking. The Land Rover had been left with the rear doors open. An opportunity was there and Black acted immediately.
He ran, semi crouched, towards the Land Rover. He reached the open rear door, and looked round the side. Black could see Khan and Asif inside the unit packing something into a large cardboard box. He needed to act quickly. There were several other, smaller boxes inside the back of the Land Rover. He slowly took one out and lay it on the ground. He took out his car key and ran it along the brown tape which was holding together the flaps of the box. Inside was a jet black Aral pump action shot gun complete with shells.
Black made sure the safety was on, pointed the barrel away from him and loaded the shells, pushing them into place with his thumb. He held in the release button and pumped the slide backwards. He was ready.
He made his way round the side of the Land Rover to the large shutter door of the unit. He got within fifty yards of Khan and Asif before they realised he was there. Black pulled back the trigger and fired. The shot echoed through the night air. Asif went down. Even from distance, Black could make out the hole in his forehead.
Khan stood still in shock. He looked down at Asif, fragments of skull and brain tissue along with a copious amount of blood covered the cardboard box they were packing.
Black pumped the gun again.
Khan darted for cover under a desk towards the back of the unit. The shot splintered into the set of drawers next to it, fragments of cheap plywood falling in front of him as he cowered underneath.
“Stop!” Shouted Khan. “I’m unarmed.”
Black moved forward, aiming the shot gun at Khan.
“The game is over. There’s no way out of this for you. Whatever the attack was you had planned – it isn’t going to happen.”
The look on Khan’s face changed; it went from fear to laughter in an instant.
“Well done soldier,” he said with an ear to ear grin on his face. “You may think you have won this battle, but do you think this ends with me? Our little collection here is nothing but a scratch on the surface. Yes, you may have saved lives today, but how many? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Many more will die. Brothers around the world are planning much, much worse against your western friends. When will you people come to realise that your actions against our countries have consequence?”
“Whatever issues you have with our Government, you think the right response is to kill innocent people? If I save one life today, then everything is worth it.”
“You’re a fool soldier. You serve a corrupt Government who doesn’t care about you or its civilians. They’ll chew you up and spit you out, cast you aside once you’re of no use to them.”
Black paused for a moment. Khan probably had a point. Black knew he was fighting a war that wasn’t his, but it was all he knew. He’d seen enough in Afghanistan to know that the west brought terror to other countries, however it was deemed acceptable because the Government and the media said so.
Still Black had a job to do. He didn’t have time to think about the moral situation right now.
“Whatever you tell me doesn’t change your situation. I have my orders.”
Khan closed his eyes. He knew it would be quick.
Black pulled back the pump and fired.
December 2nd 2008 – TEP Headquarters, Tower Gateway – 6am
Black had arrived back at TEP an hour ago. He had been seen by a doctor who had strapped up his wrists and given him some medication. He’d had time for a shower and a change of clothes before making his way up to Hamilton’s office.
He was smartly dressed, in a dark blue suit, white shirt and blue tie. Although there still hadn’t been time for a shave, his facial hair now thick and unkept. The only saving grace was that his dark hair was combed back neatly which was some distraction from the bags that had formed under his piercing blue eyes. One eye was partly swollen, along with his nose and the skin was beginning to turn a deep shade of purple.
Hamilton walked into the office, still wearing yesterday’s suit which was smelling strongly of cigarette smoke. “Good morning Black. Eventful night wasn’t it?” He seemed to be making light of the events that had taken place. As he sat down, Hamilton reached into the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a small bottle of whiskey. “Would you care for a drink? I’m guessing you could need a little pick me up.”
“No sir, thank you. I don’t drink anymore.” Replied Black
“Ah yes, sorry I forgot, you’ve had problems with the booze.”
Black didn’t want to start discussing his past so quickly changed the subject. “Sir – the mission, I…….”
“Black, you don’t have to say anything, I’m impressed. Last night confirmed we made the right decision in bringing you on board. Yes, you may be young, and you’ve certainly got your demons, but you used that to your advantage. You channelled those into the mission. Everything went to plan.”
“Everything went to plan? Sir, Scott knew I was coming, if he’d have had the balls, he’d have killed me. He had more than one opportunity.”
Hamilton grinned and sipped his whiskey. “Black, come on, you’re an intelligent lad, you must have worked it out by now.”
“Sir, I don’t look for answers to why things happen, I just carry out the mission as ordered.”
Hamilton continued to grin. He admired the ignorance. “Black, it was me who tipped off Scott. You needed a challenge, you needed to prove you could act under pressure. I stuck my neck on the line putting you on to a mission so early, especially considering your background and your age. Everyone said you needed more training, but I disagreed. This was a test – to show everyone you were more than capable.”
Black was taken aback, although he had his suspicions all along, he would never have confronted Hamilton with them. He had respect for him, for saving him, for saving his family.
“Sir, what if it hadn’t gone to plan? They’d still be out there. People could have died.”
“I had faith in you son. If I didn’t, you wouldn’t be part of TEP, it’s as simple as that. Thanks to you, there is a bent cop off the street, a couple of terrorists dead, and a shit load of weapons secured. Plus into the bargain, you’ve proven you can handle extreme circumstances. I know you already did that in Afghanistan, but I had to see it under my command. Yes, I could have sent an experienced agent, but I knew you’d come through”
“Yes, sir, I understand.”
Hamilton paused for a moment. “Black, there is something else. Talk to me about Sarah Barnes.”
“What about her sir?
“Are you involved with her?”
Black tried to act surprised. “Sir, there is nothing going on. I’m aware she is fond of me, but I can assure you, it isn’t reciprocated on my side. I’ll make sure I keep her at arm’s length.”
“Hmm. She is quite concerned about you, and your past Black. She broke protocol here when you went dark. She is in quite a lot of trouble.”
“Sir, let me speak with her. I’ll set her straight.”
Hamilton thought for a moment. He seemed indecisive. “Black, that’s a big ask. She is lucky she isn’t being prosecuted.”
“Sir, I’ll speak to her, I’ll make sure she knows exactly where she stands.”
Hamilton paused for another half a minute. “You’ve got one shot at it Black. If she doesn’t take the hint, then she’s gone, and gone for good.”
“Black, just before you go. The media are all over this. You’ll see the reports of Scott going missing. His body will never be found, and the Police will never find any evidence. We needed to make sure the public were unaware of his involvement in terrorism. Once the Police force are complicit, you’ve lost any remaining trust they had in them.”
“There will also be reports on the bodies of Saad Khan and his mate being found in Croydon. It will be put down to drugs, some kind of dealing rivalry.”
“Yes, sir. Is that all?”
“For now. Have a few days’ rest. I’ll be in touch. The good news for you is, it’s a fucked up world out there, so there is plenty to keep you busy with.”
Black stood up. His body ached, and he was tired; he hadn’t slept in thirty six hours. The thought of going home to sleep was welcoming. But first, he had to go and see Sarah.
Angel, Islington – 8.00am
Black got off the tube at Angel Underground Station and walked the short distance down City Road towards Sarah’s apartment. He had already called her to make sure she was on her own; she was, her husband had already left for work.
He reached the apartment and rang the bell. Sarah opened the door after a couple of minutes. She looked a mess; she was wearing a blue hoodie and grey jogging bottoms, her hair covering part of her face, and she smelt strongly of alcohol.
“Sarah, what the fuck?” Black was taken aback. He hadn’t seen her like this before, although he knew she liked a drink.
“Come in, Tom. It’s good to see you.”
Black entered the apartment behind her. It was on two levels; the main door led into the upstairs, with bedrooms and on either side of the landing. A balcony looked down into the living area and kitchen. It was an old building, with lots of character and high ceilings and must have cost a small fortune to rent each month. Her husband was involved in banking in the City, and Sarah would earn a decent living too. He followed her down the stairs to one of the two red leather sofas. A half drank bottle of red wine stood on the coffee table next to an empty glass.
“Do you want a drink?” She asked.
Black smiled. “Jesus, it’s eight in the morning and that’s the second drink I’ve been offered.”
Sarah laughed. “Let me guess. Hamilton? Have you spoke with him?”
“Yes Sarah, I have. He tells me you broke protocol, that you could be in trouble? What did you do?”
She poured herself another glass of red and sipped it gently before she spoke. “I was worried about you Tom. He was trying to fuck you over. He called Ross Scott, told him you were coming. Why would he do that? He has it in for you.”
“Sarah, get a grip. It is nothing like that.”
“Yeah, that’s what he’s made you think. He manipulates everyone.”
“It isn’t like that. You’ve got it all wrong.” Black was becoming frustrated.
“Tell me then, what is going on? I was worried about you Tom. I’ve told you, you’re worth more than this. I’ve seen first-hand the things they will make you do. There’s no going back. They will own you.”
Black stood up, anger showing in his face.
“Sarah, do you think I don’t fucking know this? This is my life and my decision, and it is what I want to do, and the only thing I know how to do. Hamilton made the call to Scott. It was a test; he’s put his neck on the line for me, people don’t think I’m up to the job round here, but last night, I proved everyone wrong. I fulfilled the objectives of the mission, and ultimately saved lives. That’s what the job is about.”
Sarah stood up and walked over to Black. “And what about the people you take down along the way? I saw what you did to Ross Scott. Why kill him like you did? What was it? Some kind of statement? Did you get a kick out of it? You’re no better than the people he was working for.”
Black saw red. He pushed Sarah down, back onto the sofa, her wine glass dropped and smashed on the wooden floor. “I did my job Sarah,” Black snarled. “Scott had to die, I apologise if how he checked out wasn’t to your taste. Saad Khan went out a little quicker, he had a shot gun fired in his face, is that a little more humane for you?”
Tears started to roll down Sarah’s face. “You’re fucking sick. To think I was standing up for you, worrying about you, caring about you.”
“I told you not to get involved, Sarah we spent one night together, and it meant nothing. You think you know me, you think you can preach to me about how I should behave, about my family?”
“All I know is that this isn’t you. This job, the things they make you do isn’t who you are. Afghanistan messed you up, you need professional help, not a lifetime of murder and war. Get out of this game Tom, before its too late.”
“You know nothing about me. I don’t want to hear it any more. I’ve managed to convince Hamilton to let you back to TEP, but you must stay away from me Sarah. If we talk in the future, it is on a professional basis only. What ever happened between us, get it out of your head. I’ve got a job to do and so have you.”
Sarah continued to sob; she thought she could get through to Black although others had tried and failed. In her mind, eventually Black would burn himself out and TEP would cast him aside once he was of no more use to them, or worse, he would get himself killed.
“I’m leaving now Sarah. Sort yourself out and get back to work tomorrow and start begging. You’re the best at what you do, Hamilton needs you, make sure you remind him of that.”
Sarah said nothing as Black walked back up the stairs. He looked down over the balcony at her as she drank the remaining wine straight from the bottle. A sense of regret rushed over him; he’d shown that side of himself to her; the angry, violent side. She was right in everything she said, this wasn’t the real Tom Black, but it was the only Tom Black he knew now, and he was too far down that path to ever come back.
He walked back out of the apartment door and onto the street, buttoning up his long black overcoat to shield him from the bitter cold and made his way back to the underground station.
December 6th 2008 – TEP Headquarters, Tower Gateway – 9am
Black arrived back at Tower Gateway after a few days deserved break. The rest had given his wrists chance to heal, and he felt almost human again. He’d spent most of his time at home, apart from one day where he took a drive to the coast to try and clear his head. He had taken a long walk along the beach, the fresh sea air helping cleanse the memories of the last mission. The image of Ross Scott had been engraved into his mind, no matter how much he told himself his death was necessary.
Black arrived on Hamilton’s floor and exited the lift and headed into the IT room. He spotted Sarah Black at her desk on the far side of the office. She looked up at him briefly, but quickly turned her head back to her monitors. Her desk was as messy as ever.
Hamilton opened his office door and greeted him before he had time to knock.
“Good morning Black, you’re looking much better. Shall we go inside?”
“Thank you sir.” Black sat down. There was no offer of a whiskey this morning.
“As you can see, Sarah is back in work. I trust your conversation got through to her?”
“Yes, sir, I’m confident it did. There will be no need for you to worry about her.”
The look on Hamilton’s face gave the impression that he wasn’t convinced. “We’ll see about that. She is walking a very thin line at the moment. One more foot out of place and she’s gone.”
A large file was open on Hamilton’s desk, and he had noticed Black looking at it eagerly. “I’m guessing you’re keen to get back to work?”
“Yes, sir. What do you have for me?” Black needed to keep occupied, the more time he was sat at home thinking, the more likely he was to hit the drink again.
“Have you ever been to Hong Kong?” Hamilton already knew the answer.
“No, sir. I hear it’s an interesting place.”
“It will certainly be interesting for you. You fly out a week today. I’ve sent you the mission brief on email.” Hamilton handed Black a pouch containing his flight tickets. “I’m throwing you in at the deep end. We’ll see what you’re really made of.”
A mixture of excitement and dread came over Black as he walked out of Hamilton’s office, giving Sarah a casual glance as he walked by. He opened up his emails on his mobile phone and keyed in a password. The words “Hong Kong Brief” showed on the email subject. It would be best to wait until he was home before reading it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first story in the Tom Black series.
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Rogue – the second Tom Black novella – January 2017
Tom Black is sent to Hong Kong to track down a rogue agent suspected in selling secrets to the Chinese. The problem is, no one knows who the agent is.
Mind Games – the first full length Tom Black novel – March 2017
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Tom Black is the Government's newest recruit. He is an agent working for a top secret anti terrorist group. Troubled by his past, Black enters the dark, cold world of espionage vowing to make up for his past misdemeanours by serving his country. Black's first mission is to locate a consignment of weapons, and those responsible for smuggling them into the country. He will soon learn that his new occupation is filled with deception, and those who control him will stop at nothing to ensure the job is done.