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Don't Reply - A Sam Edwards Thriller

 

Don’t Reply

Mark A Smart

For Charlotte and Oliver

 

Don’t Reply

First published 2015

Copyright © Mark A Smart 2015

The right of Mark A Smart to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the author. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

August 2013

Her phone beeped. Morse code. Dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot. SMS. One dash short of SOS. Funny that. She put the baby in the high chair and picked up the phone from the kitchen table. She unlocked the display and opened the message.auto

You’ve been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts.

His phone came to life. Keep this frequency clear. A sample of a dance track from his youth. He sat in his company boardroom with six other people, all seated around a large oval conference table.

‘Sorry.’ He said, but the message alert was too much to ignore. With his phone barely visible under the table, he opened his messaging app. You’ve been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts.

‘Bloody spam.’ She said, throwing the phone back onto the table.

Fucking junk texts. He thought as he sneaked his phone back into his pocket.

#

The program he had written to send the texts selected only a thousand numbers. All he had was the operator dialling prefixes that were used by the different mobile carriers; the rest of the number was randomly generated. He didn’t know if any of them were active numbers. He didn’t know if anybody would reply. But it would only take one reply of YES to set things in motion, one reply to make Nathan Rayner the most wanted man in Britain.

A cool wind blew across Salisbury Plain. The beating sun cast a haze over the rugged terrain. Raynor knew the area well. It had been used by the Ministry of Defence since the late nineteenth century, and the ministry still owned nearly half of the three-hundred square mile grassland. It was a great training ground for British troops, and often welcomed troops from around the world to take part in training exercises. Anyone within earshot would be used to the noise of explosives, along with the sound of automatic weapons fire and the low rumble of Challenger-2 tanks, which is why the explosion that rattled across the plain, seven minutes after the first thousand texts were sent, went mostly unnoticed.

Rayner was taking a risk using the Plains as a test site, but he thought it worth the risk. The only people to be suspicious of the noise would be military personnel who knew there weren’t any exercises in progress. And knowing the military like he did, he was sure it would take hours for anyone to come and investigate. If he was really unlucky, an Apache helicopter might fly over on training exercises from Middle Wallop Army Air Corps base, but the chances of that were slim,

Bloody MOD can’t afford the fuel. He thought.

Satisfied with his trial run, he started to trek across the plain to the abandoned village of Imber.

Prior to World War II, the village of Imber was home to around one hundred and fifty people. In November 1943 the good citizens were informed that they would have to leave to make way for a training ground for the American troops being deployed to assist in the liberation of Europe. The people of Imber, while not too impressed, considered it their duty to contribute to the war effort by giving up their homes. After all, once the war was over they’d been promised they could return. Unfortunately for them, that promise was never kept and the village remains under Ministry of Defence ownership. It is still used for military exercises, mainly focused on urban combat in specially constructed buildings. Only a few of the original buildings remain, including the church, the Bell Inn and Imber Court, which Raynor chose as his base during his short stay.

Imber Court is an impressive looking building. Impressive for the size of the village at least. Now boarded up and pretty much gutted inside, it stands to the north of the village with only a couple of empty training buildings close by. Raynor knew he’d be okay here for a while, just while he assessed the test. He slid aside one of the boards covering a long-broken window and climbed inside. Once the board was back in place and the room once again consumed by darkness, he switched on his Maglite and swept the beam around the room.

His backpack was where he’d left it; untouched. The floor was still littered with spent shells from army urban combat training, and a bullet-hole ridden target of a man holding a gun still hung halfway out of the door to the adjoining room.

He took his laptop and phone out of his backpack and powered them up. He switched on his phone’s Wi-Fi tethering and waited for the laptop to boot up and connect to it. Phone reception out here was poor, but he wasn’t using a mobile carrier, so he didn’t care. He didn’t need 3g, 4g, hspa or edge, he was way ahead of that.

He logged on to his remote server to check the replies. Forty-seven YES; one hundred and twenty-two STOP and one Fuck off and stop sending me spam. Raynor pictured some wannabe big shot sat in a boardroom somewhere. But overall, he was reassured by the fact that the people of Britain were greedy bastards.

Rayner powered down his devices. Despite being off the grid there was still no point in risking his communications being detected. He grabbed a dried ration pack from his rucksack and ate. He had a lot of planning to do.

He decided to take a cross-country route to the A36, where he’d get a bus to Salisbury from whichever village he got to first. There were plenty to choose from, Heytesbury, Upper Lowell, Codford. The buses ran every hour down that stretch of the busy A-road. He planned to stay the night at Andover, having made a reservation using one of his many fake ID’s. In the morning he’d catch a train to London Waterloo, and then take the tube across to Plaistow where his bedsit was a five minute walk from the tube station.

He would have preferred to stay at Salisbury, he was born and grew up there, but he could never go back for any length of time in case he was spotted by someone he once knew. He couldn’t risk that, because he didn’t exist. The only reason he would go there today was to get a train to Andover. He’d accept that risk for his mission.

#

Corporal Jamie “JJ” Jenkins knocked the door.

‘Come.’ Came the curt reply.

Jenkins walked into the office of Brigadier Charles Saunders.

The brigadier had been an officer for twenty seven years with fourteen years prior working his way up to the officer ranks. He was hoping for further promotion to Major General.

A traditional officer, the brigadier was almost a stereotype of a 1970’s TV sitcom officer or a typical Hollywood representation of high ranking British Officers. He was suffering from being middle aged in every aspect. It was easy to see he was once a man with a bit of muscle, though the easy life of a deskbound officer and not enough exercise had let the muscle shrink and the fat expand. His face was getting more round, and more red, by the day.

Corporal Jenkins had been serving Her Majesty for only seven years, signing up straight out of school at sixteen. He knew from an early age that he’d join the army one day, but he didn’t realise how tough, and often cruel, the armed forces could be. Jenkins stood at five foot eleven inches and was skinny. Long distance runner skinny. His squad mates would often joke about him hiding out of sight behind the barrel of his rifle. That was one of the tame taunts. Very tame. He nearly quit several times, but his determination kept winning him over and eventually he became a respected member of his unit. He still got extremely nervous when addressing the higher ranks though.

Jenkins stood to attention and saluted his superior.

‘At ease’ said the brigadier. ‘What can I do for you Jenkins?

‘Sir.’ replied Jenkins, ‘We’ve had a number of calls from civilians, mainly from Erlestoke and the surrounding area. There have been reports of an explosion earlier this afternoon. Most calls have been enquiries as to whether it was us, and whether it was planned. A couple have been complaints.’

‘Are there any exercises today Corporal?’ asked Saunders.

‘No sir. The last live fire exercises were last week; Challenger target exercises.’

‘Okay, and all munitions from those exercises have been accounted for?’

‘Yes sir, every round detonated and logged, sir.’

‘Very good. What about UXO?’ – Unexploded Ordnance.

‘Highly unlikely sir, we tend not to stray too far north on exercises as the locals seem to get a bit irate. And it’s very rare nowadays to find anything left over from past exercises.’

‘Very well.’ Said Saunders, ‘Get a team assembled and go to investigate. I want all personnel accounted for at the time of the explosion. I want everybody on this base ruled out of any involvement in this incident. Retrieve any evidence that you can from the blast site, however small. And once we’re satisfied that it’s not an MOD issue, contact Five, give them the evidence and let’s get this situation out of our hair. Dismissed.’

‘Yes sir.’ replied Jenkins. He saluted the Brigadier, about-turned and marched from the office.

Within the hour, a team of six military investigators were searching for the blast site.

CHAPTER TWO

‘Another day done.’ Sam Edwards announced as he powered down his computer and switched off his monitor.

He stood and pushed his chair under his desk.

‘I’m off. Got a train to catch; and somewhere there’s a beer needs drinking.’

‘See ya Sam’ came a couple of replies, but most of his colleagues didn’t bother to acknowledge his departure. The ignorance of others never failed to amaze him.

He took the stairs down to the ground floor and joined the queue for security clearance. Another queue, more bureaucracy. Still, that was life in Thames House, home of MI5.

Become a Spy. Protect your country. That’s what the advert said and Edwards had responded to it. That was three years ago. Back then Sam was thirty-nine and bored of his twenty one previous years in IT. When the advert appeared in The Times he thought What the hell? What’s to lose? And applied for a position at the heart of British Intelligence; Military Intelligence – Section 5.

He probably wouldn’t have bothered if he’d known then what he knew now.

For three years, Sam had been little more than a professional internet surfer. His official title being “Threat Assessor – Grade 2”.

He was told in the interview to forget everything he’d ever seen or heard about MI5. Especially James Bond.

Sam, like most people grounded in reality, was already quite sure that there wouldn’t be an expense account, an Aston Martin or trips to Casinos in exotic, far flung places. He was fairly sure he’d never get a license to kill. What he didn’t know was that working for British Intelligence would be so dull.

His day would start with a list of “Persons of Interest” sent by the Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham. GCHQ is the Government listening centre, there to keep British interests safe from the bad guys, to alert MI5 of the “chatter” taking place between suspected terrorist organisations around the world.

However, the list Sam received was of British Citizens suspected of ties to such organisations. He would spend the day working through the list, checking social networking sites, phone calls, text messages and emails. All those things the Government stringently denies doing.

Although computers could perform all the tasks Sam was employed to do, they lacked the ability to pick up on the subtle nuances of human interaction. Computers didn’t have instincts or gut feelings; they couldn’t raise an eyebrow to a certain turn of phrase, or spot something suspicious in the background of a photo. Until such a time that computers were that good, Sam would have a job.

In his three years in the job, Sam had never found anything of any interest to national security, though he’d seen lots of interesting things.

At first it was quite addictive. But like TV reality shows it soon got boring. At times though, it was fascinating.

He was amazed by what people were prepared to share on the internet, feeling safe behind their monitors, not realising that everything they did, every website they visited, every post on Facebook, every email on Gmail, every Tweet, and every app downloaded, everything they did online left a trace that could be seen by somebody. Downloaded a dodgy copy of the latest cool boy-band album for your kids? Somebody knows about it.

He read the most intimate accounts and saw the most sordid pictures. He’d been a spectator of affairs, a fly on the wall of secret liaisons; he’d been a part of breakups, of marriages, of deaths. Sometimes he felt like he actually knew some of the people he was investigating.

He often wondered what he’d do if he ever bumped into somebody he’d been investigating. Knowing so much about somebody without actually knowing them would be an uncomfortable experience. Would he just stare? Would he try to ignore them? Hopefully, he’d never have to find out.

But during his time at MI5, Sam had never been in the field, never been part of a real investigation, and never seen a real life bad guy.

Sam walked across Lambeth Bridge, The Thames a murky brown. It was a nice day. The sun was shining, boats full of tourists making their way up and down the river, passing the Palace of Westminster and the London Eye, an enjoyable way to see the sights on the banks of the Thames.

Having crossed Lambeth Bridge, Sam turned left and headed north up the riverside path. He could have cut up Lambeth Palace Road, it might have saved him a minute or two, but Sam preferred the river walk. Especially on a day like today. When he got to Westminster Bridge he turned right and headed toward Waterloo station. He probably wouldn’t make the 17:50 train, he rarely did, but the 18:20 would get him back to Andover for 19:30. Just enough time to see his son before bedtime.

#

The train arrived at Andover station right on time. Sam left the station and started the short walk home up The Avenue.

Sam walked up his gravel drive and admired his large 1930’s built house. A handsome looking white building, double fronted with a separate double garage. Well, at least I got something from years in IT. He thought.

Sam appreciated how lucky he’d been with his IT career. After leaving school at sixteen he took a two-year college course before choosing to work instead of going to university. He pretty much walked into his first job with a local insurance company.

After a couple of years learning the ropes on the IBM mainframe, he decided to go freelance. At that time, demand for mainframe programmers was high, and he never found himself short of work. It wasn’t all plain sailing though, with contracts up and down the country for three or six months at a time. It was draining, but allowed him to save enough for a deposit on the house.

He was lucky with the house too. Post-recession it was relatively cheap for its size, now it was worth three to four times what he’d paid for it and he owned it outright. A nice position to be in. Life was good for Sam Edwards.

He unlocked his front door and walked into the hallway.

He heard the shout of ‘Dadda’ and the padding of small feet down the tiled hallway. Jack. His eighteen-month old son.

Sam scooped Jack up into his arms and planted a kiss on his forehead.

‘Hello fella, have you had a good day?’ asked Sam.

‘Car.’ replied Jack and thrust a chunky blue plastic car into Sam’s face.

Sam smiled and put Jack down just as the waft of chicken jalfrezi entered his nostrils. At the same time, a face with a beaming smile and sparkling eyes poked out from the kitchen doorway. Sam’s wife Julia.

‘Hi hon.’ she said, still smiling. ‘It’ll be about ten minutes. Good day?’

‘I could tell you.’ Started Sam as he strode down the hall toward the kitchen.

‘I know,’ Julia cut in, ‘but you’d have to kill me.’

They laughed as Sam once again scooped Jack into his arms, entered the kitchen and kissed his wife. It was the same every night. Their little in-joke. But his family was what Sam lived, and worked for.

Sam and Julia met at a bowling alley five years ago. Sam had downed a few pints and finally found the courage to go and chat to her. They spent the evening bowling, chatting and playing pool. At the end of the night, Sam gave Julia a business card and they went their separate ways. Sam never expected to hear from her again, but a few days later, he received an email thanking him for a lovely evening. They started dating shortly after.

Two years later, they were married and Sam’s house finally became a home. The icing on the cake was Jack.

‘Are you going out tonight?’ asked Julia?

‘Yeah, going to meet Dave and Mickey at The Mills.’ Came Sam’s reply. ‘Was going to try and get half an hour training in, but don’t think I’ll bother now, time’s a bit short.’

‘Well don’t let Dave get you into any trouble,’ Said Julia, a cheeky grin forming. ‘I know what he’s like.’

CHAPTER THREE

Sam walked into the pub. The Town Mills. It sits quite literally over the River Anton. Once a grain mill, it straddles the river, the water wheel just inside what was once the front door, behind a viewing window. The pub is quite susceptible to flooding.

When the last bag of grain left the premises in 1974 The Town Mills was turned into a nightclub. It’s been a pub since the 1980’s.

‘Alright 007?’ came a shout from across the crowded room.

Sam spotted Dave and headed to the bar where he was waiting.

‘Alright Top Gear?’ replied Sam.

Dave Sykes, Sam’s best mate since school. Though work and personal life had seen them drift apart from time to time, they were mates for life, and tried to keep in touch. They were now both working and living in Andover, so tried to catch up once a week for a pint or two. Dave was a Jack-the-Lad. A joker. A loudmouth. A bullshitter. A world champion at using obscenities, and usually on the receiving end of all the jokes and wind-ups. Sam wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dave was also a genius when it came to telecommunications. He could have gotten any job in the field, at any number of massive multi-national corporations, but that was too much like hard work. Dave chose to work as an engineer for the local mobile phone and cable TV company. He also had a tendency to repeat himself. A lot. Hence the nickname Top Gear. It just seemed fitting for a repetitive bloke called Dave. Sam likened him to Wally from the Dilbert cartoons. A short, work shy, slightly balding, slightly overweight, coffee addicted pain in the arse.

‘The usual Bond?’ asked Dave?

‘Stop calling me that, Dave.’ Implored Sam.

‘But you’re my own personal 007. The birds love it when I tell them my best mate’s a spy.’ replied Dave.

‘But I’m not a spy Dave, I’m just a data analyst in Thames House.’ Said Sam.

‘Yeah, but if you were a spy, you wouldn’t be able to tell me anyway. Official Secrets bollocks and all that. So I figure you have to tell me you’re a data analyst because you can’t tell me you’re a spy. Anyway, can’t computers analyse data?’

Sam sighed. The same old ground being covered again.

‘Dave, I haven’t signed the Official Secrets Act. That’s how completely unimportant I am. And yes, Dave, computers can analyse data. As I’ve told you before, many times, I analyse patterns that computers find difficult to spot. Now, can we change the subject please?’

‘Fucking hell Sam, keep your hair on, I’m only having a laugh with ya. Anyway, is Mickey coming tonight or what?’

Right on cue, Mickey Purver walked through the door. Mickey made up the last of the usual group. The self-proclaimed Geek Squad. Occasionally there would be more of them, sometime fewer, but Sam, Dave and Mickey would nearly always show up.

Sam met Mickey at his first job; they were both trainee computer programmers at the insurance company. They instantly became mates – drawn together by their love of house music – and had been ever since. Mickey moved on from their first company around the same time Sam had started freelancing. Mickey, however, had taken a path leading into the world of Personal Computers. He was a natural with PC’s. He could explain how electricity flows through a chip. Well it seemed like that sometimes. Sam was tech savvy, but Mickey was on another level. Mickey struggled when it came to simple things though, like catching a bus or boiling a kettle.

Sam suspected Mickey’s lack of common sense was a trade for his intelligence. Sam applied the same theory to Mickey’s good looks too, explaining that it wasn’t possible to be so good looking and intelligent, and yet have common sense as well. It just wouldn’t be fair. In a fair world, a person could only have two of the three attributes. It was a theory they discussed often, usually after a pint or two.

Mickey was what most people would expect an MI5 agent to look like. He was straight out of the pages of a Fleming novel. Tall, good looking, in good shape. Never short of female attention. Which Dave liked. But unlike Fleming’s character, Mickey was totally unaware of his own looks, wit and charm.

‘Mickey, how are ya mate?’ asked Sam.

‘Yeah, not too bad cheers. Nearly didn’t make it. Was in the middle of trying to breach Barclays mainframe security.’ replied Mickey.

‘Jesus, Mickey, why do you keep doing stupid things like that?’ Dave asked. ‘You’re gonna get yourself arrested one of these days. Get yourself banged up and become someone’s bitch.’

‘I do it because it’s a laugh.’ said Mickey. ‘And a challenge. And nobody else has done it yet. The hacking forums are full of tales of woe. Of desperados who have tried and failed.’

‘Bloody hell.’ Said Dave ‘Somebody shoot me. Take me away from this bollocks.’

The barmaid put the first pint on the bar. They didn’t need to order, Faye knew exactly what they’d be having.

‘Anyway,’ said Dave ‘I was just telling the lovely Faye here about the time I was Robert Plant’s security.’

‘Not again.’ muttered Sam under his breath.

‘You what mate?’ asked Dave genuinely.

‘I said “Oh cool”.’ Lied Sam. ‘Are you sure Faye hasn’t already heard the Robert Plant Story?’

‘Yeah pretty sure.’ said Dave in a serious tone. ‘I haven’t told that many people. Don’t like to brag.’

Sam and Mickey looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘Fuck you.’ said Dave as the other two pints arrived. He paid Faye.

A couple of minutes passed as they all supped their drinks, each downing over half in no time at all. It was always the same. They stood in silence. The type of silence best mates were comfortable with, until Dave let out a belch and said

‘Come on dickheads, let’s get a table.’

‘As eloquent as ever, Dave. I often wonder why you’re single.’ Said Mickey. Sam grinned as they walked over to a corner table.

‘Fuck off.’ snapped Dave. ‘Anyway.’ He continued, ‘Something really interesting happened at work today.’

‘Don’t tell me,’ interjected Mickey, ‘a woman spoke to you.’

‘And you didn’t wet your pants.’ Added Sam with a laugh.

‘Yeah, yeah, very funny.’ Replied Dave. ‘No, we started getting calls from our customers, only a few of them, but they were complaining about interference on one of the shopping channels. A bit like when your mobile interferes with your car stereo.’

‘Wow, that is interesting.’ Said Sam. ‘Please, tell me more.’

‘Give me a chance.’ Said Dave, slightly aggrieved by the interruption. ‘I’m just getting to the interesting bit.’

Sam and Mickey grinned at each other and feigned interest, supping more of their drinks.

Dave continued.

‘Well.’ He said. ‘I managed to pick up one of these signals. Strange as fuck. It was on a frequency that isn’t in use. 792 MHz. That frequency will be up for auction soon, but it is close to the digital TV channels.’

Mickey interrupted again.

‘So what are you saying? Andover has its own pirate radio station? That’s cool.’

‘Unless Dave’s running it.’ Sam added, ‘In which case it will be twenty-four hour Rick Astley and Bronski Beat.’

Again they laughed at Dave’s expense.

Unperturbed, Dave went on.

‘No, it’s not like that. These were just short bursts of data. You know, like in Independence Day when Jeff Goldblum’s character discovers the countdown timer coming from the satellites.’

‘So while surfing porn and eating lunch, you’ve stumbled upon plans for an alien invasion?’ asked Mickey sarcastically.

Dave sighed before stating,

‘It’s probably a bit too complicated for you computer types to understand.’

Sam downed the remainder of his pint and slammed his empty glass down on the table to silence his audience.

‘No Dave,’ he started, trying to keep a straight face. ‘it’s not that us computer types are a bit thick, it’s because we don’t have a degree in bollocks like you do, so we’re just not interested. Now, if Mickey and I had a degree in bollocks, I’m sure your tales of pirate radio and alien invasion would be gripping. But we don’t. So they’re not.’

Mickey smiled and nodded in agreement.

‘Hear, hear.’ he added in a mock House of Commons manner.

‘I propose a new motion.’ Continued Sam. ‘Another pint and a change of subject.’

‘I second that motion.’ Added Mickey enthusiastically.

‘Passed.’ Replied Sam as he stood and headed for the bar, grinning from ear to ear.

‘Twats.’ Muttered Dave.

CHAPTER FOUR

Nathan Raynor checked into The White Hart and walked upstairs to his room. The hallway dark, the floor creaky and uneven. He found his room, unlocked the door and entered. Out of habit he got his bug detector from his backpack and swept the room. All clear. As expected.

His room was spacious, with a solid oak bedstead which had a small oak chest of drawers on either side. A Gideon Bible no doubt left in one of the drawers.

The walls were a neutral magnolia, except for the wall at the head of the bed which was a “feature wall” with gaudy light brown wallpaper featuring gold flowers. A pair of chairs sat facing each other across a small round table next to a fireplace. The fireplace chimney had long been blocked off, the hearth now home to a vase of fake flowers, and above the fire was a wall-mounted 32 inch LCD television looping through the usual hotel information.

A single window looked down onto Bridge Street. In front of the window a desk and office chair, and next to that a beige, two seater sofa. A contemporary print hung on the wall above the sofa. Raynor didn’t have a clue what it was supposed to be, and didn’t really care. A door led into the basic but tidy en-suite and an alcove allowed for a fitted wardrobe which housed the safe.

Raynor examined the safe. Standard hotel fare, anyone who knew what they were doing would be in it within thirty seconds.

He scanned the room and gazed at the ceiling. A loft hatch. Standing on the office chair he lifted the hatch door, switched on his Maglite and looked into the loft space. It was perfect. It didn’t look like anybody had been up there for years. Old tables and chairs covered in a thick layer of dust were strewn about, resting on the roof beams. Raynor was certain that there must be a larger hatch somewhere to allow access of the larger items, probably over the landing or via a separate stairwell. He wasn’t too bothered as he was probably the first person in twenty years to have seen the loft.

After taking out a clean t-shirt, he lifted his backpack into the loft and hid it beneath an old, round, dusty table.

Raynor showered and got dressed, putting on the clean t-shirt. He’d only packed for a couple of days, he preferred to travel light. If his trial hadn’t gone as well as expected, he would have stayed a few days more and tried to get it right. If need be, he would have bought some new clothes.

He looked out of the window onto Bridge Street and decided it was time for a walk.

Before leaving the room, Raynor inspected the door handle and lock. A standard pull down door handle instead of a twist style knob and an old style Yale lock, which could be opened with a credit card, instead of a card entry system or mortice lock. Raynor wasn’t too happy with this, he took a piece of hotel headed writing paper from the desk and rolled it up into a cylinder. He taped the edge and after opening the door placed it on the inside door handle. Then, using the outer handle he checked the angle at which the paper would fall off as the handle moved on a central axis. Satisfied that anybody entering the room would result in the paper falling off, he left. He’d use an old credit card to gain access on his return. Sometimes, the simplest solutions were the best. And sometimes paranoia paid off.

#

After a walk around the town centre and a quick burger at a fast food outlet, Raynor walked into the Town Mills and headed for the bar.

‘Fuck me.’ exclaimed Dave having spotted Raynor. ‘Look at that big bastard. You could have him though Bond, couldn’t you? Give him a Nagasaki nose-throw or some other of that bollocks you do.

‘Maybe you’ve got a pen which is really a gun, or a credit card with a razor blade in it. Kick him straight in the nads, that’s what I’d do, watch the fucker keel over in agony.’

‘No Dave, you’d run away crying, like the pussy you are.’ said Mickey.

‘Probably to your mum.’ added Sam, ‘ask her to save you.’

‘Wankers.’ Said Dave.

‘You are right though Top Gear.’ Said Mickey. ‘He is a big bastard. I doubt even Sam’s expertise would be enough to take him out.’

‘You know my rules as far as fighting goes.’ Replied Sam. ‘I only have one. Run. Fast. Don’t look back.’ He picked at a beer mat, ripping the layers apart.

‘If somebody grabs you from behind while you’re running, hit the deck. His momentum should keep him going. If he doesn’t let go he’s going arse-over-tit and will have to, giving you a chance to leg it in the opposite direction.’ He dropped the beer mat on the table, and looked at Dave.

‘Only fight if there is no possible way of avoiding it, and then get it over with quickly. A head-butt to the nose is a good choice; your forehead is very hard.’

‘That’s like eight rules or something.’ Said Mickey, smirking at Dave.

‘Yeah, and what’s the use of knowing all that martial arts malarkey if you’re not going to use it?’ Asked Dave.

‘Don’t get him started Dave,’ Added Mickey, ‘you know he can go on for hours about the differences between Chinese and Japanese fighting styles.’

Mickey pulled a face like a child mimicking an adult, screwing up his nose, head wobbling from side to side. He spoke in a nasal, high-pitched voice.

‘Kicking with your front leg, kicking with your back leg, the difference between Sets and Katas.’

Mickey took a sip of his pint.

‘Christ, we’ve heard that nearly as much as we’ve heard Dave’s Robert-bloody-Plant story.’

Sam was an experienced martial artist. At fourteen he attended his first Lau Gar Kung Fu lesson and was hooked. In his early twenties he also took up Wado Ryu Sport Karate, winning the nationals in the Lightweight category. He never made it to black belt in either discipline, preferring to fight in tournaments rather than learn the syllabus. He gave up paying to train at clubs when his instructors started nagging him to go for his brown belt. Instead, he converted his spacious summer house into a training area, much to the annoyance of Julia.

‘Piss off.’ Was Sam’s response.

‘Don’t like it when it’s aimed at you then.’ Came Dave’s snappy retort.

Sam looked at Raynor just as Raynor, who was absent-mindedly gazing around the room, looked straight back at Sam. They looked at each other, both waiting for the other to break eye contact. Sam took in Raynor’s bulk, wondering whether he’d stand a chance in a fight. Six foot, four inches of muscle. A lot of weight to carry around when slugging it out, especially compared to Sam’s five foot, six inch height and trim, defined build. Sam had the speed, Raynor had the power.

Raynor started sizing up Sam. Small, nimble, defined but not bulky. Raynor could tell that Sam had a few moves, and a few tricks up his sleeves too, no doubt.

They both instinctively knew the other had received some sort of training and were both unwilling to break eye contact, as if doing so would show some kind of weakness, even though they didn’t have a clue who the other person was and would probably never see each other again.

Sam’s concentration was finally broken by Dave.

‘Fucking Hell Sam, stop staring, he’s gonna come over here in a minute and deck you if you ain’t careful. Or are you eyeing him up. Here, if you’re on the turn, do you mind if I have a crack at Julia? Always fancied her. Well fit.’

At this, Sam turned back to the group and playfully punched Dave on the arm.

‘Piss off Top Gear, Julia would never go for you. She has taste. Now get the beers in.’

Raynor watched the exchange with envy, though he’d never admit it. He had few friends. Well, in honesty he had no friends. Merely acquaintances. This is how it had to be. Only fifteen years ago, Nathan Raynor didn’t exist. He was invented. His whole life was created in an office in London, the man before Nathan Raynor, Steven Roper, was killed in action. That was the official story, anyway. A letter was sent informing his wife, another sent to his parents, who requested he be buried in Salisbury. Since that day, since signing the document which bound him to secrecy and killed his real identity, Nathan Raynor had lived a lonely, solitary life, working for a demolition company in London, travelling the globe on their behalf. Blowing shit up, as he’d tell people who paid any attention.

Well I might not have any friends, he thought, but I’m about to make a hell of a lot of enemies.

CHAPTER FIVE

Corporal Jenkins once again stood outside the brigadier’s office. He took a deep breath and knocked the door.

‘Come.’ The stock reply.

Jenkins walked into the office where the brigadier was tending to some plants on his windowsill, using a bottle with a spray trigger to throw a fine mist of water onto the leaves.

He turned and saw Jenkins.

‘Ah Jenkins, just giving the plants a drink. Remarkable plants, Lilies, especially this one.’

He held the stem gazing at the red funnel shaped flowers, dotted with purple.

‘Lilium Bolanderi. From Oregon. Quite rare.’

He let go of the flowers and continued.

‘Blasted pollen sticks to everything though. Can be a bit whiffy too.’

He moved on to a potted Orchid.

Jenkins shuffled and cleared his throat, subtle attempts at getting the brigadier’s attention. It didn’t work. The brigadier went on.

‘Now Orchids on the other hand, no pollen problems with them.’

He turned his head, looking over his shoulder at Jenkins,

‘It means testicle you know.’

‘Er. What does sir?’ Asked Jenkins nervously. Was he being tested?

‘Orchid, Jenkins, Orchid.’ Replied Saunders. ‘It’s the ancient Greek word for testicle. Because of the root you see. Its shape.’

He turned to face Jenkins and put the spray bottle down on his desk,

‘Anyway, you didn’t come here to listen to me talking bollocks did you?’

He allowed himself a little chuckle at his own joke. Probably his only joke. Thought Jenkins.

‘So, what do you need to tell me?’ asked Saunders.

‘Well sir, we found the bomb site and from what we can tell it was a small device, simple in design.’ He fiddled with a button on his uniform jacket, occasionally looking at the floor before meeting the brigadier’s gaze again. ‘It seems to have been detonated remotely, but it’s hard to tell, we have a few pieces of circuit board, but not much else.’

‘Okay, so not an Army issue then?’ asked the brigadier.

‘No sir, not as far as we can tell. All personnel are accounted for.’

‘Excellent work Corporal.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

‘I’m letting you head up this investigation, Corporal. You’re to liaise with MI5, get them to send a team down at once. Give them all the evidence we’ve managed to retrieve. Get it sorted quickly, and then get them off our backs.

‘As far as I’m concerned, this is a civilian investigation. It just happens that the investigation will start on our turf. Don’t let them outstay their welcome.’

‘Yes sir.’ replied Jenkins with a salute. He left the brigadier’s office and found an empty desk in the administration section. Using the internal phone directory on the MOD intranet he found, and dialled, the number for Thames House.

#

Sam stood on the platform waiting for the train which would take him to Waterloo.

The same ritual. The same faces. The same looks of anguish and misery for those starting another day working in “The Big Smoke”.

He sipped his overpriced coffee from its cheap cardboard cup, the plastic lid popping off a little bit allowing hot coffee to run down his hand. It happened every time. One of life’s constants. If you try too hard to put the lid on, it splits. If you don’t try hard enough it pops off. He thought it must be designed by a disgruntled junior designer who’d spent years at college and university getting loads of qualifications, only to get a job designing cardboard coffee cups while his mates went off to work for the likes of Apple and Bang & Olufsen.

Sam shook the spilled coffee from his hand and attempted to wipe it with the tiny serviette which came with the coffee. He heard the railway tracks start to vibrate and hum. The train approaching. Time for the daily jostle for a seat.

The regulars knew the rules of the game. Most of them would sit in the same seat, day in, day out, unless a less educated passenger, unaware of the unwritten laws of commuting, decided to take the seat of a regular commuter.

Sam took his usual seat, facing toward the front of the train. It was one of only four arrangements of two seats either side of a table in the carriage, the train companies now preferring a bus style, two seats per row system.

Sam’s usual travelling companion walked up the carriage. A grey-haired man in his mid-fifties, wearing a pinstriped suit. All the man needed in order to be the quintessential British banker was a bowler hat. He placed his briefcase and umbrella in the overhead storage rack, gave Sam the briefest of acknowledging nods, sat down and opened his copy of the Financial Times. Sam had sat next to him nearly every working day for three years, yet didn’t know his name. Another of the unwritten laws of commuting. Don’t talk to anybody, don’t make eye contact.

Sam took out his Kindle and started to read just as somebody sat in the seat opposite. Sam was a little surprised, as the seat was usually empty until Basingstoke. Still, this was public transport, which meant members of the public could use it, not just city workers and us spies. Thought Sam.

He glanced up, just for a second, and saw a face he recognised but couldn’t quite place.

Nathan Raynor looked back at him.

‘Reading anything good?’ Asked Raynor.

‘Just a crime thriller.’ replied Sam. With the realisation that he’d seen Raynor before, he asked, ‘Were you in The Mills last night?’

‘The Mills?’

‘Yeah, the Town Mills Pub.’

‘Oh. Yeah, that was me, I saw you with your mates, so when I saw you this morning I thought I’d say hello. Your mate though, the short, overweight, balding one?’

‘Dave?’

‘If you say so. You need to do something about him. He needs a good smack.’

Sam raised an eyebrow, somewhat taken aback by this candid revelation from a complete stranger.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, softly but firmly, ‘but who are you? And what gives you the right to badmouth my mates?’

Raynor sat back in his seat, shaking his head slowly. Smiling. A little stunned by the retort, but enjoying the baiting nonetheless.

‘You can look after yourself. I can tell.’ Came Raynor’s response.

‘Most people wouldn’t talk to me like that. I’m quite intimidating… apparently.’

Now it was Sam’s turn to be stunned. He’d expected his retort to elicit a different response from the stranger sat opposite. He was expecting anger, confrontation. Instead, this massive man with the gentle tone was goading him. Time to play him at his own game.

The quintessential banker, looked over the top of his glasses, and over the top of the Financial Times, trying not to be too obvious. He was inwardly shaking with fear of confrontation, expecting a western style bar-room brawl to break out at any minute. That or a duel along the length of the carriage. Oyster cards at ten paces.

Sam reached out across the table with his right hand.

‘Sam Edwards.’ He said with a smile. ‘Nice to meet you.’

The quintessential banker let out an audible sigh of relief.

Raynor looked at Sam in disbelief. Then a wide smile broke across his face and he gave a little chuckle before grabbing Sam’s hand with his and announcing. ‘Nathan Raynor. Nice to meet you too, Sam.’

The quintessential banker relaxed again. Well played Mr Edwards. He thought.

‘You’re not going to start some macho bullshit handshake grasp contest now, are you?’ Asked Sam, grinning, ‘Because I really can’t be bothered. And you’d win anyway.’

‘No, you’re alright Sam. I won’t bother with such a juvenile game. Like I said, I can tell when someone can look after themselves.’ Raynor released his grip and sat back in his seat. He stretched, revealing part of a tattoo on his left bicep.

‘What’s the tatt?’ Asked Sam.

Raynor pulled the sleeve of his t-shirt up to his shoulder revealing the tattoo. The head and shoulders of a devil. Scared. Biting its nails, tears coming from its eyes. The cartoonish lines depicting motion. Shaking.

‘Nice.’ Said Sam, ‘What is it?’

‘Oh, nothing special, just a bit of a laugh with my unit when I was a squaddie.’

‘Armed services eh?’ Sam enquired. ‘Army?’

‘Yeah, didn’t get too far, just an average infantryman, a grunt as we’re affectionately known.’

At that point, Sam’s phone rang. He checked the display.

‘Shit. My boss, sorry, got to take this.’

‘No problem.’ Replied Raynor.

If this is another Starbucks order, I’m going to be pissed off. Sam thought. I don’t get the money back half of the time.

Sam answered his phone.

‘Morning Boss, what is it today? Skinny cappa-frappa-mocha-latte with caramel syrup and chocolate sprinkles?’

‘Good morning Samuel, please don’t be so facetious.’

Sam’s boss, Jayshree Virani, the only person other than his Mother to ever call him Samuel. Sam was sure that Jayshree thought calling him Samuel asserted some kind of authority, but to him it just made her sound old, and as if she were trying too hard to assert the authority she already had through her rank.

At thirty-four, Jayshree Virani was one of the youngest Counter Terrorism Team Leaders in Thames House. She was MI5’s poster girl. Extremely intelligent, boasting several degrees in subjects ranging from Mathematics to Politics, Psychology to Economics, often studying more than one subject at a time.

The MI5 bosses loved her. For as well as being intelligent, she was also fluent in several languages. She was a bit of a stunner too. And she knew it. And of Asian descent; the bigwigs had the complete PR package with Jayshree Virani.

‘Are you on the train?’ She asked.

‘Yeah,’ he replied ‘soon be in Whitchurch.’

‘Well get off and turn around, we don’t want you in today.’

‘Is there something you’re trying to tell me Jay? Do I still have a job?’

‘Don’t be such a drama queen Sam, of course you still have a job. It’s your lucky day, you’re in the field.’

Sam looked at Raynor, who had been listening to one side of the conversation, and smiled, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise.

‘So where am I going Boss? Monte Carlo, Cannes?’ He turned back to the window and watched the Hampshire countryside fly by like a blurry oil painting.

‘No Samuel,’ Said Virani, ‘It’s much more glamourous than that, do you have a passport?’

Sam sat up straight at this, suddenly interested.

‘Er, yeah, I’ve got a passport, where am I going?’

Virani let out a laugh. ‘Tidworth Barracks’ she replied.

‘Bollocks’, muttered Sam. ‘Tidworth Barracks, Jay? Why?’ he asked.

At this, Raynor sat up and started paying a bit more attention. He took his phone out of his jacket pocket but it slipped out of his hand and slid across the table. By now Sam was resting on his elbows on the table when Raynor’s arm shot out to grab the sliding phone. Raynor was now standing, leaning over toward Sam. He grabbed the phone and accidentally knocked it against Sam’s mobile as he sat back down.

‘Sorry.’ Raynor mouthed at Sam. Sam nodded back, conveying ‘No problem.’

‘Sorry Boss,’ said Sam, ‘would you say that again?’

The train started to slow and Sam put his Kindle in the inside pocket of his jacket. In the confined space he stood up, still listening intently to his superior as she filled him in with the goings on at Salisbury plain.

The quintessential banker let out a loud tut as Sam transferred his phone to his free hand and tried to put his right arm into his jacket sleeve, knocking the other man’s paper. The banker put the paper down and stood to let Sam squeeze past into the carriage walkway.

Sam nodded his thanks to the banker and turned to Raynor. He gave Raynor a nod of farewell. Raynor replied with a single thumb-up and a wink, mouthing ‘See ya later, Sam.’

Sam got off the train and crossed the footbridge to the return platform where he waited for a train back to Andover. He’d received his orders. Report to Corporal Jenkins at Tidworth, who will take him to the explosion site. Investigate. Analyse. Report. A team from London were on their way, but the initial investigation was his.

He thought about Raynor, his casual, overfamiliar conversation, always using Sam’s name, like trying to gain confidence. It made him feel a little anxious. Maybe that was the point.

#

When he arrived back in Andover, Sam walked home to get his car. Julia was giving Jack his breakfast when he walked in, Shreddies with a side of toast. Jack sitting at the dining room table on a booster seat, favourite blue car in hand.

Julia looked up when Sam entered the dining room, a slightly shocked, but delighted, look on her face.

‘I’m in the field.’ Sam announced, beaming.

‘Wow, that’s great news Babe.’ Came Julia’s enthusiastic reply. ‘It’s about flaming time.’

‘You’re telling me.’ He said. ‘Got to go to Tidworth. I’ll take the Elan, it’s been awhile since it’s had a spin.

‘Okay darling, what time will you be home?’

‘I honestly don’t know.’ Said Sam smiling, happy to have this chance to prove himself.

Just over twenty minutes later, Sam was driving through the visitor gates of Tidworth Garrison. He found a parking space and headed into the Administration block and to reception where he asked for Corporal Jenkins. A few minutes passed before Jenkins arrived.

‘Sam Edwards?’ Jenkins asked. Sam stood up and offered a hand.

‘You must be Corporal Jenkins.’ Sam replied. ‘Nice to meet you’.

They shook hands and Jenkins continued.

‘Please, call me Jamie; or JJ,’ he insisted ‘I’ll take you to meet the brigadier later, but there’s a Land Rover waiting, so if it’s okay with you we’ll head straight for the bomb site.’

‘Fine with me, lead the way.’

#

Raynor opened the front door to his bedsit. The waft of chip fat and kebabs followed him into the room from the take-away he lived above. He walked in and closed the door before carrying out his usual bug sweep. Once satisfied he slumped on his bed which creaked under his weight. He wondered how it had come to this as he gazed around his room. A curtain closed off a small kitchen area from the rest of the room. A sink and an electric oven and hob, a couple of cupboards hung on the wall, stained and aged. A kettle, mug tree and toaster sat on a counter unit. A door led to the simple shower room. The carpet bore so many stains, Raynor could only guess at their origins. He suspected that not even the landlord knew what colour it was originally. As he pondered his current situation he also looked forward to his future. Tomorrow would see his plan put into action. Once phase-one was complete and his methods proven for real he’d be receiving six million pounds, deposited into an untraceable offshore account. Then he’d receive another million for each phase up to a maximum of fifteen million pounds. Then he’d be gone. A smile crept across his face. As he spent a couple of million pounds in his head, his phone rang.

‘Yes?’ he answered as he got up off the bed.

‘Are we good?’

‘We are.’

‘Then we go?’

‘That’s up to you.’

Raynor walked to his small, dirty window and pulled back the yellowed net curtain. Below, the world passed by, oblivious.

After a short pause, Raynor received his answer.

‘We go.’

‘Where?’

‘Fifty one point five north, zero point one six west. Of course, that’s just an approximation. It’s up to you where you carry out the task, but somewhere around there will suffice’

Raynor stored this information safely in his memory, which he considered unbreakable, and certainly unable to be hacked, before repeating the coordinates and replying.

‘Confirmed. Time?’

‘Surprise me. I’ll know when it’s done after all.’

Raynor smiled. ‘You most certainly will. And the delivery schedule?’

‘I’ll let you know, but your papers will be delivered as soon as I get word tomorrow.’

The line went dead.

Raynor smiled. His papers would be delivered tomorrow. Six million of them.

#

Sam sat in the back of the open sided Land Rover as it bounced across the plain. He held on for dear life, rooted to the bench seat that ran along the side of vehicle. Boxes rattled in the storage compartments beneath the seats, indents and bolt holes in the floor the only clues that the vehicle was capable of mounting a high-calibre machine gun. The driver was obviously skilled, but that didn’t make Sam feel any better. Jenkins spotted Sam’s discomfort and grinned.

‘Are you okay Mr Edwards?’ he asked, speaking up to be heard over the whining engine, revving high in low gears to get through a shallow brook.

Sam looked up at Jenkins, his face turning paler as the Land Rover negotiated another mound at a speed Sam didn’t think the laws of physics would allow.

‘I’m not sure which I’m going to lose first, my teeth or my stomach contents! Aren’t there any roads around here?’

Jenkins laughed. ‘Bloody spies. Should be able to handle a little off-roading.’ He replied in jest. ‘Anyway, we do our armoured vehicle training here. Tanks, APC’s, that’s armoured personnel carriers to you laymen. Not much point training our tank commanders to drive down nice flat roads, is there?’

‘Fair point,’ Sam conceded, ‘but are we going to be there soon?’

The Land Rover cleared another steep ridge and as it pitched forward Sam spotted a white tent, presumably covering the blast site. It stood at eight feet by eight feet at the base and seven feet high. The sides tapered slightly and the roof peaked another ten inches. It looked a bit like a gazebo used for garden parties. The Land Rover stopped some distance from the tent, close to a camouflage-green supply crate. Jenkins got out of the vehicle and headed for the crate. He motioned for Sam to follow. Sam complied, relieved to be out of the Land Rover.

Jenkins opened the crate and dipped his hand into it. He pulled out a couple of transparent polythene bags containing white forensic suits. He threw one to Sam.

‘Put this on over your clothes, please Sam. It means we won’t contaminate the site. Though we’re not investigating this incident from a National Security perspective like you guys are, we will be examining the site and documenting its characteristics, so a military forensics team will be here for a another couple of days, and they tend to get a bit pissed off if the cannon-fodder messes with their findings.’

Sam put the suit on, surprised by its apparent strength, and then put shoe covers over his shoes, the elasticated trim snapping back as he let go.

‘Don’t forget the hat.’ Said Jenkins.

Sam completed his stylish new look by donning a shower cap. He felt ridiculous. He looked ridiculous. But he was in good company, as everybody on the site sported the same attire.

CHAPTER SIX

The following morning was another warm one. The sun shone bright in the summer sky. London felt alive. It always did on days like this. So much different to the drab, grey, and drizzly London that its inhabitants and visitors experienced for the majority of the year. The only other time London felt this vibrant was Christmas. But then it was a forced, fake type of vibrancy. Today was courtesy of Mother Nature, and nothing else.

Shelly Winter felt great as she walked through Knightsbridge. It had been two days since she’d last seen her boyfriend, professional footballer George “Smithy” Smith. He travelled with the rest of the England team, all of whom were banned from seeing wives and girlfriends until after the World Cup Qualifier against Denmark. She was looking forward to the evening. The match would be great. A draw and England had qualified, but Denmark were always tough competition.

Shelly didn’t consider herself to be one of the usual WAG’s, she didn’t meet Smithy at a nightclub, they met at a football match, Shelly in the crowd when a wayward shot came her way. She caught the ball and threw it back to Smith who gave her a sly wink which she thought nothing of.

After the game she was waiting for the players to leave the stadium, autograph book in hand, when Smith stopped to talk to her. She couldn’t believe it, he’d asked her out. The rest, as they say, is history.

She instantly became a tabloid favourite. A footballer’s girlfriend who actually knew about football and enjoyed The Beautiful Game. The “Girl Next Door” who had landed herself a Premiership and international footballer who earned over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds a week.

But the money didn’t interest her. And that was her most endearing feature. The tabloids had tried to tempt her with massive payments for appearing topless, but she always gracefully declined. There’s no doubt her tall, slender figure, shapely catwalk-model legs, long dark hair and large brown eyes, which always sparkled in a playful manner, would shift a shed-load of any crap the UK press could print, but she didn’t care. ‘I’m worth more than that.’ was her stock answer. Even when the press threatened to run stories about her to try to damage her public reputation, she wasn’t bothered.

‘I’ve only got a reputation because the papers gave me one, so what do I care if you take it away again?’ She’d once asked a hack who was threatening her after she turned down a photo shoot. He gave up, realising that the press didn’t have a hold over her at all.

She stopped at the department store and looked through the window at the enticing display. The dress was amazing. So was the price. It probably worked out to be fifty pounds in value for every square inch of material, of which there weren’t many, but still enough for it to cost a small fortune. She didn’t care though, she made good money in her own right, and would never spend Smithy’s cash. She enjoyed her independence too much.

It wouldn’t matter if England win or lose tonight, once she arrived at the players’ after-match dinner and George saw her in this dress, he’d forget all about the game, his mind only on the night ahead. She’d be sure to pop to the lingerie department while she was there. Smithy was going to score. Off the field at least.

She saw the flash of light reflect in the shop window a fraction of a second before she heard the explosion, sound being extremely pedestrian when compared to the speed of light. She didn’t have time to wonder what it was as the shock-wave hit her. Then time started crawling as she was lifted off her feet.

She felt like she was floating, uncontrollably. She felt her head make contact with the plate glass window, saw individual cracks appear in the glass, felt every shard that pierced her face, felt her blood start to leave her as slow as tar being poured onto a road. Why does time slow down for pain? She pondered as the window burst into a million pieces which started to rain down on her. She hit the mannequin which was modelling the dress she had intended to buy, landed awkwardly and rolled onto her back in time to see a ball of flames burst through the gap where the window had been just seconds earlier.

Looking up she noticed, for the first time, the exposed pipework which seemed to be all the rage in retail outlets these days. The air conditioning ducts and ventilation shafts. She noticed a piece of pipe start to fall away from its mountings. It was only about five inches in diameter, but it looked heavy. She watched as it fell. It seemed to take forever. She knew it was going to hit her, but she was powerless to do anything as the fire took hold of the store around her and shock rendered her immobile. She thought of George as the pipe pierced the skin of her throat. Come on England. Then nothing. Vertebrae broke and the pipe made its exit through the back of her neck, her head now only connected to her shoulders by tendons and skin.

#

Raynor heard the distant rumble and felt the explosion vibrate through the Knightsbridge Cafe where he was casually enjoying a cup of strong, sweet tea – just like in the army – and a Danish pastry.

The other cafe patrons stopped what they were doing and all looked up. They started looking at each other with concerned, confused looks and slowly, one by one, got up from their seats and headed for the door. Those eating outside at the pavement tables were already making their way up William Street, pointing to the plume of smoke rising above the rooftops.

The manager started calling after the departing patrons, insisting they pay before they leave, but even he put down his tea towel and joined the crowd when whispers of ‘explosion’, ‘smoke’ and ‘bomb’ made their way through the crowd.

Raynor checked his watch. Only four and a half minutes. Not bad. He smiled, but nobody would notice, everyone was too preoccupied with whatever was going on outside.

I’m a multi-millionaire. Sweet. He got up and joined the crowd heading up the street, feigning concern. At the top of the street, when it joined the A4, he allowed himself a glance to the left, just to check the chaos, before crossing the road onto Albert Gate and disappearing into Hyde Park.

The wailing of sirens could be heard in the distance. It had started. Now only he could decide when, and how, it would end.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Sam stood at the head of the table in a conference room in Thames House. Jayshree Virani sat in an adjacent chair, eyes on Sam, listening intently. Also present was Grant Bray, head of the MI5 Counter Terrorism section. A tall, slim man of fifty five, whose blonde hair and piercing blue eyes belied his age. He easily looked ten years younger. He was wearing a stylish, made to measure, dark blue pinstripe suit. Black patent leather brogues completed the ensemble along with a button down blue and white striped shirt and blue on blue diamond-patterned silk tie. It was a look a man half his age would struggle to pull off, but he managed it effortlessly.

Accompanying Jay and Grant were a number of analysts, along with the forensics team which had joined Sam on Salisbury Plain the previous day. In all, around fifteen people sat in the conference room.

The aroma of coffee assaulted Sam’s nose, he wanted a sip of his Vanilla Latte, but he was mid explanation.

‘So, it’s an IED.’ he said. ‘It appears to be well assembled, but, to be honest, there’s not much left of it to tell.’ He looked down at the table, where numerous clear plastic evidence bags were laid out, exhibiting the evidence collected from Salisbury Plain. He picked up a bag.

‘Detonation appears to be via mobile communications.’ He pointed at a small piece of circuit board, before placing it on a projector platen. A screen on the wall came to life, a huge piece of green circuit board projected onto it. The words kia 82 clearly visible. Sam continued.

‘This seems to be a piece of Nokia circuitry, and as you can see, the model number can’t be determined. However,’ he looked back at his audience, confidence growing. ‘We’ve matched the circuit patterns against our mobile database and have matched this piece of board to an 8210.’

Nick Upex, an up and coming forensics and technology expert, raised his hand.

‘Nick?’ asked Sam.

‘Yeah, sorry to interrupt Sam, but 8210’s haven’t been manufactured since the early two-thousands. Are you sure?’

Sam nodded his affirmation and continued.

‘We’re certain it’s an 8210. Fortunately, circuit board manufacturing has also moved on since the dawn of the century, so we were able to match materials and manufacturing processes to that period. The downside is, as it’s so old, it’s not a burner. Probably sat in a drawer for years before being sold at a car boot sale.’

Now Grant Bray raised a hand, looking a little sheepish.

‘Yes sir?’ asked Sam.

‘Sorry Sam, but would you just elaborate on what a burner is? Just in case anyone here isn’t sure?’

‘Of course.’ Replied Sam stifling a grin. ‘A burner is usually a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile, or free SIM card. Criminals will use these phones or SIMs when co-ordinating resources.’

Sam looked at Virani, who nodded slightly, acknowledging that he was doing a good job.

‘They assume, as the phones don’t need to be registered, that their usage is untraceable. To a certain extent, they’re right. However, any call made, text sent, web site visited et cetera, are all still monitored by GCHQ, and as most retailers will log the device serial number or phone number associated with a SIM card at time of sale, and we can link back to CCTV footage and try to match a buyer with a sale. It’s usually a very long shot, and the crims do seem to have the upper hand, but sometimes we’ll get lucky.’

Sam looked back at Bray, who nodded appreciatively.

‘Thank you Sam.’ Said Bray. ‘So what’s different this time?’

‘Well, as Nick pointed out, 8210’s haven’t been made since the early two-thousands, so there’s no chance of finding the retailer who sold it. Plus the fact that we didn’t find any trace of a SIM card.’

Sam glanced around the room, one face at a time, letting this snippet of information sink in. He pressed on. ‘So the current thinking suggests that this device was not detonated over a mobile network.’

People started muttering between themselves. This is obviously new territory thought Sam as he looked around. He continued.

‘Anyway, no SIM card means no mobile carrier, which means, as you’re all probably well aware, no ability to trace.’

As Sam was about to continue, Bray’s mobile rang. Bray blushed.

‘Excuse me.’ He said, as he pulled his phone from the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

Then Virani’s mobile rang, followed by Nick’s. Within seconds, nearly every mobile in the room was ringing. This can’t be good. Sam thought.

At that moment, the conference room door swung open. An out of breath, slightly overweight man in his mid-twenties held himself up on the door frame.

‘Grant, Jay, we need you; now. There’s been an explosion in Knightsbridge.’

CHAPTER EIGHT

Lucas Fostervold stood gazing out of his fifty-seventh floor office window in The Shard. His company was one of the first to sign up as a commercial tenant in the recently opened structure, and it was a magnificent structure as far as Lucas Fostervold was concerned. Architect Renzo Piano had designed a three-hundred-metre-tall spire of glass and aluminium which would, for a while at least, dominate the ever changing London skyline.

While breath-taking, the structure wasn’t well received by all. Some had likened it to a middle finger, a talon of hate aimed at the people of London who could barely afford to live there. The building was required to have a public viewing area, and, for a fee, anyone was free to go and sample the amazing view. This led to further outcry regarding the privatisation of the city’s skyline. The theft of a space that should rightly belong to the citizens of the city.

Lucas Fostervold didn’t care as he continued to look across the city. It was just socialist claptrap as far as he was concerned. This, all he had attained, was capitalism at work.

He’d worked hard, as had his father and grandfather to build this company, this view was his reward. As far as he was concerned, he’d earned it. And it was spectacular. The sun, high in the sky, lit up the streets below and glistened like diamonds off the surface of the Thames.

London looked like a model village, the roads like a child’s play-mat covered in toy cars, the people like ants scurrying for food to return to their queen.

He slowly looked around, taking in the vista. He’d never get bored of this view. Eventually his gaze was drawn to the west where he saw smoke rising; about three or four miles away. Knightsbridge.

His office door swung open and James Culpepper, walked in; ashen faced and trembling.

‘Lucas, have you seen the news?”

Fostervold’s attention turned from the smoke rising in the distance and he smiled at his business partner of twenty years

‘James, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Whatever’s the matter?’

Culpepper walked up to Fostervold’s glass and aluminium desk, picked up a remote control and switched on the sixty-five inch, wall-mounted television.

The blonde, far-too-attractive-to-deliver-bad-news, presenter sat behind her desk, a sombre look on her face. The Sky News logo sat in its usual place, top left of the screen, while the familiar black on yellow news ribbon scrolled along the bottom of the screen, announcing Knightsbridge Explosion: capital lockdown.

Culpepper took the TV off of mute.

‘… nwhile, all public transport has been suspended, and all flights in and out of Heathrow have been cancelled. The Prime Minister has called an emergency cabinet meeting and is expected to make a statement shortly.

‘However, at this time it’s not known whether the explosion was a terrorist act or an accident. No terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility.’

Fostervold turned to Culpepper. ‘Jesus.’ He moved from the window and stood in front of his huge leather chair, leaning, palms down, on his desk. Staring, unblinking, at the screen.

‘I know.’ Culpepper replied. He pointed the remote control back at the TV and pressed mute again. ‘Stocks are already falling, and when Wall Street starts trading later, you can guarantee it’s going to drop too. Yanks will think it’s a run up to attacks over there. We stand to lose millions. Could take months; Christ, years even, to recover from this.’

‘Jesus.’ was all Fostervold could manage, once more.

#

It was bedlam at Thames House. Sam stood in the now empty conference room. He sipped his coffee and watched through the window as people ran around shouting orders. The constant cacophony of phones ringing supplied the theme tune to a crisis. He’d never experienced anything like this before. He didn’t have a clue what was going on, or what he was expected to do.

The conference room door flew open. It was Virani.

‘Sam. Get a response team to Knightsbridge. Get the area sealed. I want forensics there in the next fifteen minutes.’

Sam just stood there, mouth agape, coffee mug halfway to his lips. Virani continued.

‘Then get this room set up as an operations room.’ She paused, sensing his unease. ‘Don’t look so panicked Sam, it’s not the end of the world.’ She tried a reassuring smile. ‘Not yet, anyway.’

‘Thanks Jay that fills me with confidence.’ Said Sam.

#

The joyful screams and shouts of children in a nearby play area drifted over the Italian Gardens in Hyde Park. The devastation and panic in nearby Knightsbridge lost on the innocent, for they didn’t know what was happening less than a mile away, and they didn’t care.

Raynor sat gazing over the four large rectangular water features, the fountains providing a constant soundtrack akin to a summer rain shower. He watched the smoke, still rising. A lot of people in the park seemed to be drawn to it, heading in the direction of Knightsbridge, pulled by a mysterious, invisible force like lemmings drawn to a cliff edge.

His wandering mind was stirred by the ring of his mobile.

‘Yes?’

‘Good job today, the results are better than expected.’

Raynor scanned his immediate vicinity. Nobody even realised he was there.

‘Thank you. And the delivery to me?’

The sounds of the playing children started to grow faint, everybody in the park now realising something big had happened a stone’s throw from their current location.

‘I’ve had confirmation that delivery has been made. It’s up to you now, you can carry on if you wish, but you know the rules, a maximum of fifteen will be delivered.’

Rayner stood and started heading north, out of the park.

‘Oh, and if you decide to continue, make sure there’s a distinguishing feature. So I know it’s your work. I wouldn’t want to start paying you if you suddenly inspire a copycat.’

#

Order was slowly returning to Thames House. Sam had sent out a forensics team and the operations room was taking shape. Wheeled, free-standing glass boards were lined around the edge of the room. They had a multitude of uses. Ideas, theories, evidence, links, would all be stuck to one of these boards, or scribbled with a dry-wipe marker. A dedicated server sat in the corner of the room. This provided fast internet access and encrypted data storage for the dozen or so PC’s and laptops that had been set up on the tables.

Sam was just starting to relax a bit when Grant Bray entered the room. He glanced around, obviously pleased with what he saw.

‘Good work Sam, you’ve done well getting this set up on such short notice.’

Sam suddenly felt a little nervous once more. He hardly knew Bray. Being so low down in the pecking order, Sam had only spoken to Bray a couple of times, and then usually no more than a passing ‘Hello’.

Bray continued. ‘Sam, I want you working closely with Jay on this. It might be coincidence, an explosion on Salisbury Plain, and now this, but I don’t think so.’

‘What do you want me to do sir?’ asked Sam.

‘Well, for a start you can stop calling me sir. We may have Military in our name, but we don’t necessarily call our superiors Sir.’

‘Sorry Grant, just nerves. I’ve not witnessed anything like this before; I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be doing.’

‘Sam, you’re doing fine. Obviously Jay will be heading up the investigation; she’ll report to me, I report to the Secretary of State and other cabinet members. So just do as Jay… ah, here she is now.’

Virani walked into the room. For the first time since Sam had known her she’d lost the air confidence she usually carried without effort.

She nodded at Bray before addressing Sam.

‘Sam, you’re our liaison with Tidworth. You have a rapport with Jenkins and Saunders. There’s a chance, albeit slim, that this event has something to do with the explosion on Salisbury Plain.’

Sam nodded. Virani continued.

‘I also need you to head up an investigation team. Get on to GCHQ. Have them increase their surveillance. If there’s any new chatter, I want to know about it. Doesn’t matter how insignificant it may seem.

‘You can pick your team, but their job is to scour all persons of interest. A team of five people to start with. Any link to radicals, fundamentalists, anything, get somebody on it.’

Sam was starting to tense up. He could feel the pressure.

‘One more thing, Sam.’

He looked at her, a worried look on his face. ‘Yes Jay?’

‘Phone Julia; tell her you won’t be home for dinner. Tell her not to wait up. And let everybody know there’ll be a briefing in here in twenty minutes.’

CHAPTER NINE

Three Hours Later

Trojan One, the Metropolitan Police Mobile Armed Response Command Centre sat a mile from its previous occupants, the Armed Response Team. The inconspicuous white Ford Transit van held more computing power than the street it was sat in. Satellite feeds provided real-time updates of the target area. CCTV camera feeds linked directly into the on-board servers. The two men inside controlled the movements of the Armed Response Team that neared the target building. Each member of the response team wore a helmet-mounted camera that fed directly back to Trojan-One. The teams were divided to cover both front and rear access to the building, The covering teams, Ground Front – Golf-Foxtrot – and Ground Rear – Golf-Romeo – Provided over watch for the breach teams, Front Breach – Foxtrot-Bravo – and Rear Breach – Romeo-Bravo, as well as providing support should a suspect manage to escape the building.

‘Trojan one. Golf-Romeo. Report.’

‘Golf-Romeo One. In position, rear of building. Rear exit and first floor windows covered. No movement. Over’

‘Golf-Romeo Two. In position, rear of building to the east. Side windows on ground and first floor covered. No movement. Over’

‘Trojan-One. Copy. Golf-Foxtrot. Report.’

‘Golf-Foxtrot One. In position, front of building. Front door and front ground floor windows covered. No movement. Over.’

‘Golf-Foxtrot Two. In position, front of building. Front first floor windows covered. Over.’

‘Trojan-One. Copy. India Nine-Eight. Status.’

The police helicopter – call sign India Nine-Eight – hovers at a height and distance so as not to alert the target. Its heat sensitive equipment points at a fast food shop to the west of its position, hunting its prey like a flying predator.

‘India Nine-Eight. One heat signature detected. First floor. Appears to be sat at a table. Other signatures indicate a hot stove and a number of small electronic appliances. Over.’

‘Copy Nine-Eight. Foxtrot-Bravo, are you in position?’

‘In position Trojan-One.’

‘Romeo-Bravo. Are you in position?’

‘Affirmative, Trojan-One, we are good to go.’

‘Trojan-One. All units. We are clear to engage. Set weapons to single shot. The target is on the first floor. Ground floor is a fast food outlet. There is no reason to believe there are any hostiles or civilians on the ground floor.

‘Foxtrot-Bravo, clear and lock down ground floor. You’ll be exposed on approach as the front ground floor is mainly plate glass due to the retail use of the property. Improvise, you shouldn’t have any difficulty gaining entry.’

‘Romeo-Bravo, you’ve got the hard job. Sweep ground floor hallway and stairwell, acquire and detain target.

‘Helmet cams on, on my mark. Oh, and let’s be on our best behaviour, Five will be watching, as will the Secretary of Defence, and possibly the PM himself.

‘As Andy Warhol said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Well I want this mission to be over in five minutes tops. Watch your backs, watch each other.

‘Do not engage unless absolutely necessary. Deadly force has been authorised.’

A pause, deep breaths over the radio, static filling the gaps. Nerves calmed. Heart rates lowering.

‘Trojan-One, all units. Connecting to Control. Control this is Trojan One.’

‘Copy Trojan-One. All clear to proceed. Control will now go silent. Command is yours Trojan-One. Command out.’

‘All units. Trojan-One. Mission is go.’

Sam, Virani, and Bray sat in the Operations Room in Thames House. The wall of screens in front of them was split into a grid consisting of two rows of five screens. Each screen displayed the helmet cam feed of one of the Specialist Firearms Unit team members.

For Sam this was totally surreal. It was like playing Call of Duty on an Xbox. The camera showed the line of sight of the team member, each of which was armed with a Heckler and Koch MP5SF 9mm submachine gun. A red dot from the sights was visible to the left of the first floor window as he watched the screen of one of the Golf-Romeo Team.

‘Here we go.’ Announced Bray as another screen showed the view from one of the breach team members’ helmet cam.

‘Showtime.’

Sam’s attention was drawn to movement on a different screen. The Romeo-Bravo Commander was leading the way to the back door of the building, the high definition image from the helmet camera was as good as watching a Blu-Ray.

Stealth was the order of the day as the Romeo-Bravo Team got to the back door, the rear cover team keeping them updated of any threats. The team members took their positions. One member either side of the door, backs against the wall, the leader kneeling to the front, slightly to the left on centre. He tries the door handle – locked. He retrieves a small pouch from a pocket on his sleeve and removes a lock picking tool. He starts working on the lock.

Sam looks at the rest of the screens, one at a time. He notices a similar activity taking place at the front of the building.

‘Foxtrot-Bravo to Trojan One. Lock picked. Ready for breach.’

‘Copy that Foxtrot-Bravo, Romeo-Bravo, what’s your status?’

‘Romeo-Bravo, Ready to breach.’

‘Affirmative. Breach and clear. Repeat. Breach and clear.’

Jayshree Virani tapped at her keyboard, the video feed configuration changed and the four video feeds of the external cover teams disappeared. The top and bottom centre feeds expanded, revealing more detail from the Breach Team Commander feeds. Almost simultaneously, the front and back doors opened and the breach teams entered. Sam’s gaze was once again drawn to the Rear Breach Team Commander. The team members either side of the door swung into the open doorway and swept the hall for hostiles, the commander followed them in and immediately proceeded to the bottom of the stairs while the other two provided cover.

Sam heard a whispered ‘Romeo-Bravo, hallway clear.’ followed by ‘Foxtrot-Bravo, front ground clear.’

‘Bravo Teams, this is Trojan-One, Foxtrot-Bravo, proceed to rear of property and provide backup to Romeo-Bravo. There’s a rear side exit, take it and continue to first floor flat. Assist in sweeping and clearing. Over.’

‘Romeo-Bravo, copy Trojan-One.’

#

He got up from the table and moved to his bed. He dropped heavily onto it and started staring at the ceiling, nothing much going on in his head. A noise. Just a quiet shuffle. Probably just rats, this place really is a shithole.

The whir of a distant helicopter could be heard over the radio which was set to a low volume. The television was on a news channel, the sound muted. The top story, on constant repeat, being the Knightsbridge bombing.

The shuffling again. It seemed closer this time, on the stairs maybe.

He watched the door to his bedsit. Did the door handle just move? For fuck sake, get a grip. Shit! It is moving.

He slowly and quietly got up from the bed and tip-toed across the room to his kitchen area. He took a bread knife from a drawer. What the fuck’s going on?

The door handle returned to its up position.

‘India Nine-Eight to breach team. Target has moved. He will be on your right as you breach. Use caution, he may have been alerted to your presence. Over.’

‘Copy Nine-Eight, appreciate the update.’

The team commander expertly handled the lock picks and set the last lock pin in place. The door was unlocked.

The door handle started its descent once more.

He moved toward the door, careful not to be in full view once it opened, edging around the walls to be behind it. The door slowly started to open.

‘Breach Team, this is India Nine-Eight, target has positioned himself to be behind the door when it opens. He’s trying to blindside you. Assume he’s armed.’

Shit is that a gun barrel?

More of the MP5’s barrel became visible and then retracted. A second later, the door swung open and a team of armed men swarmed the room to shouts of ‘Armed police. Don’t move.’

The first armed officer through the door had his sights firmly on the man.

‘Armed Police! Drop your weapon. NOW!’

He lay the knife on the floor and put his hands on his head.

A shout was heard from the bathroom.

‘Clear.’

‘Trojan-One, this is Breach Team Commander. Target acquired, no more hostiles. Mission successful.’

‘Copy, Commander. Good work. Prepare target for extraction.’

Within seconds, the man’s wrists were behind his back, bound with plastic wrist ties.

The sound of screeching tyres could be heard as a police Range Rover came to an abrupt stop outside the takeaway.

The man was bundled downstairs and into the idling Range Rover which took off as quickly as it had arrived, once the passenger was secured inside.

The local residents, unaware that anything had happened until the support vehicles started turning up, started to gather on the street. Though the hour was early, the lure of catching a glance at the man who may have been the Knightsbridge bomber was just too much. ‘He was such a nice, quiet man.’ Would undoubtedly be a morning news soundbite.

More police vehicles arrived. Forensics. They’d rip the flat apart searching for evidence.

#

Virani pushed a few more keys and the video feed shut down. She looked at Bray, then at Sam. Her look of confidence had returned. She almost looked smug. She gave Sam a smile and a slight nod.

‘Well done Sam. You’ve handled today extremely well.’

‘Thanks Jay.’ came his reply.

‘Bloody good show.’ exclaimed Bray.

‘Don’t get your hopes up too soon, Grant.’ said Jayshree.

‘This is only one of a large number of suspects, and the first successful operation. The chances of this being our man are slim, but if the other missions go off as smoothly as this one, we’ll have him in no time.’

CHAPTER TEN

‘But how long Sam? I need you. We need you. Jack’s frantic without you here.’

Sam was torn, hurting. He’d been stuck in Thames House for three days now with no real progress being made. Every interview, questioning, suspect brought in, was leading to nothing. To hear the desperation in Julia’s voice ripped his heart in two.

‘I don’t know Darling, what can I say? This is my job now.’

She sighed. ‘But what about clothes, toiletries and all the stuff you need? Underwear, Laundry?’

‘It’s okay Jules, it’s taken care of. Food is provided, I’ve bought clothes and anything else I need on an expense account. I’ve even managed to get a couple of hours shut-eye a few times. There are small rooms here with single beds in, just for this sort of emergency. I’m fine.’

‘But we’re not, Sam. We need you here.’

This time, Sam sighed. ‘I’ll be home soon Sweetheart, I promise.

A tap on his shoulder made him jump. He turned to see Virani, tapping her watch, mouthing ‘Briefing. Now.’

‘Look, Jules, I’ve got to go to a briefing. I’ll call you later if I get a chance. Give Jack a big hug and kiss from me.

‘I love you both. I’ll be home soon.’

‘We love you too. Be careful Sam, we need you so much.’

Sam hung up and rested his head against the wall that he was leaning against during the call. A tear formed in his eye. I’m just a data analyst. How the hell did I end up in this mess?

#

‘Okay. Everybody quiet. QUIET.’

Silence fell over the incident room like a blanket over a bed. All eyes turned to Virani.

‘Right, I don’t need to tell anyone here that things aren’t going too well. The press are all over this, questioning our methods, our progress. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. We’ve been searching for three days and haven’t got a thing to go on.

‘The death of Shelly Winter doesn’t help either. The tabloids are having a field-day. A “national sweetheart” killed in the worst terrorist attack since the July seventh bombings in 2005.

‘If that’s not bad enough, the PM is leaning on the Home Secretary, who in turn is leaning on Grant. And as you’re probably aware, Grant is looking at me. I’m the lucky one. I’ve got you lot to track down whoever did this and bring them in.

‘So, does anyone have anything positive to tell me?’

Silence. Lost, bewildered faces gazed at each other. Nobody spoke.

‘Nick. CCTV. Give me some good news. Please.’

‘Sorry Jay, nothing. The device was planted in a bin. The bin was emptied the morning of the blast, then it was business as usual. People walking past, casually tossing litter in. A tramp having a rummage for dog-ends. Nothing suspicious.

‘It gets busy down there, Jay, almost impossible to see everybody that uses a litter bin. The tramp came up tops though, managed to find a half-finished can of Lager.’

A few people laughed, Virani was not impressed.

‘Right, get on to the council, bring in the bin men, or refuse removal technicians as I’m sure they like to be called these days. Check their history, backgrounds, family. Eliminate the possibility that one of these workers planted the device.’

Sam’s mind started to wander. Three days and nothing to go on. Nobody had claimed responsibility. That alone was strange enough. Nobody was seen putting the device in the bin. Sam started rooting through known organisations, the obvious being the so called Islamic State. It amazed him, how the two words ‘so called’ made all the difference. As if to leave them off would be to recognise their existence.

But Sam didn’t think it was their doing. Why detonate on Salisbury Plain? Why start a campaign on British soil? Weren’t they too busy fighting in Syria and the rest of the destabilised Middle Eastern territories?

Okay then, the Real IRA? No, they would have claimed it with great pride, same as Al Qaeda. In fact, the IRA used to phone ahead, very commendable. The attacker’s silence was an obvious clue that Sam just couldn’t work out. What was he missing? Logic was his thing. But there were so many countries we’d pissed off over the years that it was hard to pinpoint one over another. Shit, it could be the disgruntled people of Jersey for all the leads they had. Sam was confused. What was the agenda? What was the end game? Why didn’t it make sense?

‘Okay Sam?’ Virani’s voice boomed across the room.

Sam jumped. ‘Sorry Jay, he replied. ‘I was thinking about responsibility and motive, must have wandered off.’

‘I’d guessed that after trying to get your attention for the fourth time!’ She Snapped. ‘So, what are your thoughts?’

‘Well, first off, no claims. There are always claims if the player is on the international stage. Then, why a bin? Mass transit systems and shopping centres are the usual targets. Time of detonation. Totally random.

‘We’ve not witnessed anything so far that fits a pattern for what we know from past terror attacks. Sorry to say this Jay, but we could have a new player in town.

Virani thought for a moment, tapping a dry wipe marker against her chin as she gazed into nothing. After a few seconds her focus returned to the room.

‘Right, Sam has made a very good point here. Why not claim and why wait until after the rush hour? They missed the chance to maximise collateral damage. We’re missing something.’

Nick Upex took the pen he was chewing out of his mouth and raised his hand.

‘Yes, Nick?’ Asked Virani.

‘Well, I was just thinking. Did forensics find anything from the device itself? Any circuitry? Anything to link it to Salisbury Plain?’

‘Thanks Nick, I was going to get to that. Once more, fragments have been found and again they match an old phone. This time an Ericsson GF788. Doesn’t really tell us much though, apart from a penchant for old technology or a regular car boot visitor.’ Sam raised his hand. ‘Yes Sam?’

‘Or an online auction user maybe?’

‘That’s a good point Sam. Nick, get onto all major auction sites and ask if they’ll provide a list of all mobile phone purchases under, say thirty pounds? I can’t see these handsets being much more than that.’

‘You’d be surprised Jay.’ replied Nick ‘Some of these handsets are now collectible, you could pay in excess of a hundred quid for one in good working order.’

Virani’s eyebrows raised in surprise.

‘Really?’ she asked. ‘I’ve got drawers full of old phones at home. Must have a sort out. Anyway, I digress. Okay, so we may have quite a lot of data for phones sold under a hundred pounds, ask them if they can provide data for handsets originally released three years either side of the millennium.’

‘On it.’ Said Nick as he noted down his new task. ‘What about chargers, Jay?’

‘What about them, Nick?’

‘Well, they were all proprietary back then, each manufacturer would have their own charger style. Sometimes multiple styles within the same manufacturer. It was a nice earner for them, you see. If somebody lost or broke their charger they’d have to buy a new one, not just plug in a standard USB cable like today.’

‘Okay, let’s get chargers as well. Might as well try and get all angles covered.’

Virani started to wind-up the meeting.

‘Right, well, it’s seems we’ve come to a dead end. May I suggest you all get home tonight? Recharge your batteries as much as possible, we’ll reconvene tomorrow at the eight A.M. briefing. Thank you, everyone.’

The room started to clear, most people wearing a look of relief. Sam left and immediately phoned Julia.

‘Hiya Sweetheart, it’s me.’

‘Oh, hi Babe. Look, sorry about earlier, I know this is a big thing for you. Sorry if I made you feel bad. Anyway, how did the briefing go?’

‘We’re not making much progress if I’m honest, so Jay’s letting us all go home tonight. Any chance of a Ruby Murray?’

‘Sam, that’s great news. Of course I’ll do you curry, what time will you be home? Jack will be so excited to see you.’

‘Usual time Darling, I’ll be leaving for the station shortly.’

‘Can’t wait to see you.’

‘Me too. I’ll see you later.’

‘Okay Babe, Love you.’

‘Love you too.’

Sam ended the call.

#

Raynor also disconnected from the call and put the phone down on his bedside table. He stretched, and smiled.

#

The train stopped at Andover and Sam got off. He left the station and started the short walk up The Avenue.

‘Sam, Sam Edwards.’ A voice bellowed from behind Sam.

Sam turned to see the man he was talking to a few days earlier.

Shit, what’s his name?

Raynor bounded up, bold as brass, hand outstretched, Sam grasped it, slightly bemused.

‘Nathan?’ Raynor questioned. ‘The Town Mills, the train last week?’

Sam looked thoughtful for a moment, and then the penny dropped.

‘Yes, of course, sorry mate, had a busy few days. All this bombing stuff is causing havoc at work.’ They turned together and started to walk towards Sam’s house.

‘I’d imagine it is. What is it you do again?’ Raynor asked.

Sam averted eye contact for a moment while searching for a suitable cover.

‘I’m a data analyst,’ he eventually replied. ‘In the City. Things like this cause our forecasting models to go all over the place.’

‘I bet they do. Millions, Billions maybe, lost or gained on a random event. Must be difficult analysing that sort of trend.’

A Ford Focus passed, windows down, a twenty-something lad wearing a back-to-front baseball cap, nodding along to an all-too-loud rap tune blaring from his in-car entertainment system.

‘Noisy bastard.’ Said Raynor. ‘So, you off home then? Little lady waiting? Meal on the table?’

Sam chuckled. ‘Yeah, something like that.’ He was warming to Raynor, finding his abrupt no-nonsense attitude both welcoming and humorous. Within minutes, they were at the gate to Sam’s house

‘Well, I’ll see you later Nathan.’ Said Sam

Raynor looked through the gates at Sam’s house. ‘Fuck Me.’ he said, staring at the impressive structure. ‘Someone’s done alright for himself.’

‘Inherited.’ Lied Sam, not wishing to give too much of his personal life away. ‘Where are you heading, Nathan?’

‘I’m going for a quick pint in the Railway Tavern, then a bus to Ludgershall, to meet a mate.’ He lied, in return.

‘Well, it was nice to meet you again.’ Sam said over his shoulder as he walked to his front door. ‘Take it easy.’

Raynor watched Sam enter the house. He waited a minute before he walked through the gates, crouched and followed the hedgerow along the side of the garden. Recon. Know your entry and exit points. Know your surroundings. Then get the next train back home. Things to do tomorrow.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The clouds kept rolling over the sun, blocking its brilliance, teasing the funeral party in the cemetery below.

James Culpepper and Lucas Fostervold stood at the freshly dug graveside of Shelly Winter. The casket slowly being lowered into the ground.

‘We’ll find the bastard who did this Lucas, I promise.’ Culpepper said. ‘We’ll issue a reward. A hundred thousand should buy a bit of intel. Fuck it, a million, I don’t care. Shelly was your niece, Lucas, but I’ve known her since she was a baby. Uncle Jim, she used to call me, and to me she’s family.’ He paused for a moment before correcting himself, ‘Was family.’

Fostervold was silent. He still couldn’t believe it. His niece had been tragically killed in the Knightsbridge explosion. He felt powerless. All his wealth and there was nothing he could do to bring her back. He looked up from the grave and browsed around the assembled funeral party. Family he hadn’t seen in years. George Smith along with other England players. All looking distraught. Beyond the cemetery gates, the paparazzi waited. Scum. Why can’t those fuckers just let us mourn?

He turned to Culpepper.

‘Then what, Jim?’

‘What do you mean, Lucas?’

‘I mean, then what? We issue a reward, the bastard gets caught, locked up for life, does sixteen years, gets on with things.’

He looked forlornly at the casket as the mourners started to drop handfuls of earth onto it.

‘It won’t bring Shelly back, Jim.’

Culpepper looked at the ground. Bashful almost, as Fostervold continued.

‘And anyway, we’re a bloody arms company, we can’t issue rewards or encourage vigilantism. We sell the shit that allows this to happen. We could have been responsible for Shelly’s death, Jim.’

‘Don’t think like that, Lucas, we had nothing to do with this.’

‘Maybe not, but how many nieces, nephews, sons, daughters have died because of what we sell?’

‘Don’t go down that road, Luke, we sell to governments, we aren’t responsible for what they do.’

‘Look, mate, I’m sorry, it’s just really got to me. She didn’t deserve to go like this. So young, so much to look forward to. I can’t let the bastard get away with this, but I’m powerless to do anything to change it.’

‘I understand mate, I really do.’

#

The tramp shuffled up the street. People going about their daily routines giving him plenty of room. A group of workmen in high-visibility jackets were digging up the street again, a pneumatic drill hammering the road like a demented, mechanical, woodpecker. He liked it around here. Soho. One of his favourite places. The John Snow pub, named after the doctor who traced the 1854 cholera outbreak to the Broadwick Street water-pump, was up ahead. Before passing the replica water-pump, erected in 1992, he dropped a brown paper bag in a litter bin, had a brief rummage for anything of value, then continued up toward the pub.

If he was lucky, there might be a few glasses left out on the street-side window ledges. He’d heard some of the other tramps talking about it. The pub was on the street, it didn’t have any grounds or a beer garden, which meant the smokers would go out onto the street to temporarily subdue their demons, sometimes leaving unfinished pint glasses precariously standing on the angled window ledges, looking over the edge as if wondering whether they should jump.

I might have just made a hundred quid, but that doesn’t mean I’ll pass up a freebie. He thought.

One hundred pounds, what was he thinking? I’ll have a pint of what he’s been drinking.

He chuckled. Coughed. Stopped walking and bent over double, coughing even more. A rattling, hollow sound. The cough of ten thousand cigarettes all vying for a part of his demise. His discomfort went ignored by those around him. Once his coughing had ceased he took a moment to recover before continuing his zombie-like amble toward the pub. His thoughts returned to the big, tattooed man.

Just put this in the bin for me, mate. There’s a ton in it for you, here you go, enjoy yourself. By the look of you, you don’t have long left for having fun.’ Cheeky bastard. Still, hundred quid to put some rubbish in the bin. Are people really that lazy nowadays?

He got to the pub. His luck was in. A glass with a finger of lager at the bottom. He swigged it back and wiped his mouth with the back of his crusted sleeve before carefully placing the glass back on the window ledge.

Raynor stood on the corner of Berwick Street, where he pretended to be on the phone while watching the broken old man. Once he saw the package go into the trash he took his phone from his ear and fired up an app. While he configured his application, he walked north toward Oxford Street where he would become just another face in the crowd, both Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road tube stations within easy reach.

The tramp continued his listless stroll towards Carnaby Street. Around him, thousands of invisible ones and zeros flew into the ether in every direction. Some would make it to mobile phones, others would simply be ignored by every device they came into contact with if the mobile phone number wasn’t one of the thousand being hunted by the message being sent.

Everyone around him continued with their lives, doing their best to ignore him, completely unaware of what could happen at any moment.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Sam was enjoying the sun as he sat in Victoria Gardens having a sandwich. Lunch breaks were a rarity in Thames House, so he tried, when he could, to get away for half an hour. This secluded little bit of greenery in the middle of the capital had a calming effect. Sam needed it after the week he’d just had. Fortunately, the media where starting to ease up. His bosses, however, were a different story. The pressure from the Prime Minister increased as it rolled down the chain of command, ending with Virani. To be fair, she tried her best to deflect the pressure from Sam and his team, knowing full well they were doing all they could to find the Knightsbridge bomber. But still nothing. Not a single lead. No individual or group were claiming responsibility. It made no sense.

They’d been knee-deep in data from auction sites. It was amazing, the number of transactions that went through these sites on a daily basis. But still nothing. No patterns, no clues, no luck.

Sam was just about to stand up from where he was relaxing, leant against the Buxton Memorial Fountain, when he heard the muffled explosion. He froze. Everybody in the small park froze. His head turned to the direction of the sound, slightly west of north. Soho. To the left of the Elizabeth clock tower, which housed the Big Ben bell, a plume of smoke rose into the clear blue skies.

Sam started running, heading back to MI5.

Shit, not again. Not another bomb. Maybe it’s just a gas main.

MI5 was only a couple of hundred metres away, but it was lunchtime, it was busy, he had main roads and junctions to cross, and he was wearing a suit. A minute later, he was heading through the doors into Thames House. He quickly flashed his ID card at the security guard and ran upstairs as Jayshree Virani was leaving with Nick Upex.

‘You’re with us, Sam.’ she called. Urgency, but not stress, in her voice.

‘Soho, Broadwick Street, to be precise. Initial reports sound like our boy’s back.’

They headed back downstairs.

‘There’s a car coming round to pick us up. Good driver, Alasdair Storry. He’s been driving for us for a while now. Used to be a bit of a boy-racer, then took up racing, but never managed to get out of the amateur ranks. We trained him up, gave him the skills he really needed to drive. High speed pursuit, evasive and tactical driving. He now drives royalty and foreign dignitaries who visit these shores. But even with Storry behind the wheel it’s still going to take us a while to get there at this time of day. ETA ten minutes. Rapid response, forensics and all emergency services are on their way.’

As they left the Thames House lobby, an unmarked Audi A8 pulled up at the kerbside. Blue lights in the front grille being the only clue to it not being a normal car. The specially modified six point three litre W12 engine growled as it idled, wanting to run free with the other animals. Alasdair Storry waiting to weave them through the traffic.

They climbed in, Virani took the front passenger seat.

‘Good afternoon Alasdair.’ She greeted the driver.

‘Ma’am.’ the holophrastic reply.

Sam and Nick got in the back and buckled up.

The Audi sped away from the kerb, up Millbank. It approached the roundabout at Horseferry Road. Storry skilfully manoeuvred the big vehicle through the throng of traffic, narrowly avoiding several other road users. They passed Victoria Tower Gardens, where only minutes before Sam was enjoying lunch in the sunshine. He couldn’t help but wonder at how surreal his life had become. He’d be a liar if he said he didn’t get a massive buzz out it. He studied the car interior.

‘An Audi?’ asked Sam. ‘Bit ordinary isn’t it? Where’s the Aston?’

Nick smiled, Virani tutted before commenting.

‘There it is again Sam, the famous Edwards facetiousness we all love so much. We use Audi as they fit in. Look around, the city’s full of the bloody things. Thinking about it, the country’s full of them.’

‘Good point.’ Sam agreed.

‘But have you ever seen anybody who’s happy driving one?’ She paused, not really expecting a response to her rhetoric.

‘No, didn’t think so. The nation’s middle management, all driving their dull little boxes to their dull little jobs. Each and every one of them believing he or she has the most important job in the world.’

‘That’s a bit harsh Jay.’ Exclaimed Nick. ‘Granted, they’re nothing to get excited about. Hell, my Ford Focus has more character in one headlight, but to label every Audi owner as a dull middle manager. Wow, that’s quite an insult.’

‘Did I ever tell you I can be a bit of a bitch, Nick?’ Nick was unsure how to reply to that, so he didn’t bother. She smiled, and continued.

‘Anyway, this is no standard A8. Bullet proof for one. Makes it a bit heavier, so the engine’s been modified and specially tuned. Gives five hundred and sixty horsepower compared to the standard five hundred. Nought to sixty, well you’ve just witnessed that. Fast. Run-flat tyres and a reinforced floor pan make this baby difficult to stop. And anyway, an Aston’s too small; we can’t stretch to three cars and three drivers just to take us a mile or so across town. Not during these times of austerity.’

‘No ejector seat or machine guns then?’ asked Sam with a grin.

‘How about rotating number plates and oil slick release?’ Added a smiling Upex.

Virani was just about to unleash a retort when the car came to an abrupt halt.

‘Sorry ma’am.’ announced Storry. ‘It’s as close as we can get. Emergency services are sealing off the area now, but it’s chaotic up there, so I’m afraid you’ll have to walk the last twenty or thirty metres.’

‘Thank you Alasdair, there’s no need for you to hang around, we’ll be here awhile.’

‘Thank you ma’am, and by the way, ma’am, I own an Audi.’

Virani shrugged, ‘I’m so sorry Alasdair, I hadn’t realised you’d given up on life. Do you cycle at weekends too? Full Lycra? Don’t worry, I’m sure your Audi isn’t at all boring. And if you ever feel that it’s not worth going on, I’m sure the department will try to help as best it can.’

Storry looked bemused as Virani closed the door, smiling as she alit onto the junction of Great Windmill Street and Brewer Street. Nick whispered to Sam.

‘She wasn’t joking, was she? She really can be a bitch.’

‘I heard that.’ Said Virani.

They walked around the corner from Brewer Street onto Lexington Street and were instantly thrown into chaos. Dazed and confused people wandering out of the dust. Some covered in blood, others moaning like zombies, some were just sat at the kerbside, staring at nothing.

It took Sam back to a film he’d seen as a teenager; Threads. Depicting a nuclear attack on Sheffield in the Eighties. One of the scariest, most thought-provoking films Sam had ever seen. Not scary due to visual content but due to subject matter.

The dust was starting to settle a bit as they reached the corner of Lexington Street and Broadwick Street, next to a damaged The John Snow. But as damaged as the pub was, it was nothing compared to what they saw as they looked right, toward where the replica water pump once stood. There was an eerie quiet, far from silent due to the moans of the victims, but still too quiet for Soho.

Emergency service vehicles were parked in just about every available space, their occupants rushing around the scene to try and help. The vehicles themselves had their emergency lights on but there was no wailing of sirens. The usual hustle and bustle of Soho had been replaced by a scene of death and destruction.

‘Fucking Hell, it’s like the start of the apocalypse.’ said Nick.

Bodies lay where they fell. There wasn’t much point in the ambulance crews attending to some of them; it was obvious they hadn’t survived. A workman in a high visibility jacket lay underneath a fallen pneumatic drill. It looked to Sam like the man’s legs had been crushed by the heavy machine landing on them. He was several metres away from the hole he’d been digging, sent flying by the blast, still using the drill. His groans sent a paramedic sprinting in his direction. One of his colleagues wasn’t so lucky, the corner of a building had collapsed on him, a high visibility arm and a booted foot protruding from the remains of the building. No point even looking, the amount of dusty blood seeping through the gaps in the mound of brickwork told the emergency teams all they needed to know.

A police officer approached the MI5 team, a roll of crime scene tape in his hand.

‘Excuse me madam, sirs, this area is about to be cordoned off, I’m going to have to ask you to leave, you can’t be here I’m afraid.’

As if in a well-rehearsed movement, the three drew their MI5 identification cards. The poor police officer didn’t know which one to look at first. He blushed and bowed slightly before announcing, ‘Terribly sorry ma’am, sirs, please proceed. A forensic team has just arrived, they’re looking for the blast point. There are still a couple of fires burning, and some buildings don’t look stable, so please proceed with caution, you can get a high-viz jacket and a hard hat from the first rapid response van.’ He pointed to a black Ford Transit parked at the end of an adjacent street.

Virani nodded her thanks and the three of them headed in the direction of the van.

‘Shame about the pub.’ said Nick, ‘I used to enjoy a pint there every once in a while.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

‘Shit, Luke, it’s happened again.’ Culpepper strode purposefully into Fostervold’s office.

‘Soho. Why the fuck would anybody blow up Soho?’

Fostervold looked up from his computer screen. He pushed his keyboard back beneath the screen before looking at Culpepper.’

‘To make a point, Jim, to make a point.’

Culpepper looked confused.

‘What do you mean, Lucas?’

‘Well, he, they, whoever, is sending a message. Telling the authorities he can strike anywhere, anytime. What are the media saying?

‘Not a great deal. Looks similar to the Knightsbridge bomb. Quite a few casualties, couple of fatalities. Those closest to the blast didn’t stand a chance.’

He sat in a chair opposite Fostervold and looked through the window behind his business partner, out over London.

#

Less than an hour later, the team was back at Thames House. Virani had called a briefing and gathered them in the operations room. Nick Upex had been studying the footage from cameras close to the blast site.

‘Nick, CCTV, what have we got?’

‘Again Jay, just like last time, not much. People using it, most not. A tramp throws a brown bag away. Just another bin in another London street.’

‘Hang on Nick, back up a bit. A tramp? Like at the first bomb site?’

‘Yeah, but Jay this is London. The tramps are only outnumbered by the pigeons and rats. And bankers, if we’re talking vermin.’

A ripple of laughter crossed the room. Virani settled the crowd with a simple but authoritative hand gesture.

‘But Nick, it’s the only connection between the two incidents. The only lead we have. Get his image blown up, sent out to the Met. I want this man found, Nick. Send a team out, have them searching a half-mile radius of the bomb site. Keep extending that radius until this man is found.’

‘Okay, Jay, I’ll get on it. I’ll run his image through the CCTV facial recognition system, see if we can get a pattern of movement and last known location.’

‘Thank you, Nick. Everybody else, as you were. We need leads, clues, anything. This tramp is the best we have at the moment, but there must be something we’re missing.’

#

‘Anything else, James?’ Fostervold enquired.

‘Sorry mate, was just taking in the view. Yours always seems more vibrant than the view from my office.’

‘Apart from the smoke rising from Soho.’ Replied Fostervold dryly, quickly followed by. ‘Too soon?’

‘Just a bit, Luke. The media are saying that these attacks seem to be aimed at maximum disruption, not maximum fatalities.’

‘How So?’ Fostervold asked, returning to his keyboard, pulling it back across his desk allowing him to start working again.

Culpepper got up and walked to the window, gazing towards Soho. It seemed so peaceful up here. Apart from the smoke, there were no clues that anything had happened.

‘Jim?’ Fostervold’s voice was slightly raised, his partner, his friend, seemed distracted.

Culpepper snapped out of his trance, returning his attention to Fostervold.

‘Why are the media saying that?’ continued Fostervold.

‘Oh, yeah, sorry. The design of the bombs. After Knightsbridge, MI5 released a high level technical description of the device. One item of note was that it didn’t contain any shrapnel.’

Fostervold thought about this for a moment. No shrapnel did indeed point toward disruption, not fatalities. Most home-made bombs are designed to send pieces of shrapnel across the blast radius, causing as much damage to anyone in the vicinity of the blast. Ball bearings, nuts, bolts, nails. Anything that could maim or injure as it was sent, indiscriminately hurtling through the air.

#

Nick Upex stared at the screen. Another twenty minutes had passed. He clicked pause on the video playback machine then rubbed his tired eyes. He then sat back in his chair and stretched his arms above his head before leaning forward once more and noticing the figure on the screen.

‘Jay, we’ve got him!’ He shouted across the operations room. ‘Soho Square. Looks like he’s having a kip on a bench. I’ll get blues-and-twos over there to pick him up.’

‘Well done, Nick. Maybe now we can start piecing things together. Let’s play softly, softly with this one. If he’s just a tramp, which it looks like he is, then we don’t want to scare him. We don’t want him clamming up. If, however, he’s a well washed upstanding member of the public, masquerading as one of the great unwashed, then we use any means necessary to get information out of him. Understood?’

Nick gulped. He looked uncertain about the last instruction. ‘Yes, boss. I’ll get interrogation room three prepped for his arrival.’

‘Good. Make sure there are fags and booze visible in the room, but nothing too strong when it comes to booze. We may have to keep him topped-up, use his addictions to our favour, but we don’t want him getting pissed and passing out.’

#

‘Come on, Sleeping Beauty, rise and shine.’ The policeman gently rocked the tramp’s shoulder, the man stirred, opened his eyes to see two Metropolitan Police officers standing over him and another one crouched next to him, rocking him, waking him.’

‘What is it? I ain’t done nuffin’. If it’s about the dregs from the pubs, I bin doin’ that for years. No-one’s complained before.’

The police officer stood.

‘Sir, I don’t know exactly what it’s about. We’ve merely been asked to collect you, but I’d like you to come with us to Thames House. The Security Services would like to ask you some questions.’

The tramp started to sit up, he stopped to cough. He removed his beaten old flat-cap and scratched his head through matted hair.

‘Well I s’pose I’d better come with you then. Not gonna cuff me are ya?’

‘No sir, there’s no need for that, you’re not under arrest. We can offer you a shower and a hot meal though.’

‘Well why didn’t you say so? Lead the way.’

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The team was once again assembled in the operations room; Virani was updating them on the events of the day.

‘The homeless gentleman is currently being questioned, we hope he has something of use. It’s a long shot, but the only connection between the two explosions. Nick is currently asking him a few questions.

‘Other than that, there are no new leads. There were thirty-seven casualties and three fatalities. Forensics are searching for device fragments, but I think we all know they’ll find a piece of late-nineties circuitry, which doesn’t help at all.

‘Sam, anything new from the auction data?’

‘Nothing yet, Jay. To be honest, I think it’s a dead horse. There’s just too much of it. We’re contacting people who’ve bought the exact models, or their chargers, but nothing. Most are just collectors, or have found an old phone in a drawer and want to charge it to see what’s on it.

‘There’s no time to check alibis, so we’re using gut instinct based on the profile provided by the forensic psychologist. So, male, thirty-five to fifty. Possible military history or connection to the military. Possible radical views, but due to the fact that nobody has claimed responsibility, probably not.

Which means a lone wolf. Working on his own, to his own agenda, with his own end-game. That makes him extremely dangerous, wraith-like. He could just pop up at any time and blow the shit out of another part of London.’

‘Thanks for your colourful, yet informative update, Sam. It’s unlike you to be so dramatic.’ Virani said. ‘But I have to agree. If he’s working on his own, then he’s extremely dangerous.’

Nick Upex entered the room.

‘I think you need to hear this Jay.’ He plugged a digital voice recorder into an amplifier at the front of the room and pressed play.

My name is Nick Upex, I’m a Technical Analyst for Her Majesty’s Security Services. Would you please confirm your name?’

Bill… Um… Billy… Billy Thompson. But call me Bill’

Thank you Bill. I’m going to ask you some questions about the events of today. Are you happy to answer these questions for me?’

Yeah, ‘course I am. Anything to ‘elp.’

Thank you Bill. Are you aware of the events in Soho today?’

Not really, no. You see, I ain’t got no ‘ouse, so I ain’t got a telly. Makes it ‘ard to keep up with current affairs.’

Sniggers in the operations room were silenced by a famous Virani hand gesture.

But you’re aware of an explosion in Soho earlier today?’

Yeah, the old ‘omeless grapevine was full of that one. I had a lucky escape, as it ‘appens.’

How so, Bill? Were you there?’

Yeah, just doing the pub rounds, you know, looking for leftover drinks, forgotten fags. Speaking of which, do you mind if I have one? A drop of the Vodka would go down a treat, keep the chill off.’

Certainly Bill, I’ll get you a cigarette. As for the chill, well it’s the middle of summer, so I don’t think you’re too cold, but I’ll get you a drink anyway.’

Fanks mate. When you get to my age, and live on the streets, you never quite feel warm enough, no matter what time of year it is.’

Virani looked at Nick, eyebrows raised. Nick paused the recording.

‘So do we think he’s really a tramp, Nick?’ She asked.

‘I’d say so, he comes across in such a genuine manner that he’d be Oscar nominated if he’s bullshitting.’

‘Okay, carry on.’ She instructed.

Upex pressed Play.

So you were in Soho. Where were you heading?’

The sound of a lighter wheel being rotated, the lighter fuel igniting, the first inhalation of a cigarette. Then Bill started coughing. He managed to regain control of himself before continuing.

The John Snow. Usually good for an unfinished pint or two. Punters sometimes forget they put their fags or baccy on the window-ledge. Easy pickings for me. And as it’s right on the street, a public footpath, they can’t move me on without a bit of a struggle. Not that I ever would cause any grief, of course.’

Virani signalled for the recording to be paused again.

‘Neil, I want you to take a photo of our new best friend Billy to The John Snow. I believe the current proprietors went unscathed and are now back there, shame the pub itself didn’t do so well.

‘Ask if they know of Billy. See if his story holds water. If he’s there a lot, they’ll know who he is. Especially if he’s been a bit of a problem for them. Which, by his own admission, he has.’

Neil Barford, a middle-aged fitness fanatic stood to leave.

‘Get a car sorted Neil, I believe Alasdair is at our beck and call today.’

‘Don’t worry, Jay, I’ll take my bike. It’ll be quicker.’

Jay nodded her approval.

‘Well, be careful. The road’s full of maniacs like Alasdair. Right, Nick, lets carry on.’

Play was pressed again. Nick’s voice echoed around the Operations Room.

And did anything unusual happen while you were there?’

Well when I was walking down from Oxford Street, on the corner of… oh what’s it called Ber… Ber.’

Berwick Street?’ Nick interjected.

Yeah, Berwick street. Well I got to the corner of Berwick Street and the street that the pub’s on.’

Broadwick Street.’ Nick proffered.

Yeah, that’s the one. Well this bloke comes up to me. He was a big fella, I mean big. Gave me hundred quid.’

What was that for, Bill?’

Nuffin’ really, just to put some rubbish in the bin. Told me not to bother looking in the bag, there wasn’t anything to eat, drink or smoke in it.’

Sorry, Bill. You were given one hundred pounds, by a stranger, to put some rubbish in the bin?’

Once more, Virani signalled a pause.

‘Sam, once we’re finished here, get back on the CCTV and see if you can find a shot of Billy with his benefactor.’

‘Sure thing, Jay.’ Replied Sam.

Virani nodded to Nick. The recording continued.

Didn’t you find that a bit strange, Bill? One Hundred Pounds to put a bag of rubbish in a bin which was, what, thirty metres away at most?’

Of course I thought it was strange, but an ‘undred quid is an ‘undred quid. Can get a lot of gin with that. I just took the money and did what I was asked.’

And then what?’

Just went about me business.’

Is this the first time this has happened?’

Well if it kept ‘appening I’d be a wealthy man by now.’

Sniggers around the room once more.

So just the once then.’

A silence-filled second before Nick’s voice was heard again.

Bill nodded his affirmation. Moving on then, Bill, can you describe the man who paid you’

Well, like I says, he’s a big bugger. Big as in muscled though, not fat. About forty-five, I’d say. Short hair, almost a skinhead. Bloody scary looking. If he tells you to do sumink you’d do it all right.’

‘I presume you’re getting a photo fit made up?’ Enquired Virani.

‘Details have been sent to the artist.’ Upex replied, ‘But the best is yet to come.’ He grinned, a knowing grin. The recording continued.

Strange tattoo. Not to my liking, anyway.’ Bill explained.

Please, go on.’ Upex encouraged.

Well it’s a devil, I think. Looks like a cartoon. But he’s crying, shaking. Looks like he’s biting his fingernails.’

Sam’s attention was piqued. Shit. I know that tatt. He thought. Bill was heard having another pull on his cigarette.

‘I was told there’d be a bite to eat and a shower if I came in and ‘elped. Any chance of that ‘appening?

Of course, Bill, we won’t be much longer, then you can clean yourself up, have some dinner and be on your way.’

Nick stopped the recording.

‘Well, that’s pretty much it. He’s eating now.’ Nick said. ‘At least he’s trying to get some food in him, in between smokes.’

Sam raised his hand.

‘Yes Sam?’ Virani enquired.

‘I know this bloke, Jay.’

Sharp intakes of breath around the room. Silence followed, until Jayshree asked.

‘Socially? Professionally? Please don’t tell me he was the best man at your wedding, Sam. That could put us in a very awkward situation.

‘No, no, nothing like that. I’ve bumped into him a couple of times. In my local boozer, on the train.’

‘What, in Andover?’

‘Yes, Jay, in Andover. You know the place, about fifteen miles from Salisbury Plain. An hour by train to London.’

‘Well?’

‘Well what, Jay?’

‘Well did you get his name?’

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

‘Okay, listen up!’ Virani’s voice boomed like thunder across the operations room. The room once again fell silent.

‘Sam, I still want you on CCTV. Find an image, make sure it’s the same person. If it’s a squad tattoo, it might not be him. We need to be sure.

‘Nick, get an artist to do a mock-up of the tattoo. Make sure both Sam and Bill get to see it, verify it, and advise on corrections. Then get it run through every image database on the planet. Somebody must know what it means.

‘Is Neil back? Anyone?’

‘Not yet Jay.’ Came a reply from the other side of the room.

‘Well get him back here, there’s no point him being at the pub anymore. I want the name Nathan Raynor known to every law enforcement officer in the country. Get MI6 to start increasing air and sea border surveillance. I shouldn’t think he’s going to do a runner, but we can’t be sure.’

#

Sam sat at a desk with a computer and monitor. The AV control panel sat in front of him. Dials and controls, a plethora of multi-coloured buttons, each having its own function. He tried to shut out the noises around him as he used a jog-wheel to move, frame-by-frame, through the CCTV footage.

The task needed concentration. Though camera technology had advanced considerably over the last few years, mainly due to developments in smartphone technology, very few companies or council’s upgraded their security and surveillance equipment.

Sam stared at the grainy image from a dome-camera on the corner of Berwick Street and Broadwick Street. The curved fish-eye image difficult to look at for too long. He slowly turned the jog-wheel, the picture jerked from frame to frame like a 1920’s cinema reel.

Suddenly, his pulse quickened as the back of a large, muscular man came into view. In blue jeans, black t-shirt, and trainers, his size and confident swagger left Sam in no doubt that it was Raynor. Even though the peak of the baseball cap he was wearing cast shadow over what could be seen off his face, and the height and angle of the camera made it all but impossible to pick out features, Sam knew it was him.

‘Jay! I’ve got him.’ The timestamp in the corner of the screen read 13:23.

‘The time fits. About fifteen minutes before the explosion.’

Virani went to Sam’s workstation and looked at the screen.

‘He’s a rather large chap,’ she observed as she pulled a chair up and sat down. ‘Hard to lose him in a crowd. Now, you’re sure it’s him?’

The image of Raynor stopped on the corner of Broadwick Street and put a mobile phone to his ear. He held a brown paper grocery bag in his other hand, rolled up at the top, exposing a rectangular outline of its contents.

‘Yeah, that’s him, no doubt. If we can get his face, we can track him.’ Said Sam.

‘I think he’s too clued up to give us a mugshot Sam, but you never know. Pop it into double speed, we can slow it down if something interesting happens.’

The picture sped up. Raynor remained on the corner, talking on his mobile. Virani was the first to spot the tramp.

‘Stop.’ She instructed, as she pointed to the image of a stooped man walking toward the corner where Raynor was waiting.

‘Do you think it was planned?’ She asked.

‘What, Bill and Raynor know each other? I can’t see it myself, but it’s worth asking Bill, as he’s still enjoying our hospitality.’ Sam replied.

‘Good point. Neil!’ Barford, back from his trip to Soho, meandered over to Sam and Jay.

‘Yes Jay?’ He asked, sheepishly. He sometimes struggled with women in positions of authority. He himself didn’t know why, but he sometimes just felt awkward around them. On a night out though, he was known for showing a more lascivious side to his character.

‘As Nick’s still with the photo fit artist, I want you to visit our friend Billy in IR3. See if he knows who Raynor is, if they have history.’

Virani was sure that Barford’s casual, laid-back approach to life might put Bill at ease, help to coerce a bit more information from him.

‘Fair play, I’ll do it now.’ Barford made his way to the door and disappeared into the adjoining corridor, cranking up his gears to an almost walking speed.

‘Right, let’s go Sam, normal speed, let’s see if there are any signs of familiarity between the two of them.’

They watched as the old man made his way to the junction. He passed Raynor. No reaction. Then Raynor seemed to notice him, did a double-take and put his phone in his pocket.

Raynor followed the man and tapped him gently on the shoulder. The tramp turned at speed to face Raynor, ready for a fight. A natural reaction honed by spending years fending for himself, suffering the prejudices of being homeless, suffering the beatings from strangers, the unprovoked attacks. He saw Raynor and immediately looked defeated. He started to back away. It was obvious, these two had never met. Sam and Virani exchanged a glance. They knew it too.

They continued to watch.

The tramp started edging backwards. Raynor was trying to placate him. Waving at him in an ‘I won’t hurt you.’ gesture. Eventually, Raynor dug into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a roll of banknotes. Bill was immediately interested. He lowered his guard, visibly relaxed. Raynor slipped some notes from the roll and held them up to Bill. The tramp tried to grab them, but Raynor was too quick and moved them out of reach. Raynor shook his head, turned and started walking away.

The tramp followed, tugging the big man’s t-shirt. Pleading. Sam was sure that if the image wasn’t so poor he’d be able to read the tramps lips saying ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’

Raynor eventually gave in and handed over the money. Bill took the grocery bag and started walking up toward a litter bin, next to the replica water pump.

Raynor once again put his phone to his ear. He started talking while watching the old man. The perfect disguise. Just another bloke on a street using his phone, in a world full of people all tethered to their mobile phones. Sam stopped the footage.

‘Well I think we can agree that they didn’t know each other before today.’ He said.

Virani nodded her agreement. ‘Let it play a bit longer, Sam. Where does Raynor go?’

They watched as Raynor continued to nonchalantly talk on his mobile. When he seemed satisfied that Bill had earned his money, Raynor turned and started to walk up Berwick Street.

‘He’s going for Oxford Street.’ Virani remarked. ‘One of the busiest streets in London, and two of the busiest tube stations within easy reach. I feel I spoke a bit too soon when I said it would be hard to lose him in a crowd. If he heads to the tube, we’ve lost him.’

‘But the tubes have cameras Jay. Surely we can keep track of him?’

‘Too many blind spots, Sam. Pillars and columns that he could simply stand behind for a few minutes, possibly even jump on another train, or get caught up in a throng of travellers. I’d be impressed if you managed to follow him.’

Sam kept selecting the recorded feeds from cameras along Raynor’s path. A few minutes passed and Raynor joined Oxford Street. He turned left onto the busy shopping street and was already more difficult to follow with the mass of shoppers and tourists around him. They managed to track him a bit longer before he disappeared into Oxford Circus tube station.

‘Don’t worry Sam.’ Said Virani. ‘We know who he is now, we’ll have him in no time.’

She stood up, pushed her chair under the desk.

‘Go home for the night, spend some time with Jack and Julia, I’ve a feeling things are going to get pretty hectic.’

Sam smiled, then rubbed his hands down his face, exhaling heavily, blowing the stress of the situation away for the day. Virani continued.

‘I’ll have somebody check the Knightsbridge CCTV, see if we can get another positive ID of Raynor. See you tomorrow.’

Sam rose. ‘Thanks Jay, see you tomorrow.’ He left the room, waving to colleagues, saying his goodbyes. Once out of Thames House, he phoned Julia.

‘Hello Sweetheart, I’ll be on the next train home. I take it you’ve seen the news today.’ He started to walk up Millbank toward Lambeth Bridge.

‘Hiya Darling, Yes, it’s terrible. Are you ok?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine. Would’ve phoned to let you know, but I just didn’t have time. We went to the blast site, it was awful.’

He stopped to try and cross the road, the traffic heavier due to the lockdown in Soho and diversions being in place.

‘I understand Sam, at least you’re okay. Do you have any idea who’s doing this?’

Sam decided to keep walking up Millbank, use the zebra crossing at the roundabout that connected Millbank with Horseferry Road.

‘You’re not going to believe this, and I really shouldn’t be telling you, Jules, but we think it’s a bloke who was in the Mills the night before I went to Tidworth. He was on the train too, the next morning.’

He stopped. Halfway across the road. A London Taxi driver, patience wearing thin, beeped his horn, Sam jumped back to reality.

‘Sam, are you still there?’

‘Yeah, sorry Jules, look, I think you should go and stay with your Mum for a few days, maybe a week. I’ll explain when I get home, but start packing for you and Jack’

‘What’s going on Sam, you’re scaring me.’

‘Nothing to worry about, love. But I’m not going to be home much while this investigation’s ongoing, so I thought it’d do you good to go to Wales for a week or so. And jack would love to see his Nana.’

‘Okay, Babe, I’ll start packing some stuff. Be nice to get away for a bit.’

‘That’s sorted then. I’ll get the next train and see you when I get there.’

‘See you soon. Love you.’

‘Love you too Sweetheart.’

Sam hung up and immediately dialled another number. It was answered on the second ring.

‘Virani.’

‘Jay, it’s Sam. Raynor knows where I live.’

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

‘What sort of problem?’ The digitised voice asked.

‘MI5 have ID’d me.

‘I don’t see how this would change anything, it was always a risk. Anyway, Raynor has only existed for fifteen years, and the Roper connection is meaningless. You’re quite safe, proceed as agreed.’

Raynor continued to stare out of his bedsit window. The grime on the glass seemed to be getting thicker. It was early evening, a cloudless sky, a golden glow settled across the rooftops as the sun made a slow descent. He wondered about alerting his employer about Sam. Was it worth it? He was going to continue as planned, Sam was just one person in a huge team of people who were looking for him. But Sam still worried him. Something about Sam, a fighter’s instinct maybe, Raynor couldn’t place it. He continued.

‘I have every intention of proceeding, don’t doubt that for a second. I just thought it prudent to let you know they were on to me.’

‘Well you’ve done that now, anything else while I’m here?’

‘Yeah, I met a bloke on a train.’

‘I’m very pleased for you both, I hope you’ll be very happy.’

‘Stop fucking about. His name’s Edwards. Sam Edwards. He works for Five. He worries me.’

‘Worries you? Elaborate.’

Raynor moved to his kitchenette. He craned his neck, holding his phone to his ear with his shoulder. He picked up his kettle and started to fill it up. Once full, he placed it on its stand and switched it on.

‘He’s sharp. It’s mainly just a gut feeling, but I overheard some of his conversation on the train the other week. He sounds fairly junior, but he was the one they sent to Salisbury Plain.’

‘Interesting. I’ll sort it. Do you have an address?’

‘The Avenue in Andover, don’t know what number. Big white dual-aspect place. I recce’d it the other night.’

The water in the kettle started bubbling as the boiling process got going.

‘You did what?’

‘Just a quick look. He’s got a summer house that’s been converted into some sort of martial arts Dojo.’

‘Look, don’t worry about this Edwards guy, we’ll sort it. The termination order’s going out as we speak.’

Raynor suddenly felt a pang of guilt. He didn’t want this. Sure, Sam might end up being a fly in the ointment, but assassination? He’s got a wife, a young son.

‘Look, I don’t want you to… hello?’ The line was dead. Steam rose from the kettle as the water bubbled inside of it.

‘Bollocks!’ Shouted Raynor, as the water in the kettle continued to boil.

He was torn. He had to complete his mission. Should he warn Sam? Should he just let his paymaster get on with it? He didn’t know Sam, it’s not as if they were friends, but he felt a connection. That of warriors. They were both fighters. Different types of fighters, granted, but they shared a code.

Shit, I can’t tell him. It would jeopardise the mission. If I called his mobile or left a message at Five, then what?

He paced his bedsit like a caged animal. Deep in thought.

#

Sam turned onto his driveway to see Julia trying to lift a suitcase into the back of the family estate. Jack was sat in his buggy, watching his Mum. He spotted Sam and threw his toy car across the gravel. ‘Dada!’ Sam rushed up to him and took him out of the buggy. A massive hug ensued, accompanied by the giggles of a delighted child. Julia dropped the case went to Sam and planted a kiss on his lips.

‘All set?’ Sam asked.

‘Yeah, just about. Will be good to see Mum, she’s thrilled that we’re going, but I’m going to miss you so much.’

She tickled Jack, he giggled some more.

‘And so will this little fella.’

‘I know, I’m going to miss you too, but I think this makes sense. I’m going to be so busy I’ll hardly be home anyway.’

He handed Jack to Julia and lifted the suitcase into the car for her.

‘Cuppa before you go?’ He asked.

‘No, it’s a long way, probably take the best part of three hours, what with stopping for nappy changes, food and whatever, so we’d better be going.’

‘Okay Sweetheart. Well you drive carefully, and let me know when you get there.’

Sam picked up Jack and put him into his car seat. He strapped him in and kissed his forehead.

‘And you be good for Mummy and Nana, Little Man.’

Jack blew a raspberry at Sam, followed by a proud and delighted laugh. Sam shut the car door and walked around to the driver’s window. Julia lowered it and said ‘Give Dave and Mickey a call, go for a pint. You haven’t seen them since this whole bombing thing started. I know you’re busy, but don’t forget your mates.’

‘Wise words indeed. Your wisdom is just another in a long line of reasons why I love you, Mrs Edwards.’

They exchanged a passionate kiss before Julia replied, ’And I love you Mr Edwards, just don’t go getting your arse blown up.’

She started the engine and Sam took a step back. He smiled and waved as they reversed out of the gates onto The Avenue, but inside he was fearful. Raynor knew where he lived. It was best to get Julia and Jack away from here. However unlikely it was that Raynor would turn up unannounced, it just wasn’t worth the risk. He went inside and shut the door. He then spent a few minutes ensuring that every window and door was locked.

Once happy the house was as secure as it could be, Sam decided to take Julia’s advice.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

‘So, the tall bloke, with the silly red hair? He’s on his way up. He’s trying to take over the turf.’

Sam sipped his pint, pretending to be interested as Dave continued with his explanation. The ceiling fan hummed as it took another lazy rotation, a vain attempt to move some of the warm summer air. The heat outside could almost be heard banging on the windows wanting to be let in to cool itself down.

Sam had heard it all before. The gang politics. Turf wars. People to avoid no matter how innocent they appeared.

His mind wandered, subconsciously taking in the noises of his surroundings. The other patrons of the pub idly chatting, the clinking of glasses, laughter, and the annoying beeps of the fruit machine followed by the clunking of coins as it paid out – probably considerably less than it had taken.

Upstairs, a group of lads were playing pool, arguing about the two-shot rule after a foul shot.

‘You can’t move the fucking cue ball!’ Sam heard one of them say before the mingling of opposing arguments blocked any coherent statements from being heard.

‘Oi, Sam, are you listening?’

Sam was dragged back from his mind-wander, much to his chagrin.

‘Yes, Dave, I’m listening. Red haired bloke. On his way up.’

Dave continued, stride unbroken.

‘That’s right. He’s making waves alright. He’s already got a girl out working. Loves her bed she does, it’s almost like it goes everywhere with her.’

Sam once again let his mind start wandering, this time making sure he nodded his head at the appropriate places. He took another sip of his drink, glass nearly empty.

At least I can escape to the bar in a minute. He thought.

‘And then you’ve got his dealer.’ Said Dave. ‘Nasty looking bloke. Weird hair, three spikes. Like the bloke from the Prodigy, what’s his name?’

‘Keith Flint?’ offered Sam.

‘Yeah, that’s him. Took up Superbikes for a while, but now producing again.’

‘The very same.’ agreed Sam.

‘Well, anyway, the one who’s got the three spikes on his head deals rocks. Loves them he does. The purest, cleanest rocks you can get.’

The pub door opened and two twenty-something girls walked in giggling. Stopping off for a drink before hitting a club.

‘Jesus!’ exclaimed Dave, ‘Check those two out. Fit.’

Sam looked around at the girls and then turned back to Dave.

‘Dream on, Dave. You’ve got no chance, you’re at least twice their age.’

‘One can always dream.’ Replied Dave, with a sigh. ‘Right, as I was saying, there’s the working girl and the dealer, but to keep things running smoothly he’s got three enforcers.

‘Now, to look at, they’re nothing special. One of them’s even a bird. But man, they are vicious. They collect from the workers – the working girl and the dealer. They also run a little racket, got a couple of houses they “protect”. They target big families, threaten the kiddies. Ruthless.’

The pub door opened once more and Mickey walked in. The outside heat rushed by him as if desperate to get to the bar and quench its thirst. He took off his baseball cap and sunglasses and waved his hands up and down in front of his face in a fan-like way, desperate to get the heat away from him and cooler air on his face.

He looked around the spacious pub, looking for Sam and Dave, oblivious to the fact that just about every woman in the pub was gazing at him.

Mickey spotted his mates and headed to their table. Dave was mid-sentence, Sam looked bored.

‘And that’s why you don’t fuck with this mob.’ Finished Dave.

‘Evening gent. Is he on about bloody gangs again, Sam?’ Asked Mickey.

‘Afraid so mate.’ Replied Sam.

‘Right Dave, you twat. How many times do I have to tell you? In The Night Garden is a kid’s show, not a documentary. Now shut the fuck up and get the beers in.’

They all laughed. The best of mates. They’d heard Dave’s interpretation of the children’s show many a time, and Sam had to admit that when the show was on in his house, for Jack to watch, he’d always have a chuckle as he matched Dave’s descriptions to the actions of the strange characters on screen. It was uncanny. At times he thought that he could imagine them in the roles Dave had dreamt up. But what worried him more was why Dave was watching the show in the first place.

Dave stood. ‘Right same again?’

Sam and Mickey looked at each other. Puzzled.

‘Fucking hell, Dave,’ exclaimed Mickey, ‘are you getting the beers in without any prompting?’

‘Yeah, I need to talk to 007 about something. I think I might have something of great National Security to discuss with him.’ He winked, shot finger-guns at Sam, turned, and headed for the bar.

‘What was that about?’ Sam asked, smirking at Mickey.

‘Haven’t got a clue mate,’ replied Mickey, ‘you know what he’s like, full of shit.’

‘Yeah I’ll drink to that. So how’s things?’

‘Not too bad mate, nearly got into the MOD before I came out. Jesus they’ve got some good security. I’m quite glad about that, actually. Wouldn’t want any old tosser getting their hands on the country’s nuclear launch codes.’

‘Mickey, you do know who I work for, right? Are you sure you should be telling me this?’

‘Well, it doesn’t matter, because I didn’t get in.’

‘Even so, mate, just telling me puts me in an awkward position.’

Mickey smiled meekly.

‘Yeah, I know, sorry mate, but you know I never actually do anything. I only try to breach the security, and then I get the hell out of Dodge.’

He smiled again, but felt slightly put out by his friends lack of enthusiasm.

‘Yeah, I know mate, sorry. I’m just a bit stressed, didn’t mean to have a go.’ Sam replied, sheepishly.

‘So how’s it going, the investigation?’ Mickey asked.

Sam was about to answer when Dave returned, precariously holding three pints. He slid them onto the table and took his seat. With a smug look on his face, he leaned forward staring, as serious as Sam, or anyone for that matter, had ever seen him.

‘You need to call your boss.’ He told Sam.

‘Why’s that, Dave?’ Sam asked, already sure this was going to be a long, laborious conversation.

‘Remember I told you about that interference the other week?’

‘Yeah, I have a vague recollection.’

‘Well we’ve found the source.’

‘So it’s not pirate radio?’

‘No it’s an alien mothership. It’s sat on the dark side of the moon.’

Dave cracked up. To him it was the funniest thing ever.

Mickey shot a look at Dave, followed up with ‘You’re such a twat, you know that?’

‘Yeah, I know, but a funny twat.’ He took a sip of his drink.

‘Anyway. If MI5 look after the UK, and MI6 is interested in international affairs, who looks after space then, Bond?’

Sam put his drink back onto his beer mat.

‘I don’t know Dave, the European Space Agency, NASA? Who cares? Might be the bloody Men in Black for all I know.’

‘They’re Yanks though,’ said Dave, seriously.

Mickey joined in, smirking like a schoolboy.

‘Actually Dave, I think you’ll find they’re an international organisation that operates above any government.’

‘Really?’ Asked Dave, as serious as ever.

‘They’re not real, Dave.’ Sam said exasperated.

‘Anyway, if you can be serious for a moment, did you get to the bottom of that interference?’

‘No, not yet, it’s happened again since. Couple of times actually.’

‘Bizarre.’ Sam concluded.

They all silently agreed, with nods and subtle gestures.

‘Anyway lads, I needed this.’ Explained Sam. lifting his pint and nodding toward it.

‘It’s great to see you both. Been a bloody difficult time. I’ve hardly been home.’

Mickey nodded a ‘Hello’ to a girl passing their table.

‘Jesus, he’s got no idea.’ Said Dave.

‘What you on about Top Gear?’

‘What am I on about? Did you see the way she was gawping at you? If that wink wasn’t a come-on, I don’t know what is.’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ replied Mickey.

Dave slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. ‘Give me strength.’ He muttered.

‘Any leads then?’ Asked Mickey returning to the conversation.

‘Alright, this is too freaky to keep to myself.’

Sam looked around the pub conspiratorially.

‘This cannot go beyond these four walls.’

His companions leaned in towards him.

‘This is Official Secrets Act bollocks as Dave so eloquently described it last time.’

Dave looked pleased with himself at the fact his quote had been remembered. Sam continued.

‘If this gets out, I’m up on Treason, or some such charge.’

‘Drama Queen.’ Dave muttered into his pint.

‘Stop fucking about Dave. I know I can trust Mickey. The shit he gets up to with a computer, I’m surprised he’s not doing time already.’

Mickey looked aghast.

‘That’s a bit harsh mate.’

‘Yeah sorry, Bud, that does sound a bit, um, wrong. In quite a lot of ways.’

Mickey nodded acceptance of his friend’s apology. Sam continued.

‘What I’m saying is, Mick, I know I can trust you. As for this gobby little shite.’

He poked a thumb a Dave, who looked incredulous.

‘Thanks a bunch. Mate.’ said Dave.

‘You know what I mean Dave, you have a piss without getting some on your hands and you’ll send an email to your entire bloody company.’

Mickey started laughing, unfortunately with a mouthful of beer. He started choking, desperately trying to swallow the liquid before he had no other choice than to spit it out. It ended with a compromise. Half being spat back into his glass.

‘Don’t look so cool now, do you?’ Sniggered Dave. ‘And thanks again Sam. Good to know who my mates are.’

‘Now who’s being a drama Queen, Dave? Anyway I need to know I can trust you, because I could go down for a very long time.’

Dave and Mickey nodded affirmation.

‘Right, well Mickey can get the beers while I try and think of a way to tell you this without putting your lives in danger.’

‘You’re doing it again Sam.’ Said Dave.

‘Doing what?’ asked Sam.

‘Being a fucking drama Queen.’

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

‘No. Fucking. Way.’ Said Dave. A lengthy pause for emphasis between each word. Faye, the barmaid, wandered to the table, collecting empties. Mickey blushed.

‘Sorry, Faye.’ He said. ‘He gets a bit carried away.’ He nodded toward Dave, just so Faye understood who he was talking about.

‘Don’t worry about it.’ Said Faye, seeing off the apology with a nonchalant flick of the wrist. ‘It doesn’t bother me. It’s just how you lads talk.’

At forty three, Faye looked at least ten years older. Too many holidays spent on the beach at Spanish resorts, and weekends in tanning salons in between, had aged her skin beyond the reach of any cream that eighty seven percent of women say made a difference and her hair was only blonde because she’s worth it.

Those who consider themselves to be of a higher social standing than Faye might describe her as common, her contemporaries would describe her as good for a laugh and up for it, while those of a lower social standing would more than likely think of her as glamorous.

Always tanned and well dressed in the latest market-acquired knock-off designer gear, or cheap imitations, she carried a few extra pounds due to the amount of pub leftovers and takeaways consumed in the course of her hectic daily life.

She was well known for speaking her mind and not caring what others thought about it, and would be the first to admit she’s been round the block a few times. Dave thought she was great.

She thought for a moment, then continued.

‘Anyway, you three are quite tame compared to some of the arses that come in here.’

She smiled, she enjoyed a bit of banter with some of her more welcome clientele.

‘Some right foul mouthed yobs we get in here sometimes. And at least you don’t just sit at the bar and stare at my tits like Nobber does.’

She paused, turned to Mickey and stroked his cheek.

‘Not that I’d mind you having a look at my tits Mickey. You’re more than welcome.’

Dave averted his gaze from Faye’s chest, just before she caught him looking.

Bloody hell. How does he do it and not know? Dave asked himself.

There’s just no justice in the world.

Mickey shook his head. An ice cream, brain freeze type of shake. Trying to bring himself back to the present. He looked bemused, his brow creased. He had no idea what Faye had just said.

‘Anyway Faye, how did he get that nickname, Nobber I mean?’ Dave asked, desperately, not wanting Faye to leave straight away.

Sam was getting impatient, the biggest story of his life and Dave was talking to the barmaid about a bloke at the bar who was rolling himself a cigarette. The contents of which didn’t appear to be the right side of legal.

Faye sat in one of the empty chairs situated at their table and put down the tower of glasses. Sam sighed. Faye ignored it before starting her tale.

‘Well, rumour has it, and it is just a rumour, that Nobber used to have a mate up North who ran a car dealership.’

Dave was rooted. Mickey was indifferent, though in reality, he was the only reason Faye was still there. Sam looked pissed off. He defiantly folded his arms and sat back. Defensive body language. He absently gazed around the pub. Faye didn’t get the message. The story went on.

‘Nobber and this mate of his used to partake in… well let’s say some dodgy additives for their fags.’

Just like the one he’s rolling now. At your bar. Thought Sam.

Dave nodded. He didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Mickey, was still indifferent.

‘So one day, after a few hours of recreational smoking, the mate decides it would be a laugh to swap Nobber’s number plates. Obviously, he didn’t want to draw too much attention to Nobber, or get him into trouble with the law and all, so he chose N-O-8-8-E-R. Funny Bastard, he made up a set of front and rear plates and put them on Nobber’s car.’

They were all starting to warm to the story now, even Sam was finding it quite amusing. A prank he could imagine his motley crew having a go at. Probably at Dave’s expense. He asked. ‘So did he notice?’

‘Well no.’ Faye replied. ‘That’s the funny bit. He drove all the way from Donnington to Andover with those plates on, then spent another three days with them on before his mate phoned, wondering why he hadn’t phoned him to give him an earful. Silly fool.’

She laughed and stood up, much to Dave’s annoyance.

The group laughed and Faye continued her round of pot collecting. Their laughter caught Nobber’s attention and as he looked over to the group, they raised their glasses to him and gave a cheer. Nobber looked confused. He went outside to enjoy his cigarette.

Dave was once again hit by desperation, Faye was at the next table.

‘Before you go Faye,’ Dave started, ‘did I ever tell you I was once…’ Sam and Mickey joined in, ‘security for Robert Plant?’ They all laughed and clinked glasses.

Then Dave suddenly remembered they were in the middle of Sam’s story.

‘So Sam, to get back to your story, the big fucker you was eying up that night? He’s the bomber? Are you having a laugh?’

‘I wish I was, Dave.’ Said Sam. ‘He’s been paying tramps a ton apiece to put bombs in litter bins.’

‘Shit.’ was Mickey’s only contribution. His pint had only made it halfway to his lips when that single expletive seemed to freeze it in space and time.

‘Wait until I tell…’ Started Dave.

‘Not a bloody word, Dave, or I’ll roast your testicles. Got it?’

Mickey flinched at that thought, suddenly regaining the ability to move. The stasis lifted.

Dave raised both hands in an attempt to placate his friend.

‘Sorry Sam, slipped my mind.’

‘Well if it happens again, my boot will slip into that massive gob of yours.’

‘Okay, girls.’ Mickey tried to calm the situation.

‘So this Raynor bloke. He’s been to Salisbury Plain, set off a bomb, then he sits opposite you on the train the morning after setting off that bomb, then he sets off a bomb in London, then he’s there again when you get off the train last night. Then he sets off another bomb in London today. Don’t you think that’s a bit strange? He’ll probably walk in here in a minute’

Dave made an involuntary, nervous gulp at that idea.

‘Bloody hell Mick. It’s like sitting with Sherlock flaming Holmes at times. That’s why I’ve sent Jules and the Nipper to Wales. Told Jules it’s because I’ll be working a lot and she hasn’t seen her Mum for a while. In reality, though, this bloke is dangerous. Very dangerous. I don’t want my family being in harm’s way. It’s just easier and safer if they’re not around.’

The beer was slowly starting to make Sam a bit woozy. He’d hardly touched a drop since he was put in the field, and being of less than average height, it didn’t take too much before he started feeling its affects.

‘Alright Sam, I was only saying. I think it’s time we called it a night. You okay getting home?’

‘I’ll be fine.’ Said Sam.

They all got up, shouted their goodbyes to Faye before leaving the pub. Before going their separate ways, Sam stopped them.

‘Look, guys, it’s been great catching up with you tonight, I really needed to let off a bit of steam.’

Dave and Mickey grinned at each other. Dave took advantage of the situation.

‘Poor old Sam, had a bit too much, now he’s getting sentimental. Gonna tell us he loves us next Mick.’

‘Shut up Dave, I’m trying to be serious here.’ Said Sam. ‘I don’t know when I’m going to be back in Andover, so look after yourselves. What I’ve told you tonight is deadly serious. If you let on that you know anything, you’re putting your own life in danger.’

Mickey patted Sam’s shoulder and shook his hand. ‘Listen mate. We might take the piss, but we both,’ he nodded at Dave, who nodded back, ‘know that this is really important. And really dangerous. Don’t go getting yourself into any crap that you can’t get out of without us.’

Sam smiled, appreciating the sentiment.

‘And if you need us, mate, you know where we are.’ The three embraced in a man-hug before each heading home in a different direction.

‘You’re still a twat, though, Sam.’ Dave shouted from a safe distance. ‘And you haven’t got the bottle to roast my bollocks.’

Sam laughed out loud and continued his walk home.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Sam’s head was pounding as he once again stood on the London-bound platform at Andover train station. It was another warm day, which didn’t help. The mugginess, even this early in the morning, seemed to be compressing his skull into his brain.

The train arrived and he fought his way on taking his usual seat and exchanging pleasantries with the quintessential British banker. He closed his eyes and tried to block out the pain.

When he arrived at Thames House, just over an hour later, he headed straight to the Operations Room. Virani was about to start the morning briefing.

‘You okay Sam?’ She asked, concern in her eyes.

‘Fine, thanks Jay, just had a couple with my mates last night.’

‘So you’re hungover?’

‘That about sums it up.’

‘Are you well enough to perform your duties today? If not, you can go back into the pool and resume your normal duties.’

She cleared her throat.

‘Okay, listen up. I do not want anybody coming in to this room if you are not functioning one hundred percent. I don’t want hangovers or tiredness from late night gaming sessions. I need everyone on this team to be fully functional.’

Sam looked meekly away from his boss, finding a stain on the carpet of particular interest. Virani’s tirade went on.

‘This will probably be the biggest case of your career. Do well on this one, and who knows where it can take you. I’m not saying stop living while we’re trying to solve this, I’m saying cut back a bit, be sensible. Thank you’

A few discontented mumbles echoed round the room.

‘Okay Sam, I need you to find every speck of online information you can about Nathan Raynor. Nobody can live in these times without leaving an online footprint. It just can’t be done.’

‘Will do Jay, so there’s not much in the public records?’

‘Not much at all. Unfortunately. He’s quite an elusive character, this Raynor fellow.’

She paused for a moment, gazing into infinity before snapping out of it.

‘Nick, the tattoo. Anything?’

Nick looked at his notepad.

‘It’s a squad tattoo. I’ve found a couple of references online, nothing concrete. A few conspiracy theories about a Special Ops unit.’

Virani raised her eyebrows. This snippet of information got her attention.

‘That’s actually quite interesting, Nick. I want you and Sam to follow that up, as Sam’s already looking for an online footprint. You can help him stay awake too.’

A few laughs in the room lifted the tension.

‘It might not be as far-fetched as you think; the Spec Ops Unit, I mean, not Sam falling asleep; and might explain the lack of available information about the man.’

She paused to take a sip of water. Nick beamed with pride. What he thought was inconsequential may turn out to be quite important. Virani continued.

‘Mr Barford, our old friend Bill Thompson. Is there anything to add about his relationship with Raynor?’

‘Nothing Boss,’ replied Barford ‘I can’t see how they could know each other. Not a trace of recognition. I’ve had behavioural psychologists analysing his body language, but they can’t see anything either.’

‘Okay, Neil, thank you. Do you see any point in keeping him in? Should we cut him loose?’

‘Well the CCTV footage from Knightsbridge is inconclusive, the camera angle didn’t give us a good look at his face, but unless he’s got a change of clothes hidden away somewhere, I don’t think it’s him.’

‘Fine. Well, let’s not keep him here, spending the tax- payer’s money on MI5 canteen fine dining. Thank him for his time, slip him a tenner and send him on his way.’

Barfod nodded his head.

A knock, and the Operation Room door opened. One of the data analysts from Sam’s old team sheepishly entered the room. Virani smiled and motioned for her to enter.

‘Come in Zavina, how can I help?’

Zavina spoke with a Scottish accent. Sam guessed it to be somewhere in the vicinity of Edinburgh; Livingston, maybe. ‘It’s Sam I really need to speak with, Jay. And you should know as well. It’s quite sensitive, can we discuss it in private?’

Zavina Latif was well known for her attention to detail. A fine analyst with a keen eye. She could spot things that the most talented Analysts might miss, and was well respected by her peers for her natural talent.

‘Be with you in a moment, Zav.’ Virani replied. She addressed the room once more.

‘Before we wrap up, is there anything else we need to cover?’ A few murmurs of ‘No.’ a few headshakes.

‘If you haven’t been assigned a new task this morning, carry on with the work you were previously assigned. If you think you’ve found anything, no matter how trivial it might seem, tell me. If I’m not around, find Grant Bray. Thank you all for your time. Let’s get a positive result today.’

In a single movement, everyone rose from their seats. They took their places in the queue to exit the room. Virani smiled, and exchanged pleasantries with the team members as they filed past.

When the rest of the team had left, Virani turned to Latif. Sam wandered over from where he was sat.

‘Hiya Zav, you alright?’ Sam asked.

She smiled an unconvincing smile.

‘Probably a lot better than you’ll be once I’ve told you this.’

‘Well we’d better sit down then.’ Virani suggested.

They arranged themselves around a meeting table, Sam and Virani sat one side, Latif the other. Latif had the feeling she was being interviewed. Virani kicked things off.

‘What’s wrong Zavina? You have something to tell Sam?’

‘Yes Jay, I’m sorry Sam, we picked up some chatter, we think it may have to do with the Trashman case.’

The great British tabloid press. As always, they’d come up with a catchy nickname which always seemed to stick. The security services invariably hated them. It humanised the evil behind the actions. At times, the nicknames were so ridiculously comical they could make a stone-cold killer sound like a nice guy that you’d invite to the family barbeque.

‘Raynor, please Zavina, not Trashman.’ chided Virani.

‘Of course. Sorry Jay.’

‘Well, this chatter, sorry Sam…’

Sam butted in this time.

‘Zav, stop apologising. Just tell me, it can’t be that bad.’

‘Okay, here goes.’ Zavina took a deep breath.

‘The chatter would indicate that Raynor is working for somebody else.’

‘And?’ Asked Virani, she was starting to get impatient.

‘How does this affect Sam?’

Latif was about to apologise again, but managed to stop herself.

‘The chatter suggests that Raynor informed his employer of Sam’s involvement. It seems he has a gut feeling that you’re going to cause him problems, Sam.’

‘That’s what I’m here for.’ Said Sam, forcing a smile.

‘Not if they have their way. Raynor’s employer has issued a termination order, Sam. A burn notice. They want to assassinate you.’

Sam paled. The words smacked him in the face like a prize fighter’s jabs. ‘They. Want. To. Assassinate. You.’ Each word stinging slightly worse than the one before it.

‘Sam? Sam…‘ Virani tried to get his attention, but he was there only physically. Eventually he came out of his shock-induced trance.

‘Thank fuck I sent Julia and Jack away.’ Was all he could say.

‘Okay, let’s try and be pragmatic about this. Sam, you’re to stay here, at Five, there are plenty of…’

‘No. No, I’m not running scared. We can use this to our advantage. If I suddenly disappear, they’ll know something’s wrong.’

He looked up, first at Virani, then at Latif.

‘Zavina, did we get a trace?’

‘No, Sam, unfortunately. By the time GCHQ got this batch of chatter to us, it was too late. We do know there’s more than one person behind this.’

‘How so?’ asked Virani.

‘He said “We’ll sort it.”’

‘“We’ll”. Plural. Are you sure?’

Latif scanned her transcript.

‘Yes, here it is “Look, don’t worry about this Edwards guy, we’ll sort it. The termination order’s going out as we speak.”’

Sam shuddered

‘Thanks for that Zav, I needed reminding.’

He managed a weak grin.

‘Wasn’t thinking, sorry.’ Said Zavina.

‘Okay. I need to let Grant know about this, Sam are you sure you don’t want to stay here?’ Virani asked.

‘I can’t run Jay. It’s not in my nature. But it’d be good to know that you’ve got my back.’

Virani tapped the cap of her pen against her lips as she thought. Sam and Zavina exchanged a glance, patiently waiting for Virani’s wisdom. Eventually, Virani, stood. She pushed her chair in.

‘Okay Sam, I’m going to bring Grant up to speed. I can’t promise we can have someone covering, and I won’t be able to tell you if you do have a Guardian Angel. If you know, you could blow his cover.’

Sam took a deep breath and exhaled from puffed cheeks. He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.

‘Well that’s reassuring, Jay. I may, or may not, at any given time, have a Guardian Angel. Bloody brilliant.’

‘Sorry, Sam, it’s the best I can do. You know how stretched we are at the moment. Now, carry on as if nothing has changed.’

‘Easy for you to say, you’re not the one with a sniper sight trained on your forehead.’

‘Oh, they won’t use a sniper, Sam. Too public, too open, too crude. It’ll be an accident, or a kidnapping and disappearance.

Anonymously blowing up parts of London’s one thing.’

She stood up straight and headed for the door.

‘Killing MI5 agents so publicly in cold-blood? I don’t think for one minute they’d do that. I’ll catch up with you later. Zavina, if there’s any more chatter, let me know.’

Virani left the room.

Latif looked at Sam. A mournful look, as if it were her fault.

‘I’m so sorry Sam, I don’t know what to say.’

‘Don’t worry about it Zav, shit happens. Let’s try and stop these bastards before more people get hurt.’

CHAPTER TWENTY

Sam joined Nick Upex and Neil Barford at Nick’s workstation. Nick was still searching for connections. The Tattoo, Raynor’s history, anything to give them an insight to the man.

‘Got anything yet?’ Sam asked.

‘A couple of hits on the tattoo, Sam.’ Replied Upex.

‘Seems to have been the squad tattoo of a unit that was created in the early sixties.’

‘Any idea what its purpose was?’

‘Not a great deal. I’d guess it was a British cold war response to Soviet threats, possibly even a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

‘It was called SCU8. Special Covert Unit. Not sure what the eight’s for, might be the eighth iteration of the unit? Eighth set of team members?’

Upex flicked through his notes. Barford stopped chewing his pen and added.

‘It was only disbanded a couple of years ago, Sam. Don’t know why, records don’t tell us. Probably due to cost-cutting. No more cold war, no need to spend on this unit.’

‘As for Raynor, his records, what little we have, started around fifteen years ago. Doesn’t seem to be any record of him before that. Flawless career, got paid, paid taxes. Good little squaddie. His history shows he was Infantry, but we now know he was in a unit that nobody knows anything about.’ Said Upex.

‘Well we don’t think there are any records.’ Added Barford.

‘The bloody database is locked down so tight. We keep hitting brick walls every turn we take. Even with our clearance levels we’re not allowed into these files.’

Sam thought about this for a moment. His suspect was a member of a special military unit, used for covert operations. Operational since the sixties without anybody knowing about it. This could be a can of worms. But what was so sensitive that it was locked down so tightly?

‘Nick, can you get the names of the other squad members?’

‘No chance, Sam. All locked down.’

‘Jenkins.’ Said Sam, to nobody in particular.

‘Eh?’ Asked Barford.

‘Sorry, just thinking out loud.’ Sam replied.

‘Jamie Jenkins and Brigadier Saunders. They operate out of Tidworth Garrison. They helped out after the Salisbury detonation.’

‘What about them?’ asked Nick, failing to see the connection?

‘Well they’re real military.’ Said Sam. ‘One’s a bloody brigadier. He may have clearance for the data we can’t access. If we could get ID’s on some of the other members of SCU8, we might be able to track them down, and Raynor through them.’

Upex and Barford nodded in agreement.

‘Good thinking.’ Said Barford.

#

‘Hello Sam, good to hear from you.’ Said Jenkins.

‘Hi Jamie, wish I was calling under better circumstances. I’ll be straight up with you mate, I need some help.’

Sam was using Virani’s office to make the call. Virani was still updating Bray on the events thus far, Bray himself eager to get some good news up the chain of command. Maybe even give a press conference to reassure the public. Unfortunately, most of the news was bad. Especially where Sam was concerned.

Sam was casually leaning back in Virani’s huge leather office chair, he propped one foot on his other knee and tapped a pen on the desk with his free hand.

‘Always pleased to help, Sam. I’m guessing it’s to do with the bombings? Have you got a lead?’

Sam spent a few minutes briefing Jenkins on the identification of Raynor and the discovery of SCU8.

‘Bloody hell Sam.’ Was Jenkins’ first reaction. ‘A covert, cold war, unit.’ A pause. Jenkins was trying to process this information. He continued.

‘There were probably plenty of those, mate. Cold war saw all sorts of covert and clandestine activity across the globe. But I’ll go and see the brigadier, he would have been in active service during some of that time, so he might know something about it. If not, his clearance will be much higher than mine, we’ll see what we can find.’

‘Thanks JJ.’ Said Sam.

‘No problem. We’ll have to go for a pint, once this has all blown over.’

‘Now that sounds like a good idea. Thanks again Jamie.’

‘Don’t mention it, mate. Good luck.’

Sam ended the call and replaced the receiver as Virani walked in.

‘Comfortable?’ she enquired.

Sam, having not seen Virani enter, jumped out of her chair and stood next to her desk.

‘It’s okay, it doesn’t bother me.’ She said. ‘Anyone can use this office when they like, if I’m not in it.’

She sat in her chair and placed her hands on the desk, fingertips together in a steeple. Sam took a seat on the opposite side of the desk and waited. Her body language told him she had something to ask.

‘How are you getting on Samuel, anything to tell me?’

Sam spent five minutes updating Virani on the discoveries of the day.

‘Good work Sam. I think you should pop along to Tidworth tomorrow, have a word with Saunders. Put a bit of pressure on him. It’s harder to squirm out of answering questions if your interrogator is stood in front of you.’

Sam nodded in agreement.

‘Well that’s it from me Sam, you’re doing well. I know it’s easy for me to say, but try not to worry too much about the burn notice.’

‘You’re right, Jay. It is easy for you to say.’

‘Call it a day for today. Go to Tidworth tomorrow. I’ve got a feeling we’re getting close.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

‘I’m afraid my company is going to have to cancel its subscription.’

Raynor sat bolt-upright at that comment. He’d been relaxing in his bedsit, pondering his next target, feeling quite pleased with himself for his ingenuity thus far. The security services were baffled. They had no idea why these bombings were happening. More importantly, they had no idea who was behind them. When his phone rang, he was expecting congratulations, not this. He calmed himself before replying.

‘I’m sorry sir, I’m unable to cancel the subscription. When your company signed up it agreed to receive between one and ten issues, the number to be decided by us, but a maximum of ten issues. You’ve only received two of those issues so far, but you’ve been selected for all ten.’

‘I don’t think you understand, issue one wasn’t what my company was expecting. It caused a great deal of pain within my organisation. One of the items in the issue was about somebody known, and very close to us, so you’ll understand my reluctance to proceed.’

‘With respect, sir, I don’t think you understand the situation. Your organisation has subscribed to a service which will deliver up-to ten issues. It has been selected for all ten issues, and will pay for each issue as agreed in the terms of service within the contract.’

A pause, followed by a sigh at the other end of the connection.

‘Now listen up you little scrote. You have no idea who you’re dealing with here. My client has expressed a wish to terminate his subscription. I suggest you do as he’s asked. We know all about you. Your past. That’s why we chose you for the job. So don’t bite the hand that feeds, because it might wrap its fingers around your scrawny little neck and squeeze the life out of you.’

Raynor was starting to get agitated.

‘I’m sorry sir, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say. And I find your tone rather offensive. According to company policy, I’m afraid I’m going to have to end this call, but before doing so I need to inform you that you are currently still subscribed to our offer, and payment will be expected as usual. Failure to pay will result in action against your company. Goodbye.’

‘Don’t you fucking hang…’

Raynor ended the call.

‘Fuck!’ he shouted. Every muscle starting to tense up in anger. The veins in his temple pulsating. He took a deep breath.

Think Nate, think. Relax. Don’t let it get to you. He knows about my past. ‘That’s why we chose you.’ That’s what he said. His client’s a bloke, ‘I suggest you do as he’s asked’. I need to find out who this fucker is. Teach him a lesson.

Raynor paced, thinking of who may know of his past. There were very few. His Brothers in Arms, but they were just that, brothers, the bond between them would never be broken. Not one of them would ever give him up, and he wouldn’t give up anyone he’d ever fought alongside.

Then there’s the Ministry of Defence, but only a select few, and they’d probably be retired. That just left the politicians who set up his unit, long before he was in the army. But why would politicians, even ex-politicians or members of the military sanction attacks on home soil? No, he was missing something. A link between the MOD, government and another faction. The paymaster. Somebody knew somebody, who knew about him. But who would give up his past? It would be too risky. The things he’d done; the places he’d been. To keep the peace, or sometimes keep conflict raging, by any clandestine means possible. For his country. What am I missing?

He replayed the telephone conversation in his head. He could tell the man was fairly well-spoken, even through the voice distortion device that was being used.

One of the items in the issue was about somebody known to and very close to us.’ What did that mean?

#

I’m sure I put the alarm on before I left the house this morning.

Sam gently closed the front door. He took off his suit jacket and hung it on one of the hooks on the wall in the hallway. He headed down the hall to his kitchen, took a glass from the kitchen cabinet and filled it with water.

He was trying to act cool, but all his senses were on high alert. He looked in the fridge for something to eat.

Good old Jules, always looking after me. A microwavable meal of monosodium glutamate. Shit in a tray. But they taste so good. The bad stuff always does.

He removed the cardboard sleeve and read the cooking instructions before grabbing a knife and putting several holes in the cellophane lid, shrieking like the violins in the famous shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho. His spirits were high, all things considered.

Have a word with yourself Sam, this is no time to be arsing around, especially mimicking Psycho. Not in the best taste.

He set the timer on the microwave, placed his meal on the turntable, closed the door and pressed the Start button. He gulped his water and then grabbed a beer from the fridge.

Leaving the kitchen, he headed back down the hallway to his study on the left, opposite the door to the living room. The study door was slightly ajar.

I’m sure I closed that bugger as well. He thought as he fully opened the door and entered. He sat down, opened the lid of his laptop, and powered it up.

While waiting the inordinate amount of time it took his laptop to boot his mind drifted back to his conversation with Mickey the night before. Having a ‘eureka’ moment, he grabbed the receiver of the phone on his desk and tapped a number with the chunky plastic keys, each making a satisfying click when struck.

‘Mick? How ya doing?’

‘Not bad mate, how’s you? Up for another pint or two?’

‘No, not tonight mate, sorry.’

The Windows logo sat defiantly on his screen. Refusing to move and let the rest of the operating system load. Sam continued.

‘Listen mate. You know what you were telling me last night in the pub? The stuff you probably shouldn’t have?’

‘What, the MOD servers?’

‘Yeah, but be careful what you say, eh mate?’

‘Oh, yeah, sorry, didn’t think. What about it?’

‘How close were you, exactly? In terms of time, how much longer would it have taken you?’

‘It’s hard to say, mate. I only stopped to go to the pub. Not really in the best state to try when I got home.’

‘I hear you there mate, I got a right bollocking for turning up with a hangover this morning.’

‘I bet you did. So what are you saying? You want me to have another crack?’

‘Please mate, I need anything you can find on Nathan Raynor or SCU8, that’s Sierra, Charlie, Uniform, Eight, or Special Covert Unit Eight.’

‘Got it. I’ll let you know when I find something.’

‘Thanks mate, I appreciate it.’

Sam ended the call. He looked at the screen as it turned black, the last stage before the login screen appeared. It was on that black screen that he saw the reflection of a figure entering the room.

Instinctively, Sam threw himself onto the floor in front of his chair just before the pop of a silenced handgun was heard, followed almost immediately by a crack and clunk as the bullet hit the laptop screen, passed through the flimsy workings and embedded itself in the wall.

Sam pushed his office chair with all the force he had in him. It sped across the wooden floor of the office and hit the intruder. Before the chair had stopped moving, Sam was on his feet, bounding the couple of steps through the office space. He planted a foot on the seat of his now stationary chair and, using it as a springboard, launched himself at his assailant.

They connected and flew across the hall, bursting through the doorway into the lounge where they landed heavily on the wooden floor, the gun sliding over the polished surface, ending up beneath a heavy oak bookcase.

At that moment it felt to Sam like time had stopped. Both he and his attacker appeared to realise in unison that the odds had just changed and this was now a test of ability.

Sam needed to get the advantage, he raised a clenched fist, ready to strike the man, but his opponent was quick to react, a knife-hand strike connecting with Sam’s neck. Sam lost balance, slightly stunned at the force the man managed to muster. He wasn’t in a position to beat his opponent. He needed to control the direction and flow of the fight, get himself into a position where he could get the upper hand. This was like a high speed game of chess, only with real people and lethal consequences. He had to take control, just like being in the ring.

But this wasn’t a tournament, no head-guard, or pads, no ring judges. No one would stop this bout if it got a bit dirty. Right here, right now, a battle ensued from which only one man would walk away.

Sam tried to regain his balance, he didn’t have the space to build enough power into any strikes while they were rolling on the floor, he had to get to his feet, but that would also give his assailant the same opportunities, at least it would be an even playing field.

As if the man sensed Sam’s intentions, he pushed Sam over and sprang, cat-like, to his feet. Shit, this bloke’s quick. Thought Sam. He started backing away from the hitman, but before he knew what was happening, a side kick connected with his abdomen and sent him flying back into the hallway. He landed heavily and immediately started to scramble his way, on all fours, up the hallway toward the kitchen, trying to get purchase on the floor, to propel himself back up onto two feet.

The other man stepped coolly into the hall. He followed Sam, calculating, taking in his surroundings, constantly assessing the situation. He was taken aback by Sam’s skill. He wasn’t used to targets fighting back. All it usually took was a single bullet, and he then disappeared into the night. But he was enjoying this. The fight. The hunt. The competition. To him this made a pleasant change. Unfortunately, he would have to end the game soon. His task was simple. Eliminate the man in the photo he’d been sent, the man he was now fighting, and get out.

Sam slammed the kitchen door shut and looked around for a weapon. He spotted it on the worktop, the utility knife he’d used only a few minutes ago to stab the lid of his microwave dinner.

He raced for the knife and the kitchen door opened as he grabbed the knife from the worktop. Sam faced his attacker, a balaclava over the man’s head leaving only his eyes visible. Sam was tempted to throw the knife, but his training told him that in close-quarter combat he was better off with a weapon in his hand. He didn’t have the required distance to make throwing effective, and it wasn’t well balanced, so its path would be unpredictable. And as it was only a kitchen utility knife, it wouldn’t be that effective anyway.

They faced-off, Sam in a traditional fighting stance, left foot forward, left arm lead, the knife in his right hand, guarded by the extension of his left. His opponent took a squarer almost horse-riding stance, feet wide, knees bent. They waited. Two well-trained martial artists, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Both men knew what was at stake, neither willing to be the first to make a mistake. One slip-up could result in a serious injury, or worse.

Beep! Beep! Beep! The microwave. The assassin was distracted for a split second, giving Sam the opening he needed. Sam made his move. He lunged, thrusting through with his right arm, forcing the knife toward his attacker.

The assassin was just too fast. He blocked Sam’s attack with his right forearm and crossed his left arm over his right, grabbing Sam’s back and sending him spinning. This was followed by a front kick to Sam’s sternum. Sam, once again found himself flying backwards, this time into a kitchen cabinet, the knife spinning through the air, landing out of reach. He managed to stay on his feet, but the pain of the previous strikes was starting to affect his ability. His attacker tried to follow up with a reverse punch.

Sam responded quickly, managing to dodge the strike, the fist missing him and connecting with the microwave door. The assassin let out a cry of pain as the glass in the door cracked. Sam ducked out of his attacker’s way and made his way toward the small dining area beyond the kitchen.

Need a weapon, he’s too good.

He backed up to the small, round breakfast table, stretching his hands behind him, frantically looking for something, anything he could use as a weapon. Nothing. He picked up a chair and launched it at the assassin, but it was easily dodged. Sam edged around the table, heading for the patio doors, but never turning his back to his attacker.

The hitman jumped onto the table. A single leap. Trying to get a height advantage. Sam was now edging towards the doors. The assassin knew he had to strike before Sam made it outside. A single call for help could end the encounter with his rapid retreat. He leapt, Sam was ready, catching him at chest and waist. Sam rolled backwards and released him into the patio doors. He hit the doors back-first, upside-down, as the momentum of the throw spun him top-to-tail. The safety glass cracked into a crazy paving pattern before falling out onto the patio without shattering. The assassin followed it to the ground, he was dazed.

Sam saw his chance and made a sprint for his summer house. He flew through the door and grabbed a pouch of ornamental throwing blades from a stand behind the door. The assassin was back on his feet, keen to finish the fight. He bowled into the summerhouse, throwing caution to the wind, no idea that it was really Sam’s training dojo. As soon as he entered the dojo he knew he’d made a mistake. His eyes widened in sudden panic.

They could have warned me about this in the brief.

Sam let loose, he had three blades resting on the palm of his left hand. This time his weapons had the right weight and balance, and he had the distance to make them effective. He threw each blade in turn, with expert precision, all three finding the body of their target. The assassin stopped in his tracks. A look of confusion on his face as a dark patch of blood spread over his top like a storm cloud laying claim to the summer sky. He tried to remove one of the blades from his chest but it was too late, his heart had been punctured along with a lung. He stumbled back through the summer house door and collapsed in the garden.

Sam started to sway, exhausted, the post adrenalin come-down and the effort of the fight starting to take its toll. He needed to get inside, get his phone, and call Virani. He staggered out of the summer house into the garden, passing the prone figure of his dead assailant lying on his lawn. He gave it a wide berth just in case it sprang back to life like the bad guys in so many Hollywood movies.

Stepping through the hole where the patio door glass used to be, he once again used the table. This time to keep him from falling. He slowly moved through the kitchen, using anything he could to keep himself upright. Leaning against the wall, he drunkenly staggered down the hallway. Eventually, he made it back to his office. He grabbed his phone, noticing a missed call from Mickey, and called Virani.

‘Jay, I need a clean-up team, there’s a dead hitman in my garden.’ He passed out. The mental and physical stresses put upon him during the fight had caused his body to shut down.

‘Sam? Sam… Talk to me Samuel. Are you there? Sam. Are you hurt? Shit.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Sam eventually started to regain consciousness. He kept his eyes tightly closed, fearing the pain that light would bring. He could hear voices. He recognised one of them.

‘Yeah, it’s just the body reacting to what he’s been through. He’s taken a couple of bad knocks by the looks of it, so once it was over his body shut down.’

Whose voice was it? Then another voice.

‘He’s going to be alright though, isn’t he? I mean, there shouldn’t be any lasting damage?’

Sam wasn’t sure about that voice. He tried to open his eyes.

‘Look, he’s coming round.’ Said the unrecognised voice. ‘I’ll leave you to it.’

‘Hello Sam, you back with us?’

The voice of Neil Barford.

‘You’ve been out for some time mate. After Jay got your call she sent local plod around. They found you on your office floor, so they put you in here and called for an ambulance.’

Sam had no idea where he was or what had happened. Had he just woken from a bad dream? He felt groggy, like the world’s worst hangover.

But hangovers don’t cause bodily pain. Why do I ache so much?

His mind started to clear, his memory coming back.

‘We got here as fast as we could.’ Barford again. ‘But even with Storry driving, getting out of London was difficult.’

Sam realised that he was in his living room, laying on his sofa. Why? Then he remembered. The fight. The assassin. He’d killed someone. That single thought sent his stomach into overdrive. He felt sick. The house was full of people. He tried to sit up but was hit by a wave of pain and nausea. His head throbbed; he wondered whether it had made contact with the floor or desk when he passed out in his study. His abdomen and sternum ached from being on the receiving end of precisely positioned, powerful kicks. His back hurt from the force with which he struck the kitchen cabinet.

‘Just stay there, mate.’ Said Barford. ‘I’ll get Jay.’

Sam put his forearm over his eyes. The pain was staggering. He’d never felt this bad after a tournament. Then again, he’d never faced a trained assassin and fought for the ultimate prize – his own life.

Barford returned with Virani. She smiled a reassuring smile.

‘Sam, thank God you’re alright. I was so worried when I got your call. How do you feel?’

‘Painkillers, kitchen cupboard, right side of oven.’

Virani motioned to Barford, who headed for the kitchen in search of painkillers.

‘You’ve certainly been a busy boy this evening, Sam. Bloody good job you’ve got your torture chamber in the garden.’

Sam managed to move. He pointed to the oak bookcase.

‘Gun, underneath.’

‘Nick!’ Virani cried, causing Sam to wince, the pain in his head seemed to be getting worse. Virani noticed the expression on Sam’s face. ‘Sorry.’ She said.

Nick Upex entered the room with Barford, who was carrying a packet of painkillers and a glass of water.

Virani addressed Upex.

‘Nick, get a couple of lads and move this bookcase, there may be a weapon under it. We’ve got the bullet from the wall of Sam’s office, so would be good to get a ballistics match.’

Upex left the room and whistled for the attention of a couple of colleagues.

Virani turned her attention back to Sam.

‘Okay, Bruce Lee, take a couple of days off, have a long weekend and come back in on Monday. Now we know they’re serious we can get an armed guard or two, but it doesn’t look like you need it.’

Sam forced a smile and tried to sit up again, this time he made it to a sitting position. He pushed himself up and managed to stand.

‘Sam? What are you doing?’ asked Virani.

‘Have to see.’ He said as he shuffled out of the room and headed down the hall.

The kitchen, dining room and garden were hives of activity. Police, forensics, paramedics. Sam made his way to the patio doors and tentatively took a step outside. He looked to the direction of his summer house where he saw the face of his assailant, eyes closed, skin grey, visible through the partially opened body-bag. Sam lurched forward and threw-up.

Virani had followed him outside.

‘Get that bloody bag zipped up!’ She shouted at a paramedic who rushed over and tugged the zip, covering the face of the man whose life Sam had taken.

Virani said, ‘Look, Sam, you’ve been through a lot tonight. Go upstairs, take a shower, and go to bed. I’ll make sure everything here is sorted. I’ve even arranged for a glazier to come out and board up the patio.’

Sam straightened, leaned against the wall. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

‘Good idea Jay, I think I’ll take your advice.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Sam woke early the next morning, his aches had almost gone, and he nearly felt human again. He made his way downstairs and into his kitchen.

The patio door had been boarded up, but he could still see into his garden through the undamaged pane. His summer house had crime scene tape around it.

It was hard to believe that only the previous day he could have lost his life in his own home. He put the kettle on and walked down the hall to his study. He felt nervous. Wasn’t sure he wanted to go into the room where an attempt was made on his life. He pushed the door and looked in. His office chair had been pushed back under his desk, but it was obvious his desk had been moved. His laptop was gone. Probably bagged for evidence. He looked at the hole in the wall where the bullet had been lodged. That was meant for me.

He felt a sudden sadness. This house, this home that he and his family loved so much, would never feel the same again. He could have died in this room, somebody had died in his garden, by his hands.

Come on Sam, get a grip. You did what you had to do. It was him or you. Have a coffee. Everything seems better after a coffee.

He left the office and closed the door, then made his way back to the kitchen. He grabbed a mug from the cupboard, unscrewed the lid from a jar of instant and poured a good measure into his mug. A splash of milk, one sugar, give it a stir and add hot water. Just how he liked it.

His gaze returned to the garden as he wondered what he would tell Julia about the events of the previous night. Jayshree was adamant that it would be kept out of the press, but they always find a way to the juicy stories. There would be a leak somewhere, most probably a local police officer offered a tasty backhander.

We’ll have to move. Jules won’t want to stay here now.

He was suddenly pulled out of his self-pity when a muffled ringtone came to his ears.

Shit, where did I leave that?

He followed the sound back down the hallway, back into his study. It was Mickey.

‘Morning mate, I tried getting hold of you last night, but you weren’t answering.’

‘Yeah, sorry mate, was a bit tied up.’

He left the office once more and strode back to the kitchen where he grabbed his mug of coffee. He stood by the small table in the dining area at the end of the kitchen, resting his free hand on the back of a chair, the chair he’d tried to use as a weapon only hours earlier.

Had Julia and Jack been here, on a normal morning, they would have all enjoyed a Full English, sat around the large dining table in the adjacent room. Laughter, good times. The dining room patio doors open, the fresh air and warmth of an English summer morning coming in to add to the cheer. But that big old dining room felt so empty when it was just him. Mickey interrupted Sam’s thoughts.

‘Oh yeah? When the cat’s away and all that?

‘Don’t be stupid, Mick. I know I can rely on Dave for shit like that, but never expected it from you.’

Mickey took offence at his friend’s tone.

‘Sorry mate, what’s wrong with you? Too many shandies? Another hangover? Jayshree Virani will not be happy with you.’

‘Mick, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, which I will, in good time. So, will you drop it now, and tell me why you’re phoning?’

Sam sat down and stared out into his garden. His gaze alternating between his summer house, and the grass outside where a man had died.

Mickey said. ‘I got in, didn’t I?’

‘What, that new club in Basingstoke?’ Asked Sam.

‘No, fool, the other one, the one you asked me to get into last night.’

It suddenly dawned on Sam what Mickey was on about.

‘Oh, yeah, right. Any good?’

‘I think you need to come round to mine mate, I’ve got too much to tell you over the phone, but I will tell you this, the Sierra, Charlie, Uniform club has some very nasty members.’

‘Right, I’ll be over in half an hour, see you in a bit.’

‘Okay mate, see ya.’

#

Raynor disconnected from the call.

I wonder what they’ve got?

He wasn’t in touch with anybody from the unit. Didn’t even know if any of them were alive. That was one of the rules he’d accepted without question. But he felt the need to alert someone. But who?

We know all about you. Your past. That’s why we chose you for the job.

A memory of his recent phone conversation. They want out, but they also know of his past.

I need to find out who’s behind this.

He got his laptop from its bag and booted it up. Once it had booted, he connected his mobile to it via a USB cable, he then ran an app on his phone, then opened a dialler app on the laptop. He clicked redial. The laptop beeped out the noise of the initial number. It was a dummy, registered to an anonymous corporation. A server at that location redirected it through several more servers across the globe, where varying levels of encryption were added, removed or verified. Eventually, a ring tone trilled out of the laptop speakers. One ring, two, a third.

Come on, pick up. You never let it ring past three.

Four, five, six rings, then a voice. The same distorted, robotic voice.

‘I thought our business had concluded.’ Said the voice.

‘Well, that’s your opinion, and you’re very much entitled to it, but that aside, I need you to know that if you know of my past, and were part of it, then there’s been a major breach.’

A pause at the other end of the line. Raynor’s fingers tapped frantically on the command line. A window appeared, streaming a list of numbers up the screen. It was like a scene from The Matrix. Raynor kept typing, staring at the stream, looking for something.

‘What do they know? Exactly?’

Raynor said. ‘Now that’s the big question, isn’t it? I can tell you they know of SCU8. One of Edward’s hacker mates managed to get into the MOD servers.’

‘Shit. What else?’

A new window opened on Raynor’s laptop. He hit a few more keys and a progress bar appeared with the text ‘Uploading…’ beneath it. Unlike how they’re depicted on television, most viruses, Trojan horses or worms are tiny bits of code that will upload to a server in milliseconds, but due the vast number of worldwide communications networks this tiny packet had to navigate, it would be at least five seconds before it found its target. In computing terms, that was a lifetime.

Raynor watched the progress bar. Soon he’d know the source of the call, and from it he’d be able to trace all incoming and outgoing calls made or received by that phone.

‘I don’t know what else.’ He replied as the text changed to ‘Upload Complete.’ He tapped more keys and a new window appeared, the window title ‘Active Trace – Running Trace’. Raynor smiled.

‘Just thought I’d better let you know. I was listening in on a call, just minutes ago.’

‘Whoa, hang on, minutes ago?’

‘That’s what I said.’

‘Well that’s not possible, unless…’

The penny dropped with Raynor. He smiled. Chuckling, he answered the question that hung in the air.

‘Oh dear, looks like you underestimated your target. Has your wet-man not called in yet? I’m sure he’s fine.’

‘Fuck, fuck, fuck. I’ll be in touch. I have to make another call.’ The line went dead.

That’s just what I was hoping you were going to say. Thought Raynor as he laughed at his former-employer’s predicament.

#

‘Yes, I’ve just spoken to him.’

‘And he told you Edwards was alive?’

‘Said he’d spoken to the man barely minutes before calling me. Said Edwards has found out about SCU8. If he knows about the unit, it’s only a question of time before he gets all the names he needs.’

‘And you haven’t heard from your man? Are you sure he made an attempt last night?’

‘Called me on his way, I got a photo from the MI5 archives and sent it to him on his mobile to confirm the target. That’s the last I heard from him. Was expecting a call this morning.’

‘And this Edwards character? What do you know of him?’

‘Not a great deal. He’s a low level analyst at Five, that’s about it. Due to his living close to Tidworth, he was put in the field to perform the initial investigation.’

‘So no special training? No field training? Anything like that?’

‘Certainly not through Five. According to his records he’s just a common or garden desk jockey.’

‘Well, we need him to disappear. Along with anyone who may also know what he knows.’

#

The Lotus Elan turned off of Charlton Road and parked outside Mickey’s house. Sam turned the engine off and removed the key from the ignition. He looked at the sky and held his hand out, trying to determine if the now clear sky would miraculously materialise clouds and rain. The dilemma of a soft-top driver.

Should I put the roof up?

After a minute of sky-checking he decided to risk it. He got out and closed the door, locked the car and set the alarm. He admired his car for a moment. Probably a moment too long, but he loved that old soon-to-be-a-classic Elan.

Mickey saw him from the front window and opened the door.

‘Leave it out Sam, it’s just a car.’

‘That, my friend, is one of the greatest small roadsters ever made. Now what have you got for me?’

‘Come in mate, but prepare yourself, some of this stuff isn’t nice. Fancy a cuppa?’

‘Yeah, why not?’

Sam followed Mickey into his kitchen. Mickey grabbed a couple of mugs from the draining board, put a tea bag into each of them and put the kettle on.’

‘Right, well, to start with.’ Said Mickey, as they waited for the kettle to boil. ‘The tattoo is symbolic of the squad nickname “The Devil’s Tormentors” or some such nonsense.’

Sam raised an eyebrow. ‘Really? That’s their sobriquet? What’s it supposed to mean.’

‘Dunno mate, maybe they were so badass they thought even the devil would have problems with them. If the archives are to be believed, there’s no way they’d be going upstairs when they left this realm, if you know what I mean.’ Sam nodded.

‘That bad?’ he asked.

‘Definitely. These boys would be taking the express elevator to Hell, where they would probably torment the cloven-hooved overlord for all eternity.’

The kettle came to a boil and Sam poured the water while Mickey retrieved the milk from the fridge. Mickey held the bottle up, waiting for Sam to confirm whether he wanted some added to his tea.

‘Just a splash please mate.’

Mickey added the milk and returned it to the fridge. Sam scooped the teabags out of the mugs and put them in the bin. He stirred the teas and said to Mickey.

‘Right, let’s have look then.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Raynor removed his motorcycle helmet and leaned against the exterior wall of Guy’s Hospital. He looked up at the impressive, yet imposing, building opposite. It seemed to stretch for ever into the heavens. A direct ascent to God. He took his phone from his jacket pocket and dialled.

‘Yes?’ Came a voice at the other end, almost immediately.

‘Good afternoon sir, I’m calling about a contract you’ve recently tried to terminate.’

‘I’m sorry, who is this? You shouldn’t have this number, it’s a direct line known by very few.’

‘That’s not important, look stop acting like an idiot, you know who I am.’

A pause, Raynor could almost feel the tension in the silence.

‘Raynor?’

‘The very same.’ Another pause. Raynor shifted from the wall and started to idly wander down St Thomas Street. He stopped at the corner of Guy’s Hospital and read the information board, still waiting for a response.

‘You still there?’ he asked, before turning one hundred and eighty degrees and starting the return journey to his leaning spot.

‘Look, what do you want? Why are you calling me?’

‘What do you think I want? Your man, and I know who he is, by the way, has told me you want to pull out of our deal.’

He watched a woman push a small child in a wheelchair toward the hospital entrance. He poked his tongue out at the child, both mother and child chuckling and smiling back at him.

‘Yes, that’s right, um, we weren’t, err, I wasn’t thinking straight. When I contacted the… broker, I didn’t realise what would happen.’

‘Well what did you expect to happen? You’ve paid somebody to blow the shit out of our capital city.’

‘Yes I’m quite aware of that, thank you, I just didn’t realise what the extent of the damage would be, or how many people would get hurt. I guess I was being a bit naive, not thinking people would die.’

Raynor shifted again. He walked across St Thomas Street and gazed into the Hotel window. He saw his reflection. Top-to-toe bike leathers, courier’s rucksack strapped to his back. Phone in one hand, crash helmet in the other.

‘Look, it’s not my fault you’ve suddenly got a conscience, we’ve got a deal. You still owe me for the last job. I’ve got expenses you know.’

The man at the other end of the line laughed.

‘Are you fucking joking? I paid you six million pounds for the first job, expenses you say? What exactly are you struggling to afford at this moment in time?’

Raynor was amused by this response.

‘I know,’ he replied, ‘I’m just pulling your leg.’

‘So you’re going to stop?’

‘Oh no, I’m not stopping. Unless you pay me to stop, of course. Let’s say double the agreed amount. That’ll be another eighteen million if my maths are right, might as well round it up to twenty million. Or you could spend the rest of your life wondering if I’ll ever find out where you live, or work. It can’t be that difficult, I got your number easily enough.’

‘You can’t threaten me Raynor, I’ll simply go to the police, claim blackmail, you can tell them anything you like, you won’t stand a chance. I’ve got contacts, power.’

‘Is that “no” then?’

The man ended the call.

Raynor entered the lobby of the Shangri-La Shard Hotel and headed to the bank of lifts, one of which would take him to the hotel reception on the thirty-fourth floor.

When the doors finally slid open Raynor left the lift, grateful to be away from the muzak and endless adverts looped on the screens on the wall of the lift. He found the reception and winked at the attractive blond receptionist, who smiled back coyly.

‘Hello Sweetheart, NR Express Couriers, I’m looking for a way up to the business floors. Got a delivery for a, um,’ He took an envelope from his rucksack and read the label, ‘Lucas Fostervold of Culpepper Fostervold Arms International PLC? Fifty Seventh floor.’

He looked back at the receptionist. A wide, cheeky smile across his face.

‘Certainly sir.’ She replied. ‘There’s not really public access from here, so I need to ask you to go back down and use the lifts in the Office Lobby on the ground floor.’

Raynor put on a dejected, sad face.

‘You’re joking aren’t you?’

‘No, I’m afraid not, sir.’

‘Shit… Sorry. But it’s my first day on the job and I’m already running late.’

She smiled an apologetic smile.

‘And I was going to ask you out for a drink when you knocked off, too.’ Raynor added. The cheeky smile returned.

‘I’m not sure my boyfriend would be too pleased about that.’ She replied, the coy smile appearing once more before she continued.

‘Look, I shouldn’t really do this, but there are a couple of service elevators down a corridor behind reception. One’s for hotel staff, and only goes as high as fifty-two.’

Raynor peered towards the end of the long reception area looking for a corridor.

‘The other is for the residents who live on the higher floors. Make sure you use the right lift. It will take you to fifty-seven, but you won’t be entering through the main reception, so you’ll have to find your own way once there. The lift code is one-zero-zero-three.’

‘Sweetheart, you’re a life saver. Sure you don’t want that drink?’

‘Tempting as it is, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline, but thanks.’

‘Anytime. Look after yourself.’

Raynor walked the length of the reception area putting on his crash helmet as he did so. He turned onto the corridor with the elevators. A stainless steel panel next to each set of doors detailing the floors it serviced.

Heading to the doors for the lift that serviced only the hotel, hoping the code was the same for both, Raynor keyed the code and waited for a sign that it had worked. A split-second later a faint whir of a motor could be heard, moving parts in the shaft behind the door, and a red downward-pointing arrow was illuminated above the door. He smiled behind his visor then removed a tablet computer from his bag. He tapped an icon and a schematic of the building appeared.

Raynor manipulated the schematic, spinning and zooming it on-screen until he found his location within the building. He tapped an icon depicting a CCTV camera, then hovered a finger over the icon representing the camera in the corridor where he would emerge, another finger hovered over the icon representing the camera in the elevator he was just about to enter.

A bell chimed, announcing the arrival of the lift. He tapped the icon for the lift camera and the doors slid open. Once inside and the doors had closed, a tap of the second icon froze the image on the camera of his destination floor.

#

Sam followed Mickey into his office. It was more like a corporate server room. A free-standing air conditioning unit was positioned in the corner of the room where it gave a continuous unbroken hum, like a meditating monk with lungs that could hold a lifetime’s worth of air.

A couple of tall racks lined one wall of the room containing servers, switches, network storage and no end of boxes with flashing lights that Sam was clueless about with regard to their usage.

The longest wall was where Mickey’s workstation was situated. It was huge. Two shelves housed six flat-screen monitors, another monitor stood on the desk area with a keyboard situated in front of it. Under-desk shelving, just above floor level, allowed for another couple of desktop computers to be stowed.

‘Jesus, Mickey, Every time I come in here there’s more stuff.’ Sam gazed around the room in awe. ‘But mate, you’ve put monitors in front of the windows, there’s no natural light.’

‘Yeah, I know, but it was the only place the desk would fit.’

Mickey sat in a large reclining leather chair, Sam took the smaller office chair next to it. Mickey tapped a few keys, entered a password and the monitors came to life.

Mickey turned to Sam, a serious expression on his face.

‘I’m not joking, Sam, some of this stuff is pretty horrific.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I’m a big boy, I’m sure I can handle it.’

‘Okay, so where do we start?’

‘At the beginning, of course. The birth of the Special Covert Unit.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Raynor quickly removed his helmet and leather jacket, revealing a shirt and tie beneath. He had to hurry. To stop the lift would be to sound an alarm. He pulled off his motorcycle boots and leather trousers, and quickly slid on a pair of black cotton trousers and black slip-on shoes that he’d taken from his rucksack, along with a black leather document wallet.

Standing on tip-toes, he prodded the access tile in the roof of the elevator. It lifted and he passed his rucksack, leathers and helmet through it, onto the roof of the lift. He had another helmet stowed on his bike along with more leathers. No space for more boots, though, so he’d have to ride in slip-ons for the rest of the day.

Raynor smiled at the confusion he’d cause when the footage was reviewed. CCTV would show a leather-clad courier entering the lift, but the lift camera wouldn’t show anything.

The fifty-second floor corridor camera wouldn’t show a thing, nor would the resident’s elevator camera when he switched lifts. The first camera that would pick him up would be in the offices of Culpepper Fostervold, where he’d appear as an office worker. When he’d done what he came to do, he’d leave through the main entrance, like everybody else.

#

Mickey tapped a few more keys a file explorer window appeared on the huge central monitor. He stood and motioned for Sam to take his seat, which he duly did. Sam took the mouse and started absently rolling over the vast list of documents displayed on the massive monitor in front of him.

‘They’re chronological.’ Mickey explained. ‘Just start at the beginning.’

Sam double clicked the first document in the list; none of them had real names, merely a timestamp, presumably of when the file was created, and a six letter code, in this case MOD-SCU.

The file opened and Sam started reading.

In October 1962, the world held its collective breath when a thirteen-day standoff between the United States of America and the Soviet Union took the world to the brink of nuclear war – The Cuban Missile Crisis.

When an American U2 spy plane pilot spotted what he thought was a Soviet nuclear missile being assembled in Cuba, he reported it back to his superiors. The chain of command was promptly rattled to the point that the then president, John F Kennedy, ordered a naval blockade to be created, stopping the Soviets from transporting more weapons to their communist allies. It was a tense time for every man, woman and child on the planet as everybody waited for what was considered to be the obvious conclusion – Mutually Assured Destruction.

After a tense period of negotiations, the Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuban soil with the assurance that the USA would guarantee it would not invade Cuba, like it had attempted to only a year earlier with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and also to remove some of its nuclear arsenal from Western Europe and Turkey. An agreement was reached. The crisis ended. The world sighed in relief.

In February 1963 in the wake of the crisis, the British Ministry of Defence, without authority or knowledge of the Prime Minister of the day – Harold Macmillan – formed the first Special Covert Unit – SCU1. Not a single British Prime Minister since has known of its existence.

Using soldiers who’d almost, but not quite managed to attain the extremely high standards expected in order to be awarded a position within the SAS, SCU1 consisted of the second best. All good soldiers in their own way, but not the best. Some may have lacked the physical fitness required, while others may not quite have the right psychiatric qualities, or the right attitude towards authority, but it didn’t matter.

The soldiers were expected to willingly sign up for a five year tour with the squad. Their old lives would be erased. They would receive new identities. They were told that they probably wouldn’t survive the five year period. They were told that if captured, the British government would deny all knowledge of their existence. In fact, the Prime Minister could, under oath, claim that he had never heard of these soldiers, and was never aware of any of their operations. They were also told that once their five years were up they could retire on a full military salary and receive a full pension at retirement age. Quite a nice prospect for your average thirty to forty year old squaddie who’d narrowly missed out on his dream of joining Britain’s elite unit.

During the Cold War, propaganda campaigns were as important as armed manoeuvres, some would say more important. The constant threat of annihilation meant more of the good taxpayers money could be spent on the military without outcry from those paying the tax in the first place – the hard working people of Great Britain. It was, after all, for their benefit.

SCU1 would be dropped into enemy territory and shift political pawns to the advantage of the NATO group of countries. Missions would be decided by the SCU commander, who’d pick up global intelligence reports and act on what he thought would be of best interest to Britain and her allies.

Missions may have involved the disappearance of top nuclear scientists, who would then mysteriously appear in New York offering to defect, or sabotage of an arms manufacturing facility, which would result in the latest tactical missile programme being delayed by several months. Anything which would make good headlines back home, but could never be blamed on interference from the West, either due to lack of proof or the embarrassment it would cause the Soviet authorities.

It was a great success. At the end of the first five years, SCU1 had successfully taken part in eighteen assignments. Sabotage, kidnap, assassination, it didn’t matter to them. They lost team members, had them replaced, and continued, but nothing was ever pinned on the British government.

At the end of the original five-year tour of duty, the entire squad was retired.

#

Raynor removed a sheet of paper from his document wallet and pretended to study it. In reality, he was studying his surroundings. The open-plan office was spacious, banks of desks, each comprising of four corner units placed in a cross formation with wide aisles between the banks, gave a pleasant environment for the staff. The outside edge of the space, with the views across the city, was taken up with large offices which Raynor assumed were for the management. An interior wall separated the office space from the reception area. On the office side of this partition, a row of printers sat on desks, a coffee machine stood adjacent to them, offering an array of instant beverages to those brave enough to try.

A constant murmur of conversation could be heard throughout the space as orders for the latest implements of death were being placed with the all-to-happy-to-oblige sales teams.

From the corner of his eye, Raynor spotted the office of Joseph Fostervold. He started to head in that direction when suddenly a man in a royal blue, three-piece suit jumped from his chair, shouting, fist pumping the air. He sprinted across the office and rang an old ‘last orders’ bell that was mounted to the wall. The man shouted, ‘Get in. Fifty grand sale!’ before performing a series of bows to his colleagues, who were now cheering, applauding, and shouting ‘Nice one Mr Horton.’

The man returned to his seat and regained his composure, ready to call the next name on his list. The next quarter master or procurement officer of a faraway army who no doubt needed some more ammunition or hardware.

‘Um. Excuse me.’ Came a voice from behind Raynor.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

1968 saw the birth of SCU2. Five new recruits, eager to do their masters bidding. The Vietnam War was in full swing and the UK government was more than happy to lend a hand in fighting the good fight against the rise of communism. But this one really wasn’t their fight, so there was no major involvement as far as the top brass or the British public were concerned.

The UK provided Jungle Warfare training to the American troops, and later in the campaign it was rumoured that a British Air Force base in Thailand had been specially constructed for launching US bombing raids.

Secretly though, SCU2 were very much involved, but over the course of just five years their role had taken a darker tone. Vietnam was a dirty war. The Viet Cong employed tactics the Americans just weren’t prepared for. Tunnel systems that stretched for miles underground housed entire communities who would live in large spaces dug out from the ground. They would even dig tunnels to allow smoke from cooking to be expelled several hundred metres from the subterranean kitchen where the cooking was taking place. American reconnaissance teams would report the coordinates of the smoke, resulting in bombing of empty ground away from the main living quarters and tunnel systems.

Above ground, deadly traps were laid. The see-saw trap which saw anybody who stood on it falling into a pit of spikes as their weight set the downward plunge of the hinged, grass-covered board they’d stepped on. Snares, spike strips and other deadly implements were all left in the path of the American ground troops. The Americans had to resort to napalm and cluster bombs, but were struggling to keep hold of territories in the south of the country.

SCU2 were deployed to infiltrate the North Vietnamese strongholds and relay information back to their American commanders which would aid in identifying targets for bombing. They were also under instruction to raze to the ground any villages or pockets of resistance they encountered on the way.

Entire villages were burned down, women and children shot in cold blood trying to escape their burning homes. The old, sick, and infirm killed where they lay, or just left to burn as the fires spread.

Sam double-clicked an image file and instantly regretted it as he gagged at the grainy black and white photograph of a smouldering building, taken some time after an attack. The remains of a person could be seen halfway through a window of what was left of a house. What looked like a bullet hole could be seen in the charred skull.

‘Fucking hell.’ was all he could manage as he clicked the next image.

A bonfire, again a black and white image, but not a bonfire made from logs and kindling, this was fuelled by the corpses of ordinary Vietnamese peasants who just happened to be in the way of a covert squad of British soldiers who very few people knew of, and who shouldn’t really have been there.

‘How the hell can this happen without anybody knowing?’ Sam asked nobody in particular.

‘Don’t ask me mate,’ replied Mickey. ‘You work for this bunch of cowboys, not me.’

Sam skipped the rest of the images and chose a seemingly random document to view next.

#

Raynor spun around and smiled at a short, plump woman of around forty-five. She had brilliant red hair, cut into a bob, curving around her cheeks. Small eyes like a Tyrannosaurus Rex seemed to pierce Raynor’s soul as they peered over the edge of her small, wire-frame glasses. She wore a far too short red and white, floral patterned summer dress, exposing chubby, whiter than white legs. Raynor felt an inward shiver as she scrutinised him.

‘Are you lost?’ She continued, ‘It’s just that I don’t recognise you, and I know nearly everybody here.’

‘New starter.’ replied Raynor. He nodded toward Horton, the blue-suited man who’d just made the sale. ‘Pretty impressive.’ He commented, trying to change the subject.

‘Yes, he is.’ Replied the woman as she gazed in awe at the salesman. She returned her gaze to Raynor, her face screwed up once more.

‘Sorry, I was unaware of any new starter, and where’s you name badge? Nobody should be allowed past reception without a visitor’s pass or a name badge.’

Shit! Think. Quick.

‘The guy from Human Resources, what’s his name?’ Raynor closed his eyes and clicked his fingers, pretending to search his memory.

‘Colin.’ he finally said.

‘Colin was going to get it made up for me, I’ve not seen him since.’

‘But we don’t have a Colin in HR, Colin’s in Purchasing. Do you mean, Clive?’

‘Yeah, Clive, sorry. I’ve been introduced to so many people today that all the names are a blur. You know what it’s like, first day and all.’

At last, she smiled. ‘I understand,’ she said. ‘Where should you be now?’

‘With the directors, I was just making my way over to their offices.’

‘Well, you carry on, um. Sorry, what did you say you name was?’

‘Oh, yeah, right, I’m Darrell. Daz. Daz Whitehall. Starting in IT.’

‘Alright, Daz. You wait here, I’ll just pop to ask Jackie, the Office Manager, if she knows where Clive is. Jackie pretty much runs the place in reality, so if anyone knows, it’ll be her.’

She waddled off past the printers and coffee machine and around the end of the partition wall to the reception area.

Raynor resumed his course toward the outer perimeter offices.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

By 1973 word was starting to get around of a secret troop of armed psychopaths running around the world in the name of the Queen, killing anyone who dared oppose them, and secretly reclaiming the Empire. Those in the Ministry of Defence who knew of the SCU programme were quick to respond with cover stories and counter claims that American Delta Force soldiers were in fact the ghosts of these legends.

The stories died, but the legend had been born along with its nickname – The Devil’s Tormentors. A new breed of recruits were also being groomed. Sociopaths, people with little or no remorse or empathy. Those who could kill without it affecting them. Soldiers who had no concept of right or wrong and were happy to accept the orders without question, and action them unconditionally.

The remainder of the 1970’s were fairly quiet for the SCU members. In 1978 SCU3 disbanded and SCU4 was commissioned. The Middle East was awash with skirmishes and wars both short and long, some of which are still ongoing, but none of them posed a direct threat to the security or economy of the UK or her allies.

In 1979, however, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to help the new pro-Soviet government of Nur Mohammed Taraki suppress the uprising of the devout Muslim groups who had been overthrown in a coup the previous year. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev ordered troops to the Afghan capital city of Kabul where they promptly staged a coup and installed a socialist president.

While the UK saw no real worth in directly assisting the Afghans by providing ground troops, Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Robert Armstrong, was vocal about support the UK could provide in other ways. SCU4 commanders saw this as their opening to send the unit into Afghanistan, to help train Afghan troops as well as to perform sabotage and assassination missions. The conflict lasted ten years, Mikhail Gorbachev announcing in 1987 that a withdrawal of troops would commence imminently. Half of the occupying force had been withdrawn by August 1988. By mid-February 1989, the Soviets had withdrawn completely.

Sam looked away from the screen for a moment. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands before turning to Mickey.

‘I’m starting to get the idea, Mick.’ He said. ‘Let’s have another brew before we start looking for names. Let’s see what our friend Raynor’s been up to, and who he knows.’

Mickey replied. ‘Good idea mate. Let’s have a little break. Get back to it in ten.’

#

‘Neil, what have you got?’ Virani asked as Neil Barford, almost sprinting, made his way through the operations room in Thames House. He was holding a wad of paper and some photographs.

‘Check this out Jay.’ He said as he thrust the papers and photos into Virani’s hand. She looked at the first photograph. It was a Devil’s Tormentors tattoo.

‘This was on the assassin?’ She asked.

‘Yep, the name’s Bush. Andrew Bush. Much like Raynor, he doesn’t have much of a record, but his goes back to 1993, so we’re assuming Andrew Bush served before Raynor and that both Bush and Raynor are fabricated identities.’

‘Good work Neil, anything else?’

‘Probably nothing Jay, but we found a dusty substance on Bush’s clothes.’

He pointed to another photograph which had been magnified, then he continued.

‘Not very much of it at all, brownish-red in colour, it’s being analysed at the moment. I’ll let you know when we get the results. Probably just dust.’

‘And how long will analysis take?’

‘Not too long, hopefully have at least an idea of what it is in the next half hour.

‘Fine, I’ll give Sam a call once we know what it is. Let him know the name of the man that was sent to kill him. It might help, but then again, it might send him over the edge.’

#

Raynor knocked on the door and entered the large office. The man behind the desk looked up from what he was doing, a confused look on his face.

‘Nice office.’ Said Raynor as he looked around the impressive workspace. The massive TV hung on the wall, the large desk. The view over London.

‘Selling the tools of death certainly does pay well.’

He approached the man behind the desk, whose expression was becoming stern, serious, and almost hostile. Raynor continued.

‘Unless you’re the one on the ground doing all the hard work. Then it pays peanuts.’

‘Sorry, but who the hell are you?’ Asked the man.

‘Oh, I’m just the messenger. Mind if I take a seat? Of course you don’t.’

Raynor slumped down into the office chair opposite, facing the man. He smiled, leaned forward and placed his arms in front of himself on the desk, left hand wrapping a clenched right fist.

‘Your business partner’s been a very naughty boy.’

‘Wha… what the hell are you talking about?’

The man pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his right middle finger. He too leaned forward, to face Raynor. Not intimidated in the slightest.

‘My business partner is a good man who’s recently suffered a bereavement. I’ve known him my whole life. Our fathers were friends, their fathers founded the company.’

He sat back, relaxing more, feeling like he was taking control of the situation.

‘There is nothing you could tell me about Lucas Fostervold that could surprise me in any way.’

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

‘Right, come on, let’s get back to it.’ Said Sam.

He and Mickey went back into the office and Mickey entered the password to unlock the computer. Sam perused the list of files and folders. A folder called Personnel caught his attention. A double click later he was presented with a list of subfolders numerically labelled one to ten.

‘Start at one.’ Suggested Mickey.

Sam double clicked the folder, then opened a text file called Read_1st.txt. It stated:

SCU1 active 1963 – 1968

Original members:

Ken Adamson – Retired

Andrew Knatt – Retired

Roland Pitts – Retired

Adam Trezise – Retired

Ian Woodbridge – KIA – 17/08/1965

Other members

James Bartholomew – Replaced Ian Woodbridge – Retired

‘Doesn’t really tell us much.’ Remarked Mickey.

‘Not really.’ Sam agreed. ‘But let’s keep looking.’

They went through the second and third folders, checking the Read_1st.txt file of both folders. Nothing of interest. They moved on to folder number four and again opened the text file. Then a name jumped out at Sam. ‘Why does William Thomas ring a bell?’

#

Raynor left Culpepper’s office, a smile as wide as the horizon on his face. As he strode across the open-plan space he dropped a small brown bag in a waste paper basket next to a desk. An ordinary looking woman of about thirty-five looked up at him from her screen. Raynor smiled and gave her a cheeky wink. She started to blush and turned back to her work.

On his way to the reception area he was confronted by the short redhead.

‘Excuse me, Daz?’ She said as she approached him. Raynor stopped and let her approach him, enter his space.

‘What’s up?’ He asked.

‘Um, well. This is a little embarrassing, but there’s no record of you starting here today.’ Raynor smiled.

‘Don’t worry, Love. I quit.’ And with that, he left through the reception area and into a waiting lift.

Got luck on your side today, sunshine.

The redhead stood; mouth agape, not quite sure what had just happened. Her attention was snapped back to the present when she heard Culpepper’s door slam, followed by Fostervold’s.

While making his descent to the ground floor, Raynor took his phone from his pocket and tapped an icon labelled BombJack.

#

‘Dave, sorry to bother you, but I think I’ve just found signs of a Trojan horse in the tower control software.’

Dave looked up to see Junior Systems Analyst, Lucy Green, looking anxious. Lucy had, until recently, been a stay at home Mum, looking after her twin sons, their father long relegated to a weekend visitor.

She didn’t have any qualifications until she started an online course on network security and basic scripting. Having passed with flying colours, and the twins now at school, she decided to try and find a way of applying her new found skills to real world situations. Dave gave her a chance, and never regretted it.

‘No problem Lucy.’ Dave said, putting down his copy of New Musical Express. He was stuck on the crossword and getting close to using Google, just like he had last week.

‘What have you got?’ He asked.

‘Not sure, I was running a deep scan, a couple of files have been quarantined. One’s the frequency redundancy file, used to…’ She stopped when Dave raised his hand.

‘Yeah Okay, I know what it’s for, it contains the parameters for all open frequencies. Why was it quarantined?’

The frequency redundancy file was extremely important. It could only be changed by authorised personnel, and then only with somebody watching, to sense-check the editing.

Ordinarily, the file was maintained by the communications regulator – Ofcom – who are responsible for managing civilian use of the radio spectrum. If Ofcom made changes to the file, because new frequencies had been auctioned off for public use, or frequencies had been put back into government use, all communications companies would be alerted and would be able to download a new version from a secure server owned by Ofcom. Some companies would perform a daily download of the file, just to ensure they were always up to date.

The file contained data on all radio frequencies that public broadcasters were authorised to use. If a broadcaster or communications provider were to use frequencies outside of those defined, it could receive a large fine, or even, in extreme circumstances, be forced to stop trading.

Lucy continued. ‘The logs show unauthorised change.’

For it to have been quarantined due to unauthorised change was cause for concern for Dave.

‘Okay, do we have a user name or IP address of the machine where the change was made?’

IP or Internet Protocol addresses are the post code system of the internet. They allow packets of information to navigate through multiple servers, to reach their target device. A simple domain name entered into a web browser, such as www.google.com would be sent to a domain name server, or DNS, where it would be translated into the address of the target server.

‘That’s the problem, Dave, it’s been masked. The user name is simply BombJack, the change date and time are zero.’

‘So we can’t determine who made the change?’

‘No chance. Every identifiable piece of information is null or gibberish.’

Dave looked back down at the NME and chewed his pen top for a few seconds while pondering seventeen down in the crossword.

‘So have we replaced it with the real file?’ He eventually asked.

Lucy replied. ‘That’s why I think we’ve got a Trojan. Every time we replace it, it instantly gets changed. I can see the new file hit the server, and then almost immediately, the audit shows a change.

‘What’s confusing though is the change being made.’

Dave looked up again. He was racking his brains. This wasn’t making much sense. ‘Go on.’ He encouraged.

‘Well, the only change is to open up 792 MHz.’

‘Why does that frequency ring a bell?’ Dave asked the ceiling as he leaned back in his chair, a look of confusion on his face.

‘There’s something else too.’ Lucy continued. ‘About five minutes ago we picked up a mass of digital data being sent via that frequency.

‘Now we know that the towers can all communicate on 792 we were able to triangulate the source.’ She looked at her notepad, now she was the one looking confused.

‘It seems to be bulk text messages coming from somewhere in the vicinity of The Shard in London, but there’s no identifier’s number.’

Dave sat and thought for a moment longer. 792. It was bothering him. He’d recently mentioned this frequency, but when, where? Then it hit him like a truck. Sam, Mickey, the Mills. When was that? That’s right, the day of the Salisbury Plain explosion that Sam was talking about in the pub. Some old biddies complaining about the shopping channels.

The pieces started coming together in his mind.

But it’s happened three more times.

He made the connection. The second wave picked up on the morning of the Knightsbridge bomb, then before the Soho attack, and today, just five minutes ago. The colour drained from his face.

‘Right, first thing, write a script that loops continuously, closing 792 MHz. Let’s block the return traffic.

‘And we need to evacuate The Shard, if it’s not too late’

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

‘You bastard. You heartless, greedy, selfish bastard.’

Culpepper slammed the door and strode over to Fostervold. Leaning on the desk he pointed at his business partner.

‘You paid somebody to set off bombs in London! You killed your niece! Then you have the audacity to ply me with bullshit at her funeral. No wonder you didn’t want me to hire a mercenary.’

Fostervold pushed his keyboard back under his monitor and turned to face Culpepper.

‘Jim, what on earth are you talking about?’

‘Raynor? Ring a bell?’

‘Sit down, Jim.’

‘I don’t want to sit down. Right now, all I want to do is swing for you.’

‘Go ahead, if it makes you feel better.’

Culpepper, deflated, collapsed into the chair.

‘What the hell’s going on Lucas?’

Silence descended over the open plan space beyond Fostervold’s office as the muffled sounds of the argument swept over the workforce. A few heads dared to poke over the desk divides to try and get a quick peek through the translucent glass panelling that separated the action from the audience.

‘Have you been watching the share price over the last year, Jim? Drop after drop.’

‘Dropping even quicker at the moment, thanks to you.’

Fostervold smiled at the dig. His partner was right, of course. Since Raynor was let off his leash the London Stock Exchange was suffering a slump. A massive drop in share prices was experienced after the Knightsbridge attack, and the Soho bombing had seen further drops. Foreign markets were also being affected.

Fostervold said ‘I have helped it somewhat, I can’t deny that, and in the last two weeks I’ve managed to buy back a stack of shares at an extremely favourable price, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.’

Culpepper looked shocked.

‘Hang on, you’re paying somebody to blow up London so you can buy your own company back?’

‘Not entirely, that’s just a nice by-product.’ He stood and walked to the window. Gazing across the rooftops of London.

Culpepper’s gaze followed him.

‘So, tell me Lucas, what was the aim of this? Because I’m really struggling to see why you’d want to blow the crap out of London.’

Fostervold left the view as he turned to face Culpepper once more.

‘Have you seen the order book lately, Jim? Sales are down. Price drop after price drop, profits in decline. Margins so tight you can’t get cigarette paper between them. There won’t be a company left at this rate.’

‘So you thought it would be a good idea to help things along by blowing up your home town?’

‘Well, when you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like the best of plans.’ He forced a small grin. ‘But you just heard Rob, a fifty grand order, from The Met no less. Ammunition, tasers and body armour. Not a massive order, admittedly, but they’ll come.’

‘You know I should call the police, don’t you? It’s my duty to do so.’

‘Really? And then what?’

‘I don’t know. Dammit! I know one thing, though. I’m going to take Raynor’s advice and leave early. I have a lot of thinking to do.’

Fostervold’s expression changed from calm, to shocked, to confused. He took his seat once more then asked.

‘Raynor told you to go home?’

‘He did. He said we waste too much time trying to accumulate cash and that I should have an early finish. Give the whole office an early finish, in fact. Actually, that’s a good idea.’

Culpepper made his way to the door. Fostervold interrupted.

‘Jim, wait. Raynor told you to give everyone the rest of the day off? Don’t you think that’s kind of suspicious?’

‘Get over yourself Luke. Raynor was here, in my bloody office. If he’d wanted to do something to you, he could have done it. Quite easily’

‘I suppose you’re right. Listen, Jim, I know I’ve put you in a terrible position, but this isn’t on your head, in fact it can’t even be traced back to me, so think carefully before doing anything impetuous.’

Culpepper left the office to address his staff.

‘Right, everybody, good news. Thanks to Rob and his amazing selling skills, Lucas and I have decided to give you the rest of the afternoon off. So see you all tomorrow, have a lovely evening.’

With that, he went into his office, grabbed his jacket and briefcase and left through the reception area.

‘You can go home now, Jackie.’ were the last words anybody heard from James Culpepper. When he returned home that afternoon he went straight to his garage. He smiled as he admired his Aston Martin DB7. After taking a tow rope from the neatly arranged tool-wall he went into his house and up to the first floor hallway which overlooked the spacious entrance hall below.

He tied one end of the tow rope around the balustrade and checked it was securely tightened. With the other end, he tied a noose, put it over his head and around his neck. He climbed up on the balustrade. Please forgive me, darling. He thought as he took his last step.

#

Sam and Mickey continued to browse through the MOD data. They’d seen Raynor listed in the SCU8 file, and had moved onto a folder titled SCU-SERVICE-RECORDS, which had all the personal details for members of the individual iterations of the unit.

Once more, when they browsed the SCU4 files, the name William Thomas caught Sam’s eye. He ignored it, and they continued on to SCU8 and Nathan Raynor.

Sam started to read Raynor’s service record.

Raynor enlisted, with the other SCU8 members, in 1998 and was immediately sent to Kosovo to perform sabotage missions on behalf of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the Kosovo and Albanian rebel group trying to claim back the land from minority rule.

The Yugoslav army had allegedly taken to killing civilians in a drive to eliminate KLA sympathisers. Raynor was tasked with disabling vehicles and communications infrastructure as well as the assassination of several mid-level military personnel within the Serbian and Yugoslavian forces, the idea being to sever the chain of command by removing key mid-ranking officers.

He spent two years in Kosovo, destroying forty-eight key opposition targets and killing thirteen mid-ranking officers within the forces opposing the Kosovo Liberation Army.

The dawn of the twenty-first century started quietly for SCU8. The American Secret Services were keeping an eye on an organisation known as al-Qaeda, who in 1998 had bombed the American Embassies of Kenya and Tanzania using truck bombs parked outside the embassy buildings.

On September 11th 2001, the world changed forever, and so did the SCU programme. The Special Covert Unit was once again sent to Afghanistan. To the foothills of the White Mountains and the Tora Bora cave complex.

Raynor found himself working for the coalition. He started by providing intelligence, undergoing cross-border excursions into Pakistan, attempting to gain information relating to the exact whereabouts of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

His intel provided vital information to the American forces and led to the Battle of Tora Bora which started on December 6th 2001. Osama bin Laden fled to Pakistan and Raynor took up other missions until his return in 2003.

‘Been a busy boy.’ Commented Mickey.

Sam replied ‘He certainly has.’ and continued to scroll through the file. He stopped at a section titled ‘Core Skills’.

‘This should be interesting.’ Sam said.

‘I hope it’s short, for your sake.’ Mickey grinned.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Page after page of detail on Raynor’s expertise. Unarmed combat. Several styles of martial arts from every corner of the globe. Firearms, small calibre, assault rifles, machine guns, large calibre. He could strip down and reassemble just about every handheld firearm manufactured since World War II.

A skilled sniper. He often shot in excess of one thousand metres with greater precision than most could demonstrate over one hundred metres.

Sam let out a puff of air and stretched his arms upwards. He said, ‘I hadn’t realised we were going up against Superman.’

‘It’s an incredibly impressive CV.’ Agreed Mickey.

They kept reading, then something caught Sam’s eye and he pointed at the screen.

‘Explosives. Well that’s pretty bloody obvious.’ Said Mickey.

‘Yeah, but look underneath. Communications. Information Technology. Networking. Hacking. He’s Superman, Turing and Hawking rolled into one.

‘Look at the footnote. Able to write malicious software, infiltrate state networks and insert said software. Sounds like he’d give you a run for your money mate.’

‘Bring it on, I’ll hack his ass to hell and back.’

‘You do realise how wrong that sounds, don’t you?’

They laughed. The fleeting relief welcome to them both.

‘Seriously though Mick, this is one seriously skilled bloke, why the hell didn’t he get into the SAS?’

‘Dunno mate, maybe he’s preserved the corpse of his dead mother and then heard her voice in his head, telling him to kill people.’

Sam sat back and glared at Mickey.

‘What?’ Asked Mickey.

‘Do you know how spooky that is?’

‘What?’ Mickey asked again, slightly agitated this time.

‘Oh, nothing.’ Sam suddenly felt embarrassed at the reason Psycho came to mind.

‘No, come on mate, you can’t say spooky and not say why.’

Sam sighed.

‘Okay.’ He said. ‘Last night, I was stabbing the film lid of a microwave lasagne while making the Psycho violin screeches. Happy?’

Mickey started to snigger. It quickly turned into a full-on laugh.

‘You fucking idiot!’ Mickey exclaimed between laughs.

Sam gave his mate a playful punch on the arm.

‘Come on mate, we need to keep looking, find some connections.’

Mickey started stabbing the keys on his keyboard, making the same violin sound that Sam had made the previous afternoon, while piercing the film on his microwave dinner.

CHAPTER THIRTY

‘Mr Barford, so glad you could find the time to come back.’

Virani was smiling, standing behind Latif who was analysing more communications data that had been sent from GCHQ, trying to find clues as to whom the hitman was working for.

Barford looked sheepish as he handed Virani the findings of the dust analysis.

‘Nothing much to tell you really Jay. It’s just pollen.’

Virani raised an eyebrow.

‘So we have a botanist hitman?’ she asked.

‘He’s a serious one if he is Jay.’ Barford replied. He glanced at Latif and smiled, almost embarrassed that the results seemed to be of no significance.

‘And why would that be?’

‘Well it’s the pollen from a rare lily. Lilium Bolanderi. Native to North America.’

Virani raised her left index finger to her lips and started pacing in small circles. A thoughtful expression on her face. After several laps of her extreme pondering circuit she stopped and addressed Barford.

‘Any chance we can track purchases of the bulb?’

‘We could try,’ replied Barford, ‘but the pollen might come from a plant that’s several generations old. We have no idea how old the original bulb is.’

‘Right, well, thanks for your effort on this Neil, it’s appreciated even though it gets us no closer to finding our hitman’s employer.’

Barford wasn’t entirely sure if this was sincere or just a dig at him. ‘Sorry it wasn’t of more use.’ He said.

She smiled back at him sincerely, the smile reaching her eyes and making them sparkle. Then she placed her hand on his shoulder and said.

‘Don’t worry Neil, it’s hardly your fault.’

Neil smiled back, relieved. Virani continued.

‘Now stop pissing about feeling sorry for yourself and help Upex with whatever he’s doing.’

Barford smiled broadly as he turned and left the room.

I’m starting to like this girl. He thought.

Virani turned to Latif.

‘Okay Zavina, you carry on analysing this, I need to call Sam to make sure he’s alright, and to bring him up to date with what we’ve found.’

#

Dave was studying the server deep scan results. There was definitely a Trojan horse on the server. He turned to Lucy Green, who was also staring intently at the screen.

The police had laughed when he phoned them, threatening to arrest him for wasting police time.

‘Come back with some proof, Sir, then we’ll take you seriously.’ He was told. When Dave told them he had a friend on the MI5 investigating team he was told.

‘Of course you do, sir. And I’ve got Jason Bourne coming round for dinner later.’

After the call he took it upon himself to not only prove his theory, but to do all he can to assist in stopping Raynor. He called upon Lucy Green to help him.

‘Do me favour, will you Lucy?’

‘Sure, what do you need me to do?’

‘Contact a few mobile carriers. Vodafone, O2 and a few others. Tell them what we’ve found. We need to track the replies to these messages, they must be going somewhere.’

‘Will do. What about your friend, Sam isn’t it? Shouldn’t you tell him what you’ve found?’

‘Yeah you’re right, he needs to know how technically sound Raynor is. To be able to hack our systems and drop in a Trojan? That takes some doing.’

#

Sam was approaching the end of Raynor’s service record. He was staggered by the knowledge and abilities the man possessed. Why would the SAS turn him down? Then he saw paragraph titled SAS Application.

‘Here we go Mick, would the real Nathan Raynor please stand up?’

After careful consideration, it is my opinion that Sxxxx Rxxxx should not be recommended for a position within the Special Air Services.

While he demonstrates outstanding physical and mental ability, it is my belief that his mental state demonstrates characteristics that would detract from the standards required by the Corp. In particular, Sxxxx Rxxxx displays narcissistic qualities that would make him stand out amongst his peers. Possibly even cause distrust and resentment with them. There is no room for ego in the Corp.

This leads to a wider issue of the possibility he is, in fact, a sociopath. Specifically, he shows a lack of remorse or shame, an absence of nervousness, though I’d expect that from a well-trained soldier. He’s unresponsive in general interpersonal relations, which could lead to a ‘loner’ attitude with the Corp.

I feel the candidate could kill without remorse. Man, woman, or child. The Corp requires members who have humility, and can relate to and understand the plights of others.

Winning hearts and minds is as important as winning on the battlefield. A modern soldier must show empathy. I do not believe this candidate is capable of such emotion.

In conclusion, I cannot, with any conscience, recommend Sxxxx Rxxxx for a position within the Special Air Services. However, I feel the skills of the applicant may be suited for other one-off missions, and I will endeavour to call upon his services as and when they may be beneficial in assuring the success of future covert operations.’

Sincerely

Wxxxxxx Txxxxx

 

Sam and Mickey sat back in their chairs they looked at each other in disbelief. Mickey was the first to speak.

‘He is a psycho.’

Sam tutted and corrected his friend. ‘No Mickey, he’s a sociopath.’

‘What the fuck’s the difference?’

‘I don’t know, but it says socio, not psycho.’

‘Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. He’ll still rip your arms off and beat you round the head with them without a care in the world.’

Sam laughed, and then leaned back toward the keyboard and mouse.

‘So, who’s SR and who’s WT?’

Mickey picked up his mug and took a sip of coffee. It was cold. He made a disgusted face and offered to go and make them both a fresh cup.

Mickey left the room and Sam took up the mouse and keyboard once more. He double clicked a folder called images and saw a number of SCU folders within it. He opened the SCU8 folder and found Raynor_N.JPG. He double clicked it and an image of his adversary appeared.

I’m coming for you, Raynor. He thought.

Sam decided he’d have to check all folders prior to SCU8 to try and determine any connection between Raynor and prior squad members. He still needed a clue as to the identity of WT. He started at SCU7, checking the name of each file, looking for the initials SR or WT. Even when they weren’t there curiosity got the better of him and he opened the images anyway.

He opened Bush_A.JPG and froze. His stomach lurched, bile made a mad-dash escape attempt up his throat, but he managed to control it. Sitting back, he started to take deep breaths and regain control.

His phone rang, making him jump, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. He picked the phone up and pressed the accept button without looking, while lifting the device to his ear.

‘Hello?’

‘Sam, it’s Jay, are you okay? You sound a little distant.’

‘I know who I killed last night.’

To Sam, this knowledge made it real. A name to the face made a lot of difference. It turned an anonymous image into a once living, breathing being. Bush might have had a wife, children even. And Sam had taken him away from them.

‘I know, Sam. We’ve just found out ourselves, that’s why I’m phoning.

‘Jay, I’m not trained for this. I’m struggling a bit here.’

‘I understand Sam, and when this is all over you can have some time off. We’ll arrange counselling for you to help you through it, but at this point in time I need you focused.’

Mickey walked in carrying two mugs of coffee. His phone was clamped between shoulder and ear. ‘Dave.’ He mouthed at Sam, who nodded an acknowledgment. Mickey took his seat next to Sam and continued his conversation with Dave. Sam continued his conversation with Virani as he carried on browsing through the images of the previous SCU members.

Sam started to update Virani with what he and Mickey had found.

‘Jay, this Bush bloke, he was part of SCU7. The squad that immediately preceded Raynor’s. They might know each other. It could be Raynor who called on Bush’s services, not the paymaster.’

A pause at the other end told Sam that she was thinking about this. Sam interrupted her train of thought.

‘Which means,’ he said, ‘the paymaster might still send somebody else to have a go.’

Once again, the line went quiet. Eventually, Virani spoke.

‘Okay, we need to get you out of Andover, but we can also use this to our advantage.’

‘I’m not sure I like where this is going, Jay.’ Replied Sam. ‘Are you suggesting using me as bait? Because I’ve got a real problem with that.’

‘Oh you’ll be quite safe, but maybe we can draw out the Big Boss. Just a thought.’

‘Well, I’d like to explore other avenues first, if it’s all the same to you.’

Mickey tried to interrupt. He covered his phone microphone with the palm of his hand and whispered to Sam.

‘Sam, Dave says it’s really important he talks to you. Says it’s vital to national security.’

‘Hang on a second, Jay, will you?’ Said Sam.

He put Virani on hold and said to Mickey. ‘Yeah, probably another bloody alien mother ship, like in the pub the other night. Take a message, please mate, and tell him I’ll call him back.’

Sam returned to his call with Virani.

‘Sorry Jay, had another call coming in, thought it might be important.’

‘That’s okay Sam, was it?’

‘Was it what?’

‘Important.’

‘No, just a mate.’

‘Fine, so, where were we? You need to get to Thames House, for your own safety. Once here I can give you all the details. Then we can plan what to do next. Should I send Alasdair for you?’

‘No don’t worry I’ll make my own way there. Just got to finish a few things here first.’

‘Okay, see you later, Sam.’

‘Yeah, bye Jay.’

Sam ended the call and turned to Mickey who had also finished his conversation with Dave. Mickey was looking slightly confused.

‘What did numpty-boy want then, Mick?’

‘I’m not entirely sure mate. He was babbling, like he was really nervous. Said something about tracking Raynor.’

‘Yeah but you know he’s full of shit. Probably just winding us up, I’ll call him back in a bit.’

They both turned back to the monitors, looking through the images in a silence that Mickey eventually broke.

‘Did I hear you say you killed somebody last night?’ He asked.

It was obvious from his tone that Mickey didn’t like asking the question.

Sam avoided eye contact and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

‘I told you I’d had a crap night.’

He looked at Mickey, who had paled significantly.

‘He was an assassin Mick. A fucking hitman. Sent by one of these bastards.’

He swept his hand towards the screen in an exaggerated display of anger.

‘Sent to kill me, and god knows what would have happened if Jules and Jack were still there.’

Sam started welling up, the stress was getting to him. Mickey swallowed hard before saying.

‘But you killed him? Sam, that’s fucked mate.’

‘Tell me about it.’ Said Sam as he wiped his eyes and opened the SCU4 images folder.

The file Thomas_W.jpg caught his eye.

‘WT.’ he said.

‘Eh?’ Asked Mickey.

Sam hovered the mouse pointer over the file. He wiggled the mouse, the pointer danced over the icon.

‘WT. The initials from the document. The name that rang a bell in the SCU4 read me file. William Thomas.’

‘No, Sorry mate, you’ve lost me.’

‘Forget it.’ Said Sam. ‘I’m just thinking out loud.’

He held his breath and double-clicked the icon.

‘Bloody hell.’ He exclaimed. ‘Mick, can you do me a favour?’

‘Course, what?’

‘First, email me this photo, and then I need you to find out everything you can about the military life of a William Thomas. I doubt you’ll find anything prior to whenever SCU4 was set up, 1978 was it? Though if he’s high enough to advise on SAS squad selection, who knows?’ He took a sip of his coffee. ‘I need to go home have a bite to eat, pack a few things, and then get to Thames House.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Early afternoon, the sun high in the sky, sparkling off the myriad glass buildings that make up the London skyline

Sam found a parking space in the MI5 carpark and entered the building. He made his way upstairs to the operations room where Virani was sat, staring at a screen.

She looked tired. Sam felt sorry for her. This entire operation had landed on her shoulders. Of course, Bray would take the credit when Raynor was caught, Virani was well aware of that. She was well acquainted with the inner workings of bureaucracy.

She turned to face Sam when she heard his footsteps. She smiled. A warm, friendly, exhausted smile.

‘Well, well, if it isn’t our very own Jackie Chan. Good to see you Samuel.’

Sam grinned.

‘Thanks Jay, you too. Though you really look like you could do with some rest.’

‘I appreciate your concern, Mr Edwards, but in case you weren’t aware, there’s a bloody lunatic blowing up London. Anyway, time to get you up to date.’

Sam sat in a chair at the next workstation. He picked a notepad and pen up from the desk, the nib of the pen poised above the paper.

Virani started to brief Sam on the MI5 findings. When she mentioned the pollen, he interrupted.

‘Sorry Jay, did you say pollen?’

‘Yes, some sort of lily pollen. Quite rare according to Barford. Not important, I’m sure.’

‘Could be more important than you think, Jay. Brigadier Saunders, at Tidworth, he has a collection of flowers sat on his window ledge. I’m sure he said one was a rare lily.’

#

Raynor was getting frustrated. Why hadn’t his device been detonated? It had been over an hour since he’d left it. Had he activated it? He sat in a cafe watching the building from a safe distance and was sure Lucas Fostervold was still inside, even though his staff had all left for the day. The camera from the fifty-seventh floor elevator corridor was streaming to a corner of his tablet screen.

He tapped an icon on the tablet and his BombJack app fired up. Communication Lost flashed across the top of the application window. He didn’t understand. He tapped an icon and a Google Maps window was displayed with a pin stabbing The Shard from a bird’s eye view.

Too early for the cleaners, so I know they haven’t taken it. He thought. Best remove that outcome from the equation.

He tapped a couple of icons on the tablet.

If you want a job doing.

He looked back at The Shard, grinning.

Boom!

A split second later, the sky lit up and a loud explosion rumbled across the city as the fifty-seventh floor of The Shard, and Lucas Fostervold with it, were incinerated in a gigantic fireball.

People in the cafe started to leave their seats, drawn like moths to the light. Mutters echoed through the room.

‘Shit.’

‘What the fuck?’

‘Was that The Shard?’

A man in his twenties sitting at a table adjacent to Raynor took his phone from the table and started recording the scene.

‘YouTube here we come he muttered.’

Raynor stood and approached the man, who on seeing Raynor’s approach started to look a bit anxious.

‘Have you no respect? People might have died in there.’ He grabbed the phone from the man, threw it to the floor and stamped on it.

‘You complete bastard!’ The man exclaimed.

When Raynor went to grab him he conceded.

‘No, you’re quite right. That was wrong of me.’ He then fled the cafe as fast as he could.

Raynor smiled. Mission accomplished.

The cafe was a maelstrom of panic and confusion. Raynor slipped out unnoticed.

Three down, seven to go, time against me. Come on then Nate, let’s get a shift on.

#

‘You’re sure?’ Virani asked. ‘Absolutely positive. Lilies?’

Sam shrugged.

‘Jay, I’m not a botanist. I wouldn’t know the difference between a lily and a daffodil. Jenkins told me Saunders is obsessed with his plants, and I saw some in his office. Bloody smelly things too.’

Sam put his pad and pen on the desk and opened a web browser on the screen in front of him. He navigated to Google Images and typed lily. A seemingly never ending collage of lily images appeared on the screen.

‘Looked like one of these.’ said Sam, pointing to a pale, funnel shaped flower.

‘But it’s red and yellow, mostly red. Do we have a name for it?’

‘I think I can do better that that.’ Virani replied as she picked up the stack of research that Barford had delivered earlier. She thumbed through the pages until she found the picture. ‘Here we are.’ she said, passing the image to Sam. Sam took one look and jabbed the image with his index finger.

‘That’s the one. We need to do something.’

‘Right, let me think about our best approach to this, we don’t want to go steaming in, all guns blazing, so to speak. In the meantime, is there anything new from your side?’

Sam took his phone from his pocket. He opened his inbox and tapped the mail from Mickey. An image of William Thomas filled the screen. He handed the phone to Virani.

‘Bloody hell, Sam. Where did you get this?’

‘SCU4. 1978. Jayshree Virani, meet William Thomas. I can’t tell you where it came from, as I don’t want to implicate you in any way.’

A slight scowl crossed Virani’s face.

‘What I can tell you, though,’ Sam continued, putting his phone down on the desk. ’is that if we need any evidence about SCU, I can get it all.’

At that point, the door slammed open and Barford hurried in.

‘It’s happened again Jay. He’s blown up the bloody Shard!’

Virani held her composure, though Sam was sure he saw a brief look of defeat in her eyes.

She said ‘Okay, Neil, find Upex, assemble a team, you know the score, get over there.’

Barford left the room as quickly as he’d entered it.

‘This is getting bloody ridiculous.’ Virani turned to Sam, a determined look in her eye. She wasn’t going to let Raynor cause any more damage.

‘Sam, I don’t care how you do it. Stop him.’

She looked at the picture of William Thomas before looking back at Sam. Sam had never seen her looking so serious. So determined.

‘You obviously know people who can get into places we can’t.’

She waved the photo to emphasise the point.

‘So use them. This thing’s more important than a couple of hacking charges. Give them whatever they need.’

Sam nodded and stood to leave before Virani added.

‘Just be careful. Do not put yourself directly in harm’s way.’ She forced a weak smile.

‘Just get the bastard, Sam.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Sam found an empty office and quickly claimed it as his workspace. He shut the door, not wanting to be disturbed by the madness going on in the main office, and sat at an empty desk. He let out a long breath, wondering when this would all be over.

He unlocked his phone and opened his contacts. After scrolling through the list and finding Mickey’s number, instead of pressing the call button, he lifted the receiver of a phone on the desk he was using and dialled it.

Mickey answered promptly. ‘Hello?’

‘Hello Mick, it’s Sam.’

‘How’s it going mate?’

‘Not good. There’s been another explosion, this time The Shard.’

‘Jesus.’

‘Yeah, I know. I need your help.’

‘You’ve got it.’

Sam stood and looked through the blinds in the window looking out onto the office, using his fingers to separate two of the slats like a character in a bad American cop show. The coiled cable linking the receiver to the base was stretched to its limit.

Sam started telling Mickey about the latest attack and how Virani had instructed him to find Raynor. Mick listened intently, not daring to interrupt. Sam concluded the update and asked.

‘So what do we know about William Thomas?’

Mickey took a deep breath and explained the history of William Thomas, a retired two-star general with an exemplary military record. Breezed through basic training, but went slightly off the rails when turned down for a position within the Special Air Services.

After a thorough talking to, he bucked up his ideas and became a member of the Special Covert Unit Programme.

Once his five years of rampaging around the globe were complete, for reasons unexplained, Thomas was allowed to remain in the army, and continued his climb through the ranks.

He became involved in training SAS recruits, serving at the headquarters in Hereford for several years and becoming part of the selection panel. This position leant itself well to his top-secret involvement with the SCU programme, giving him access to the best of the rest of the SAS applicants.

‘So there’s a damn good chance that Thomas recruited Raynor.’ Said Sam.

‘Looks that way. There are a few details I’ve found out about his personal life too.’ Mickey added.

‘Go on.’ Encouraged Sam.

‘William Thomas retired to Newbury, Berkshire, shortly after the SCU programme was mothballed. He made a lot of investments, mainly in technology companies, and lives a very comfortable life from a military pension and dividend payments from his investments.

‘He lost his wife about seven years ago. She was stabbed in Newbury. He blamed the police and the local authorities for not doing enough to curb violent crime.

‘When he found out the murderer was an illegal immigrant he started a one-man campaign against the government.

‘Nobody took any notice, of course. He was just seen as a bit of an eccentric who’d suffered a great loss.’

‘Poor bastard.’ said Sam. ‘Anything else?’

‘Well he and his wife were quite active on the amateur dramatic scene. He’d even had a few parts as an extra.’

‘That explains how he pulled off the tramp act so well. Good work mate. Did you get his address?’ asked Sam.

‘Yeah, it’s all here, Sam. Even got bank details if you want to know how much he’s worth.’

Sam could hear Mickey tapping the keys for a few seconds before saying.

‘I managed to get around that firewall, you see. The Barclays one.’ A pause. ‘Bloody Hell.’

‘What is it?’ Asked Sam.

‘He’s worth a fair few million.’

‘Million? Shit. Can you look for linked accounts, offshore, large payments? Anything suspicious?’

‘I’ll run a few traces, see what I can find. By the way, have you phoned Dave?’

‘No, not yet, but he could come in handy.’

‘Dave? Handy? You’ve been working too hard, go and have a lie down.’

‘Think about it, we need somebody to verify Thomas was the tramp. Dave can do that, it’s only Newbury, and he could be there in half an hour.’

‘What, like Fist of Fury? Disguise himself to infiltrate the villain’s lair?’

They both laughed. Sam replied ‘Yeah, something like that.’

‘Worth a shot, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s just some old, retired general. Probably been on the port all day.’

Sam considered his options.

‘I don’t think we’ve got a choice, Mick. We need positive Identification. I’ll give him a call and get back to you.’

‘Okay mate, stay safe.’

‘I’m in an office, Mick. In MI5. How much safer can I be?’

Sam ended the call. He pulled his finger back out from between the slats of the blind which then made a metallic scratching sound as they settled back in their original position. Sam sat down once more. He picked up his pen and started spinning it through his fingertips.

His mobile started ringing. He picked it up from the desk, smiling as he read the caller ID, and pressed the Accept button.

‘Hello Dave, how are you?’

Dave responded in his own inimitable style.

‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you, knob!’ He exclaimed as he answered.

‘It’s this Raynor bloke, Sam, he’s been using the mobile networks. Hacked all the major carriers, hijacked an unused frequency.’

Sam interrupted. ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, calm down, mate. Take your time. What’s happened?

Dave regained his composure and started his tale of Raynor’s technical prowess. Sam was stunned. It was obvious that Raynor was technically competent. He was obviously intelligent, but the extent to which he could manipulate technology to suit his own agenda was astounding to Sam.

When Dave finished, Sam was blown away.

‘But you’ve blocked the return signals, right? By locking down this frequency?’

‘Yeah, that’s right. Nothing can get back to his triggering device. We’ve told the other carriers, they’ve all followed suit. The only way around it is to use another frequency, but we’ve locked down his Trojan.’

Sam blew out a loud, long breath.

‘Fucking hell Dave, I think I understand what you’ve said, but please try and use a bit more English.’

Dave laughed heartily.

‘You, Sam Edwards are a technical Philistine.’ He replied.

Sam responded.

‘And you, Dave – Top Gear – Sykes, are a technical masturbator.’

They both laughed, but Sam broke the brief, but welcome, joviality.

‘So there’s no way he can set off another device?’

‘Not easily, mate.’ Confirmed Dave. ‘But I’ll never say never. There’s also a slim chance we’ll be able to track him. I’ve got somebody working on that at the moment. Lucy Green. I’ll give her your number, so she can keep you up to date.

‘Good. Because you, my friend, are, for one night only, and maybe a bit longer if needs be.’

‘Come on Sam, stop being a tosser, spit it out.’

‘Okay, you’re an honorary MI5 field agent.’

Silence. Broken by a sigh. Then Dave’s response.

‘So, you’ve got some shitty little job you need doing, and nobody there who can do it.’

‘Well, when you put it like that.’ Said Sam, the humour evident in his voice.

‘But seriously, Dave, I need you to try and confirm somebody’s identity. Give Mick a call, he’ll bring you up to speed.’

‘Typical.’ Said Dave. ‘Mick’s in the loop, but good old Top Gear gets left out in the cold until an errand boy’s needed.’

‘Yep, you got it Dave. Now stop bitching, phone Mickey, then get your arse to Newbury. Identify the man William Thomas.’

‘And how am I supposed to do that?’

‘You work for a communications company, Dave. Put on a high-viz jacket. Take a company van. Knock on his door and ask if he’s had problems with his phone line. Look at your clipboard, which will have on it a photo Mickey will provide you with. Determine if it’s the same person. Get the fuck out. Simples.’

‘Yeah, okay mate. Can’t be too hard. Can it?’

‘It’s a lot more fun than what Mickey and I are doing, I can tell you that. I’ve got to get in touch with a bloke at Tidworth and let him know that his brigadier might be involved.’

‘Fair enough, Sam, I’ll give Mick a call.’

‘Oh, and Dave?’

‘Yes mate?’

‘Not a single word to anybody.’

‘Okay mate. See ya.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Raynor had just parked his Honda CBR1000 Fireblade motorcycle on the pavement next to Belvedere Road when his phone vibrated in his pocket. He was absently gazing across Jubilee Gardens at the impressive rotating structure that was the London Eye, the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. Opened in 2000, the wheel was designed by Marks Barfield Architects of London, and has received numerous national and international awards for its outstanding architectural quality.

Shame it has to be sponsored by a bloody soft drinks company. Raynor thought. Won’t be long until Buckingham Palace is sponsored by Sky.

After removing his gloves and helmet he took his phone from his pocket and looked at the notification. Intercepted call between Edwards, Sam and Unknown was displayed. He hit the call button and listened.

He strolled without a care in the world, between the trees, up the wide boulevard adjacent to Jubilee Gardens, and approached the slowly spinning wheel. Turning right, he passed the queuing crowd, along the bank of the Thames.

Not as busy as usual. He thought. Can’t imagine why.

He found a litter bin. Overflowing. Rubbish left haphazardly around it. Fast food containers, drink bottles. Perfect. Raynor dropped a brown paper bag with the rest of the rubbish and continued walking. He waited, watching the massive structure on its slow rotation, until the call he was listening to had ended.

Dave Sykes, you clever bastard.

Raynor made a call.

‘Did they take you in by any chance? Because Five know all about you now.’

Williams paused on the other end.

‘Well yes, but I didn’t tell them anything.’

‘You stupid bastard. Why didn’t you just go home?’

‘I’m a method actor. And anyway, it would have looked a bit suspicious if a tramp got into a first class carriage on a train to Newbury.’

‘Fair point, but you could have hidden somewhere, got changed and got a later train. You told them about my tattoo as well, didn’t you? That’s how they managed to get my identification.

‘Anyway, that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is Saunders.’

Raynor could almost feel the tension over the phone at the mention of the brigadier’s name.

‘What about him?’

‘You hired him didn’t you? When I called you to see if you wanted a bit of fun, to help me, you’d already been on to Saunders to hire me in the first place.’

‘Raynor, I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you I was involved.’

‘So let me get this straight. Your mate, sorry; ex-mate, Fostervold asked you to find somebody who’d be up for this job?’

‘Well, yes. I didn’t know how to get in touch with you.’

‘With respect, sir, that’s bullshit. I managed to find you easily enough.’

‘Nathan, I had to go to Saunders. He had the contacts, and access to the records. They’ve kept track of you. He got me Bush too.’

‘So why didn’t you come to me directly?’

‘I thought you might think of it as charity. You know, after the way SCU10 was treated when the programme was ended.’

‘There was no need to worry about that, sir. I would never have thought that, and I’ve never blamed you. Anyway, that’s ancient history now. But I thought I’d better warn you. Someone’s coming for you.’

‘What are you talking about?’

A confused voice at the other end of the line.

‘MI5? Military Police? Who knows? Could be a bloke dressed as a phone engineer for all I know. But someone’s coming, trust me on that.

He hung up and smiled, enjoying the mind games.

#

‘Come.’

Jamie Jenkins entered the office of the brigadier. Two assault rifle wielding Military Policemen flanking him.

‘Wh… What’s the meaning of this Jenkins?’

Saunders looked in turn at the military policemen, both of whom he knew. ‘Saltmarsh, Markwick.’ He nodded at both of them in turn and received a ‘Sir.’

‘Sir, I’m terribly sorry sir, and this is extremely awkward, but I’ve just had word from Five that you may be involved in the London bombings’.

‘Poppycock!’ Replied Saunders. Anger instantly visible on his face. Jenkins noticed a bead of sweat form on the brigadier’s brow.

‘I’ve never heard anything so preposterous in my life.’

Jenkins was looking slightly nervous.

‘Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to come with us. We need to ask you some questions regarding Nathan Raynor and Andrew Bush.’

The brigadier shuddered at the mention of the names, but he stood his ground.

‘And on whose authority are you making this request Lance Corporal?’

He emphasised the last two words as he puffed out his chest and stood ramrod straight. Emphasising his own authority.

‘Um. The Secretary of Defence sir.’ replied Jenkins.

‘Pfft. Now there’s a snollygoster if ever I’ve known one.’

He turned to his window, picked up his plant food sprayer and tended to his orchids.

‘Sir, would you come with us please?’ Jenkins asked.

Saunders ignored the request. Instead, he sprayed his plants, humming to himself. Land of Hope and Glory.

‘Sir, I must insist…’

‘Oh you insist do you?’ Saunders spun around to face his subordinate. Spray bottle poised like a pistol.

‘You insist. So tell me Jenkins. Lance Corporal Jenkins.’ His vitriolic tone was putting Jenkins on edge.

‘What exactly have you ever done for this country? How have you made Britain Great?’

Jenkins shuffled anxiously. He really didn’t want to be doing this. The legendary Saunders rage that he’d heard so many rumours allude to over the years was about to be unleashed. He could sense it. Markwick and Saltmarsh could sense it too, index fingers slipping into the trigger guard, the tiniest amount of pressure being applied. Arm muscles tensing, ready to lift. The brigadier continued. A vein on his forehead started to pulse. Sweat was building on his brow.

‘Hmmm? Come on Jenkins, I’m waiting. What’s wrong? Cat your tongue? Waiting for an order? No? Well I’ll tell you what you’ve done.’

‘Sir, please.’ Jenkins implored. The brigadier continued as if the other men weren’t even there. Like rehearsing for a performance.

‘Nothing, Jenkins. That’s precisely what you’ve done for this country. Nothing. I’ve served. I’ve been to war. I’ve been thrown into situations that you’d be unable to comprehend. Alongside gallant men who have given their lives so that this nation can remain great.’

‘If you could just come with us please, Brigadier.’

Jenkins tried again. He was certain the brigadier was about to blow like Vesuvius. He didn’t. He let out a sigh, sat down and put his face in his hands, elbows resting on his desk.

The MP’s relaxed a little. So did Jenkins, who then started to move toward the desk. Suddenly the brigadier sat upright. He looked feral, like a mad dog, ready to strike. Jenkins jumped and took a step back.

‘Look at this country now, Jenkins. Borders constantly being attacked. Foreigners everywhere you turn. Militants, fanatics, religious zealots.’

He stopped. Thinking. Jenkins took the opportunity to try and intervene. To calm him.

‘But that’s what makes this country Great, sir. That’s what you’ve contributed to. Britain is great because she is tolerant. Inclusive. Understanding.’

Jenkins sat in the chair across the desk from the brigadier. The fight was draining from the old war horse. Jenkins tried to take advantage once more.

‘Just come with us now sir.’ He pleaded.

Saunders appeared not to have heard him, his confession kept pouring from his mouth like water from a broken tap.

‘So, yes, I know of these men, Bush and Raynor. Fine men indeed. Would do anything for this country. And then this country showed it had no time for them when they were of no more use.’

‘I understand sir.’ Said Jenkins, ‘but you’re not involved with them now, are you?’

The brigadier smiled the tiniest of smiles. Barely a twitch at the corner of his mouth.

‘I got them the work, Jenkins. I got them the work. They never knew it was me, obviously, but I knew how to get hold of them. They’d been operating as mercenaries for years. I’d actually used them before without their knowledge.

‘Raynor, showed so much promise. Intelligent beyond compare. Just not too stable. Then Bush. A master of stealth. Could creep up on a fly and never be seen coming. The best assassin in the world.

‘Sir, I think you should be telling this to the investigating officer.’

But the brigadier ignored Jenkins, continuing unabated.

‘When Bill called, wanting a mercenary, I instantly recommended Raynor. Bill knew him, of course, from his SAS recruiter days. Bill told me about an arms company that wanted to stir things up a bit. Said it would be in the country’s interest.’

He stopped. Looked at Jenkins, a look of remorse painted onto his face.

‘When Bill said it was to assist rearming this country I jumped at the chance. I had no idea the target would be London.

‘You see, Jenkins, the military has suffered greatly since the end of the Cold War. Defence Spending cuts. Year after year. We’d be lucky to defend ourselves against a boatload of Lemurs. What if Russia decides it’s time for the Great Bear to rise once more?’

Jenkins just shrugged, thinking it best to let the man continue. Let him run out of steam, and then take him in for questioning.

‘We wouldn’t stand a chance, Jenkins. Not a chance. Us or the rest of Europe. It wouldn’t just be migrants trying to get through the tunnel. It would be the whole of the bloody continent. God knows, the Russians do enough sabre rattling; it’s only a matter of time before the wall goes back up.

‘Then there’s China. All they have to do is call in their debt. That’s America ruined.’

He signed. Pondering where his ramblings would lead.

‘Once the first bomb had gone off, I knew I was into something bad. I was trying to control Raynor on the ground, but then Bill’s employer, I don’t know who that is, by the way. Well, he tried to pull out of the deal. That simply pissed-off Raynor.’

Markwick and Saltmarsh were getting a bit agitated, but remained where they stood. If anything, they could be called upon as witnesses if Saunders changed his story.

Jenkins tried to keep a neutral expression on his face, but he was shocked. This man, whom he greatly respected, was partly responsible for one of the worst acts of terrorism to be carried out on these shores. But his intrigue now got the better of him.

‘And Bush?’ He asked.

‘Oh yes, the ever so stealthy Mr Bush.’

He paused briefly, as if a hundred fond memories of days gone by had flooded his brain.

‘Well, this Five agent friend of yours, Edwards. He started joining the dots, didn’t he? Started getting clever. Bill thought it prudent to get rid of him. I called in Bush. Gave him a copy of a photo from Edwards MI5 records and sent him on his way. It seems that I severely underestimated Edwards though. I didn’t see that coming, I can tell you.’ He stood once more.

‘Now Raynor’s out of control and Bush is dead. So, you’d better take me in Jenkins. But please, don’t make me wear handcuffs, at least let me have some dignity as I leave. We’re on a bloody military base, it’s not as if I can go anywhere, is it?’

Jenkins nodded his agreement, saddened by the man in front of him, and gestured for the brigadier to leave the room. The two MP’s, witnessing the gesture, stood in unison. Markwick left the office, Saltmarsh waited for the brigadier and Jenkins to leave the spacious workspace and start making their way down the corridor to the barrack’s holding cells. He then fell in behind them.

They walked in silence for a few steps, and then the brigadier stopped.

‘I wonder if I can ask you for a favour, Jenkins?’ He said.

‘Of course sir, what would you like me to do?’ Replied Jenkins.

Markwick, the lead MP, stopped, turned and re-joined the group, positioning himself to the left of the brigadier.

‘Be a good chap, Jenkins, and make sure somebody looks after my plants.’

As Jenkins smiled and nodded his agreement, Saunders reached with his left arm and grabbed the grip of Markwick’s sidearm, a SIG Sauer P229, in its holster on the MP’s right leg. Before Markwick knew what was happening, Saunders had the weapon unsheathed and the safety off. He pulled the trigger, sending a 9mm Parabellum through the kidney of the officer, to embed in his spine. Markwick fell. Blood streaming from his side. His body starting to spasm due to shock and the damage the bullet had inflicted on his spinal cord. Saunders took aim and pulled the trigger again, this time the bullet entered Markwick’s brain via his right ear.

Jenkins dived toward Saunders, but was too slow. The brigadier managed to avoid the attempted tackle, resulting in Jenkins diving into a wall and ending up a sprawled heap on the floor.

Saltmarsh was quick to react. ‘Live ammo discharge.’ He shouted, warning any personnel within earshot, as he raised his assault rifle and aimed at Saunders. The brigadier was quicker than the MP had expected and swung the gun around, searching for his quarry, a maniacal smile on his face. He lined up his sights on Saltmarsh. Saunders was about to pull the trigger when Saltmarsh released a three round burst. Each round found its target. The brigadier’s chest. Saunders stopped in his tracks and fell to the floor.

Jenkins got back on his feet as the stomp of a hundred combat boots could be heard approaching from all directions. Saunders was still alive, just.

‘You’ll never get Raynor.’ he said, bloody spittle spraying from his lips, a trickle of blood left his mouth and ran down the side of his face to the floor.

‘He’s just too good. I know. I trained him.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Shit. Why did I agree to this?

Dave parked the van next to a communications junction box on Speen Lane. He got out and approached it, searching for the key that would open the front panel. He dropped his clipboard and swore as it clattered on the road. Leaving it there he fumbled through the keys on his key ring until he found the one he needed. He unlocked the front panel, removed it, and then picked up his clipboard.

He pretended to move some cables around and made some random scribbles on his clipboard, spending ten to fifteen minutes pretending to be an engineer.

An old lady walking a tiny, short haired rodent of a dog approached him. The dog’s ears appeared far too big for its head. Dave wondered what people saw in these pathetic animals and how anybody could be affectionate towards such an ugly, pointless creature. Dave was a lover of larger dogs. German Shepherds, Bulldogs, Labradors and Retrievers. Dogs with character.

The old lady was wearing a coat and hat in the middle of summer, the mid-afternoon temperature reaching the low twenties Celsius. She held one end of the dog lead almost at shoulder height, the leash taut, almost lifting the front paws of the rat-dog from the pavement.

‘Young man?’ She asked, heading in Dave’s direction. Dave tried to ignore her.

‘I say, young man?’ she persisted.

Dave raised his head to meet her gaze, a fake smile on his face.

‘Yes madam? How can I help?’

‘Your van, it’s an awful eyesore, is it going to be there long?’

Dave thought hard about his answer. Diplomacy was key to not upsetting the locals, especially in a community where house prices could reach a million pounds.

‘Sorry madam, I’m not sure how long I’ll be. I’m just ensuring all the phone lines are working correctly, and that the internet is available at full capacity.’

The lady let out a derisive huff.

‘Internet? I’ve no time for such things. Just smut and con-artists, that’s all the internet’s good for.’

‘That maybe so madam, but a lot of people use it.’

‘I’d be surprised if anybody in our small community stooped to such deprivation.’

‘Oh I’m sure you’re right, but we provide a service and it’s my job to ensure we deliver it as promised to our paying customers.’

Dave gave the woman his best fake smile.

She huffed again.

‘Well, just be quick about it, I’m sure the general won’t be best pleased to see a tatty old van parked across his drive.’

The van in question was a brand new Mercedes Sprinter. Top of the line specification. A smart company livery adorned its panels. Far from scruffy, to anybody else.

‘I won’t be too long.’ Replied Dave. ‘Twenty minutes tops.’

‘Good, well make sure you’re not a second longer. Come along Oscar.’

And with that she wandered off dragging the poor mutt faster than its legs could cope.

Dave shook his head in disbelief as he watched the old battle-axe walk away. He turned back to the patch-panel and removed a cable from the circuit. He replaced the front panel and locked it, then stood and clapped his palms together in an up-and-down action, removing imaginary dust from his hands.

Right, let’s get this over with.

Dave started to stroll down the lane. The sounds of the countryside were all around him. He narrowly avoided treading in horse dung and swore again.

Don’t go on the moors. He thought, and chuckled.

The entrance to the grand house was looming up ahead of him. He checked the address on his clipboard, stopping in front of the huge iron gates that blocked the way to a very large, modern building.

Dave was quite shocked by the modernity of the property, expecting the general to have slightly more traditional tastes. A large porch jutted from the centre of the main building, made from brick and glass with a slate roof. It was probably the size of most people’s living room. The double front doors were surrounded by glass panels that stretched to the pitch of the roof in the centre. The main building was five times the width of the porch, and at least twice the depth. Dave counted four sets of double windows, two each side of the main entrance, along the front of the building.

The top half of the building was clad in red tiles, the pitch of the roof overhanging the top third. Gable windows set nicely into the structure, directly above the large ground floor apertures.

To the side of the property, Dave could see another building. A double garage that had accommodation to the side and above it. He couldn’t help but be impressed. The annexe was bigger than his house. In front of the garage, a dark blue Maserati Quattroporte sat beside a black Range Rover.

A button on the gate with a placard reading ‘Ring for Attention’ caught Dave’s eye. He pressed it and looked at the camera high on the wall. Another camera next to the buzzer watched him through a fisheye lens.

A tinny voice squawked through a small speaker next to the camera.

‘Yes, who is it?’

Dave took a deep breath.

‘Sorry to bother you, sir. I’m Dave, from FasterComm. We’ve had some calls about network outages, so I’m here to check everything’s okay.’

A pause of a couple of seconds was broken with the metallic answer.

‘But I’m not with FasterComm, I’m with BroadNet.’

Dave shuffled. Leaning past the wall to try and get a glimpse of the house, imagining eyes watching him through a window, even though he was obviously being watched by the camera in the wall.

‘Yes sir, I’m aware of that.’ Dave replied. ‘But BroadNet lease their lines from us.’

‘I see. Do you have identification?’

Dave held up his Id badge, attached to a lanyard, hanging around his neck.

‘To the wall camera please.’ Came the exasperated voice.

‘Of course, sorry.’ Dave held the card to the wall camera.

‘Very well. Will it take long?’

‘Minutes sir, then I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of your afternoon.’

The whir of a motor followed a metallic clunk as the locking mechanism released and the gates rotated back on their hinges, giving Dave access to the vast grounds of the property.

Nerves were starting to attack Dave from all angles as he made his way up the tarmac drive toward the house.

As he approached the front door it started to open. A lean man who looked like he was in his late sixties but with the physique of a man half his age, stepped out. Only his short grey hair, parted at the side, and his worldly, lined face gave away the fact that he was older than his appearance would imply.

His trousers were neatly pressed. Pinpoint accurate creases adorned the front of each leg. A green cardigan covered a blue checked shirt.

The man stared at Dave, small brown eyes. Calculating. Analysing. He was leaning on a cane, but there was no obvious need for it. Dave shivered inwardly, this wasn’t the frail old man he was expecting to find here, but it was definitely an older version of the man whose photo he had attached to his clipboard.

‘ID please.’

The man barked the instruction, holding out his right hand, waving his fingers back and forth in a beckoning gesture.

Dave looked back at the gate pointing in its direction.

‘But I ju…’ he started.

‘ID please!’ More commanding this time.

Dave quickened his pace, almost to a trot. He bowed his head like a naughty schoolboy and meekly handed over his identification.

The general took his time reading the card in full. His gazed switched several times between Dave and the photo on the card. Eventually, he passed the card back to Dave, who hung it around his neck once more.

‘Well, Sykes. Is this going to take long?’ The general enquired.

‘Not too long at all Mr… err… sorry General Thomas.’

‘Good. I’ve places to be you know. Well come in, come in. Shoes off, please.’

Dave entered the foyer and removed his shoes, placing them on a shoe rack by the wall. He followed the general from the anteroom into a spacious hallway.

The general pointed at a small telephone table. A vase of flowers sitting behind a white cordless phone sat on its base. A notepad and pen positioned to the right of the base unit, the top sheet of paper blank.

‘I have two phone lines.’ The general informed Dave. ‘The first comes in there, the second in my office, which is also where my broadband comes in.’

He pointed to a hallway leading off to the right.

‘Down there, second left, that’s where I’ll be, should you need me.’

Dave nodded.

‘Thank you, I won’t be long.’

As soon as Thomas was out of earshot, Dave got his mobile and called Sam.

‘It’s him, Sam, no doubt about it.’ Dave whispered into his phone.

‘Good work Dave, we’ll take it from here. Is there any way you can keep him there for about twenty minutes. I’ve got an armed response unit stationed in Newbury. I’ll scramble them. They’ll be over as quick as they can to take him in’

‘Hang on!’ exclaimed Dave. ‘What do you mean? Armed response unit? Am I in danger?’

‘Dave. You’ll be fine. It’s just a precaution. Just keep up the engineer act.’

‘Yeah, okay mate.’ Dave ended the call.

#

General Thomas sat in his office, phone in hand. A wisp of smoke rose from a cigarette burning out in a crystal ashtray on the desk. A blueish, grey haze hovered over the general’s head.

Shit. No dial tone.

He could be dressed as a bloody phone engineer for all I know.’ The warning from Raynor echoed in his mind.

He took a key from his pocket and unlocked a drawer in his large mahogany desk. He pulled the drawer open and removed a mobile phone. He sat patiently while it started up, eyeing the Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol that also took residence in the desk drawer. His sidearm during the Falklands conflict.

#

Okay Dave, keep cool. Fart about here for a couple of minutes, then go find the old bastard. Get him talking. Probably a lonely old fucker desperate for a good chat.

Dave took a screwdriver from the pocket of his shirt, knelt down, and started removing the screws from the cover of the phone cabling box. He removed the cover and inspected the connections.

#

‘He’s here, Raynor. A Dave Sykes. How the hell did you know he’d be dressed a phone engineer.’

‘Just a hunch, sir. An educated guess if you will.’

The old habit of calling a once superior officer ‘Sir’ still clung to Raynor.

‘Well what the hell am I supposed to do?’ Asked the general as he doodled on a jot-pad. The action was very out of character for the normally tidy man.

‘Well that’s up to you, sir. You can sit and wait for his backup to arrive. He’s probably called it in. You can get rid of him. You could try to escape. All of the above? Your call sir. Now I’ve got havoc to reign on our first city, so I’ve got to go.’

‘Why not stop Nathan?’ Implored the general. ‘You’ve made your point, you’ve had your payday, now vanish. If you keep this up, they’ll get you.’

‘I don’t think so, sir. Look after yourself. It’s been an honour.’

The call ended.

#

‘The box in the hall is fine, General.’

Dave shouted as he put the cover back onto the small white box. He stood and put his screwdriver back into his shirt pocket.

‘I’ll look at the one in your office now, if that’s okay.’

‘Yes, that’s fine, second left, just follow my voice.’

Dave started his walk to the general’s office. On his approach to the office door, the photograph of the younger William Thomas came free of the sprung clip of Dave’s clipboard and drifted, like a feather, to the floor. ‘Shit.’ he exclaimed, as he bent to pick it up. Picking up the picture, he started to rise from his stoop, just as he got to the office door.

The shot was deafening. Fortunately for Dave, the general was aiming to where he thought Dave’s torso would be. The photograph falling from the clipboard had saved Dave from serious injury, or even death.

Dave threw himself to the ground. Turning his head toward the office door, He watched as the general lifted himself from his large red-leather chair, still pointing the pistol toward the doorway. Dave scrambled to his feet and out of the line of fire. He was reaching the end of the hallway but couldn’t stop. His socks simply sliding on the wooden floor. He slammed into the wall. The general came out of the office and looked toward Dave. He raised the pistol and fired.

A cry of pain preceded the sound of footsteps running down the hallway, echoing off the solid wood floor. The jangle of keys was followed by a door slamming. A few seconds later a car door opened and was quickly closed again.

Silence was suddenly filled by the roar of a 3.8 litre, V8, Ferrari F154 engine. Thomas was making his escape in the Maserati. Tyres spun and shrieked, trying to gain purchase on the ground. It found traction and sped out of the grounds into the Berkshire countryside.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Sam was getting anxious. He had received a positive identification of William Thomas, but the only links he had were between Thomas, Saunders and Raynor. He still had no motive. He was certain Thomas didn’t have the desire to perpetrate such atrocities against his own country, even if he had the means to do so. Yes, he failed in his application to join the SAS, but he’d still had an outstanding military career. He’d invested his savings well and achieved some great returns on those investments.

Sam wondered what vital link was missing, hoping Jenkins would have some more information, obtained from Saunders.

He was also getting restless. There was very little he could do. He was waiting. Waiting for Mickey. Waiting for Dave. Waiting for Jenkins. Waiting for Lucy Green, whoever she was. He left the small office he’d been using and went for a walk around the building. He stopped at a window and looked out over the Thames. He could see The Shard in the distance, smoke pouring from its wound, into the summer sky. The traffic on the street below kept moving. The wheels of commerce never stopping.

Sam turned and leaned against the wall. Shoulders resting on the cool window pane. He looked through the glass panels of the double doors that led back to the main office. He watched the people frantically trying to solve the puzzle. Sam knew he had the best chance of tracking Raynor. What he didn’t know was when that would be. For the moment though, he was just happy to have a brief respite from the madness just metres away. His short period of solitude was ended by the muffled ring of his mobile phone in his pocket. He gave a sigh and removed the offending item from its temporary abode. It was Jenkins.

‘JJ, what’s happening? Any news?’

‘He’s dead Sam. Bloody idiot, tried to run for it. Got an MP’s gun, shot the poor bastard, twice. Second time was through the head at point blank range. Would have shot me too, if I hadn’t tried to be the hero. I made a dive for him and missed. That fuck-up saved my life, Sam. Another MP shot him in the end.’

Sam took a deep breath.

‘Shit. JJ, I’m sorry to have to ask this after what you’ve been through, but did he give anything up?’

Jenkins told Sam about the bizarre confession the brigadier had made prior to his suicidal escape attempt. Sam patiently listened, not gaining anything new from Jenkins’ monologue. Then something caught his attention.

‘Some arms company wanting to stir things up a bit.’

‘Hang on a minute, JJ.’ Sam Said. ‘An arms company hired William Thomas in order to sub-contract a mercenary? That’s ridiculous.’

‘Sounds it Sam, I know, but that’s what he said. They also used him to hire the late Andrew Bush.’

Just the name caused Sam to shudder.

‘Your doing, I presume?’ Jenkins asked.

‘Yeah, and not something I’m in any hurry to do again.’ replied Sam.

Sam thanked Jenkins for all his help and they said their goodbyes, an empty promise to meet for a drink made by both men.

Sam paused for a second, letting the information sink in. At least now he knew that Raynor hadn’t sent the hit man. He made a call to Mickey.

‘Hello Mick, I’ve got a bit of info. Worth looking into I think.

‘Thomas was hired by an arms company to recruit a couple of hired guns. I need you to cross reference everything you have on Thomas with every arms company in Britain, extend to Europe, then globally if nothing comes up.’

‘Will do mate. Interestingly, I’ve found a bank account nestled deep in many layers of shell companies. It received thirty million quid last month and made a six million quid payment after the Knightsbridge incident. Could be something in it.’

‘Nice one Mick, do you know who paid the cash into the account?’

‘Not yet, but I reckon it’s our arms company. I’ll start the cross referencing, then try and trace the cash back to its original owner.’

‘Thanks mate, I’ll speak to you later.’

At last, progress was being made and things were starting to come together. But Sam still didn’t have a fix on Raynor. Time for another phone call. He found Dave’s office number in his contacts and tapped the call button.

‘Lucy Green speaking, how can I help you?’

‘Hello Lucy, It’s Sam Edwards. Dave’s mate. He said you’d call if you had anything for me, but I’m a little impatient. I hope you don’t mind.’

‘Not at all, Sam. Umm. I’m just trying to complete the scripts to trace Raynor’s phone. We last had it at the Shard, and I think it’s just been to the London Eye. It’s now stationary…’

‘Whoa, hold on. London Eye?’

‘Yes, about forty minutes ago. He seems to have been there for a while before heading north. He’s been stationary for a while at the top of Belvedere Road.’

‘I’ll call you back.’

Sam burst through the doors into the main office. ‘Jay! Get Bomb Disposal and an Armed Response Unit to the London Eye. Raynor’s been there.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

‘Up Millbank, over the bridge, then Belvedere.’ Virani shouted at Storry.

The Audi sped up Millbank, lights flashing, Siren blaring.

‘I can’t believe the cheeky bastard has dared come so close to MI5.’ She said to nobody in particular.

#

‘Lucy, it’s Sam again, do you have a fix?’

‘Top of Belvedere road. He’s just sat there. Been like it for about ten minutes.’

‘Thanks Lucy.’

Sam ran as fast as his legs would carry him. He fished his Bluetooth earpiece from his pocket, switched it on and slotted it into his ear while running to the underground parking garage.

A few metres from the little Lotus, he clicked a button on his key-fob, turning off the car’s alarm. He climbed into the car, started the engine and sped up the ramp onto Thorney Street.

He tapped a button on the side of his earpiece and instructed ‘Call Jayshree Virani.’ A computerised voice replied. ‘Dialling.’ The call was almost immediately answered.

‘Virani.’

‘Jay, It’s Sam, I’m on my way to the top of Belvedere Road. Raynor’s there, stationary. Maybe he’s waiting to watch his handiwork.’

‘Okay Sam. Do you have back up?’

Sam felt a little foolish. He hadn’t thought it through, simply ran to his car as quickly as he could. He was putting himself in great danger, but he couldn’t turn back, not when he was so close.

‘Umm. Kind of forgot about that Jay. I just jumped in my car and set off. I’m heading up Millbank.’

‘You’re in the Lotus? I don’t like this, Sam, I’ll be honest with you, but we can’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers. I’m at the Eye, we’re calmly encouraging the public to leave, but it could be another thirty minutes before everybody’s off the wheel. I’ll divert the armed unit to back you up. As Raynor’s obviously not here, there’s no point them being here making Joe Public nervous. Be careful.’

Rush hour was approaching; the roads were getting busy. Sam was making slow progress to Westminster Bridge. His main concern was that Raynor would be long gone by the time he got there. He pressed the button on his earpiece once more. ‘Call Dave work.’ He instructed. Moments later, his call was answered.

‘Lucy Green.’

‘Lucy, it’s Sam. Is he still there?

‘Yes, Sam. He hasn’t moved.’

‘Okay, thanks.’ Sam ended the call.

Sam made slow progress around the Parliament Square one-way system and onto Bridge Street. Passing the Houses of Parliament, the roadster made its way onto Westminster Bridge, the London Eye becoming visible across the river to the left. Everything looked normal, he was just a bit too far away to be able to make out the masses of uniformed men and women attempting to calmly clear the public from a potentially life threatening situation.

#

Raynor was sat on his motorcycle. He stopped listening to the calls and put his phone in the inside pocket of his jacket. He put on his helmet and gloves and started the machine. He waited.

A Lotus. Should be easy to spot.

#

Sam’s phone rang. He pressed the button on his earpiece to accept the incoming call.

‘He fucking shot me!’

Sam slammed on the brakes, much to the chagrin of the driver behind. Horns started blaring behind him. He pulled into the bus lane and stopped.

‘Dave? What happened? Is it bad?’

‘Of course it’s fucking bad, Sam. I’ve been shot!’

‘Where’s Thomas? Are the police there yet?’

‘Thomas took off in his Maserati. Brand new, thirteen plate. Dark Blue. Four-door. What do they call them?’

‘Quattroporte?’ offered Sam.

‘Yeah, that’s it. I wonder what that means in English.’

‘It’s Italian for “four doors”, Dave. Jesus, if he shot you in the head he’d have missed your brain by five and a half feet.

‘So what about you, Dave. Where were you shot?’

‘In the shoulder, Sam. Hurts like hell, blood everywhere. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.’

‘Shit. Did the bullet stay in? Is there an exit wound?’

‘No, the bullet didn’t stay in.’

Sam was relieved. A clean exit meant that patch up surgery would be enough to get Dave back on his feet. He’d be sore for a while, and depending on muscle and nerve damage may have restricted use of his arm, but he’d be fine.

‘That’s a relief.’ Said Sam. The line went quiet for a moment. Sam could hear muffled voices in the background before Dave shouted.

‘I’m through here. In the hallway.’

Sam jumped when he heard a blare of a horn behind him. He looked in his rear-view mirror to see the London Transport logo through the rippled, plastic rear window. He watched a man approaching and pressed the button to lower his window. A tall man in a London Transport uniform stooped down to see through the window of the very low car.

‘You can’t just bloody well park your car in a bus lane on a bridge.’ The man exclaimed.

Sam held up his MI5 Identification and said two words in an unusually arrogant manner.

‘National security.’

The bus driver’s eyes widened as he read the information on Sam’s ID card. He stood and sauntered back to the bus, muttering something Sam probably didn’t want to hear.

‘Dave, what’s happening?’ he asked.

‘Plod’s here. The bloke in charge wants a word.’

‘Okay, put him on.’ A pause as the phone was passed over.

‘This is Chief Inspector Wadsworth, Authorised Firearms Officer in charge. To whom am I speaking?’

‘Sam Edwards, MI5. The man you’re with is known to me.’ Sam explained. ‘His name is Dave Sykes. He’s reported to me that he’s been shot and is badly wounded, would you please confirm?’

Sam spotted the flashing blue lights of a police car in his wing mirror. Traffic on the bridge behind pulled over to let it past. Tourists stopped on the bridge and watched it. It was becoming apparent that something was happening at the London Eye. People were now stopping on the bridge and looking towards the tourist attraction as empty viewing pods continued their slow rotations.

Sam’s concentration was returned to the phone call when he heard a hearty laugh.

‘It’s a graze.’ Wadsworth continued, chuckling, ‘The bullet barely touched him. There’s some blood, I think he may have smashed his nose on the floor when he fainted.’

More laughter.

‘A sticking plaster will be all the medical attention he needs. I’ll put him back on.’

The next voice Sam heard was Dave. An apologetic tone to his voice.

‘It felt bad Sam, and there’s more blood than he’s letting on. But I’ll be okay.’

‘Fuck sake, Dave, I thought you were seriously injured, mate. I was on my way to get Raynor, we’re tracking his position. He might be gone now.’

Now Dave did sound regretful.

‘Shit, sorry Sam. I didn’t mean to slow you down. I’ll tell the Chief Inspector about Thomas, mate. You get after Raynor.’

With that, he was gone.

#

Bloody hell, Sam. Are you walking? I just want a bit of fun before I go back to work. Thought Raynor. He was still sat on his idling motorcycle. A train rumbled over the railway bridge behind him. He could see the flashing lights of the emergency services attending the London Eye. The road ahead was starting to fill with people as the public were ushered back. Officers started placing barriers and tying crime scene tape between trees. Sam was going to have a difficult time getting through that lot.

Raynor took his helmet off again. He reached for his phone to check for activity. One missed call. Dave Sykes. Something had happened to slow Sam down. Did they get Thomas? Raynor wondered. Five more minutes, Sam.

#

The 1.6 litre, turbocharged Isuzu engine was capable of accelerating the one-ton vehicle to sixty miles per hour in under seven seconds, and it made a valiant effort to do so as Sam floored the accelerator and sped into the traffic.

Unfortunately, he barely made it to thirty miles per hour before the traffic in front slowed him down. Sam was certain he wouldn’t make it in time. Raynor would be gone.

#

The dog barked and sat down. Jinx, a Belgian Malinois, was a highly trained, invaluable member of the Bomb Disposal crew. She was trained at the Defence Animal Centre at Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, a one hundred and ten year old, three hundred and sixty acre facility used by the Royal Army Veterinary Corp.

Her handler called her back and she dutifully returned to him, tail wagging, and only too pleased to have helped. He gave her a treat and she sat by his side behind a transparent reinforced plastic shield.

Virani was watching from a safe distance, behind her own protective panel. She phoned Sam.

‘Sam, it’s Jay, where are you?’

‘Jay, I’ve been held up. Thomas has gotten away, but he is definitely our man.’

‘Okay, well I’m going to be here for a while. This bomb disposal malarkey can take quite a while, I’ve been told.’

She was watching as a Remotely Operated Vehicle, an ROV, nicknamed a Wheelbarrow, approached the device. It stood about a metre high at its highest point and rode on caterpillar tracks. A number of arms protruded from a central post, each allowing a number of attachments to be connected. Cameras or monitoring devices could be mounted on the appendages. It was currently fitted with a portable x-ray system that would allow the operator to analyse the inner workings of the ordnance and ascertain the appropriate action to disarm it.

‘Try and get to his last known, for confirmation purposes. If he’s not there, get back to Thames House. Your backup is still a few minutes behind you, so be careful.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Sam eventually got to York Road and made his way north. It was decision time. Should he turn left onto Chicheley Street and risk getting caught up in the crowds who would no doubt be gathered behind the police cordon, waiting, in hope, for a bit of excitement? Or continue north and potentially get stuck in traffic at the roundabout which encircles the impressive BFI IMAX Cinema?

He decided to risk Chicheley Street. He indicated and turned left, immediately regretting his decision.

Police officers were attempting to push the crowd further back. Some were carrying barriers with the intention of closing the junction Sam had just turned into. An officer noticed Sam’s car and waved at him to stop. The officer jogged up and ducked into Sam’s now open window.

‘Sorry, sir, you can’t come down here, its pandemonium. We’re having to push the crowd back this way.’

Sam showed his identification.

‘I have to get to Belvedere Road, it’s the last known location of the suspect.’

The tone of the police officer immediately changed.

‘Of course sir, follow me.’

He started ushering the crowd to the side of the road, shouting to get their attention. Sam’s car crawled behind. Sam thought back to his school history lessons when he learned about the early days of motoring, when cars would have a man walking in front of them, waving a flag to alert the public who were not accustomed to seeing the infernal machines.

The officer wasn’t lying, it was pandemonium. Ambulances were arriving, a precautionary measure. Sam could make out people still in the viewing pods of the London Eye. Best seats in the house. He couldn’t help but think that they might have been better off staying there.

Progress was made, but it was slow. Sam was grateful for the assistance getting him through the crowd. Eventually he made it to the junction with Belvedere Road where he turned right, the police officer still trying to move the crowd, which was at its thickest at this point.

In the distance, he could see the railway bridge. The last known location of Raynor. He wondered why Virani hadn’t sent a couple of policemen to investigate. It would only have taken a couple of minutes for somebody to have walked up the road. From her location, Virani could probably see Raynor. Probably just playing it by-the-book. If she were to waste resources chasing a sighting based on information gathered through questionable activities, only for it to be a false alarm, she’d have hell to pay.

Likewise, if an officer approached Raynor without backup and ended up getting injured, it would be Virani who took the blame.

Resources were already short. They were stretched to their limits. Teams at The Shard, teams here at the London Eye, Sam officially still on leave after the attempt on his life. What could she do? She needed a result. Sam was her only choice.

Gradually, the crowd started thinning out. The Police officer stopped and walked back to the car. Sam lowered his window.

‘You should be fine from here sir. Good luck.’

‘Thanks for your help.’ replied Sam as he revved the engine in an attempt to get the remaining crowd to part. He sounded his horn to add to the urgency.

Raynor watched as the crowd started to part. The low, wide wedge of the green Elan’s bonnet inched through. He waited, helmet on, visor up.

Sam saw Raynor, and then it hit him. What was he supposed to do? He was unarmed and had no backup. Was he supposed to try and arrest the man? Just hope that Raynor would simply oblige? There was no way that was going to happen.

Sam stopped the car. A Mexican standoff. His backup would be here soon. Could he get Raynor to hang around long enough? Probably not. Raynor would just take off as soon as there was any sign of backup.

Without warning, the Honda started moving. It was coming towards Sam. Slowly. Ten metres, five, two. It stopped. Sam looked into Raynor’s eyes. They were mocking him. Raynor spoke.

‘Alright Sam? I’ve been waiting for you.’

He looked down the road toward the crowd. It looked like they were parting again to let Sam’s backup drive through.

‘Look, I know you’ve got backup coming, so I’m not going to hang around. But that’s four down, Sam. Six to go. I’m going to give you a chance though. I’m not going to send the texts out until the last one’s in place.’

Though the helmet was covering Raynor’s face, his eyes told Sam that he was smiling.

‘Stop me, stop the explosions. Now, I’ve got work to do. Don’t try and follow, you won’t be able to. Just head back to Thames House and tell the lovely Ms. Virani that I wasn’t here.’

He dropped his visor, slotted the bike into gear, opened the throttle, and performed a tyre-smoking one hundred and eighty degree turn. He then sped off up the road.

Sam didn’t hang around. He slammed the Lotus into first gear and hit the accelerator. He could never out-run the bike, but he’d have the advantage around corners. He’d at least be able to catch up a bit when the bike had to slow at junctions. But the bike could weave through traffic, something the Lotus was unable to do.

They sped under the railway bridge and Raynor slowed to make a right turn. Sam was close behind, using his handbrake to slide the car through the junction onto Concert Hall Approach. Without warning, Raynor swerved across the road onto the wide pedestrian footpath of Sutton Walk. He had a split second decision to make. Follow or let Raynor go? There was no way he’d be able to find Raynor if he lost him now. He followed suit and swerved onto the pavement, going under the railway bridge once more, heading toward Waterloo station.

People dived out of the way, screaming, shaking their fists, shouting obscenities. York Road was directly ahead, dissecting the footpath. Raynor weaved through a couple of taxis and headed up Station Approach against the oncoming traffic. Sam stood on the brake pedal as the obstacles drove by, giving him a gap to fit the car through. He couldn’t risk going the wrong way up Station Approach. Unlike Raynor, he couldn’t use the pavement as easily. He swerved the car onto Mepham Street and floored it.

The street he was on ran parallel to Station Approach, but not for too far. Station Approach raised to a covered pickup point at one of the station’s many exits, giving the effect that Mepham Street was dipping next to it. Their paths would soon split. Sam would have to make some diversions to get back on track.

Mepham Street met Waterloo Road and Sam turned onto it. He was now moving away from the road Raynor was on, which hugged the edge of Waterloo train station. He needed to gain some time on the bike in order to have any chance of catching him up.

Raynor was having his own problems. As he reached the top of the incline and entered the covered area, a bus and a taxi were blocking his way. People were swarming around the bus, trying to get on. He slowed, trying to assess the best course of action.

The cycle path was the only real option, but it was busy. Pedestrians loitered, cyclists, two abreast, blocking the path. Bollards made it difficult to mount the pavement. It was a delay he didn’t need. He fought his way through the throng and managed to pick up speed.

He was now on a two-way street. A mini roundabout gave taxis a place to turn and head back in the direction they came. He had to be careful, though; British Transport police always had a presence outside the station. Even more so now, thanks to his handiwork.

Sam slowed to make a right turn onto Bayliss Road. It was busy. It always was around railway stations. He edged out into the oncoming traffic and a bus blared its horn, narrowly avoiding the front of the car. He forced his way through only to have to repeat the process merely thirty metres further in order to get onto Spur Road. He could see the railway station ahead. Was he too late? He rounded the left hander that would take him parallel, once more, with Station Approach and eased on the gas.

As Station Approach declined, a partitioning wall between the two roads turned to iron railings. Sam glanced right and saw the bike. He stamped the accelerator pedal as Raynor opened up the bike’s throttle.

The two roads met at a mini-roundabout. Raynor took the right side of it, Sam the left. A queue of taxis waited to join the snake of vehicles coiling around the railway station, forcing Raynor a little further left than he wanted. The bike made contact with the car, forcing both parties to swerve slightly. Raynor wobbled, but managed to control the vehicle. Sam had to brake hard and narrowly avoided rear-ending a parked car.

Raynor was in front as they approached a sharp right hand bend, entering a short tunnel under the railway lines. A low barrier separated the lanes. While the right-hand lane was wider, Raynor decided to err on the side of caution and stay left. He had to slow to navigate past a speed bump.

Sam almost had to stop to ensure that he didn’t damage his car on the speed bump. The height of the obstacle would have ripped the front from the car if he’d taken it at any speed. This allowed Raynor to accelerate toward the corner. Raynor, however, had to slow down more than Sam in order to safely navigate the sharp right-hand bend. Once around the corner, Raynor accelerated into the darkness of the tunnel beneath the railway lines. He flicked a switch on his handlebars and his lights came on. The roar of his engine echoed as he sped to the next corner, this time not such a sharp left-hander.

Sam was over the bump and speeding around the first bend. He turned a dial to the right of the steering wheel and his headlights popped up from the bonnet. He sped toward the left-hand bend that Raynor had just exited. As he came round the corner, he caught a glimpse of Raynor making a left turn onto Lambeth Palace Road. The bike gained speed, but Sam reacted quickly, using the power of every horse he had in the small engine.

Sam saw the bike. It was losing him. But then he saw tyre smoke. A lorry had pulled out of Royal Street, obviously not noticing Raynor. The bike snaked and slid but Raynor controlled it and managed to avoid a collision. Sam checked the oncoming lane. There was nothing coming. He slalomed the Elan through a right-turn filter lane and ended up on the wrong side of the road. This allowed him to avoid the lorry without losing too much momentum. The road narrowed and Sam was right on Raynor’s tail.

Without warning, Raynor left the road and mounted the pavement. Avoiding bollards, park benches and trees, he opened up the throttle and sped into Lambeth Palace Gardens. Sam braked hard. There was no way he could get through the gates. Worse still, there were another two exits from the park and no way of knowing which one Raynor would exit through. Sam stopped in the bus lane. He hit his steering wheel with the palms of his hands ‘Shit!’ he sat back in his seat, closed his eyes and let out a deep breath.

He sat for a couple of minutes, pissing off bus drivers, his head in his hands. Then he started the car and re-joined the traffic on Lambeth Palace Road. He crossed Lambeth Bridge, turned left and headed back to Thames House. On his arrival, he pulled up in the blue no parking zone and got out of the car. An armed police officer approached him.

‘Sorry sir, you can’t leave that there, it will be towed within a few minutes, and then destroyed.’

Sam flashed his ID, the police officer didn’t look impressed. ‘Excuse me sir, can I take a closer look at that please?’

Sam removed the lanyard from around his neck and thrust it into the outstretched hand of the officer. He then said.

‘Get on your radio and call Grant Bray, Head of Counter Terrorism. Tell him Sam Edwards wants to leave his car outside in case he needs to leave quickly to pursue Raynor. I’m sure you’ve heard of Raynor? He’s the one who’s been blowing up the city.’

The police officer was stoic. He would make a great Queen’s Guard. Sam pointed toward The Shard.

‘You see that? Well I’ve just been chasing the fucker responsible. He’s also left a device just across the river, next to the Eye. My boss, Jayshree Virani, is there now as a bomb disposal expert tries to disarm it.’

The officer changed stance. He couldn’t afford to hold up an MI5 agent in pursuit of the country’s most wanted man.

‘I’ll make the call, sir, please wait here. If this is a lie, however, I’ll be arresting you. Understood?’

Sam nodded. ‘Just make the call.’

The officer walked away. Sam could see him using his phone. After what seemed like agonising minutes, but which was, in fact, only around twenty seconds, the officer walked back.

‘Terribly sorry, Mr Edwards. Mr Bray has instructed me to guard this car as if my life depended on it. I’m to assist you in any way possible.’

‘Thank you.’ Said Sam, relaxing slightly. ‘Just make sure nobody tows it away.’ He smiled. ‘It’s a classic.’

Sam turned and sprinted up the steps into Thames House.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

‘Well did you see it? Please tell me you saw it’. Dave was staring up at the armed officer. Wadsworth remained straight-faced. Serious. ‘See what?’ he asked.

‘The fucking Maserati. You can hardly miss it, it’s a Maserati. A Quattroporte. You know Quat-tro-por-te. It means four-doors.’

Dave was over his brush with death, and now had a personal gripe with Wadsworth for ridiculing him to his best mate.

‘No sir.’ Wadsworth replied. ‘I don’t believe I did. We’re an armed response unit, sir, not traffic police. We had weapons to prepare.’ He raised his MP5, as if to prove what he was saying. ‘Checklists to run through. We didn’t have time to play I Spy, I’m afraid.’

He turned and started to walk away, chuckling and talking to himself.

‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with Q. Is it Quattroporte Gov? Yes it is, well done Hopkins, your turn.’

‘Twat.’ Dave muttered to himself before shouting, ‘What about number plate recognition. You know, that ANPR, or whatever it’s called. I read about it once in a Peter James novel.’

Wadsworth replied. ‘Congratulations on your reading ability, sir. A fine achievement. With regard to ANPR, regional traffic control will be able to search for specific number plates. Do you happen to know the registration number of the Quat-tro-por-te in question?’

Dave shook his head. There must be other ways to track this car. Then it dawned on him. Track the car. It might have tracking hardware fitted. He walked down the hall after Wadsworth.

‘Excuse me, Inspector?’ He called to the other man’s back. Wadsworth stopped and turned to face Dave, aware that Dave was just trying to wind him up.

‘Chief Inspector.’ He corrected Dave.

‘Yeah, whatever. Can you, the Old Bill I mean, not you personally, can you get into car tracking systems?’

The chief inspector signed.

‘Sir, tracking systems are sold, fitted and monitored by private organisations, not the police.’

Wadsworth turned his attention back to his squad. He was part way through an impromptu debriefing. Dave studied the floor for a moment, thinking.

A few seconds passed, his brow creased more as he tried to find a solution. With a smile on his face he took his phone from his pocket and made a call.

‘Hello Dave, how’s it going? Did you ID Thomas?’ Asked Mickey.

‘ID him?’ Dave asked, an incredulous tone to his voice. ‘He shot me!’

Before continuing his dramatic tale, he remembered how much time he’d wasted when over-elaborating the facts to Sam. He promptly added.

‘Just a scratch though, nothing to worry about. Definitely Thomas, which is why I’m calling.’

‘Go on.’ Mickey prompted.

Dave went into the entrance hall and picked up his shoes he then walked up the hallway and entered the general’s office. He sat in the large red leather chair, leaning back to recline it slightly.

‘Well, the bastard got away. I don’t have a reg, but he’s in a dark blue thirteen-plate Maserati Quattroporte.’

‘Very nice.’ Mickey interjected.

‘Very.’ Dave agreed. ‘But plod need a registration in order to track it via ANPR. I’m hoping he’s got a tracker installed. Any chance you could use your skills to try and find out? Should be an account in the name of General William Thomas.’

Dave heard the faint sound of keystrokes, then Mickey’s voice.

‘PythonTrak seem to be Maserati approved, I’ll try them. What are you after?’

‘Location would be good, speed, direction. We might be able to guess his destination.’

‘Bear with, the security on this server is shockingly poor. I’ll be through it in a minute. Shall I sing while you wait?’ Mickey chuckled.

‘I’d rather you didn’t, if it’s all the same mate.’

‘Fair enough.’

More tapping, frustrated grunts and obscenities bombarded Dave’s ears as Mickey applied his craft. Dave lifted his right foot and slipped a shoe on. He repeated the process for his left foot.

Dave was now rocking the leather chair, he then started swivelling left and right like a small child visiting his dad’s workplace. The chair started squeaking, a high pitched, grating noise, so he returned to a stationary position and started moving things on the desk, the phone still held to his left ear, impatience showing.

Looking up from the desk, Dave noticed the bullet hole in the hallway wall through the office door. He made a gun shape with his right hand and lined it up with the impact hole. Pulling an imaginary trigger, he flicked his fingers upwards, mimicking the gun’s recoil.

Wadsworth walked in.

‘Having fun, sir?’ he asked, smirking.

Dave pointed to his left ear and the phone in his hand. ‘On the phone.’ he mouthed.

Wadsworth ignored Dave and continued.

‘Just so you know sir, we’ll be going now. The local force has arrived to secure the scene. You’ll be taken in for questioning soon.’ He nodded at Dave, still smirking.

‘Goodbye sir.’ He walked away.

Mickey’s voice came back on the line.

‘Sweet. Got the bastard.’

‘Where?’ Asked Dave.

‘A4, heading west. Current speed is ninety-seven miles per hour. If I had to guess, I’d say he was heading for Tidworth. Going to see the Brigadier.’

‘Probably.’ Agreed Dave. ‘Is there anything you can do to slow him down a bit?’

‘I can do better than that, Dave. You won’t believe this, mate. I can stop him in his tracks.’

‘You what?’ Dave asked. ‘How?’

‘I’ve the ability to cut the engine. It alerts the driver and slowly decreases the speed until the car’s stationary. Suppose it helps the police if the car’s been stolen.’

‘That’s fucking amazing!’ Exclaimed Dave. ‘Oh, by the way, what’s its registration? I’ll pass it on to the police.’

‘I can do that from here mate, if you like.’

‘No, it’s alright, mate, I’ll pass it on. There’s just something I need to do first’

Dave wrote the number on the jot-pad, next to the squiggles made earlier by the general. ‘Thanks Mick.’

‘No problem mate. Don’t go getting yourself into trouble though.’ Replied Mickey.

‘When have you ever known me to do that?’ Asked Dave, innocently.

‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Mickey replied. ‘Pretty much whenever you’re awake. Take it easy mate.’ Mickey ended the call.

He immediately phoned Sam.

‘Sam, it’s Mickey. Before I tell you what I’ve found out, I think Dave’s going to do something stupid.’

‘Tell me something I don’t know.’ Replied Sam. ‘I’ll call you back in a couple of minutes.’

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Dave pulled into a lay-by. He could see the Maserati parked in a lay-by a couple of hundred metres further up, on the opposite side of the road. The car’s hazard lights were flashing. Thomas was pacing around in front of the car, his phone to his ear. An articulated lorry was indicating to leave the lay-by. It pulled out slowly and joined the traffic heading east toward Newbury.

An engine, slowing down and pulling in behind, interrupted Dave’s thoughts as he stared at the animated man in front of the Maserati. He looked in his wing-mirror and saw that he was now sharing the lay-by with a white van. He opened the van door and got out. Letting out a deep breath, he started walking up the hedge-lined road. Behind him, he heard the opening of the side-door of the white van.

#

‘So, Mick, what else have you got?’ Asked Sam

‘Well, I’ve got an arms company linked to Thomas.’

Mick now had Sam’s full attention.

‘Tell me more my friend.’

‘Culpepper Fostervold Arms International PLC. Thomas had shares. Quite a substantial number at that. Would have made him a tidy sum over the years. It seems he became quite good friends with a Lucas Fostervold, one of the directors.’

‘Good work, mate, where are they based?’

‘That’s the thing, mate. I think Raynor beat us to it. The Shard, fifty-seventh floor.’

#

Dave made a slow approach up the busy road. He managed to cross over, putting him on the same side as his target. He crouched as he made his way forward. He could hear the faint rustling of animals in the hedgerows.

He reached the lay-by and crouched lower as he approached the back of the Maserati. The general was holding his phone, stabbing the screen with his finger, eager for the device to do something to help him.

Finding his resolve, Dave stood upright and walked around the side of the car. The general was looking away from him, still trying to get his phone to do something.

Dave tapped him on the shoulder and the general turned round. To his surprise, the general received an uppercut to the chin from the small man that now stood in front of him.

The general staggered back and rubbed his chin, while Dave shook his hand and then started rubbing his knuckles, a look of pain on his face.

‘Fuck, that hurt.’ Dave announced.

‘That’s for shooting me you bastard.’ He said, as he pointed accusingly at the General.

The other man had now regained his balance, along with his composure.

‘Should have made sure I’d finished you off though, shouldn’t I?’ The general asked, rhetorically.

‘Well, if you had you wouldn’t be in this position would you?’ Countered Dave.

‘And what position would that be?’

‘Fucked.’ Was Dave’s reply.

The general smiled. From the waistband of his trousers he pulled the gun with which he’d shot Dave earlier.

‘Are you sure about that?’ He asked.

A defeated ‘Oh bollocks.’ was all Dave could manage.

A sudden, quiet, pop was followed by a mist of red that bloomed from the general’s body before he sank to the ground.

‘What the fuck!’ Dave exclaimed before he heard more rustling in the hedges. A man started to emerge from the greenery, camouflaged from head to toe, even his face was painted.

The man shouted ‘Clear. Target neutralised.’

Without realising he was doing it, Dave put his hands up. He started backing up until he made contact with the Italian sports car. Three more armed men made themselves known. Then Dave recognised the man in charge.

‘Hello again, sir.’ Said Wadsworth. ‘It seems you’ve got friends in high places.’

‘What do you mean?’ Dave asked. He was staring at the prone body of Thomas, as the white van that had parked behind him in the layby pulled up. Another officer jumped out of the van and retrieved some ‘Road Closed’ signs from the back. He set about closing the road in both directions, at both ends of the layby.

Wadsworth continued. ‘I got a call from your friend Edwards at MI5. He had a feeling you were going to do something like this. Nice punch, by the way.’ He smiled.

The rest of his team were locking down the scene and turning round traffic. The general’s body had been covered.

Dave stuttered a ‘Thank you.’

‘Pleasure sir.’ Replied Wadsworth. ‘I’ll walk you back to your van. Apparently, you have to get back to your office. Mr Edwards requires your help.’

CHAPTER FORTY

An hour had passed since Dave’s encounter with the general. On returning to his office, Dave had phoned Sam to let him know what had happened. Sam had, understandably, chastised him for risking his life.

The core MI5 investigative team were now assembled in the investigation room at Thames House. Virani was back from the London Eye, the bomb made safe and taken away for analysis. Sam was there with Neil Barford, Nick Upex and Zavina Latif. Grant Bray had also decided to join them.

Virani had finished debriefing the team about the events that had taken place at the London Eye. She turned to Sam.

‘Over to you Sam.’

Sam stood and started to recount the earlier event.

‘He was waiting for me Jay, just sat there, on his bike, waiting for me to turn up. Cheeky bastard. I couldn’t get him though, he was too fast.’

‘I understand, Sam, don’t beat yourself up about it. These things happen. You were on your own. Had you turned up with backup, he would’ve just taken off.’

Sam tried a smile and used a slight nod of the head as a way of agreeing before he continued.

‘The scary part Jay, is that he said he has six devices left to plant.’

Sam looked at his peers, one by one. Each had a look of shock on their faces.

‘And he said he’s going to wait until he’s planted them all before he sends the texts. We could end up with six simultaneous explosions if we don’t find him.’

Virani was definitely shocked by this news.

‘Bloody hell. Are you sure, Sam?’

‘As sure as I stand here, Jay.’

‘Then we have to find him. Number plate?’

‘Didn’t have one. I don’t even know what type of bike it was, I’m more of a car person.’

‘Okay, let me think. Nick.’

Upex sat straighter than he already was. He stopped tapping his pen on his notepad, giving Virani his full attention.

‘Yes boss?’ he asked.

‘CCTV from Belvedere Road. He was there for a while. Something may have picked him up. See if there’s any way you can track him. Sam will give you the details of his encounter.’

‘Yes boss.’ Upex repeated. This time in affirmation instead of enquiry.

‘Anything else, Sam?’

‘Yeah, he knew I was going to be there.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Well, to start with, he knew that backup was following. Then he told me to come back here and tell you, “The lovely Ms. Virani” as he put it, that he wasn’t there.’

‘So, what do you think? We’ve got a mole?’

‘I don’t know. From what I could glean from Dave, the mate I sent to ID the general.’

‘A bloody stupid decision on your part, Sam.’ Virani interjected. Sam looked at the floor like a penitent child and Virani continued.

‘But I did say by any means, so I’ll end up taking a bollocking for that one. Anyway, what about him?’

Sam met Virani’s gaze again.

‘Well it was like the general knew Dave was going. Dave was lured to the office and the general took a shot at him. How would the general have known a phone engineer would really be there to ID him?’

‘Good point, Sam. Who else knew about Dave?’

‘Just Mickey.’

Barford raised a finger.

‘Yes Neil?’ Virani asked.

‘It’s obvious isn’t it Sam? You’re phone’s been cloned.’

Sam looked aghast for a second, then realised what had happened.

‘The train.’ He said as he plundered his memory for the occasion in question.

Virani looked confused. ‘Sorry?’ she asked.

Sam explained.

‘He sat opposite me on the train. The morning after the Salisbury Plain explosion.’

Virani still looked perplexed, so Sam extended his explanation.

‘When you called me, he was playing with his phone. He dropped it and it slid across the table. When he picked it up, he lost his balance, or pretended to. He knocked my phone with his own, must have done it then.’

Virani thought for a few seconds, trying to comprehend what was being said. Eventually she asked ‘Is that even possible?’

Upex was the first to answer.

‘It’s Near Field Communications, Jay. Quite a new technology on mobiles. Sam’s got the new Samsung Galaxy, so he has it. A few other manufacturers have put it in their flagship models too.’

Of those present, Bray looked the most confused. He interrupted.

‘And you can clone somebody’s phone with this Near Field thing?’ Bray asked, incredulously. ‘Seems a little insecure to my non-technical mind.’

Upex elaborated. ‘Not normally Grant, no. You usually have to have both devices handshake, to stop this kind of thing. But we know Raynor’s technically sound, maybe he’s found a way to bypass the standard NFC protocols.’

‘I see.’ Said Bray, obviously not understanding a thing.

‘We might be able to use it to our advantage.’ Suggested Nick.

‘How so?’ Asked Virani.

‘Well he seems a little obsessed with Sam, maybe we can send Sam to false locations, send a bunch of armed squaddies instead?’

‘Good idea Nick, we’ll give it a go. You up for that, Sam? You won’t have to leave the office.’

‘Worth a try.’ said Sam. He walked across the room to a map of London which was hanging on the wall. He swung his arm in a circle, marking out an imaginary line around the Waterloo area.

‘I think he’s still around here somewhere.’ Sam added. ‘When Nick gets CCTV, we might be able to see if he leaves the park.’

He studied the map for a few more seconds.

‘We need somewhere with a tactical advantage.’ He added. ‘As well as somewhere the public won’t be at risk.

‘He’s on his own now. Nobody to run to.’

The team had learned in the last hour that the fifty-seventh floor of The Shard, and Culpepper Fostervold specifically, had been the target of the previous attack. Fortunately, the rest of the Culpepper Fostervold staff had left for the day. An investigating team had been deployed to apprehend James Culpepper.

According to employees of Culpepper Fostervold, James Culpepper had advised everybody to go home before he himself had left the building for the day. Jackie Atkins, the office manager had confirmed that all staff had left apart from Lucas Fostervold who said he had a few things to finish off before he left for the day.

Sam studied the map for a few moments more, and then pointed at the iconic Battersea Power Station. ‘Here.’, he announced.

‘It’s a building site, but it’s also well known. It’s not out of the question that it would have been a target anyway.’

Virani studied the map. She walked to a laptop connected to a projector and sent a Street View image to a large screen. The image was from Cringle Street, as close as Street View could get. Tall, solid gates stopped the public from gaining access to the building site.

‘Too remote.’ she said. ‘I don’t think he’d target this building.’

Sam interrupted. ‘But that’s the point Jay. If he’s targeted me as some sort of play mate, the proverbial cat, to his mouse, if you like, then he’ll go to wherever he thinks I’ll be.’

Sam picked up a laser pointer from the desk and pointed to the towers on the corners, each of which supported a tall chimney.

‘Sniper spots.’ He announced. ‘There are loads of places here where an ambush could be set. He wouldn’t have a chance.’

Virani was now gently nodding her head in agreement, not even realising she was doing so. She looked at Sam and said. ‘Okay, this could work. Give me thirty minutes to get a team out there. In the meantime, make the call, obviously not on your personal mobile, to your friend at the comms company. Tell them to phone you back, this time on your mobile, claiming they know where he is. Then leave the rest to the tactical team. It’ll be over within the hour. I’m going to need to borrow your car, though.’ Sam was about to protest when Virani turned to the room.

‘Okay people. I think we’re on the home straight. We’ve all got a lot of work to do, so let’s get to it.’

She turned to Sam and held out her hand ‘Keys.’

Sam managed to splutter a ‘B… b… but Jay, come on. My car?’

‘He won’t believe you’re there if he can’t see your car.’

Sam sighed and reluctantly handed over the keys.

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

Come on Sam, Battersea Power Station? It’s a building site. What would that prove? That I could blow up a construction zone? I’m disappointed Sam. You know I like some collateral damage. A little bit of payback. Oh well. I’ll see you there, I guess.

Raynor put his bike into gear and set off on his way to the power station.

#

Virani was in the control room at Thames House, Sam sat beside her. They were once again watching the tactical team position themselves in various parts of Battersea Power Station. Snipers were posted on the platforms that supported the corner towers. Other troops, at ground level, took up positions suitable to ensnare the target.

The unit comprised of three, four-man teams. Each member having their own role to play. The idea was to lure Raynor into the main building by positioning Sam’s car in front of it. One of the Team members had driven it to the power station, left the driver door open and ran inside the building, leaving footprints in the dust created by the renovation work. The idea of this was for Raynor to think Sam was already inside.

As Raynor made his way inside, the plan was to block his retreat-path by having two armed guards, positioned out of view at the front of the building, follow him and cover the exit. Meanwhile, inside the building, he would be flanked on both sides as he searched for Sam.

The net would slowly close-in until there was no chance of escape. If, for any reason, Raynor managed to escape the Power Station the sharp-shooters on the roof would take him out. Lethal force had been approved, but the goal was to bring him in unharmed.

The plan was a good one. Public safety was paramount. The power station was the perfect location.

Grant Bray entered the room.

‘How are we doing Jayshree?’ he asked.

‘Teams are in position, Grant. We just need our guest of honour to show, and then the party starts. It’ll be over before you know it.’

‘I hope so Jay. I really do. The PM’s having kittens. He can’t believe it’s one of ours out there. He was hoping it would be a Johnny Foreigner.’ He paused, looking slightly embarrassed. ‘No offence.’ He said, rather awkwardly.

‘None taken.’ Virani replied, looking a little bemused before adding, ‘I’m British.’

Bray was looking even more flustered.

‘Yes, of course. How foolish of me.’

His discomfort was interrupted when a voice was heard on the equipment that was patched into the microphones of the tactical team. The unit commander was requesting confirmation that the teams were in place and ready for action.

One by one the team members confirmed their ready status and the equipment went silent again.

The silence was broken by Virani asking Sam,

‘Have we got a recent location for Raynor?’

‘Afraid not, Jay.’ Sam replied. ‘Not sure what he’s doing, but he’s sending Dave frantic. Dave’s team can’t seem to get a good lock. I think if he uses his phone for any amount of time, or phones me, they can back-trace the call, other than that, he’s invisible.’

‘Not what I was hoping for, Sam. So we have no idea if he’s…’ She was interrupted by another transmission from the tactical team.

‘Vehicle approaching. Motorcycle. Black. Stopped at the gates.’

Virani looked at Sam, then Bray, and smiled.

‘Here we go.’ She said.

#

Raynor pulled up at the gates and switched off the ignition. He removed his crash helmet and rested it on the fuel tank. He watched the power station. Taking in small details. He could see Sam’s car parked outside, the driver’s door was left open.

His analytical mind instantly started making assessments. Vantage points, lines of sight, bottlenecks and ambush points.

He got off the bike and pushed it behind a tall solid fence, out of view from the power station.

Slowly making his way to the gate, Raynor looked for cover. There was none. He now had a twenty or thirty metre walk down the entry road to the site. Each side of the road had a two-metre high solid aluminium fence. He was a sitting duck. He wondered why Sam had left his car where he had, as another metal fence blocked entrance to the building and lined the route to the power station entrance beneath the towers on the north-side. He concluded that the access road would probably have too much of an irregular surface for the low roadster to avoid being damaged.

#

‘Overwatch-One to Command. Target in-sight, entering grounds, I have a clear shot.’

‘Command. Copy that. Track target. Await instruction.’

‘Copy.’

#

Raynor felt like a fish in a barrel. Anyone slightly proficient with a sniper rifle could take him out with a single shot. He quickly covered the short distance and ducked left as soon as the road opened into the building site. He saw a stacked pile of bricks and made his way to it, keeping as much in cover as was possible. He had the sensation of being watched, but that was normal in situations like this.

Scanning the environment around him, Raynor looked for his next point of cover. The landscape was rough, piles of rubble and debris strewn about the site. Weeds grew from mounds of earth moved to make way for the construction vehicles. Shipping containers were seemingly left in random places throughout the site. It was towards one such container that Raynor now headed, stooped down, making himself as small a target as was possible.

#

‘Overwatch-One to Command. Target has entered site and turned left, left, left. Taking cover, no clear shot.’

A pause, no more than fifteen seconds of inactivity. ‘Overwatch-one to Command. Target is moving. Approaching large, red shipping container. Visual Lost. Overwatch-Two, do you have a visual?’

‘Overwatch-Two, negative on visual. Repeat. Negative on visual. Golf-Oscar One, do you have visual.’

The outer perimeter team, Golf-Oscar, had taken tactical positions just inside the fences outlining the building site.

‘Golf-Oscar One to Command. Target in sight. Awaiting further instructions.’

‘Command to Golf-Oscar One. Maintain a safe distance. Do not engage until Golf-Oscar Two is available for backup.’

‘Copy, Command.’

Fifty metres behind Raynor’s position, the ground appeared to move as Golf-Oscar One arose from his position. Camouflaged head to toe, he blended into his surroundings like a chameleon. He made a slow, low approach from the mound of rubble he was using for cover and stealthily made his way toward Raynor. When he assessed his distance to be around twenty metres he once again blended into his surroundings.

‘Golf-Oscar One. In position.’ He whispered.

‘Copy Golf-Oscar One. Maintain safe distance. On command, move in to apprehend.’

‘Command to Golf-Oscar Two. Request status update.’

‘Golf-Oscar Two to command. Making approach. Maintaining safe distance.’

#

Sam looked at Virani. She was concentrating on the feeds. Sam broke the silence.

‘Will they simply apprehend him before he even enters, Jay?’

Her gaze left the screen as she turned to face Sam.

‘Why not?’ She asked. ‘Might as well get it over and done with sooner rather than later, don’t you think?’

Sam nodded in agreement, but wore a concerned look on his face.

‘What’s wrong?’ Virani asked, noticing the look of concern.

‘It’s manpower, or lack of it, that bothers me, Jay.’

Bray looked at Sam and joined the conversation.

‘What’s the problem, Sam?’ He enquired ‘He’s only one man. These are some of the finest soldiers we have.’

‘They may well be, sir.’ Sam replied. ‘But Raynor was better than the best, and he doesn’t have rules to play by like our guys do.’

Bray’s brow furrowed. A mix of deep concentration and confusion. He asked. ‘So you don’t think two men will be able to apprehend him?’

Sam thought a moment before giving his answer.

‘No sir, I don’t think two will be enough. I think we need to let him get inside and surround him.’

‘Your concerns are duly noted Sam, but I think you give this man too much credit.’

#

Raynor’s senses were on overtime as he surveyed his surroundings for his next cover. He needed to start moving toward the power station, and then needed to track down Sam. That would be the easy part. Sam would no doubt be wandering blindly around the structure, showing no concern for his own safety. Sam wasn’t trained for such things, Raynor undoubtedly was.

Spotting a yellow dumper truck, Raynor edged toward the side of the shipping container. The dumper was tall enough to hide behind, and the route to it was mainly weed covered rubble. Once more, he made himself as small a target as was possible and started his approach to new cover.

A movement, slight but noticeable, caught his eye. Probably just the wind blowing the weeds, but he couldn’t risk it being anything else. He deviated from his route and headed for another pile of bricks in the direction of the movement.

#

‘Golf-Oscar Two to Command. Target is approaching. Repeat, target is approaching.’

‘Understood Golf-Oscar Two. Do not move. Let target pass. Await assistance from Golf-Oscar One.’

#

Virani looked at Bray.

‘What’s going on?’ She asked.

Bray shrugged his shoulders.

‘How do I know? I’m not the one in the field.’

‘Yes, I’m aware of that.’ Snapped Virani. ‘I mean, do you think he’s seen our man?’

‘Again, Jay, I don’t know. I’d have thought he’d be heading for the best cover.’

Virani leaned forward, toward the control panel. She picked up a pair of headphones and put them on, covering one ear only, like a nightclub DJ. She then picked up a microphone and pressed the button to speak. Before she got a chance, the equipment came to life once more.

#

‘Hello sunshine. Don’t move a muscle. Take your hands away from your firearm. I’m going to remove your sidearm now. Try anything and this Ka-Bar I’m holding will slot effortlessly between your ribs.’

To a passer-by it would look like Raynor was kneeling on a weed-covered mound of dirt. In reality, his left knee was heavily resting at the base of the spine belonging to Golf-Oscar Two. His right leg was stretched out straight, perpendicular to his body which was now bent over towards the ghillie-suited soldier’s head. Raynor’s right hand held the deadly Ka-Bar knife at Golf-Oscar Two’s side.

‘Now, with me, up you get?’

Raynor slowly stood up, bringing the soldier up with him.

‘Good lad. Now tell your friend to stand up. The one about fifteen metres that way.’ He pointed in the direction of the other soldier, all the while moving back toward the shipping container, using Golf-Oscar Two as cover. A moment later, Golf-Oscar One stood and raised his assault rifle at Raynor.

‘Now, tell him to play nicely and lower his weapon.

The gun remained sighted on Raynor.

#

‘What the hell just happened?’ Virani shouted. The monitor relaying Golf-Oscar Two’s helmet-cam showed a soldier, gun raised and aiming at the cameraman. A voice came over the receiver once again.

‘I told you. Tell your friend to lower his weapon. Last chance.’

‘Command, this is Golf-Oscar One. Please advise.’

‘Command to Golf Oscar One. Please comply. Lower your weapon. Attempt to draw him out into Overwatch line of sight.’

Sam, Virani, and Bray watched the first-person view as Golf-Oscar One lowered his weapon. He placed it on the ground, and then stood straight, raising his hands in the air.

The room became silent once more. Sam could feel his heart pounding in his chest as his pulse quickened. He was sure everyone in the room could hear it too. It felt like time had stopped.

The three of them exchanged a glance before their attention was snapped back toward the screen. The blast of two gunshots echoed through the room via the audio receiver.

Sam’s gaze fell on the screen just in time to watch as Golf-Oscar one fell to the ground. A chuckle, then a familiar voice followed.

‘You boys and your rules. They’ll always get you into trouble. When will you learn? If you’ve got a clean shot, take it.’

#

Raynor loosened his grip from around the neck of Golf-Oscar Two. He shoved the soldier forward, forcing him to crash into the side of the shipping container. The soldier stumbled and fell to the ground. Raynor walked up to him and kicked him hard in the side.

‘Get up. I never said you can have a rest.’

The soldier slowly stood. He grunted in pain as he tried to stand up straight.

‘What’s your name, mate?’ Raynor asked, like they had just got chatting in a pub.

The soldier replied. ‘Harry. Harry Sewell.’

‘Nice to meet you Harry. I’m Nate. Now, you’re going to do me a little favour.’

Raynor held the SIG Sauer P229 he’d previously taken from Sewell. He was aiming it at the soldier. Raynor nodded toward the fallen body of Golf-Oscar One.

‘I want you to go and get his comms unit. Don’t try anything, or I’ll shoot you. And I won’t miss. I never miss. And you know I don’t have a problem doing it.’

Sewell started to walk across the building site.

‘I hope your snipers have got their wits about them. I hope they don’t confuse you for me and take a shot at you!’ He laughed again.

It was a matter of a few seconds before Harry Sewell was kneeling next to his fallen comrade, unravelling the communications kit. The microphone and earpiece. A few seconds later, the man stood and walked back to Raynor, offering him the small devices. Raynor took them and said ‘Thank you Harry. Please sit down, back to the container, arms behind your head.’

The soldier complied. Raynor inserted the earpiece and held the tiny microphone to his mouth. All the while keeping his gun aimed at Sewell.

‘Tango-One to control.’ He said, chuckling as he spoke.

‘Good evening Wembley!’ He laughed.

‘Seriously though, what were you thinking?’

Sewell looked up at him. Shock. Amazement. All he could think was that Raynor was insane. Raynor continued.

‘Now I’m sure Five are on the line, am I right?’

#

Virani keyed the microphone.

‘This is Jayshree Virani. To whom am I speaking?’

‘Ah, the lovely Jayshree Virani. I have the pleasure at last. I’ve listened to so many conversational exchanges between Sam and yourself, as you’re no doubt aware based on this pathetic ambush attempt. It’s Nate, Jay. You don’t mind me calling you Jay, do you?’

‘What do you want Raynor?’

‘Well that’s an easy one, Jay. It’s fairly obvious my friend Sam isn’t here, so I’ll be leaving now. Call off the dogs, please Jay. There’s a good girl.’

Virani was fuming. Nobody talked to her like that. She looked at Bray, hoping for some encouragement or guidance. She would’ve been better off looking at the David Beckham waxwork at Madame Tussauds. Bray had frozen.

‘You know I can’t do that.’ Virani replied.

‘Of course you can, Jay. Just tell them to pull back. You must have sharp-shooters on the towers, be stupid not to. Overwatch. Very important. Now I’ve got a couple of friends I’ve made here with me, well I say a couple, but one had to leave the party early due to his bad behaviour. I’m guessing you’ve got a four man outer perimeter, and another four man team in the power station?’

Bray suddenly came out of his stupor.

‘How the hell did he know that?’

Sam, silent to this point, stared at Grant Bray a look of disbelief etched across his tired face.

‘Because that’s what he’d do, Grant.’

The statement was laced with vitriol.

‘He’s a step ahead. He knows our tactics, because they’re the same tactics he’d use.’

Bray was looking flustered. It was obvious when put like that, but he wasn’t used to being spoken to in that way. But Sam’s tone was understandable, to everyone else if not Bray.

Sam was frustrated. He’d warned his superiors and it had fallen on deaf ears. Why didn’t they listen? Now a man was dead and Raynor was making demands that they had no choice but to meet.

Bray whispered. ‘Well what do we do? We can’t just let him go.’

Virani replied. ‘There’s no need to whisper, Grant, I’ve not got the mic keyed.’ She had a look of disbelief as she turned to Sam and shrugged. Sam simply raised his eyebrows. Bray was an incompetent buffoon. No doubt about it. Raynor’s voice came back over the receiver.

‘You still there Jay? I presume Sam’s with you too. How are you Sam? Good work on Bush, by the way. I’m impressed.’

Sam shuddered once more at the mention of his would be assassin. Raynor picked up where he’d left off.

‘You did well there, mate. He was a hard bastard.

‘Anyway; as you’re not cooperating, I’m going to improvise. I’ll see you all real soon. The Devil makes work for idle hands, and all that.’

#

Raynor threw down the communications devices and grabbed Sewell, pulling him to his feet. ‘Time to go.’ he said, as he unfastened the chin-strap of Sewell’s helmet and wrenched it from the man’s head. A tangle of wires followed it as Raynor threw it away. It bounced once and rolled, awkwardly, behind a pile of bricks.

‘They need to be able to see your face, Harry. Sorry mate. They’ll be less likely to fire at me if they can see your face. It makes you real, instead of an anonymous figure with a helmet on. They won’t risk hitting you by mistake.’

Raynor started backing up to the perimeter fence, Sewell in front of him blocking the snipers from making a clean shot. They edged their way back toward the site entrance. That would be where an attempt was made, the kill zone. The empty twenty or so metres of no man’s land.

When they got to the edge of the entrance road, Raynor attempted to make himself even smaller, hiding as much as he could behind Sewell. They edged back slowly, Sewell unable to do anything due to the Ka-Bar still poking in his side.

#

‘What do we do now, Jay?’ Bray enquired.

‘We do nothing, Grant.’ Was Virani’s reply. ‘We let the tactical team do their job. We let Command call the shots.’

‘But what if he escapes?’

‘I think it’s a forgone conclusion he’s going to get away from this fiasco.’

The audio equipment hissed before a voice was heard.

‘Holy shit! He’s killed him.’

‘Command to Overwatch. Please repeat.

‘Command, this is Overwatch-Two. Target has killed Golf-Oscar Two. I repeat. Target has killed Golf-Oscar Two. Just slit his fucking throat and walked off around the corner as if nothing had happened.’

Sam looked back at the screens. ‘Fuck!’ Was all he could manage to say before he had to look away.

The feed from Overwatch-Two was showing the prone figure of Sewell. At full zoom it was like standing mere metres away from the dead soldier. His life-force was leaving him through the slit in his throat, and pooling around his head.

‘Turn the screens off please, Jayshree.’ Grant Bray asked. She did so. The three of them sat in silence for a moment until Command gave the order.

‘Command to all units. If you have a clean shot, take it. Overwatch-Two, what was the last known position?’

‘Overwatch-Two to Command. Target was last seen entering the yard of the waste transfer station where Cringle Street meets the power station access road. No visual at present. Wait. Scrap that, target leaving on black motorcycle. No clear shot.’

‘Copy Overwatch-Two. All units, this is Command. Return to base for debriefing. Golf-Oscar One… shit. Golf-Oscar Three. Please make sure the decoy vehicle is returned to Thames House. We’ll take care of recovering Golf-Oscar One and Golf-Oscar Two. Command, out.’

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Sam left the room. He felt sick. He’d witness two soldiers killed in cold blood by a man out of control. When would it end? How many more people would die before Raynor was stopped?

He stumbled into the lavatory and found an empty cubicle. He knelt and retched into the toilet bowl, but nothing came out. He sat for several minutes, trying to make sense of the day. So much had happened, so many revelations. A conspiracy that drilled deep into the heart of the British military. A brigadier, an ex-general, an arms company, two psychotic members of a secret covert unit that not even the government were aware of. Sam was sure there was no way that the SCU programme could remain secret now. The consequences, internationally, could be devastating.

But where was Raynor? He’d left the building site at speed on his motorcycle. He’d stated he still had work to do. He wasn’t going to stop. He still had bombs to plant, and once the last device was in place he’d send the texts.

Sam kept wondering about the mind-set of the man. Raynor had received positive replies for each device thus far. At least until Dave Sykes started blocking the return signal. But Sam was sure Raynor could get around that, especially now his identity was known. He had no need to try and hijack an unused frequency; he could send a bulk text over the standard networks. It’s not as if he had to try and retain his anonymity anymore. Sam closed his eyes and took deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

Sometime later, Sam heard the door to the washroom as it squeaked on its hinges. A voice accompanied the banging of toilet doors as they were pushed open with force.

‘Sam, are you okay? You’ve been in here for ages.’

It was Upex.

‘Jay sent me to get you. It’s been nearly an hour, mate. Your car’s back outside.’

Sam stood and opened the door of the cubicle he was using. Upex was just about to push open the same door.

‘You alright, Sam?’ Upex asked, sincere concern on his face.

‘I’ll get over it, thanks, Nick.’ Sam replied, patting Upex on the shoulder as he left the cubicle.

‘I hope you haven’t thrown up and wiped your mouth with that hand.’ Exclaimed Upex, trying to inject some light-hearted humour into the current dour situation.

‘Don’t worry mate.’ Sam said as he patted Upex on the back with his other hand.

‘I used this hand to wipe my mouth.’

They left the washroom and headed along the corridor back to the investigation room. Sam checked the time on his phone.

‘An hour?’ He said. ‘I had no idea I’d been in there for that long.’

‘Don’t worry about it.’ Nick replied. ‘You haven’t missed anything, and you’re still officially on leave.’

They entered the investigation room, only a couple of spare seats remained as Virani stood at the front addressing the room.

‘Ah, Sam. I’m glad you’re back. You feeling okay?’ She asked.

‘Fine thanks, Jay. Sorry, I didn’t realise how long I’d been gone.’

Virani smiled.

‘Think nothing of it Sam, your contribution to the effort of trying to detain Raynor has been outstanding, and very much appreciated.’

Sam sat on one of the few unoccupied chairs.

‘Don’t mention it.’ He said, slightly embarrassed by the unexpected display of gratitude.

Virani’s smile widened.

‘Don’t think too much of it Sam, I’m only being nice because I need you to keep up these high levels of involvement.’

A few laughs echoed through the room as Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head. Virani added.

‘We need your friends Sam. Raynor’s disappeared. He’s gone to ground.’

Sam stood from the seat he’d taken just moments before. He took his phone from his pocket and headed towards the door.

‘I’ll make some calls, Jay.’ He said as he left the room. A moment later, he poked his head back around the doorframe and added. ‘And where’s my car?’

Virani picked up a set of keys from the desk she was leaning against and threw them towards the open door. Sam stepped into the doorway and snatched them from their flight.

‘It’s out front.’ Said Virani and Sam disappeared once again to take up residence in the hallway outside of the main office. Stairs joined the landing from the ground floor and another set started an ascent to the floor above.

The sky had suffered a serious mood swing in the last hour. It now looked upset, as if was going to have a tantrum at any moment; its tears would fall as rain from the mass of black cloud that had taken the sun hostage.

The smoke coming from the Shard didn’t look to be thinning out, or was the dimming light playing tricks as the evening drew in? Sam couldn’t tell. He closed his eyes tightly and pinched the top of his nose with thumb and index finger.

He stood perfectly still for a moment before letting out a long breath. He unlocked his phone and dialled Dave.

‘Hello mate, what have you got?’ Sam asked.

‘I’ve got a Purver, as you ask.’ Replied Dave.

‘Mick’s come to my office. Said it makes more sense for us to work together. Hang on; I’ll put you on speaker.’

Sam heard a muffled knock as the phone receiver was put on the desk. It was followed by a beep as Dave hit the conference call button.

‘I’m gonna put the phone back on the cradle, so ring me back If I cut you off. I’m never sure if these things will work or not.’

Another click as the receiver was replaced in its cradle.

‘You there?’

‘Yeah, I’m here mate.’ Sam said. ‘Who else is with you?’

‘Well Mick’s here, like I said.’

Sam heard Mickey’s voice in the background, it sounded like he was shouting from deep inside a cave.

‘Alright Sam?’

‘Hiya Mickey.’

Dave came back on the line. ‘And Lucy’s here too.’

Sam and Lucy exchanged greetings before Sam got to the point. ‘Dave, what have you got?’

‘Well we’ve started trying to backtrack his communications. Gonna see if we can reverse engineer his Trojan and see where it sends us. Lucy’s working on that at the moment.’

‘Right, okay, I think I understand that. Use his own tools against him, is that what you mean?’

‘That’s about it Sam. We unravel his code and see where he was directing all the return text messages.’

‘That’s great, Dave. What about you Mickey? Got anything new?’

‘Not really, Sam. All the connections are made. Raynor and Saunders, Raynor and Thomas, Saunders and Thomas, Thomas and Fostervold. I’ve found an account I think might be Raynor’s, but no proof. Six million quid in it, to the penny. Deposit made on the morning of the Knightsbridge attack. The same timestamp as the money leaving the account of General Thomas.’

‘Nice one Mick, what’s next for you?’

‘Well I’ll start knocking up some code to attack Raynor’s system. Once Dave and Lucy manage to track it down we’ll need to disable it as fast as we can.’

‘Thanks Mick. Dave, we need to track Raynor. He’s disappeared. Is there anything you can do to find him?’

‘Not unless he uses his… Hang on a minute, he’s just powered up his phone.’

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

Bollards lined the pavement, close to the kerb, close to the road. Their purpose was to stop cars from mounting the pavement. To stop car bombs from being left and detonated next to the exterior of Thames House. A recess in the bollards allowed dignitaries and VIP’s to leave vehicles. It gave just enough room for car doors to be opened without making contact with the bollards. It was in this recess that Raynor was parked.

He switched on his phone and checked for missed calls. Nothing. He got off his bike and walked towards a bus-stop just a few metres away.

#

‘So where is he?’ Asked Sam.

‘Give us a sec, it takes a few seconds to calibrate. Nearly there.’

Sam turned and looked out of the window. Once again he looked at the Shard, and then his gaze drifted to the street below. He saw a bike parked in the bollard recess, and then spotted a man dressed in biking leathers.

‘Don’t worry, mate. I’ve found him. I’ll call you back.’

Sam watched as Raynor started moving toward the entrance to Thames House. He was stunned. Surely Raynor wasn’t coming in to one of the country’s most secure facilities. For a start, he’d have to take his helmet off.

Every member of the military and law enforcement would know his face. Ninety percent of traffic wardens would probably be able to pick out Nathan Raynor in an identity parade.

Sam turned and pushed open the double doors into the office.

‘Jay! Get a team downstairs. Raynor’s coming in.’

Everybody in the room stopped what they were doing and looked at Sam as if he’d lost his mind.

‘NOW!’ He shouted, and the room erupted into action.

Sam returned to the window and gazed out. Raynor had stopped at the bus-stop. He was rummaging in his rucksack. He removed a brown paper bag, about the size of a house brick, and placed it in a bin that was screwed to the side of the bus-stop.

As if he knew he was being watched, Raynor looked up to the window Sam was looking out of. He gave Sam a thumbs-up and then wrapped one hand around a clenched fist and pulled them apart, extending his fingers, gesturing an explosion. Sam was sure that if Raynor wasn’t wearing a helmet he’d be able to see the other man smiling and mouthing the word ‘Boom!’

‘Shit!’ Sam said as he turned from the window. He looked around the hallway and spotted the red box on the wall at the top of the stairs. He ran to it and smashed his fist through the clear plastic trigger-cover. The trigger popped out and the circuit fell into place. The shrill of the fire alarm filled the stairwell.

Sam burst through the double doors once more. People were frozen. Through the sound of the alarm, Sam could hear people questioning the noise around them.

‘Is it a drill?’

‘Should we go out?’

‘It’s probably just a test.’

He couldn’t believe it. With all that had taken place over the course of the day, these people would still question whether a fire alarm was real or not.

‘Everybody out!’ He shouted. ‘This is not a drill. Rear exit only.’

Everybody stopped what they were doing and headed for the rear exit. Most still looked confused.

Sam had a decision to make. Take the rear fire exit and risk losing Raynor, or take the front exit and risk getting blown up?

He saw Virani leave the investigation room, followed by Upex, Latif and Barford. Virani looked at him and beckoned him to follow her.

She shouted.

‘Come on Sam, we have to go.’

But Sam had made up his mind.

‘I’m going after Raynor. This has to end.’ He shouted back.

Virani nodded.

‘Be careful, Sam.’

Sam sprinted back through the doors, and bounded down the stairs two at a time. He jumped the last five, turned the corner and repeated the process for the second flight.

At ground level, he turned right and barged through the double doors directly below those he’d just been through on the first floor. As soon as he was through, his progress was halted.

The entrance hall was bedlam. Too many people were trying to get through the front doors. Sam wondered if they’d ever heard of fire exits. It seemed like every member of staff on the ground floor was trying to exit through the same door.

He started trying to force his way through, much to the annoyance of those trying to leave in an orderly fashion. He started shouting.

‘Let me through. Raynor is outside. Please, use the rear exit and the fire exits.’

He wanted to say there was a bomb outside and they were walking directly into its blast-radius, but they probably wouldn’t believe him, and even if they did it would cause a panic. He had to make sure that Raynor didn’t get a chance to send the text messages which would detonate the device.

Eventually Sam made it through the main entrance of Thames House and out onto the stone steps leading to street level. The mass of people were heading to the fire point on the opposite side of the road. It wouldn’t be far enough if the device were to detonate.

Out of desperation, Sam started shouting for people to move further down the road. Few took notice. He couldn’t see Raynor through the throng of bodies. He tried jumping; attempting to see over the sea of heads, but it was pointless. He headed to his car and shooed away a couple of people who had decided it was an ideal height to lean against. He received a dirty look for his efforts, until he used the remote fob to unlock the doors. Once the interlopers realised the car was Sam’s they wandered off, muttering, and joined the rest of the evacuees casually leaving the vicinity of Thames house.

Sam stood on the bonnet of the car and looked down the road in the direction he’d previously seen Raynor. The car was too low, but Sam just managed to get a glimpse of a crash helmeted head, moving towards a bike that was parked up where the bollards had been set back from the pavement.

He jumped down and got into the car. He started the ignition and sounded the horn, then slowly moved off from the kerbside. He took advantage of the slow speed to put his Bluetooth earpiece in his left ear. He tapped the button on the earpiece and said, ‘Call Dave work.’

Raynor turned when he heard the car horn. He saw the crowd start to give way to let a car through. The same car he’d seen a couple of hours earlier. He smiled as he started his bike. The car cleared the parted crowd just in time for Sam to see Raynor speed off.

‘Sam, we’ve got him.’ Said Dave.

‘Yeah, me too. Can you keep track of him? I’ve got a feeling I won’t be able to keep up.’ Sam asked.

‘I think so, mate. Looks like he’s left his phone on.’

‘Good news. What about Mick? How’s he getting on?’

‘Looking good, Sam. Says he’s almost there. Lucy’s homing in on his server too. We’ve nearly got him mate.’

‘Right, let’s keep the line open. I’m going to need constant updates.’

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

‘Where is he, Dave?’ Sam asked as he headed down Millbank. In his mind he was sure there would be an explosion at any moment. He kept looking in his rear-view mirror, expecting the worst, but soon the road turned slightly to the right and Thames House was lost from view.

‘He’s turned right onto Atterbury Street, just past Tate Britain.’ Dave’s replied.

Sam floored the gas pedal and attempted to catch up with his quarry. As the Atterbury Street junction came into view there was no sign of Raynor.

‘Dave, I’m going to need updates, mate. I can’t see him.’

‘Yeah okay mate. I’ll give you a turn-by-update’

#

Lucy punched the air. ‘Get in!’ She shouted. She’d successfully back-tracked the route of the texts. A computer in Plaistow. Suddenly becoming a little self-conscious, she quietly sat back down, grinning from ear-to-ear.

‘Hang on a minute, Sam’ Said Dave. He put Sam on hold and called to Lucy.

‘Good news I hope, Lucy.’

‘I’ve got a route to his server.’ She replied.

‘Fan-fucking-tastic!’ Said Dave. He took Sam off hold.

‘Got a route to the server, Sam. Lucy’s going to team up with Mickey and get in there. Once we’ve disabled his server, he won’t be able to do a thing.’

‘That’s great news, Dave. Where is he now?’

‘Hang on, mate.’

The line went quiet for a moment, only the slightest of background noises could be heard, and then Dave’s voice returned.

‘Just crossed Horseferry Road, on Marsham Street. Heading North. Looks like he might be heading for the West End again.’

‘Who knows, mate? From there he could get to Buck House, the American Embassy, God knows how many potential targets there are. Shit! I need to catch him up.’

Another brief pause while Sam thought about the situation. Eventually an idea came to him.

‘Dave, put me on speaker.’

‘Okay mate, you are now live on air. Please do not swear.’ Said Dave

‘Mick, can you get into the traffic light systems?’ Sam asked.

Mickey replied, ‘Yeah should be able to, but I don’t think he’s going to stop for a couple of reds, do you?’

‘Probably not, but we can slow him down. He’ll have to cross the traffic from the junctions on green. Meanwhile you can make sure I get green lights all the way.’

Mickey’s pondering was almost audible. ‘Sam, you’re a genius.’ He eventually managed.

‘It’ll take me away from shutting the server down, though.’ He added.

‘It’s a risk we’ll have to take.’ Sam replied. ‘I need to get close or ideally get in front of him.’

‘Leave it with me, Sam. Have you got location services switched on on your phone?’

‘I have. In fact, you can get my location on Google Plus. Just keep shouting directions to me and make sure the lights in front of him are red and in front of me are green.’

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

The night was drawing in and the streets were getting quiet. The rain still fell and the windscreen wipers on the little Lotus squeaked as they arced from left to right.

Sam was tired. So far Mickey had done a great job of keeping him going, but he always seemed to be behind Raynor. He had to be careful. All Raynor had to do was pull over and set off his own devices. Who knew what locations were at risk?

To Sam, it felt like he’d been driving around the rain-soaked streets of the capital for hours. In reality, it had been around twenty-five minutes since he had left Thames House. He jumped, caught off guard by Dave’s voice.

‘Next left, Sam. You should be able to see him, if you’re lucky. Dean Street.’

‘Where’s Mick? He’s supposed to be looking after traffic lights.’ Sam asked.

‘Gone back to hacking Raynor’s server.’ Said Dave.

‘Says you’re close enough to Raynor as to not require his skill.’

‘Fair enough.’ Sam conceded. ‘Just stay on the line.’

Sam indicated and turned left onto Dean Street. The road was clear except for parked cars and the tail light of a motorcycle. Sam’s pulse quickened and he stepped on the loud-pedal. The revs increased and the turbo whirred. He watched as the bike turned right.

‘He’s going right Dave.’ Sam said.

‘I see it. Old Compton Street. Here, do you think Mickey can get real-time satellite feed?’

‘Why the fuck didn’t you think of that half an hour ago?’ Asked Sam. ‘It’s a bit bloody late for that now, don’t you think?’

The bike slowed to take the corner and Sam saw an opportunity. He closed the gap to Raynor, turned onto Old Compton Street and maintained a speed equal to the motorcycle.

He took a deep breath and eased the gas slightly, nudging the back wheel of the bike. The bike wobbled and then started fishtailing. Raynor didn’t stand a chance on the wet road. Sam watched as the bike started to escape its rider, the rear wheel starting to slide from underneath. The bike bucked, managed to escape its rider, and Raynor was off. He rolled down the road and came to a stop by the side of a parked car. The bike continued its break for freedom for another twenty metres before it slid to a halt.

Sam hit the brakes and stopped the car. Onlookers were already starting to approach Raynor. A bunch of twenty-something lads who’d stepped out from a bar for a cigarette watched with astonishment. Sam walked up to Raynor just as he was starting to get up. Without giving him a chance, Sam planted a sidekick straight to his solar-plexus, making him stumble back into the parked car before falling to the ground once more.

‘Fucking hell, did you see that?’ A cry from outside the bar.

‘That bastard just knocked that other bloke off his bike, then kicked him in the guts.’

‘Man, that ain’t right.’

Raynor was stirring once more, so Sam lunged forward and rolled him onto his front. Raynor was still wearing a helmet, so Sam couldn’t render him unconscious with blows to the head and face. The only other option was to immobilise him as best as he could and call for backup.

‘Dave, you there?’ He said.

‘Yeah, still here mate, what’s up?’

Sam was bending Raynor’s arm back at an unnatural angle. Any attempt at freedom would surely result in fracture or even breakage.

‘I’ve got him.’ Sam looked around at the sides of the buildings, looking for street names.

‘Corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street. I need backup. Now.’

‘Okay, mate, I’ll send the old-bill.’

‘Thanks mate. Call Virani too. Make sure she…’

Before he could finish his sentence he was pulled off of his prey and thrown backwards across the street.

‘What’s your fucking game?’ Asked the shaven-headed man as he pulled Sam back onto his feet. The man was broad but lean. He was well dressed, in smart jeans and Fred Perry polo shirt. Sam recognised the logo on his jeans as Versace. One of the local hard-cases. The modern football thug. Well dressed and well connected, probably dealt a bit in dodgy motors and even dodgier substances. He looked like he was making good money from it too. And he needed to be able to look after himself in such a line of business. His demeanour told Sam that he could.

The man’s nose looked like it had been in these situations before, and possibly not always come out the other side as victor. It had obviously been broken in the past, probably more than once. But that made Sam even more cautious as the other man wasn’t afraid to get hurt. Two more men joined him. Two of the group Sam had seen outside of the bar.

‘What’s going on Dean?’ One of them asked. Just as lean, just as confident. He flicked his cigarette butt towards Sam.

‘Nothing really Gaz. This piece of shit just started laying into the poor bastard he’d knocked off the bike.’

‘No way.’ Said Gaz.

‘Yeah, I know. Was just about to teach him a lesson.’

‘Well, I think he deserves one Dean.’

‘Wait a second lads.’ Said Sam. ‘My name’s Sam Edwards, I work for MI5. That man is Nathan Raynor. The Trashman.’

The three hard-nuts looked incredulous, and then they started laughing.

‘Yeah, course you are mate. And I’m Jack Bauer.’ Said Dean. Sam was weighing them up. Dean was obviously the leader, so he’d need to be taken care of first. Then Gaz, the first lieutenant. The last man in the trio hadn’t spoken or proffered a name, real or otherwise. Sam deduced that he must be a low ranking foot-soldier, simply trying to get in the good books of the main man.

Gaz laughed. ‘Good one Dean.’ He said.

A crowd had started to gather, the pubs emptying as word of the showdown got around.

‘Right, shithead, how am I going to teach you a lesson?’ Asked Dean.

‘I don’t think you are.’ Said Sam. ‘Look, if you don’t believe me, that’s up to you, but I suggest you walk away.’

Laughter again as Dean looked in turn to his subordinates whilst cracking the knuckles of each finger on both hands.

Raynor was sitting up, watching the exchange with his visor raised. A slim, tall, white-stilettoed blonde woman of about twenty-five approached him. She was wearing a mini-skirt, if you could call it that. Possibly mini-scarf would be a better description. Her cropped top could barely contain her excitement. She had a tiny pink leather handbag clutched in her right hand. In her left hand an umbrella kept the rain from ruining her hair.

‘You alright love? Don’t worry, my Dean will sort him out. What a tosser.’

She looked back and smiled, admiring her Dean.

‘Gaz will finish the job when Dean’s had enough.’

She transferred her bag to her left hand, struggling for a moment to hold both bag and umbrella in the same hand, then reached out an arm offering to help Raynor to his feet. She was tiny compared to Raynor, and he wondered how she ever thought she’d be able to lift his bulk.

He forced himself up and gave her a nod of gratitude.

‘Thanks.’ He said, ‘But I think your fella’s just about to get the beating of his life.’

She laughed. It started heartily and disbelieving, but soon turned more to a worried, nervous half-giggle when she realised Raynor was being deadly serious.

Turning back to Dean she shouted.

‘Just leave it, Babe. He’s not worth it.’

Raynor smiled and turned away.

‘You alright?’ The girl asked when he started walking towards his bike.

‘Don’t you want to call the police of nuffing?’ She added, awkwardly jogging behind him, the tight skirt hindering free movement of her legs above the knees.

Raynor turned and said. ‘No, I’m quite happy for your man to delay him for as long as he can.’

She looked puzzled and Raynor leaned in to her conspiratorially.

‘He’s MI5.’ Raynor whispered, ‘And I’m The Trashman.’

He winked at her as he took his rucksack from his back, opened it and removed a brown paper bag. He walked to a litter bin on the side of the street and tossed the bag into it. Then he turned and started walking towards his downed motorcycle.

The girl froze like she’d been caught in Medusa’s glare and turned into stone. Her eyes widened, then the realisation of what Raynor had just done hit her like a wrecking ball.

‘Shit. Dean. Leave it! We’ve got to get away from here.’

Sam saw an opportunity and swung a right hook. Just from the shoulder, not pulling back so far as to give away the play. It connected with Dean’s jaw and sent him staggering sideways. It was nothing to Dean. He was well accustomed to receiving punches to his face, but not usually so precisely delivered. He looked at Sam, grinned, then ran straight at him, launching himself through the air and landing heavily on Sam.

That’s when Sam realised it wasn’t going to be a fight, it was going to be a street brawl. Why did he think otherwise?

The two men landed heavily and cheers erupted from the onlookers. This was obviously Dean’s turf, and Sam was going to have a hard time getting away from here in the unlikely event that he won the fight.

Sam started laying body shots at Dean, who was now on top of him. It was all he could do to stop getting pinned down. If Dean stopped him from moving his arms, he’d rain blows to Sam’s face until Sam was out cold.

A girl appeared. Mid-twenties in white stilettos. She grabbed Dean. She looked scared.

‘Dean, Babe, we’ve gotta go. Get off him.’

She pulled at Dean, but he wasn’t going to stop having his fun. Dean shook her off and gave Sam an opening. He rolled his body as much as he could as sent Dean toppling.’

Dean stood and turned to the girl.

‘Now look what you’ve done, you stupid bitch!’ He shouted.

His face was contorted with fury which gave Sam encouragement. Never fight with anger, you’ll make mistakes. Control your breathing, control your movements, think three blows ahead.

The girl didn’t give up.

‘We have to go Dean! Something bad is going to happen.’

She didn’t want to mention Raynor, the fact that he’s The Trashman, or that he’d just dropped a package in the bin. Not through fear of causing panic, but through fear of being laughed at.

‘Not until I’ve finished him off!’ Exclaimed Dean, pointing backwards to where Sam had just been lying. He turned round and Sam was upright, looking confident. So much so that Gaz and the other lout had moved back out of harm’s way. Dean let out a roar of anger and charged. Sam stepped out of the way at the last moment and let the other man charge past.

This just enraged Dean more as he turned again to face Sam. His face was getting redder. Sam saw another chance to try and end the fight without either of them getting hurt. He raised both hands and tried to placate the other man. He said

‘Look, Dean, I don’t want any more trouble. I have to stop that man.’

Sam pointed down the road to where Raynor was picking up his bike.

‘No fucking chance!’ Said Dean, and charged once more. As Dean approached, Sam stepped back, moving his right leg to be in line with his left, parallel to the oncoming man. He twisted his body clockwise, now positioning himself side-on to his assailant. Dean would have run straight past, but in the blink of an eye, Sam swung his right arm in an arc, his right thumb tucked in beneath the fingers of his right hand. A classic ridge-hand strike. As Dean got level with him, the side of Sam’s right hand connected with Dean’s throat. The power of the arced movement and the centrifugal force built up during the rotation of the arm sent Deans legs flying from underneath him as they tried to keep running after his neck and head had stopped moving. He landed heavily on his backside and instantly grabbed his throat with both hands, gasping for air.

Dean pointed at Gaz, then at Sam. ‘Get him.’ He managed to say between breaths. Gaz looked at Dean and shook his head, and then he looked at Sam who was now in a fighting stance, waiting for the next attack.

A siren could be heard in the distance, heading toward the crowd. ‘Do it!’ Dean shouted to Gaz as best as he could. Gaz looked at the third, as yet unnamed man.

‘You’re up Brains.’

Obviously one of those ironic nicknames. Thought Sam.

Brains thought for a second, eyed Sam, and said ‘Yeah, why not?’

A massive grin split his face as he stepped into the makeshift ring. Sam saw an opportunity to finish things quickly, while Brains tried to encourage the crowd with an over-the-top American wrestling style entry; jumping up and down, clapping his hands, shouting ‘Easy, easy.’

Sam didn’t wait, he took a step toward Brains, right foot forward, crouched and swept his left leg around just above ground-level, taking the other man’s legs from beneath him. Brains fell heavily, with a loud huff as the wind left him. Sam stood, made sure there wasn’t going to be any more trouble, and walked away. The crowd parted to let him through. Quiet mumbles of disbelief echoed around the crowd. This lot had never seen Dean and his cronies get beaten so easily.

The sirens got closer, the blue lights reflecting off the buildings as the vehicle neared the scene. The crowd started to scatter, leaving Dean and Brains on the floor while Gaz walked toward Dean offering a hand to help him up.

Sam got back in his car and started driving away just as the police van stopped. In his rear-view mirror he could see Dean, Gaz and Brains surrounded by gun-wielding policemen.

‘You still there, Dave?’ Sam asked, hoping the call was still connected.

‘Yes mate. Still tracking him. He’s heading down Charing Cross Road, toward the Strand. He might get held up if it’s busy.’

‘Get Mick back on the traffic lights, will you mate?’

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

Mickey slammed the palms of his hands on the desk. Just about everything on the desk shook with the force of the blow. ‘Dammit!’ he shouted.

Dave looked over.

‘What’s up mate?’ He asked.

‘It’s Raynor’s bloody server. He’s running a virtual machine for every bomb.’

‘And what does that mean?’ Dave asked.

Lucy Green strolled across the room to Mickey’s desk and looked over his shoulder, resting a hand on the back of his chair.

‘Oh, that’s clever.’ She said, almost in awe.

‘No shit.’ replied Mickey, slightly agitated. ‘Sorry.’ he added, trying not to take out his frustration on Lucy. Dave was now making his way over to the desk to join in the conversation.

‘So what does that actually mean?’ he asked.

Mickey started to explain.

‘Well each bomb is running on its own instance of Windows, within the main instance of Windows which starts when the machine boots up.’

Lucy interjected.

‘It’s very popular in the corporate world. In fact, our IT Department run virtual servers for different aspects of the business. It can help isolate different business functions.’

Dave was trying to keep up with the excitable pair. Mickey took the baton from Green.

‘Also, if you have a problem, you can just take down the virtual machine and not the whole server.’

Dave rubbed his chin.

‘Okay, I think I get it.’ He said, ‘so why not just shut down the virtual machines?’

‘I like the way you’re thinking.’ Said Mickey.

‘It’s the obvious solution.’ Added Lucy.

Are they turning into a bad comedy double act? Thought Dave.

‘But.’ Said Dave. ‘I know when there’s a “but” coming.’

Mickey turned to Lucy, who gestured for him to provide the answer, which he did.

‘But each virtual machine has its own security which I have to get round. They also have shut-down passwords.’

Dave thought about this for a moment before asking.

‘Hang on. A password to shut-down? What’s the point of that?’

‘Simple really.’ Mickey replied. ‘If the virtual machine, or the server it’s running on, gets shut-down without the password, it can trigger certain events. In this case detonation of each bomb linked to a running virtual machine.’

‘Shit!’ Said Dave as he stared at Mickey’s screen. He had a glazed look on his face while he tried to process this new information.

‘So, we can’t just shut them down and job done?’ He asked.

‘If only.’ Mickey replied. ‘I need to get into each virtual machine, make the software think it’s detonated its device, then force a shut-down. One bomb at a time.’

Lucy Green added. ‘On the bright side, we’re blocking the return signal, so the bombs won’t detonate.’

‘Unless he starts using a standard mobile network, of course.’ concluded Mick.

They remained silent for a moment. Each asking ‘What now?’ with their facial expressions and shrugs. Mickey finally broke the silence.

‘Well it looks like I’ll just have to stop the fucker then, doesn’t it?’ He concluded, as he interlocked his fingers and stretched.

Dave suddenly straightened and looked left, right and then toward his desk. He reminded Mickey of a meerkat.

‘Can you hear anything?’ Dave asked.

‘No, why?’ replied Mickey.

Realising what he could hear, Dave sprinted across the room to his desk. Sam was still on the line, the phone receiver left loose on the desk next to its base-unit. Dave grabbed the receiver and held it to his ear.

‘Sam, sorry mate, had a bit of an issue.’

‘Forget that, what’s going on with these bloody traffic lights? And where’s Raynor?’

‘Calm down mate. Mick has to hack these servers, they’re really complicated. And as Raynor doesn’t need his own frequency anymore, he could send the texts at any time.’

‘Yeah, sorry mate. I came to that conclusion as well. Bloody scary.’

Sam was interrupted by Mickey shouting across the office.

‘Dave, another VM has fired up.’

‘What’s he on about?’ Sam asked.

‘Raynor’s using virtual machines, one for each bomb. I’m guessing, as another one’s just started, that he’s just activated and left another device somewhere.’

‘Shit. Will this ever end?’

‘I hope so, Sam. All I want is a nice cool beer.’ Replied Dave.

‘So where is he?’ Sam enquired.

‘At Lucy’s desk, trying to take down the virtual machines.’

‘Not Mickey, you Muppet, Raynor!’

‘Oh, hang on. He’s outside The Globe theatre. Where are you?’

‘I’m on The Strand. What’s my best route?’

‘Well, you’re probably best off staying on The Strand, double-back around Blackfriars Underground, no, wait. I’m talking bollocks. Head for Southwark Bridge. That’ll get you south of the river, to the east of The Globe.’

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

Raynor was having a dilemma. He’d parked the bike and was standing, staring at the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. His crash helmet once again resting on the bike’s fuel tank. He loved Shakespeare. At school, other than physical education, studying Shakespeare in English Literature was the only other subject he had the slightest interest in. He was simply too bright to take any notice in other lessons. He’d listen and take them all in, but it was merely information he could store for when needed, like data on a hard drive.

But when he started reading Macbeth his mind was opened up. The tragic lead character, driven, ruled and defined by ambition, but ultimately not up to the job of ruling. Raynor had met a few people with those traits over the years.

While Macbeth was his favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, Raynor had read and enjoyed most of the playwright’s works. The tales of war, murder, revenge and love seemed to strike a chord.

He wasn’t gazing at the original building. The original Globe had burned down in 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII. A misfired canon, a prop, had set fire to the beams and thatch. It wasn’t even the site of the original theatre. In fact, the replica had only been there since 1997. Raynor was finding his decision easier as he took a bag from his rucksack. He was down to his penultimate device and his final target had already been decided. He’d be heading there shortly.

In around fifteen minutes time the London skyline would light up. Thames House, the National Gallery, Piccadilly Circus, Old Compton Street, and now Shakespeare’s Globe. It would be spectacular.

He’d managed to lose Edwards too, which saddened him a little as he was enjoying the cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of London. Oh well. In the next hour he’d be out of the city and heading for a new life. And it would be a good one. Six million pounds was a nice figure to live on. He stood, trancelike, staring at the theatre in front of him for a moment longer.

#

The car approached Southwark Bridge where the buildings gave way to a view across the Thames. It was impossible to miss the Shard to the east. The flames were still licking the side of the glass building, plumes of smoke billowing through the hole in the side. There was no doubt the firefighters would be working for a long time trying to control the flames and put the fire out.

The top of the building was swallowed by the low cloud which was still having its tantrum. Still crying onto the London streets. Sam got to the other side of the bridge and took the next right onto Park Street. Another right, twenty metres on, took him onto New Globe Walk where he parked the car in a space reserved for disabled drivers. He got out and walked the short distance to Bankside.

The rain had kept the people at home tonight, banal soaps and reality shows the order of the day for most. When Sam got to Bankside he pressed himself up to the wall of The Swan restaurant. He slowly made his way down Bankside, keeping as close to the building as was possible. He stopped when he spotted Raynor leaning back on his bike, simply staring at Shakespeare’s Globe.

The bike was adjacent to a set of steps that gave better views of the Thames as well as the theatre. Sam sneaked across the path and up the steps to the raised area. Keeping low down, he kept tight to the riverside wall as he stalked his prey. Sam deliberately took his time as he made his approach. If Raynor were to start looking around Sam would surely be seen.

Sam got closer. Raynor was still leaning against his bike, his back to Sam. When Sam was directly behind his target he stood straight and ran toward the edge of the steps. He launched himself, stretched out his right leg and bent his left leg under it, left knee pointing toward the ground, left foot flat against his right leg behind the knee, completing a triangle.

Sam flew over the parked bike and the flying side-kick connected with Raynor’s back and sent the large man flying forward. He stumbled and fell. Sam landed well after the impact, managing to miss the bike and to remain on his feet. Hopping forward, Sam attempted a sickle kick. He swept his left leg in a high arc in front of him, the intention being to bring it down onto Raynor’s knee, breaking it and immobilising his opponent.

Raynor was too fast, he saw Sam’s leg raise in a high arc; impressed by the height the small man could stretch. He was kicking well over his own height, possibly a good six feet in the air. Raynor rolled back and Sam managed to pull back the blow before he smashed his heal on the pavement where Raynor had just been.

Raynor jumped to his feet and threw a right-hook, but Sam saw it coming and used a double-forearm block before the fist connected with his left temple. Trying to block that swing with one arm would have been like trying to stop a freight train with a piece of tissue paper. Sam now had an opening as Raynor’s momentum was stopped by the block. He raised his left leg, snapping it forward at the knee into a front-kick that connected with Raynor’s chest and knocked him off-balance again. As soon as Sam’s foot was back on the floor he used it as a pivot for his next kick. He swivelled round raising his right leg for a roundhouse kick. Raynor had read the move and leaned back letting the foot fly past his head. Sam was already a move ahead and he used the momentum of his right leg to spin himself around. He jumped and continued spinning, tucking his right leg back and extending his left into a flying-spinning kick that connected with the side of Raynor’s head lifting him from his feet, sending him flying through the air. He landed heavily and stopped moving.

Sam approached cautiously, keeping out of Raynor’s reach. But Raynor caught Sam by surprise, sweeping his leg and catching Sam behind the knee, taking both legs out from under him. Sam fell forward and had to use both hands to stop his fall. He rolled away from Raynor, and managed to get back on his feet.

‘I don’t want to kill you Sam, but I don’t have a problem doing it. Anything to make the mission successful. I have to stick to the brief’

‘Is this what this is to you Raynor? A bloody mission?’

‘Of course it is Sam, what do you think it is?’

They circled each other, each waiting for the other to make his move.’

‘I think it’s madness, Raynor. You’re not right in the head.’

‘Are you questioning my mental wellbeing Sam? Because I take offence at that. And I’m not the sort of person who likes being offended.’

‘So why are you doing this?’

‘It’s my mission brief.’

‘So you’ve said, but people have died.’

‘Collateral damage. Unavoidable.’

‘You really believe that?’

‘Of course. The mission comes first.’

‘Why?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Why does the mission come first?’

Raynor stopped pacing, Sam followed suit. Raynor looked confused. It was as if he’d had the message drilled into him so many times over the years, the mission comes first, but he’d never taken the time to question the reasoning behind it. His brow furrowed and he looked down at the ground. Just for a moment. But a moment Sam could try to take advantage of.

The side-kick connected with Raynor’s chin and Sam lunged forward while bringing round his left arm in a ridge-hand strike that connected with Raynor’s throat. Raynor let out an angry cry. The rain pounded the street around them as Sam followed up with a hook from his right hand that connected with Raynor’s temple. The big man started to stagger. He was losing concentration. He was losing the fight. He took a couple of steps back, making sure he was out of range of any attack Sam could make. His sight was starting to blur. He decided to try and give himself a bit of time.

‘I will kill you Sam. Then I’ll kill your family.’

‘I’m not going to give you the opportunity, Raynor.’

‘Oh yeah? You think? Then it will be your mates. Mickey Purver and Dave, the mouthy smart-arse, Sykes. I’ll enjoy that. Then maybe the lovely Ms. Virani. Who knows?’

‘I do.’ Sam said, in a matter-of-fact tone, followed by, ‘Tonight.’ He pointed at the ground to emphasise the place which would accompany the allotted time before saying. ‘It ends.’

Raynor charged. He lowered his shoulder and connected with Sam’s stomach, knocking the wind out of the smaller man.

Sam was on the ground, rolling in agony.

Raynor stood over him and kicked him in the side.

‘You want to know why the mission must come first? You really want to know?’

Sam didn’t have time to answer, even if he could have.

‘Because the one time I deviated from a mission, most of my squad were wiped out. Five men. In Afghanistan. Taken out by an RPG. I bet your research never uncovered SCU10 did it?

Sam managed to shake his head before Raynor kicked him again. He let out another cry of pain and shut his eyes attempting to block it out.

‘SCU10 was made up of ex-SCU members. Your mate Bushy was in it.’

A young couple, rushing down the street arm in arm, snuggling under an umbrella noticed the commotion.

‘Are you okay, mate?’ The man shouted to Raynor.

‘Yeah, we’re fine, this one can’t handle his booze, that’s all.’

‘Do you need any help?’ The over inquisitive man asked.

‘No. Thank you’ Raynor replied as he turned and glared at the couple who had dared to come closer. They took one look at the hate and rage in Raynor’s eyes and turned away. They scurried off in a hurry. Raynor turned back to Sam. He bent down and grabbed Sam by the scruff of his neck and effortlessly lifted him to his feet. Sam wobbled, he couldn’t focus on anything. The pain was taking over.

Raynor held Sam up with his left arm and threw a punch with his right. Sam staggered back and collapsed once more.

‘Oh no you don’t.’ Said Raynor. ‘You’re not passing out on me. You wanted to know my story. Well here it is.’

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

Abbottabad, Pakistan – May 1st 2011 – 21:00 Local Time

The temperature had dropped from the highs of the afternoon, but not by enough. Even a drop of over fifteen degrees Celsius left the temperature hanging at around twenty-three degrees.

The eight-man squad had started the day in the small town of Asadabad in Afghanistan, the capital city of the Kunar Province, about six kilometres west of the border with Pakistan. A CIA operated transport helicopter picked them up at 08:00 and carried them the three hundred kilometres into Pakistan where they would receive their mission brief. Raynor was in command of the British support unit simply known as Banquo Squad, but changed to Bravo Team for the operation.

Their function was simple. Mop-up. The SEALs were to take control of the compound of Osama bin Laden and apprehend him and anyone with him. Intelligence reported that there were only a handful of guards and bin Laden’s immediate family in the compound. Bravo Team would keep a safe distance from the compound perimeter and shoot anybody attempting to flee. Operation Neptune’s Spear was go.

It should have been so easy.

May 2nd 2011 – 01:00 Local Time

The SEALs approached by helicopter from Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Two stealth Black Hawks were to deploy the American Troops who would zip-line into the compound. Nobody expected the mission to go wrong so soon.

As the first Black Hawk hovered above the compound, adverse airflow coupled with the high compound walls stopped the tail rotor from operating at maximum efficiency. The tail rotor brushed against the compound wall forcing the pilot to soft land just inside the perimeter. The second helicopter landed outside of the compound, forcing the SEALSs to scale or breach the wall in order to gain access to the compound.

‘Bravo Team. This is Neptune. Come in. Over.’

‘Bravo One. Copy. Over.’

‘Bravo One, the mission parameters have changed. I repeat, the mission parameters have changed.’

‘Negative, Neptune, Bravo Team mission parameters do not change. Bravo Team does not report to Neptune.’

‘Neptune to Bravo Team. Neptune assumes all control for operating parameters. The mission has changed.’

Raynor removed his helmet and motioned for Bush to do the same. He covered his microphone with his hand.

‘What do you think, Bushy?’ Raynor asked.

‘Dunno mate. It’s your call. Me? I’d stay put and do as I was told. Thomas told us not to deviate.’

‘I know, but man, bin Laden’s in there. This is history being made. Shit, I might even get a chance to slot him.’

‘In your dreams Nate, the septic’s will make sure they get that honour. They’re the hero’s mate, we’re just the hired help. Here to take out the trash.’

‘Yeah, you’re right.’

Raynor put his helmet back on.

‘Bravo One to Neptune. I’m afraid I cannot give assistance. Our orders were clear. We’re mop-up only. Over.’

‘Bravo One, this is Neptune. We have a Black Hawk Down. I repeat. Black Hawk Down. Hawk two has had to land outside of the compound. We need cover and possible supressing fire. Over.’

‘Shit.’ Said Raynor as he covered his microphone once more.

‘We have to help Bushy. They’ll be sitting ducks.’

‘Your call Nate, but I’d still stay here. It’s not our war. We’re state-sanctioned mercenaries. We shoot anyone who leaves the compound and we get back to Jalalabad in time for breakfast.’

Raynor thought for a moment. If the Americans blew this opportunity, bin Laden would disappear for ever. He couldn’t take that risk.

‘Neptune, this is Bravo One. Awaiting orders. Over.’

‘Bravo One, Neptune would like to express his gratitude for your support. Please make your way to Hawk Two. Assist in compound breach and supply cover fire. Over.’

‘Copy Neptune. Bravo Out.’

‘Move Out!’ Raynor shouted. ‘Cover the SEALs. Do not put yourselves in the line of fire.’

Raynor, Bush and the remaining six men of Bravo Team crouched and started the walk toward the Black Hawk that had landed outside the perimeter wall. Raynor could make out the SEALs setting up shaped charges on the compound wall, while others were firing grappling hooks over the top of the seven foot high wall.

As they neared the American soldiers they heard a shout.

‘Hostile spotted. Roof.’

Raynor looked toward the building which could be seen over the compound wall. Three men had climbed, one by one, through a trap door onto the flat roof. Two were carrying automatic weapons and started firing toward the SEAL team. The third had an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade launcher that he aimed toward Bravo Team. He fired. The projectile looked like it had fallen from the end of the tube before the rocket fired and accelerated it straight at Bravo Team.

‘Get down!’ Raynor shouted. But he was too late. He suddenly found himself weightless. Flying through the air. His ears were ringing. He landed heavily smashing his head on a rock and passing out.

He woke up twelve hours later to discover that only he, Bush and one other member of his squad had survived.

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

‘And that is why the mission comes first. That’s why I don’t deviate from the brief.’

Sam was sitting up. Listening. But not really hearing. This was too much. Raynor was part of Operation Neptune’s Spear? That was astounding. Raynor had stopped concentrating on Sam. He’d actually sat on the steps as he told his story. Sam almost felt sorry for him.

‘But the worse thing.’ Raynor said. ‘Was how we were treated when we got back. The CIA were really pissed off, but the British government had no idea we existed, so continued to deny all knowledge. The heat was starting to get to the men in charge. I had no idea who they were, but they simply cut us lose. I got the message from Saunders. They stopped our money, told us to walk and turned away as if we’d never existed. Fuckers. I couldn’t blame Saunders, it wasn’t his fault.’

Sam started to stand. He clutched his side and was almost bent over double with pain.

‘Raynor, listen. This time the mission has to fail. You need to come with me to Thames House.’

Raynor laughed.

‘Thames House? Are you fucking joking? All I have to do is tap an icon and that place goes up in smoke.’

Sam mustered every ounce of energy he had and grabbed Raynor by the collar.

‘Come on, mate. Time to call it a day.’

‘You really are something else, Sam.’ Raynor said before planting an uppercut on the other’s chin. Sam flew for a couple of feet before landing on his back. Out cold. Raynor walked to his bike. He got on the bike and put his helmet on, then started the engine and pushed himself off the stand. He sped off into the night.

CHAPTER FIFTY

Sam opened his eyes, grateful for the dark of night and the soft glow of the street lamps. His head hurt. What the hell had happened? Raynor. Where was Raynor?

How long have I been out?

Sam patted himself down, trying to find his phone. He swore when he realised it was in his car. He stood and swayed. His head was spinning. Concentrating like his life depended on it, he attempted to walk to his car. It felt like it had taken hours, but eventually he made it to the Lotus, a parking ticket placed under his windscreen wiper. He swore again, grabbed the ticket and threw it in the street. He unlocked the car and climbed in. His phone was on the passenger seat. His earpiece bleeped to let him know it had reconnected with the phone.

‘Fucking hell Sam, talk to me, where are you. What’s happened? Talk for Christ sake.’

‘Dave, Dave, it’s me.’

‘Jesus, Sam, where have you been? It’s been about fifteen minutes since you last checked in. What the hell’s been going on?’

‘Apart from getting a beating, oh and a bedtime story, from the same man, not much.’

‘Shit, are you okay?’

‘I’ll live, Dave. Where is he? I’ve got a score to settle.’

‘Are you fucking insane? He’s just beat the crap out of you and you want some more?’

‘Where is he Dave? I’ll kick the shit out of you if you keep stalling. It has to end.’

‘Alright, take a chill pill for fuck sake. He’s… hang on. He’s in the river.’

‘What are you talking about?’

Sam started the engine and attempted a three-point turn. Seven manoeuvres later, he was facing the way he’d come.

‘What the hell do you mean? He’s in the river?’

‘I don’t know Sam, his GPS is showing up in the bloody Thames. Maybe he’s thrown his phone away?’

‘And you think his phone would work at the bottom of the Thames?’

‘No, didn’t think of that. Then he must be on a boat.’

‘A boat? He was on a bike last time I saw him. He’s not a bloody super villain. He’s not going back to his lair built into a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.’

‘Alright mate, take it easy.’

If there were five worse words for Dave to have said, he would have struggled to find them. Sam erupted. He slammed on the brakes and stopped in the middle of a junction. A taxi braked hard and stopped just in time. The driver got out and walked towards the Lotus. Sam looked at him; the cabbie turned around, walked back to his cab, and managed a successful three-point turn, which Sam would later attribute to the turning circle of a the cab more than the skill of the driver. The cab sped off

‘Calm down? Fucking calm down? Do you have any idea what I’ve been through tonight, Dave?’

‘Well, um.’

‘Don’t fucking mumble, Dave. Tell me. Have you been beaten? Close to being blown up? Traipsed across town to take on a psychopath?’

Sam heard Mickey in the background.

‘Sociopath.’

‘Shut up, Mickey. You’re not helping. Dave, where is Raynor? And if you say the bloody river, I’m going to forget about him, drive to Newbury and beat you senseless.’

Sam heard Mickey again.

‘Someone’s got the hump tonight.’

‘Mickey. Shut up!’

Dave came back on the line. He was obviously thinking hard before giving an answer. He’d never known Sam to be like this. Sam was usually so meek and unassuming, putting it down to his martial arts training. But they were mates. When this was over they’d have a laugh about it in the pub. Eventually he spoke.

‘It looks like he’s stationary. But he’s definitely in the river.’

‘Zoom in, Dave.’

‘Oh, yeah. HMS Belfast.’

‘Thanks Dave.’

Launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938, HMS Belfast underwent eighteen months of sea trials and fittings before finally being commissioned for service in the Royal Navy. On September 3rd 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and the Belfast was sent to patrol the seas around Britain.

Her part in the war is legendary, even though she was out of action between November 1939 and December 1942 after hitting a mine while leaving the Firth of Forth and her base at Rosyth. She was an invaluable asset when it came to escorting supply conveys, helping to ensure the Soviet allies received their tanks, aircraft, vehicles and ammunition. From escort duty, to the Battle of North Cape, Operation Tungsten and the D-Day landings, it could be argued that no other British vessel had given so much to the war effort.

Post war, Belfast spent time in the Far East. She was a patrol vessel during the Korean War and provided bombardment support for UN troops on land.

The future of the ship was jeopardised after she was hit by a 76mm shell, and her active service came to an end on September 27th 1952 when she was consigned to the scrap heap. However, Belfast won a reprieve in 1955 when it was decided that she be modernised and returned to the fleet and sent once more to the Far East.

After twenty-five years of service, Belfast was retired on June 19th 1962. Her future as a museum ship was sealed in 1971 when she was handed over to the Belfast Trust and opened to the public at her permanent mooring on the banks of the River Thames. And even though her mooring was less than a mile away, the quickest route would see Sam cross the Thames in both directions to get there.

Sam tapped the route into his navigation app. A seventeen minute walk, or a nine minute drive. He stamped on the accelerator and headed back to Southwark Bridge, which he crossed once again to get to the north bank of the Thames.

A few minutes later, he was crossing the river again. This time using London Bridge. Once over the bridge, he mounted the pavement to avoid the traffic lights and slid the car onto Duke Street Hill before slamming down the accelerator once again.

Seconds later, he took a left onto Battle Bridge Lane and then a right onto English Grounds. He drove as far as he could before having to abandon the car and run the remainder of the way down Morgan’s Lane.

Sam ran as fast as he could toward the Deck Bar and Visitor’s Centre and sprinted up the steps. To the right of the bar was the gangway which led to the nearly two-hundred metre long light cruiser. A gated entrance hindered his approach, but he leaped onto the railing and swung past the gate. He hadn’t noticed a second gate blocking his route, but he realised he could simply repeat the manoeuvre and swing around it on the hand-rail.

Once he’d passed the gates, Sam sprinted along the gangway ending up on the quarterdeck of the ship. Where would Raynor be? If he intended to sink the ship he’d have to be below the waterline, but if he went too deep into the vessel the mobile signal might be blocked by the superstructure.

Sam slowly walked around the deck. A ramp led up to the deck above, the gun deck. The rain kept falling, making the deck slippery. He wondered how the sailors managed to run around while on the open sea with high waves crashing over the sides, soaking the deck.

Sam slowly walked up the ramp. He really needed to get lower, but he knew as the ship was a tourist attraction which had a route laid out, only certain hatches and doors would be unlocked. He’d have to follow the tourist route to find a way down. He crouched and made slow progress, keeping close to the wall of the superstructure. It was possible that Raynor had finished his work and was heading back up to leave.

Sam stopped. He squinted trying to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. A figure, stationary, stood to the right underneath an overhang between two structures. Was that Raynor? It looked too small. Security guard, maybe? Sam approached cautiously and then sprung from his cover. He jumped and punched down hard on the man’s temple. The figure collapsed under Sam’s weight, its head became detached from its shoulders and landed on the deck where it rolled for a few metres before coming to rest, staring back at its attacker. Sam stood up and brushed himself off, bemused by what had just happened. Then it became clear when he saw the crushed mannequin of a headless sailor lying on the deck.

Sam crouched once more and continued his slow walk around the structure. He passed the 4-inch HAVLA guns that seemed to be aiming at London’s financial district and 30 St Mary Axe, The Gherkin, in particular. He made his way to the boat deck and headed for an alley in the centre of the ship. A sign pointed to the Walrus Café. He was now under the cover of the gun deck.

Past the café door, a flight of steps gave access to the deck below. A safety warning on the walls advised visitors to face the ladder. The steps were steep and slippery when wearing wet shoes.

Sam looked around; he was now in the main exhibits. A maze of displays detailed the history of the ship. It was dark, the lights off. Only the emergency lights were illuminated. A dull green shining from above the exit signs.

Sam walked into an exhibit area and was startled when a television lit up along with all the lights in the display area. A motion sensor, having picked up his movement, had triggered the audio/visuals accompanying the exhibit which detailed the Second World War Battle of the North Cape.

Sam regained his composure and continued through the exhibit, ending up in the galley. More mannequins made him jump; thinking one of them might be Raynor. Then a figure stepped out from behind a mannequin of a sailor chopping meat. He had his back to Sam. He held something in his hand that was attached to a length of cable and what looked like a circuit board from a mobile phone. He opened a small hatch on the side of a bulkhead. The hatch was attached to a tube about the diameter of a house gutter, which ran down the side of the wall to the deck below.

Raynor dropped the small device through the hatch. A second later a clunk echoed through the tube as the device fell to the floor of the lower deck. Raynor turned, wiped his hands and noticed Sam standing not two metres away.

‘Alright Sam?’ Raynor asked, as if they were mates bumping into each other while out shopping.

‘Great engineering in these old buckets. These tubes,’ He pointed at the hatch where he had just put his device. ‘They run up and down the decks, made for carrying messages between stations. Great idea. Means I can get my gadget below sea level, should make things a bit more lively when the hull gets breached’

Sam shook his head. He couldn’t believe that Raynor was still on-mission.

‘Come on Raynor. Time to go. Call it a day, mate.’

‘I’ll go when I complete my mission.’

‘But you’re not going to. I’m here to make sure of that.’

Raynor laughed and put his phone in his pocket. He turned to face Sam, giving him his full attention.

‘Well if you don’t walk out, I’m going to have to take you out.’ Sam said.

He sounded full of confidence, but nothing was further from the truth.

Raynor laughed again before declaring,

‘You can’t take me out Sam, it’s too late. The wheels are in motion. There are six more bombs dotted around this great city of ours. The server’s remote, up and running, the texts have just been sent. I usually get a reply in about seven minutes. But it might be a bit longer as people are taking longer to reply now they know about the Trashman. Nice nickname, by the way, Five’s idea?’

‘No, that was the work of the tabloids.’ Sam replied.

‘I’m not keen on it, if I’m honest.’ Said Raynor. ‘But it beats the Bin Bomber, I suppose.’

Sam’s phone rang silently in his pocket. His earpiece alerted him to it. He slipped his hand into his pocket and hit the accept button. It was Mickey.

‘We’ve done it. Don’t look surprised or give yourself away, but we’ve found a way to shut down the virtual machines. A new one has just started, so I’m working on that one now, so be careful, there’s a chance somebody will reply and detonate it. My advice, get out of there Sam, just walk away. He won’t get far.’

Sam hung up. He threw his hands into the air as if accepting defeat.

‘You know what?’ he said ‘I really don’t care. If you want to go around blowing things up, then who am I to stand in your way? My family are safe, my mates are safe. Who am I trying to fool? I can’t beat you one-on-one, and by the time back up gets here you’ll be long gone.’

Raynor visibly relaxed, sensing a victory, but still cautious. He knew that Sam was an expert when it came to unarmed combat, he’d just experienced it first-hand, but he couldn’t help noticing how genuine Sam sounded. Sam continued.

’After all, I’m just a data analyst, not a spy. So fuck it, I’m going home. But you know they’ll find you.’

‘If you say so Sam.’ replied Rayner, sarcasm ever present.

‘You realise there are more of us? Let down by the country we fought so hard to defend. We were all killed, resurrected, and then abandoned.’ Raynor looked genuinely upset, remorseful even, as he held eye contact with Sam.

’Most would be only too pleased to take the money to do shit like this when it’s available. I’ve done a lot of bad things for my country, I can’t change that. But my country didn’t have to abandon me when they didn’t need me. So when a nice payday like this comes along, I’m going to take it. A man’s got to live.’

He paused. Head bowed in thought.

‘You won’t find us all.’ He continued, looking up at Sam.

‘And there will be more like me, I guarantee it. So long Sam. It’s been a blast.’

Raynor grinned and watched, waiting for Sam to make one final attempt to get the upper hand.

Sam turned and started to walk away. He made his way up to the deck of the ship and crossed the seemingly endless walkway back to the bank of the Thames. He kept looking back, making sure that Raynor didn’t follow him.

Once clear of HMS Belfast he took his phone out of his pocket, opened his text messages and scrolled down the list looking for one message in particular.

You’ve been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts.

Sam typed three letters. Y-E-S and hit the Send button.

EPILOGUE

The log fire in Sam’s living-room popped and crackled as Jack played with his new wooden train set. The floor was littered with wrapping paper and boxes. Sam and Julia sat opposite each other at the dining-room table, holding hands, both wearing expressions which were far too serious for this supposedly joyous day. They were watching Jack play through the open double-doors that separated the living and dining spaces.

‘It happened again last night, Sam.’ Said Julia.

‘The same nightmare. A man going into Jack’s room and picking him up. Then coming in to our room and shooting you.’

‘Yeah, okay, I know the dream, Jules. It will pass. Give it time.’

Julia let go of Sam’s hand and leaned back.

‘I’ve made up my mind, Sam.’

‘But it’s Christmas Day, Sweetheart. Do we really have to discuss this now? Let’s just get today over with, then talk about it rationally.’

Julia watched Jack push his train around the wooden track. He was making “choo-choo” sounds as he did so. She smiled lovingly. Jack stood and went to his toy-box to retrieve a car.

‘Doesn’t matter what we buy him, he always goes back to that blue plastic car. Loves it as much as you love that bloody Lotus of yours. Like father like son, I suppose.’

Their eyes met again. The love they shared was obvious. What was also obvious was how much Julia was hurting. They smiled at each other, but the smile was laced with sadness.

Sam sipped his tea.

‘It’s a good car.’ He said, trying to lift the mood.

‘Seriously though, Sam. It’s been four months. They still haven’t found a body. You’re still not sleeping, I’m having nightmares.’

Sam placed his mug back on the table and took her hands once more.

‘He’s dead Jules. There’s no way anyone could have survived that explosion.’

‘But I just don’t feel safe here. Then there’s the fact that a man died in our garden.’

‘We’ll sell the house. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a house.’

Jack waddled into the room. He was holding his car in the air, making whooshing noises.

‘Dadda play cars.’ He said as he tried to climb up onto Sam’s lap.

‘In a minute mate.’ said Sam, tousling his son’s hair and giving him a big smile.

‘Why not try playing with one of your new toys?’

Feeling a little dissatisfied with his Dad’s answer, Jack walked to the other side of the table and handed Julia his favourite car.

‘Mummy play cars?’ He asked, hopefully.

‘Yes Darling, Mummy will play cars in a minute. Once I’ve finished my tea.’

Jack gave a heavy sigh and trotted off back into the living-room. Sam and Julia watched as he investigated the stack of new toys he’d received that morning. After careful consideration, he opted for an empty cardboard box which he sat in and pretended to drive.

‘Typical. Always more interested in the boxes than the toys.’ Sam said. He turned back to Julia and noticed a tear had formed in her eye.

‘He’s going to miss you, Sam. We both are.’

‘Then don’t go.’

‘But we can’t stay here. We just can’t. Mum’s coming tomorrow, so we’re going back with her on New Year’s Day. If it’s ever proven that Raynor was killed, we’ll come back. But if there’s a chance he’s still alive, you’re a target. He’ll come for you. Jack can’t be here when that happens.’

Sam sighed. He sat back and wiped his eyes, trying his best to keep it together.

‘And what if they never find a body, Jules? Are we just going to live apart? How will that work?’

‘I don’t know, Sam.’ She was fully crying now.

Sam stood and walked into the living-room. He left Julia with her head in her hands crying at the dining-room table. He knew if he stayed in the room with her that he’d soon be in the same state.

‘Cars now?’ asked an ever-hopeful Jack.

‘Daddy’s just going to clear up some of this paper.’ Sam replied. He left the room and came back in, moments later, with a roll of brown polythene recycling bags.

A few minutes later, Sam had put the last scrap of wrapping paper into a bag and tied the bag closed at its top. He picked it up, along with the other four full bags and headed to the kitchen where he unlocked the patio doors.

‘I’ll just leave these outside for now, Babe.’ He called to Julia as if the previous conversation had never taken place.

When he didn’t receive an answer he added,

‘I’ll put them in the garage later, and then take them down to the recycling centre sometime during the week.’

He opened the door and the cold stabbed him like a knife. He shivered involuntarily. His breath was misty and wisped into the frigid air. After putting the bags down he looked around his garden. A layer of frost covered everything and glistened in the hazy morning sunlight. His gaze found his summerhouse and he walked across the lawn toward it, fumbling with the bunch of keys he held, trying to find the right key for the padlock.

He hadn’t been into his dojo since the summer. The police had searched it and Sam was never really sure what they were looking for, but procedure had dictated their actions. They weren’t best pleased with the array of weapons in Sam’s possession, but as he was a licensed martial artist, and had licenses for all those that required it, there wasn’t anything they could do.

Sam fought with the key, trying to get it into the lock. When that battle was won he twisted the key and the lock reluctantly sprung open. He pushed the door inwards, a loud creak broke the silence. He stepped in and switched on the light. A layer of dust covered everything.

The place was a mess. Sam’s trophies had been left on the floor, as had his grading certificates and various small weapons. He wasn’t bothered by the mess. He’d be moving. No doubt about it.

He stood in the doorway and turned to look back at the house. So many good memories were running through his head. Barbeques in the summer. Family and friends laughing and drinking, singing and playing silly party games. The long summer evenings he and Julia had simply sat outside and shared a bottle of wine. The summer just gone should have been a time for playing with Jack, but Raynor had put an end to that.

Sam’s phone beeped and he was suddenly pulled back to the present. It was a text notification. He’d spoken to all his family and friends, so wasn’t expecting to hear from anybody else.

Shit, texts on Christmas morning. Do these people ever give up? He thought as he unlocked the phone and tapped the icon for his messaging app. He froze when he saw the message.

[_ Congratulations! You’ve won a prize. Don’t Reply. Your prize will be delivered in the next few minutes. Happy Christmas, Sam._]

‘Shit!’

He dropped his phone and sprinted for the house. Bounding through the patio door he slammed into the small table.

He ran into the dining-room, making Julia jump. She was wiping her eyes with a tissue, trying to pull herself together so that she could enjoy the rest of the day with her family. She wanted to make the most of what could be their last Christmas together.

‘Sam?’ She asked.

‘Get outside, get in the summer house.’

‘But… what’s going on?’

‘Just do it, Jules. Now!’

Sam ran into the living room where Jack was stood looking toward the dining-room doors. Sam’s shouting had scared him. He’d never heard his Dad shout like that before. His shoulders started to shudder and be burst into tears.

Sam grabbed Jack and headed back through the double doors to the dining-room. Julia had found her feet and was exiting through the patio door.

The house shook as the blast hit it. Through instinct more than anything else, Sam dived; covering Jack, making sure his son would be safe. Julia had made it into the summer house.

To the front of the house the Lotus was lifted four feet into the air as it was consumed by a fireball. The windows on the front of the house had all been blown in by the explosives that had been placed inside the car via a slit in its canvas roof. A slit that had been made just a few minutes earlier by a Ka-Bar knife.

--- The End ---

 

KEEP READING FOR A PREVIEW OF SAM’S NEXT ADVENTURE: DON’T PLAY

 

If you enjoyed Don’t Reply, or even if you didn’t, please leave an honest review on Amazon. It will be invaluable in helping me develop, and hopefully improve as a writer.

AUTHOR’S NOTES

I know, I’ve made a lot of stuff up. But it’s a work of fiction, so I’m allowed. The Shard layout in particular was changed to give Culpepper Fostervold office space higher up the structure. The service lifts and hotel lobby were my own designs, purely to allow Raynor to play his games. Tidworth Garrison, while not described in any great detail, was architected in my head, as was the interior of Thames House along with its imaginary underground carpark.

The Frequency Redundancy File was fabricated as a way of finding out Raynor had been in the system. It might exist. Though it would be a fluke if it does.

And though I paid a visit to HMS Belfast, which is well worth seeing, by the way, the layout was far too large and complex to make a long trek through it a viable option. I wanted to make those final paragraphs quite tense, but I didn’t want them to drag on, as I was sure you, the reader, would be eager to learn Raynor’s fate. Sorry about that.

I invented the messaging tubes as a way for Raynor to get a bomb below the waterline. They may exist, though I didn’t notice them. I highly recommend a visit to the vessel if you’re in London, its history is quite fascinating, and a few of the mannequins are a little scary.

During the breach of the take-away, and when Raynor was at Battersea Power Station, all call-signs and tactics were made up, with the exception of Trojan-One which is an Armed Response Vehicle call-sign, and the helicopter call-sign India Nine-Eight.

I’m sure there are more.

I’ve had a great time creating these characters and situations, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. Book two has been started (the first chapter of which can be found after the copyright notices) so Sam and the gang will return for more over-the-top action, a lot of laughs, and a great plot.

See you then.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my work. Now comes the time to thank a few people. I’m a little worried about this bit, as there are so many people who have had an impact on the writing of this book that I’m paranoid about forgetting someone. If I have forgotten you, I sincerely apologise. Feel free to berate me on your social media platform of choice.

At times it looked like this was going to end up being just another failed attempt at a career change, but people like Sara Culpepper and Jackie Atkins kept poking and prodding to ensure I kept writing, so I thank you both for the sharpness of your sticks. Thank you Sara, for the late night texts full of excited expletives. I apologise for the increased blood pressure. To Jackie, I thank you for never doubting me, for the encouraging words every step of the way, and for keeping the fridge at work well stocked with Maltesers.

My gorgeous wife, Charlotte, obviously played a major part. Her stick may not have been as sharp as Sara’s or Jackie’s, for she’d witnessed my prior attempts at a career change, all of which had fallen by the wayside, so her scepticism was well founded. But she always encouraged me to carry on and didn’t mind the long nights I spent at the keyboard. Charlotte and our nipper, Oliver, are the real reasons I’ve written this book. I love you both.

There are those who gave up so much of their time to read the same thing time and again, the brilliant proof-readers, who offered opinion and pointed out my appalling grammar and spelling when Google Docs had given up on me: Sam Culpepper, Tony Ruscoe and Zavina Latif never tired of pointing out my mistakes. Sara and Jackie are more than worthy of a mention here, too. I truly appreciate your effort.

Then there are those whose names I borrowed, as coming up with character names is one of the hardest things in the world, for me.

I haven’t seen some of these people for years, but for some reason, their names seemed to pop into my head when I needed them and they fit the character in some way. So in no particular order: Simon Purver, Roger Sykes, Jamie Jones, Matt Culpepper, Joseph Fostervold, Jamie Bray, Grant Benjamin, Michelle Upex, Martin Roper, Nick Upex, Neil Barford, Zavina Latif, Andrew Bush, Alasdair Storry, Robert Horton, Darrell Whitehall, Gareth Jones, Jackie Atkins, Kevin Markwick, Neil Saltmarsh.

To everyone I’ve ever been drunk with: You and I are Dave Sykes!

Last, but by no means least, those who rallied around my call to arms and hit the share button on social media. These people are some of the most important, as they helped to spread word of the book around an extremely saturated internet. Again, in no particular order, big thanks go to:

Tracey Knatt, Gareth Jones, Sara Culpepper, Zavina Latif, Matt Culpepper, Jamie Bray, Tony Ruscoe, Charlotte Smart, Jackie Atkins, Sam Culpepper, Lloyd Culpepper. Apologies if I’ve forgotten anybody.

DON’T PLAY

Mickey ran as fast as he could through the warehouse. The sound of automatic weapons echoed around him, playing with his senses. He could see the exit ahead, next to the large, closed, loading bay doors. He slowed when he reached the end of the aisle and peered gingerly around the racking which housed the crates providing his cover.

Across the walkway, in the next aisle, the cover was better. Shipping containers were stacked two-high; crates in front of them would give access to the top of the container and provide him with a vantage point. He knew he should just head for the exit, but he was also aware that he couldn’t let the team down.

‘Sam, do you have a visual on any targets?’

‘Nothing, Mick. They’re like wraiths. Dave. Anything?’

‘Negative. It’s like they’ve all disappeared into thin air.’

Six months had passed since Sam, Mickey and Dave had been instrumental in stopping Nathan Raynor – The Trashman – An ex-soldier who was part of a secret military squad known as Special Covert Unit Eight.

Employed by a former General who was working for an arms company, Raynor was responsible for planting bombs in litter bins near London landmarks. He would then send text messages to random mobile phone numbers offering entry into a cash prize if the recipient replied. The first reply accepting entry into his fictitious prize draw would detonate the bomb.

Since stopping Raynor, the three friends had been employed by MI5 to form a new anti-terrorism unit. They were all to become field operatives specialising in stopping technology-based acts of terror as well as combatting state-level hacking and other such cyber-crimes committed against Britain. But they’d also be expected to take up less technical cases, lending a hand as and when required.

Training had been provided in firearms usage and unarmed combat, but in reality, those skills should never need to be called upon.

‘Sam, Dave, where are you? I can see the exit, but I don’t want to leave you guys when there are still hostiles present.’

Mickey was carrying a Heckler and Koch MP5SF 9mm submachine gun with red dot sights. It had three rounds remaining. He was also carrying a Glock 17 9mm pistol, that too was nearly out of ammo. Two hand grenades were attached to his ammo belt, but they were a last resort.

The mission should have been a simple one. Hack the mainframe, download the enemy plans and get out. The first two parts went without a hitch, until Dave tripped an alarm and alerted the enemy to their presence.

‘Mickey, if you can get out, do it. We’ll be fine.’

Mickey stepped out from the end of the racking, into the walkway which dissected the aisles through the middle of the warehouse. A bullet flew past his head.

Turning to where he thought the shot had originated, he was confronted by a man wielding an AK47, frantically trying to load a new magazine. The man was dressed top to toe in black. An ammunition belt sat over his left shoulder, trailing down to just above his right hip.

Mickey let off a single round which caught his target in the chest, dropping him to the floor.

‘Tango down.’ Mickey shouted.

‘Get in!’ Dave replied.

Mickey sprinted to a packing case and climbed on top. From there he jumped and grabbed the top of a shipping container, and pulled himself up, rolling onto the top and lying flat. From his vantage point he could make out the muzzle flashes of an enemy soldier.

‘Right of exit, on high catwalk.’ He informed his teammates.

‘Got him.’ Sam said.

The muzzle flash stopped.

‘Nice shot. Tango down.’ Mickey confirmed the kill.

‘Are there more?’ Dave asked.

‘Can’t see any.’ Mickey replied. ‘I suggest we make a move to the exit.’

‘Copy.’ Said Sam.

‘Copy.’ Said Dave.

Mickey jumped from the edge of the shipping container and used the packing case he’d used moments earlier as a springboard, bouncing straight from it and landing on the warehouse floor where he executed a perfect forward-roll. He stood up into a hail of bullets that embedded in or ricocheted off the shipping containers with metallic ‘Clinks’. He dived toward the cover of the container and was hit. The bullet sending him flying backwards.

‘Medic!’ He shouted.

‘Sorry mate.’ Said Dave. ‘I’m at the exit.’

‘What about not leaving anyone behind?’ Mickey enquired.

‘You’re forgetting the rules of Top Gear, Mick.’ said Dave. ‘If there’s a man down, the others carry on.’

‘He’s right Mick.’ Agreed Sam, ‘If you’re down, we’re off.’

‘That’s fucking great.’ Mickey exclaimed. ‘Anyway, who shot me?’

Mickey heard a new voice over his headset.

‘Vader379 is the master.’ The voice was distorted and sounded like Darth Vader.

‘Shit, it had to be Vader. Bloody hell Vader that was a lucky shot. You usually play like a girl. Right, I’ve had enough of this game, and Vader talking in the third person, as usual, so I’m going for a few races in Forza Motorsport. Who’s coming?’

‘No, I’m going for a game of Fifa.’ Said Dave.

‘And I’ve got some work to do.’ Said Sam.

#

Sam removed his headset and replaced the controller in its charging unit. He shut down the console which in turn switched off his television and amplifier. Leaving his living room he walked across the hallway into his office. Though he had decorated since the incident, the memories of being attacked by an assassin still haunted him. The bullet hole had been filled and painted over, but the memory could never be covered up by a layer of paint.

He sat at his desk and pressed the power button on his Chromebook. Five seconds later it was prompting him for a user name and password. He entered his details and waited another couple of seconds for the desktop to appear before opening his browser and navigating to his email.

As the page loaded, Sam switched on his radio, a small, portable DAB unit. It was tuned to BBC Radio 6 Music, his favourite station. The Marc Riley Show was on air, The Seeker by The Who was playing.

Sam’s inbox seemed to contain more rubbish every time he opened it. He’d become a minor celebrity since the Raynor incident, and companies were keen to use his name, however tenuously, with their products.

Lotus Cars had offered him a new Evora. A car fit for a national hero, they stated. Jaguar Land Rover had offered him a new F-Type justifying their offer with similar reasons to Lotus.

Sam didn’t feel like a hero, and he didn’t like the attention he was receiving. The whole Raynor affair had cost him dearly. His wife Julia had moved to her mother’s in Wales, taking with her their two year old son, Jack.

While flattered by the offers, Sam wasn’t really interested, though he did need a new car to replace his much missed Lotus Elan M100 which was destroyed in an explosion outside of his house on Christmas morning, just a couple of months ago. That event was the catalyst for Julia and Jack’s departure.

He moved the mouse pointer down the list of emails until he found what he was looking for. From: Jayshree Virani. Subject: Team Selection and Relocation. He clicked the email to open it.

Jayshree Virani. Sam’s Boss. The once MI5 poster girl and Team Leader had been promoted to Head of Division for the new Technologically Advanced Crime Agency. She immediately promoted Sam from Data Analyst to Team Leader of the new Squad. That gave Sam the unenviable task of selecting the Squad and informing them that the Agency was to be based in the Midlands.

Don’t Play will be available in 2016


Don't Reply - A Sam Edwards Thriller

"You've been selected at random for a chance to win £1000. Reply YES to be entered into a free prize draw, or reply STOP to stop future texts." Don't Reply. One reply of YES could be catastrophic! Sam Edwards - MI5 Data Analyst. A position so low in the pecking order that he doesn't even need to sign the Official Secrets Act. Why? Because he doesn't know anything; official, or secret. So when he suddenly finds himself in the field, untrained and unprepared, with only limited resources available, who does he turn to? His best mates. Mickey Purver: Handsome, socially inept, hacker extraordinaire. Dave Sykes: Loudmouthed, loutish, communications genius. The self proclaimed Geek Squad. Sam and his team must discover the identity of a bomber, hellbent on destroying London's finest landmarks, and stop him. Time is running out. But surely there's time for another pint first? Praise for Don't Reply: "Fast, furious, funny, fighting and the odd f-bomb… Excellent! Five Stars." "Thrilling and funny. The laughs come at just the right time to ease the ever-growing tension." "I have just had to learn how to breath again as I seem to have been holding my breath for 2 hours!!!!" "I have read the whole book again...brilliant...well done Mark...truly impressed. The chases around London were spot on. Great twist at the end too" "Smart, that's possibly the best fight scene I've read."

  • ISBN: 9781311696656
  • Author: Mark A Smart
  • Published: 2016-02-01 23:50:19
  • Words: 78619
Don't Reply - A Sam Edwards Thriller Don't Reply - A Sam Edwards Thriller