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Out of the Shadows (Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 1)

 

 

OUT OF THE

 

SHADOWS

 

(Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 1)

 

 

 

Tim Jopling

 

 

Copyright 2015 Tim Jopling

 

Author Note

 

‘Out of the Shadows’ is book one in a series of novels and tells the tragic story of Akira and his quest to make his vision become a reality.

 

Acknowledgements

 

My biggest thanks go to my wife Hannah who has been a tower of strength for everything in my life but she has also had to listen to me talk about all the variations that this novel could have been over the years and the end result would be nothing without her!

 

Thanks also to all the test readers who have been so supportive and provided such valuable feedback!

 

Licence Notes

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, events, places, characters, incidents and businesses are either products of the Author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner with kind permission from their owners. As such, all characters are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

About the author

 

My name is Tim Jopling and I love any spy and espionage books, TV, or films! People always say you write about what you know and although I’ve never had any personal experience (I’ve worked in the IT sector for 16 years!) I’ve read a lot of novels (you can’t really beat the original Ian Fleming novels in my opinion) and watched as many TV shows and films as I possibly can. I’m a big James Bond fan (not the spoofy ones, my favourites are the grittier ones with Timothy Dalton my favourite Bond – nothing to do with the name mind you!) and loved all the seasons of 24.

There were a number of things that made me want to try writing. I remember several years ago when I watched one of the Mission Impossible films and a James Bond film, both of which were so poor I was convinced I could write something better! Around the same time I remember a scene in 24 with a minor character that really hit a note with me and got the creative juices flowing! Whether I’ve written anything better remains to be seen but I have so much fun writing stories with the Olsen and Deane characters and Akira lurking the background! I’m currently working on the third and fourth novels in the series that will be available in 2015 / 2016.

You can keep up to date with me via my website or connect with through Twitter (@tim_jopling) and Facebook (tim.jopling.3).

 

http://www.timjopling.com/

PROLOGUE

 

Saturday, December 24th 02:00,

Moscow, Russia.

 

Destiny. Some people swore by it and others were certain it was nothing more than a myth or an old wives’ tale. For Akira it was the core of his heart and soul. He had come through so much in his past, so many changes and now he was on a date with the very thing he believed in the most, destiny.

At the centre of his quest was the vision he had been blessed with. A vision of what the world could be if he proved successful. Ever since his transformation into Akira, he was now more determined than ever to rid the world of the cancer that held it in such a vice. The West had to be conquered; there was certainly no way to save it. The time had come to start over and Akira would be at the forefront. At just the start of his journey, he was not about to let anyone or anything stand in his way, not after what he had endured in the past.

The December gloom of snow and icy winds had no effect on him as the thick flakes continued to fall from a darkened sky on a silent Moscow. Dressed in black from head to toe, Akira continued to give chase to the MI6 agent he had been pursuing since midnight. For weeks he had been tracking his movements and on Christmas Eve he had decided the time was right to take the risk and confront him. There would be no chance of anyone finding out his identity or his plans. It would end tonight.

Russia was somewhere Akira had always favoured. Not only was it beautiful in a dark and sinister way but almost every corner of the country brimmed with power. A power Akira knew he had to harness if he were to make his vision a reality. To start that change, the MI6 protector ahead of him had to be the first to fall.

Along the banks of Moscow River, the famous GUM department store could be seen in the distance as Akira made his move and lunged for the right boot of Martin Braga, MI6’s man in Russia.

The two men rose to their feet and squared off against each other, knowing it was time to stop running. Snow continued to fall and with it came eerie silence as the tiny flakes started to settle on the ground nearby.

Akira calmed his mind and his racing heart. There was no room for error, this was his first real test and he was not about to fail at the first hurdle. Outstretching his hands, he made his first move in San Shou, his preferred method of attack, which used an ancient Chinese hand-to-hand fighting style. With it came confidence, knowing that his opponents attack would be based around the fallible Savate style of fighting. Just like MI6 themselves, it was so one-dimensional.

That knowledge alone gave Akira all the confidence he needed. His past ensured he knew everything there was to know about Martin Braga and yet, to his opponent, he was an unknown quantity.

Moving forward all the time, Akira lashed out repeatedly. With his greater speed and power, he started to make his attacks count very quickly. The first blow struck hard into Braga’s neck, with the second breaking a cheekbone; nothing could stop Akira’s relentless attacks. After all, this was as personal as it could ever be. In all the years that had passed, he had been biding his time in the background and this first move was only the beginning.

His mind was calm; his conscience clear as the final deathblow finished the job and Akira watched his victim slump to the floor. Still the snow fell and the silence gave him clarity on what he had just done. It had been a necessary kill; there always had to be sacrifice for change.

Pushing the body away, Akira didn’t look at the lifeless face staring back at him. Many would call him a cold-blooded killer but was he? The West had betrayed him, after all. Had their failure forced him down this path? His memories of back then, in what seemed like someone else’s life, were inconsistent. Only fragments came back to him from time to time. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember the finer details but instead, images flashed by. Static and grainy pictures of former friends, those that should have helped him to the end rather than turn their back on him in his most desperate hour. The people he had once trusted with his life had betrayed him with devastating results. He had lost his soul mate and the only person that really mattered, his beloved wife Madeline.

The more he thought about it, the greater the clarity and with it came the sounds of the machines that had been keeping Madeline alive and the smell of the hospital room. Pain surrounded everything but Akira could still remember the faces of those he had trusted, knowing they could have done more but chosen not to. In those final moments, Madeline’s voice had been so weak, her smile so faint and the chest wrenching heartbreak had been too much to take. Akira had been born then but even he sometimes wondered whether his soul was still there in that hospital room waiting to take in what had happened.

In the weeks that followed, amidst such grief, Akira had no idea how it had come to be but somehow the voice of Madeline lived on inside his mind. When he needed her most he would hear her. In the years after her tragic death, he was convinced they had both witnessed the vision they were so committed to and in some way, she could live on and help make it a reality.

The memories still burned the remains of his heart and a single tear ran down his face. It didn’t matter how often he thought back to those dark times, he still felt the sorrow and the heartbreak. All he had wanted was a life of happiness with Madeline. Why had they not helped him when he needed it most? How could they betray him after everything he had done for-

 

Do not go back to that place my love. Time has passed and everything has changed. Our revenge starts now; do not doubt our vision of the future. They will pay the price for their betrayal.

 

Madeline. Whenever he needed support, she would come to him. Her voice sounded as clear as it always had. He closed his eyes and fought back more tears. ‘I just wish you were here with me. This is proving…difficult.’ His own voice broke for a moment but he regained his composure quickly.

 

Take control of your emotions and remember what they did to me, what they did to us! The West took away our future. They stole our happiness…

 

Akira nodded slowly. Every word was true. It was just proving much harder than he had imagined, to start the journey alone.

 

The vision my love, remember the vision. What we saw would change so much, do so much good. You must stay the course. Don’t ever forget what we lost, what we could have been!

 

He emerged from his vision. With it came a sense of hope and strength as if the knowledge that only he and Madeline had witnessed it somehow brought them closer together. That day had been unforgettable. Just the idea of a world without corrupt Governments and their deceitful foreign policies had given him a ray of light, in what had been his darkest days after the loss of his wife.

 

Show no mercy and do what must be done. I will always be with you.

 

In his mind he could feel her presence, as clearly as if she were next to him that very moment. Seconds passed until he heard no more and he rose to his feet, leaving the body behind him. Within minutes, he had leapt from the riverbank into the nearby Alexandrovsky Gardens. Every inch of it was now covered with snow and a bitterly cold wind rustled the branches of the trees. With each step, Akira made a silent promise to himself and his dead wife. His destiny was somewhere in the future and on that day, the West and its hypocritical Governments would fall; the world would change forever.

 

This was just the start…

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Wednesday, March 1st 04:00,

Operations Command, Military Intelligence Section 6,

(MI6) Headquarters, London.

 

Despite the early hour technicians were at every terminal working hard for one united goal, keeping the peace and bringing those who prevent it to justice. The humming of computer fans and the constant whir of laser printers could be heard all around, together with the rhythmic tap of keyboards.

This was Operations Command, the nerve centre and beating heart of MI6; the Secret Intelligence Service responsible for any threats from abroad to British and European national security. Roughly the size of three tennis courts, there were computer terminals everywhere together with scanning booths, analysis tables and other specialist workstations. At one end of the vast space was a large digital wall of screens detailing the latest updates and progress on each individual operation around the world.

Technicians swarmed from one desk to another providing intelligence data to the service. At the centre of the room were the Government agents; the sworn protectors and trusted knights of the service. Each one highly skilled and highly valued, they were devoted to the cause and whatever challenge they were given. What were looked on as the elite and pride of the MI6 service, a handful of S.U.C.O. agents (Special Undercover Covert Operations) were also in attendance, together with the core of the operation.

Around that centre table stood that core, arguably the most effective partnership MI6 and the West had to offer: Thomas Deane and Sam Olsen.

Olsen felt his phone vibrate in his back pocket and quickly flipped open his grey Samsung Galaxy S3. ‘Olsen.’ He said, half expecting one of the Operation contacts to be calling him with an update. ‘Oh hi….hold on a second.’ He caught the eye of his mentor and moved away from the centre table. ‘I need to take this.’

Deane looked up from the papers spread out in front of him and frowned slightly as his piercing blue eyes studied his young charge. His partner had given no indication of the nature of the call but he knew Olsen very well and recognised it was personal. Frustration boiled away inside of him; this was not the time for anything other than dedication.

Olsen ran a hand over his shortly cropped brown hair and recognised something he had seen before, a look of disdain etched across his mentor’s features. Not that he would worry about that now, not when his fiancée was on the other end of the phone. ‘Sorry hun, we’re just in the thick of things here. Are you ok?’

Rachel Fadden smiled faintly at another one of her fiancée’s sayings. Exactly what did ‘in the thick of things’ mean? With the nature of his job and the damned Official Secrets Act, Rachel was always more in the dark than the light and she didn’t mind admitting that her worry had increased since his injuries from the previous job. ‘I’m fine, I’m sorry to call but I just had to know how you are? I know I’m probably interrupting but I’m really worried about you. How’s your hearing now?’

Olsen walked to a nearby meeting point. He could hear the love in her voice and how much she cared. How she put up with his job and the lifestyle that came with it, he would never know. ‘I’ll live. I’m glad you called, I was worried about you too.’

‘Really?’

‘Well of course, whenever I’m working on an Operation I don’t know what it is but I just need to know you’re ok that’s all. I’m sure someone here could explain it but either way I’m glad you called. Are you at home?’

Rachel was still in her nurse’s uniform and had not been long home. ‘I’ve not been back from the hospital long, it was a manic shift so I’m just about to make myself a tea and get to bed. You’re sure your hearing is ok? I’m not convinced.’

Olsen leant his head to the right a little, as if it would dislodge whatever was causing the pain in that ear. ‘It’s still the same but I’ll survive.’

Ever since his last work with Deane during Operation Decryption, working in Germany infiltrating a massive computer organisation, he had picked up numerous problems with his hearing. Olsen had saved the life of an insider who had been callously dumped into the sea to plunge to his death but it had taken its toll and he had barely escaped with his own life. Since that trauma he had experienced bouts of pressure in his right ear as if he were still underwater. The fact that it wasn’t going away made him feel on edge and not quite as indestructible as he used to. Not that the doctors had found anything to diagnose, it was all in the mind apparently, which made Olsen feel even less in control. Dressed in black trousers and a light blue shirt, he tried to clear his right ear again which helped a little. It was now a regular habit of his.

Out of the corner of his eye, Deane saw and felt concern. In every way he wished it had been him that had saved the insider during the last operation but circumstances had prevented it. Deane knew he was a difficult man and not the easiest to work with but there was no doubt in his mind and his heart that Olsen was the son he would never have had and he loved him dearly. Just for a moment, he continued to watch from the centre of Operations Command but then went back to his work with the team of S.U.C.O. agents around him.

‘Are you sure you’re up to this?’ Asked Rachel.

‘It’s too late for me to back out now and the Doctor said it’s within my control, so it’s just something I’ll have to overcome. I’ll be ok. I’m sure Tom will look out for me, anyway.’ With that he glanced back to the centre table and saw Deane putting on a headset, most probably to talk with the MI5 agents that were working with them.

‘Well I hope he does.’ Rachel was saying ‘and if it doesn’t go away, I want you to see another specialist. This can’t just be buried, nor can they expect you to just carry on as normal.’

‘I agree. If this doesn’t change that’s what I’ll do.’ Olsen felt anxious to return to the Operation but still wanted to make sure Rachel was alright on her own. Not for the first time, the dilemma about his work and his personal life came to the fore.

‘I’m going to let you go, Sam. I just had to hear your voice, that’s all. What you do makes things…difficult. Promise me you’ll be careful and come back to me in one piece.’

Olsen smiled a light smile and closed his eyes for a second, appreciating the love he felt from her. ‘I will Rach, I will. Just make sure you get to bed and sleep ok?’

‘Don’t worry, I’m going straight to bed. I just wish you were coming with me so we could hold each other.’

‘I’ll be there soon, I promise. I love you, sweetheart.’

‘I love you too. Bye…’

Olsen hung up the phone and returned to the centre table in Operations Command, dodging technicians and other agents loading their chosen weapons along the way. ‘Any developments?’

Deane covered the mouthpiece of his headset and chose to stick with the business at hand rather than lecture his charge again about creating space between personal matters and work. ‘Our two MI5 colleagues have our target in their sights. They’re on a train to London Bridge, so hopefully we’ll find ourselves a lead. Operation Concealment is a go.’

Olsen remembered all about the target. Robert Baynes was a low profile data encryption expert and appeared to have been recruited and radicalised over time, for his skills. There had been several reports that the Internet was their chosen tool of communication but the encryption level had proven so high, no one had yet been able to make a breakthrough. In recent weeks, Baynes’ movements had been sporadic and his activities had been picked up on one of several MI5 watch lists. Now he appeared to have taken on more than he could handle.

Deane watched everyone start their preparations and caught sight of another agent who stood with his two men, several feet away at another workstation. Deane exchanged a look with French Special Agent Patrice Marraud and read the look on his friend’s face as one of caution; a sentiment he agreed with.

The French visitors had been made part of the Operation at Deane’s request, after Marraud had been the one to identify the terrorist cell in Paris, close to a year before. The two had known each other for close to twenty years.

Marraud came over to Deane and watched Olsen organise some of the other agents. His thick blonde hair was neatly cut and although he was well under six feet tall, the French agent looked well built. ‘He never seems to lose his enthusiasm, does he?’

‘Unfortunately not, it’s something he needs to control.’ Deane took off the headset and eyed up his old friend. ‘Ready to close this one down, Patrice?’ A faint smile came to him as he remembered the last twenty years, all of which included Marraud.

‘I’ve been waiting a long time for this, I’m not going to miss it.’ He gestured to the two other French Agents nearby. ‘We’ll watch your back.’

 

Akira lurked amongst the shadows of London Bridge Train Station, in Central London. Even at 4:30 a.m. there was still a constant flow of trains passing overhead and the occasional night worker heading home. Wearing a long black trench coat and the same coloured trousers and shoes, he took out a dark balaclava from his pocket and pulled it down over his face. As he watched maintenance staff leave the station, he thought of Russia and his plan to conquer her in the not too distant future. It had not been easy to come to the UK, especially with the balance of power so unstable in Russia but he was still keen to take what he could from his base in the UK and attempt to keep the Security Services guessing, at the very least. With some hard work, he had managed to ensure he had recruited just fewer than ten loyal Russian FSB agents to his cause. They were in the process of planning and executing several bomb attacks to de-stabilise the Russian capital and highlight the weakness of the current Government. With that already in place, it wasn’t essential he was there and his time could be better spent elsewhere. In his mind, it just would have been a luxury to carry out and witness the attacks personally but it couldn’t be helped.

His thoughts came back to the present and the no show of his contact Robert Baynes. Though he couldn’t be entirely trusted, Baynes was never late. Much to Akira’s annoyance, he had begun to carve out a niche for himself within the cell and had insisted on coming to London to carry out his work personally. Such attitudes were not effective or welcome and Akira was in no mood to tolerate them. There was always a need for technically skilled followers but from the moment Baynes had got involved, he had been convinced it had been a mistake. The dedication was missing and his insistency on coming to London had only proven to him that he had become a liability rather than an asset.

A red London bus passed his position and Akira watched closely as to who departed, making sure he tracked the movements of any possible threats. After a few minutes, he was satisfied he was safe and went back to his thoughts. The large clock near the train station entrance read 4:38 a.m. and still there was no sign of Baynes. Akira found his phone in his pocket and read a text message from the replacement he had found to ensure the data encryption work continued. Its positive tone and confirmation made him smile. The meeting he was waiting for had now become nothing more than a formality.

 

Robert Baynes felt the cold sweat dampen the back of his shirt but that didn’t stop him from changing his mind. He took one last look down the train and saw the determined looks on the faces of the two men who had been following him for hours and who were now checking every seat for his presence in the preceding carriage. As he stood at the nearest exit he made his decision, despite the apparent speed of the train as it pulled into London Bridge Station. His estimate of the train’s speed was around 20 M.P.H. but it couldn’t be helped and he didn’t want to start thinking about Akira’s reaction if he was caught.

The start of the platform raced by and Baynes flicked open the protective plastic on the door override controls. He pressed the red button to open them and heard the hiss as the doors moved but then stopped. Baynes grabbed them, pulled them apart and then threw himself out, crashing onto the concrete as he tried to roll with the impact. Despite only being in his late thirties, his heavy frame struggled with the impact but he did his best and started to run to the barriers ahead.

On the train, MI5 Agent Ron Cunningham and his partner looked out of the window to see their target running as best he could for the barrier. They pulled the door open, loaded their weapons and jumped out, one by one, in pursuit. Cunningham didn’t land well and suffered a deep cut to his head, which started to bleed through his receding light brown hair. As he staggered to his feet, he watched his young partner sprint past.

Baynes scaled the barrier and started to run through the abandoned concourse. A younger man was in swift pursuit and shouting at him to stand still. Panic spread through him as he realised there was virtually no chance of escape. Straight away, he saw no future when Akira discovered what had happened. His only hope was to strike a deal as best he could and use his knowledge to keep himself alive. As he passed a large WH Smith store, his body couldn’t take any more pounding. His lungs were starting to heave now and he came to a halt, breathing so hard he could barely raise his arms in surrender. Within seconds, he felt the strong grip of the younger man on his shoulders and slumped in defeat. He had no energy to fight his arrest.

Danger was never that far away and in the darkness, just over a hundred metres away, Akira was stalking his way through the shadows, getting closer to the entrance of the station. His eyes were alight with concentration, taking in everything he could see ahead. Akira trusted his instincts, which were telling him that the Government had caught up with his one time follower; that was all he needed to take action without a moment’s hesitation. In one swift motion, he took out a black pistol and fired several bullets through the silencer. He watched Baynes fall to the ground first, followed by the Government Agent. Dropping the gun and balaclava to the ground, he started to calmly walk away, barely hearing the screams coming from the station area.

Cunningham’s eyes were wide with shock as he approached the scene, his eyes immediately focussing on the one man leaving the scene. Keeping him in his sights, he pushed away the pain of losing his young partner and spoke into his headset. ‘Baynes and my partner are down, I repeat, they are down!’ Cunningham was now sprinting through the concourse and straight away started firing at the dark shape ahead that was only now starting to run away.

In Operations Command, Deane felt the others around him jump with shock but he was used to surprises and forced himself not to think about another agent lost. ‘Stay with him Ron. I’m sending Unit Two to intercept. We’re tracking you from here.’

Cunningham was sprinting hard and was out of breath as he replied. ‘What’s their ETA?’

Deane eyed up one of the nearby screens. ‘Five minutes, maybe more. Don’t lose him!’

Akira didn’t stop, pushing himself that extra yard as he came onto St. Thomas Street surrounded by the shadows and a bitterly cold wind. He gave a quick glance behind him. There! The surviving MI5 agent had appeared at the entrance of London Bridge station and was now frantically looking around.

The will of Akira was stronger than any other man, and it became even more resilient when he saw the sign he had been praying for. It read ‘STAMFORD STREET, 5 MINS’. He would soon be back at base and able to co-ordinate his escape and another victory over the looming British Security Services. As he continued running, a nearby shop window blew out under the force of gunfire and Akira immediately darted behind a parked car for cover. His eyes surveyed his surroundings and found hope in a group of youths who were standing on the corner ahead, wondering what was going on.

Cunningham fired again at the parked car, certain his target was hiding there. Keeping his Browning HP 9mm pistol out in front of him the whole time, he slowly made his way down the deserted road. All the time, he could hear Deane relaying information to him regarding Unit Two’s location. Cunningham ducked down as gunfire rained in and he saw his target sprint for the group of youths further down the road. He set off in pursuit.

Akira made it in one piece and smashed the butt of his pistol in the face of the largest boy amongst the group, knowing it would give him more cover. The rest screamed in panic and moved away quickly. Akira took his prize down the road and ignored the constant begging he could hear.

Cunningham swore loudly and took aim, crouching next to a green Ford Escort. In his sights he saw that the eyes of the young man were white with fear. Crucial moments passed and then he lowered his pistol. After seeing his partner die just minutes before, he was determined not to take another life that night, no matter what.

Akira came onto Blackfriars Road and deliberately dropped the motionless body, which must have fainted, into the middle of the junction. What cars were around screeched to a halt, causing a standstill that gave him more time. He shoved his way through a small crowd that had come out of the nearest nightclub, not caring if some were pushed into the moving traffic.

His dream was what mattered, a world that wasn’t led by the West. For what seemed like an eternity, he had waited for it to arrive and now there was no one that would stand in his way. Since creating his identity and leaving his past life behind him so long ago, Akira had been forced to deal with several individuals from all walks of life that had stood in his way. The Security Service agent on his tail would be no different.

Pumping his legs harder and harder, his head snapped back for an instant and he saw his pursuer fighting through the panic-stricken scene he had left in his wake. Just before turning away, he caught sight of the agent’s face. Aside from the obvious determination, there was something else that he instantly identified with: desperation. It was etched on his face. Time was running out, not only to complete his operation, but to rid the world of a terrible danger.

Did the agent have a clue as to who he really was? Out of the question. Nevertheless, Akira was looked upon as another dangerous visitor to the UK and couldn’t help but feel the irony. As he continued to run, his thoughts and beliefs seemed so much clearer now than they had ever done. Even back in Russia, only weeks ago, he hadn’t seen the world as clearly as he was seeing it now. There was not a doubt in his mind that the West could not be saved. The corruption and the endless red tape that had drowned it year after year had destroyed it beyond repair. It could never be saved. The changes would be devastating and it would start now. Akira gritted his teeth and stepped up the pace, determined to find that extra level of speed to make sure he would have time to end the pursuit.

Cunningham heard Deane bellow continuously in his ear but ignored it for the time being as he had to focus on the target ahead. As he turned into Paris Gardens on a freezing January night, the sight ahead made him stop in his tracks. The suspect had gone. Keeping his pistol out in front of him, he slowly began to walk along the path that was lined with trees and bushes.

Akira stayed still and put every muscle on alert, remembering his experience at the station. This agent was a threat. Closing his eyes, he waited several minutes. Akira could feel anger all through his body and he recalled patchy memories from his previous life, when he might have held some deep reluctance for what he was about to do. But the years had changed him and there was no turning back. Everything was so clear. He could feel Madeline inside of him and with her the confidence that readied him for the final act.

Cunningham moved past several oak trees, his eyes wide and his trigger finger waiting for that snap. Not for one moment did he realise that he’d passed his target seconds ago.

Akira slowly rose from the shadows and then leapt forwards towards the threat. His hands wrapped around Cunningham’s body and flicked the Browning pistol away like a toy. A feeling of raw power consumed him as he held the man’s life in his hands. That feeling was now all that Akira lived for. Seizing Cunningham’s neck with such ruthless force, there was never any chance of a cry for help from his soon to be victim. His dark eyes surveyed the surrounding area with a cold look, knowing it was time to finish things. Akira took hold of the man’s windpipe and prepared for the crushing twist. Unlike in Russia, there was no doubt, just clinical efficiency.

Seconds passed, then he dropped the body to the ground and ran to the gate. Within moments, he was mixing with several partygoers and gave no look back to the scene he had just caused.

Already in his conscience, his actions had been warranted. In the years to come when the West had fallen and the world had changed, all the sacrifices that had already occurred and would take place in the future would go down as something that simply had to be done. He picked up the pace and headed to Stamford Street. Despite the scare, his arrogance and belief in his dream remained. MI5 and MI6 were close but they would be no match for him and his followers.

Back in Operations Command, Deane waited silently to hear again from his friend. Minutes had passed and his heart was starting to beat faster. He exchanged a look with Olsen, who was looking increasingly agitated.

‘Ron, come in please.’ Still there was no reply. ‘Report!’

The radio crackled to life but it wasn’t Cunningham. The lead agent of Unit Two came on the line with a grim tone. ‘We’re too late, sir. Cunningham is dead and there’s no trace of the target.’

Deane’s blue eyes were alight with determination as he looked to one of the technicians who had been tracking the signal. ‘Location?’

A nearby technician studied the statistics on her screen for a moment and then made eye contact with her superior. ‘Paris Gardens sir, it’s just minutes from the building we’ve been monitoring.’

‘Then that’s where we’re heading now.’ Deane turned to his partner. ‘I’ll clear it with the management. Load your weapons and make sure you’re ready. This Operation is a go.’

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Wednesday, February 1st 07:45,

Empty office building, Stamford Street,

Central London.

 

The deafening noise of a gun battle could be heard all around the Blackfriars and Waterloo area. From the iconic red and white Blackfriars Bridge, the famous Savoy Hotel, or even the stunningly beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral itself. There was no denying it.

 

The threat of terrorism had arrived in London.

 

Olsen and Deane, the very best that MI6 had to offer, stood firm as the battle continued. Both men were crouched low behind upturned tables but their attacks were forcing the terrorists back. The two agents, when working side by side, were an experienced and highly effective partnership.

Several of the remaining attackers broke away from the reception area and sprinted down the corridor towards the stairs, in a damp and murky office block in Stamford Street.

Deane, a man who regularly defied his four decades had seen it all many times before. In one quick motion, he loaded a fresh cartridge into his choice of weapon, a British made Spitfire G1 silver pistol and looked back to his partner. ‘Hold this position, I can handle them from here!’

Olsen, in his late twenties and far more headstrong, saw his partner clear the table and give chase but wasn’t about to miss out on the glory. He reloaded his silver Beretta 92G and joined Deane as they both continued the gunfight down the corridor.

Taking cover at the bottom of a silver steel staircase, Olsen remembered the last couple of hours, which had caused Operation Concealment to pick up pace. When the news came in that MI5 agent Ron Cunningham and his partner had been murdered, they had mobilised the team and attacked the known location, despite the disagreement of MI6 HQ in the decision.

‘If we wait a moment more, this opportunity will disappear and those men will have died for nothing. I’m mobilising the team, right now!’

Deane had said those words to his superior just twenty minutes ago, before slamming the phone down.

Now, Olsen knelt close to his mentor and waited for the next move. Behind him, a mixture of MI5, MI6 and French agents spread out into the winding corridors to flush out any remaining threats.

Deane didn’t take his eyes off the men at the top of the stairs and was confident he could make the shot and storm the staircase to prevent their escape. How they were planning on leaving he didn’t know but one thing was certain, none of them would escape. He could feel his partner’s presence behind him and wasn’t surprised at all. To his right was Marraud, his old friend from the French Secret Service. ‘Take charge down here, Patrice. Olsen and I will head upstairs.’

Maraud agreed and mobilized the men to continue their sweep of the ground floor.

Deane’s left hand went up to signal his young charge to standby. Seconds passed as he waited. Suddenly, he snapped his hand down and moved off. ‘NOW!’

The thunderous noise of gunfire filled the building as sparks flew and screams of pain emerged from the darkness.

 

Akira, on the ground floor and barricaded into a room, looked up as another attack could be heard from above. His thoughts turned to his loyal followers who were no doubt sacrificing their lives to guarantee his escape. It couldn’t be helped; it was vital that he got away. The diversion that was taking place would keep the attackers busy so he could leave.

His hands fumbled around his neck and found what they were looking for. A quaint looking silver locket captivated Akira as he studied it carefully. Holding it tightly in his right hand, Akira closed his eyes and could almost feel himself growing in strength. At the same time, the voice of his lost wife Madeline came to him once more and he opened the locket to see them both together in happier times. He himself, smiling away, looked unrecognisable but Madeline looked positively glowing. He missed her so much, every hour felt lonesome and empty without her. A dark memory came back to him and he winced in pain at the power of it. Trying desperately to push it away, he almost succeeded but still saw glimpses of the hospital bed and the repetitive beep of the life support machine. Akira opened his eyes and they burned brightly. Madeline was gone and there was much to do.

Putting the locket away, he covered his face with a black balaclava and took great care to open the nearby window. Escape was not going to be easy. It didn’t surprise him to see a man patrolling the side alley of the building. He would have felt uneasy if it had been deserted; anyone from MI6 always followed protocol.

Wasting no time, he leapt out of the window and dropped his considerable weight onto the man’s shoulders. Instantly, the agent fell to the ground in a heap. Akira considered dealing with him permanently but decided to let him live to tell the tale that someone had escaped. It was a risk but the thought of leaving a clear message that the operation had not been a complete success appealed to him. Toying with the likes of MI6 made Akira feel even more powerful. Maybe then they will realise this was just a small battle. The war is on its way. Clearing the nearby fence with ease, Akira disappeared into the darkness.

 

Deane could feel the blood on his left arm but told himself to ignore it and get the job done. He took cover behind a wooden beam and assessed the situation.

 

The odds were not in their favour.

 

Behind the adjacent beam, Olsen had made that same assessment but, as ever, was defiant in his belief he would succeed as another round blasted out of the chamber of his pistol.

At the sight of such a precarious scene ahead, all Deane could think about was his partner. They had been together for almost a decade and he loved him as the son he’d never had. Every mission together was a joy, despite the inevitable disagreements. The thought of losing Olsen, as he had lost other partners before, terrified him to his soul. Just the thought of his past partners made him feel that floodgate of emotion lingering inside. All the decisions he had made and possibly the ones that, if reversed, could have saved their lives. Loading his pistol with another click of a magazine and snapping himself back to the present, he fired a round and moved off whilst shouting out an order. ‘Stay here!’

Olsen swore to himself and watched his partner deliberately draw fire away from his position. Not once did he like being protected, or missing out on the excitement.

Deane took down another two but four more lingered at the doorway, providing cover for a fifth who was using a mobile phone. Sparks sprayed to his left and he ducked down to gain cover. In that moment he saw a helicopter in the distance and the fifth attacker ran to the fire escape staircase. Gritting his teeth in anger, he moved again. Nobody’s escaping from me! The gunfire was relentless but Olsen took his chance, not about to miss out on all the fun. Several shots came from his Beretta and he disarmed the men who dropped to the floor in obvious pain. He barely heard another order from his mentor as he flashed towards the emergency fire escape staircase in pursuit of the one who had broken away. Olsen wanted to go after him but focussed his gaze back to the men who were now writhing in agony on the floor, to make sure they were no longer a threat.

One of the attackers tried to move his right hand towards a rifle that was just inches away. He could hear the MI6 agent drawing closer but even in the midst of defeat, still felt he could somehow turn the situation to his favour.

Olsen saw it immediately and slammed one of his size 11 shoes down on the man’s throat. The barrel of his silver Beretta loomed over the head of the fallen attacker as Olsen’s trigger finger lingered. The powerful pistol almost begged to be fired and dark whispers circled in his mind.

 

Seconds passed and the pistol started to shake in his right hand.

 

Olsen blinked several times and seemed to come out of the darkness. He kicked the rifle away and spoke in a tone full of contempt. ‘Just be lucky you’re still alive…’

A large rumble of thunder made him look to the fire escape staircase that was just metres away. Torrential rain was now pouring down as dark clouds encased the night sky. With more agents entering the office space, Olsen rushed out onto the slippery metal as he climbed the stairs to the roof. Several levels above, his partner could be seen in pursuit.

 

Deane felt his left foot give way below as the rain continued to fall in a deafening downpour. With his rapid movements, the security lighting flashed on at the same time, offering much needed illumination. Despite the threatening clouds that surrounded him, his steely blue eyes wouldn’t budge from the man who was now stepping onto another level of the staircase with just one more to go before he reached the roof. He’s faster than me; somehow, I have to slow him down! With one desperate move, Deane lunged at his target and grabbed hold of the man’s right leg.

Both men fell back onto the staircase and grappled with each other. Ducking a potential blow, the last remaining attacker glanced up to the helicopter, which sat on the landing pad waiting to whisk survivors to safety. Its blades spun frantically, deflecting the constant rain. His desperate eyes looked behind his attacker, hoping to see more of his comrades but instead saw the younger agent sprinting up the lower levels.

Deane couldn’t see his Spitfire pistol but closed in to take the first step to some sort of justice.

In one swift motion, the Middle-Eastern man in his soaked clothes and with an evil grin on his face, whisked out a large knife from inside his shirt and swung wildly towards the incoming threat.

The metal staircase was soaked with water and Deane struggled to move his feet to avoid the attacks. One came within inches of his belly and he was forced back towards the edge. Still the knife came towards him, one swing coming perilously close to his face. He felt his balance give way. Falling backwards, he reached out with his left hand and grasped the wet rail, feeling his body cry out in pain.

Olsen froze in position two levels below and squinted upwards in the dim light to see a man closing in on his partner. Raising his Beretta, he fired off several rounds as best he could and could just make him out, running away amidst all the sparks.

The terrorist got to the ladder and started to reach up. He waved his arms frantically, trying to catch the helicopter pilot’s attention, but couldn’t believe it when the blades spun faster and faster until finally it lifted away from the pad and started to climb into the early morning sky. Standing on the roof, he screamed in Arabic but never once saw the danger looming behind him.

Deane was a calculated fighter and knew where and how to attack. He flicked the knife away and gave several jabs to both temples before smashing his right fist into the face ahead. Hearing a nose break, he watched the man drop to the floor and dangle over the edge of the roof as the rain continued to pound down like crashing ocean waves. The sight of the fallen attacker intrigued him. It was clear to see that one slight push would be all that was needed to rid the world of another threat. Memories of other Government agents past and present that would take the easy option bubbled away in his mind. For Deane though, there was never a moment of uncertainty. As he pulled his prize back from the brink, he looked into the man’s eyes and wondered how many innocents had died because of his thoughtless actions.

Olsen stepped from the rain-slicked metal of the staircase to the roof and holstered his Beretta. He was completely soaked through to the skin and another large angry looking cloud hovered above. ‘That was pretty close.’ He saw his mentor ignore his comment and continue to secure his prize. Olsen was used to it, he’d yet to meet anyone else as obsessed with his work. ‘I’ve alerted Operations Command, they’ve dispatched a chopper in pursuit.’

Deane noted the puzzled look on his partner’s face but chose not to address it. As the thundercloud above began to unleash more hell on the city of London, he dragged his prize back towards shelter but froze when the man started screaming rapidly in Arabic.

Olsen had taken enough for one day and pushed past. Shaking the man violently, he tried to make him stop. He noted the eyes were transfixed on the side alley of a building that could just be made out from their position, some forty or fifty feet up. Tears running down the man’s face accompanied sudden laughter that made the young MI6 agent jump. Olsen struggled to make out some of the words but translated ‘new world’ and ‘fall of the West’. Repeatedly, he told him to quiet down until Olsen’s fragile temper broke and he smashed the back of his Beretta over the man’s head. Grateful of the silence, he glanced back to his partner. ‘Did you catch all that?’ There was no sign of Deane, just an angry looking sky and wave after wave of rain.

The blueprints of the building he had seen over an hour earlier ran through his mind like a computer until he found what he was looking for; the nearest possible exit to the alleyway the Middle-Eastern man had been referring to. At the sight of a door, well hidden, he stopped in his tracks and studied the brickwork. It was new. The room was not on the blueprints. ‘Did you check in here?’ He shouted at a nearby team leader who immediately looked uncertain.

The door hinges cried out under the strain as Deane smashed his way into the ground floor room. Other agents were behind him, awaiting first look at the room that had been carefully concealed but the veteran agent wanted to inspect every corner for himself, uninterrupted.

It was around ten feet long by eight feet wide, with no electricity and barren stony walls with damp in the corners. At the far end, a medium sized window was blowing in the wind.

Someone had escaped, just like the terrorist had said. He rushed to the window and looked down. There, in the alleyway, was an MI6 agent slumped against the wall. For an instant he feared another death had occurred but on closer inspection saw that not only had the young man been spared but that it had been done for a reason. Someone was sending him a message. He caught sight of the investigation team to his right and spoke in a quiet tone, feeling embarrassed that his operation had suddenly become so flawed. ‘Dust for prints, look for D.N.A and report back to me at once.’ He pushed past and walked towards the exit. One question remained. Was it a loyal follower or someone he was unaware of who’d been completely overlooked?

 

Hours later in a cramped office at MI6 headquarters in London, Deane, Olsen and Marraud sat together with the Deputy Chief of MI6, Kevin Ramsey.

‘There can be no doubt, then? Someone escaped?’ Ramsey was a towering 6ft 6ins tall and sat down as he looked for reactions on the faces ahead of him. His dark skin showed the sweat on his forehead as he leaned back in the chair and waited for answers.

Deane spoke first, still struggling with his ego over the operation that had ended on such a low. ‘There is no doubt about it. I’ve spoken at length with the agent who was patrolling the alleyway. He was jumped on and remembers nothing. Someone escaped from that building.’

‘Do we have any leads?’ Ramsey asked quickly.

Deane placed a file on the table. ‘Months ago, Patrice and I identified 14 men operating within that cell and have tracked their movements ever since. We’ve now identified the dead and those we captured. We have all 14.’

Ramsey glanced at the file. ‘All of them?’

‘All of them.’ Deane waited for the news to really sink in.

‘Then the one that got away was someone we weren’t aware of, on any level?’

‘That’s right.’ As if sensing the next question, Deane continued. ‘It would either be another brainwashed follower who joined them, either from abroad or possibly from the local community, or…’ Everyone in the room hung on his every word. ‘Someone else of great importance to this particular cell.’ Deane’s tone was one of dread as he spoke the words.

Ramsey needed more than assumptions. ‘I suggest we keep speculation to a minimum. We need to-’

Deane’s voice overpowered that of his colleague as he made his point. ‘The room used for the escape was not on the blueprints of the building. It was concealed from view and they all drew us away from it throughout the battle. None of them are talking or have even admitted to someone escaping, which suggests whoever it was had their loyalty. I highly doubt they would do that for anyone.’

Ramsey was in no mood to debate the point with no evidence to hand. ‘I’ll talk to the Chief of MI6 about this at my next opportunity.’ Ramsey waited for silence and then handed separate sheets of paper to the two agents. ‘Here, I have your new orders. Deane, you’re to be assigned to Oman in the Middle East and await further instructions. Olsen, you’ll be based here at HQ for the time being to conclude Operation Concealment. Good day to you, gentleman.’

Deane stayed in his chair in a state of shock. Had he just heard Olsen was to remain in London alone? He tried to focus on the problem at hand. ‘And the one who escaped?’ Before he could finish his question, Ramsey had already shut the connecting door. Disbelief bubbled away inside of him as he wondered why the agency wasn’t addressing the threat. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone of great importance had escaped and had done so with considerable ease. What was yet to come?

Chapter 3

 

1 month later,

Thursday, March 1st 09:50,

MI6 Headquarters, London.

 

The headquarters of MI6 couldn’t be missed. The modern design and its familiar cream and sea green colours had been spotted some distance away by Olsen. With every step along the Albert Embankment, he could feel that slight twinge of nerves. Or excitement. Whatever it was, Olsen always felt it, even though it sometimes felt that the building ahead had proven to be the bane of his life.

Situated in Vauxhall and on the River Thames, the headquarters of MI6 was in the very heart of London, the capital of the United Kingdom. A short boat trip down the river led to the most iconic parts of the capital. Tower Bridge, Big Ben and even the beating heart of the country; The Houses Of Parliament were just a stone’s throw away. Protecting it all from darkness was MI6 and its sister in the Security Services, MI5.

Olsen had seen it all before and was deep in thought, which had now turned to Rachel. Her beautiful image reminded him of the struggle he’d endured whilst trying to keep his work and personal life separate over the last two years. Despite the recurring confusion, he knew what the bottom line was. When I’m here, it really feels like I can make a difference, every day brings a new chance of that. The 28-year-old Government agent continued to reassure himself as he confidently walked through the entrance doors and into an empty Perspex tube. He placed his ID card into the reader and punched in his unique four-digit code. A green light lit up and the tube swivelled, revealing the lobby. Walking quickly across the black and white marbled floor, he headed for the two large pillars that ran through the structure. Both housed modern looking lifts.

As he made his way across the vast space, he passed other agents of all ages. Some he barely knew but still acknowledged, others he had practiced with in the combat rooms of HQ where different forms of hand to hand combat were taught and mastered. His own form of Taekwondo and Sambo had been tirelessly learnt, day after day, in those same rooms all those years ago.

A young agent who had fast been gaining a talented reputation, William Hawk passed him by. Hawk was a master of the Akido form of attack and was popular in the ranks with everyone. Olsen smiled back at him, remembering in particular their last training session where the latter had only just gained the upper hand. No matter who it was, there was always a feeling of togetherness and trust with everyone he saw, from the agents, to the teachers and even the administrators, all of whom were vital to the cause. As the lift doors hissed to a close, Olsen chose the floor for the Chief of MI6’s office and began to move down to the Underground levels.

The last month had been routine for Olsen. Unfortunately, for the agency, there had been no progress made on the identity of the escaped terrorist, despite joining forces with other Western Security Services such as the C.I.A. and the German Security Services, GSG9. None of the captured men had revealed any details on the cell, even though desperate measures had been used.

Olsen had now been summoned to see the Chief of MI6. As the floors passed by with speed, the doors chimed and opened to reveal a dark and winding corridor. A small lobby presented itself, with grey tiles and bare white walls seemingly for as far as the eye could see.

Olsen rushed down the corridor and came to a set of heavy wooden doors. He swiped his ID card through the reader once more, waited for the expected clearance, and smiled at the assistant who was sitting near the door. ‘He’s expecting me.’ The strikingly tall young man opened the final door; a heavy steel-plated one, and walked into a slighter darker room than that of any other in the building. To his surprise, someone else was sitting at the large mahogany desk.

Kevin Ramsey had been covering the job of Chief of MI6 from the legendary Richard Elliott for just a few hours. Since the latter’s sudden trip to Europe, the 45-year-old second in command had spent every available moment acquainting himself with the latest developments. Looking younger than his years, the tall, heavyset dark skinned man stood up from his chair and ushered in the agent at the door. ‘Our superior is away for the next fortnight. Take a seat, Olsen.’

Sunlight broke through the semi-dark room as it streamed in from two nearby windows. Whereas the rest of the building was modern in its design, almost cold in places, the Chief’s office seemed detached from time itself. A large grandfather clock ticked away slowly on one side, with the entire décor a heavy mahogany brown. Bookcases were on either side of the door, both stacked with dusty looking hardbacks. Unlike the rest of the building, no fluorescent lights were hanging from the ceiling. Instead, several quaint looking lamps were dotted around the room. A deep noise filtered through the room as the grandfather clock chimed 10 a.m.

Olsen remembered the low point of the last operation and felt on edge. He focussed his dark brown eyes on his superior and waited.

Ramsey clasped his large hands together and placed both elbows on the desk. ‘Something has come up. I’m assigning you to Operation Safeguard. You’ll be flying out to Oman on Wednesday, heading to Muscat, the nation’s capital.’

Olsen sat motionless in a state of shock. His heart sank like a stone. Oman. The very mention of the place sent a shiver down his spine and made his mouth feel dry. Oman had been the country where his father, Geoff Olsen, had died years before. He had never been there or had the urge to do so before. ‘Related to the British Royal visit then?’ He said, in an unusually quiet tone.

‘That’s right. As I’m sure you’ve read in the press, our own Prince David is going to Oman on a three-day goodwill tour, focussing mainly on the capital of Muscat, with some visits to other parts of the country. Naturally, the usual team of security agents will accompany the Prince. However, OMA1: Thomas Deane, will also play a part in offering additional covert support. He was adamant about working on his own but I don’t agree. I’m sending you to partner him.’ The acting Chief of MI6 saw the furrowed brow of Olsen. ‘Now, obviously this is a sensitive issue. The last time there was a British Royal visit to Oman, we lost an agent. Not just any agent Olsen, but your father.’ Ramsey shifted in his chair, looking uncomfortable. I won’t force you to take this operation Sam, but I don’t want to leave Deane alone to carry out the work either. If you decline, I’ll find someone else. It’s not a problem.’

Dense, dark black eyebrows moved slightly as a reply came. ‘I must admit, sir, I wasn’t expecting you to ask me to go to Oman. It’s a bit of a shock.’ Olsen paused and thought about the decision. There was no doubt in his heart, he didn’t want to go to Oman but turning down an operation was not his style. To do so would damage his career, no matter what the circumstance. At the same time, did he not have a duty, no matter what? He felt physically sick as he prepared to reply, knowing all too well what he was committing to. ‘I’ll do it, sir.’ How he was going to handle this operation he didn’t know, but he had a duty to his country and he was going to carry it out no matter what.

‘Very well, I’ll make Operation ESPY, the operation your Father was on, available to you. Archives are expecting you. I want you to be professional about this.’ He raised his eyebrows and expected a positive reply.

Olsen was still thinking about reading the records of Operation ESPY, which he had never been able to do before. ‘I will sir, this won’t be a problem.’

Ramsey continued. ‘Don’t forget that as a member of the British Royal family is visiting a Middle Eastern country, security will be at its highest.’ A large folder with ‘Operation Safeguard’ written across the front in heavy red type was handed across the desk. The superior’s tone changed slightly, to that of someone issuing direct orders. ‘I want you to work alongside Deane. Travel with the British Royal party and offer additional security. Shadow every move and make sure no threats are allowed to compromise the party. Deane is aware of the operation objective and will shortly be informed of your addition to the operation. Whatever the history, I know I can rely on you both to be professional and effective. Deane is based in Muscat. The details are in the folder.’

Olsen took the folder. ‘I can handle it; you don’t need to concern yourself.’ He turned around to leave.

Ramsey spoke again. ‘There’s one more thing, Olsen. After this operation, I’m assigning you permanently to team S.U.C.O. I want you to lead the team from now on. We were very impressed with your leadership when we seconded you there twice last year. I’ve informed Deane. We feel your partnership has run its course; it has been eight years after all. Deane objected but we’ve made our decision. Once this operation is over, report here and take on team leader duties.’ Ramsey got up from the desk and straightened his designer suit. ‘As for your current operation, do not deviate from the objective or allow your personal feelings to get in the way.’ The acting Chief of the service sat back in his brown leather chair and opened another file as he was left alone in the darkened office.

 

Olsen stumbled out the door, completely overwhelmed at the changes. Team S.U.C.O. was the most elite of its kind at MI6. It was an honour to be assigned its leadership but what of Thomas Deane, the man he regarded as the closest thing he had to a father? It was a lot to take on. The thought of no more operations with Deane troubled him but at the same time, he knew he was ready. Olsen couldn’t deny there was a side to him that was desperate to step out from his mentor’s shadow. The feeling faded quickly though as the biggest change ahead of him broke through and lingered in his thoughts; the trip to Oman.

Coming to the end of the corridor, he entered ‘Archives’. There were two women on duty and the room was one of the largest in the building. Several computer terminals lined the walls, with thousands of old operation files stacked on bookshelves behind the two women who worked as the administrators. He approached the desk and handed a slip of paper to a petite young woman who smiled at him but Olsen didn’t notice. He was consumed with all the changes that lay ahead.

‘Agent Olsen?’ Asked the other administrator.

‘Yes?’ Olsen replied, nonchalantly.

‘I have an urgent message from an Agent Deane. He has asked you to contact him after your meeting this morning. The message states it’s of utmost urgency that you talk to him as soon as possible. Is there anything I can do?’

Olsen took the large folder for Operation ESPY and the message from the woman. ‘Thanks. I’ll deal with it.’ No doubt, Tom wants to convince me to stay on with him as his partner. It can wait. It can definitely wait. Olsen sat down at one of the tables and looked at the operation folder, which was 13-years-old. At first, he didn’t really want to know much of what each piece of paper said; it was such a painful experience. As he continued to turn the pages though, it struck him that it might be the only time he would ever be allowed to discover what had really happened to his father, no matter how difficult it was to read. Years ago when Olsen was 15, his mother had told him what had happened. Deane visited the family home to give a few more patchy details. Yet, there in the faded pages ahead of him, were the real facts, the gruesome details that led to the death of Geoff Olsen. His eyes began to study each page with intense detail as he read on.

 

Akira kept his head low as he walked out of Seeb Airport in the capital city of Muscat, Oman. The searing heat and beautiful skyline made him feel at home and far more comfortable than he had been in dismal London. The last month had been a sequence of carefully planned journeys as he passed through the borders of several European countries but he had now arrived at his destination, The Middle East. Throughout his journey he had kept up to date with the carefully planned bomb attacks that were taking place in Moscow, all to destabilise the Government, which was crucial to his vision. At that same time his thoughts had turned to the West and its protectors, wondering how they were handling the increasing danger. It was idle curiosity on Akira’s part. He knew only too well that the Security Services were unstable and on the back foot. It was only a matter of time before they would be wiped out forever.

Turning left from the airport into a side alley, he continued his way to his meeting. Waiting at the far end were the Kiprich brothers, two men from Hungary who in the past had proved themselves to be loyal followers and more than capable, if a little reckless at times. Despite their flaws, Akira knew they would be effective and more than competent at disrupting a British Royal visit, together with striking at the very heart of the UK. There was much work to be done. Not only for the upcoming attack; the time was right to take his vision one step further and change the face of the world forever. That started with the death of Thomas Deane and Akira couldn’t wait to see it happen.

 

It couldn’t be right, it just couldn’t be! There it was again! Olsen sat back and stared blankly out in front of him before looking at the page once more. His mind flashed back to the moment when his mother had sat him down and told him what had happened, together with when Deane had visited the family home and told them both that his father had died alone in Oman. Alone! Olsen looked at the operation report page and once again, it stated the unthinkable. Deane had been present at his father’s death and was with him during Operation ESPY. Olsen mapped out the operation papers in order and read the statements from Deane. His mentor had been there but they had split up on his father’s insistence. He found another page that seemed to contradict that fact, as Deane gave CPR to his father at the scene.

Olsen sat back in the chair in complete shock. To be told that Deane and his mother had lied to him for so long felt like a bolt of lightning passing through his very soul. What was already a sensitive issue had become even cloudier. The operation ahead to Oman now seemed like the impossible.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Thursday, March 1st 16:00,

MI6 Headquarters, London.

 

Ramsey looked over several word-processed schedules spread across his desk and pressed the intercom buzzer. The assistant outside came through on the line. ‘Have Burton sent in straight away please, Amy. Thanks.’

The different schedules, all detailing aspects of the British Royal visit to Oman, were studied once again as the MI6 veteran made his decision. The heavy, steel plated door opened in front of him, revealing Hal Burton, commander of the S.U.C.O. team, doubling for security advisor on Operation Safeguard. ‘Take a seat, Hal. Good weekend?’

Burton walked slowly into the room and sat down with a thud. ‘Not bad sir, and you?’ His dark grey shirt had clearly faded after numerous washes, the flimsy looking black and grey tie not a good match.

The acting Chief of the Service made no mention of his staff member’s appearance; it was normal for Burton to look a little dishevelled. The surprising fact to him was that Burton was always so effective in his work and a valued member of the team. For some months though, Ramsey had felt the urge to talk to him about a sequence of mistakes that had crept into Burton’s work, with a rumour going around that family problems were beginning to take their toll; any effort made to raise the subject, however, had always met a stony response.

‘Fine Burton, just fine. I’ve been looking over the schedules you’ve prepared for the British Royal visit to Oman. Excellent work here. I’ve picked out schedule B for use; it has the least security risks and will work well for Olsen and Deane to offer additional support. What do you think?’ After a few seconds, there had still been no response. He looked up sharply. ‘Burton? Are you listening to me?’

The chubbier Burton took his hand away from his face and looked up quickly. ‘Sorry sir, I was miles away, got that Monday morning feeling today. Even though it’s Tuesday.’ He noticed his tie was a long way from his collar and began to straighten it, as the schedules caught his attention on the desk ahead. ‘Schedule C, huh?’

‘No, schedule B Hal. What’s got into you this morning? If it’s something at home, maybe I-’

Burton immediately looked irritated and interrupted his superior. ‘Schedule B then. You’re probably right; I seem to recall my security advisors giving the thumbs up to that one. You want me to circulate it?’

‘Yes, send it to all members of the Royal security team, OMA1 and Olsen. That should cover everyone.’

‘Will do, I’ll get on it straight away.’ Burton lifted his cumbersome frame out of the chair, put his hand through his thick black hair and took the schedule from his superior’s hand. ‘Is that everything, sir?’

Ramsey looked away for a moment, not sure whether to broach the subject of Burton’s family again. In the nine years they’d known each other, the two MI6 veterans had never really gotten along but Ramsey felt the need to raise the subject once again. ‘Look Hal, tell me to mind my own business here but I should inform you that your work has suffered in recent months. Both Richard Elliott and I demand the best from our agents. You can talk to us. If there is anything we can do, we’ll help. I hope you know that. Or even personnel, maybe they could put you onto someone.’

Burton refrained himself from telling his boss to mind his own business, despite a strong urge. Discussing personal problems or anything out of the remit of service work was not something he ever did. ‘Thanks, I appreciate the offer. It’s personal though, that’s exactly how I like it, you know?’

‘I understand that, Burton. However, it doesn’t remain personal when your work begins to suffer. Even more so with the work you do here. Sensitivity and a high level of quality are required at all times.’ Ramsey paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. ‘Perhaps I could make an appointment with one of our career counsellors. Now I know that-’

Burton interrupted and felt insulted that his abilities were being questioned. ‘A shrink?! You think I’m losing my marbles or something? For Christ’s sake, I may have a few problems but I’m in control, you know?’

‘Firstly they are not psychiatrists, they offer a friendly ear and you could talk to them about whatever is troubling you, causing the blip in your work. At the very least think about-’

‘Listen guv, I’m no loony tune; I know exactly what’s going on at all times. Yeah sure, I have some problems and yeah they are personal but I’m not going to discuss them with anyone. Ok?’

Ramsey pressed a little further. ‘Have you discussed them with Kate?’

At the very mention of his wife’s name, Burton wheeled around and opened the door. His light green eyes gave a slight glare as he clutched hold of the schedule. He spoke in a gruff tone. ‘I’ll circulate these straight away, sir.’

Ramsey watched him leave; unable to think of any way Burton could be reached for help.

 

Olsen shut the file and drummed his fingers on the table. His fiery temper threatened to rise to the surface but he forced himself to stay in control. There could be no denying it. Deane had been with his father in Oman and could possibly have saved him from death. In the moments that had passed, many questions and actions had passed through his mind. He thought about ringing his mother but with her persistent health problems, felt it wrong to trouble her and drag up the past. This was all to do with Deane; it would have been his decision. What possible reason could he have to lie to me for the last 13 years? The question lingered around him as he tried to come up with possible answers.

‘Hey, Sam! Did you hear me?’ Asked a tall and well-built dark skinned man.

Olsen looked up and snapped out of his deep thinking as he laid eyes on his close friend, who was the same age as him and a senior agent on team S.U.C.O. ‘Sorry Dan, I was far away. You ok?’

Carter could see the difference and thought about making small talk but where Olsen was concerned, he always spoke his mind and looked out for his friend. ‘Tell me to mind my own business but you look like you’ve just been told you’ve won the lottery but lost your ticket. What’s wrong?’

Olsen passed the folder to his colleague and spoke in an angry tone. ‘Page 12 Dan, read the last paragraph of Deane’s statement.’

Carter raised his eyebrows as he found the page, wondering what had ticked off Olsen so badly. The operation name gave him some clue. It was as personal as it could be. He scanned over the words and let out a sigh. ‘But you told me that your father died alone in Oman?’

Olsen took the folder and returned it to the administrator at the desk. ‘Exactly; I guess I was wrong.’

Carter took the revelation on board and for several seconds didn’t know what to say. ‘What are you going to do? How did you get access to that folder, anyway?’

Olsen signed the declaration slip and turned around to leave, with Carter following behind. ‘I’ve been assigned to the British Royal visit in Oman, and will be working with Deane.

Carter managed a wry smile. ‘Nothing like confronting your fears. You sure you’re up to this?’

Olsen wasn’t in the mood for a long discussion and was desperate to get to the gym and take his anger out on the punch bag. ‘I’ll manage. I’ll catch up with you later, Dan.’ He pressed the button for the ground floor and heard the lift chime. ‘One more thing, after this operation, I’ve been assigned to S.U.C.O. as the team leader. Keep it to yourself, for now.’

Carter watched the doors close and gave a shake of the head to himself as he thought of the current acting leader of S.U.C.O. ‘Alex Jordan is going to be seriously pissed.’

 

Burton returned to his office, sat down and dropped the Royal visit schedule on top of a pile of papers to one side. He loosened his tie and sat back in his chair, thinking about his conversation with Ramsey over his performance and personal problems. As much as Burton wanted to deny it, his work was being affected by problems at home. How am I going to get out of this mess? The S.U.C.O. Commander jumped slightly as his phone came to life and began to ring. He moved several empty drinks bottles and found the receiver. ‘Yeah, Burton.’

‘You’re not going to believe what happened to me this morning.’

Burton’s glazed eyes came to life at the sound of his wife, Kate. ‘What is it? What happened?’

‘I was at the shops with Oscar, got to the checkout and none of my credit cards worked! None of them! It was so embarrassing Hal, you’ve no idea. I only had enough on me to pay for a few things and had to take most of it back. It’s never happened before, you’re not hiding anything from me are you?’

Burton rubbed one side of his forehead as a headache began to form. ‘Uh…well Kate, I probably should have told you about this before but we’ve been having a few financial problems of late.’ His wife could be heard about to reply. ‘Now hold on, hon, I didn’t tell you about it before as I didn’t want to worry you with all the details. All you need to know is that I’m on top of it and I’ll get it sorted.’

‘Just how are you going to do that? You had trouble getting your tie straight this morning. Oh god…’

‘Easy hon, easy, you’re just gonna have to trust me, ok? I’ll think of something. We’ll be back on track in no time, you know?’

‘We have a baby, Hal. For god’s sake, Oscar is only 15 months old, what sort of a situation is this for our child? Do you understand me, Hal?’

‘I know, you don’t think I’m aware of that Kate? Look…when I get home I’ll tell you everything I promise. I have a solution to it all, you’re just gonna have to trust me ok? I’ve got to go, I’ll leave as early as I can and we’ll work this out. Yeah, ok, I’ll see you then. Bye.’ Burton chucked the phone back in the direction of the handset and released a groan, knowing the situation had just become a hundred times worse. He rose from his chair and walked out of his office towards the drink dispensers at the end of the corridor. Fumbling in his pockets for change, the 49-year-old wondered when the powers at be would finally introduce free alcoholic drinks to ease the stresses of the job. ‘Not bloody likely, that’s for sure.’ He mumbled to no one in particular.

‘Bad day, mate?’

Burton turned around to find a drinking buddy standing behind him. ‘You could say that. Problem is, it’s only going to get worse.’ He looked at the can of drink that had just been dispensed. ‘Still, I’m sure this can of Sprite will make all my troubles go away. What you reckon, eh?’

‘Listen mate, this isn’t about the money probs? You mentioned something a fortnight ago in the pub. You were going to tell Kate about it.’

‘Yeah, well, what I can say? Kate only found out just now, when all her credit cards didn’t work at the shops. Going to have to face the music on that one when I get home. I’m not going tell her everything though, she’d hit the roof!’

‘Can’t be that bad, surely? Spill it mate, c’mon, tell me.’

‘Uh…ok, brace yourself. As a starter for ten, I have six months of mortgage arrears. My bank accounts are practically empty, I’m behind on the repayments for the car and to top it all off I owe just over a hundred grand to a casino.’ He noticed his friend’s shocked face and managed a small smile.

‘You’re kidding me, right? Jesus…how the hell did you manage that?’

‘I don’t know. When I started falling behind on the mortgage and other payments I went to the casino to try my hand, you know? Then, what do you know, I got back on level terms with some success.’

‘But you know you’re not supposed to gamble! What do you think Kate will do when she finds out?’

‘Hey! Listen, I don’t have a gambling problem! I can start and stop whenever I want and that’s a fact. I’ll sort this out my way, you got that?’

‘Seems to me you created this whole problem. Why don’t you do something useful and talk to Ramsey about getting an advance in pay, huh? After all the years of service you’ve put in, he might just help you out. What have you got to lose?’

Burton sighed at the prospect. ‘Other than my professional pride, you mean?’

‘Surely your so-called pride isn’t worth more than your family? I have to go. Think about it?’ He slapped his friend on the shoulder and walked towards the nearby lift.

Burton watched him leave, none too happy at the help his friend had provided. ‘Cocky so and so…’ He looked at his drink, sighed again and began to walk back to his office; realising begging for an advance in pay could be the only immediate solution to his problems.

 

Chapter 5

 

Friday, March 2nd 09:00,

Oman, Middle East.

 

The sun was hotter than Olsen had ever experienced. Placing his right hand over his eyes for protection, he glanced up. Not a cloud could be seen in the beautiful blue sky, just an angry looking sun that had no cover. Trying to ignore the heat was difficult, especially when he felt so uneasy. A sense of uncertainty spread through his body and mind as to why he was there. Trying to focus, he looked around at his surroundings. What presented itself was the dusty outskirts of Muscat in the capital city of Oman, a Middle Eastern country

Slowly, the scene appeared to be one that was familiar to him. Yet, that was the problem. Olsen knew he had not been there before, didn’t recognise the people or the setting but at the same time, he did. Before he could clear his mind, a disturbance came from behind. He spun around and froze, feeling himself stiffen all over as he saw the scene ahead. ‘Oh, no…please god, no.’ He said in a shaky tone. His voice sounded distant. As if it had come from someone else.

Olsen felt his body weaken with fear as he tried to sprint towards the sight ahead of him. His breathing became frantic, yet again it sounded disjointed from his body. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t make any progress. ‘No! Hold on…I’m coming, just hold on, stay with me…DAD!’

Several hundred yards away from Olsen, his father was fighting for his life. Geoff Olsen had already defeated one attacker but the second was coming at him with renewed anger.

Sam Olsen pumped his legs as hard as he could but felt like he was sinking in the desert sand. His right hand reached for his favoured Beretta pistol but found nothing. Olsen outstretched his arms in a desperate attempt to save his father. He caught sight of the fear etched on his father’s face as they locked gazes with one another. He screamed in anger, as once again it seemed inevitable that he would fail his lost father. The young man stirred and looked back sharply, feeling as if he was the next target. As the sand cleared around him, another figure emerged, almost from thin air. The form of Thomas Deane, his father’s partner and his future mentor appeared. Olsen’s eyes were wide with fear, feeling helpless that nobody was rushing to his father’s aide. ‘DO SOMETHING! YOU CAN’T JUST STAND THERE!’ He shouted at Deane, his voice breaking with emotion. Moments passed but his father’s partner didn’t move, merely stood with his arms crossed, watching the horror unfold. Olsen was now out of control, his hands were trembling, his breathing erratic. One look to his father showed him on his back at the mercy of the murderous gang that had now surrounded him. Olsen tried again to help…

‘NO!’ A sweat drenched Olsen sat up quickly in his bed as his heart continued to pound away inside his chest. It had been a nightmare. Terrifyingly real but thankfully, just a nightmare. When he had been just 16 years old and for several years after that, Olsen had endured nightmares regarding the death of his father but none of those had ever seemed so real. After reading the official operation documents the day before and discovering the truth about his father’s death, he had been unable to relax at all. Olsen rubbed his eyes and tried to calm down as he made his way to the kitchen.

 

Burton watched the rain trickle down the windows of his office. The dark, miserable looking clouds reflected how he felt in every way. The conversation he’d had with a colleague at the drinks machine had been playing repeatedly in his mind. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, his colleague was right. Asking for an advance in pay didn’t worry him, just whom he had to ask did. So far, his day had been dominated by his financial problems, together with the small amount of work he had completed for the Royal visit to Oman. His breakfast had consisted of a greasy fry up at a nearby pub and a whiskey. At that very moment, all he could think of was yet another drink. ‘Like that’s really gonna happen around here.’ He mumbled.

‘Huh?’

Burton looked up at his assistant who was poking her head around the doorframe. ‘Nothing, Dawn; I’m just having one of those days, you know?’ He walked over and took hold of the door handle. ‘Did you manage to circulate that schedule and get a positive response from OMA1?’

The young woman wearing a smart burgundy office suit smiled back. ‘The security receipt came back ok, sir.’

Burton feigned interest and gave the door a push to close it. ‘Fantastic, Dawn.’ He resumed his seat and pondered his next move. The last thing he wanted to do was ‘work from home’ and see his wife. A large argument regarding the financial difficulties was looming and so far, Burton had no solution or improvements on hand. The thought of borrowing money from another friend came to mind but was quickly dismissed. Never borrow from your mates! He looked in the mirror, straightened his tie for the tenth time that day and tucked in his shirt. For the first time, the face staring back at him appeared to be drawn, tired, worn out even. Despite the view, Burton held his head high and gave a positive nod. ‘This one’s for you Kate.’

 

Ramsey dropped several files into his briefcase and rummaged through the rest of the stack on the other side of his desk. Before he could finish, the intercom buzzed.

‘Hal Burton is here to see you, sir. He says it’s important. Shall I send him straight through?’

The acting Chief of MI6 paused for a moment, wondering what it was. ‘Yes please.’ Ahead of him, the door swung open rapidly to reveal a weary looking Burton who looked like he had the world on his shoulders. ‘Take a seat, Burton. No problem with the schedule, was there?’

Burton had a sweaty forehead, which he wiped as he sat down. ‘No, everyone has received it and the security receipt came back from OMA1 no probs.’ He shifted in the chair, trying to think of the words to start the request. ‘This is something else, sir; it’s to do with what’s caused my slight dip in efficiency of late. You know, what we were talking about before?’

‘You mean what you refused to talk about yesterday.’ Straight away he scolded himself; he hadn’t meant it to sound so condescending.

‘So anyway, um…well, you’re right, there is a problem; one that I need to be sorted. Look my wife Kate doesn’t know the full story as yet so it’s a bit delicate ok?’

The broad shoulders of Kevin Ramsey relaxed as he sat back in his chair, put the pen and folders back on the desk and gave his full attention. ‘Just what is the full story, Burton? I mean everything.’

‘Well, to be honest, I’ve been having financial difficulties of late. We’re not talking a couple of grand in the red here; I’m talking bigger than that. I’m six months behind on the mortgage, totally broke and I haven’t paid the instalments for other things like the car and stuff. That’s the problem.’ Burton sat up straight and convinced himself he had done the right thing in not mentioning his huge gambling debts.

‘Well, there it is. I appreciate you telling me this, Burton. It can’t have been easy. Believe me, if I had those problems hanging over me I would be reacting in exactly the same way.’

Somehow, I doubt it mate. ‘Wouldn’t we all, sir?’ Burton managed a smile at the same time.

‘It can’t be easy for you or your wife.’

Burton felt pangs of guilt as he thought of his wife, Kate. ‘No sir, it’s never easy when things get this bad. We’ll work things out.’

‘So, you’d like me to arrange a visit from a careers counsellor? I’m convinced they could help you here, Burton. At the very least, point you in the right direction.’

‘Actually sir, it was you I wanted to see. I need to ask a favour.’ Burton noticed his superior’s face light up at the mention of the word. ‘Not exactly protocol I know but I was wondering if it was possible to have an advance in pay? Obviously this is a personnel matter but they would require authorisation from you, wouldn’t they?’

‘That’s correct. You do realise that we’re not in the business of bailing out members of staff?’

‘I realise that, sir, but I’m desperate here. You know, I can hear the wolves at my door.’ The expression on Ramsey’s face did not change. ‘I have worked for the service for close to thirty years, sir. I’ve never once made a request like this before now, have I? Well, have I?’ The desperation could be heard in Burton’s voice.

‘That’s true, your record has been exemplary up until this moment.’ Ramsey placed his hands together, looked away and thought hard about his next response. ‘Ok Burton, I’ll authorise the advance in pay. I’ll explain everything to Elliott on his return.’

Burton suddenly looked energised. ‘Thanks, sir! I do appreciate it, really I do, I’ll put in extra hours or something, I’ll make it up to you and the service!’

‘Fine. I’ll have my assistant inform Personnel to authorise the advance of five thousand pounds to your account immediately. Just make sure you use that money to get yourself back on track, you hear me Burton? We can’t afford mistakes in our line of work.’

Burton’s forehead began to sweat again, as he tried to recall the last ten seconds of conversation. ‘I’m sorry, how much did you say sir?’

‘Five thousand pounds. I’ll also need to see proof of your mortgage papers, bank statements and any letters of relevance.’

‘Right…um…don’t think I’m not grateful for you bailing me out like this sir, but I’m going to need more than that. I mean, I’m at rock bottom here, you know? I was thinking along the lines of at least twenty thousand. I’ll probably end up spending most of the five grand on nappies for god’s sake!’

Ramsey scowled at the agent in front of him. ‘Maybe you’ve forgotten who you’re talking to Burton but it’s only because of your commendable service over the years that I’m authorising this advance at all! Your problems are yours alone; we all have them. I can’t pay off every bill for you, is that clear?’

Burton struggled to keep his tone of voice in check. ‘Well, obviously I can’t believe that after working my ass off for the service, putting my life on the line, all I’m worth when I hit the skids is five measly grand!’

‘Don’t kid yourself, your days as a field agent are long gone, not to mention short in the first place. The five thousand advance stands. Either take it…or leave it, is that understood?’

He paused and wondered where the last thirty years had gone. Despite his daydream, he knew it was better than nothing. ‘No. That’ll be fine.’ He ran his hand through his hair and began to massage his aching forehead. ‘I’m out of line here, sir, I…apologise. The advance will come in handy. I appreciate it.’ Burton’s mouth went dry as he finished. ‘Um…thanks for listening and all.’

‘Well, I’ll sort out the advance straight away.’ Ramsey walked over to the window and grimaced slightly, wondering whether he could have handled the situation better. He returned to his desk and reached out to the intercom, connecting him to the outside office. ‘Could you come in here for a moment, please? I have a couple of things that need processing straight away.’

A sweaty palm pressed the lift button as Burton leaned against the mirrored walls. A digitised voice called out each floor as it passed by but the exhausted father of one didn’t hear any of it. The lift doors parted as the basement presented itself. Burton stumbled out in the direction of his parked car, some metres away. Upon reaching the vehicle, he threw his briefcase and jacket angrily onto the back seat. He had no idea how to explain everything to his wife, let alone find a long-term solution to the financial problems he faced. Any feelings of anger towards Ramsey or the service were now fading away, being replaced by guilt of that of a failed father and husband. What sort of a future am I providing for little Oscar? Kate deserves better…

 

Olsen’s second workout of the day had done nothing to help his frame of mind. If anything, he felt even more wound up than yesterday. He was still coming to terms with the nightmare and its terrifying realism. One question continued to linger. Why didn’t Tom tell me the truth? As the lift opened, he still hadn’t come up with a plausible answer. Olsen made his way to the large double doors that led to Operations Command, the hive of MI6. His ID card gave a green light and the large doors slowly parted.

The soon to be S.U.C.O. team leader had spent many hours in ‘Ops’ as it was commonly known. The place was teeming with technicians, other agents and people from all walks of life; all working around the clock to keep the peace as best they could.

Olsen caught sight of Agent Carter, who was leant over a laptop computer. ‘Hard at it, Dan?’ Feeling like he was getting better at repressing everything, he managed a smile of sorts.

Carter turned around, clutching several printouts. ‘Nothing of interest. I’m surprised you’re still here, thought you had a lunch date with Rachel?’

Olsen smiled at the mention of his fiancée and remembered her concern surfacing again when they had spoken earlier. Her voice had sounded so soft on the phone. Olsen had worked hard to reassure her that it would all be ok. ‘Had to postpone. We’ll see each other nearer the end of the week, before I head out to Oman.’

‘Bet she loved that. Won’t be like that when you’re married, you know.’ Carter said sarcastically.

The thought of having a wife didn’t bother him at all; he couldn’t wait for the day. Will you still be a Government agent? asked a voice inside him. ‘Thought I’d stick around tonight and do some research. Have you seen Burton? I wanted to go over the schedule.’

Carter checked his screen. ‘Says here that he’s not online, so it might have to wait.’

Olsen found a workstation of his own and began to log on. Several screens flashed by as clearance was given to different parts of the main server. Olsen was heading for one area; his secure email connection. He drummed his fingers on the nearby mouse as a connection was made, glancing up from his terminal to the main ‘Ops’ display screen, ahead of him. A vast digital wall of screens was at the far end, currently detailing a map of the Middle East. Surrounding it were numerous clocks, all displaying different time zones from around the world. Technicians were pointing out areas on the map to other workers. Olsen’s attention drifted back to his terminal as the email screen displayed no reply from Deane, otherwise known as OMA1 in Muscat, Oman. Olsen clicked on the ‘refresh’ icon but there was still no reply. He sighed to himself and went in search of some hot coffee.

 

Burton turned the car into Draycott Avenue, South Kensington and pulled into the driveway. Several trees lined the path of the large detached house. Burton reached the white door and tried to make out any movement through the frosted glass as his key turned in the lock. In the hallway, he stopped and listened for any sounds. Silence filled the entire house. Not even 15-month-old Oscar could be heard crying, a common occurrence after a recent bout of colic. Burton kicked off his shoes, passed the staircase and dining room and entered the living room. His wife, Kate, was sitting at the far end of the sofa with her left hand supporting her head.

As her husband lingered in the doorway, Kate Burton, with her long black hair tied in a ponytail, focussed her hazel eyes on him. ‘Nice of you to come home so early, Hal. I’ve been worrying all day over just how bad things are for us.’

Hal looked away, as feelings of guilt consumed his stomach once more. ‘Yeah hon, I’m sorry, one of those hectic days at the service. you know?’

‘At least tell me what was more important than your family, Hal. I’ve been sitting on this sofa, that we don’t even own by the way, wondering where we’ll be in a couple of months time!’

‘I’d tell you if I could, you know I can’t, that official secrets act kind of spoils things, huh?’ Burton paused and looked for that twinkle in his wife’s eyes that showed no sign of appearing. ‘Ok Kate, ok, let’s sit down and I’ll give you the latest, alright?’

The young woman looked intensely worried. ‘I want everything, Hal, all the details, don’t leave anything out. We’re a family, remember; all of us in the same boat.’

Burton rose from the sofa. ‘I could do with a drink before we start, actually.’ The drinks cabinet appeared further away than before as a hand pulled him back.

‘Just tell me Hal, for goodness sake! Tell me!’

‘Ok, fine!’ He placed his hands on his legs and lowered his head. ‘First, we’re six months behind on the mortgage. Our bank accounts don’t have hardly anything in them, we’re behind on the electric and phone bill, together with payments on the car, the furniture and the home video set-up.’ Burton gave a big sigh and continued to keep his head bowed.

Kate sat on the sofa with her arms crossed, not moving. Her eyes intensified their focus on her husband’s face. Several years ago, the man she loved and had been married to for nine years had confessed a gambling addiction. They had gotten out of trouble back then. Kate thought hard about whether her husband would make the same mistake again, would place her and Oscar in danger. ‘That’s everything? I’ll only ask you this one time Hal, don’t you lie to me about it. I’m your wife and you’re my husband. Our young son is upstairs sleeping. You stand there right now and tell me that’s all our financial problems.’ For the first time her voice broke, filled with emotion and an undercurrent of anger, for being placed in this position again. ‘TELL ME!’

Burton jumped slightly and got up to close the door. ‘You might wake Oscar, ease up!’ Kate could be seen sitting on the edge of the sofa shaking her head, tears welling up in her hazel coloured eyes. His mind continued to sweep through numerous scenarios, What can I say? I’m a gambler, I’m weak, I’m pathetic, and we’re up to our ears in debt! Outside, rain continued to fall from the sky. Burton felt dizzy with the weight of the situation pounding on his very soul. The advice of his colleague surfaced in his thoughts. ‘Surely your so-called pride isn’t worth more than your family?’ He sat down on the sofa and tried to say the words. I’ve been gambling to help us. His mouth felt dry, his tongue fat and swollen. Burton never thought he would be about to say the words again but he loved his wife and son with all his heart and would do anything to keep them. Before he could begin, the doorbell interrupted the silence with several rings. Kate placed her head in her hands as Burton made his way to the door. ‘Better not be those bloody Latter-day Saints, I’ll give ’em a conversion they’ll never forget!’ The colour drained instantly from his face, as standing before him was one of the so called ‘finance managers’ from the casino. He locked eyes with the visitor, who had obviously come to collect the debt he owed. From the living room, his wife’s confused voice could be heard.

‘Hal? Who is that at the door?’

 

Chapter 6

 

Friday, March 2nd 19:50,

Draycott Avenue, South Kensington, London.

 

A look of concern spread over Burton’s features. ‘Don’t do this now, ok mate? I’ll come and see you some time later today, I just can’t do this now, you got that?’ Burton’s grip on his front door was broken as the large, heavyset visitor pushed by and stood at the bottom of the stairs.

‘My boss tells me your first instalment of the money you owe us is way overdue. I’ve come here to make sure you honour that agreement.’ Both men looked round as a woman’s voice filtered through the hallway.

Kate was standing by the entrance to the living room, her eyes focussed on her husband. ‘Who is this man, Hal?’

Burton looked away almost immediately, unable to meet his wife’s look, let alone manage a reply. After several seconds, he mumbled weakly. ‘Why don’t you go and see how Oscar is doing, hon, yeah? I’ll sort this out and be right up.’

Kate raised her arms and put both hands in her hair, not wanting to face her worst fears. ‘NO! You tell me who this man is and what he’s doing in our house, now. RIGHT NOW!’

The visitor focussed his dark, cold eyes on the woman and took two steps towards her. ‘Listen lady, your husband’s a gambler and he owes us over a hundred grand! Now shut the hell up and-’

The S.U.C.O. commander couldn’t stand it anymore. At the sight of his wife pushing past and running up the stairs, he lashed out quickly, ramming the side of his hand into the visitor’s throat who immediately slumped over and gasped for breath. Burton took hold of his collar and dragged him into the nearby dining room and slammed the door shut. He knelt down and spoke into the visitor’s right ear quickly, with a decisive tone. ‘Now, you listen and listen good. Now is not a good time for me, understand? I want you to go back to your boss and tell him that he’ll get his money. Not today, but he’ll get it. That was never in doubt. If you ever come round to my house and talk to my wife again, you’ll be worrying about yourself far more than my account.’ With that, he dragged the visitor to his feet, opened the front door and hurled him out onto the path. Burton tried to regain control and rushed up the stairs, into their bedroom. Out of breath, he stopped in his tracks at the sight of two suitcases spread out on the bed. Next to the wardrobe, Kate could be seen sobbing uncontrollably. Burton dropped to his knees as his wife refused to look at him. ‘Kate……I……believe me. I was just about to tell you everything when that guy showed up. You have to believe me! Kate?!’

Kate looked round sharply, tears streaming from her eyes. ‘How could you do that to me Hal? Huh? I’m your wife and I have to hear your secret from some thug who comes into our house! This is our home!’ Kate wiped away the tears and pushed her husband back as he tried to move closer. ‘You lied to me, Hal! You did it again; you’ve been gambling with our lives! Look, where it’s got us, we’re in debt; we have criminals coming here and threatening us. Where will it end?’ The emotion took hold of her as she got up and began to lash out at her husband, striking him whichever way she could. ‘How could you do this to us! How……’ The tears came again as a mixture of hurt and fear took hold of her.

Burton felt sick to his stomach. How could I do this do my wife and son? That was the one question revolving in his mind. More than anything, Burton wanted to hold his wife and somehow comfort her through the pain, in an attempt to cover over what had just happened. He sat on the bed, unable to think of the right words to say. ‘I wish I could turn the clock back believe me, but I can’t. All I can do is sort out this mess and we’ll be back on track, you hear me?’

At the sound of her husband’s voice, something took hold of Kate, who forced herself to her feet, wiped her eyes quickly and continued to pack the suitcases. ‘It’s too late, Hal. I just can’t believe you did this. It’s not just me this time around but Oscar as well! No, we have to go, I can’t allow you to do this to him as well.’

Burton felt physically winded at the thought of his wife and child leaving him for good. His mind went into overdrive, desperately trying to think of something that could turn the tide. Then it came to him. ‘No, wait! I didn’t tell you about the advance in pay!’ His wife looked up from the suitcase. ‘Yeah, I went to Ramsey and got an advance in pay. You’ve gotta believe me here, Kate, this is the god’s honest truth; I spoke to Ramsey today and got some money for us, enough to get these people off our backs. I’ll do whatever it takes; I’ll get everything back under control here. Please……..just give me another chance.’ His voice broke as he continued to beg his wife for a second chance. ‘Don’t do this…….don’t go.’

The long-suffering Kate dropped a pile of clothes on the bed and looked into the eyes of her husband, the man she had once implicitly trusted. ‘Don’t make me walk away, Hal, the last thing I want is for our son to grow up without his Daddy. I don’t want to do this but I won’t stand by and let you hurt our Oscar; he’s just a baby!’ Her husband was standing next to the bed, with his eyes shut, nodding his head. ‘How much money did you get in this pay advance, Hal?’

Burton’s mind kicked in as he heard the question. Knowing all too well that five thousand pounds would make no dent on the debts they owed or his wife’s frail state of mind, Burton made a decision. ‘I managed to get twenty thousand in advance, Kate. They were great about it all, believe me; it’ll help us get back on our feet. You have to believe me here, I’ll do whatever it takes to fix this!’

‘Promise me you’ll sort this out Hal. You might think you can keep on hurting me but I’ll never let you hurt little Oscar, never!’

Burton watched his wife closely and knew he still had a chance, if only he could show how much he wanted his family to stay. ‘Listen…Kate, I know I’ve never been the perfect father or husband, I guess but I’m getting better; I know I can be the man you want me to be. Just give me one more chance!’

Kate could feel the tears welling up in her eyes. More than anything, she wanted to have her husband by her side. The last thing she would ever want would be for Oscar to grow up with just one parent. Can I trust him? Can I really trust him? She put a hand to her mouth and spoke in a whisper. ‘It’s different this time, Hal; you have to see that. We have Oscar now; you can’t afford to keep on gambling with our security. Do you understand?’

Burton looked down and pushed the feelings of failure away. ‘I know I messed up…I know it, you know it but I thought it was for the best.’ He looked into his wife’s eyes. ‘I was trying to help.’ He held out his hands in front of him. ‘I screwed up but…look; please don’t take my family away. Please…I’ll beg, if that’s what you want.’

Kate saw the wreck of a man in front of her and wondered where her husband had vanished to over the years. She thought over every possibility in her mind as clearly as she could. If I leave now, I’ll break him for sure. He’s my husband; doesn’t he deserve one more chance? Kate closed her eyes and this time another voice spoke to her. Do it for Oscar…

Burton felt the solitary tear run down his left cheek and knew his marriage was on a knife-edge at that very moment.

Kate placed the suitcases back on top of the wardrobe and wiped the tear from her husband’s face. ‘I’m doing this for Oscar; I want him to have his Daddy around in the years to come. Our son is everything now; he has to be our priority. Promise me you’ll put him first, Hal?’

Burton couldn’t speak at first. He tried to take hold of his wife’s hand but she had already walked next door, to Oscar’s room. ‘I’ll be a better Dad, hon and a better husband, I promise.’ His wife was already in the next room. At the sound of their son crying, Burton dropped onto the bed and released a woeful sigh. His chest felt tight and his whole body ached with stress. His mind was racing with possibilities of how to save his family but only one presented itself. ‘Kate, I’m going to pop out for a bit. I’ll get us in something for dinner, make a change, huh?’ Burton walked downstairs and out the door. In the car, he dialled a number on his mobile phone. ‘John! Listen mate, you still got that dog track? Yeah, it’s been a while I know but I’m feeling lucky this evening. Yeah, yeah, I’ve just come into some cash, reckon I could double my money at least! I’ll see you in a bit mate. You think of some tips before I get there!’ He dropped the mobile on the dashboard, swallowed hard and pulled out of the driveway, feeling confident it was the only option left open to him.

 

Olsen dropped his mug onto the tray and poured himself another drink whilst watching a news broadcast on one of the monitors in Operations Command. The running commentary caught his attention as he listened intently to the revelation that an explosion had taken place in Moscow, Russia at one of the busiest Underground railway stations. He watched the screen as the Mayor appeared, stating the explosion was a terrorist attack. Olsen listened to the full statement and took the information on board as he went back to his terminal. The display showed an empty inbox on his email account. It was a frustrating sight, especially as Olsen was just following protocol to receive confirmation from his operation partner with the recently authorised codes. Then he remembered his mentor’s opinion. ‘Emails are never secure, don’t believe all you are told Sam.’ With that, he gave a quick shake of the head, logged out of the terminal and made his way towards the large double doors of Operations Command. He turned his head and watched details of the Moscow explosion on the main view screen; a man’s face was shown and was then replaced by a map of the local area. Olsen continued walking, doing his best to remember the face, knowing that at some point in the future he might need to recall the image.

‘You in tomorrow?’ Carter asked, lifting his eyes from his laptop.

Olsen looked back as the doors opened for him. ‘No. I’ll get myself organised and then head to the airport.’ He gave an assured nod to his friend.

Carter smiled back. ‘Be careful.’

‘You too, I’ll see you when I get back.’ The upcoming operation still made him feel uneasy but Olsen did his best to force it out of his mind as he confidently walked out of the busy command area.

 

Akira saw the classic white Mercedes on the street corner and got in the back. Ahead of him were the Kiprich brothers, who had been watching the busy movement of cars and people in the market place. With the dazzling sun and array of people and treasures, the market place of Muscat was one of the friendliest and most beautiful in the Middle East but all of it was lost on the three men in the car.

For the Kiprich brothers, their hearts and minds were consumed with the upcoming attack on the British Royal visit that was now just days away.

‘Any trouble on your travels?’ Asked younger brother Jozef, with just a hint of sarcasm.

‘None.’

‘Before you ask, everything is in place. The death of a British Royal Prince will certainly be headline news.’

Akira ignored the comment. The death of a British Prince was a bonus; in truth he couldn’t care less if he was killed or not. All that mattered was the death of Thomas Deane. It was vital he was killed early, before the war started, as there was no doubt in his mind that Deane would play a vital part in the resistance; it would be a massive boost to have him out of the way sooner. ‘The antique shop on the corner at the far end of the street, the owner is a contact of an MI6 agent based here.’

Jozef, the more outspoken of the brothers, looked back sharply, wondering how he knew so much about Western security protocols. ‘What makes you think so?’

Akira sensed the hostility but merely stared at his ally. He made a mental note to monitor the respect Jozef showed him as he opened the door to get out. ‘I just know. Go to the back of the shop and wait for my entrance.’

Raising the hood of his sand coloured robe, Akira immediately blended in with the busy shoppers. As he reached the end of the street, he confidently walked into the antique shop and approached the owner. ‘How long have you had this shop?’ he asked bluntly.

Saheed was a tall man, with a thick black beard, who wore a light blue dishdasha, a traditional Omani shirtdress. He looked up at the visitor and gave a warm smile. ‘Many years. How can I help you?’ He rose quickly from his seat when he saw the visitor lock the door. ‘Just what do you think you’re-’

Akira cut him off and spoke in the calmest of tones. ‘You are a contact and trusted friend of MI6 agent Thomas Deane and you’ve also worked for the C.I.A. in the past. I know Deane will be visiting you in the next few days. I want you to tell him that you have no information for him. Nothing.’

Saheed had indeed known Deane for many years, believed in his cause and had great respect for the man. He did his best to play dumb. ‘I’m sorry but I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. What is MI6? Or C.I.A.?’ He raised his arms in mock confusion. ‘I have never met anyone called Thomas Deane.’

Akira stood tall with his hands crossed in front of him. His eyes never once left the shop owner. ‘I see.’ He took several steps towards the counter. ‘Your loyalty is admirable but misplaced.’ Tilting his head slightly, he spoke in a questionable tone. ‘Tell me, how is your young son?’

Saheed thought about reaching for the knife he kept under the counter but quickly moved to the back of the shop to find his young son. ‘NO!’ There, ahead of him, was a chilling sight. Two other men had broken in, with one man holding the boy at gunpoint. Tears were running down the child’s face. Saheed looked back at the visitor and saw just a blank face, showing no emotion.

Akira held the gaze of Jozef, who was holding the child and then looked back at the shopkeeper. His voice was filled with frustration as he focussed on every word. ‘I grow tired of this resistance….you will follow through with my request or you and your family will all burn when this shop goes up in flames.’ Throughout the whole confrontation, his warped mind was full of one voice, that of his dead wife Madeline spurring him on, feeding him strength, fuelling his belief.

Saheed wondered whether his MI6 friend was even still alive and was completely shocked at this turn of events. For years, he had worked alongside Deane and had provided countless pieces of crucial information over that time but they had been so cautious; how had anyone been able to trace Deane to him? ‘I tell you I don’t know anyone of that name, believe me. I’m just a shop keeper who-’

Akira raised his right hand and spat out the words angrily. ‘Kill the boy.’

‘NO! WAIT!’ Saheed had reached his limit. He had spent many years helping the cause he believed in and had put his own life on the line but he would not sacrifice his family. He closed his eyes and spoke the truth. ‘I do know Thomas Deane and yes he works for MI6. He hasn’t been in touch of late but I do expect him to be.’ Saheed looked into the eyes of the initial visitor. ‘I am begging you. Please let my son go. I will do what you ask. Please.’

Akira ordered Jozef to let the boy go. He smiled faintly at the shopkeeper but there was no warmth there. ‘I knew I could count on you Saheed. I will leave one of my followers here to help you. When Deane arrives, you will inform him that you have no information. You have not heard anything nor seen anyone that could be of use to him. Is that understood?’

Saheed nodded weakly and wondered what was waiting for him when this was over.

Akira informed Jozef that he would be staying and left the shop via the back door with Gyorgy. He wished he could be there when the MI6 agent came to visit Saheed but comforted himself with the fact that another vital cog of Western operations in Oman and the Middle East was about to be permanently removed.

 

Madeline would be pleased.

Chapter 7

 

Saturday, March 3rd 09:00,

Draycott Avenue, South Kensington, London.

 

Burton glared at the ceiling in a fixated stare. The last few hours had not gone as well as he had hoped. Despite his best efforts, four thousand had been lost from the initial pay advance of five thousand pounds. Feelings of guilt and panic had continued to consume him with every passing minute. Sleep had been hard to come by; even looking his wife in the eye was not something he was capable of anymore. To his left, Kate was sleeping calmly, a large chunk of the bed between them. Since her discovery of their financial problems, she hadn’t talked to him a great deal, plans had been made to get back on track but little else had been said.

Burton began to think more clearly as sunlight flashed across him. He rose from the bed, put on his dressing gown and walked into his son’s bedroom. There, sleeping peacefully was little Oscar Burton. The 15-month-old boy, to his Dad, looked so beautiful as he lay there in his cot. More than ever, feelings of failure took hold of him. How could I have stuffed up so badly? My son. I have a son! Just see what I’ve done for him. He gently placed a hand on the boy’s hair, desperately wanted to hold him but knew waking him would upset his wife who was still asleep in the next room. He spoke very quietly as the boy continued to sleep. ‘You know, son, I’ve not been much of a father to you. I don’t mind admitting that. I’m a lousy husband too; just don’t tell your Mum, it’ll be our little secret. I just want you to know that I’ll make it up to you. From now on I’ll get my act together and be there for you and your Mum.’ Burton tucked in his son’s blanket and got to his feet. ‘Sleep tight, little guy.’ Standing in the doorway was his wife, who had been watching. ‘Oh…morning, hon, I was just having a chat with Oscar. Still sleeping though, told you he never listens to his old man.’

Kate smiled faintly at her husband as she closed her son’s door. ‘Aren’t you going to be late for work?’

‘Nah, nobody will notice me gone. A couple of things have come up anyway, need to sort them before I go in. What are you up to today?’

Kate watched her husband get dressed. ‘What couple of things? Work things?’ She studied her husband’s face carefully.

‘Yeah, you know, just a few odds and ends. I can’t tell you the details, you understand don’t you?’ Hal gave his wife a kiss and brushed past her as he rushed down the stairs. ‘Gotta go, I won’t be late, have a good day!’

As he got in his car and pulled out of the driveway, Burton dialled a number on his mobile phone. He held the phone with one hand, the other tucking in his dark yellow shirt. As the car sped along the road, houses passed more frequently.’ He picked up the phone again and dialled the same number. ‘Yeah, Harry! It’s Hal here. No, not good mate; listen I need your help. Yeah, you heard right, I need your help. I need to meet you right now.’ Burton scribbled down a time and place on his car insurance details. ‘Cheers mate, see you in a bit.’

Kate stood at the window of the bedroom, watching the world go by. She couldn’t push her feelings away any longer. No matter how hard she tried, it was impossible to trust her husband anymore. There was no doubt in her mind that he loved her and their son Oscar but Kate couldn’t shake the feeling that the man she was supposed to spend the rest of her life with had continued to gamble, despite what had happened so recently. She still loved her husband, she always would but with the trust gone, in her heart of hearts, she knew what she had to do.

Kate snapped out of her deep thought to realise the phone had been ringing for some time. ‘Hello?’

‘Don’t tell me you’re still with him?’ Said a voice quickly.

Kate recognised the voice of her older sister, Jenny, who would be calling from her home in Somerset. ‘I’ll be with him today. I don’t think I can stay for much longer.’

‘What have you found out?’

‘The trust has gone Jen. After everything that happened this week, it still feels to me that he is gambling. Maybe not now but in the future he’ll go back to it. He just seems to think that he can solve that addiction in days, not months or years. What sort of a mother would I be if I let that happen again?’

‘I always said he wasn’t good enough for you. He’s weak Kate, I’d love to say he will change but it won’t happen.’

Sadness tinged her voice. ‘I know that now. You should have seen him this morning though, with little Oscar, he loves that boy. I know he still loves me as well.’

‘Kate, wait a second. This loser is a chronic gambler. He always was and always will be. How can he love his family if he’s willing to put them through hell every time? Has he mentioned the financial stuff today?’

‘No, we aren’t exactly talking. I know on paper he must seem like a monster but he isn’t. Hal is a loving husband and a fantastic father but he just has these problems. The trouble is, he never admits it’s a real problem, just a little blip or something. I’ve done all I can, he just won’t listen to me.’

‘So what are you going to do?’

Kate pushed her black hair back and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘I don’t want to leave him. I don’t think he’d be able to handle it.’

‘You can’t stay, Kate. Don’t do it again. I remember years ago I told you to leave him then but you let him get to you. Now look at the situation; he’s gone back to gambling but this time you’re in big trouble. Oscar wasn’t around back then but he is now and that didn’t stop him. Don’t you see, sis?’

‘I know, that’s what I just can’t believe. How could he still do that when Oscar is here? I don’t understand.’

‘Leave him Kate. Do it today. Come and stay with us, we’ll help you and Oscar get back on your feet.’

‘I know you will. Thanks Jen. It’s ok; you don’t have to worry. I already have one suitcase packed; he didn’t even notice. I’m going to finish packing today, get a few things, and then go. Not straight away though, I’m going to take my time, over the next few days I’ll do it.’

‘Promise me you won’t let him convince you again. You promise me, Kate. I know he’s your husband but he won’t change. Right?’

She sighed heavily and bowed her head. ‘I know that now. As much as it breaks my heart to say it, I know he won’t change.’

‘Are you going to tell him or just’

‘No, not face to face. I’ll leave him a note with my wedding ring and that’ll be it. I don’t think I’m strong enough to confront him about it right now. I’ll take what money I can get, sell a few things here maybe and come to you in Somerset. He’s bound to call you when he finds out.’

‘Don’t worry; I’ll make sure he never suspects you might be here. It’ll work out; I know it will. You’re doing the right thing. Might not feel like it for you but definitely for Oscar.’

‘I know. That’s what I keep telling myself. I’ll talk to you soon, sis. Bye.’ She replaced the phone on its handset and looked around the bedroom, as if for the last time. Memories threatened to take over her but she resisted and pulled out an empty suitcase from under the bed. Kate began to pack her bags.

 

Deane was alone in his cream Land Rover. He pulled the vehicle over to one side, parking just before the market place of Muscat. Turning the engine off, he glanced in all the mirrors and gave a long studious look all around his position. Information was everything to Thomas Deane. The more he collated at any given point, the longer he would live. A mental picture was forming in his mind as his eyes took everything on board.

A light grey Fiat saloon, registration F1J 8FY that passed him; The young woman who was waiting behind one of the market stalls; A market trader who had only just taken his eyes off the Land Rover. All of it was consumed and remembered, stored away in the far corners of Deane’s mind, never knowing when he might need to retrieve it.

At the same time, Deane considered the future. The operation ahead would prove challenging but he felt confident that with Sam’s help they would make sure of the Royals’ safety. As he thought of Olsen, he wondered what had been going on in London during the last few days. Deane had been expecting a phone call or early visit from Olsen, demanding answers as to why the facts surrounding the death of Geoff Olsen didn’t match what he was told. Maybe Sam chose not to read the operation folder of ESPY? He didn’t return my message after all. Operation ESPY brought back many painful memories, none of which he wanted to recall. He made a note to himself not to discuss the past and focus on the future. A future alone? MI6’s decision to break up their partnership had come as a surprise. Regardless of the news, Deane felt confident he could convince Olsen and MI6 that it would be better for everyone to continue as they had done for the past eight years and work together. Getting out of the car, Deane made his way along the pavement and entered the back door of the antique shop. As he arrived at the door, he gave his usual three knocks and waited for his contact to arrive.

Saheed felt the icy stare of Jozef, who was inside the store and heavily disguised. He answered the back door and gave a hug to his long-time friend. ‘It is good to see you, Thomas.’

Deane gave a rare smile and felt genuine affection for his contact and friend, who had risked his life many times over the years. ‘It’s been too long, Saheed. Are you well?’

Saheed was well aware of Deane’s perceptive qualities and was doing all he could to act as naturally as possible. He was certain his friend could handle the intruder in his shop but how quickly it could be done was in doubt. Could the man fire off enough shots to harm or even kill his family? Saheed had made his decision and prayed he would have a chance to make up for his betrayal in the future. ‘I am well my friend and as ever, I am at your service.’

Deane stepped into the shop but didn’t catch sight of Jozef Kiprich, who was waiting down one of the isles for any sign of trouble. ‘I’m always grateful for your help, Saheed, I hope you know that. I need to call on your local knowledge once again.’

Saheed was sure the intruder was listening and decided to play along a little longer before following orders. ‘What do you need, Thomas?’

Deane gave a quick look around his surroundings before continuing in a slightly quieter tone. ‘A member of the British Royal family is coming here to Muscat on a three day visit. I’m convinced there will be some form of attack in the pipeline, or some threat that will surface. I’m doing all I can but as I’ve always said, you can’t put a price on local knowledge. I need your help.’

Saheed so wanted to help his friend. Deane had proved himself to be the bravest man he had ever known; more than anything he wanted to give detailed descriptions of the three men that had broken into his shop just a day ago. By doing that, thousands of lives could possibly be saved. Saheed knew if he were single and could take the risk on his own, he would tell his friend the truth at that very moment with no fear of the consequences. If only it were possible. He hated himself for what he was about to do. ‘I am sorry, my friend but I have nothing for you. Perhaps what we have always hoped for is finally coming true; peace in our time.’

Deane smiled at the sentiment but didn’t believe it was happening. ‘No shipments arriving at the harbour or any new faces your contacts have seen?’

‘I am sorry, I have heard of nothing.’

Deane studied the features of his friend and for a moment saw something that caught his attention but then it was gone. A pause lingered between them until he moved back to the doorway. ‘If you hear anything, no matter how small, promise me you will get in touch?’

Saheed smiled back. ‘I give you my word.’ He outstretched his right hand. ‘Take care Thomas. Stay safe.’

Deane gripped his friend’s hand firmly and left via the backdoor, turning his mind over and over as to where the next lead would come from.

Saheed watched him leave and wondered if he would ever see Deane again. He saw the intruder appear in one of the isles. ‘I have done what you wanted. Now, leave my shop.’

Jozef had spent the last few minutes ready to attack with his gun, never having been convinced that the shopkeeper would keep his side of the deal. Glancing out of the shop window, he saw the MI6 agent drive away in his Land Rover. Flicking the switch on a device attached to his belt, Jozef walked into the backroom with Saheed in tow.

Several minutes later, Akira stepped in quietly and waited at the doorway. ‘I know you are a loyal man, Saheed and I thank you for what you have just done, it can’t have been easy.’

Saheed picked up on the genuine gratitude he could hear in the visitor’s tone and gave a look of total defiance. ‘You have what you want, now get out!’

Akira admired the man’s bravery but had made it a personal rule that anyone who had seen his face would be killed once they had fulfilled their task. Over time, he had lost count of how many people that was but knew his actions had been warranted and, more importantly, Madeline had backed every single decision. Without a doubt, there could be no trace of Saheed or any of his family or contacts. With lightening speed, he flashed a silenced pistol out of his cloak and fired two precise shots. Gritting his teeth together, he looked at Jozef with the cold look of death. ‘Deal with the rest and meet me back at the designated point.’ He dismantled the gun as he continued. ‘These people have left Oman to join their relatives in the United Arab Emirates, make sure all the loose ends are tied up.’

‘And what of the family in the United Arab Emirates?’ Jozef asked.

Akira opened the back door. ‘They too have been dealt with.’ He gave a look back to his follower. ‘Do not fail me.’ Closing the door behind him, he adjusted his robe and made his way along the pavement, leaving the peaceful beauty of Muscat market behind him. In time, his actions would be discovered but as ever there would be nothing to trace back to his identity.

 

Olsen showed his boarding pass to the young, attractive air stewardess who smiled radiantly as she pointed out the direction of his seat. Passing several other passengers, including an arguing couple, he took his seat in business class. He felt a nervous wreck and nothing seemed to help him relax. Only Rachel had been able to help a little and, he didn’t mind admitting, he missed her badly now. But Oman was something he had to face alone.

Before leaving MI6 the previous day, he had picked up his weapon of choice, a silver and black Beretta 92G Elite II 9mm pistol. All S.U.C.O. agents had their own personal weapon of choice. Olsen had always favoured his Beretta and had used it for almost his entire career. With a larger magazine (15 shots instead of the usual 12) and low recoil it had always proven far more effective. No doubt Deane will disagree as usual he thought to himself. Olsen looked out of the window and then to the ticket he held in his hand. A rush of fear and panic came over him as he saw the word Oman in the right hand corner. Once again, memories and images of his father threatened to consume him but he resisted, shut his eyes and tried to maintain control.

As the plane began to move off, he brought a dog-eared Arabic phrase book out of his hand luggage. Olsen remembered the last time it had been used on assignment. Eight years earlier, he was just a boy, a keen bright 20-year-old working with Deane for the first time. The duo had played a vital role in the years after the Gulf War, providing MI6 and the coalition forces crucial information as to where enemy troops had been hiding, plus the locations of several weapon bases. Olsen remembered the sheer weight of fear he had endured on a daily basis. It had been his first operation for the service, his first operation with Deane and the first time he had worked in a foreign country undercover. A smile spread over his features as he recalled his mistakes and Deane’s harsh words. Olsen had hundreds of memories of when Deane had not only saved his life but also shown him the way; taught him how to be a Government agent that could make a difference and live to tell the tale. Olsen opened the phrase book at a particular chapter. As he began to read, his mind focussed on visiting Al-Mina Street, where his father had died years before. At the same time, he struggled to think of what he would say to Deane when he saw him again.

Burton walked into the Moon and Shine pub, located in the Vauxhall area, not far from MI6 headquarters. A haze of cigarette smoke cleared slightly as a breath of fresh air swept in with the Government agent. He passed several older looking men who were already downing the first of no doubt many drinks that day. As Burton passed the bar, he glanced at the manager who gave him a scathing look. At the far end, his contact could be seen sitting against the wall. He rushed over to him. ‘Morning, Harry. Cheers for meeting me on such short notice, mate.’

The older individual, in his mid-fifties, was wearing a tatty looking black leather jacket. A cigarette hung out of his mouth and his greying hair looked dishevelled. He eyed up his friend, who sat in front of him, with a surprising look. ‘Jesus, Hal, you look like shit.’

Burton gave a faint smile. ‘Cheers. To tell you the truth that’s exactly how I feel. Look, I’m gonna need your help, ok?’

‘My help? I’m not in the business of offering marital support, mate. You can look elsewhere for that.’ Harry picked up his mobile phone and cigarettes off the table as he started to leave.

Burton placed a hand on Harry’s arm. ‘Wait a second, Harry. Look, I know what you do, ok? I know the dodgy deals you pull off and the information you sometimes sell to certain people.’ Both men locked eyes as the elder sat back down. ‘Let’s understand each other. This is a one off, you got that? What I’m about to do will never happen again. I’m in a spot of trouble and down to my last option here.’

‘Would you get to the point? Jesus, my kid can talk faster than you. What you babbling about?’

Burton gave a shake of the head, his conscience still struggling to justify his course of action. ‘You know the Royal visit? The one to Oman?’

‘Yeah, it’s in all the papers. How could I miss it?’

‘Well, I have the schedule of that three day visit. All the locations they’ll be visiting, all the times and allocations of all security personnel.’ He placed a folder on the greasy looking surface of the bar table. ‘The whole lot.’

‘Are you telling me you want to sell that information to the highest bidder? Are you nuts?’ Harry said, wide-eyed.

‘Mate…I’m desperate that’s all.’

‘Listen, Hal, I know I take the mickey out of you most of the time but what I’ve always admired about you is your dedication to your work. I know what you do for a job, I always have. I’d hate to see a mate throw away his career on one stupid mistake, you know?’

Burton frowned. ‘Yeah, I appreciate the career advice, Harry; in future I’ll go to the boss for it. Now, you going to help me or not?’

Harry doused his cigarette in the ashtray and leant back against the wall. ‘Why are you doing this? C’mon, tell me the latest.’

‘I’m broke, ok? I’ve got nothing; no money, tons of bills and most of them red ones. The house could be taken away from me, and the car. Everything! You know what really gets to me? My work. I’ve put in thirty years practically and when the chips are down, they hardly even move. I’m on my own here, as much as I don’t want to do this but I’m out of time. I’ve tried everything else.’ Burton got up and walked a couple of steps to the bar.

‘What about the missus?’

Burton returned with several drinks and downed the first. ‘Why do you think I’m doing this? To buy myself new shirts for work? My wife knows about the financial stuff.’ He downed another drink and stared at the empty glass, feeling like he could drink another thousand. ‘I think I might lose her unless I get back on the straight and narrow like…today, you know?’ A long, desperate sounding sigh came from him. ‘Will you help me?’

‘Are you sure about this, mate? You go down this road and you open yourself up to all sorts of trouble. I can sell the info to the highest bidder, no problem, but there may be…comebacks.’

At the sound of any trouble, Burton looked up sharply. ‘What sort of comebacks? Like I said, this is a one off. You gotta protect me, Harry, I’m doing this to provide a future for my family.’

‘Listen, Hal, I’d like to help you mate but it’s tricky. I can try to protect you but some of ’em want names on the sources. They’re not the type of people you say no to ok? Are you sure you want to do this?’

Burton paused for a moment and downed the third and final drink. Deep down a voice was screaming at him that it was the wrong move. He knew there was a good chance the likes of Olsen or Deane could be killed by the decision he was about to make. The reality of that fact made him feel sick to the core. At the same time, the image of his wife at home, and little Oscar looking up at his Dad from his cot took hold of his thoughts. What’s more important, work or family?

Years ago, Burton knew the answer would have always been work. In recent times things had changed for him, his family was everything now; the thought of being alone again didn’t warrant thinking about. His glazed eyes looked up at his shifty looking friend who was leaning against the wall. ‘Do it Harry, get as much cash as you can for me, ok?’ As Harry moved off, Burton grabbed his trench coat. ‘Just try and protect me.’

‘Yeah ok mate, I’ll do my best. Let me just pop outside and make a call, ok? You wait here, I’ll be back in a sec.’ Harry found his mobile phone, stepped out of the pub and walked down a secluded alleyway nearby. He dialled a number and waited. ‘Yeah, it’s me. Listen, I got something that might be of use. You know the Royal visit? Well I can get access to the schedule for the right price, you know? I’m not talking the times of lunch and dinner; I’m talking the works. The security layouts, locations, times, the whole thing.’ Harry looked around briefly as he listened to the response. ‘Really? These guys want the whole lot? Sounds good to me. Yeah, that’s fine, just wire me the money and I’ll sort out my fee and stuff. Huh? Well it’s kind of a private source if you know what I mean. Can’t you get around it? I don’t want to see this guy in trouble. Ok, ok, give me my usual extras and it’ll have to do.’ He looked around again, this time in the direction of the pub. ‘His name is Hal Burton. The guy works for MI6, got access to all sorts of info. That’s it, wire me the money either today or tomorrow ok mate? Cheers.’

Back in the pub, at the far end, Burton could be seen drinking what must be his sixth or seventh drink. Harry slapped Burton’s shoulder and sat back down. ‘Good news, mate, really good news. I’ve found a buyer already. Great money, too. You want another drink to celebrate?’

Burton put the empty glass back on the table. ‘I don’t normally drink this much, must be the stress or something.’ He mumbled. His senses became alert as he looked at his friend. ‘Hold on, did you say good news? How much?’

Harry smiled a toothy grin and lit another cigarette. ‘It’s a good deal mate. One hundred and fifty thousand quid! Minus my fee, would normally be an even hundred grand but seeing as it’s you, I’ll make it up to one fifteen ok? Congratulations mate, you’re out of trouble!’

Burton breathed a sigh of relief. I am out of trouble! ‘Uh…oh that’s so good, god, I never thought I’d get out of this one. I owe you one big time, Harry.’

‘Well I gotta go, the money will come in either end of today or tomorrow. A couple of days at the very latest,. I’ll be in touch yeah?’ He placed a hand on Burton’s shoulder. ‘Nice doing business with you, mate.’

Burton stopped his friend from moving away. ‘Listen mate, did you manage to protect me? No names, right?’

Just for a moment, Harry furrowed his brow, not entirely sure what to say. Then, an air of confidence came over him as he smiled down at the half drunk Burton. ‘No names, mate. You’re in the clear. It’s gonna be fine, yeah. I’ll see ya.’

Burton, who had worked for MI6 for nearly three decades, watched his friend leave and dropped his head in his hands. What have I done? You’ve saved your family, that’s what! His entire body was on an adrenaline high, together with feelings of guilt and pure joy that threatened to eat away at him at any moment. For one moment, he appeared to leave the pub and find himself in Oman, with the sun beating down on his sweaty face. In front of him were the likes of Deane, Olsen, and Prince David under attack from a large group of masked attackers. They were outnumbered. As one agent fell, he found himself screaming out in anger, wanting to stop it, join in and do what he had always done, make a difference. However, it was too late, the damage had been done, there was no going back, he was no longer on the same side.

Burton woke up, slumped on the table in the Moon and Shine pub, his whole body in a cold sweat. His breathing erratic, several other people were staring at him from the other tables. The father of one pulled himself together, wiped his face with his jacket sleeve and stumbled out of the pub, barely able to walk straight. He found his wallet in his trouser pocket, opened it, and saw the family picture of him with Kate and little Oscar, in happier times. The image staring back hardly looked like him but Burton was focussing on his wife and son. With the guilt beginning to take hold, he cleared his mind and knew he had done the right thing. His family would stay with him forever. They would never leave. He was free to rebuild his life and be with his loved ones.

 

Chapter 8

 

Sunday, March 4th 07:00,

Muscat (Capital City), Oman, Middle East.

 

Olsen ran a hand through his short dark brown hair and continued to walk through a hectic Seeb International airport. Wearing sand coloured trousers, a sky blue shirt and light brown jacket, Olsen still felt hot. With every step, his stomach turned and his body felt increasingly uncomfortable. Never had he imagined himself stepping foot in Oman. His mind was a frenzy of memories concerning his father. The heat took his mind off the ordeal for a moment; it had hit home the moment he had disembarked from the comfortable air conditioning of the aircraft. Using a magazine as a fan, Olsen looked around for a taxi. At the exit, several cars passed him but none of the orange and white colour of a taxi. Moments later, one appeared, just turning into the airport area. Although English was spoken in Muscat, Olsen had already decided to use his Arabic to the full on this assignment.

As the car came closer, he looked out for the orange medallion painted on the bonnet and doors of the vehicle. It would provide information as to its destination and home region.

Olsen called out to raise the taxi. ‘Ajara!’ As the car pulled over, he got into the back and informed the driver he would be paying for all four seats, making it a private taxi, as he was not wanting any company.

Throughout the country of Oman, no rail network had ever existed. Instead, a complex structure of long distance taxis and Microbuses were in operation, taking customers to their destinations, often together rather than alone.

Olsen leaned forward and told the driver he wanted to go to the UK Embassy. The driver seemed confused as to where it was, so he responded with the street name. ‘Al Khuwair na’am?’ The driver smiled, with a quick inspective look as he returned to the wheel. Olsen fluffed his shirt and pulled down the window, allowing some much needed air into the cab. He sat back and studied his surroundings, wondering whether Geoff Olsen had ever taken a taxi along the same road.

Oman had once been known as the hermit of the Middle-Eastern region. In recent times, large efforts had been made to build up a tourist infrastructure to show off its narrow coastal plain, together with its beautiful ranges of mountains and hills. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who deposed his father in 1970, had made great strides to allow Western influences to penetrate his country since being appointed by the governing cabinet. With a population of over 2 million people, Oman was now a member of the UN, with Matrah becoming one of the leading ports in the Middle Eastern state.

Olsen picked up a stray newspaper from the back seat and began to read the Arabic printed from right to left, on the front page. The news that temperatures had broken over thirty degrees Celsius didn’t please him. In his eight years of service as a Government agent, working in the heat had never pleased him, only adding to the woes and stresses of whichever assignment he was working on.

The taxi slowed down to a halt as streams of traffic flowed out of a road ahead despite it being Saturday, the weekend in Oman had always fallen on Thursday and Friday. Other days were opportunities for taxi drivers especially, to boost their income.

The car moved onto one of the main, tarmac roads and followed the stream of traffic into the Muscat capital. Several small, rocky mountains passed by in the distance, as the cloud free blue sky continued to look down from every vantage point.

Olsen turned his head slightly to catch sight of some of the coastline. A small stretch of a beautiful white, sandy beach caught his eye, looking untouched in the early morning sunshine. As the taxi came into Muscat, it slowed to walking pace as it progressed through the tight and winding streets. Taking in a deep breath, he made a decision and told the driver to let him out here. ‘Ogaf hina, law samaHt!’ Olsen fumbled for some notes in his pocket and paid the driver with close to six thousand baiza. The taxi driver smiled a toothy grin, kissed the money and stuffed it in his jacket.

Outside the cab, Olsen looked at his surroundings and focused on the faces of the people around him, half expecting his father to be among them. He shook his head and carried on walking through the busy street, passing several shops and stalls. The market place was electrifying in its atmosphere, even at such an early time. Large stalls selling fish, fresh fruit and vegetables caught his eye, with vibrant colours standing out wherever he looked. Near the end of the market, several shops were selling stacks of gold jewellery, from bangles to dazzling gold daggers.

One elderly Omani eyed him up and down closely. He was sitting next to his stall, which was stacked high with carefully crafted copper pots and smaller sized pottery. Wearing a dishdasha, a traditional men’s shirtdress, his eyes refused to leave Olsen, who looked away and walked down a path which would lead to Al Khuwair Street.

At the bottom of the side road, Olsen took a long look at the surrounding area. Not far in the distance, the UK Embassy could be seen, its Union Jack flag flying proudly in the distance. The US Embassy, Oman museum and a hotel could also be seen in the same street. Olsen looked to his left and eyed up several cramped looking flats built closely together. A glimmer of sunlight caught his attention from the roof of the third flat along. With a deep breath, he approached it and walked through the empty front door, placing his bag on a chair near the stairs. At the top of the stairwell, he climbed a ladder and stepped onto the roof of the dusty looking flat. Olsen could feel his hands shaking, together with his heart beating rapidly as he saw who was ahead of him.

Near the roof’s edge, 42-year-old Thomas Deane was knelt down and scanning the area near the UK Embassy. Deane was tanned, slightly taller than Olsen and with a far more muscular build. His black hair, with a tinge of grey at the temples, rustled in the gentle wind, his cream coloured shirt showing no signs of perspiration. He continued to look through the binoculars without giving any indication of his partner’s presence. ‘I was wondering when you’d get here.’

Olsen wiped the sweat from his brow and sighed as quietly as he could. ‘Is that all you have to say to me?’

Deane continued looking through the binoculars and said nothing.

Olsen could feel the vibe from his partner and knew him so well. It was obvious he didn’t want to talk, but then Deane never wanted to talk about anything other than work. He was a driven man, almost obsessed. ‘I read everything there is to know about Operation ESPY. I know the truth.’

Deane finally lowered the binoculars and turned around. His dark blue eyes inspected his partner of eight years carefully. ‘It must be obvious then, as to why we never told you.’

Olsen had expected his temper to be boiling away but instead just felt vulnerable and let down. ‘Who’s we?’

‘Your mother and I discussed it and, with you showing an interest in joining MI6, we felt it best to tell you our version of the truth.’ Deane stepped closer and put more emphasis on his words. ‘I wanted you to work with me in the future and if you had known I’d been with your father, you would never have let that happen. You shouldn’t blame your mother over this, it was my suggestion.’

Olsen stepped back and raised his hands, feeling the full brunt of his emotions for the first time. ‘Do you have any idea what it felt like to read that operation file? To find out the truth that way? You should have trusted me!’

Deane lowered his gaze for only a moment but then made eye contact again. ‘I won’t disagree. I should have told you, but the longer we worked together, the harder it became. I never wanted you to find out like that. Never. Our relationship has never been like others, we don’t always need words.’

Olsen raised his eyes to the sky as he snapped back. ‘Your excuse, not mine.’

An awkward silence lingered between them for several seconds until Deane spoke again. ‘This is hard for both of us. We still have a job to do. The British Royal party will be leaving the Sultan’s palace soon. Get yourself ready. The visit to the harbour in Matrah will be within the hour. We’ll both be accompanying them.’ He gave the binoculars to his partner and climbed down the ladder to the flat below.

Olsen shook his head and realised for the first time how hopeless his mentor was when it came to anything personal. With a casual air, he looked through the binoculars and surveyed the surrounding area. As he heard his partner climb down the ladder behind him, Olsen studied the UK Embassy, the nearby market, and the beautiful sky above. He was just about to look away when he caught sight of a road name. Olsen’s heart sank when he saw which one it was. As much as he wanted to look away and focus on the job in hand, he was unable to do so. Through the binoculars, the shiny road sign read ‘Al-Mina Street’, the location his father had perished. A shiver ran through his body and sweat trickled down his face. I have to go there, I have to.

Below, Deane sat at a desk in his small and humid office, with the nearby fan working overtime to cope with the heat. The experienced agent was reading several reports and weeding out any useful information. He folded some papers from his desk and placed them in his pocket, noticing his partner climbing down the ladder. ‘I hope you scanned the Embassy and noted the security procedures.’

Olsen heard the question but had only one thing in his mind; going to the street where his father had died all those years ago.

Deane read the report he was holding again and waited for an answer from his partner. To his surprise, none came as he heard the door to his flat slam shut. He got out of his chair and watched Olsen hail a taxi, which drove away at speed. Deane closed his eyes and dropped the document, knowing exactly where his young charge was heading.

 

Olsen sat back in the taxi and tried to clear his head. Closing his eyes didn’t help as he attempted to stop the nightmare from starting up again. His heart was calling for Rachel but she was miles away and he was on his own.

A call came from the taxi driver and the steep hill of Al-Mina Street presented itself. Olsen tossed a couple of thousand baiza in the driver’s direction and got out of the car. With dark thoughts swirling around his mind, he had been expecting the street to give off a scent of danger, possibly even look threatening in some way. Instead, the road was quiet, peaceful and positively gleaming under the intense sunlight and clear blue sky. Feeling himself shaking all over, he walked slowly down the hill before coming to the alleyway where Geoff Olsen had perished. Gradually, he entered the narrow walkway and studied every part of the alley, in an attempt to picture the scene that had changed his life. A flurry of emotions overcame him as Olsen stood in the middle of the alleyway, almost feeling his father call out to him in some way. Noises from behind made him turn around.

Deane lingered at the entrance to the alleyway, feeling guilty and uncomfortable all at once. He had no idea of what to say or how to say it.

Olsen saw the vulnerable expression on his partners face and for a moment felt like he had intruded on his private moment. He looked away and continued to study his surroundings.

Deane thought about leaving but suddenly felt concern for Operation Safeguard and the timetable of events, feeling that talking about the current operation would push away his own dark feelings about what had happened in the alleyway, an area he had never returned to since that fateful day. ‘The operation we’re on right now is the key here. We should go.’

Olsen ignored him.

Deane continued with his approach. ‘Prince David will need our help. We cannot afford to miss it. Too much is at stake.’ A frown spread across his features as he realised he wasn’t getting through. Deane reluctantly turned to leave without his partner.

Olsen looked back and tried to control the emotion in his voice. ‘Where?’ He gestured with his hands, desperate to know exactly where his father had died.

Deane knew what his partner meant but didn’t want to touch on the subject. ‘Are you coming?’

‘Where did it happen, Tom…the exact spot, just tell me where.’ Olsen’s eyes locked onto his partner’s. ‘I need to know. I have to know.’

One…two…three…Damn it! Ahead, Deane saw an image of his younger self desperately giving CPR to Geoff Olsen and meticulously counting the compressions. He closed his eyes and held back the tears. So many mistakes… ‘There.’ Deane pointed to an area that was now stacked high with boxes.

Olsen nodded solemnly. ‘I guess I should take heart from the fact that Oscar Moas won’t be a threat to anyone else.’

Deane’s mouth went dry as he heard the name of Geoff Olsen’s killer. Oscar Moas had been dead for many years, killed by a C.I.A. operative in Iran just months after Operation ESPY. The very thought of Moas made Deane feel unsettled, it brought a pain to his heart and a sick feeling to his stomach.

Olsen continued to stare at the spot his partner had indicated.

The memories were traumatic and hurtful to Deane, who almost never allowed himself to be vulnerable to emotional pain. Tears welled up in his eyes. ‘I did everything I……….’ Without finishing, he turned around and headed back to the Land Rover parked just metres away.

Olsen watched his partner go. You came so close to opening up, Tom, why won’t you let me in? He turned his attention to the area where his father had died, got down on his knees and said a silent prayer.

Deane sat in the Land Rover and stared blankly at the dashboard, feeling a failure in every sense of the word. Before he could sink any further, he snapped himself out of it and started the engine. To his surprise, the passenger door opened and Olsen got in the car.

Olsen said nothing at first, wound down the window and then looked at his partner, feeling slightly more together. ‘On that day.’ He paused for a moment before continuing. ‘I’m sure you did all you could, but I need to hear your account of what happened.’ He looked across at his partner.

For several moments, Deane was silent and continued to stare ahead at nothing. Then he spoke, in a subdued tone. ‘For years I’ve blamed myself for what happened.’ He reluctantly searched through buried feelings that felt like they were from another lifetime. Early morning sunlight spread across his face, highlighting several lines on his forehead. Each one could have represented the lives he had failed to protect in years gone by. ‘But I did do all that I could for your father. He was my partner. I respected him and trusted him more than any other man.’ His voice almost broke under the emotional strain as he continued. ‘I can’t change what happened, no matter how much I want to. I reasoned with him that we should have stayed together.’ He looked at his young partner with genuine sorrow in his eyes. ‘We were both to blame. Oscar Moas was already well aware of our presence.’

Olsen listened intently as the words began to sink in. It was the first time the subject had really been discussed and as was Olsen armed with the facts, the truth was slowly coming out. He could feel the lump in his throat and the pain in his heart as he wished his father could still be with him. Nevertheless, he needed to hear more. ‘Tom…I know how hard this is. Jesus, this is impossible for both of us but what I need is for you to take me through that day, step by step. I need it Tom. I have to know and you’re the only man who can do that.’

Deane was a stubborn man. In his heart and mind, he knew Olsen was right and it took a lot for him to admit that to himself, let alone another human being. Nevertheless, there was an operation in progress, lives and world events were under threat at that very moment. His professional side surged to the surface and resumed control. ‘You’re right. I should take you through that day.’ He faced his partner and focussed his dark blue eyes with affection on the younger man. ‘We should have done this years ago and for that I’m truly sorry. I give you my word, I will tell you everything about that day.’ He placed a hand on Olsen’s shoulder. ‘When this operation is over. You have to trust me.’

Olsen studied the look from his mentor and could hear the meaning and emotion in Deane’s voice. His focus turned back slightly towards the operation at hand and managed a smile of sorts. ‘We’re heading to the harbour, right?’

Deane nodded and started the engine. He wanted to think about how he would go through that fateful day with Olsen but had no idea of how to start. The lives of the British Royal Party were the priority. He pulled the Land Rover out onto the main street and pushed the fear and guilt away. I don’t care what the circumstances are; it feels good to have Sam by my side again. His tone returned to the usual businesslike approach. ‘I’ll need you to follow my lead when we get there.’

Olsen raised his dark eyebrows. ‘I’ll be ready, you can count on that.’ As the scenery passed by the window, he continued his efforts to absorb the events of the last hour and attempted to focus on the present.

 

Chapter 9

 

Sunday, March 4th 11:30,

Matrah harbour, Oman.

 

Twenty minutes later, Olsen could just make out the edge of the harbour some distance away. Even from his restricted view, it was an impressive sight. He put on his light brown jacket, which covered his Beretta pistol and noticed a quick sideways glance from Deane. ‘How far to Matrah?’ He asked.

Deane was now completely focussed on the work ahead. ‘Not far; we’ll make it before the British Royal party does. By the way, I don’t want you using that unless it’s absolutely necessary.’ Pointing to the location of the younger man’s pistol, now concealed by the jacket. ‘We protect the Prince at all costs. With our own bodies if needs be. I see you still haven’t changed your mind about your choice of weapon?’

Olsen sighed and rubbed the left temple of his forehead. ‘Let’s not go over that again, ok? I’m used to the Beretta and it’s time to focus.’

Deane pointed to the area ahead. ‘The harbour is over there. By the way, I have some bottled water on the back seat if you need it.’

Olsen grabbed one and unscrewed the cap. He drank heavily and knew that feeling thirsty was never a good sign in such hot weather.

The Land Rover passed several gleaming white buildings and some office blocks. The harbour was just beyond some family units. Sunshine appeared to be almost bouncing off the calm waters. Deane slowly brought the car to a stop, turned off the ignition and looked at his non-descript silver watch. ‘They’ll be here soon. When the Royal party arrives, we’ll flank one side each. Understood?’ He looked over with a determined face.

Olsen noted his partner’s stern look. ‘Got it.’

‘It’s my understanding that Prince David will chat to some of the fishermen, take an interest in the site and then return back to the Sultan’s palace. Turn your radio on, I want us to be in constant communication.’ Deane glanced up from his partner at the sight of the British Royal party approaching.

Olsen flicked a switch on the radio, which was connected from his waist to his left ear, stepped out of the car and looked around. The setting was one of beauty that appeared to be lost on Deane, who never took his eyes off the approaching vehicles.

The harbour extended into the distance, with an uneven looking walkway covering most parts. On both sides, pebbles covered the surface that led into the nearby sea. Several young boys of no more than twelve years of age stood bare foot in the sea looking at Olsen and Deane inquisitively. After seconds of intrigue, they returned to pulling in an incoming fisherman’s boat. Buckets were taken from the pebbled shore as they all began to transfer the contents from the boats.

Olsen watched this and mapped out the area in his mind; he took a few steps onto the harbour and noted the locations and directions of the footpaths. Before leaving London, he had read up on Matrah harbour. It had now become one of the leading ports in the Middle East and was adjacent to the capital city of Muscat. Not a single cloud was in the sky and he felt he was gradually adjusting to the heat of Oman. Despite the high temperature, far lower than the average summer temperature of 40C, the humidity was relatively low. He exchanged a look with Deane as both men waited for the Royal party to disembark the cars.

Deane gave a nod to the leading agent who was part of the British Royal Party security contingent and looked over at Olsen. ‘Stay alert!’ He said over the radio.

Olsen gave a discreet nod of the head and flanked the party from the left side, his partner taking the right. He watched the Prince carefully, saw him interact with some of the boys working at the harbour and wondered how much of it was an act, rather than genuine interest. Taking his attention away from the visiting, Prince David he gave a sweeping look around the harbour. Unsurprisingly, large groups of Omanis had gathered in the area, taking a close look at what was probably the first Prince they had ever seen. One by one, Olsen studied each of the men, women, and children carefully; fully aware a security risk could come in any shape or form. A small child of around six or seven years of age attempted to pass him to get closer to the Royal but Olsen placed his large hands in front of him. The child returned to its mother straight away.

As the crowd began to move closer, Olsen spoke quietly to the pack of locals, informing them they would have to stay where they were. ‘Law samaHT, intidherni!’ He gave a nod to the agent who would wait with the locals as Olsen resumed his place on the left side of the Prince. Another sweeping look was given around the harbour side, noticing the looks of joy on all the faces of the men, women and children, especially. At the same time, one man caught his attention. Something in Olsen’s mind was activated as his senses became keenly alert. The individual at the corner of the harbour side walkway seemed familiar to him. Not in a friendly way, he did not know the man but his features sent a warning sign to him. I recognise him…from where? He looked back to see the Prince inspecting a harbour boat and then returned his gaze to the man who had now moved off but had retained his unyielding glare at the British Royal party. Unlike the rest of the locals, there was no sign of joy on this man’s face, only a glare that appeared to be taking in facts and information. Information on the number of agents in the security contingent, perhaps? He thought to himself. Olsen’s mind scrutinised and remembered every detail about him. The target was wearing dark brown trousers, together with a grey shirt. His black hair was in a ponytail, with his dark green eyes still refusing to leave the Prince, in particular.

Deane walked alongside and made sure his partner was still to the left. He looked back at Prince David and stopped a harbour man from getting too close, before resuming his position.

Olsen racked his brain for where he had seen the target before. Despite his best efforts, the face couldn’t be placed. Behind him, the Prince was continuing to look at the harbour boat. Olsen made his decision. His instincts were screaming at him that the target was known and dangerous. He touched the arm of the nearest member of the Royals security personnel. ‘Cover this position. I’ll be back in 1 minute tops.’ Before any protests could be made, Olsen moved away from the party and quickly made his way up a small flight of stairs that led to the harbour side walkway. He kept hold of his light brown jacket, so not to alarm the crowd by revealing his weapon and moved through the locals with the sight of the pony-tailed target some metres ahead. As several families got in his way, Olsen quietly excused himself as they moved. ‘Lo tsimiHun…Lo tsimiHun.’ He called out to the groups. At the end of the walkway, the target was nowhere in sight. Olsen scrutinised every individual nearby. Despite moving back towards the main street, there was still no sign of the target.

Deane looked out to the harbour and could see many boats approaching, all of them visibly containing perishable stock that would end up on the market before the day was out. Deane did a double take as he checked the left side and saw no sign of his partner. He glanced around sharply, taking in every face, every person. Where’s Sam? Why isn’t he following my orders? I can’t protect him unless he listens to me! He continued his search, becoming more concerned with every passing moment.

Olsen returned to his post and relieved the other agent. Straight away, a glare from his partner caught his eye. Over the radio, Deane’s voice could be heard. ‘Stay with the party! Don’t wander off!’ Olsen nodded back at him, choosing to explain his actions when any possibility of a threat had passed. He looked around the area for the last time but could still see no sign of the target that had completely vanished from the crowd. Olsen furrowed his brow, still unable to remember where he had seen that face before.

 

Burton signed the confidential operation sheet, placed it back in the folder and threw it roughly in the direction of his ‘Out’ tray at the far side of his desk. Burton released a heavy sigh, got up and looked out of his window. Once again, another rainy day had presented itself to London. As the window held off another torrent, Burton made a decision to take a long lunch hour and surprise his wife at home. Despite the news that the money was now in his private account, he had yet to feel like a man who had gotten his life and family back from the brink. A sleepless night had not helped matters either. Burton took his faded trench coat off the hook and closed the door to his office. His assistant looked up from her lunch. ‘Just popping out Dawn, going to stop off at home for a while and come back this afternoon, yeah?’

The young woman put down her yoghurt and gave her boss a confused look. ‘You ok, sir? You don’t seem yourself at all. By the way, don’t forget you have that meeting this afternoon. You didn’t forget, did you?’

Burton raised his eyebrows; he had forgotten. To his surprise, it didn’t bother him at all, almost as if it didn’t matter. ‘Yeah, the meeting, right. I’ll be back for that, no problem.’ He noticed the miniscule lunch his assistant had and wondered how she could make it through a day on such small meals. ‘Don’t go bingeing now, Dawn, see you in a bit.’

The assistant broke out in a smile and thanked her lucky stars she had been assigned to the likeable Burton rather than the more formal senior agents.

In the lift, he pressed the button for the basement and leaned against one of the mirrored walls. For the hundredth time, he tried to erase his act of betrayal to the service from his memory. More than anything he wanted to pay off his debts and prove to his wife and son that he wasn’t the failure they had been led to believe. Ever since the schedule of the Royal visit had been sold, however, Burton had been thinking of the consequences that would come very soon. Even though he was still convinced that he’d done the right thing, the guilt had proven to be unbearable. Was it really the only option, or was I just too bone idle to find an alternative? He thought to himself. Burton reached his car, got in and pulled out of the dreary basement. As he moved into second gear, the mobile phone in his chest pocket began to vibrate. He flipped it open with his other hand loosely on the wheel. ‘Yeah, Burton. Who’s this?’

‘It’s Harry. How’s it going, mate? Booked any luxury holidays yet?’

‘Hiya, Harry mate, I’m riddled with debts remember? Listen, thanks again, I owe you one big time. There’s no problem is there?’ He pulled the car into a nearby garage and purchased some flowers for his wife.

‘No…of course not. Something has come up though. If you think that money was something useful then this will blow you away. You ready?’

Burton got back in his car and waited for a gap in the traffic. So far, he didn’t like where the conversation was going. ‘What you are talking about, Harry?’

‘It’s simple. My clients are very interested in you working for them on a more full time basis. You know, just little things here and there, we’re not talking trade secrets, just useful bits of…shall we say confidential information. You get me?’

‘Jesus, Harry, don’t you remember what I said? It was a one off, that’s it. I’m never doing it again, to tell you the truth I’m having second thoughts about it all anyway. Either way, I got the money but it came with a price, I’ll never do it again, believe me!’

Harry’s voice turned vicious in a heartbeat. ‘Don’t you get it, Hal? This was never going to be a one off. If you really believed that then you’re a bigger fool then I thought you were.’

‘What you saying?’ Burton gripped the steering wheel tightly as the stress built up inside him.

‘You don’t say no to these people, Hal! I’ll make it real clear for you. Either you help them again, or I’ll have no choice but to disclose your details to them. No way am I taking the fall for you, mate.’

Burton smashed his free hand on the steering wheel. ‘You son of a bitch, Harry! I won’t be bullied by anyone, least of all you! I’m loyal to my job and my family. If you want to sell me out then go right ahead, you’ll just have to live with it!’ Burton snapped the phone shut and threw it violently away,; several pieces of plastic broke off as they flew around the front seats. ‘Shit!’ He wiped his brow, which was sweating profusely and shook his head. The fact that Harry was willing to sell him out was no surprise. Burton was furious with himself though; clearly, he had misjudged the situation and was now in way over his head. He caught sight of the speedometer and pushed hard on the brake as the turning for his road appeared through the heavy rain. The car swerved in the wet conditions, just missed a neighbour’s car, slowed and then turned into the driveway. Burton moved back and forth, as the vehicle came to a halt. He took the keys out of the ignition and sensed his chest was feeling tighter by the second. Was Harry just bluffing or are his clients going to come after me? Burton thought of the consequences but immediately shook his head, as if to empty them from his mind. He got out of the car and slammed the door shut, forgetting the flowers that were now half in the car and half out. ‘Oh for god’s sake, gimme a break.’ He mumbled to himself, trying to shake some life back into the flowers at the same time.

Kate sat at the dining room table and tried again to write the letter that her husband would find when he returned from work that day. She had toyed with the idea of telling him face to face but genuinely believed she would not be able to carry it through, no doubt deciding to stay with him once again. She looked at her wedding ring on her finger, not entirely sure of her actions. A noise at the door made her look up straight away. To her surprise, her husband appeared at the doorway holding some flowers that looked worse than she felt. ‘Hal! What a lovely surprise, I didn’t expect to see you until later!’

‘Yeah well, it was quiet at the office so I thought I’d come home and surprise my lovely wife! Oh, these are for you, love.’

Kate took the flowers and looked at some of the bulbs that appeared to have been severed from the rest. ‘You shouldn’t have, Hal…they’re lovely, really.’

‘No probs. Listen uh…sit down for a minute.’ He took his wife by the arm as they both sat down, noticing the writing pad on the table. ‘You started writing letters again?’

Kate took the pad and put it away in a nearby drawer. ‘It’s nothing, just sending a letter to my cousin, that’s all.’ She studied her husband more closely. ‘It’s not more bad news, is it?’

‘No! Of course not, I just wanted you to know that I’ve sorted out all our financial probs, that’s all.’

Kate took her hand away from his, wondering what her husband had done to achieve this. ‘Just like that? One minute we’re in the red and on the verge of being kicked out on the streets and then…what…everything is ok now?’

‘Well…yeah. All you need to know is that we’re gonna be ok and things will get better from now on. I promise you I won’t let you and Oscar down again. You do believe me don’t you, Kate?’

Kate looked at her husband and barely recognised the man she married years ago. Whoever sat in front of her now was not the same person. A part of her wanted to scream at him for thinking things could be fixed so easily but then she remembered the letter and felt newfound confidence on what she would write. ‘Of course I believe you, Hal.’ She hugged her husband for the last time, breaking away before he could kiss her. ‘Anyway, lovely to see you but I promised Oscar I’d take him for a lunchtime walk, now that it’s stopped raining. Is that ok?’

Burton smiled back at the wife he loved, feeling assured things with his family were back on track. ‘Sure, I’ll grab myself some lunch here.’ He moved to kiss his wife but she was already walking up the stairs to collect their son. Burton thought nothing of it and released a long sigh of relief.

 

Chapter 10

 

Sunday, March 4th 15:00,

Muscat, Oman.

 

Olsen sat in the Land Rover as they followed the British Royal party away from the harbour. The tension between him and his partner, Deane, had risen to breaking point since the disagreement. The younger agent looked across. ‘Look, we may not agree on everything but I recognised that man and I took a chance. My instinct told me he was a danger.’

Deane didn’t take his eyes off the traffic ahead. ‘So you decided to leave the Prince vulnerable on one side and follow a hunch? When are you going to learn that protocol is the key to this job, you follow the rules and the team you’re protecting will survive!

Olsen interrupted. ‘I don’t need another lecture on protocol!’ Old feelings of frustration surged to the surface as another argument between them began.

Deane looked across with frustration etched on his face. ‘I taught you the rules; you still need to listen to me!’ He gripped the steering wheel harder and continued. ‘Right now it’s your attitude that is at the heart of the problem! You’re reckless!’

Olsen always found accepting other people’s opinions difficult. ‘You have your rules and I have mine! I did what I thought was best, no harm came to the Prince after all.’ He looked away and out of the window, wishing he could leave the car and the argument behind.

‘Don’t you remember what I taught you?’ Deane stopped the car as the traffic slowed and looked across again. ‘Always make sure you know the situation fully before making your move. I agree that you should listen to your instinct but you put the Prince in danger. That was unacceptable!’ He followed the Royal Party of cars into Al Khuwair Street and pulled over before they reached the UK Embassy. ‘As I’m sure you know from the schedule, the Prince is due to dine with Stuart Laing, the UK Ambassador, here. I want you to remain in the car and keep watch over things out here, is that understood?’

Olsen got out of the vehicle and followed his partner. ‘Wait a second; you might need me in inside. At least-’

Deane interrupted as he locked his fiery blue eyes onto his younger charge and made his decision on how to make his point. ‘You’re not with S.U.C.O. yet. If you want to be with me you follow my orders. Now do as I say and wait in the car.’ He flicked a switch on his radio. ‘I’m on channel two.’

Olsen slammed the door to the Land Rover shut and sat down in the passenger seat. He wound down the window, shook his head in disagreement and wondered when his so-called partner would ever treat him with the respect he felt he deserved. Tom still thinks I’m twenty and a junior! Olsen found another bottle of water from under his seat and began to drink heavily, with the Muscat sunshine seemingly sapping his energy with every passing moment.

 

Two hours later, Olsen gave up watching a group of kids at the far corner, deeming them no threat. He was about to return his gaze to the other end of the street when a car appeared in the rear view mirror. A run down Toyota truck slowed down and pulled up not far behind him. Olsen re-positioned the mirror to gain the most effective view. To his surprise, the driver of the truck was the same individual from the harbour that he had lost and failed to remember. Hardly a coincidence, thought Olsen. A second man was also in the truck, who Olsen also didn’t recognise. He thought about contacting Deane on his radio but decided against it, not wanting to hear another patronising comment from his partner. Olsen sat back in the seat and watched carefully.

Jozef moved his ponytail behind him and opened the last remaining button on the collar of his grey shirt. With the window already wound down to the maximum, the heat was beginning to frustrate him. At 41-years-old, the Hungarian Jozef Kiprich was slowly making a name for himself, along with his brother, as terrorists that were capable of any atrocity. As the years had passed, Jozef had become involved with Akira’s movement. Since acquiring the plan of the Royal visit to Oman, he was now hell bent on utilising the information to the full. Nothing less than the death of the Prince and all the people around him would do. He was desperate to see the mighty Europe become less stable with the death of one of its Royals. His dark green eyes left that of the UK Embassy building and focussed on his non-identical twin brother. ‘Is the device ready Gyorgy?’

Gyorgy Kiprich looked up from several papers with a look of concern. ‘Yes, Jozef. Are you sure the Government agent at the harbour didn’t recognise you? We cannot afford any complications.’

‘It’s highly unlikely. The man couldn’t even find me amongst all those people. Even if he does remember me, it will still prove to be too late. He will die along with everyone else. Are you with me?’ Jozef never doubted his brother’s loyalty and passion for their work but recently Gyorgy had made it clear they should both disappear from the limelight for a while instead of following the Royal party to Oman. Akira had intervened and the Kiprich brothers had followed orders.

‘Of course I am with you, Jozef. I just do not want us to take on one operation too many. After Moscow, we should have layed low for a while. Resurfaced at a later time. But Akira-’

Jozef placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder and interrupted. ‘I agree, but Akira does not. We have little choice but to obey him. For now, at least. Do not worry, Gyorgy. When this is done, we will return to Poland and lie low. You are sure the phone is in place with the explosive?’

Gyorgy didn’t like speaking of Akira, who was power personified. None of them knew any background or history when it came to him and that scared Gyorgy the most. He knew his place, and was well aware that the threat from Akira was to not only the Western world but the Kiprich twins as well. He regained his focus and tried to control his fears. ‘I put it there myself. When we reach our flat and the signal is sent to the phone, it will cause the explosives in the boot to detonate. The UK Embassy along with this so-called Prince will be no more. The death of a Royal will de-stabilize Europe.’

Jozef grinned with excitement.

‘When shall we go?’

Jozef turned the key in the ignition as the engine came to life. He turned the car back on the main street and turned right, just passing the UK Embassy. With the car just a few hundred yards away from the embassy and parked outside the Oman museum, he pulled on the handbrake and opened the door.

 

Olsen had watched everything from the Land Rover. For the entire time, he had been desperately attempting to match the face with a name but still wasn’t able to do so. All of his senses, his instincts, all told him the man was a danger to the Royal party and himself. From across the street, the UK Embassy proudly stood not far from its US equivalent. Further down the road was the Oman museum and the Beach Hotel. In between these two buildings, Olsen saw the parked Toyota truck. He closely watched two men get out, not lock the vehicle and walk down the road, away from the nearby embassies. Aside from the car, he noticed the smug attitude that personified the two men. Both were smiling almost uncontrollably as they crossed the street. Olsen stroked his eyebrows as he put his elbow on the doorframe. His dark eyes never moved as the pony-tailed individual began to laugh.

Almost against his will, his mind wandered away from Oman and back to Iraq from eight years earlier. He was just a boy and on his first assignment, with his mentor and friend, Deane, beside him. The two agents had been watching several Iraqi intelligence officers for some time. They had carefully been placing innocent Iraqi’s in areas of weapons storage. If a coalition attacked took place the innocents had no chance. Olsen’s mind remembered his mentor’s chilling words of experience; ‘Terrorists are smug and driven people. To commit murder and believe they won’t be caught breeds arrogance. It’s up to you to spot those traits and stop them.’

Olsen came back to the present, with the sun beating down on Muscat just as much as it had done before. He moved the rear view mirror again as the two suspects turned into a side road and faded from sight. Tapping his fingers on the dashboard, he ran over the situation in his mind. He pulled out his radio from his waist and thought about contacting Deane, who was inside the Embassy where the Prince and the Ambassador were dining together. He wasn’t able to decide whether Deane would lecture him once again or back his instinct. He opened the door but then closed it again in frustration. His partner’s words came into his mind again, this time from only a couple of hours ago as they had both approached the embassy in the car. ‘Always make sure you know the situation fully before making your move!’ He opened the door again; this time he stepped out and began to walk to the car parked near the museum and hotel. The potential consequences continued to circle in his head. Olsen had already made up his mind to disobey orders. That car is a threat to the British Royal party; I’ll inspect it and then search for the two men! He told himself. Before reaching the vehicle, the familiar voice of Deane filtered through his radio.

‘Be advised the Royal party is about to exit the Embassy. Assume your position on the left hand side. Watch and protect!’

 

Jozef looked at the schedule he had acquired from Burton, his source in London and then peered through the binoculars again. The man he recognised from the harbour had stopped walking towards the car and was now just standing in the middle of the quiet road staring at their Toyota truck. Jozef bit his lip and waited for the Government agent to make a move. ‘The Royal party will be coming out in seconds, he won’t even think of going to our vehicle now. These men follow procedures, they never break them.’ A smile broke out over his features. ‘We don’t have procedures.’ He moved his extended vision over to the doors of the UK embassy, which had just opened. Several men in suits appeared, to Jozef obviously security personnel, flanking the Royal Prince.

From the corner of the barren room emerged Akira, who stepped out of the shadows and into the morning sunlight that streamed in through the windows. He wore a sand coloured robe, with a hood that covered his head and obscured his face. Despite the rays of sunshine that lit his presence, his glare seemed to reflect the positive glow as his eyes focussed entirely on the street ahead and the imminent death he had envisioned. Death was all that Akira could see and all that he wanted. His mind, awash with memories and the voice of a long dead wife, cleared slightly as the moment came closer. He moved behind the Kiprich brothers and spoke in a commanding tone to Jozef. ‘Contact your men on the street. Inform them to move against Agent Deane first; make sure that is abundantly clear.’ He spat out the words with so much anger, no-one could doubt how he felt.

That didn’t stop Jozef from questioning the order. ‘What about the Prince? That is our goal, our priority.’

‘Your goal doesn’t interest me in the slightest. If the Prince dies then so be it; my priority is Deane. See to it.’

‘Exactly why are we focussing on a Government Agent and not a Prince of the British Royal family? This Deane is just another one of their men.’ He stared at Akira with disbelief. ‘We agreed to target the Prince, which was the point of this whole assassination!’

Akira took a step closer, enough for Jozef to recoil slightly. ‘Just another Agent…..you really have no idea what you’re talking about. I have no interest in the Prince or anyone else for that matter. I simply want to see Thomas Deane’s dead body lying down there in the middle of the street in a pool of blood. I crave it…I need it.’ His eyes were on fire with rage, enough to make Jozef sweat with fear. ‘Until that happens, you need to remind yourself of your importance to me and acknowledge that it is you that is replaceable.’

Jozef stood there and broke away from Akira’s gaze of death. Not for one moment did he consider questioning why, though deep down inside he was fascinated as to why this Deane was so important. He gave a nod to his brother, who began to speak into a nearby radio.

Akira leaned forward and waited for the moment, his eyes burning with intensity.

 

Olsen reluctantly turned away from the car and began to jog towards the security contingent, taking his place on the left hand side of the Royal party. He gave a sweeping look around but his attention was still fully focused on the vehicle that appeared to have been abandoned in such a high profile area. He jumped up straight away as bullet fire rained onto the area in a torrent of noise. An MI6 agent in the lead position began to call out instructions to the rest of the team but clasped at his chest in pain as the attack continued. The radio in Olsen’s ear filled with Deane’s voice calmly issuing orders. He struggled to maintain his concentration but immediately, his training took over. Feeling the cold metal of his Beretta 92G Elite II in his right hand, he returned fire for the first time. One attacker cried out in pain as the bullet scored a direct hit. Olsen assessed the threat quickly and counted twelve attackers, six on each side of the party. With a security contingent of eight, they were outnumbered.

Deane’s voice came over the radio, sounding more agitated. ‘Stay with the Prince at all times. Cover him back to the Embassy. Move!’

Olsen heard the command but had already made up his mind. He fired several more shots, some of which found their targets. The vehicle could be seen just ahead of him as he sprinted away from the Royal party and headed straight towards the Toyota truck, firing as he moved.

Deane’s voice, for the first time full of emotion, came over the radio. ‘Sam! Stay where you are. Repeat! Do not deviate from your position!’

The image of the smug looking men walking away from the car wouldn’t leave Olsen’s mind and he was now convinced the attack was all part of a greater plan. Upon reaching the truck, he crouched down and used it as cover. Several shots fired from his Beretta took down the remaining attackers on his side. Occasional bullets caused sparks to fly as they hit the truck but Olsen had given himself time to take a gamble. He ducked instinctively as another shot came too close for comfort, flipped open his Samsung Galaxy S3 mobile phone and quickly tapped several keys. Menu screens flashed past at lightning speed on the display. The phone was set to scramble as Olsen’s experience dictated his actions. It was placed on the driver’s seat as he ducked again, this time choosing to return fire before inspecting the contents of the vehicle. With the phone in place, Olsen knew it would interfere with any signals sent to the area.

Jozef turned around to his brother and shouted at full voice as another two of his men perished under fire. ‘Try it again!!!’ As the truck still refused to detonate, Jozef rushed over and took the activator. He pressed the appropriate buttons again but the display informed him of the signal failing to reach its target. Looking through the binoculars, he saw the dark haired Government agent at the driver’s door and screwed his face up in a look of pure rage. ‘Keep trying Gyorgy, keep trying!!!’ Jozef looked frantic as he checked the detonation device several times, baffled as to why his plan was failing.

Akira moved to the side of the window and studied the fearsome faces of the Kiprich twins. As he gazed outwards to the chaotic gun battle below, he focused on Agent Deane and his young partner who was now by the truck and firing from a crouched position. ‘The detonator?’ He asked quietly.

Jozef tried the device again but still failed to see the truck explode.

Akira gritted his teeth and adjusted his robe. Once again Deane was proving his worth to the West and still he would not lie down and die. He could hear Madeline giving him more ideas and encouragement but at that moment even her sweet voice couldn’t stem his disappointment. ‘Keep trying. Get down there yourself and kill that man if you have to. I will meet you at our agreed location.’ He locked his eyes on the two men ahead of him. ‘Do not be late.’ With that, Akira made his way to the door and was already on his way to the Trucial Coast. One day he would see his wish come true, it would just take more time and more meticulous planning.

Chapter 11

 

Sunday, March 4th 18:30,

Muscat, Oman.

 

Olsen dropped to the road surface and continued firing at the remaining attackers at the far end of the street. Throughout the havoc, he had only just noticed that all the locals had fled the scene and three of the Royal party’s security contingent had been killed during the surprise attack. As he got up, he lifted the boot of the vehicle, revealing a complex display of wires leading to what was unmistakably a large amount of plastic explosive. Olsen shook his head as he realised the only reason he hadn’t been blown to pieces together with the rest of the street was because of his gamble and the scrambled phone. Despite his victory, he knew all too well that the car was still a massive target. Any reckless gunfire might trigger the detonation mechanism. He shut the boot and moved round to the side of the truck as the rear window smashed under another attack.

Two more Government agents could be seen to have perished under fire as Olsen screamed into his radio. ‘Tom! We have to protect this vehicle at all costs! It’s red hot with explosives, liable to blow unless we take care of these attackers! Do you copy?’

Deane, who had tucked himself neatly behind the stone wall of the embassy for cover, changed the magazine of his Spitfire pistol and continued firing. With the Prince now safely back inside the Embassy, his goal was to deal with the remaining danger quickly. His partner’s voice came over the radio. Deane took cover again and looked back, seeing his friend in trouble as he knelt down next to the truck. ‘On my way! Just hold on!’ Deane jumped over the wall and rushed to his partner’s aide, firing backwards as he went. As he reached the truck, they exchanged a look. Any troubles, conflicts or differences of opinion were forgotten as the two stood shoulder to shoulder. United in their attack, both agents fired their weapons and engaged the remaining attackers as the rest retreated towards the town. As the last target fell, Deane attempted to gain control of his breathing and his composure.

Near the truck, one of the attackers was lying on the road with serious injuries; he would not survive the day. Olsen ran to him and had virtually no control of his temper, which came surging to the surface. He dragged him closer to the vehicle, despite his serious injuries, and lifted him up, holding onto both sides of his shirt. ‘Who sent you?! Answer me!’ He screamed.

The terrorist didn’t answer, just smiled at his attacker. As he gave his last breath, he murmured several words. ‘Trucial coast….trucial coast.’

Olsen dropped the body to the floor and looked back from the truck at the bodies of the lost agents, in confusion over what he had just been told. ‘What’s Trucial coast?’

Deane had watched the scene from nearby and felt concern for his young partner’s temperament. I thought he would lose that temper with time… Putting the thought aside, he addressed Olsen. ‘Trucial Coast is an old term for United Arab Emirates. We’ll deal with that later.’ His blue eyes locked onto his partner. ‘You want to tell me why this truck was so important to you?’

Olsen looked around one more time, put away his firearm and raised the bonnet of the boot, revealing the complex explosive device. ‘I didn’t really have a choice.’

Deane’s hands were on his hips as he shook his head, wondering not only about his partner’s temperament but also why neither he nor his close contact Saheed had detected any of these events. ‘You didn’t know that was there! You took a thoughtless gamble and left the Prince vulnerable. He could be dead now if it wasn’t for the other agents; some of whom paid with their lives, I might add!’

‘You really want to know? It was you, Tom. You always taught me to be 100% sure of what I was getting myself into and believe it or not, I was. From what I saw, I knew this truck was a danger and I had no choice but to leave the party and get over here. You would have done the same, don’t tell me-’

Deane raised his hands in protest. ‘No! The outcome would be the same but I wouldn’t have left the Prince vulnerable. You took a huge gamble. This truck could have been no threat and those agents would be dead for nothing.’ Deane stepped closer to his partner. ‘You’re lucky this device will cover your actions! You never learnt that from me!’

 

Jozef swore in Hungarian and tried to detonate the explosives one more time. Despite his efforts, the beautiful explosion he was so desperate to see didn’t come. The frustration boiled over inside him as he threw the device at the wall. Breathing hard, he looked at his brother. ‘Get everything together. We are leaving. Now!’

Gyorgy looked out the nearby window and could still see some of his men running through the town, with MI6 agents in pursuit. ‘What about our men down there? We can’t just leave them; if we are to continue our work we will need-’

Jozef made his way to the door, picking up several bags on the way. ‘Forget about them! We don’t have time to wait, our car is downstairs.’

Gyorgy was still not convinced. ‘But Akira told us to-’

‘We leave this minute. I will deal with Akira!’

Both men picked up the small amounts of luggage and equipment they had and rushed down the stairs to the waiting car below. Jozef refused to allow himself time to think about the failure and focussed on both men’s escape route through the nearby United Arab Emirates.

 

Deane turned around as sirens caught his attention; several police cars mounted the pavement and began to cover the entire area. Ambulances could be seen approaching from the distance. He could see the officers getting out of their vehicles but, before tackling them, he looked back to his partner. Instead of his friend, only the truck was behind him. Olsen was nowhere in sight.

Olsen sprinted as fast as he could, willing himself on to reach the ringleaders in time. Just seconds ago, he had spotted the two men leaving a small block of flats some distance away from where the attack had taken place. The two leaders; they have to be! He jumped over several bodies and spotted his mentors Land Rover. Olsen gritted his teeth as he saw his partner’s vehicle penned in by the arriving police cars. As he neared closer, one Police car pulled over and a gaunt looking officer got out, speaking in fluent Arabic. Olsen summed up the situation quickly, tossed the officer out of the way and got into the car. With the engine still running, he floored the accelerator and spun 180 degrees as he spotted the lead men getting into a vehicle not far ahead.

Deane saw his partner in the driver’s seat of the police car and started to run towards the vehicle. ‘Sam!!! Get out of there now! Sam!’

Olsen saw his partner in the rear-view mirror but made his decision and mounted the pavement to avoid the final police car that was in his way. He fiddled with the siren controls and couldn’t suppress a grin as it came to life above him. The Toyota Corrolla was pushed to its limits as he swerved the car around a tight corner.

Jozef heard the sirens and looked back quickly. To his amazement, a smashed in police car was in pursuit! Jozef screamed at his brother to push the ageing white Mercedes harder as he loaded his pistol. Winding down the window, he leaned out for a moment and fired off the six shots from his Heckler and Koch 9mm pistol. Though with all the movement, he was unable to find his target.

Olsen adjusted his vision so not to look at the bullet holes in the windscreen and floored the accelerator. The two-litre engine cried out as he urged the vehicle on, catching up with the white Mercedes. In the small amount of spare time Olsen had for hobbies, he was an expert on cars. The classic 1970’s Mercedes model caught his eye as it sped around a corner ahead. Olsen knew all too well the Toyota Corolla police car would prove no match for the tank-like build of the Mercedes, which was likely to cut through the Toyota like tin foil. I have to force it off the road! Olsen loosely fired off the remaining bullets from his Beretta and watched in delight as the back window of the Mercedes relented under fire and smashed into tiny pieces.

Jozef raised his hands to his face as the glass sprayed around him. He looked around in time to see the driver of the police car take aim with a silver pistol.

Olsen pulled the trigger twice but only one bullet came from the chamber. He swore to himself as he watched his shot impact the front window. Olsen cursed again, dropped the Beretta to the floor and manoeuvred the police car to one side. Once in position, he smashed the car into the left side of the white Mercedes and did his best to force them off the road.

Jozef gripped what he could as the Mercedes buckled under the constant collisions. He locked his eyes with the driver of the police car. Jozef raised his eyebrows in shock as he realised that, instead of an Omani Police officer, it was the MI6 agent from the harbour and the recent attack that was trying to stop them. He saw an opening coming up ahead and screamed at his brother to take the turn.

Gyorgy turned the car violently to the right as the Mercedes smashed its way through the picnic area just off Al Qurm Heights Road. Several bodies flashed over the car bonnet amidst the screams and shouts of the innocent Omanis nearby.

Olsen gritted his teeth, slowed down and followed the terrorists through the Picnic area. Smoke was billowing from the Toyota’s engine but Olsen changed into fourth gear and hoped it wouldn’t give way.

Jozef looked back and screamed again as he saw the police car still in pursuit. He grabbed the Heckler and Koch MP5 rifle from the backseat and loaded the weapon. Without hesitation, he fired off 30 shots in just ten seconds, spraying the police car’s windscreen with a flurry of bullets.

Olsen ducked down behind the steering wheel, took his foot off the accelerator and prayed for some luck. The noise was deafening. Bullets blasted the windscreen repeatedly. Most penetrated the window and ripped through the front seats. When the attack ceased, he raised his head and found it impossible to see through the damaged glass. As he forced the Toyota to accelerate one more time he smashed his fist into the remains of the window and forced enough away so he could carry on for one more attack.

 

Burton turned the steering wheel of his car and pulled into the driveway. Another day at MI6 was over. He locked the vehicle and approached the door, fumbling for the right key. As it swung open, his gruff voice called out to his wife, loud enough for her to hear but not enough for his son to be woken up. ‘Kate???’ All the lights in the house were off. Burton paused and waited for a noise from upstairs.

Silence.

Burton flicked the light switch and saw a letter that was stuck on the kitchen door. He felt puzzled initially, not knowing what it could be. ‘Maybe Kate’s gone off to see her sister…’ He mumbled. As he ripped open the envelope, something fell to the ground, but he chose to read the letter first. For a moment, he read the words, but the information didn’t sink in, only patches. He started to repeat the words aloud, feeling numb with shock. ‘Oh god….oh god, no…no trust? Better for all of us?’ His eyes looked past the letter and there, on the wooden floor, was the wedding ring he had so carefully chosen all those years ago, for the woman he loved. Burton picked it up and held it, his eyes welling up at the thought of what had happened. One word came into his head straight away. OSCAR! Burton sprinted up the stairs faster than his frame would appear to allow and smashed into the young boy’s room. The cot was there but 15-month-old Oscar was nowhere to be seen. He cried out in pain as he slumped against the cot, dropping the letter and ring in the process. His mind processed the information; his wife and son were gone. Burton stared out into space, totally broken at the loss of his family. He closed his eyes and began to cry, sobbing hard. His entire body was wracked with guilt, despair and a lasting urge to turn the clock back and redeem himself.

 

Olsen followed the Mercedes into Fahud Street and just missed a young Omani family on pushbikes. By now, the siren’s had long since been silenced by another rifle attack. The engine was continuously crying out for relief but Olsen was relentless in his attack. He was not stopping until those in the car were either dead or in custody. ‘Come on, come on!’ he shouted, as several more emergency lights lit up on the dashboard display in front of him. He urged the Toyota on once more and smashed the bonnet into the back of the car ahead. He followed the target down another winding road and crushed the police car straight into the back of the tank-like Mercedes once more.

Jozef shouted in frustration as he knocked his head on the dashboard following another collision. He grabbed his rifle and turned around in his seat. The bullets blasted out of the weapon in a high-pitched scream as Jozef tried again to neutralize the attacker. ‘I’ll kill you!’ he hissed.

Olsen saw the attack quickly this time and lowered himself down once again, to avoid it. In one last desperate move, he pushed his right foot down on the accelerator as hard as he could and felt the car surge forwards. One last try! The rifle attack ceased, Olsen looked up as his car hit the back of the Mercedes again. This time, he had no time to react as he caught sight of the rifle as it sprayed his tires.

Jozef smiled to himself as he continued to fire, seeing the rubber tires blown to pieces as the police car swerved around and lost control.

Olsen struggled at the wheel but couldn’t control the car. The sound of squealing tires and scraping metal could be heard all around him as the car swerved again and smashed into the side of the nearby Maydan Al Fath Stadium. Olsen heard the shouts from several Omani people who were trying to help. ‘Get away from here, move, move!’ Olsen knew what was to come and locked his fiery glare onto the white Mercedes that had stopped just ahead of him. He counted in his mind as he struggled to escape the wrecked car.

 

Three…

Olsen smashed his right foot into the door that wouldn’t budge. ‘COME…ON!’ Again, he kicked the door hard and could hear it begin to give way.

 

Two…

Jozef snapped another magazine into his rifle, took aim and fired several shots at the petrol tank of the police car, the bullets screaming out of the chamber as they surged towards its target.

 

One…

Olsen heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire and threw himself out of the vehicle as best he could. The bullets pierced the petrol tank of the wrecked Toyota and the resultant sparks caused the explosion that erupted just inches away from him. Olsen smashed into the pavement and several other Omanis. Amid the frightened screams and burning wreckage, he looked up and saw the damaged Mercedes speed away from the scene.

Chapter 12

 

Sunday, March 4th 21:15,

Muscat, Oman.

 

Three hours later, Deane unlocked the door to his flat and heard several footsteps from the floor above. He walked upstairs, knowing all too well who it was. ‘I thought you would be long gone by now.’ A long silence lingered between the two men as the evening shadows streamed across the cramped room.

Olsen picked up his hand luggage and placed the bag on his shoulder. He locked eyes with his mentor and felt on edge. ‘I’m booked on the next flight out of here. I’ll be accompanying the Royal party back to London. I just didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye…or having our discussion.’ A shiver of fear slowly made its way down Olsen’s spine, for a moment he wondered whether Deane would break his promise because of his actions.

Deane sat down in the nearest chair and pushed aside what he was about to say about the car chase and other events outside the Embassy. For the first time in over a decade, he allowed himself to drift back to that fateful day in Oman but his heart resisted somewhat, knowing what an ordeal it would be. ‘Sit down, Sam, and I’ll tell you everything.’

Olsen did as he was told, waiting patiently.

Deane fiddled with a scar on his right hand as he tried to begin. The memories bubbled away in his mind. Old feelings resurfaced, together with the pain of losing his partner and mentor. His voice was shaky at first. ‘As you know, Geoff and I were here for Operation ESPY. It was a messy affair but one we thought we were on top of…’

 

June 26th thirteen years ago, Muscat, Oman.

 

Calm sea breezes blew through Deane’s fine, black hair as he turned a corner and rejoined the pavement in central Muscat.

On first impression, he appeared to be a quiet and relaxed visitor to the country who wore a white disdasha. Other Omanis passed him by, without so much as a second look. The reality was somewhat different. Having been an MI6 agent for many years, he had experienced more at 30 years of age than most would in a lifetime. His official file at MI6 headquarters read; ‘A highly skilled and capable agent with expertise in undercover work, hand to hand combat, surveillance and reconnaissance.’ Truth be told, Deane thought of himself as an expert in every field. In his mind, aside from his partner Geoff Olsen, he had no equal.

Deane was acutely aware of his surroundings. His memory was sharp and despite walking along the relatively quiet Al-Bahri Road with his head down most of the time, he could inform a stranger of any parked cars nearby, together with useful descriptions of the nearest people. His walking pace quickened at the sight of the run down car in a side street ahead. As he turned a corner, a small child called out in Arabic whilst grinning innocently. Deane was fluent in Arabic and understood the question, but was focussed on the job in hand and continued towards the vehicle. As he reached the passenger door, Deane gave an innocent looking sweep of the area with his cold and emotionless eyes, making sure nothing was out of place. Feeling at ease, he got in and exchanged a look with his friend.

Geoff Olsen looked to his left and read the expression on his partner’s face so well. Straight away, he turned the ignition key and the ageing Toyota car roared into life. ‘Don’t tell me you lost him?’

Deane shifted in his seat as he wound down the window. A faint smile spread across his features. ‘Don’t worry; our targets are still at the Al-Nahda Hotel. Are we all set?’

Geoff turned the car onto the main road, passing several Omanis on pushbikes. The older agent was dressed more traditionally, looking more like a genuine visitor with his light blue shirt and sand coloured trousers. Geoff had always been happy to leave the undercover work to his partner of 10 years. ‘Did you see them?’

‘They entered the hotel together after hiring a private taxi. They must be making the drop sometime today.’ He said sternly.

Operation ESPY had been a long, drawn out process. Tracking intelligence leaks was never easy. The experienced partnership of Olsen and Deane had once again proved their worth. After locating a former agency ally in Stratford, London as the initial suspect, the two men had tracked down the buyers of the intelligence data to Muscat, Oman. It was likely the two men would sell the data to another faction for a large sum of money.

Geoff Olsen slotted the car into third gear and focussed his mind on the events that would soon be upon him. At 45 years old, he had seen the world, served his country and more importantly, lived through it. Despite his love of the job, Geoff felt confident that his partner was more than capable of taking on the role of OMA1, the MI6 codename for their agent stationed in Oman. He ran his hand through his thick, greying hair and felt the adrenaline rush reach every corner of his body. I’m going to miss this feeling, he told himself. Still, he was well aware that his wife and teenage son back home in London needed his presence more than Deane or MI6 did. That alone assured him that it was time to move on.

The car drove through the quiet streets and moved onto the slightly busier Mutrah Corniche. Several Omanis could be seen casually walking along the road that was set close to the water’s edge. The evening sunshine streamed across the walkers and the beautiful Portuguese-influenced whitewashed houses. Decorative balconies and facades could not be missed. The sight of the bare, rugged hills in the background made the houses stand out like lightning on a stormy night.

Geoff steered the car through the stunning sight as the hazy evening sunshine flowed through the windscreen. The beautiful surroundings didn’t distract him as he continued to focus on the journey and his mindset. He glanced over to his partner, who was looking blankly out of the window. The silence didn’t bother Geoff, who had always pegged Deane as the quiet, moody type. Several times, he had trusted the young man with his life and would do so again without hesitation.

The car weaved in and out of the taxis parked at the stand, passing a small souvenir shop before stopping in a side street, not far from the Al-Nahda Hotel.

Geoff switched off the ignition and looked out. ‘Strange how this hotel is cut off from the rest; perfect location for them.’ He reached for a file and glanced at the information, reading all about Oscar Moas, the Syrian national who would be all set to sell his acquired intelligence reports.

‘Here we go.’ said Deane quietly, leaning forward in the passenger seat.

The run-down hotel sat alone on the corner of the street, several hundred yards from the busier areas. Two men appeared at the entrance, both holding a package.

Geoff watched carefully from behind the wheel of the car. ‘There he is again. That must be his partner. Did we get a rundown on him?’

Deane fumbled through some papers and read through the accomplice’s vital details. He looked up and watched the two targets talking to each other, taking note of the body language between the pair. ‘You can tell Moas is the one in charge. Wait…they’re splitting up.’ Deane looked over sharply to his partner, the senior agent.

Geoff ran a hand through his hair and thought for a moment. ‘We don’t have a choice. They could both have some of the data we need to recover.’ He locked eyes with his partner. ‘You take the accomplice. I’ll take Moas.’

Deane looked at the targets that were moving off in opposite directions and then back to his partner. ‘Moas is the key. We get him and the data is ours. I say we both stay on Moas.’

Geoff took the car keys from the ignition and opened the car door. ‘This is my call. Protocol dictates that we split up if it’s necessary.’ He saw his partner begin to object again, speaking with a more forceful tone of voice. ‘Don’t take any risks. We’ll meet back here in one hour.’ With that, Geoff set off after Oscar Moas.

Deane watched him go and looked away in disagreement. Slowly, he gave a sweeping look at his surroundings and set off in the direction of the accomplice. Several minutes passed as he kept the small individual in sight; passing numerous houses. Deane stopped and saw his target walk down a crowded alleyway, which led to the fish market. He followed, keeping a respectable distance and watched the target merge with the crowds. The strong smell of all types of fish swept over him, as the hustle and bustle of the market came into view. For an instant, Deane lost sight of his target. Despite the development, he didn’t panic but continued his slow movement through the market. His steely looking eyes locked onto the suspect who was standing by the side of a fish stall at the far end. Relief came over him, though it quickly changed to dread as the target stepped out from the stall and looked straight at him. Deane didn’t flinch as he held a casual stare for a second before looking away. When his gaze returned to the location, the target could be seen jogging down the road to a waiting car. Deane cursed himself in Arabic for not spotting the vehicle before and set off at a sprint, in pursuit. He tried desperately to make his way through the busy crowds in time but watched in vain as the car sped off. Looking around frantically for a taxi, the street appeared to quieten down almost immediately. Deane closed his eyes, angry with himself at the failure then focussed his mind on his partner. Did they want to split us up? Without wasting another second on the accomplice, he turned on his heels and began to sprint back towards the Al-Nahda Hotel, convinced his partner was in serious danger.

Geoff Olsen watched Oscar Moas linger on the corner of Al-Mina Street from his position outside the Mina Hotel. If this guy’s on his way to a meeting, he’s not in any hurry. He gave the surrounding area another check before setting off in the same direction. On the corner of Al-Mina Street, he just caught sight of his target move off down an alleyway. Warning signals went off in his mind as he sensed Moas was now aware of his presence. Despite the alarm, he still felt in control as he walked slowly down the steep road before coming to the corner of the alleyway. He studied every part of the quiet street before peering around the edge of the wall. The alleyway was narrow and deserted, serving as the back entrances of the souvenir shops and Post Office. No witnesses, he thought to himself. Geoff summed up the risks and thought about waiting for Deane, but he decided to make his move. We need this intelligence data. I can’t let him go. Confident in his decision, he set off down the narrow side street and quickly caught up Oscar Moas, who now appeared to be deliberately walking at a slower pace. Geoff felt for the Fairbarn Sykes knife, his lucky charm, which was strapped to his back. Attracting attention was the last thing he needed; the recovery of the intelligence data was all that mattered.

On Al-Mina Street, behind Geoff Olsen, a taxi coasted to a stop. Oscar Moas’s accomplice got out and silently closed the door. Two other men did the same from the other side. The accomplice gave a nod to his colleagues and led them down the alleyway, closing in on the threat they had been waiting for.

 

Minutes passed as Deane rushed through the crowds, eventually finding himself back at the Al-Nahda Hotel. The sun felt hotter to him than it had done just an hour before, beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. As he checked the area carefully, Deane tried to recover from his sprint and felt his heart miss a beat at the sight of the empty Toyota car to his left. He gritted his teeth and felt even more on edge as he wondered where his target was. Wasting no time, he rushed down the street and continued to look in all directions, desperate to see a sign or a clue. Experience told him to return to the hotel and wait but something inside made him walk on further. The Mina Hotel passed him by, looking as deserted as it had done before. Deane looked around again and was just about to give up hope and turn back to the car, when a woman’s scream shattered the relaxed setting. Without waiting to see what the cause was, he sprinted off in the direction of the noise, rushing down the steep hill of Al-Mina Street. Ahead of him, other Omanis were gathering, some running down an alleyway to the left. Deane did the same and almost fell to the dusty floor in shock. There ahead of him was Geoff Olsen, lying motionless in a pool of blood. On first sight, it looked like Geoff had been stabbed in the neck and lower abdomen.

Deane lost all colour in his face. His mouth was open, his eyes wide with disbelief. The scene ahead of him was unthinkable; never had he imagined his partner and best friend as fallible. A young Omani woman was sitting beside the body of Geoff Olsen, screaming out for help in Arabic. Still Deane stood on the sidelines. His body shuddered under the weight of the emotions that were rushing through his system. I should have insisted…made him realise we shouldn’t have split up. Deane pushed his way violently through the crowd and rushed over to his partner. Forcing himself not to analyse the stab wounds, he assessed the situation quickly, looked for vital signs and set about giving Geoff Olsen Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Gently, he tilted the head back and checked the airway. Switching onto autopilot as he desperately tried not to look into his friend’s lifeless eyes, Deane pinched the nose closed and gave two rescue breaths. With no signs of circulation, he locked his hands together in the correct formation and placed the heel of his right hand over his partner’s lower ribs. ‘One…two…three…’ Deane continued his compressions, as tears ran down his face. After the first two breaths of mouth-to-mouth ventilation, his friend gave no response. The Omani woman in front of him mumbled in Arabic but Deane was not giving up. He brushed his tears away and tried again, refusing to listen to the voice in his head that was telling him it was his fault…

 

 

Silence was all there was between the two men. Minutes passed and nothing was said. Deane spoke first. ‘Let me give you a ride to the airport.’ His voice was slow and full of emotion.

Olsen didn’t respond immediately. To hear the true events, in such detail, after all these years was a traumatic experience. But at the same time, there was calmness inside his heart. As if the nightmare and desperate feeling of wanting the truth were finally starting the process of never coming back. He spoke so quietly, it could almost be classed as a whisper. ‘It’s fine, I’ll get a taxi.’ He rose to his feet and picked up his luggage.

Deane stood at the door and raised his right hand. His normal presence as the senior agent had seemingly returned. ‘Don’t think for a moment we’re finished here. I’ve spent the last hour or so smoothing things over with the authorities. You stole a police car and almost wrecked the town for god’s sake.’

Olsen said nothing and didn’t regret his actions.

Deane watched his headstrong partner and still was at a loss as to where the reckless streak in him came from. ‘I’ve contacted our agent in the UAE; no doubt she’ll be on the lookout for those men.’ He sighed and shook his head. The one thing he didn’t want on their last operation together was to end on an argument. He had so much to say and struggled to start. ‘Look…uh…outside the embassy, you did well today, you hear me? I still don’t agree with your methods but you were right to go for that truck; your instincts are…well-tuned.’ Deane wanted to touch on the subject of his young partner’s violent temper but forced himself not to. Somehow, with words he couldn’t muster, he so wanted to say how much he loved him but just couldn’t start.

Olsen said nothing and merely watched his mentor. This was their last operation together, as Olsen was moving to become team leader of S.U.C.O.

Deane knew the partnership was in its final moments and was willing to do anything to prevent it. He swallowed and ran a hand over his face. The time he had spent with Olsen in Oman had been traumatic but at the same time worthwhile. The Prince was still alive, an attack had been thwarted, and despite the end drawing near, at least the air had been cleared between them. ‘If you’re sure this is what you want.’

Olsen was still trying to come to terms with what he had been told about his father. But that was all in the past now. There was no denying that he regarded Deane as his father figure and mentor in the present and that he loved him with all his heart, but he needed to prove himself and stand alone. That burning desire never faded.

The silence gave Deane his answer. His eyes failed to focus on his young partner, who he would always refer to as his son. ‘Promise me…promise me you won’t leave the service?’ His voice was soft and touched with sadness.

Olsen could feel the emotion welling up in his throat and wondered whether he had picked up a hint of failure in his friend’s tone of voice. Deane had saved his life on numerous occasions, had trained him to be an effective Government agent and, more than anything, instilled in him the cause to fight on behalf of his country. ‘I’ll contact you, Tom.’

Deane remained in the doorway, continuing to look away. ‘Just be careful…….Sam…’

Olsen gave his long-time partner an emotion filled hug and quickly walked down the stairs to the street below, not wanting to stay another moment in case he changed his mind.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Thursday, March 8th 08:00,

Moscow, Russia.

Icy winds passed right through Akira despite the several layers of thick clothing he was wearing. Beneath them, his silver locket bounded around his neck and at times touched the chest that housed his black heart. The locket, with its delicate markings and polished silver, was a solitary link to a man long gone, to a heart that was no longer capable of anything other than savage destruction.

Moscow in February was always well below freezing but the weather was just a distraction. His quest for global change was now moving into its final stages of preparation. The failure in Oman had bothered him greatly but compared to the changes he was hell bent on making, it was small in comparison. Low key attacks served their purpose but for real change, he knew all too well that he would need a super power on his side; a country that when merged with his allies, could not only stand equal with the West but be strong enough to topple it.

Akira had waited in the wings for many years. Finally, just as Madeline had told him, the opportunity had arisen. The Russian elections were around 4 months away, and now was the time to begin making moves for change.

By now, several Middle-Eastern countries were under his control, enough to have already caused the deaths of hundreds, including many of the West’s protectors; MI6, French, German, Canadian, C.I.A. or even F.B.I. agents. In his mind and his heart, he could hardly contain himself. His plan to have his long time friend and ally, Mikhail Salenko, elected as the next President of Russia made him realise that he had come so far but there was still much to be done. In time, agents would come from the West, in their droves possibly, in an attempt to dissolve the threat and have Salenko terminated, but he would do everything to stop them, even if it meant giving his own life to the cause. There was simply no one that could challenge him. All of it was for Madeline, to ensure once and for all that the corrupted West would cease its constant policies and be dissolved. Madeline can’t have died for nothing.

Akira turned a corner, saw more heavy snow falling from the sky and noted the impressive sight of Trinity Gate Tower ahead of him; a huge structure that was the entrance to the Moscow Kremlin. It stood tall, with its blood like colour and impressive features standing out so clearly in the dismal weather. He wondered when the day would come when he would have the power of Russia at his fingertips. The political influence infected him, as did the stronghold of power that emanated from the impressive sight the Kremlin gave.

Underneath the Trinity Gate Tower, floods of tourists and locals passed him by. None of them gave him a second look as he was dressed in a heavy black jacket, black boots and a thick hat to keep out the cold. At the far corner, he spotted his trusted ally. Rushing over, the two men gave each other a warm hug, each knowing the importance of their first meeting for months. Akira had been co-ordinating Salenko’s election campaign from the East but knew it was time he should be in Moscow in person. He spoke with a faint smile, feeling supremely confident that the man in front of him would help change the destiny of the planet forever. ‘Greetings, Mikhail. This is the start of our journey together.’

 

S.U.C.O. team leader Olsen cleared some files from his chair and sat down at the nearest terminal in Operations Command. He could hear the usual sounds of computers, printers and technicians rushing around. Olsen scanned the key areas of an operation report sheet and found that MI6’s agent in The United Arab Emirates had found no trace of the Kiprich brothers. The Royal party had returned home and terrorism had dominated all newspaper and TV reports on a daily basis. He put the sheet down and thought about contacting Deane, who was still in Oman. Olsen hadn’t spoken to him since the previous Thursday and felt unhappy about how they had parted. With the operation now behind him, he was slowly starting to come to terms with all the emotion and hoped that in the days to come he would be able to look forward.

Despite his relationship with Deane in an unstable position, he knew it would improve. A new voice had joined his thoughts, one that constantly reminded him that what happened in Oman all those years ago had been a tragedy and that he had been very lucky to have had Deane guiding him ever since. Olsen was now starting to accept it.

A copy of The Times hit his shoulder and landed on the desk. Olsen looked up to see one of his S.U.C.O. agents, Dan Carter, taking off his dark blue jacket nearby.

‘No sleeping on the job, Sam.’ Carter slapped a large hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘I’m glad you’re all right. Heard what happened in Oman, you doing ok?’

Olsen led his friend to the nearest side kitchen. ‘I’ll survive, Dan, though there were moments where I thought my time was up, in more ways than one,’

Carter looked around and asked quietly. ‘I’m impressed you went through with it, must have been emotional hell.’

‘It was. At the same time though, to finally hear the truth from Tom about what happened to my Dad has taken a massive edge off it all. Sounds crazy, but after all this time it feels like the healing process has started. Knowing what actually happened was so painful but I had to know. That whole operation has given me a greater understanding that what happened was a tragedy but I’ve been so lucky to have Tom with me over the years. I feel bad about how we parted, but it feels too early to talk to him again.’

Carter rummaged around for a spoon. ‘After everything you both went through last week, a little distance might help. Your relationship will probably be stronger in the future.’

Olsen thought about it and hoped it would prove to be the case. ‘I really hope so, Dan. We may not be working together anymore but I’ll always be there for him.’

‘I heard a rumour that the powers at be are going to assign him a new partner. That would help, right?’

‘Absolutely. If Tom gives the guy a chance, it could really give him a new challenge. I’ll have to get in touch with him soon.’

‘Really sounds like you both talked for the first time though, as crazy as it sounds after all these years.’ A warm smile came to him. ‘Come to think of it, whenever I worked with you two it was never exactly chatty.’

‘We really did talk. Maybe it was the country or just the links to Operation ESPY. Just being in Oman was hard though, the sights, the smells; everything that Dad described was there. I even went to the street where…well, you know.’

Carter listened closely. ‘Can’t have been easy.’

‘I could almost feel him there you know? Then Tom arrived. We spoke more about what happened more than ever before. It’s not easy to talk about but I’m slowly getting my head around what happened, even if it was years ago. Just being in Oman has made me face aspects of it that I never wanted to before. I know he cares for me, and me for him, that’s all that really matters I guess.’

‘Tom will always be there for you I’m sure.’ Carter gripped his friend’s shoulder and looked to change the subject. ‘So Rach is ok then?’

A warm smile spread across Olsen’s features at the mention of Rachel. In his heart he knew instantly he wouldn’t have gotten through the Oman operation if he she hadn’t been waiting for him at the very end. ‘Yeah, we’re looking at having our wedding day around July or August time.’ He couldn’t repress a smile as he handed a coffee to his friend. ‘Still got to think about the best man mind you…’

Carter took the mug and sipped it slowly. He frowned and looked at it. ‘No milk. Ugh.’

‘There wasn’t any milk…’

Before Carter could answer, the broad shoulders of Alex Jordan pushed through. ‘Coming through! What does a guy have to do to get a drink around this place huh?’ Jordan, the S.U.C.O. deputy team leader, gave a confident grin to his two colleagues and put his mug on the table. It read ‘World’s Greatest Secret Agent.’ He caught the others looking at the wording. ‘Like it huh? What can I say, it suits me right?’ The 42-year-old gave Olsen a nudge with his elbow. ‘I hear you almost got the Prince killed in Oman Sam? I know you’re not a fan of the monarchy but come on, you’re taking it a little far don’t you think?’

‘Yeah…right. Anything happen whilst I was away Alex?’

The green eyes of the older agent gave a sterner look. ‘Nothing of interest. You worry too much. Still, I hear we may be getting some action today mind you. I for one wouldn’t mind, my trigger finger been getting kinda twitchy of late.’

Olsen raised his eyebrows in mock interest, and moved away. He had known Jordan for three years, and would describe him as a trusted colleague, one that was dedicated to the cause. It was just the level of dedication that had always bothered him. At times, it had appeared that Jordan enjoyed his work a little too much on occasion. Despite his concerns, Olsen respected Jordan’s impressive MI6 record that spanned two decades. There was no doubting his skill and experience. ‘You heard something I haven’t?’

Jordan sat down in Olsen’s seat and put his feet on a stack of files. ‘Nothing official. I just heard that the powers at be are out to find those Kiprich brothers you ran into. No doubt they’ll be asking us to sort it.’ A smug grin came over his features. ‘You kids don’t need to concern yourselves, you can stand aside, I could handle those two psychos with one hand tied behind my back.’

Olsen exchanged a quick look with Carter as he found another seat. A slight commotion caught his attention ahead, as Richard Elliott, Chief of MI6 and back from Europe, appeared. Both men stood up and greeted the Chief. ‘Good morning sir.’

Jordan said nothing and stayed sitting down.

Elliott, a living legend not only amongst staff at MI6, MI5 and The Houses of Parliament, had become an iconic figure with the public due to the several decades he been in the public eye. Dressed in a stylish black suit, wearing a white shirt, black bow tie, and a perfectly formed white handkerchief in his chest pocket, Elliott stood slightly hunched over and looked every inch of his 72-years. Several strands of silver hair were all that were visible on his head, and his bushy silver eyebrows sat above a fiery pair of blue eyes. Seconds passed and Elliott’s steely glare didn’t budge from Jordan, who eventually, got to his feet and bowed his head in respect.

As he paused at a nearby terminal, Elliott gave a scowling look around the nerve centre of MI6. Always giving off an air that nothing was good enough, and everything could be better, the legend focussed his attention on the nearby S.U.C.O. agents. ‘There have been many developments.’ He spoke in his usual gruff and curt tone. ‘We have much to discuss.’

Jordan passed Olsen and gave him another toothy grin. ‘What did I tell ya?’

 

Olsen walked into briefing room one and noted all other nine S.U.C.O. agents from teams Alpha and Bravo, including Carter and Jordan, were in attendance. The other teams of the elite force, Charlie, Delta, and Echo had been assigned to the Middle East for months and were now on their way home.

In the far corner, sitting separately from the two squads were Burton and Ramsey, MI6 number two. Olsen took his seat next to Carter and focussed on his superior who started the briefing.

Elliott glanced at every face in the room before starting. He slowly rose from his chair and looked out at his elite team, all of which he respected, and secretly cared for like a soft Granddad. In his advancing years, he had lost count of just how many briefings he had given, and sadly how many protectors, or rather knights as he called them, had been lost in the line of duty. Though his appearance was becoming frailer by the year, the steely blue eyes that had seen so much, had lost none of its ferocity.

Elliott had joined MI6 at the age of 22, in 1952, and had worked his way up, travelling the world and living through so many operations. With each one completed, his ability as a leader shone through, not to mention his dogged determination and sheer refusal to be beaten. At 42, some twenty years later, Elliott became the youngest Chief of MI6 and took control. Experts at the time felt he led not only the agency but the West itself, through the Cold War single handed. Work took its toll and in 1993, at the age of 63, Elliott suffered his first heart-attack and much to his disgust, was forced out of office from his beloved MI6 and was cared for by his high school sweetheart, and long suffering wife, Corina. As much as he hated being away from World events, he was looked on as a sad and beaten figure by the public, with sympathy none the less, but consigned to the past.

When MI6 became leaderless once more, Elliott, at 65, and in his mind fighting fit despite his doctor’s reservations, took back the mantle he had been born to hold. Some were cautious, others victorious, but for Elliott himself, more determined than ever to carry on where he had left off and be useful again.

Elliott scowled at his agents and gave himself a mental pat on the back for getting through another day that according to most in the medical field, should not have been possible for him.

His voice was its usual gruff self and he projected it with authority making everyone take notice and listen hard. ‘As you know…an attack took place in Oman on Saturday. Thank the heavens, the Royal party’s essential personnel survived unscathed.’ He stepped forward and twisted his face in defiance as if it would help in some way to prevent the atrocity from happening again. ‘This is the first time any terrorist faction has directly attacked not only one of our Embassies but our monarchy as well. Myself and senior personnel spent all of yesterday with key Government officials.’ Elliott paused and raised his silver eyebrows as he finished. ‘And now…we fight back.’

The Chief of MI6 moved away from the big screen and gave a nod to the technician who sat at the back of the briefing room. The screen flickered to life and displayed two photographs.

Elliott continued. ‘The Kiprich brothers. Gyorgy and Jozef. The latter is the stronger of the two, far more dominant in proceedings. Our intelligence from GCHQ (Government Communications HQ, Cheltenham) has indicated they have settled in Poland for the time being. After Oman, they moved through The United Arab Emirates and then to Kraków, Poland.’ He handed folders to Jordan and Olsen. Both files had the words ‘CONFIDENTIAL’ written across them in heavy red type. ‘Operation Reprisal. The Kiprich brothers have crossed a line and they must be dealt with. A termination order has been given.’ For the first time that day a warm smile came over him and sense of pride took hold of his very soul. ‘I should tell you that the C.I.A. wanted to take control of this but it’s with great pride that teams Alpha and Bravo of S.U.C.O. have the honour.’ He caught the attention of the two senior agents, Olsen and Jordan. ‘Begin preparing your teams. Our agent in Poland, POL1, has a fix on them and will act as your contact point for this operation.’’ He studied every individual carefully and knew in his heart that they would be successful. ‘I know you won’t let me down.’

In the front row, Olsen saw the pride in Elliott’s eyes and felt so honoured to be taking S.U.C.O. into battle and lead such a talented and powerful group of agents. At the same time though, it was time to do what he hated the most; tell Rachel he was going away. In the past it had always been difficult to say the least, and Olsen had come away time and again, feeling so guilty. Rachel deserved better and each time he did it, the worse it seemed to be.

As the agents dispersed from the briefing room, Olsen reached for his phone and called Rachel’s mobile no, hoping she would be available for a light lunch.

 

A cold wind swirled through the light blonde hair of POL1, otherwise known as Agent Martin Bedford. He adjusted the scarf around his neck and pulled down on his dark brown baseball cap as he stepped onto a number 208 bus at Balice airport, seven miles west of the city of Cracow. Bedford paid his fare and gave a sweeping glance to all the passengers of the bus. His eyes locked onto the now bearded face of Jozef, but only for an instant, as he took a seat not far away. As the scenery passed by his window, he remembered his briefing from his superior in Warsaw, the nation’s capital. Several words stood out in his mind. Keep a respectable distance and report daily on the movements of the Kiprich brothers. Bedford found his newspaper from his jacket pocket and began to scan the headlines.

At the back of the bus, a cold set of blue eyes continued to be locked onto Bedford, and were watching every look, and movement closely. They belonged to Zoltan Ferec who was a trusted ally of close friend Jozef. Ferec was suspicious of everyone on the bus but his instincts had focussed onto a particular individual who was slowly being marked a threat in his mind. Since their arrival in Poland, he was convinced he had seen the man several times before. Ferec was experienced and in astonishing physical shape for his age considering he was now just a few years away from forty. He was 6ft tall with dark blonde hair. His piercing blue eyes studied the target carefully. Two words continued to circle in his head; Government agent. Ferec remembered his friend’s last operation, the attack on the Royal family and UK Embassy in Oman. He wondered whether the agent was from MI6 and recalled his previous contact with them. Ferec had encountered MI6 agents several times before, and had yet to be seriously challenged, though he had never encountered a S.U.C.O. agent. The others were well trained, but they had never posed a serious threat to him, and had been easy to dispose of in the past.

The bus came to a halt outside the City hall tower, in the main market square, the largest in Europe. Bedford disembarked the bus and kept Jozef in his sights.

All around, the most beautiful sights of Cracow could be seen. The market square was seething with life. Many café tables filled most of the area, with a host of shops, antique dealers, restaurants, bars, and clubs surrounding the main sights.

Bedford had been in the square many times before and kept his vision locked on his target. He wandered over to a small shop, and picked up a piece of jewellery from a nearby stand. The attractive looking bronze piece was held to the light, whilst his eyes kept watch on Jozef, who began to move away from the departing bus, and merge with the crowds. Bedford replaced the piece of jewellery straight away and set off in pursuit.

Ferec had been watching all of this and began to walk behind a young couple, whilst keeping the possible Government agent in his sights just ahead. There was no doubt in his mind now that the target following his close friend was some form of threat. Ferec continued to make his way through the busy market square, and was suddenly presented with a camera thrust in his face. A nearby couple asked in perfect English to take a photograph of them. Ferec pushed the camera away and shoved the tourist, who almost fell to the ground. He began to jog slightly as his target disappeared from view, but then relaxed at the sign of the baseball-capped man, who was still following Jozef. Passing the small church of St Wojciech, which appeared lost compared to all the other more impressive buildings, he followed the target that had just entered the Church of St. Mary.

The imposing structure of St Mary’s church dominated the right hand side of the main market square. It had stood for centuries as a symbol of Polish architecture and couldn’t be missed; the beautiful design caught the attention of every passing tourist and local.

The historic church made no impact on the assassin Ferec who walked through the main entrance, and passed the large ten-foot tall wooden doors. His eyes gave a sweeping glance of the inside, and noted a few people around who were all focussed on the impressive stained glass windows and other attractions. Ferec took out his pistol from his jacket, concealed it in his pocket, and approached the target that was lingering at a nearby staircase, whilst still watching Jozef. Slinking into the shadows, he slowly passed one pillar at a time and drew nearer to his target that showed no sign of detecting his presence. The instincts of a predator took over his body and mind, as a feeling of complete control swept through him. He moved the pistol behind his back and cocked the weapon slowly, whilst passing another two pillars. Ferec, a ruthless killer, struggled to stop himself from breaking out with a large smile as he stopped only a handful of steps away.

Bedford continued to watch Jozef inspect the stained glass window. As yet, the MI6 agent had yet to decide exactly what the man was doing. Waiting for someone perhaps? He thought to himself. Bedford furrowed his brow and casually turned his head slightly. The reflection of his face in a nearby silver ornament caught his attention and sent a quick shiver down his spine. It was not the twisted and disjointed representation that made him feel so startled but the sign of someone moving towards his position very slowly. Bedford didn’t waste a moment and began to walk up the nearby staircase that led to what appeared to be offices and storage rooms above. His senses became heightened and quickly registered other footsteps on the staircase. Bedford’s breathing quickened as he reached the top, and looked around for an exit. If I can just get to the outside, I could lose them in the crowd…

Ferec gave a nod to Jozef and both men rushed up the stairs and saw a door close at the far end of the corridor. The blonde haired Ferec gave a smile to his friend, knowing there was no escape from that room. ‘This will be over in seconds. Wait here.’

Upon entrance into the room, which was a small office, Bedford glanced quickly around every corner but realised with dread that there was no hope of escape. Footsteps could be heard approaching, as he pushed open the nearest window and looked outside. A thin ledge ran across the red brickwork and Bedford took a deep breath, stepped out back first and gripped onto whatever presented itself. The window snapped shut as his blonde hair rustled in the wind. He edged along as quickly as he could and slowly gripped the window of the next room with his fingernails. It flipped open, nearly knocking him off balance, as Bedford climbed into a storage room and slumped on the floor. He took a few seconds to control his ever-quickening heartbeat, and pulled out his Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The door opened slowly, enough for him to see Jozef standing outside the office he had just left. Bedford knew there was no time to lose…

Ferec remained in his aggressive stance, with his pistol out in front of him at all times, as he scanned every corner of the room. A nearby wardrobe, big enough for a man to hide, shuddered under several bullets as they exploded out of the chamber of his silenced pistol. Ferec slowly opened the doors, expecting to find a body but instead found several robes filled with holes. Utter confusion took over him as he approached the window and began to survey the view of the market place. His head suddenly whirled around at the sound of a commotion coming from outside the door. His athletic frame leapt over the nearby desk and opened the door, revealing Jozef lying motionless on the carpeted floor. Ferec’s eyes widened, his mind working overtime, as he attempted to calculate whether other Government agents were now in the church. He slowly moved out of the doorframe but could see no sign of anyone. The sound of a door slamming behind caused him to spin around and immediately sprint toward the door at the far end of the corridor, firing occasionally as he caught sight of his target. Ferec remembered the church layout and knew the roof was the only destination from that exit. He burst into the room and quickly began to climb the first ladder, still confident he could finish the resistance quickly.

Bedford watched for a moment from his position and then stepped out from the large wooden beam in the corner of the room and aimed his Browning pistol at the tall blonde terrorist on the ladder. His thunderous voice pierced the silence. ‘Don’t make any sudden moves! Drop your weapon onto the floor.’ Bedford’s senses were ready for any sudden developments as he stood with his knees bent, and both hands on his pistol. ‘Do it now!’

Ferec cursed himself in his mind ten times over. For the first time in years, he realised he had underestimated his opponent, as he dropped his pistol to the floor. Despite his predicament, the arrogance of a near impenetrable man still boiled away inside of Ferec.

Bedford watched his target slowly step down the ladder, one rung at a time. ‘Keep your hands where I can see them!’ Finally the man turned around and stared hard at him, with his hands in the air. He noticed almost an insulted look on his face. Bedford ignored it, and stepped forward, aligning himself with the doorway. His eyes quickly shifted towards the corridor on his right, and back to his target. Jozef could still be seen lying motionless outside the office not far away. ‘Get down on your knee’s! DOWN! Now, who the hell are you huh? I want a name!’

Ferec bowed his head and said nothing, feeling more than happy to wait for an opportunity that, in his mind, would inevitably come. Several other questions were fired at him but still he gave no response. His smug looking eyes noticed his pistol at the far corner of the room. Ferec began to think of how to reach it.

Bedford swallowed hard and shook his head. The terror inside him of being alone threatened to take hold with every passing second. He glanced to his right again to check on Jozef and gasped at what he saw. His eyes went wide with horror, his pupils got larger and the empty corridor ahead made him shudder. Nobody was there. ‘Oh god…get up, move yourself!’ He grabbed his hostage and pushed him up against the wall, his Browning pistol now pressed up hard against his head. ‘Where’s he gone huh?’ Bedford continued to look around in all directions, attempting to catch a sign of where Jozef had disappeared. Silence filled the room until laughter broke through. His hostage suddenly began to laugh uncontrollably. Bedford realised his breathing and heart rate had gotten out of control and pushed the barrel of his pistol firmly into the man’s skull. ‘You son of a bitch, tell me where he’s gone. Now!!’

Ferec continued to laugh, almost feeding off his captor’s obvious terror of what was to come. ‘Calm yourself little one, it will soon be over.’ Another sick laugh took over him.

Bedford blew out his cheeks frequently, now unable to control himself or his rapid heartbeat. Sheer dread began to fill every part of his body and mind. He pushed his hostage out of the doorframe and slowly began to walk down the corridor; with no sign of the ambush that was almost definitely going to come.

 

Chapter 14

 

Thursday, March 8th 12:45,

Vauxhall, London.

 

Rachel fiddled with her dark brown hair and stepped off the number 36 bus, narrowly avoiding a group of school kids who were waiting with their teacher. A cold wind had come in and what had been a predominant blue sky had now turned heavily overcast. Wearing a long sleeved light blue top, black jeans and a long warm looking grey jacket, she walked briskly along the street, trying to find the umbrella in her bag.

Pushing her folded nurses uniform out of the way, she found it, and had it open just in time as the first droplets began to fall from a now dismal looking sky. Just seeing the uniform again made her recall the last eight hours. It had been another difficult shift at Guys Hospital. But then again, working in the Casualty unit of any hospital was never going to be routine. Of late though she had struggled to treat the constant flow of patients without getting emotionally involved in each case, and that constant drain of energy had left her feeling drawn and very tired.

Just the other day she had been talking with another nurse as to why she had been reacting this way. Rachel had been a nurse for eight years now, and at twenty nine years of age she couldn’t remember the last time it had all become such a struggle. For weeks now she had been unable to put her finger on what was the cause and then a DOA had come into Casualty and for the scariest moment she could have sworn it was her fiancée, Sam Olsen, and that had terrified her. She’d felt physically sick for hours and had been unable to shake the image of her future husband lying helpless on a trolley. After all, just how hard had she tried over the years to make him see the risks? Had she done enough? Did he know just how much she wanted him to leave the service?

That was it and she knew why. Only a few days before she had found some paperwork at Olsen’s flat and just finding something that clarified who he worked for and what was involved had disturbed her. Not that the paperwork gave away anything at all, it was just so formal and it could be read in so many ways, it was obvious the jargon and general innuendo was hiding something dangerous, information they didn’t want people to know. That was her husband’s job, not nine to five, or pushing paper around, he worked for the Government on the most dangerous form of work there was.

Truth be told, she didn’t exactly know what he did and that didn’t help. Not that he could tell her, the Official Secrets Act put paid to that. He was a Government agent, there was no doubt about it, which was bad enough, but what exactly did he do? Protect people? Work in the background or on the front line? Every time or had things changed?

They had talked about it on few occasions, but each time he had visibly clammed up and though she had found out details important to her, it had never been enough but she had learnt to deal with it. Until now. Maybe it was the passing of time, it was hard to say, but she knew one thing, living with the knowledge that her husband may never return time and time again would be too much for her in the long run. Despite being besotted with Olsen, it was getting harder and harder. With every goodbye at the airport, the painful moment when he disappeared seemed to hurt her more each time and all she longed for was a normal life. Not necessarily nine to five, but knowing at least that she wasn’t going to lose the man she loved at any given moment years before their time.

As she came around the corner she saw Sam waiting dutifully outside Café Uno Restaurant. Even from a distance it looked like he was guarding the place rather than waiting for her. My Sam. Always the protector.

Rachel saw her man visually brighten as she came into view and they hugged tightly, and then kissed softly. She searched his dark brown eyes and his features. He was happy to see her, that was obvious, but straight away she knew he had bad news, she had seen it many times before and even though she tried not to look, it was all helpless. It could only mean one thing.

He was going away again.

Rachel’s heart fluttered as they went inside and her appetite vanished in a flash. She was already preparing herself for that heart wrenching goodbye where they would both kid themselves it was going to be ok, when in reality it was all out of control and for Rachel, there was nothing worse.

 

Burton leant forward and placed his elbows on the desk in his office. A radiant smile spread across his features, and his eyes suddenly filled with life at the sight of his wife and child walking towards him. All the raw pain and darkness just faded away as he got up and walked towards the love of his life. Before he could hold her, a noise emanated from behind, one that wouldn’t go away. Burton tried to dismiss it and took another step forward but something pulled him back. To his dismay, the image of his family dissolved and he awoke with a grunt and the sight of his assistant shaking him, as he lay back in his chair fast asleep.

‘Sir, wake up, please!!’

Burton rubbed his temples, and leant forward. His head was spinning, and his whole body felt like a ten-ton weight. ‘Ok…ok, I’m here! Ugh…’ He caught sight of a look from his assistant, which was full of pity. ‘Hey…I’m not as bad as I look ok? I’ve just got that Monday feeling again you know Dawn?’

The young assistant raised her eyes to the ceiling and walked out of the room, silently talking to herself as she went. ‘Every single week…’

Burton opened his bloodshot eyes and waited for the room to stop spinning before answering. ‘I heard that Dawn!’ He took a deep breath and struggled out of the chair before leaning against the window. Only in the last few hours had the realisation that his family had left him sunk in. Sleep had been impossible; eating had been out of the question. Burton was convinced that if he could just talk to her one more time they could patch things up. Finding her though had proven to be the problem. During the early hours of the morning, Burton had driven to his wife’s sisters and forced his way inside the house. His family were nowhere to be seen. All of his wife’s friends had not heard from her, there appeared to be no trail leading to them. I won’t give up, I’ll find them eventually, and then we’ll be together again.

The view from the window held his concentration as a single boat passed under Vauxhall Bridge along the River Thames. Once again, his mind began to float away as the hypnotic waves took him away to a place where his family was with him again. He gave a shake of the head and opened the large filling cabinet, removed a folder, but winced hard as the words on the pages failed to come into focus. He looked up slowly to the powerful florescent lights above him and glanced away immediately. Seconds later, he poked his head around the corner to see his assistant pounding away on her keyboard. ‘Hey Dawn, do me a favour and get maintenance up here to look at the lights in my office yeah?’

The young assistant swivelled around in her chair and turned her head to one side, clearly not understanding the reasoning behind the request. ‘The lights? But yours are the same as the rest of the office aren’t they sir?’ Her eyes focussed on her superior as she got up from her chair. ‘Are you feeling alright today?’

Burton sighed and waved his hand, asking her to sit back down. ‘Just get them up here ok? I feel like they’re sucking all the energy out of me you know?’ The look on his assistant’s face went from the confused to the bewildered. ‘If you could please Dawn, thanks.’ The heavy frame of Burton lurched itself back to the filing cabinet, and he turned off the lights along the way. The S.U.C.O. Commander noticed he had yet to pickup several important satellite images and silently cursed to himself. Before pushing the drawer closed, he caught sight of a bottle and glass hidden at the far end. A memory came to him from months before when it had been placed there. His mouth suddenly felt dry and within seconds, he reached for the whiskey and poured himself a double.

 

Bedford’s head snapped up sharply as his senses registered a noise from above. His eyes, wide and filled with terror, looked down straight away as he continued to move along the corridor, with his prisoner shuffling along in front of him. Coming to the office that he had originally entered several minutes before, he pushed the pistol of his weapon firmly against the head of his prisoner and looked around. The door was pushed back to the wall, and there was no-one in the room. Bedford swallowed hard and moved his head quickly in a 180-degree sweep. The corridor was empty, and there was no sign of the other man on the ground level where several tourists still lingered. His hostage began to shake his head. Bedford was growing tired of the man’s arrogance. ‘You got something to say asshole, then say it!’ He shouted.

Arrogance boiled up inside of Ferec, knowing it would not be long before he would have the Government agent’s life in his hands. He spoke in a calm voice. ‘Give yourself up my friend. This will all end in your death either way.’

Bedford composed himself and drew on the several years of experience he had gained in the field, mostly based in Poland as POL1. Throughout that time, he had never encountered anyone as arrogant or startling as the man at the end of his pistol. He put on his most confident tone. ‘Don’t bet on it, the only way you’ll be leaving this country is in a box you got that?!?’ He felt a sense of accomplishment as his hostage fell silent, but within moments, the laughter had returned. His feelings merged with the adrenalin that flowed around his body and he slammed down the butt of his Browning pistol with all his might. The laughter stopped instantly as the body fell limp. Bedford caught hold and dragged him along the corridor to the staircase. Several of the overhead lights had failed and the dark shadows overcame them. Bedford pulled the prisoner to his feet and gave another sweeping glance to the silent corners of the church.

Jozef moved for the first time in almost half an hour and put on a Priest’s robe that sat on the shelf. The door of the wardrobe in the office, where Ferec had entered in pursuit, was opened as Jozef stepped out and reached the doorframe. His senses had registered that the attacker and his friend had passed the room and were no doubt heading to the church exit. Jozef saw him struggling to pick his friend to his feet. Feelings of concern broke out inside of him; he had known Ferec for many years, but the fear was pushed away as he reached for his weapon and quickly screwed on the silencer attachment. Noting the shortage of light he made up his mind to attack. His eyes lit up as he stepped out and pumped his legs as hard as he could, sprinting down the corridor. The weapon was held firm in his right hand as he took aim.

Bedford pulled the hostage to his feet again and placed a foot onto the first stair. Straight away his whole body jumped as a noise came from behind. A silent alarm went off in his head as he instinctively threw away his hostage and swivelled as fast as he could in the opposite direction. There, the darkness fell away at the sight of a Priest sprinting towards him. The face ahead forced his eyes to grow ever wider at the realisation that it was in fact the second attacker. His mind registered a noise and realised it was his own cry of fear. With his heart now beating at a frantic rate, Bedford lifted his weapon to fire but his logical brain knew it was too late. Searing pain was felt in his right shoulder as he cried out, feeling the cold steel of a bullet impact his body. The force of the hit pushed him off balance and the floor and ceiling switched places, with finally, everything turning to black.

Jozef came to a halt, tossed his mobile phone towards his friend, and rushed down the stairs to the small crowd that was gathering around the now redundant attacker. With the pistol concealed beneath his robe, Jozef was thankful he was wearing the robes of a priest as the crowd instantly made way for him. The blood emanating from his attacker worried the gathering locals but Jozef could see the Government agent was still breathing. The 40-year-old placed his hands wide in the air and reassured the crowd. His robes fooled everyone around. ‘Do not worry my friends, we will deal with this. An ambulance has already been called.’

Jozef picked up the legs of the fallen agent as Ferec, who looked woozy, appeared and grabbed the head. Several onlookers spoke of their concern for moving him but the two men quickly moved towards the exit and caught sight of the waiting grey Mercedes car on the edge of the market square. They dropped the body on the back seat and drove away, leaving several crowds of people in dismay as to what had actually happened.

The car sped through the surrounding roads at hectic pace until Jozef told the driver to pull over on a nearby grass verge. He looked back from the front seat and saw his close friend and ally, Ferec, point a pistol straight at the head of their hostage. Jozef was already beginning to tire and wanted answers. His tone was weary. ‘Now my young friend, I ask again. What is your name and where are you staying in this god forsaken country?’

Again, Bedford shook his head. The shoulder wound he had sustained had now been stabilised but pain was still written across his face.

Jozef took pleasure in recognising this fact and gave a nod to Ferec who also sat on the back seat.

Ferec attached the silencer onto the end of the weapon he had been given and pointed it in the direction of the Government agent’s right thigh. ‘This is for the bruise on the back of my head.’ He snarled. Ferec pulled the trigger without a moment’s hesitation and the bullet ripped into the Bedford’s leg. Screams of agony filled every inch of the car but still no answers were given. Ferec smiled with joy as another nod of approval was given to him. This time he aimed the pistol at the left knee, knowing all too well it was an area of maximum pain. More screams blasted through the vehicle.

Bedford winced as the agony filled every inch of his body. Since his capture, he had used every piece of mental energy he had to hide the pain in a little black box at the far corners of his mind. He could take no more, and wondered who in the world could. He cleared his throat and struggled to talk. Feelings of failure came into his mind, but he knew his limits. ‘Bedford….that’s my name….’

Jozef smiled at Ferec with glee. This is where the fun begins he thought to himself. ‘Excellent. Now, whom do you work for, and where do you live mmm?’

‘I live in…in the flats near the Czartoryski Museum.’

Jozef gave directions to his driver and the car began to move. He then looked back at the hostage. ‘Thank you. Now…who do you work for? Your other knee will be my next target.’

Bedford swallowed, tried again to block out the pain, but submitted to it once more. He caught sight of the eyes of the man next to him and searched for any humanity there but the black pistol moved to the other knee. Bedford closed his eyes and summoned up the black box one more time…

 

Olsen tasted the first mouthful of his Lasagne and grimaced slightly at the heat but was still pleased with the taste and prepared another.

Amidst the calm setting within Café Uno, waiters buzzed around, other couples and business men and women discussed the day’s events and the rain continued to hit the windows, at times catching a few gasps of surprise from the nearest customers.

For Rachel the rain was just background noise, something that never registered to her. All she could think about was where Sam was going, why, and whether she had the strength to go through it again. She questioned herself constantly but knew that as ever, she would find it and come through, she loved him with all her heart, but did he really know how she felt?

‘How was your shift?’

Rachel picked at her Salmon fish cakes. ‘Not great, I don’t know, of late it’s all been tough going, I haven’t been coping well.’

‘I know. I’ve been thinking about you. Is it the level of work? Or maybe we just need a break? Maybe we should sit down and plan-’

Rachel couldn’t take a moment more. ‘Where are you going? Please tell me Sam…I just need to know.’

Olsen put down his fork and raised his eyebrows in surprise. ‘What makes you think I’m going anywhere? Rach, I can understand-’

‘I know you…I know us. Whenever I see that look in your eyes I know you’re going to sit there and say you’ve got to go away again, and I just…..’ She placed a hand over her forehead and looked away. ‘I just hate the fact that we don’t have a normal life.’

‘You know I have been meaning to talk to you about this. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much I hate this side to it all. I feel so guilty, and truth be told, you deserve so much better.’

Rachel reached out and took hold of his hands. ‘No! Don’t say that. I’m so lucky to have you, and I can’t lose you, I just can’t.’

A warm smile came to Olsen’s face. ‘But you wish I did something else for a living?’

‘I can’t deny it. We’ve been together for almost nine years now, and I know in my heart I can’t live without you, but the thought of losing you terrifies me. Even more so because I know I am going to lose you before I was meant to.’

Olsen stroked her hands softly. Just hearing the words made him feel awful. He was causing this pain, but still he would hold onto his career, purely because he wanted to make a difference and could feel the fire burning within that told him he always could. ‘Rachel…’

‘When you proposed in France, I don’t know, I guess I just assumed that things would change and you would start to think of changing direction in your work but now that you have this promotion and your own team, whatever it is they do, that seems even further away. Do you know how it feels to see you go at the airport, or kiss you goodbye at home knowing there is a big chance you won’t come back to me?’

Olsen stared at his lasagne. ‘No….I guess I’ve just been so pre-occupied of late I haven’t been seeing a lot of things. What happened in Oman has affected me more than I realised.’

Rachel remembered the talks they’d had over Oman, the first time where he had really opened up about not only issues with his father, but his work as well. ‘I know, I understand that, and I want to help you through this and don’t ever think I’m not here for you, or I love you any less, I just want you to look at other jobs. Or at least think about them.’

A mass of questions circled in his mind. Could he do something else? Did he have to be at MI6? What about the Police or something entirely different? Training perhaps? A huge wave of awareness came over him and he realised just how selfish he had become. He reached again for her hands and spoke with real purpose. ‘Rach, I know I’m not the easiest person to be with and maybe I’ve been doing this for so long, I just never considered there were other options. But the last thing I want is for the job to become between us, or heaven forbid take you away from me.’ He leant over the table and stroked her brown hair with his right hand. ‘I just can’t let that happen. I’ll start to look at other options. I give you my word I will.’

Rachel almost started to cry, but held off, not wanting to attract any more attention than they already had. ‘Really? I don’t want you to resent me over this, I just want us to be together.’

‘I’ll never resent you for anything. I want to be with you. Nothing will ever change that.’

‘I just don’t want to change you, but your job as it stands right now, is so dangerous I don’t think any woman could deal with it. I really don’t. Your determination to help people and make a difference is one of the reasons I love you so much, but you know, you could do so much, you’re so talented!’ Her voice sounded soft and vulnerable and she knew it was obvious but she didn’t care, it was everything to her to make sure Sam knew how she felt.

‘Well then I’ll start to look at the other options. I promise you.’

Rachel smiled back at him, hoping the change would happen. Whatever happened she just had to trust the man she loved and that had never been a problem. Though she felt stressed because of bringing up such a delicate issue she was sure she could feel a shred of optimism that things would change and those painful goodbyes would be a thing of the past.

For Olsen, he went back to his lasagne and felt a surge of guilt continue to consume him. How had he become so wrapped up in the job? How could he hurt Rachel this way? More than anything he wanted to make a decision there and then to break the cycle and leave the service, but something held him back and he so desperately wanted to know what that was.

 

Burton emerged from Cartography Analysis clutching several satellite images of Kraków, Poland. The double whiskies he had downed some minutes before were helping to calm him as he took a quick look at the fuzzy images that had been downloaded from a C.I.A. satellite. His usual efficiency and interest in his work were quickly dissipating, as his mind struggled to think of anything other than Kate and Oscar, his wife and son. Toppling world leaders or protecting National Security came a distant second, if that. Burton focussed every ounce of energy he had on walking in a straight line to his office. The look he received from his assistant was once again ignored, as the door swung open to reveal the Chief of MI6; Elliott, waiting by the desk.

‘Preparations for Operation Reprisal hmm?’ asked the Chief of the service. Elliott looked better than he did, much to Burton’s disgust. Didn’t this guy ever get tired? He thought to himself. ‘Uh…yes sir, I have the satellite images of Kraków. All looks good. Team S.U.C.O. are just finishing up their preparation and will be reassembling soon. Has POL1’s report come over yet?’ Burton steadied himself as he leant against the desk. To his dismay, the top of the Whiskey bottle could just be seen above the drawer of the filing cabinet. Burton looked back to his superior straight away, who showed no sign of detection.

‘Not yet.’ He replied sharply. ‘By the end of the morning, we shall have it. That was the scheduled time. Our profiles suggest the Kiprich brothers will linkup with a Libyan group in the next couple of days. I’ve just finished a conference call with the PM and The Defence Minister. The termination order has been given. I’ll be in Operations Command. Make sure the teams are dispatched quickly. I want you there in one hour.’ Elliott moved away but then lingered near the door. ‘One more thing, Ramsey reported some financial problems you’ve been having of late or something of that ilk. Sorted now I hope?’

Burton replied quickly, making sure of no doubts. ‘Oh that. Yes sir, everything’s fine now. My family…are just fine.’

Elliott smiled faintly and thought of his wife Corina for the tenth time that day. ‘Well…that is good, you can’t put a price on your family. And your son? How is he?’

Burton could feel himself welling up, but pushed it away. ‘Just fine sir, just fine.’ As he watched his boss leave, an air of pressure was left in the office. Burton rubbed his head and sunk in his chair, trying to focus and think straight. From the other side of the office, the Whiskey bottle began to call to him again.

 

Bedford felt the tears run down his face as his captors opened the door to his flat and dropped him by the far corner in the living room. Throughout the car journey every ounce of pain had been felt, each time a failed attempt to push it away and perform his duty to his country. His mind continued to spin out of control as the more sinister of the two men approached him. I don’t have a choice!

Jozef walked into the main living room and gave a sweeping glance to the flat. It consisted of a large open spaced room, with an on-suite bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. It was small and cold, with light streaming in from a solitary window. Jozef knelt down to face his hostage. ‘Now that we’ve established you work for MI6, I think it’s time we finished this don’t you?’ He raised his left hand and pointed to Bedford’s laptop on the nearby table. ‘Your clearance codes.’ His eyes locked onto the fallen protector. ‘Give them to me.’ He said in a deadly tone.

Bedford tried to move but couldn’t. The feelings were beginning to leave his lower body as the steely eyes continued to bear on him. He spoke faintly to his captors. ‘For what…purpose?’

Jozef screwed his face in a fit of rage and lashed out, kicking the Government agent violently on the left knee. ‘That is my business and not yours, now give me the codes!’ He grabbed the laptop and dragged it down onto the floor. Displayed on the screen was the locked screensaver, which required three character codes and a ten-digit identity code. Jozef knew all too well, they could manipulate MI6 with the data he so desperately wanted. His mind began to work once more as the defiance of his hostage refused to break down. ‘Do you think this was all a coincidence? We just happened to have this encounter and it’s been worked out as we go along? I am no fool. For the past week, we’ve been well aware of your presence. We expected it after Oman.’

Bedford raised his head slowly. ‘What are you saying?’

Jozef continued his attempt to bluff. ‘Your family in London. One of my men is with them. They will die tonight if a phone call isn’t made by me.’ A ruthless smile came over his features. ‘Your destiny may be sealed my friend but your family can still live on.’

Bedford closed his eyes for a moment in an attempt to draw strength from somewhere. He opened them to see both men close to him, waiting for his answer. ‘You’re lying. I don’t believe you.’ He said weakly.

‘Are you willing to take that chance? It would be such a waste now wouldn’t it? Giving your life for your country is one thing, but sacrificing others? Come now.’ Jozef saw the expression change on the face of the hostage and leaned in closer. ‘I am a man of my word. Whatever else I may be, if you give me your clearance codes, I swear to you your family will not be harmed.’

Bedford tried to swallow but the pain wouldn’t allow it. His whole body was beginning to feel heavier by the second, well aware of the serious injuries he had sustained. His thoughts reached out to his family in London. I can’t take a chance on my family, they never asked for any of this…

Jozef flipped open his mobile phone and exchanged a look with Ferec who was sitting at the desk. ‘The codes. Give them to me.’

Bedford stayed silent and closed his eyes, desperate for something, someone to give him a chance to get away. What never went away were the thoughts of his family, suffering, because of who he was.

Ferec stepped forward once more and stamped his right foot on Bedford’s head as he swore repeatedly in the face of such defiance. Again, and again, Ferec lashed out until finally he lifted his hostage from the ground and threw him across the wall.

Bedford came crashing to the floor and felt every bone in his body ache. The pain was on a totally different level to what he had ever felt before but it seemed secondary to the welfare of his loved ones. His body was broken, but his mind was still active and consumed with the choices ahead of him. Yes, he could die here and hope that his family would be spared, or take the only chance he had available and trust the word of a madman. Anything to save those he held so dear. But what of his other family, the MI6 family, was he not devoted to them too? A dizzying wave came over him, time was running out. As much as he hated himself, he would have to break his oath to MI6.

Ferec whipped out his gun and closed in.

Jozef spoke slowly as his comrade came closer. ‘The codes. I won’t ask again.’

Bedford sent out a silent prayer of forgiveness to Richard Elliott and slowly opened his mouth. ‘P….O…L…126…722…3411.’

Jozef listened to the magic he had obtained and slowly began to smile back at the hostage. Akira will be most pleased when I inform him of this development! He won’t see me as a nobody for much longer! He looked to the table where Ferec had entered the data and was now staring at the official MI6 linkup screens. A sick laugh was exchanged with his friend. Nearby, he heard the hostage mumble some words. Jozef placed a hand on Ferec’s shoulder and spoke calmly, despite struggling to contain himself with the achievement they had managed with the clearance codes. ‘Our friend is getting tired Zoltan. Take him to the bedroom for a sleep will you?’

Ferec dragged him into the bedroom. He tapped the pistol on Bedford’s head and spoke in a flippant tone. ‘Last requests?’ A sick joy spread through Ferec, knowing that his next kill was going to come very soon. The cold steel of the pistol was pressed against the head of his hostage as a toothy grin spread across Ferec’s face, who savoured the moment and smiled uncontrollably as the bullets put Bedford out of his misery.

 

Chapter 15

 

Thursday, March 8th 18:15,

Moscow, Russia.

 

Akira, with Salenko in tow, left the Kremlin area and passed the towering structure of Borovitskaya Gata Tower. As they crossed over Moscow River, another gale force wind came in, together with its chilling bite and thick snow for good measure. Akira, far more used to the humid weather of the Middle East raised his scarf closer to his face and pulled out several keys from his coat pocket.

Just on the edges of the riverbank were old, dilapidated buildings that were falling away with the passing of time. All of them were two storey’s high, with the occasional boarded up window, and sight of rotting brickwork.

Akira stopped at the doorway of the third building along and looked at every corner of his vision, to make sure they had not been followed or had any unwelcome visitors. His eyes immediately locked onto a figure on the other side of the Moscow River. Akira turned to obtain a better look but the individual had disappeared. He committed what little he had seen to memory, turned the key in the door, and led Salenko upstairs to a small meeting room.

Salenko had been there many times before, and sat down at the nearest chair. ‘Did you finish the plan for the run up to the Polls?’

Akira dropped several documents onto the table and stood by the window, as he continued to watch the scene from outside, not willing to take any risks. ‘Read through it.’ He said nonchalantly. ‘This will be your schedule for the next four months. After that you will be the next President of Russia.’ His thoughts trailed off for a moment as images of the Kiprich brothers, and the talented Ferec took hold. Akira had just moments before approved the plan the brothers had put in motion. If they make any dents in MI6, it will all be a bonus. Let them have their petty feud, the upcoming war is the key.

Salenko glanced at the documents and couldn’t repress a raise of his eyebrows. ‘You talk like this is all just a formality Akira.’

Akira surveyed the view from the window one last time; still unable to locate the individual he had seen. Speculation circled in his mind as to who it could be. A local who just happened to be in the wrong place was a definite possibility but Akira didn’t believe it. His mind recalled Martin Braga who had been the MI6 agent assigned to Russia for the last decade. One of the first things he had done when he came to Russia was hunt that man down and ensure he would never be a threat again. Could it be his replacement? He made a mental note to have Denyer, an assassin from the fearsome Russian Black Knights to investigate the matter further.

Turning around to face his ally, his tone was one of frustration, as if being questioned on the election result was an insult in itself. At the same time, Akira put emphasis on every word. ‘I will make it a formality.’

A smile spread over his features, as the attitude of Akira began to wash over him. Anything was possible. President Salenko of Russia! He looked up and studied his ally. Once I am in power, I have your word now, we will move against the West?’

Akira’s expression never once changed as he spoke with that same passionless tone. ‘With everything we have.’

 

Agent Patrice Marraud, a highly respected and experienced member of the French Secret Service, continued his journey away from the Moscow River and back towards the safe haven of his small flat a few streets away from the GUM Department store not far from his position. The dismal weather, together with Marraud’s constant state of cold, was beginning to get him down, but what he had just seen had confirmed what he had always suspected. Salenko was not the powerful force he had been made out to be in the press and political circles. Over several months, Salenko had been presented as an iron man, the saviour of Russia, and the only one who could lead them back to power. Marraud had always been sceptical, and after what he had just observed, was even more so.

 

Someone else was involved.

 

Marraud adjusted his black woolly hat and fluffed his thick blonde hair as his vibrant blue eyes took in his position as he walked through the Alexandrovsky Gardens. Looking younger than his forty years the senior French agent, who had been posted to Russia straight after his work with Deane in London, wondered just how deep the mystery man was involved. Could it just be Salenko’s personal assistant? Or his potential Chief of Staff?

Marraud was very much aware of his location and knew of every individual nearby as he sat down on a nearby bench, whilst dusting off some thick snow. The picture ahead of him could easily have been taken straight out of a Christmas card the beauty was so striking. The green lawns were completely covered in a careful dusting of thick white snow, with every flowerbed and tree just adding to the splendour. Marraud scanned every corner of the area, noting anyone or anything that could be taken as a threat to his safety.

The constant silence eased any fears he had as the legendary French agent sat alone in the gardens remembering the briefing he had received just days before. His memory recalled standing in a plush office in Paris, as the Head of the French Secret Service had ordered Marraud to Moscow in the belief that the growing uncertainty to the future of Russia could prove to have devastating consequences to the future of the West. Salenko’s popularity was soaring, as he based his campaign solely around reviving the patriotism of Russia and its power in the world.

Marraud distinctly recalled the worried look on his superior’s face as they had both spoken about the continuous aggressive nature of not only Salenko, but his followers as well. He remembered his orders clearly in his mind. ‘Provide us with first rate reconnaissance of Salenko and his movements, we must know more of what is happening there!’

Marraud hadn’t been in Russia long but had already made significant progress and was sure the man he saw with Salenko was playing a vital role, there was a feeling inside of him that he couldn’t shake. He slowly got to his feet and made sure of every inch of his surroundings before setting off towards the safety of his flat. Taking his time, Marraud casually made his way through the first public garden of Moscow and passed under the ornate gates at the northern end. He glanced over to notice the changing of the guard, and found himself several feet away from the State History Museum. More snowfall made him look up once more as he kept his head down and walked quickly north, seeing the GUM Department Store ahead of him. Marraud split his attention between a group of men lingering in Red Square, and wondering just how Russian people could survive such winters on a yearly basis.

Stepping onto Ulita Ilyinka Street, the power and imposing structures of the Moscow Kremlin began to fade. As he came to the end of a side street, he was now some distance away from Red Square. Marraud turned a key in the lock and rushed upstairs.

Over many years, he had seen many colleagues’ come and go. Some had left the service by their own accord, others had met grisly deaths, and some, in Marraud’s mind, were most probably still alive and being tortured for information in some god forsaken hole. Throughout it all, he had learned to play the game, be overly cautious on the smallest of details, and trust no one. The latter had become harder and harder with each passing year, and the tragic ending of his relationship with his beloved Martine had started to make him more aware of his life and his lack of trust in the people who cared for him.

Pushing the distracting emotions away, he slowly opened the door to his flat, and went through his usual routine. For an instant he recognised he wasn’t as sharp as he should be and cursed himself for growing complacent. He made sure his senses were keenly alert to any movement or sound as he stepped in and inspected the studio flat surroundings. Satisfied that all was well for now, he booted up his laptop and connected the digital camera to the device via a cable. Several graphics appeared as the photos began to download. Marraud studied the ten images closely and immediately loaded them all into an editing suite but let out a heavy sigh when he realised he hadn’t been able to obtain a clear shot of the individuals face. Despair turned to hope as he zoomed in on another that showed Salenko sitting down in the grotty flat and his colleague standing over him, clearly leading the conversation. Marraud questioned whether he was reading too much into the image ahead, but rated himself an expert in body language and was becoming more and more convinced the mystery man would prove to be the key to ending the threat from Russia. As he sent his findings back to Paris for closer inspection, Marraud studied the view from the dirty window ahead, and planned out his next move, knowing it would be safer at night to find out more.

 

Burton stood in the kitchen and poured himself another black coffee. After finishing off the whiskey bottle, he was attempting to sober up in time to give his operation briefing. Despite all his hopes that the drinking would numb the pain, it had failed to do so. As he downed his drink and flicked the switch on the kettle to boil some more water, Burton found his black diary in his jacket pocket and began to turn pages, hoping to find someone he had yet to contact in his bid to locate his family. With every passing name, his frustration began to grow. I work for the Government for god’s sake; you think I would have found them by now! He put the diary away at the sound of someone approaching. His assistant appeared in the doorway. Burton rolled his eyes to the ceiling. ‘Jesus Dawn, you following me around or what? I’ve seen pigeons learn faster than you…’

The young assistant gave a scything look to her boss and turned around to go. ‘Thought you might like to know Mr. Elliott is in your office. He doesn’t like to wait I hear.’

Burton raised his hands in apology but his assistant had already left. ‘Right, I’m on it.’ As he arrived at his office, his assistant was back at her desk. ‘I’ll buy you some Quality Street at lunchtime or something Dawn, guess I’ve been a bit cranky today huh?’ She said nothing and began to sort through several stacks of paper. Burton sighed and walked into his office. Despite his assistants mood he felt proud of himself for shaking off the effects of the whiskey so soon. ‘Everything ok sir?’

Elliott thrust a red folder in the direction of the other agent. ‘POL1’s report. Makes for very interesting reading I might add. Operation Reprisal is to go ahead as planned.. Read it and make your way to briefing room one in Operations Command. S.U.C.O. will be waiting for you very soon.’ Elliott paused as he moved past Burton. For the first time he noticed the dishevelled look his colleague had and spoke in a hardened tone. ‘Get it done.’

 

Olsen logged off his terminal and lent back in his chair, still not able to focus. Ever since the lunch with Rachel he hadn’t felt himself, and even coming back to MI6 to carry on with his work had felt like a betrayal. He felt so torn between the two things he loved most, Rachel who he simply couldn’t live without, and MI6 a place where he had the opportunity to make such a difference. What if he couldn’t leave the job? Olsen couldn’t believe that was true, but he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything else either.

Olsen rose from his chair and pushed the thoughts away. The Team leader passed several workstations and left the hustle and bustle of Operations Command behind him as he entered briefing room one. The last few hours had been spent researching the upcoming operation and preparing himself for the dangers that would come. That had been the plan anyway. Though he had got a lot done, he had never been able to focus properly and Rachel came to him in his mind time and time again.

He sighed to himself and fingered his way through some sheets he had printed off. All of them were about Poland, Cracow in particular. From his training with Deane, he had made it a tradition before every operation he had ever faced to research as much as possible. Whereas others would rather work on specific skills, he felt more at ease to learn every conceivable detail of the country and town he would be going to. In addition, Olsen had delved through every ounce of data MI6 and other security agencies had on the Kiprich brothers. In his hand, he carried several copies of photos and intelligence profiles, all covering the wanted killers.

Upon entering briefing room one; the large conference table had almost all of the team members sitting around it, with some helping themselves to refreshments at the far end.

Olsen noted Jordan, the S.U.C.O. deputy team leader was one of them, and approached him. ‘Alex, have you been reading up on Cracow?’

Jordan continued stirring his drink and looked round casually. ‘Sure I have. I know all there is to know.’

Olsen handed him several photos. ‘Here are a few more data sheets that may come in handy. I’m distributing them to the team.’ He turned away and began to walk over to Carter who had just taken a seat, but a voice called him back.

‘What the hell is this one Sam? The invisible man?’ Jordan held up one of the sheets that had very little information on it. The picture displayed a standard face covered with a balaclava, and the bare minimum of details.

Olsen caught sight of the sheet and recognised it straight away. ‘It’s all I could find on him Alex. We have good profiles of the Kiprich brothers and most of his trusted allies but this one is a mystery to us and the other agencies. We don’t have a picture, we don’t have a name either, but we know he exists.’ Olsen tried to emphasise the last few words.

Jordan screwed up the piece of paper and threw it in the direction of the nearest bin. ‘You’re imagining it. Next you’ll be telling me he has little green men helping him out as well.’

‘Fine. Just don’t be surprised when we run into this guy, ok?’ Olsen bit his tongue and took his seat next to Carter, not wanting to drag up old differences between himself and the arrogant Jordan.

 

That standard face, and known killer, followed his close friend Jozef down the stairs and stepped out onto the street. Since sending the report to MI6, London, Ferec had noticed how happy his friend had become. He too felt encouraged but knew it was never wise to underestimate any enemy. ‘You’re certain this will work Jozef?’

Jozef turned round with an irritated look on his face. ‘Of course it will work. Akira has approved this plan personally.’

At the mention of their much feared ally Ferec looked up. ‘Then why isn’t he here himself?’

Jozef spoke with his usual disdain, whenever Akira was mentioned. ‘He wanted some distance between us and said he had something more important to deal with elsewhere. I’m sure we will find out in due course. If he needs our help he will be in contact.’

‘Where are you off to now?’

‘I will return to the house and inform the others. You will stay here and keep watch on this flat. There may be other agents based in Cracow. I want you to deal with them if they arrive is that understood?’

‘I will Jozef. Do not worry. Give my best to your brother Gyorgy.’ He watched his friend leave and turn into a nearby alleyway. Zoltan crossed the quiet street and entered a small walkway surrounded by trees. He found a secluded spot with a perfect view of Bedford’s block of flats. Several angry looking dark clouds appeared as he took several steps back, and disappeared into the falling darkness.

 

Burton stumbled into briefing room one and noted all the team members had arrived. He was carrying several papers and one DVD, which he handed to the technician who sat at the back of the room. Eventually, the S.U.C.O. commander made his way to the front, passing the large conference style table in the process, and looked at the faces staring back at him. In the past ten minutes, he had drunk two more strong black coffees, and had attempted to read POL1’s report. Burton found a copy and spread it out on the table as he tried his best to find some professionalism. ‘Ok everyone; hope you’ve put the last couple of hours to good use. Listen up please. I’m handing out a copy of POL1’s report that has just come in. Operation Reprisal is a go, after my briefing, you’ll be on your way so pay attention.’ Burton’s trails of thought drifted at the sign of an unwelcome visitor appear at the back of the room.

Ramsey lingered at the doorframe, and took a seat at the far end of the conference table. He exchanged a look with Burton and then tried to give a friendly nod in his direction.

‘Ok…if you read POL1’s report, you can see that he’s located the Kiprich brother’s base in the area. Should have some images on that one.’ Burton looked at the large display screen and waited for it to come alive. Seconds passed but still nothing changed. An irritated Burton looked for the technician at the back of the room. ‘Any time now would be helpful techie!’ The screen slowly flicked on, with a detailed satellite image displayed. ‘Ok, this is a satellite image of the Cracow area. These two markers indicate the details mentioned in POL1’s report. From what he says, the Kiprich brothers have a house on the outskirts, which is here.’ Burton highlighted the area in the red. ‘Together with a storage area, this is about two and a half miles over to the South.’ This time the target highlighted in blue. ‘Now, for this operation we’re going to continue to use both Alpha and Bravo teams of S.U.C.O. Olsen, I want you to take your Alpha team and tackle the storage area which we’re expecting to be quite a challenge. A word to you, we want the storage bay destroyed. Whatever he’s got in there, get rid of it. Understood? The word has come down that there will be a 100% body count for this operation. Jordan’s team will storm the house which should be fairly routine for you guys, most of the key men will be asleep. As ever, reconnaissance will come first. Make sure of your surroundings before going in. These images are only about half an hour old. The more detailed images…’ The display screen brought up the same image in greater detail. ‘That’s the one. This shows about eight men at the house and about four at the storage bay. Any questions?’

Ramsey kept an eye on Burton who was definitely sweating. Throughout the briefing, he had been attempting to decipher why Burton looked so pale and unsteady on his feet. Thoughts of stopping the briefing had entered his mind but no mistakes had been made as yet.

Burton continued. ‘Ok, in terms of your travel. You’ll be flown straight to Warsaw airport under dark, and then from there a chopper will drop you off on the outskirts of Silesia, which is the closest town to Cracow. An armoured van will be waiting for you. It’s about 2 miles to the target area.’ Burton looked at the two-team leaders with his last detail. ‘Strike time is just after 0200 hours GMT. That understood?’ No questions came to him, so Burton decided to wrap up his briefing, feeling proud of himself to make it through. ‘That’s pretty much it, get yourselves to the armoury and I’ll see you all when you get back ok? Good luck.’

Ramsey gave encouraging words to Olsen and Jordan, the team leaders, leaving himself and Burton the only people left in the briefing room. ‘An average briefing Burton, but it’ll do. Our mutual boss tells me your problems are all behind you now?’

Burton switched off the display and picked up his papers. ‘Yeah, all sorted out now sir. Cheers for asking.’

‘Are you feeling all right? You look a little tired.’

‘Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t cure, sir. Anyway, I need to get back to my office and then down to Operations Command. Our mutual boss is expecting me.’ Burton managed a weak looking smile.

Ramsey wasn’t convinced about Burton at all. ‘He’s expecting me too. See you there in ten minutes?’

‘Sounds just fine to me, sir.’ He hurried out of the briefing room and into the nearest lift, heading towards the nearest restaurant.

Minutes later, he paid for a grease ridden Cornish pasty and took a hefty bite. Burton didn’t notice the thousands of crumbs that dropped down his shirt; his mind was far away as he once again contemplated where Kate and Oscar were at that very moment and whether they were thinking about him. Burton decided to try his wife’s mobile for the hundredth time, desperately hoping he might get one more chance to speak to her.

 

Elliott sat back in his black leather chair and authorised an operation with a C, in green ink, as his signature.

It was a time honoured tradition, keeping in line with the first Chief of MI6, Captain Sir Mansfield Smith Cumming RN, who always went by the name of C and signed everything in green ink. To this day, all his predecessors do the same to honour the great man.

Pushing the document away, his eyes came to a list of figures his deputy had given him. Elliott, in his second spell as Chief, had been in his position for seven years and, in that time, had never seen things look so bleak. Years before, the number of agents at his disposal had been at its highest level. Elliott regarded all of his trusted agents as highly trained and supremely talented with skills in so many areas; the loss of one was a huge blow not only to the agency and service but also to the national security of his beloved United Kingdom and Europe.

In the last year alone, over 45 agents, most of which Elliott had known and in some rare cases even trained, had been lost in the line of duty. His eyes ran over the ‘Cause of death’ column. Some had perished in what had been classed as ‘Operation Accidents’, but what deeply worried him was that a large number had been assassinated. In some reports, the evidence appeared to suggest that they had been hunted down and killed. By whom, and why these agents? Or was it the locations they occupied? He looked again, desperate to see something that could suggest a pattern but found nothing, as he glanced to his deputy.

Ramsey could see the worried look in his eyes. ‘The numbers don’t get any better with a second look, you can take my word on that one.’

Elliott grunted in response and shook his head. ‘Forty-five, Kevin, forty-five of my knights! The names…have you seen them?’ He ran a finger down the page and read in a slow and sombre tone. ‘Agent Martin Braga killed in his flat at 11:15pm, September last year in Moscow. I knew him, had done for over a decade, he’d been our man in Russia for all that time and was one of our best.’ He threw his glasses onto the desk and rubbed his eyes, feeling the strain and weariness of the plight of MI6 and the West in general. ‘Braga was one of the most intuitive men I’ve ever known, he could read people so well.’ The thick black rings around his eyes seemed to turn a darker shade as he bowed his head and mumbled ‘He can’t have died for nothing.’

‘All the agents in that report were good people, sir; they all put themselves on the line. I wish I had better news.’

Elliott knew his deputy well and noted the expression. ‘Something else you want to tell me, Kevin?’

Another file was placed on the desk. ‘MI5 report another 20 agents have been killed this year. I took the liberty of contacting the C.I.A. who have lost a staggering 70 agents in the past year. Pakistan and France report similar totals, with a pattern across the board for our other Western allies.’

To Elliott the fact that agents had been lost was not a surprise but the numbers were. Over the last three years, the number of agent fatalities had been rising but he had never expected it to reach levels that were now causing extreme concern and worry for the West and it’s valued protectors. ‘A pattern…how many men do we have? For my own peace of mind, I need a number.’

Ramsey found another report. ‘We currently have just over 300 agents available to us, sir. Unfortunately, the number of those that are graded highly skilled and experienced has dropped by another 20%.’ He found another sheet from a different folder. ‘Seven years ago we had over 650 agents available, with MI5 reporting very similar figures.’

Elliott rose from his seat with a grimace and stumbled over to the window, passing several mahogany book cabinets. The office was quiet and with its low lighting and peaceful ticking of the grandfather clock, he felt completely at ease. Outside, the streets of London looked as normal and as undisturbed as they ever did. His thoughts turned to the innocent public as he watched the cars speed by in the distance, most of which were probably occupied by family men and women rushing home to be with their loved ones. ‘Sometimes I wonder whether the PM is right to shield them. Sometimes I wonder…’

Ramsey looked up from his seat and walked over to join his superior. ‘Sir?’

‘My heart, Kevin, I’m thinking with my heart. One of my weaknesses, mmm?’ His blue eyes gave a slight sparkle and then faded. ‘It is right to keep it from them but our situation is grim. It’ll get worse; we must prepare. A war is looming but it’s not one that we’ve ever faced before.’

Ramsey’s massive frame lingered behind the frail 5’ 8” of Elliott, his fiery eyes conveying everything that MI6 and the West represented; freedom, defiance, professionalism and sheer determination. ‘We’ve lost a lot of agents, sir, I won’t deny it but we can come through this, no matter how long it takes.’ He shifted his position for a moment and considered his next move. ‘Perhaps it’s time to look at bringing back as many agents as we can, sir. Those that have retired or left for whatever reason.’

‘Re-activation?’ Asked Elliott quickly, his brow furrowing as he considered the option.

A long silence lingered between two of the most powerful men in the United Kingdom before Elliott spoke again. ‘I will give it some thought. In our current situation, numbers are the key. It’s a path we may have to choose. I have faith in my knights, Kevin. Nevertheless, with the losses we’ve all suffered, I feel we’re missing something. Or maybe even someone.’

 

Chapter 16

 

Friday, March 9th 01:00,

Kraków, Poland,

Operation Reprisal.

 

Jordan pulled up the handbrake and the van came to a halt on the thick grassy verge of a small wooded area. He gave an order to two of the agents to cover the van, so it would merge with the undergrowth. Stepping out of the van, Jordan began to assemble his urban assault combat gear.

It consisted of a waist length tactical vest and a Kevlar helmet. Both were capable of stopping high power pistol rounds. Each unit member had been armed with their chosen pistols, a Colt M16A2 rifle and several flash bang capsules. These would prove useful when storming the closely guarded areas. The cartridge would provide seconds worth of blinding light, which could be the difference between life and death.

Olsen tightened his level III tactical vest and loaded his Colt M16A2 rifle, checking the sights several times. At that very moment, he thought of Rachel and straight away felt guilty, knowing her reaction if she saw him dressed in such a way and loading a deadly rifle with bullets. He gave his head a quick shake and gave several orders as team S.U.C.O. set off in single file into the woods.

The darkness covered every corner of their vision, with no lights of any kind visible in the distance. A scything cold wind could be heard and felt all around. The team came out of the dense woods and into an area with more open grass.

Olsen noted the signal from Jordan at the front of the group and lowered to his knees, whilst rushing to join his colleague. With his back to a large tree, he caught the attention of Jordan. ‘Problem?’ He whispered.

‘We got some company. Seven o’clock.’ Jordan gave a point of his head in that direction.

Olsen followed his deputy’s gaze and caught sight of a slim man in his fifties who was walking through the open area and heading to the dense forest. Olsen flicked a switch on his Kevlar-plated helmet and studied the target in more detail through the green display of his night vision. ‘It’s a negative, just a local.’

Jordan looked again and shook his head. ‘Not a chance; that guy is one of Kiprich’s men, I can feel it. I’m moving to-’

Olsen grabbed his deputy by the neck and pulled him back. ‘I’m in command here; you either do what I say or you stay in the van! Are we clear on that?’

Jordan shrugged off his leader’s hand and got to his feet. ‘Crystal.’

As team S.U.C.O. separated into two units, Olsen made a point of making firm eye contact with Jordan. ‘Let’s finish this and get out of here. We’ve got a job to do.’ Olsen, with Carter and the other agents behind him, set off towards the storage area that was two and a half miles away.

 

Jordan watched them go and exchanged a look with Gibbs, his deputy. Frustration boiled away inside of him. Jordan was the senior agent, having 14 years of experience over Olsen. For the first time in too long, he had been given the chance to lead a team and he wanted to make it count more than ever. He gave a signal to the four agents under his command and led them through the undergrowth, passing a redundant water tower as the house appeared in sight. Taking cover behind the trees, Jordan flicked a switch on his vest and was instantly in communication between not only his team, but Olsen’s as well. ‘Team B be aware, we have now reached our target residence. Repeat your status?’

Two and a half miles away, Olsen heard Jordan’s voice and saw the outlines of the Kiprich brother’s storage facility ahead. It appeared to be half the size of a football pitch and was on the edge of the surrounding woods. A side road was not far from their position. Olsen noted two men standing guard. He felt mildly surprised, as he’d been expecting more outside resistance. The switch on the front of his vest was set to ‘Send’. ‘Acknowledged, Team A. Have reached our target; enemy presence has been identified. Going in.’

Almost three miles away, Jordan did not receive the message. The house ahead looked empty on first impression. No guards could be seen around the perimeter; the area was in darkness and appeared deserted. Are they asleep? Or, are the Kiprich brothers more worried about the storage facility? he thought to himself. He gave a hand signal and led his team towards the target. As they closed in, there was still no sign of life.

 

Ferec stood completely still next to the Kiprich brothers in the dark, dense undergrowth that was opposite the house. Since sending the report to MI6, all three men, together with several armed guards, had been waiting in the forest for over three hours. Ferec looked over at Jozef, the more dominant brother. ‘Everything is in place, Jozef?’ He whispered.

Jozef watched the MI6 strike team sprint towards the house through his night vision goggles. He felt like laughing uncontrollably at the ease at which he had lured the enemy. Even Akira couldn’t accomplish this. ‘They won’t know what hit them. The hostages are there as well.’

Ferec looked round to face his friend. ‘Hostages? Who?’

‘Oh…just some locals I happened to see in the market square. They will serve their purpose.’ Jozef’s dark green eyes intensified as he continued to watch the MI6 team. He looked behind, to the rest of the group. ‘Load your weapons and take position.’

 

Jordan positioned a small charge on the front door, moved back and gave a sharp nod of the head as the door blew clean off its hinges. His deputy threw a Flashbang cartridge into the first room and stormed in with another team member. Jordan moved into the living room, seeing no sign of the Kiprich brothers or the rest of the group. He kept his rifle out in front of him at all times as he looked at two of his agents. ‘Check the bedroom, storm it!’ As the two men moved off, Jordan and his deputy burst into the kitchen, weapons at the ready. They lowered them slightly at the sign of another empty room. Jordan studied his surroundings and could see no sign of recent use, the kitchen tap looked frozen over from either the weather or lack of use.

Another team member came in, looking puzzled. ‘No sign of anyone in the bedroom or the other rooms sir. Is it possible they are all at the storage unit?’

Jordan looked away for a moment. ‘All of them? I don’t think so. Unless they really are storing something lethal at that place.’

‘SIR!’

Jordan swivelled around at the sound of the shout and rushed into the back room. His eyes turned wide at the sight ahead of him. Several adults were tied up and gagged. ‘What the hell?!?’

Gibbs stepped forward and removed the gags from the mouths of two of the five adults. He began to speak in fluent Polish.

SMASH!

The living room window exploded in a mass of flying glass! A large gas pellet flew in and dropped onto the wooden floor.

Jordan shut the door and rushed into the living room, frantically searching in his backpack for his mask. ‘MASKS ON! NOW!’ He placed the mask over his face but saw two of his team fall to the floor as they grasped their throats in a struggle for air. Jordan threw himself on the deck, whilst frantically trying to call for backup on his radio as his remaining two agents attempted to catch sight of the attackers. Adrenalin was surging around his body at lightning speed, taking control of his mind just as quickly. ‘IT’S A TRAP!’

 

At the storage facility, Olsen and his team had dealt with the guards outside. As they waited at the door, neither of them could hear any sound emanating from the facility. Olsen decided to take the safe option.

‘Carter, take the others and circle this box house, check for other exits and terrorist backup. Go!’

As they moved off, Olsen placed a small charge on the doorway. The device did the trick. He rushed in and was presented with two aisles of storage racks, with an office at the far end. Olsen sprinted down the left aisle with his Beretta 92G pistol out in front of him at all times, heading for the backroom. He heard a colleague give the all clear on his side, so continued. As he closed in, he flicked a switch on his communications device and sent a signal to Team A.

 

Silence.

 

‘Team A, come in.’ Seconds passed but still no reply came. Olsen kicked the office door clean off its hinges and swept the area with the sights of his pistol, only to find a storage bay full of redundant equipment. Olsen’s concern for Team A was growing and he felt the need to finish his task quickly. He laid the charges, set the timer to two minutes and rushed out of the storage bay.

 

Jordan cursed loudly as he ducked down behind the nearest wall. Sniper fire started flying into the living room. The situation took a deadly turn for the worse when he noticed that one of his agents had been killed because his tactical vest had been penetrated. A surge of dread filled every part of him as he realised the attackers were using the latest armour-piercing bullets. It was a struggle to shout through his mask over the gunfire. ‘REPEAT, NEED URGENT ASSISTANCE, WE ARE UNDER HEAVY FIRE! OLSEN, CARTER, RESPOND!’ Jordan waited for a moment but still heard no reply. ‘SHIT!’ He could not even speak to his deputy five feet away; the noise level of the attack was so great. The question of whether the unit was damaged or if the attackers had found a way to jam their transmissions came into his thoughts. We can’t stay here much longer! Jordan moved alongside a colleague to obtain a clearer view. Through his gas mask, all he could see was the dense, heavy undergrowth ahead of the house. He wondered just how long the attackers would wait until they would enter. Even the most positive guess did not make him feel any better. Jordan felt his stomach turn but stuck with the decision he had made. ‘FOLLOW MY LEAD! WE’RE GETTING OUT OF HERE!’

At first, Gibbs and the other surviving agent didn’t move. The noise level made it almost impossible to communicate. Gibbs reloaded his rifle and fired several rounds in the direction of the undergrowth ahead. ‘WE SHOULD STAY AND FIGHT, SIR! IF WE CONTACT THE OTHERS, MAYBE WE COULD-’

No time for this! Jordan told himself, as he grabbed Gibbs, pulled him back from the line of fire and shoved him in the direction of the back door. ‘WE’RE LEAVING RIGHT NOW! GO!’ Jordan watched the last surviving members of his team move off as he stayed for a moment, in an attempt to draw the attacker’s gunfire.

Gibbs followed his colleague through the back of the house but watched his body jerk unnaturally as bullets rained in from all sides. Gibbs fell back into the living room as the kitchen back door was being smashed down. He cocked his rifle, turned and emptied a whole cartridge, spreading bullets in every possible direction. Fear took hold of him as he jumped over several bodies and made his way back to Jordan, in the hope that the more experienced leader would have an escape plan. ‘WE LOST CARSTON! WHAT NOW?!’

 

Jozef heard the gunfire stop outside the kitchen door and looked up slowly. As he moved towards the house he saw his brother, beside him, get up and then drop to his knees. Jozef turned his back on the house with no thought for another attack, just concern over his only family. ‘Gyorgy! Are you all right?’ To his shock, he saw his brother clasp his chest, where blood was beginning to seep down his combat suit.

Jordan caught sight of the hostages in the corner of his vision and looked at his deputy. ‘WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE!’ He held his weapon of choice, a black Glock .45 semi-automatic pistol in one hand and his Colt rifle in the other. ‘WE RUN FOR IT, BACK TO THE VAN! READY? ON MY MARK!’

Gibbs turned his back on the scene behind him, where he had lost another colleague. He grabbed his leader’s arm at the thought of the hostages. ‘THE HOSTAGES! WE CAN’T JUST LEAVE THEM HERE!’ Even over the continuing bullet fire, the urgency could be traced in his voice.

Jordan looked again at the room where the hostages were. He made an effort to crawl towards them but several more bullets flew in from the main window, forcing Jordan back. As hard as it was to make the decision, he just wanted to make it back to the van in one piece. ‘WE’RE LEAVING NOW!’

Gibbs looked to his leader, then back to the room. He immediately had his mind made up for him as the living room door was blasted off its hinges. He forced the images of the hostages from his mind and followed Jordan out of the front door as both men made a desperate run for the cover of the undergrowth not far away.

Jozef dragged his brother into the kitchen and continued to scream at his only family to stay with him. He gave an order to Ferec to cease fire on the house and then grabbed him by his shirt collar. His voice was full or vengeance, out of control. ‘Take the rest of the men and blow them all to hell!!!’ He found some towels in the kitchen and placed them on his brother, who was looking weaker by the second. One of his loyal guards loomed in the doorway. Jozef’s green eyes locked onto him. ‘I want a doctor here in the next five minutes or you’ll be on the floor with him. Move!’ From behind, Jozef heard several noises that made him turn around. There, in perfect health, were the five Polish locals he had rounded up for the operation. A bolt of surprise shot through his system as he realised the MI6 team had left them behind. Jozef looked around the room and saw a Colt M16A2 rifle lying next to one of the fallen members of the MI6 strike team. He calmly placed a pair of gloves on his hands, picked up the weapon, took aim and without even a moment’s hesitation, fired every possible round from the rifle. His mind continued to boil over with fury…

 

Carter returned to the armoured van and looked back sharply at the exploding storage area. As everything died down, Olsen’s voice attracted his attention from behind, as he saw the group return. ‘What’s the score, Sam? Anything?’

Olsen shook his head quickly and reloaded his rifle. ‘Nothing. I’m more concerned with Jordan’s team; have you heard anything from them in the last five minutes?’

Carter shook his head. ‘No response.’

Olsen jogged past Carter, in the direction of the house. ‘You’re with me! The rest of you leave with the van if we’re not back in ten minutes!’

Carter watched them go but caught sight of something ahead. ‘Heads up, Sam! We’ve got company!’

Olsen had matured into a decisive leader and wasted no time in taking control. They all dived for cover as bullet fire hit the ground and the surrounding trees. He grabbed Carter, who was by the side of the van. ‘Get to the van and start the engine! Move it, Dan!’ He watched his close friend set off as more bullets came ever closer. ‘And keep your head down!’ Olsen turned to another agent. ‘You’re with me, we provide cover for any survivors!’

Carter pulled out his Heckler and Koch P7M8 pistol as he watched Olsen return fire. The dark-skinned agent saw his chance, crawled round the side of the van and returned fired when he could, taking cover behind the front seats. He flicked a switch on his radio and screamed into his helmet, which would relay back to Olsen. ‘READY!’ Ahead, the attackers could be seen to be moving forward to make the final push. Carter took a Level III tactical vest from the racks and placed it over his existing armour as he made a move to the driver’s seat.

Carter turned the van around and revved up the engine, watching a mini war unfold in the rear view mirror.

Jordan appeared and saw the scene in the rear view mirror. ‘Get this thing moving!’

Carter revved the engine again and started to move as he saw Olsen and another man appear in the wing mirror and jump on board.

‘Can you get us to the rendezvous point, Dan?’ Asked a nervous Olsen. ‘I’ve sent a signal to the recovery team, not sure if it reached them, interference all around us. All being well, the chopper should be waiting.’

Carter’s left shoulder was bleeding. ‘I think so! No sign of them following us. Hold on!’ The van turned sharply onto the main road and sped towards the checkpoint. It looked like they were going to make it after all…

 

Ferec emerged from the shadows and discontinued his pointless fire. The MI6 team had escaped. He picked up his radio and attempted to contact Jozef.

‘How is Gyorgy, my friend?’

Jozef leant back against several kitchen units and heard the radio message almost from a long distance away. For the past few minutes, he had watched a doctor attempt to save the life of his beloved brother. He picked the radio up and raised it to his mouth, the red button on the far side of the device pressed. ‘The doctor is with him now, Ferec. Gyorgy has been critically injured.’ His tone changed to one of indifference. ‘The MI6 team?’

Ferec paused for a moment, not wanting to give his friend more bad news. ‘I am sorry, Jozef. They eluded us this time. I will see you shortly.’

Jozef dropped the radio and watched the doctor continue in his effort to save his brother. For a brief moment, the thoughts of MI6 simply faded away as his childhood and every waking memory of his twin brother took hold of him.

 

Chapter 17

 

Friday, March 9th 03:30,

Moscow, Russia.

 

The night shadows covered every corner of Moscow, as Marraud slowly crouched down in Alexandrovsky Gardens and looked through his compact set of night vision binoculars. Sure enough, Salenko and his mystery companion appeared and then got into a nearby black saloon. Marraud wasted no time and quickly made his way to his car, a rundown cream coloured Lada. Every time he saw it, he remembered the standard jokes about Lada cars but the car did one thing really well; it didn’t attract any attention.

Keeping himself far behind Salenko and out of sight, he smiled as he noted that Salenko was driving, with his companion sitting alongside in the front. The image clearly showed who was in charge. Marraud’s mind sparked into activity as twenty questions all flashed by in a matter of seconds. Where could they be going at this time? Why is Salenko driving? What about security? The latter made Marraud wary of the mystery man’s background and abilities. Taking the potential next President of Russia out for a drive in the early hours of the morning with no security was some move and demanded respect. Whoever the individual was, he had to be supremely confident of his abilities and clearly felt able to protect Salenko from any threat. Being very careful to keep his distance, Marraud slowed down as he came onto the bridge and crossed the Vodootvodny Canal. He headed away from the Moscow Kremlin and moved into the suburban areas. Noting another turnoff ahead, he took the same, taking the Lada into Yakimanka Bol Street, which was completely deserted. Panic set in slightly as he coasted the car down the long and winding street, numerous darkened houses passing by the window. Marraud noted light ahead, in a three-storey house in Zemsky per Street just a few hundred feet away. Taking a chance, he pulled over and parked his car, desperate to keep suspicion to a minimum. With his binoculars, he watched carefully. To his delight, he saw the saloon park alongside the house some distance away, its two passengers stepping out. Marraud kept his attention locked onto the mystery man and took note of his thorough inspection of the house and its surroundings. For a good thirty seconds, he made sure of everything with meticulous checks. This is no personal assistant or chief of staff.

Several minutes passed before Marraud left his car and made his way to the back of the house. Risk taking was part of the game but that didn’t mean he liked it; every bone in Marraud’s body knew what the consequences would be if he were caught. Slowly, he crept around the house and came to a window, where he could hear voices. Doing everything possible to make no sound whatsoever, Marraud froze as he saw Salenko and a senior Russian politician in the room. The name escaped him but Marraud had seen him before. His blue eyes scanned for the mystery man and he almost jumped as he realised the individual was right next to the window, with his back turned. All the hairs on his neck stood on end as he realised how close he was to Salenko’s companion. As the conversation continued, Marraud translated every word in his head and kept very, very still.

A street away, the only active member of the once legendary Black Knights, the FSB’s (formerly KGB) premier strike team, crept low in the bushes and watched Marraud through his own pair of night vision binoculars. Denyer had been following the man for the last few hours and was taking in as many details as he possibly could; dressed all in black, his grey hair covered by a black hood and his light green eyes never straying from the images he saw.

Moments passed, then he moved his young, agile frame and trudged back to his parked car. Within minutes, he was on the phone to his source at the FSB to match a name to the face and then he would double back and tell Akira…

 

Elliott looked to have aged a decade as he watched in horror at several screens that displayed the details of Operation Reprisal’s failure. Another showed the casualty list of agents from the operation. The Chief of MI6 looked away from the displays and tried to clear his mind from the mess of thoughts that were focussing on S.U.C.O.’s first failed operation in a very long time.

Throughout both his reigns, the service had maintained a high level of performance and kept attention to a minimum. Two years ago, a new Prime Minister had been elected and had shown, on more than one occasion, disapproval of how Elliott was choosing to run MI6. From what he could tell, the PM simply wanted to remove him because of old age and stubbornness. Since then, he had been extra prudent in his decision making and operation authorising. A statistics screen took hold of his attention and his mind concentrated on what the reaction would be from Prime Minister Jacobs this time around. Elliott looked again at the nearby monitor.

The survivors were on their way back to the UK and scheduled to arrive within the hour. Elliott read the casualty list for the third time, finding once again that three agents from Team A were missing, presumed dead and several agents from Team B were injured. Ramsey, his number two, appeared beside him. ‘I have several urgent tasks for you, Kevin.’

Ramsey raised his eyebrows as he studied the tired expression on his superior’s face. ‘How much time do I have, sir?’

‘Send a signal to POL1 and have him check the Kiprich house for survivors, liaising with the Polish police. Any word from his superior in Warsaw?’

Ramsey looked worried. ‘Uh…no. We lost contact with HQPOL around the time S.U.C.O. was arriving in Poland. All attempts to raise our man have failed. I think we may have to assume the worst, sir.’ He shifted his weight as he thought over how to phrase his next comment. ‘Do you think it’s wise to keep POL1 in Kraków? This group seem to be covering all our people. Shouldn’t we move him out straight away?’

Elliott remembered the rising number of dead agents, not wanting to add another to the list but with little option. ‘A worthwhile risk and one I will support; when done, get him out of the country and back in the UK as fast as you can.’ So far, he had not received any communication from Downing Street but was certain it would come in the next few hours. Elliott had assured the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister that the operation would run smoothly with his best team involved. At no point had he suspected the operation to take the turn it had. He struggled to maintain his focus, knowing all too well he would be lucky to still have his job by the end of the day. Over by the double doors at the entrance to Operations Command, Burton caught his eye, looking far worse than he had done since he had last seen him. Workers moved out of his way as he approached the S.U.C.O. team commander.

‘Where the hell have you been?’ Elliott snapped. He had not been impressed with the agent’s performance, his late arrival only adding to that opinion.

Burton had large dark rings under his eyes. His glazed pupils studied his boss. ‘Sorry sir. I was just getting all the operation details and profiles together. I would have been here sooner, otherwise. I take it things aren’t looking too good?’

Elliott controlled his temper, together with the urge to fire Burton on the spot. ‘Absolutely not. S.U.C.O. has been hit, with three dead. The operation was a failure. We’ve lost contact with our man in Warsaw and as far as we know, the Kiprich brothers are in perfect health. Need I go on?’

‘Only if you want to, sir.’ Burton replied, with a disinterested shrug of his shoulders.

Elliott opened his mouth to reply but was handed a message by one of the nearby operations workers. He gave a curt nod in reply.

Burton watched his superior physically deflate as his shoulders sank and a look of dread spread over his features. ‘Bad news, sir?’ He asked, knowing all too well it was most likely a summons to Downing Street.

‘My presence has been requested by the PM and the Defence Minister. Get yourself together; you will accompany me.’ Elliott noted the look of shock on his agent’s face and turned around to signal to his aide as they both made their way to the exit. Ramsey was informed to take over at Operations Command at the door.

 

Denyer, dressed in a casual jacket and trousers with his premature grey hair waving in the wind, parked his car near the bungalow on Zemsky per Street and walked towards the house ahead of him. He was sure French Special agent Marraud was nearby and noting his own appearance. Not that it mattered now. A wave of confidence flashed through his system. His source at the FSB had matched the photos and details he had provided and had sent him the file of the legendary French agent. What a history this man had; a career littered with achievements and accolades. He was a living legend. For a moment, Denyer almost wanted to rush into the surrounding gardens and seek him out himself but instead he casually approached the front door and went inside.

The house had a musty smell about it and the sound of Russian music came from the living room. Passing the dark red striped wallpaper on the walls, he knocked on the door and entered. ‘Excuse me. I need to speak with you.’ Denyer focussed his gaze on Akira, who sat alone in the corner of the room observing Salenko attempting to convince his fellow politician on his policies.

‘Carry on.’ Akira mumbled as he made his way to the door, replacing his hood over his head. By doing so, the shadows fell across his face and made him even more intimidating. ‘Well?’

Denyer didn’t flinch or move away but his usual aggressive manner was slightly diminished. ‘You were right. Someone is here and he’s been following you both. I have all his details here.’

‘Good. Whoever it is will need to be dealt with quickly. Nothing can come between Salenko and the Presidency.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Denyer opened the file to remove some paperwork but a photograph slipped out and spun to the floor. Angry with himself, he knelt down immediately but a foot moved close to him and he froze.

‘This is he?’ Asked Akira, in a far quieter speaking voice.

‘Yes, sir.’ Denyer tried to see the reaction through the shadows but could make out nothing for sure. He waited for more but nothing came. Instead, his leader merely stood there, motionless. He continued anyway. ‘His name is Patrice Marraud, aged 41. He came into the country some time ago. I have several historic files, all of which detail his career with the French Secret Service.’

Akira had only heard two words. In fact, the photo had been quite enough to stir a reaction within him. The name had knocked him, it was definitely familiar but the memories were still resisting him and had yet to come. There could be no doubt about it, he remembered Patrice Marraud but from where? Denyer’s voice clawed him back to the present.

‘I’ll search the surrounding area.’ The young man was saying confidently.

Akira took a step forward and felt his charge flinch with fear. ‘No. I will deal with him myself when I am ready. For now, go and wait in the car.’

Denyer was stunned at this response. Something had definitely changed since he had disclosed his findings. Was Akira afraid of this Frenchman? Or displeased with his work? Whatever the problem was, it was apparently none of his business. He bowed his head and made his way back to the car.

Akira watched the door close and remained in the hallway. Salenko’s voice and the faint Russian music came from the adjoining room but he ignored it and tried to call on Madeline. His thoughts were racing and he couldn’t focus, even though he could hear her faint voice in the background of his mind. The memories he so desperately wanted wouldn’t come to him either. All he knew was that Marraud was a threat; a powerful one at that.

 

Olsen slowly walked through the airport arrivals area and noticed the MI6 security team waiting ahead. Jordan and several others were alongside him, apart from Carter, who had sustained a minor bullet wound and was being treated at the local hospital. Olsen’s mind had been a flurry of activity throughout the flight, wondering just how they had been ambushed. An aching pain refused to budge from his chest. Three agents had been killed and his first operation as S.U.C.O. team leader had been a miserable failure. He caught up with Jordan, who walked alone some distance ahead.

‘Give me a break, ok? I don’t need a lecture from the likes of you.’ Jordan snapped.

‘All I want to know is what happened at that house. You lost three of my agents, remember?’ Olsen stood in front of Jordan and demanded an answer.

‘My agents, Sam! It was my team and apart from Gibbs and me, they all died, so don’t give me that crap! It was a set up; there was nothing I could do. I knew them a lot longer than you did!’ Jordan pushed past in frustration and got into the nearby vehicle that would take him back to headquarters.

Olsen looked at Agent Gibbs, not convinced he was being told the full story. I’d give anything to know what those guys are hiding. He caught the attention of a waiting agent who was part of the security team. Nothing was said of the failed operation. As one of his bags was thrown into the boot, Olsen noticed someone laying out the day’s newspapers on the nearby stands to his left. The sight of the main headline on one of the papers made him stop in his tracks.

 

‘BUNGLED UK ATTACK ON HUNGARIAN TERRORISTS BY MI6! POLAND OUTRAGED. EXCLUSIVE DETAILS INSIDE!’

 

Olsen started to move towards the stand with the intention of buying a copy but several members of the security team stepped in front of him and urged him to get into the car. Reluctantly, he complied, took his seat and wondered just how the media had gotten hold of the information. Olsen knew every operation was always treated with Level 1 security. Only the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, team members, Burton, Elliott, Ramsey and on this occasion POL1 knew about the op. The scenery flew by as Olsen gazed out of the window and prepared himself for the tough questions that would undoubtedly be coming his way.

 

Elliott was led into the conference room at 10 Downing Street, with his aide and Burton behind him. The room was dimly lit, with a long, wide, brown oak conference table in the middle, a large display screen on one wall and priceless looking artwork on the other. Elliott noticed the look of distain etched on the Prime Minister’s face. The slender individual was seated at the head of the table with the Defence Minister and to Elliott’s surprise, Peter Drake; his predecessor at MI6 and a long time favourite of the PM.

‘What went wrong, Richard? I recall you telling me that this operation would pose no problem for your elite squad.’ Prime Minister Jacobs’ tone was one of disgust. Dressed in a smart black suit, white shirt and burgundy tie, he sat up straight in his chair and looked stressed. His thinning black hair looked dishevelled and his normally fresh looking face had turned a worried shade of red.

Jacobs had sanctioned the operation but he had been wary of repercussions. His mind recalled several conversations with the Defence Minister that had convinced him to approve. He threw the early editions of the morning’s papers on the table. They all carried a headline relating to the events in Kraków.

Elliott peered at the papers on the large table. It was the first time he had seen any of the headlines and could not hide his shock at the realisation that all of them were related to the failed operation.

The Prime Minister was perceptive and noticed the look of shock straight away. ‘You didn’t even know of this? My god, Richard what sort of circus are you running over there? My Polish equivalent has been on the phone to me for the last hour, reading the riot act. I don’t blame him either. The operation was a shambles. Am I to understand that a third of the team is dead and the targets are nowhere to be found? To make matters worse, the media have now gotten hold of it.’ The agent to Elliott’s right caught hold of his attention. ‘You must be agent Burton, head of team S.U.C.O.’ He spat the last words out with contempt. ‘What is your take on this?’

‘Well sir, it seems clear to me that someone had inside information on the operation.’ His voice grew quieter as he finished his comment, the whole room falling silent as he spoke.

The Prime Minister looked back at Elliott. ‘Is that the latest assumption? Do we have any evidence to prove this?’

Elliot stood firm and shot a look at Burton. ‘That is our initial theory. I have our man in Kraków now; we are awaiting the report. It would certainly fit the events. It could well be linked to whoever leaked the story to the paper.’

The Prime Minister sat back in his chair, glancing at both men with two sweeping looks. For years he had tried to remove Elliott from office simply because, in his opinion, he was an old, worn out man not capable of handling the stress and strain anymore. Was he an icon? Absolutely, but the man was well past seventy and the time had come for change. Jacobs had been waiting for his chance and was not going to waste it. He leaned forward, placing both hands on the desk. ‘I am not convinced of your theory, Richard. In fact, I’m not impressed at your lack of control at MI6. You should be running a far tighter ship to avoid these bungled operations. It’s not over yet, either; there are still too many unanswered questions.’ The PM looked at the papers strewn out over the table and thought over his next words carefully. ‘I want your letter of resignation on the Defence Minister’s desk by morning. As for you, Burton, I will not be giving a glowing report about you to the new Chief of MI6.’

Elliott didn’t move but looked at the Defence Minister, normally his strongest supporter, in disbelief. This time, however, a look of pity stared back at him as the former Chief of MI6 realised he would receive no help this time around. ‘Wait!’ he shouted, with a weak voice, one that sounded a far cry from his deep baritone of yesteryear. ‘I’ve been in this job for close to thirty years, you cannot and will not, remove me from office!’

Jacobs wouldn’t budge. ‘You’re 72 years old Richard; you’ve had your time. I suggest you retire to a quieter life and take things slowly from now on. We can’t have our icons working too hard now, can we?’

‘How dare you patronise me!’ Elliott forced his aching body to rise and eventually, it responded. ‘A war is looming; this is no time for change. My agency and the very heart of the West are under threat!’

Jacobs was now gesturing for his staff to leave and had barely heard the ranting from the senile man ahead of him. I just hope that doesn’t happen to me. ‘My decision is final. Good day, Richard.’

Elliott watched the room empty, his mind going over what had just happened. His career was, apparently, over; so what was left for him now? Retirement? The very word made him cringe. He shook his head violently, furious with his aging body and mind for letting him down so badly. To his left, Burton could be seen slumped in a chair with his head in his hands.

 

The Prime Minister came out of the conference room and started walking. ‘Peter, I have a favour to ask of you.’ He led the former Chief of MI6 into a side room and sat down. ‘I want you to take over at MI6. We have to contain this situation. I need someone there that I can trust.’

Drake had missed the prestige and status of his former position and couldn’t help but smile. ‘Certainly, sir; I’ll have everything under control by the end of the day.’

The Prime Minister maintained eye contact with Drake as he continued. ‘These are changing times and I feel we need to reorganise things at MI6. I’ve had lengthy discussions with the Defence Minister about this and we have agreed that MI5 needs to adapt as well. Now, obviously the service has a mandate and a duty to protect national security but more than anything, I want you to reduce the profile of MI6 and keep the risk taking to an absolute minimum. I want a second term and I will not allow today’s events to happen again. Is that clear?’

‘I agree entirely, sir; you can rely on me to create the MI6 you require. Is that all, sir?’

Prime Minister Jacobs nodded, shook Drake’s hand and left the room.

Drake was by no means surprised. The PM’s request for his presence at the emergency meeting could have only meant one thing. Elliot’s reckless reign as Chief of MI6 has finally ended. Drake made his way to the front door to organise a car to take him straight to MI6 headquarters and back to the job he had always regretted leaving.

 

With his legs crossed on the floor and his hands apart, Akira sat alone in his quarters at Salenko’s home. The room had been tailored to his needs and was sparsely furnished. There was no bed, just an area on the floor that was his makeshift sleeping area. No furniture was present, no photographs, nothing that could create a memory or an emotional response. Nothing that could weaken him.

The meeting had gone well and the politician in question was now an ally and was already gathering speed with his recruitment of others to vote for their cause. All was well. Or so it would seem. For Akira, there was still the matter of Marraud.

With his eyes closed, Akira tried to make sense of his thoughts and the fragments of memories that had returned to him. There was nothing substantial, just images; snapshots of another time and what felt like a different life. Again, he tried to slow them down in his mind. One came and then disappeared again. It was of a younger looking Marraud happily smiling away. At him or someone else? Trying harder to focus, another image flashed by but this time it was of himself, looking so different. Younger, fresher, happier, even? No, he looked disillusioned. Things were so different back then, in a way that-

 

He has to die.

 

Madeline. Her voice was unmistakable. She came to him so clearly now, interrupting his thoughts.

 

Patrice is here to kill us. He will stop at nothing until both you and Salenko are dead.

 

Akira kept his eyes closed and spoke in a calm but slightly fragile tone. ‘He is determined. I know he always has been but I can’t remember it all. When did I meet him? What was-’

 

It doesn’t matter my love. All of that is in the past. The future will be the dream we both envisioned. Do not think of what has gone. Focus on the here and now.

 

‘But he could be saved; Patrice could join us?’

 

Never. Patrice Marraud is loyal to the West, he is too far gone; corrupted over the years. We could never convince him to join our cause. He would destroy us.

 

‘But what if-’

He must die my love. There can be no change of heart. No sympathy. Marraud is like the rest; they cannot be convinced. None of them see what we do. We can’t help it if they don’t…

A knock on the door interrupted everything and Madeline faded away. Akira opened his eyes sharply and turned towards the opening door in a fit of rage. What was Madeline going to say? His voice carried every trace of his anger. ‘I ordered no interruptions!’

Denyer cautiously stepped inside. He was half expecting to see two people, having heard Akira talking to someone moments before. He couldn’t hide his surprise when it was just his leader in the room and nobody else. ‘Sir…I apologise but Mikhail urgently needs you downstairs. He received a phone call and looks in need of your guidance.’

Akira looked absolutely fuming and almost snarled at Denyer. Standing still, he never took his eyes off the young man until finally, he responded, talking like he could barely control his anger. ‘Tell him…I will be down very soon and will deal with his crisis.’ He spat the last word out, with contempt.

Denyer closed the door and went to find Salenko. He had never seen Akira look so angry before and didn’t particularly want to again. His confusion was justified though; whom had he been talking to?

Akira took a deep breath and sat back down again, desperately trying to control his rage and clear his mind to hear the voice of his wife once more. Minutes passed and he tried so desperately to reach her again but it was no use. All that was there now were the fragments of memories again. Nothing but a tangled mess of what had gone before. Getting to his feet, still angry at Denyer and Salenko, he opened the door and stepped out into the hallway. As he walked towards the staircase, something came to him. In pieces at first but then so clearly, it stopped him in his tracks.

Martine Marraud.

And there it was. That was why he was unsure about how to act on Marraud. The truth still seemed lost within his mind but he knew one thing for sure. Martine Marraud had died a tragic death, just like his beloved Madeline. How in the world could he kill Patrice when he was probably the only man who could understand? They were one and the same surely?

 

Ramsey read speedily through the report but his eyes went back to several lines at the top of the document. His heart missed a beat as the details of Bedford’s death, otherwise known as POL1, sank in. Yet another skilled agent is dead. How many more are we going to lose? Ramsey had first met Bedford years before and had trained him initially. It was a heavy loss with the tally of lost agents on Operation Reprisal now five, with every chance the number could increase further. He caught the attention of an aide. ‘Put aside some resources to make sure Bedford’s wife and daughter are looked after and put some time in my diary for me to visit them. Put this near the top of the priority list, please.’

A commotion at the large double doors of Operations Command caught his eye. Ramsey did a double take and saw an unwelcome visitor stride confidently into the area. I hope he is just a visitor; that guy’s the last thing we need.

Drake walked into Operations Command at MI6 and scanned the large display screens. He gave a long look to the huge area that was the command centre. It had been a long time since he had been back there. Drake was 58, 5’10”, with shaven black hair on the side of his head and bald on top. He had been in charge of MI6 for just over two years before leaving seven years ago when Elliott had returned for a second spell, going on to become a top security advisor to the Defence Minister. Drake thought back to the meeting at Downing Street just half an hour ago and the look he had received from Richard Elliott. A look of blame; Elliott only had himself at fault because he was too cocky. Caution and prudence were the key factors in doing the job well, he reminded himself. There was no place for reckless decisions and ‘strike teams’. Some of the operations staff stared hard at him as he walked by. The relatively small Drake approached a tall, dark and powerful looking figure that stood near several computer screens. ‘Good evening, Kevin, it’s not surprising to see you still here.’

Ramsey ignored the sarcasm, turned around and feigned surprise. ‘Sir! What are you doing here? Where is Mr. Elliott?’

Drake sniffed and raised his head, almost in disgust. ‘Heading to the retirement home, thankfully. The PM has placed me back in command for the foreseeable future, long may it stay that way, in my opinion.’ Drake visibly straightened, as did his bland looking suit and suitably drab tie. Black rimmed glasses protruded from his chest pocket. ‘Status report?’

Ramsey, in his impressive looking Ralph Lauren suit, towered over his superior, looked down at Drake and enjoyed doing so. ‘S.U.C.O. is heading back here as we speak; three agents are down; we’ve lost HQPOL and moments ago I heard we lost POL1. He was a good man, sir, I knew him some years ago. It’s been a total hit on all sides.’

Drake moved to a monitor and inspected the display. ‘Indeed.’ He stopped briefly as a report was handed to Ramsey. Drake took hold of the envelope. ‘If you don’t mind, Ramsey?’ He put on his glasses and read the information slowly. ‘There might be something here…’ His forehead wrinkled slightly as he read further. ‘Oh my god…here, read this.’

Ramsey took the report and read several key statements. ‘Three dead MI6 team members…what’s this? Three Polish women and two Polish men found dead in the back room of the house. All bodies riddled with bullets from a Colt M16A2 rifle.’ The MI6 number two looked up from the report, his boss’s glare fixed in his direction.

‘What rifles were the S.U.C.O. teams using on Operation Reprisal?’ Drake’s eyes asked the same question through the thick lenses of his glasses.

‘All team members were assigned Colt M16A2 rifles sir. It’s possible the terrorists planted-’

‘Spare me your theories, Ramsey. When S.U.C.O. arrives, I want them taken to briefing room one straightaway. Make sure they don’t speak to anyone else. Is that understood?’ Before the younger of the two could answer, one of the technicians came to his side.

‘The S.U.C.O. agents have just arrived, sir. Would you like me to bring them up?’

Ramsey made his way to the exit door of Operations Command, looking at Drake as he walked. ‘That’s fine. I’ll bring them up to briefing room one.’ With every step, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the return of Drake was the biggest mistake the Prime Minister could ever make. In his opinion, Richard Elliott had been the finest leader the agency had ever known and with a war looming, the last thing needed was a cautious approach.

 

Olsen stepped out of the car and followed the other agents to the nearest lift, under the murky lighting of the MI6 headquarters car park. The S.U.C.O. leader caught sight of Ramsey waiting nearby. Olsen noticed the stance and expression Ramsey had and gave him a look of interest. ‘Don’t tell me, we’re going to be thrown to the wolves, right?’

‘Something like that, Olsen.’ Ramsey said wryly. The veteran agent led the team members through several areas of headquarters before showing them into briefing room one, where Drake sat.

Olsen paused at the doorway at the sight of Drake, who he had always loathed with a passion. His eyes gave a scathing look at the balding man who sat at the large conference table with his hands linked together. ‘Where’s the Chief of MI6?’

Drake didn’t move and replied in a quiet tone. ‘Take a seat, gentlemen. I’m afraid Mr. Elliott’s reign here has ended. As of today, I’m back in charge. I suggest you all adapt.’ Drake’s last comment was aimed at Olsen and nobody else. ‘As I’m sure you’re all aware, tonight’s Operation did not go as planned. Procedure dictates that you are all to be isolated to produce your reports. I’ve decided to give you these five minutes to explain anything you feel the need to. I suggest you take advantage of my rare display of generosity. Well?’

Olsen listened to every word but felt like he had missed something. He had first met Drake when he was 20 years old. His mind recalled the memory of standing in Drake’s office and being given a severe slating on rules and procedures. In all the years Olsen had known Drake, he didn’t think he had ever proved his worth as Chief of MI6. The sight of him alone made him think of a career change or at the very least, a change of assignment. ‘The Operation was a duff from the start. The storage area my team stormed had nothing in it of use. It’s possible they were tipped off; I can’t think of any other-’

Drake leaned forward, replaced his glasses and read several segments from a report. ‘The Polish Police believe the five bodies are that of Polish locals. Cause of death was from a Colt M16A2 rifle between 0100 and 0200. Now, would anyone like to explain this anomaly?’

Olsen glanced at Ramsey quickly, completely stunned at the news. His eyes were wide with shock. ‘Hostages? There were no hostages.’

Drake took off his glasses and tossed them onto the wooden conference table. ‘I see…does anyone else have any comment?’

Olsen locked his eyes onto Jordan, who sat motionless in his chair. ‘Alex…you want to tell me what this is about? Alex?’

Drake interrupted. ‘I think that about wraps this up. As of this moment, you’re all suspended; S.U.C.O. is deactivated. You’ll be escorted to separate interview rooms where I want you all to record your events of tonight. An internal inquiry will be organised as soon as possible.’ The Chief of MI6 rose from his seat. ‘I suggest you all co-operate as much as you can.’

Team S.U.C.O. all departed, except for its leader, who stayed in his seat. His fiery brown eyes locked onto Drake. ‘This is out of line! You’re making us out to be criminals. They knew we were coming! My team is innocent, whatever happened in that house-’

Drake, who had always despised Olsen for his reckless behaviour and headstrong attitude, snapped back. ‘I disagree! If there is even a shred of evidence that proves you were all responsible for the deaths of those innocents, you’ll be hung out to dry! Now get out!’ Drake’s voice broke as he lost control.

Several security guards dragged Olsen out of the briefing room and escorted him to one of several secure interview rooms one floor down. Inside, he was presented with a small, drab looking room with one table and two chairs. A tape recorder was in the middle of the table, with a non-descript looking individual already seated.

The interviewer looked up from his notebook, pressed ‘REC’ on the tape recorder, and folded his arms. ‘Now…why don’t you tell me, in your own words, what happened?’

‘Can I at least have a drink before we start? It’s been a long-’

The interviewer ignored the request and flicked through several pieces of paper on the table. ‘The events in Kraków, please, nothing else. Be specific.’

 

Drake sat back down in briefing room one and wiped his forehead with a faded looking hanky. ‘Olsen hasn’t changed I see. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why he’s been here so long.’

Ramsey sat down opposite his superior. He had already decided that this time around he wasn’t going to just go along for the ride as before. Lives were at stake and if that meant falling out with Drake, then so be it. ‘Olsen is one of our best agent’s sir. You need to understand-’

Drake interrupted. ‘Olsen is reckless. He has no respect for the rules and procedures of this agency. I’m on orders from the Prime Minister himself to tone down everything here, reduce our profile and take a back seat to world events.’

Ramsey sat up at the news, his mind flashing back to his last discussion with Elliott and the looming war. ‘Sir, no, I must disagree. The last time I spoke with Mr. Elliott, we were in agreement that with the loss of agents we’ve suffered over the last year, we need to increase our numbers with reactivation and flush out our attackers.’

‘We have lost too many agents Kevin, that’s precisely why we should take a step back and allow other agencies to take the lead. We simply aren’t equipped to deal with these problems.’ Ramsey’s voice became more urgent as he leant forward, imposing himself as best he could.

‘A war is coming, sir. If you can’t see how much we need S.U.C.O. then I suggest you-’

Drake overpowered his deputy and looked to end the conversation. ‘There will be no war. We’re in over our heads and it’s going to change. I want S.U.C.O. to stand in the internal inquiry. Make it happen.’

Ramsey could see clearly now just how difficult things were going to be in the future. He was fully aware that with Drake’s attitude, many more agents would perish just because of his denial. His mind was racing with theories on how to depose him but he turned his thoughts back to the problem at hand. ‘Will the inquiry be open? Allowing the S.U.C.O. agents defence is the right thing to do.’

Drake shook his head vehemently. ‘Out of the question. Those men will be allowed no defence. The inquiry will cover what happened. That’s all.’

Ramsey didn’t move. ‘I take it you’ll be selecting a random board of agents to appear on the committee that will chair the inquiry?’ He felt a tinge of fear that Drake was planning to select himself.

‘Of course I will.’ Drake replied tersely. ‘The committee will consist of two randomly selected agents and myself. We’ll get to the bottom of this mess, quickly, and with the least amount of red tape.’

Ramsey’s heart sank at the response. ‘Sir…you may not like what I’m about to say, but I don’t believe you should be in any way, involved in this inquiry. Your outburst to Olsen just moments ago proves that.’ He waited for a response. ‘Sir?’

‘That’ll be all Ramsey. Dismissed.’ Drake watched his deputy linger for a moment and then exit briefing room one. The pale-looking Chief of MI6 raised his eyes to the ceiling. I will restore the pride of this agency and this country will be in better hands for it. A technician knocked on the door, walked in and handed the Chief of MI6 another report. Drake waited for him to leave and scanned the information. His eyes grew ever wider as he read the Pathologist’s report on the death of POL1. He focussed his gaze on the ‘Time of Death’ section. Drake rummaged through several papers on the desk and found the final report Bedford had sent marked with the time of 17:15 p.m. UK time. He dropped the page and looked back to clarify the time of death on Bedford’s Pathology report. There looking back at him was the statement ‘BETWEEN 16 and 16:45 p.m. UK TIME’. Drake realised what the news meant straight away. Someone else had sent that report!

Drake chewed on one end of his glasses and mulled things over. Despite the shocking revelation, the Prime Minister’s words repeated in his mind and wouldn’t go away. He made a decision and placed the report in his inside pocket. Straightening his suit as he stood up, he returned to the hustle and bustle of Operations Command.

 

Salenko ran a hand through his hair and looked increasingly worried. Over the last two hours, they had received threats from the current President and his band of campaigners. All of which were very clear and becoming more aggressive as time passed by.

As much as he tried, he had never quite gained the mental invulnerability that seemed to come to Akira so easily. He looked at his strongest ally and tried not to sound worried. ‘Their resources are far bigger than ours. Perhaps we should try to-’

Akira got up to leave and cut off the would-be President of Russia in his stride. ‘There is nothing to discuss. I control the Press and the FSB, which is more than enough to silence them. Denyer here will make sure of that. We will return their threat with one of our own, as well as some action.’ He turned to Denyer. ‘The President is overstepping his mark. Activate the rest of your Black Knights and apply some pressure.’

‘Any suggestions?’ Asked Denyer in a casual tone, this not being the first time he would be ‘applying pressure’.

‘Whatever pleases you. Just ensure the President gets the message and turns his vipers onto someone else. I have no patience to deal with this. If we hear anything from him again, I will be looking at you.’

Denyer watched him go and started to wonder about how he would deal with the current President’s threat. After all, he was supposed to be at his disposal, not Akira’s. Care was needed.

Akira left the room and made his way back to his quarters. The threats didn’t worry him; it was just the current Government’s way of trying to create something out of nothing. They had already lost the race and were resorting to desperate tactics.

In his mind, though, he knew he wasn’t exactly focussed; Marraud had made sure of that. Not that he’d seen him, he just couldn’t stop thinking about what to do. Normally there could be no one to stand between him and his vision but Marraud was different. They had both lost their loved ones because of the paths they had taken in life. Neither had asked or deserved what had happened.

Akira sighed loudly. He was not used to bouts of emotion and he was struggling to deal with it. It saddened him greatly to go against Madeline but on this occasion he simply couldn’t help himself. Why he had remembered Marraud’s loss, he didn’t know but there had to be a reason. Was it fate that had sent him here to be tested? To be shown why he was on the wrong side? To eventually join him and ensure he was successful?

Akira was at a loss but he had to confront him, take him hostage if needs be; if only to give himself some time to convince him. Marraud was still a threat, none the less, but he had to be given a chance; they were one and the same, whether he saw it or not.

 

Chapter 18

 

Friday, March 16th 10:00 (1 week later),

MI6 Headquarters, London,

Internal Inquiry – Operation Reprisal.

 

Drake passed his assistant and walked into his office. Waiting in the room for him was a man and a woman who were already seated. Sitting down behind the large mahogany desk, he didn’t look at them straight away but instead chose to rummage through several files and find his glasses from his faded pinstriped suit. For the first time he initiated eye contact. ‘Thank you for coming today. As you know, you are both to sit on the Inquiry Committee for…most probably today and tomorrow.’ Drake leaned forward and glared at them both. ‘We’ve all known each other for many years and both of you owe me favours. Just to be clear, I’m calling in those favours today. I have my own agenda and my own desired outcome from this inquiry; neither of you will interfere with that. Is that understood?’

The woman sat up straight and nervously spoke for the first time. ‘What is the outcome you are looking for Peter?’

‘It’s very simple. I want S.U.C.O. deactivated and consigned to history. I also want the likes of Olsen and Jordan taught a lesson and demoted to menial duties, in the hope that they will leave the service. Now that I’ve returned to MI6, my reign will be trouble free and the quietest time in its history. My desired outcome from this inquiry will certainly achieve that.’

The man spoke for the first time, sizing up Drake with every word. ‘Are we to ask any questions to the agents involved? What exactly do you want from us?’

‘Obviously I want you to ask questions but nothing that will cause any problems or show the accused in a positive light.’ Drake glanced at both of them. ‘I want this inquiry to be seen to be as fair as possible, so both of you need to think hard about what you will ask and when you will ask it. Clear?’ He watched them both agree. ‘You’ll follow my lead at all times and back me up on any matters I choose to concentrate on.’ Drake smiled at the two individuals and sat back in his chair. ‘That will be all for now. I’ll see you both in briefing room three in one hour for the start of the inquiry. Remind yourselves that your careers are in my hands.’ Drake watched the man and woman nod their heads in agreement and move to leave the office.

The man lingered for a moment and waited for the woman to leave. He turned around and looked straight at the older man. ‘Exactly what have Olsen and Jordan done to deserve you in this mood, Drake?’ He asked assertively.

The Chief of MI6 showed no sign of annoyance at the tone of voice or line of questioning. ‘I have a mandate for this agency and those two men are incapable of change.’ His dark blue eyes gave a steely glance to the other man. ‘One hour.’ Drake remembered his orders from the Prime Minister and was already mapping out in his mind exactly how he was going to achieve it. He leaned forward and spoke into the intercom on his desk.

‘Yes, sir? How can I help?’ spoke the assistant in the next room.

‘I want Burton in my office in five minutes. Find him and get him up here, now.’ Drake terminated the link and found Burton’s personal file in his drawer. He began to read several pages of intriguing information.

 

French Special agent Marraud tried his best but couldn’t repress the grin that was spreading across his face. His gambles had paid off. Through the binoculars, he saw Salenko and his ever-present companion exit the black saloon and enter a small bungalow located on the outskirts of Moscow, backing onto Gorky Park.

In the past week, Marraud had been working hard on many things. Staying alive was always his priority but at the same time, he was an effective researcher and planned his work to perfection. Once again, he had proven his talent and he’d been waiting for Salenko to arrive for close to four hours. Situated just a street away, Marraud was crouching behind some heavy fencing as he saw the men enter the bungalow. So far, he had learned that Salenko was visiting all the people from his college background that were now in the minefield of Russian politics. In other words, calling in as many favours as possible and from what he had seen, not always in diplomatic fashion. The mystery man had a vicious temper and didn’t seem afraid to use it. The possibility of a biased election in Russia didn’t surprise Marraud, he had half been expecting it but with every passing day he wondered why no other agents from Europe had been dispatched to his location. The Russian threat was either not being taken seriously or perhaps the French Secret Service had been kept out of the loop.

Jogging down the street, Marraud found himself at the back of the bungalow and used all of his stealth to creep in undetected. Kneeling beside the dining room window, Marraud heard the voice of Salenko and one other but as ever, he wondered where the mystery visitor was. Moving just millimetres to his left to catch a glimpse of the inside, his heart skipped a beat when there was no sign of the ever present companion. Moving back to the safe haven of his knelt position, Marraud speculated in his mind as to why he wasn’t there. This is his election, his campaign; he would want to know exactly what was being said. I’ve tracked five other visits and not once did he leave the room. A sense of dread spread through him. Have I been detected? Marraud didn’t want to hang around to find out, so moved away from the bungalow, taking the back route that led to his Lada. On his approach, he attempted to calm himself and as ever, went through his safety checks upon reaching the vehicle. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t achieve full focus but persisted with the checks. His eyes scanned the vehicle, its tyres, the boot and bonnet and quickly looked around him before checking underneath the car for any incendiary devices. He casually checked the back seat and the driver’s compartment. As he got in the front and turned the ignition key, sudden anxiety flashed through his body as he jumped up and realised his mistake.

 

THE BLANKET! IT’S NORMALLY IN THE BOOT!

 

Marraud spun round just in time as the mystery man, masked and shrouded in a black robe, leaped like a cat from the back seat…

 

Burton felt the sweat run down his back as he came out of the lift and made his way along the corridor to Drake’s office. His mind was in frenzy as to what he had done to deserve a summons. Relax Hal; just take it one step at a time. The guy probably just wants to introduce himself. Focus! Burton shook his head as he slowly came to the first door. His hand trembled as he swiped his identification card through the reader and watched the green light appear. The door opened slightly and Burton saw the assistant at her desk. ‘Uh…yeah, your boss is expecting me apparently. I’m-’

The young assistant looked the visitor up and down, gave a roll of her eyes and spoke with disinterest. ‘Hal Burton. I know. You can go straight in, sir.’ She watched Burton open the large connecting door and wondered whether he was about to be fired on the grounds of unpleasant appearance.

Burton shut the door and stumbled over to the nearest chair, cursing himself for not having a drink before answering the summons. He stretched over the desk and offered his hand. ‘I don’t think we’ve met, sir, I’m Hal Burton, S.U.C.O. commander. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ Burton managed a toothy grin but Drake failed to move from the opposite chair. He sat back down and waited. It had been some time since he had last been in the office and he instantly recognised how well Drake went with the decor. The faded pinstriped suit was no surprise and was in stark contrast to Ramsey’s designer clothes.

Drake placed his arms on the large mahogany desk and managed his first smile of the day. ‘Thank you for coming, Burton. Now…you’re in charge of team S.U.C.O. aren’t you?’

Burton swallowed hard as he waited for his sacking. ‘Yes, sir. That’s correct.’

‘I see. These are changing times for MI6, Burton, a fact I’m sure you are well aware of. You’ve come to a crossroad. You can either go forwards or backwards.’

Burton felt his heart sink. I knew it. I’m done for! ‘Uh…well, I guess I want to go forward, sir. I’m not entirely sure what you mean, to be honest.’ Burton tried to loosen his collar, feeling the pressure that lingered all around him.

Drake opened a folder on his desk. ‘I’ve been looking through your lengthy file. Makes for interesting reading. You’re aware today is the first of the inquiry, aren’t you?’

‘I’m due to give evidence at some stage, yes.’

‘Yes, I know. It’s your evidence I want to talk to you about. It’s going to prove rather crucial you see and I want to make sure you say the right thing.’ He watched the agent continue to squirm whilst nodding in agreement. ‘Good. The briefing you gave to both S.U.C.O. teams before they left is the key. Especially in terms of any hostages they might have encountered. What did you say on that? At your briefing?’

Burton blinked and tried to remember that far back. His constant days of excessive drinking had taken their toll and his memory recalled fuzzy recollections. ‘Well, uh, I’m sorry sir but I didn’t say anything about hostages at the briefing. It simply wasn’t something we were expecting.’

‘Yes, I’ve read your report. Things are going to be changing around here Burton, change for the greater good.’ Drake got out of his chair and began to walk around the office before pausing behind Burton, who was still seated. He placed both hands on the shoulders of the S.U.C.O. commander. ‘As you know, I’m the chairman of this inquiry but before that starts, I have an order for you. I want you to say on the record that you gave direct orders to your team to rescue any hostages. Is that understood?’

Burton felt the sweat trickle down his face. ‘Sir…uh, I don’t mind doing favours for people. I’m just not sure if this favour is legal, you know? I like doing the right thing when I can.’ Yeah right! Said a voice in his mind and Burton had no idea where it came from. Memories of Operation Safeguard came to him and he pushed them away quickly, not wanting to remember his part in the betrayal.

Drake removed his hands from Burton’s shoulders. ‘I have orders from the Prime Minister himself for change here at MI6, so you should console yourself that your actions are supported by the very top. Carry out my order.’

‘Yes sir, of course I will.’ Burton lowered his head and wondered how things could get any worse.

‘Good.’ Drake began to walk around his office once more. ‘When S.U.C.O. is disbanded, I’ll make sure you have a seat on the new Security Council. I will see you for the Inquiry at 11 a.m. Dismissed.’

Burton got up from the chair and could feel his trousers and shirt sticking to him as he shuffled out the door. He took out his hanky and wiped his face, pushing back his black hair and breathing uncontrollably.

The young assistant took a sip of her drink and looked around to see Burton almost shaking outside the connecting door. To her, he looked like someone who had just come out of a torture chamber. Or forced to run 10 miles instead! ‘Are you ok, sir?’ The young woman asked with her mouth wide open, genuinely shocked at what was standing in front of her.

Burton loosened his tie and began to walk to the exit. ‘Something wrong with the air conditioning, I think. It needs sorting.’ The soon to be former S.U.C.O. commander stumbled out into the corridor and saw salvation ahead of him as he made his way to a water cooler several metres away.

 

Olsen waited in a local café that was just a few minute’s walk from MI6 headquarters. Sitting by the window, he watched people race past and for a moment wondered where each one was heading. He looked back to the counter to see his fiancée, Rachel buying two teas. Several days ago, over dinner, he had felt uncomfortable at the news that she had insisted on accompanying him to the gates of MI6. Now, he felt happy the girl he was going to marry was a stubborn one. Olsen felt uneasy as to how the day was going to pan out but was certain of one thing for sure. Drake won’t stop at just a caution; he’s out for blood!

The day before, Olsen had received a phone call from Ramsey, informing him that the inquiry was to be chaired by Drake and that it was to be a closed hearing. In other words, no defence and lambs to the slaughter. The suspended Government agent tried to loosen his tie as he fiddled with his black Armani suit. He watched Rachel walk over to him, shaking her head. ‘Mine’s a strong tea, right?’

Rachel gave him the drink and sat down whilst tugging at the figure hugging dark blue jacket she was wearing. ‘Stopped raining?’ She asked casually. The young woman looked out the window and fiddled with her long dark brown hair that was in a ponytail. Her light blue eyes studied her partner who was looking at the floor. ‘Hey…’ She put her hands around his waist and moved closer. ‘It’s going to be ok, Sam. Even if this Drake guy does do what you say he will, it’s not the end of the world. We’ll still be together.’ She hoped that would be enough. Since their lunch at Café Uno, they hadn’t really spoken about her fears again. Rachel couldn’t deny she felt horrible for hoping that S.U.C.O. would be decommissioned and her husband to be would be forced to take a normal job.

Olsen smiled back at her. ‘I know Rach, that doesn’t mean Drake should be able to get away with this.’ He held her hand and felt a boost of hope.

Rachel watched Olsen closely and felt more and more convinced that the loss of his career would be the bombshell to their relationship she feared it would be. In all the years she had known him, not once had she seen him looking frightened but he did now. Clearly he couldn’t do without his job despite his efforts of late to look at other options.

Olsen pushed his drink away. ‘Do you mind if we get moving, I just can’t sit around right now.’ Rising from the chair, he led Rachel out of the café and along the main road. He felt her place her arm around him and looked back to see a warm smile that made him feel so much better. Olsen took hold of her hand again and smiled at her. He felt so lucky to have her. ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since we met? 10 years!’

Rachel tightened her grip and tried all she could to brighten her man. ‘I’ve never known you to be anything other than a Government agent either Sam. It doesn’t matter what happens, you’ll always be my knight in shining armour.’

Olsen led her across the road and saw the unmistakable sight of MI6 headquarters not far away. ‘I’ve said it before but it wasn’t what I wanted to do, it was my Dad’s calling. Well, he worked with Deane for years. I met Tom when I was…ooh, about 3 years old. My Dad brought him round to our place one Sunday.’

Rachel listened intently before asking. ‘Did they get on? Your Dad and Deane?’

Olsen felt a shudder move through him as he recalled the pain of his recent operation in Oman and decided he would tell Rachel all about Deane and his father. One day, just not yet. ‘They did. My Dad and Tom were a fantastic team, the very best. Tom used to be round our place whenever he was in the country. I was always interested in his stories, some of the most amazing stuff you’ll ever hear. Not as amazing as Dad’s tales but there you go. Then years later, Tom stepped in and offered me the chance to join the service. I remember at the time, thinking over whether it was for me. I could never really see myself as a Government agent in the world of espionage and terrorism. But then, I remember my Dad telling me when I was a kid how important it was to make a difference and help other people whenever I could.’

Olsen looked back at Rachel and put his arm around her as they both approached the gates of MI6. ‘So I did it. I joined MI6. I was 20, had left University early, a novice and I really didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting myself into.’ He remembered his life from almost a decade before. ‘I joined MI6 for my Dad. When he died, it just felt right to me, you know? Despite all the pain and stress I had seen my Dad endure, there were so many moments where he had helped other people on levels you can only imagine. Before I knew it, I was in Iraq with Tom and there we were, right in the thick of things.’

Rachel closed her eyes and remembered when she had said goodbye to Olsen at the airport, all those years ago. It had been the first time she had felt that raw pain and it had gotten worse from then on in. ‘I still remember when you left. I didn’t think you were going to come back. I was so scared. It felt so final.’

A warm smile came over Olsen’s face. ‘I don’t think I ever really thought about it. It all happened so fast. Not that I’ve ever told Tom this but there’s no doubt I wouldn’t have come back if it wasn’t for him.’ He shook his head in disbelief. ‘He was one hell of a teacher.’

Rachel had never heard Sam talk about Deane much and knew they hadn’t always gotten along but she could see the respect in his eyes. ‘When did you last talk to him?’

Olsen lowered his head, regretful about his forthcoming answer. ‘When I was in Oman; I was going to get in touch but it’s just been a bit awkward between us. I wouldn’t really know what to say to him about this inquiry. It’s almost like a failure. That’s how he would see it anyway.’

‘I’m sure that’s not true.’ Asked Rachel, keen to know more as Sam had only ever spoke about him from a Government agent’s point of view, never lifelong friend or father figure.

Olsen pushed away the nightmare that had tormented him just months before and remembered just what Deane had done for him. ‘Tom’s just always been there for me. As a kid, right through the years to now. In many ways, it was like having a second father.’ Olsen held his girl tight and stroked her hair. ‘I should have called him, Rach…’

‘I’m sure he’d come to this inquiry if he knew about it. Why don’t you call him?’

‘Well, Tom knows everything anyway, no doubt he’s already heard about the inquiry and he’s just waiting for me to call him. First chance I get, I will. Look, I’d better go.’ He gave her a long kiss. ‘Wish me luck, Rach.’

Rachel didn’t want to let go but eventually released her hold and smiled back at her man. ‘Call me as soon as it’s over; I’ll be here as soon as I can.’ she said softly. Rachel pushed away the hope he would be forced to leave and be set free from the world of MI6 that seemed impossible to leave by choice.

Olsen showed his pass to the checkpoint and approached the doors to MI6 headquarters, not wanting to acknowledge the anxiety that was building with every step.

 

Marraud floored the accelerator of the Lada and heard the vehicle cry out under the strain of the sudden demand. His life flashed before his eyes for the hundredth time as images of his beloved Martine lingered, the stunning young woman who had captured his heart so many years ago. In the heat of the moment, Marraud remembered the tragedy of her death and felt the raw pain spear his heart once more. Eight years before, he had let her get too close and she had been killed purely because of who he was and the job that he did. Ever since, a day hadn’t passed without the guilt consuming him.

A sense of urgency came over him, more powerful than any he had ever experienced. There was no time for grief; his own light was in danger of being extinguished forever.

Akira was determined to take Marraud hostage; now more convinced than ever to reveal himself and give the Frenchman a real chance to be saved. He put one arm around Marraud’s neck and tried to move him.

To hell with driving, I’ll take the devil with me if needs be. Marraud struggled to contain the strength of his attacker and couldn’t prevent him from climbing into the adjacent front seat. Never once checking his vision through the window, he focussed all his energy on the fight and lashed out, catching the mystery man by surprise and making direct contact with his face. The masked man fell back and Marraud took his chance. Climbing out of the driver’s seat, he grappled with him and tried to force him out the door.

Akira held on desperately and felt the wind lashing against him. Suddenly the car shuddered and came to a crashing stop.

Marraud looked up and saw the car had hit a phone box on the side of the road. Feeling his attacker’s daze, he took his chance. With every ounce of strength, he smashed his head into that of the mystery man and then kicked him out of the car.

Akira lay on the snow covered grass and tried to catch his breath. He told himself repeatedly he wasn’t attempting to fight but he couldn’t deny it, even if he was it would still be a struggle. ‘Wait!’ he yelled.

Marraud stopped in his tracks. He never expected to hear a European accent; he had been convinced he was fighting one of Salenko’s Russian heavies.

Akira slowly rose to his feet. His left hand appeared to support him but it moved the ten-inch knife that was strapped to his back into position, just in case his attempt failed. ‘I have no interest in fighting you.’

Marraud couldn’t believe what he was hearing and still couldn’t place the accent. ‘You’re with Salenko, it’s in your nature to fight.’

‘You’re wrong. I am guiding Salenko to bring balance to this world. There must be change to save it. You know that just as much as I do.’

Marraud started to move away from the car and circle his opponent. ‘Absolutely. Do the right thing and stand down from this election. I won’t be the first to come here and stop you.’

‘They will all fail. I have foreseen all of this. Salenko will be the next President and there will be massive change.’ Akira stepped forward and his voice took on another level of power. ‘Join me.’

The very words made him sick to his stomach and it took him several moments to believe what had just happened. As he stared in disbelief at the attacker every bone in his body immediately said no. There was never any chance he would align himself with the enemy. Turn his back on what he’d spent his life protecting? Betray Martine after everything that had happened?

‘You know I’m right, Patrice. You’re nothing more than a drone. You carry out orders with no clue of the consequences. You think they care about you? Are thankful of everything you have done? Never. The West is finished, it cannot be fixed.’ Akira held out his hand and so desperately wanted a sign to show that his efforts were worthwhile. His voice was tinged with emotion as he extended his fingertips. ‘Come back with me.’

Marraud was seething now. The attacker knew his name and seemed convinced there was a chance of changing his allegiance. Why? Just how much did he know? His mind was racing with options and each of them was an act of defiance. There was simply no doubt, he would rather die than join them. Martine was gone and could never return; the inhumane animal ahead of him and all his type were responsible.

‘You know I’m right.’ Akira said again. As the words left his lips, he knew it was pointless. The look of hatred on the Frenchman’s face was unmistakable.

‘I have no idea what this is about but know this, I’m here to stop you and I will never join your cause. Quite simply, I would rather die.’

‘Like Martine?’ Akira asked quietly. His left hand flashed behind him and took hold of the large blade.

‘Who are you?’ Marraud took several steps forward, his face red with anger.

Akira ignored the move and held the blade out in front of him. His voice changed to one of pure evil. ‘So be it.’ He had done all he could do, but Madeline was right, Patrice was too far gone; it was not his fault but he couldn’t be allowed to interfere any longer.

Marraud dodged away from the first attack that was heading for his chest and ducked instinctively to the second. Moving away, he struggled to focus on what was happening and could barely control the rage inside of him at the attacker for taking Martine’s name in vain. ‘Who are you?’ He screamed.

Akira didn’t hear a word. He was lost in concentration and moved in for the kill once again.

The blade slashed repeatedly around Marraud and still he dodged death, weaving around the attacks. Using his own brand of the Israeli Krav Maga fighting style he did enough to give himself some space to ready himself and find the stance he was looking for. Still the attacks came but with his reactions primed and his own kicks and defensive reposes now working well, he slowly started to invade his opponent’s space.

Akira kept attacking with the blade and moved deeper into one of the several fighting styles he was a master of, each time getting closer and closer swinging faster and faster.

Marraud flinched and just got out of the way of the blade, which slashed his jacket. Risk taking was not his usual style but he was well aware he wouldn’t last long in such a frantic battle. His own weapon was still in his car and that was a long way away. Throughout it all though, he was certain he had faced this man before, the style, the movements, all of it seemed familiar.

Akira knew exactly what was happening. Marraud was making his move and slowly invading more and more of his space and he had deliberately kept his style and pace on an even keel so as to fool his opponent that it was being successful.

With one swift change, it happened. Akira switched from Taekwondo to the very different Wing Chun form of hand-to-hand combat and straight away it reaped dividends. His swings became shorter and the rapid movement was now more of a horizontal mix.

Marraud struggled with the change and felt his footing give way. The blade came closer to his chest and with a last gasp of effort he evaded it and grabbed hold of Akira’s arm.

The two grappled for the blade. Marraud had a desperate look on his face but slowly he started to overpower Akira. Or was he? His focus was on the blade and nothing more, it was all he could do. With every passing moment he was blinded by the fear that he may not see tomorrow and it cost him dearly.

Akira’s feet moved away initially and then twisted back towards Marraud giving him the initiative and body weight. Straight away, the Frenchman faltered and the blade was free. Akira spun away from him in one turn and lashed behind him with knife, making contact.

Marraud felt the cold metal in his side and shuddered with pain. It had penetrated his stomach and he dared not look down. He felt the weapon snap out of his side and grabbed it with his left hand.

The pain was intense. Marraud knew immediately what the odds were of his survival. Despite it all, a powerful determination rose inside of him that screamed it would prove to be his day. His own stubbornness and sheer refusal to die fuelled the power that took hold of him. Images of Martine came to the forefront of his mind as he smashed the remaining knife against his side and watched it drop into the snow. This man and all of his type were responsible for Martine’s death. I will NOT give in.

Akira stumbled back and felt his wrist, not knowing where this sudden power had come from.

Despite the warm feeling of blood on his shirt, Marraud moved towards Akira and unleashed a battering of blows, all of them focussed with pure skill in his Krav Maga form. The image of Martine’s smile and the sound of her laugh had gone forever. He forced Marraud to move himself with an agility that didn’t seem possible.

Akira just didn’t have any answers and surrendered under such a barrage, until finally a roundhouse kick smashed into his left temple and he flew backwards and landed in a heap in the snow.

Marraud made his way back to the Lada and for the first time, his blue eyes now with tints of grey, glanced downward and saw his entire shirt covered in blood. Immediately, that sight sapped the strength from him and his hands clutched the deep gash in his side.

With the engine still running, he floored the accelerator and guided the car down the hill. The pain from his stomach was unbearable. As his vision began to fade away to darkness he tried to summon up one last effort for Martine and for all the agents who would perish if the Russian election went the mystery man’s way.

 

Chapter 19

 

Friday, March 16th 11:00,

Moscow, Russia.

 

Akira sat alone and cleared his thoughts as best he could. Images of Patrice Marraud flashed by in his mind and with them fragments of the memory he had lost long ago.

 

Marraud is badly wounded my love, he is weakening as we speak. Push away the feelings you have for him. He must be killed. What will it be? Our vision or a man who doesn’t want to be saved and will destroy us all?

 

‘I hear you, Maddy.’ In the background of the stage and in amongst the shadows, Akira mumbled the nickname for his former love and couldn’t repress a tear as he said it. The last time he had ever said it was so many years ago in a darkened hospital. For some reason, he really felt the need to say that word almost as if it reconnected him to his dead wife despite failing her in recent events. His right hand felt the bruises all over his body, in particular the heavy bruising around his left temple.

Several feet away he heard Salenko give his speech at the second political rally he had organised. The loyal followers, increasing with each rally, were now at their feverish best as they screamed out a chorus of ‘RUSSIA IS POWER!’ At least this is going to plan.

Akira’s heart was racing as he recalled his confrontation with Marraud. It had been some time since he had been beaten in combat and despite his wounded pride, he still felt all-powerful and that the unfortunate emotional ties had prevented his victory. Everything had changed now. Gone were the feelings of sympathy and the bond he had felt with Marraud. All that was there now was an anxious need to make sure it was over and Marraud, like all the others who had stood against him, was gone forever. The clock was ticking and with it so was Akira’s dream of the future. He made eye contact with Denyer and moved over to his position. ‘Well?’ he snapped.

Denyer almost stood to attention and took out his mobile phone. ‘My source at the FSB has several addresses. I’ve gone through my notes and picked out which one is the most likely. It was the best I could do in the time.’

‘Where is he now? Where?’

Denyer passed him a piece of paper. ‘I’ll come with you, together we can make sure he-’

Akira pushed him back. ‘No. Stay here with Salenko. It’s vital this rally goes ahead as planned.’ He strode past and rushed down some stairs. The thunderous chants from the rally behind him seemed to heal his wounds as Akira felt the hatred and determination from the crowd. The potential that Russia had once it was under his control electrified him; it would win the war and crush the West. At the same time, he was certain it could all be threatened if the legendary Marraud had his way. Legend or not, he would have to be stopped, with no chance of a reprieve.

 

Ramsey looked behind him and noticed the S.U.C.O. members filing through the door and taking their seats. The MI6 number two lingered for a moment but made his mind up and approached the bench of the courtroom style set-up that had been installed, all to give Drake his moment of glory. He moved to Drake and caught his attention.

‘Not now Ramsey. The inquiry is about to start. Whatever it is, it can wait till the end of the day.’

Ramsey put a hand on the desk. ‘This will only take a minute, sir. I’ve been looking through the records and couldn’t find the Pathologist’s report concerning Bedford. I could contact the office of-’

Drake moved forward and spoke quietly. ‘Leave the matter to me. I will deal with it. Now…take your seat.’

Ramsey saw the fire in Drake’s eyes and decided to leave the matter for another time. I’ll get that report though… he told himself.

The Chief of MI6 watched the assembling briefing room and waited for silence before he rose from his chair and addressed everyone. He looked out at five rows of seats and two guards posted at the doors. ‘Before we begin this inquiry, I’d like to make it clear that it is with great regret that this had to happen. Team S.U.C.O. which stands for Special Undercover Covert Operations has served our country magnificently well over many years. Unfortunately…in these changing times, we must be more vigilant with our undercover operations. It is the hope of this inquiry committee that we find the underlying cause of the S.U.C.O. team’s failure in their last operation to date; Operation Reprisal. My colleagues here’ Drake looked to his left and right at the two other committee members, ‘have decided to waive their opening remarks so we can start with one of the most principal witnesses; Agent Samuel Olsen.’

Olsen got up from his seat, exchanged a look with Carter, who sat next to him, and walked over to the main table, in front of the inquiry committee.

Drake ignored Olsen’s glare and read from a card in front of him. ‘Agent Olsen, please rise and raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give to this committee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god?’ His tone was lacklustre throughout.

The smart-looking agent looked at each member of the committee in turn. ‘I do, sir.’

Drake continued. ‘Mr. Olsen, you may consider yourself under oath. Please be seated. For the record, please state your name and occupation.’

‘My name is Samuel Patrick Olsen and I’ve worked for MI6 for eight years. My current assignment is Head of team S.U.C.O.’

Drake’s tone lifted slightly at his next comment. ‘And your status now?’

‘I’m currently inactive, sir.’

‘Fine. Let’s start at the beginning please. Operation Reprisal came about because of what happened on another operation, codename Safeguard. Tell us about that.’

Olsen found several papers on his desk. ‘Well I went to Oman to join up with OMA1, our agent there on Operation Safeguard. We were both offering additional security for the Royal visit. During that visit, an attack took place where we lost several agents and narrowly averted a car bomb explosion that would have been fatal. Our intelligence showed it was the Kiprich brothers. The Oman police investigation also proved this.’

Drake thought over his next question. ‘According to several reports made by the survivors of the Royal security teams, your behaviour and decision making was reckless and caused the death of several agents. Explain.’

‘Well, that’s their opinion, sir. I left my position from the security team around the Prince and went to a nearby car that I was convinced was a threat. Thankfully, it paid off. If I hadn’t gone then everyone there would be dead, sir.’

Drake raised his voice in an attempt to add drama to the moment. ‘But you left your position, which made the Prince vulnerable to enemy fire. Isn’t that so?’

Olsen squirmed in his chair, knowing he was being backed into a corner. ‘It’s not as clear cut as it sounds; I knew that car was-’

‘Answer the question, Agent Olsen. A simple yes or no will suffice.’

‘Yes. I left the Prince vulnerable for an instant but I was right about the-’

‘And the resultant car chase?’ Drake raised a hand to stop the agent from responding straight away. ‘You stole a Police car and chased a white Mercedes through the town of Muscat. Eight Omani locals were killed in that chase. Now tell me…did Agent Deane, who was in charge of the operation, authorise this?’

‘Well, there was no time-’

‘Once again, a simple yes or no will do.’

‘No, sir but-’

Drake cut in. ‘Thank you. Now, let’s move on to Operation Reprisal please. Tell us what happened when you were informed of this operation.’

Olsen locked eyes with Drake, but eventually looked down and laid out several official reports on the desk, to be used as a reference throughout his testimony. ‘Well, on Monday, 8 a.m., Feb 12th 2001 I was in Operations Command with some of my colleagues. At that point, Richard Elliott, who was then Chief of MI6, came in and assembled both S.U.C.O. teams in briefing room one. He informed us that Operation Reprisal was a go operation and that G.C.H.Q. had provided us with intelligence on the Kiprich brothers, Gyorgy and Jozef, that showed they were now in Kraków, Poland. Elliott told us that POL1 already had a fix on them. He also informed us that our S.U.C.O. Commander, Hal Burton, would be giving us our operation briefing some time later on. From then on, each team member began to prep themselves for the upcoming operation.’

Drake fiddled with his glasses as he listened to the testimony. ‘I see. Tell us about Burton’s briefing.’

‘It was on the same day, at about 13:30 when Burton gave his debrief. He handed each team member a copy of POL1’s report and took us through a series of satellite images concerning the operation. This covered the storage bay area that the Kiprich brothers were using and the house they were staying at as cover. Burton informed us that we would split up, with my team tackling the storage area and Agent Jordan’s team handling the house. He also covered travel and that the strike time would be 02:00 hours. From there we made our way to the armoury and left the building, on route to Heathrow airport.’

‘I think in the interests of keeping information on a basis of what we need to know, we should move on to when you and the other agents arrived in Kraków, Poland.’

Olsen took a sip of water before continuing. ‘At around 01:20 both teams had left the armoured van and were en route to the target coordinates. As we arrived, I heard over our short-range radios that Team A had arrived at the target house. I then replied that my team had arrived at the storage bay and were about to engage. I gave a signal to Agent Carter’

The male member of the committee spoke for the first time. ‘Hold on, I’m having trouble keeping up here. Agent Carter?’ The individual flipped over several sheets on his desk. ‘What was his role?’

‘Agent Daniel Carter was the deputy on my team, sir. He used the infrared scope on his Colt M16A2 rifle to identify that there were two guards outside the storage bay. I ordered Agent Carter to stay with the rest of the team as I tackled the two guards. Once that was done, I ordered Carter to take the other agents and circle the storage bay looking for other exits and terrorist backup.’

‘I entered the storage bay but found it to be empty. No resistance was encountered.’

The female committee member interlinked her hands and asked a question. ‘What were the contents of that storage bay?’

‘Well, that was confusing; nothing was in it really. Just old files, old shells that were redundant, several boxes of redundant rifles and nothing else of interest. It was at this time that I was attempting to contact Team A-’

Drake piped up. ‘Attempting?’

‘Yes sir, my radio was not picking up their signal so I ordered Carter to try to contact them but with the same result. Nothing. It was at this point that I laid the charges and set the timers to two minutes. We then made our way back to the armoured van. Before we could really communicate or do anything else such as attempt to raise Team A, we were under heavy fire.’

‘From whom?’

‘The Kiprich group, sir. I ordered Carter to get to the van and start the engine, ordering the rest of the group to provide cover so we were able to move into the woods and engage the attackers. We took cover behind the largest tree available and attempted to force them back. From what I could see, we were outnumbered six to one and were mainly pinned behind the tree, unable to be very effective in our return of fire. It was at this time that two men ran past us and I recognised them as Agents Jordan and Gibbs.’

‘How did you recognise them? Weren’t you all wearing your equipment at this time, Agent Olsen?’ Asked the female committee member.

‘Yes ma’am but each team member has an armband on their uniform that identifies them to everyone else. I saw it was Gibbs and Jordan. I then gave an order to turn back.’

‘There must have been other options, surely?’ Asked Drake as he leaned forward in his chair.

‘None. I used my night vision to scan the area ahead and could see no sign of any other Team A members coming our way; only more attackers. We had no choice but to leave.’

Drake smiled in disbelief at the agent ahead of him. ‘I find that hard to believe.’

Olsen told himself to stay calm and continue as he had done. ‘There was no choice. I wasn’t prepared to lose any more agents in a futile situation. You have to remember the odds were six to one in the terrorists favour. I didn’t have any options available to me except to retreat.’

‘Exactly where did the Kiprich brothers obtain these extra forces that made the situation so hard for you?’

‘I don’t know. You’d have to ask the Kiprich brothers.’

Drake said nothing for a moment. ‘Carry on.’

‘We got to the van which Carter drove back to the pickup point. From there, we were airlifted to Warsaw airport and then back to Heathrow before arriving at MI6 HQ. That completes Operation Reprisal, sir.’

‘Anything else to report?’ Asked the other male committee member.

‘Only that when we were on our way back to MI6, whilst at Heathrow Airport, I noticed a headline on one of the day’s papers. It was relating to our operation in Kraków and at the time, I wondered how this had happened. I’m convinced that no one on my team had leaked anything to the press. This is crucial to this inquiry.’

Just a few feet away, Drake felt a rush of adrenaline through his body. Leaking the news to the press was not something he was proud of but he didn’t regret it either. In his heart, he knew he would do the same again in an instant. The moment Operation Safeguard had run into trouble, he had seen his chance and acted quickly to make sure all roads led to MI6 and his reinstatement. Keeping a stony face, he raised his hand and overruled the committee member next to him. ‘It’s another matter the committee is considering. You may step down. At this point we will adjourn for lunch and return in one hour’s time.’

Olsen came out of the lift, rushed down the stairs, pushed the exit door open and left the building. Ahead of him, the slender figure of Rachel Fadden caught his eye. Olsen rushed over and hugged her tight. He heard the question and replied softly. ‘It’s not looking good, Rach.’

 

 

 

Chapter 20

 

Friday, March 16th 14:00,

Moscow, Russia.

 

Marraud winced with pain as the last stitch was sewn into his stomach, sealing shut the gaping 4-inch wound that had had been slowly killing him. How he had managed to reach his flat had been a mystery; with the frequent blackouts, he was shocked to have made it back at all. So many questions remained regarding the mystery attacker and Salenko’s faithful follower. Just who could he be? It was a question that would surely remain unanswered for the time being.

In all his life, he had never felt so weak and tired. He wanted to rest more than anything but his drive and determination remained, despite his weakened condition.

Forcing himself up, he staggered over to the laptop that was sitting on the small bedside cabinet. Time seemed to slow down as he waited impatiently for the device to boot up and show the standard login screen. Marraud checked his watch and felt some relief when the login screen appeared, knowing it wouldn’t be long until Salenko’s companion found him. Quickly entering his details, the laptop complied and began loading the operating system. Marraud knew that if he sent all his reports and details of the past week back to Paris, it would turn the tide on Salenko and his partner, ensuring reinforcements would arrive from France and no doubt other countries as well. Without his information, Salenko and co would remain a mystery; one that would prove to be deadly and untouchable when he would no doubt win the election and be crowned the next President of Russia. If at all possible, Marraud planned to send the information and do all he could to return to Paris or find somewhere else in Europe to lie low.

Finally, the laptop loaded and Marraud moved quickly to collate all his information and attach it to an encrypted email. Plugging in the ethernet cable that connected to the nearby router, he waited for the connection symbol to appear on the screen in front of him. His right hand tenderly touched the wound on his left side but after several seconds he froze with dread as he realised the modem had gone silent. Checking the cables straight away, he tried again. The seconds ticked by on the screen until his worst fears were realised. A red error message appeared.

 

ERROR CODE 16. NO CONNECTION FOUND. PLEASE CHECK THE CABLES AND SETTINGS AND TRY AGAIN.

 

Marraud stared at the screen, not able to think straight. The modem had been working fine that very day and he had not experienced any problems in the past. One alternative came into his mind but he had to be sure. Quickly, Marraud took the wire and plugged it into the telephone on the lounge table. He lifted the receiver and waited for a dial tone.

Nothing.

It too was dead. Sweat was pouring down Marraud’s face now, knowing that his position had been compromised and that someone had cut the nearby phone lines. Grabbing a memory stick, he set about copying all the data he had. A display popped up and showed the progress of the data copy. When he it was finished he put the device in his jacket pocket and planned to leave Russia any way he could. Opening the front door slightly, he put one foot out onto the landing but stopped in his tracks at the sight of someone coming up the stairs.

Locking his door, Marraud took hold of his black Heckler Koch pistol and stepped out onto the metal fire escape. Just as he began to climb, he heard the front door to his flat smash open and the sound of footsteps rushing towards his window. Marraud locked his left hand around the metal ladder and aimed his pistol at the window.

Akira appeared and smiled to himself, pleased with Denyer for finding his prey. Excitement flowed through him as well, knowing he would emerge victorious within the hour. No more chances, I will not fail Madeline again. He watched Marraud carefully and ducked down to avoid the incoming gunfire.

Turning to climb the ladder once more, the pain was unbearable and his stomach cried out under the strain. Marraud locked down the safety pin on his revolver and tried to tuck it into his trousers but with his strength failing him, the gun flipped out and fell to the ground below.

Desperately trying to stop himself from blacking out, he reached the top and slumped onto the roof. His blue eyes glanced down and saw the sight of blood on his clean shirt. All the movement had caused his stitches to burst and the wound to re-open. He felt the memory stick in his pocket and rustled up thoughts of Martine once more. Marraud was adamant in his heart and mind, he would not relinquish his life; there simply had to be a way of escaping and delivering the information. He slowly stumbled over to the other side of the roof and looked out. The nearest building was some distance away but Marraud still thought about gambling and jumping the distance to escape. Before he could even consider it, sounds of someone on the fire escape ladder made him spin around.

Akira stepped off the ladder and stood tall as he looked at the weakened Marraud. Madeline was right. This ends now. No more pity, no more chances.

Marraud summed up the situation and knew immediately if he were to escape, it would have to be through Akira. In the space of a few seconds, all the operations he’d been involved in flashed by and with it came the belief that had been with him from the very beginning; he was a french Special Agent, and all he had ever wanted to do was help others and make a difference somehow. Ahead of him stood his greatest challenge. Not for the first time, a golden image of Martine, his only true love, came to the surface. Her dazzling smile and beautiful face captivated his heart and gave him strength. One more time, for Martine…

 

Drake rushed along the corridor, heading to briefing room three. He fumbled with his papers, turned a corner and saw his deputy waiting for him. ‘Problem, Ramsey?’

The MI6 number two waited at the door to the briefing room and sized up his superior whilst thinking over Drake’s attitude in his mind. He could cause the deaths of hundreds of our agents, not to mention his intentions for S.U.C.O. I have to stop him. Ramsey spoke in a calm tone. ‘I want to talk about this inquiry.’

‘Which will resume in half an hour.’ Drake sighed and folded his arms. ‘I don’t have time for meaningless discussions, now if you’ll excuse-’

Ramsey took a step closer and imposed his 6ft 6ins frame over the smaller Drake. ‘Make the time! I don’t care what the PM has said to you; this team is the best we’ve ever had. I won’t stand by and let you crucify them.’

‘If you’ve been listening to the inquiry, you’ll know that this team isn’t as trustworthy as we were lead to believe.’

‘They’ve put their lives on the line ten times over in the past.’

‘That’s irrelevant Kevin and you know it. If you’re finding the inquiry uncomfortable, may I suggest you take over in Operations Command or find yourself other matters to attend to?’

Ramsey watched him closely. What’s he hiding? Knowing the seriousness of the situation, Ramsey decided to back down and do all he could to remove Drake from MI6. He moved towards the door whilst making his excuses. ‘Fine, I’ll find some other work to get on with. Just don’t tear S.U.C.O. in half, that’s all I’m asking.’

Drake brushed past his deputy. He entered briefing room three and took his position at the front of the room. Several reports were laid out, from each member of the S.U.C.O. team. Drake began to read each one carefully and took note of any irregularities that could be used to his advantage.

 

Olsen paid for the two fruit juices and sat down next to Rachel in the café near MI6 headquarters. He looked into her blue eyes and spoke in a downbeat tone. ‘I tell you, Rach; this isn’t going well at all. It’s a shame you can’t hear all this stuff. Drake is going to take us to the cleaners, I can see in his eyes how much he wants it.’

Rachel raised her eyebrows in surprise. ‘But this Drake guy, he’s part of MI6 as well, isn’t he?’

‘Drake is the Chief of MI6. I knew him years ago, when he was here the first time around. He wants the service to be low profile and non-hostile; in other words, full of intelligence analysts and nothing more. So,I promise you he’s going to do everything he can to have us thrown out.’

‘Was there no way you could get around the security and allow me to attend the inquiry?’ She asked questioningly. Frustration was growing inside her; she wanted to know more about the world of MI6.

‘Not a chance. Sorry Rach. It’s out of my hands; this whole thing has been classified. I’m grateful you’re here though, I don’t really fancy going through this one on my own.’

Rachel thought over her next question. She still felt hopeful he’d be set free from the service and was ashamed of those feelings. More than anything, she was worried for the future. ‘Sam…what if this does go against you? Would it really be so bad to leave?’

Olsen watched her closely and could see the caution in her eyes. ‘You know…I wouldn’t blame you if you secretly hoped I would be forced out. I’d understand, I really would.’

Rachel shifted in her seat and twiddled a strand of her dark brown hair. ‘A part of me wants you to be set free from that place, so we can be together at least.’ She closed her eyes and felt the pain. ‘I just can’t lose you.’

‘I can’t lose you either, baby.’

‘At first, when we met at 20, it was exciting. As we’ve gotten older and closer though, it’s been bothering me more and more. Ever since you asked me to marry you it’s gotten worse by the day. You know that and though I’ve really tried, I can’t push this away.’

Olsen took hold of her nearest hand and held it tightly. ‘I wouldn’t want you to.’ He struggled with his words at first but then looked up. ‘This isn’t an excuse but I’ve been trying to think how I got started in all this and how I got in so deep. I don’t know…my Dad always wanted me to follow this path and then there was Tom as well. I just went with the flow, I suppose.’ Olsen’s deep voice changed to a tender tone and for the first time in months he spoke from the heart. ‘Rach…I may have done this job for eight years but all that matters to me is being with you. I don’t want the rest of our lives to be just a handful of years or months.’

Rachel kissed him and smiled radiantly. ‘That’s all I ask.’

Olsen finished his fruit juice and touched her hand again. ‘I’m sorry I can be a real insensitive guy sometimes. If I’m going to leave this place, I need to break out of the training I’ve had over the years. You know, show nothing, say nothing and feel nothing?’ He felt better and for the first time ever his mind opened up to the possibility of doing something else but the other side of him, the side that craved the action and the chance to make a difference, bubbled away inside him and almost refused to let go. How am I going to get past this? He looked at Rachel who was opposite him. ‘You staying here, Rach?’

‘I’ll stick around here for a while and then I’ll meet you outside as before. Promise me you won’t lose your temper? It won’t help, you know.’

Olsen nodded, embracing her before making his way out of the café, towards MI6 headquarters. Is this going to be my last day as a Government agent? What else can I be?

 

Jozef dropped some money into the drinks dispenser and waited for his drink to be ready. He slumped against the machine in a trance as nurses and other hospital personnel walked past him. For the past several days, the 41-year-old had been staying in a private clinic in Slovakia. After the attack on the MI6 teams, Jozef had been eager to stay in Poland but knew the dangers of repercussions. By contacting several allies of his, he had managed to have his brother admitted to the nearest facility. Jozef took his drink and slowly walked down the corridor. Waiting there was his long-time friend, Zoltan Ferec.

‘Any change, Jozef?’

Jozef stroked his growing beard and closed his eyes. ‘No, Zoltan. According to the doctor here, Gyorgy suffered serious chest wounds. The next twenty-four hours will prove critical.’ For the first time, the possibility of losing his only family hit home. His voice sounded weak and fragile as he spoke again. ‘What will I do if he doesn’t recover, Zoltan?’

Ferec didn’t know what to say. He had just come from the side room around the corner, where his friend’s brother was being treated. Ferec had seen many terminal patients in his time and knew that Gyorgy was not going to survive. Despite this, he couldn’t bring himself to speak the truth. ‘Do not think like that, Jozef. He will survive and then all three of us will continue our war with the West. You must believe me.’

Jozef doubted that belief. ‘I will go and sit with him. Tomorrow, Zoltan?’

‘Tomorrow, Jozef.’ Ferec clasped his friend’s hand and slowly began to walk down the corridor.

Jozef approached the side room and looked through the window before walking in. He forced himself to enter and sat down next to his brother. His eyes studied the machines surrounding him and the several tubes that kept his only family alive. ‘Stay with me, Gyorgy; you must stay with me.’ Jozef dropped his head on to his brother’s lap and prayed.

 

The lights of briefing room three felt warmer than the beating sun of the Middle East as Jordan continued to move around in his seat. The sweat was now dripping off him.

Drake sat motionless in his chair. ‘Let’s move on to when your teams entered the house which was supposedly being used by the Kiprich brothers.’

‘Well, we searched every part of that place but found no trace of them. However, we did find five locals tied up in the back room. They appeared to be Polish.’

‘What were they doing there?’

‘I don’t know, sir. At that point, a gas canister smashed through the front window of the house. I issued an order to my team to put on their gas masks but unfortunately, two of my men weren’t quick enough.’ Jordan looked down at the desk as his voice went quiet. ‘They didn’t make it, sir.’

A pause came and then another question. ‘I’m sorry, I know what it feels like to lose men under your command.’

Jordan looked away to what seemed like another place only he could see but then came back to the present.

‘Then what happened?’ Asked the male committee member.

‘Well, myself and the other two agents came under attack from the woods ahead. We continued to return fire for some time whilst I tried to contact Team B to request support. I don’t know what the problem was but I never could get them on the radio. They were jamming us for sure.’

‘You have proof of that, Jordan?’ Asked Drake.

‘Yes; nobody answered!’

‘Continue.’

Jordan gritted his teeth, knowing how bad things were starting to look for him. ‘I thought about the situation and ordered my last two agents to leave the house via the back door. I stayed at the living room window to draw their fire. My deputy then returned on his own advising me we had lost another colleague as hostiles had come in through the back door. I could hear the gunfire so we had no choice but to leave the house and try to return to the armoured van where the rest of S.U.C.O. was.’

Drake’s eyebrows shot up with his next question. ‘You left the house?’

Jordan stayed calm. ‘Yes, sir.’

‘What of the hostages? You left them, too?’

‘In the heat of the moment, sir. I did try to save them but-’

The Chief of MI6 frowned, as he had to repeat a comment from another testimony. ‘A yes or no will suffice for the record, please.’

‘It’s not as simple as a yes or-’

‘Answer the question!’

Jordan snapped and shouted at the committee. ‘Yes! I left them! If we stayed we wouldn’t be here now, you got it? What do you want me to say? I didn’t know they were going to kill them! I think about them all the time!’

Drake picked up a report from his desk and donned his black-rimmed glasses. The florescent lights reflected off them, showing the thickness of the lenses. ‘According to the Police report, the bodies of the Polish locals were riddled with bullets from a Colt M16A2 rifle. That is the rifle that all team members were issued with, correct?’

Jordan’s mouth opened wide in astonishment. ‘Excuse me sir, is the committee accusing me of murdering those hostages?’

‘We’re not accusing anyone of anything. We are merely attempting to learn the truth. Answer the question please.’

Jordan got up from his chair and placed both hands on the desk as he looked straight at the inquiry committee. His voice was stern and controlled. ‘No, sir. Kiprich and his men killed them. Not us.’

Drake looked at the agent ahead of him. ‘You have proof of this? You see Agent Jordan, all I have here is proof that their bodies were riddled with bullets from the weapons you and team S.U.C.O. were issued with.’

‘Will that be all, sir? I’ve worked for this service for just over 20 years. I’m not a murderer. I don’t care for these accusations.’ Jordan’s voice was dripping with hatred.

The Chief of MI6 looked at the large clock at the far end of the room and exchanged glances with the other members of the committee. ‘I think that’s enough for today. This inquiry is adjourned, until tomorrow.’

 

Several floors below, Ramsey stood tall in the records department after finding what he had been looking for. He had spent the last hour searching through every record that had been stored for Operation Reprisal. After his chat with Drake and watching scenes from the inquiry, he had decided to check out every record on the operation, just to be sure. Ramsey continued to work the computer as several displays flashed by on the screen. The profile of POL1: Agent Bedford, appeared with a red display, indicating the file had been locked. Seven options were displayed in the corner of the screen:

 

 

HIGHLY CLASSIFIED

 

 

Agent Name: Martin Bedford (DECEASED)

Clearance-Code: POL – 126 – 722 – 3411

 

Please select an option from the following:

 

1) Past operations, reports and classified data

 

2) History of experience

 

3) Skill set

 

4) Education and training background

 

5) Personal

 

6) Aliases

7) Pathologists Report (LOCKEDSECURITY CODE CLEARANCE REQUIRED)

 

 

HIGHLY CLASSIFIED

 

Ramsey tried again to access the seventh option but was denied. Why would Drake lock that file and nothing else? He looked around the office, noted it was empty and dialled a number in the Security department on his mobile. ‘Liam? It’s Kevin. I need a favour, a real big one. I need access to one file. Trouble is, it’s been locked by Drake himself.’

Chapter 21

 

Friday, March 16th 18:00,

Moscow, Russia.

 

Akira crouched low into an attacking stance and slipped into San Shou, a deadly Chinese style of hand-to-hand combat. Decades before, he had mastered this rare form from one of its founders and with the passing of time he had mastered it to perfection. In the confrontation ahead, he was convinced that with its radically different style it would give him the upper hand. He made a mental effort to ignore the blood soaked shirt and weakened look of his opponent, making a deal with himself not to relax until it was over and the threat had passed.

A cold wind circled around him, as Akira moved in for the kill. He pulled out the same blade he had used just hours before and swung violently as he edged ever closer.

Marraud winced for a moment but still felt he had something in reserve. The first attack came and he moved his head to one side with considerable ease, sidestepping away. Another swish of the knife came perilously close to his chest but Marraud jerked his body to avoid it and rolled onto the floor. With each second the stinging pain from his stomach threatened to take over but somehow, he defied the odds.

Akira saw his opponent on the floor and seized his chance. He leaped into the air and plunged the knife downwards. Like a flash, Marraud’s right leg came up and smashed into his chest. Akira flew backwards, lost the grip on his knife and knocked into the stack of air conditioning units that serviced the flats below. Getting to his feet quickly, he saw the Frenchman rushing towards him but Akira clenched his fists and felt the hatred flow through him. With all his formidable power, he lashed out repeatedly at Marraud, who only managed to deflect one or two blows. Time after time he smashed his palms into his enemy’s face before targeting the serious stomach injury.

Marraud felt the first attack on his stomach and almost collapsed there and then. His strength evaporated in seconds and he cried out in raw pain as one attack after another plunged into his stomach. The last one caused his vision to spin out of control as he shuddered and dropped to his knees.

Beneath the black mask, Akira smiled in victory as he clutched his wrists together and smashed his open hands against Marraud who flipped backwards and ended in a heap at the side of the roof. Akira stood up straight and confidently walked over to his fallen opponent who was making a vain attempt to get to his feet. A well-placed upper cut caused him to topple over the roof. Akira reached out and caught him by the jacket collar.

Marraud’s vision was failing, his body was giving out. He felt for the memory stick in his jacket pocket and the last remnants of hope faded away as he realised that too had been broken and was in pieces. His lifeless blue eyes just managed to glance up to the masked man above. His beloved Martine filled his thoughts and Marraud took comfort in the fact that he would soon see her again. At the same time, all the other agents who would perish because he had failed to send crucial information back to Europe made him feel so guilty. Despite all his achievements, his last operation would prove to be a failure. Marraud would have no pity and started to break the grip himself. He would rather die with dignity than be beaten by the animal above him. ‘You’ll never know just what you are…’

Akira forced himself to remember his dream and relinquished his grip immediately. Seconds passed and with each one he was expecting to feel something. Anything. But there was nothing, nothing at all.

His mind was overflowing with Madeline’s voice, which grew louder and louder all the time. He stepped onto the adjacent edge, jumped onto the roof of the next building and merged into the early morning light. The dream was still intact.

 

Ramsey could barely control himself. Just minutes earlier, he had gained access to the Pathologist report on Bedford’s file and the discovery had shocked him. The facts were bad enough but there could be no doubt that Drake knew and was doing nothing about it. Ramsey was certain of one thing; the man had to go, although it seemed like the Chief of MI6 had everyone in power behind him, including the Prime Minister. He padded his jacket pocket and felt an important document inside, one that had been signed by several senior officials at MI6, in protest at Drake’s appointment and recent decisions. Ramsey prayed it would pave the way for a new dawn at his beloved agency. He got into the nearest lift and heard the floors chime by as it took him to Drake’s office. His mind turned to Richard Elliott and wondered how things had gotten so bad in such a short space of time.

Drake heard the buzzer of his intercom and sighed, as he was disturbed from his reading. He wasn’t expecting anyone. ‘Yes? I ordered no interruptions.’

The quiet voice of the assistant came over the intercom. ‘I know, I’m sorry sir. Only, Mr. Ramsey is here, he says it’s urgent.’

The balding Chief of MI6 ground his teeth together, wondering what was so important this time. ‘Fine. Send him in.’

Ramsey gave the steel-plated door a firm push and confidently walked into the office, stopping only a foot away from the large mahogany desk. Sunlight broke through the early morning shadows and streamed across the room, making his entrance seem even more impressive. Ramsey didn’t speak, just locked his eyes onto the man in front of him.

Drake’s tone was icy cold as he tried to maintain control. ‘Whatever this is, it can wait.’

Ramsey lingered for a second and then spoke with real passion. His findings from the Pathologists report had made his stomach turn. ‘I can’t do it. I won’t just stand by and have the best team we’ve ever had be crucified in that circus you call an inquiry. Whatever you have planned for today, Peter, you can change it.’

Drake got up from his chair, outraged. ‘Who the hell do you think y-’

Ramsey’s voice went deadly calm. ‘You’re the only one who could seal that file.’ He chose not to be specific, betting his superior would know what he was talking about.

Drake replied straight away. ‘I see you’ve been looking in areas that don’t concern you, Kevin.’

Ramsey struggled to control himself. ‘I won’t play these games. You’re going to stop this inquiry, right now.’

‘I’m working under the orders of the Prime Minister and he-’

Ramsey cut his right hand through the air as he stepped closer still. ‘If he knew what was happening here he wouldn’t agree!’

Drake craned his neck upwards to maintain eye level with his deputy, looking increasingly flustered. ‘He trusts me and would stand-’

‘This isn’t a question of trust! It’s a question of evidence.’ Ramsey tossed a screwed up piece of paper onto the desk. ‘That’s just one copy. I have several more.’

Drake paled as he studied his colleague and tried to work out if he was bluffing. He slowly opened the piece of paper and noted, to his horror, it was a copy of the Pathologist’s report on Bedford. ‘Where did you get this? I locked the file myself!’

Ramsey repeatedly told himself not to throw the weasel of a man up against the wall. His voice powered through every corner of the room. ‘This is over! I don’t care about your deal, have you seen the time on that report? Have you? Bedford was dead before it even got to us. In other words, the Kiprich brothers got to him. The whole operation was a set-up!’

Drake brushed past. ‘I don’t care. This has come down from the highest level, the PM wants radical changes here, and the Defence Minister agrees with him! Your personal crusade is useless.’ He moved behind his desk and reached for a folder from a tray. ‘How long have you been here, Kevin?’

Ramsey had started to pace at the window and looked agitated at the question. ‘What?’

Drake answered for him. ‘Almost twenty-five years, by my estimate.’ He made eye contact and spoke with real meaning. ‘For what it’s worth, I admire your tenacity but this really isn’t the time.’ He leant over his desk and put more emphasis on his words. ‘I will not be challenged.’

Ramsey closed in. ‘I won’t back down, this agency, this country, is in grave danger and your foolish leadership is costing lives.’

Drake handed his deputy a letter that had been stamped with the insignia of the Prime Minister’s office. ‘You’d better read this.’ He lowered his eyes. ‘I am sorry.’

Ramsey’s eyes burned with fury as he took the paper that had the seal of the Prime Minister’s office. At the same time several titles caught his eye, all referring to the mandate Drake had been given. As he looked up, he noticed for the first time that three security guards had entered the room and had surrounded him. Ramsey pulled out the letter he had wanted to present but was immediately restrained by the three men.

Drake stepped in. ‘I had anticipated this Kevin, you haven’t changed.’ His voice changed to a more formal tone. ‘You’re in breach of the protocols laid out by the Prime Minister. I’m charging you with treason and you will be held in an interview room until this inquiry is over. After that we will review your future.’ He looked at one of the guards. ‘That’s all.’

Ramsey struggled to break free but knew when he was beaten. He was dragged out of the room towards the nearest lift. As he heard the door shut behind him, he wondered how he would be able to save his beloved agency with such a bleak future ahead of him.

 

The next day, Olsen glanced at his watch and noted it was five to eleven in the morning. Outside the gates to MI6, he held the hand of his fiancée tightly as they came to a stop. Olsen saw her look of concern staring back at him and locked his arms around her slender waist, ignoring the people around them. ‘You don’t have to worry Rach, it’s not like I’m going down for twenty years.’ He said gently.

‘But you did say Drake has it in for you and the rest of your team. You don’t know what he has planned.’ Rachel’s blue eyes grew ever wider at the thought of her man being taken away from her. She wanted him to leave MI6, there was no point in denying it but having him imprisoned would be almost as bad as losing him completely.

Olsen led her away from the checkpoint, paused and put a hand in her long dark brown hair. ‘It will be ok.’ He said confidently. ‘The way I’m feeling right now, I’ll most probably just tell Drake where to shove his job. We’re going to be ok, you hear me?’ He saw her nod in partial agreement. Wanting to reassure her more than ever, he leaned in and gently kissed her as he held her in his arms. As they parted, Olsen smiled back at her and for a moment watched her leave. From the other direction, he saw Carter passing the checkpoint.

‘How’s she handling it all, Sam?’ Asked Carter whose dark skin seemed slightly paler than usual.

‘Not that great, I just keep telling her it’s going to be ok, you know?’

Carter looked taken aback at his friends comment. ‘You’re kidding right? We’re deliberately being crucified and it’s all on Drake’s say so, whether we’ve given good service or not.’

‘It’s all politics now Dan, our records don’t even matter.’

Carter nodded in agreement. ‘Don’t I know it. Do you remember when it just came down to your ability and the team around you?’

‘Does it matter?’

‘Of course it matters.’

Olsen entered the Perspex tube, swiped his ID card through the reader together with his security code and walked into the main lobby with Carter, who had done the same from an adjacent tube. ‘That’s not exactly what I meant Dan. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last few days and I’ve been asking myself do I need to keep doing this? I mean, really?’

Carter frowned in confusion. ‘It’s what we do. What we’ve always done.’

‘Right. But with Drake back and his intentions abundantly clear, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be given the chance to do anything. So why wait until we’re pushed out?’

‘Look, don’t do anything hasty; there are always opportunities around here.’

‘And what about Rachel?’

‘What about her?’

‘We’re going to get married Dan. I love my work, I won’t deny it but it doesn’t appear to be the same anymore and I can’t keep treating her this way. Here one minute and gone the next. Things are definitely…changing.’ The thought of no more operations with his best friend saddened him deeply.

Carter shook his head slowly, reluctantly agreeing. His mind started to race and his own future suddenly seemed worse with Olsen now seemingly set to leave. ‘I can see what you’re saying, I guess… I never saw you leaving this place. What are you going to do?’

‘I’ve no idea. If Rachel is with me though, I know I’ll be fine.’ Olsen found a smile. ‘Trust me.’ He looked away and tried to convince himself that was the case but the other side of him, the side that relished the danger and risk taking of the job, still wouldn’t fade. With every step, Olsen never felt at ease and wondered how he would cope without the life of a Government agent. It just didn’t seem possible.

 

Drake took a seat behind his desk and looked out at the people in front of him. He fluffed his faded beige shirt, still feeling the heat from the discussion with Ramsey and looked at the document at the top of the pile. He stood up and waited for silence. ‘Thank you. This inquiry is now in session. Our next witness is Hal Burton, S.U.C.O. Commander.’

Burton got up from his seat in the front row and stumbled over to the centre seat. He had been at MI6 headquarters since seven that morning, attempting to trace his wife and child. His hopes were fading by the day. Burton had used every legal method he could in finding them but there was still no sign. Tomorrow I’ll start contacting my mates in other countries. I have to find them soon! His concentration returned to the here and now as he saw his boss speaking to him.

Drake continued. ‘The whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god?

‘I do, sir.’

‘Agent Burton, you may consider yourself under oath. Please be seated. For the record, please state your name and occupation.’

The exhausted looking Burton wiped his mouth with the side of his sleeve and slumped back in the chair. ‘I’m Hal Joseph Burton and I’ve been with MI6 since time began.’ Burton laughed to himself but quickly noticed the silence around him. ‘Sorry…uh…yeah, been here for almost thirty years and for the last several I’ve been the S.U.C.O. Commander. I coordinate the operations, give the orders and briefings.’

Drake eyed up Burton and wondered how his predecessor had not fired him years ago. Every time he saw Burton, he felt surprised that it was the same man he had first met over seven years ago. Back then he was fit, slim, presentable and extremely dependable. A far cry from the loser I’m looking at now. ‘It’s the briefing you gave to the S.U.C.O. teams that is at the heart of this inquiry, Agent Burton. Tell us exactly what happened when you gave the briefing, please.’

‘Sure. Well, it was…’ He picked up a pizza-stained sheet of paper and squinted at the time stamp in the right hand corner. ‘Monday February 12th, in the afternoon. That’s when I gave my briefing. We covered all the operation pointers, including the locations of the storage bay and the house. I informed the team exactly what each one would be doing and basically covered all the details they needed to know.’

Drake worked hard not to let his annoyance show. Had the man forgotten everything we talked about? ‘Details are important here. We’ve heard from Agent Jordan and his deputy that hostages were found in the house. Did you cover that possibility in your briefing?’

Burton answered straight away. ‘Yes sir, I did.’

‘That’s a god damn lie!’ screamed Jordan from the back of the room. ‘What’re you talkin’ about Burton? You’re going to crucify us!’ Jordan raced to the front of the room but was held back by several guards.

Drake cut in. ‘No further outbursts from the floor! Otherwise you will be removed.’ He watched Jordan be placed back in his seat. ‘Continue Agent Burton. May I remind you that you are under oath.’

The former S.U.C.O. Commander felt his belly, feeling self-conscious after his colleague’s comment. ‘Well…like I said. I covered the hostage possibility in my briefing. It could crop up in any operation. I have it here in my notes and I quote ‘any hostages should be verified and transported back to base’, so it was covered, sir.’ Burton could feel several stares from the S.U.C.O. agents.

‘Thank you, Agent Burton. A very enlightening testimony. What is your opinion on why the teams failed to recover those hostages?’

Burton shrugged his shoulders. The tame feelings of guilt had already passed. ‘No idea, sir. I wasn’t there, so I really couldn’t say.’

Drake made some notes and gave a slight nod to the individual in front of him. ‘You may stand down, Burton. The committee recalls Agent Samuel Olsen to the stand please.’

Olsen shared a look with Carter. ‘Wait for it.’

Drake watched Olsen looking uncomfortable and knew the inquiry had reached its crucial moment. For the first time, his mind switched to the bigger picture, the threat to the UK that was present with each new day. He recalled the mandate and conversation with the Prime Minister as he justified his actions. ‘May I remind you, Agent Olsen, that you are still under oath. Be seated. Now, following on from Agent Burton’s testimony, do you have anything you wish to say?’

Olsen locked his hands together and placed them on the table. ‘I’m under oath sir, so I’ll speak my mind. I remember the briefing clearly. It was only a week ago. At no time was the possibility of hostages or any scenario linked with that factor mentioned. It was never touched upon.’

‘Are you saying Agent Burton just lied under oath?’ asked the female member of the committee.

‘Yes ma’am, that’s exactly what I’m saying. His report sheets may be time stamped and look authentic but they are incorrect.’

Drake scribbled down some notes and spoke quickly to the agent he despised with a passion. ‘So noted, Agent Olsen. However, those reports from Agent Burton have been submitted and verified, which begs my next question. Why did you and your team not go back and rescue those hostages?’

What’s the point here? Wondered the soon to be ex-MI6 agent. ‘Several reasons, sir. Firstly, we were outnumbered six to one and secondly, I didn’t know of the existence of the hostages. If you’ll remember sir, our radios were unable to communicate with Bravo Team. I couldn’t retrieve what I wasn’t aware of.’

‘We have no evidence to prove that your radios malfunctioned. The previous testimony from your S.U.C.O. commander states that hostages were a priority.’ He leaned forward and studied the handsome features of Olsen, eager to touch a nerve. ‘Does it bother you, the loss of those hostages?’

Olsen felt his blood boil. ‘I cannot worry about a situation I wasn’t-’

Drake overpowered him as his voice bellowed over the microphone, reading from documents in front of him. ‘Tomasz Waldoch, 37-years-old, leaves behind a wife and two children.’ He found another sheet. ‘Andre Zerj, 23-years-old, was engaged to marry his girlfriend in April of this year.’ He slammed the paper down on his desk. ‘You abandoned them Olsen! Both you and Agent Jordan are accountable for the deaths of these innocents! The rest of your team are innocent in comparison. The blood is on the hands of you and your fellow team leader.’ His lifeless dark blue eyes glared at the agent ahead of him. ‘Have you anything to say at this point?’

Olsen merely stared at the wall, knowing he was innocent of the atrocities just mentioned and already thinking of his future. ‘No.’ he said calmly, ‘You seem to know all the answers.’ His voice was slow and meaningful.

A long silence lingered in the briefing, until Drake rose from his seat and announced to the others. ‘The Committee will now take a short recess to consider our recommendations.’ He led the other two members out of the briefing room and into the nearest side office. He caught sight of the female committee member nearby. ‘Don’t worry my dear, you don’t have to do anything, you may as well get yourself a drink from the machine around the corner. I’ve already made up my mind on what to say.’

Olsen sat back down next to Carter and caught the glare coming his way from Jordan, who sat two rows ahead. Despite his new life waiting for him away from MI6, he couldn’t hide a sense of real disappointment at the impending loss of his career and it really hurt. Like it or not Sam, you were good at this job. ‘You should have told me about those hostages, Alex. Their blood is on your hands; not mine!’ he snapped.

Jordan merely shrugged his shoulders. ‘It hardly matters now does it, huh? They were probably moneymen of the Kiprich brothers that didn’t pay up or something. We gotta stick together Sam, otherwise we’ll be up the creek without a p-’

Olsen shook his head in disgust. ‘You’re on your own Alex, as far as I’m concerned you crucified all of us!’

Jordan leaped over two rows and lunged at the younger agent. ‘Cocky little shit!’

Carter stepped in and restrained Jordan, latching his heavily built arms around his waist. ‘Get a hold of yourself!’

The commotion instantly died down as the Chief of MI6 walked back into the room and saw the ending of a scuffle. ‘Be seated, please.’ He said to the attendees. ‘Following our short recess, the Inquiry Committee for Operation Reprisal has now reached our final recommendations. All of us have been shocked at the lack of discipline showed by several of our most experienced agents when on assignment. At times, we have felt that they are legalised criminals, instead of the elite strike teams they should be. With these changing times, it is the recommendation of this committee that S.U.C.O. be deactivated immediately. All agents will be reassigned pending another review, with the exception of Agent Jordan and Agent Olsen.’ Drake paused for a moment as he saw Olsen get up and head to the exit. He looked down and continued. ‘As team leaders, it is this committee’s view that the responsibility rests solely with these agents. Both are to be suspended for three months and then re-assigned. All committee members feel this is a reasonable recommendation, as it still offers these agents the chance to redeem themselves.’ Drake said the words but didn’t mean them. He looked out at the stunned faces. ‘That concludes the inquiry. Thank you.’ He walked quickly out of the room and rushed along the corridor. The low lighting on the floor gave him no indication of what was to come as he pressed the control pad to request the lift.

Olsen watched from the shadows at the corner of the corridor. The thought of Rachel waiting for him soothed one half of his body but the other half, the man of skill that had dodged death and been trained to perfection, refused to let it go. It’s all been a sick joke. Olsen leapt out of the semi-dark corner, flew through the air and locked Drake’s neck into his muscled right arm, refusing to let go.

Drake lurched to one side, dropped the files and gasped as he struggled for breath. His instinct knew who it was. ‘Olsen! Don’t make it any worse for yourself!’ He lifted his weak arms and tried everything he could to release himself from the brace but made no impact.

The demons swirled around inside the mind of the former Government agent as he began to squeeze slowly, speaking quietly into Drake’s left ear. ‘You should be aware, everything I’m capable of I learnt from the training I was given by MI6.’ Olsen’s voice changed to a terrifying whisper. ‘You should never have crossed me.’ The thoughts inside of him took over again and within seconds he had made his decision.

A powerful deep voice pierced the moment. ‘Sam…’ There was a long pause before the voice spoke again. ‘Let him go. He’s not the enemy and you know it.’

Olsen’s ears pricked up in amazement. He turned around slowly, continued to hear his hostage choking and saw Deane standing nearby, just a few feet away. Olsen had to blink twice to be certain. Sure enough, the tall, powerful frame of his former partner and mentor stood there staring back at him. ‘You know what he’s done?’ Olsen still spoke in a whisper but it was tinged with sadness as if he knew he was making things worse but just couldn’t help himself.

Deane took a step forward, his dark blue eyes locked onto the piercing dark brown of the man he regarded as his son. ‘I heard every word.’ He stepped closer still, keeping eye contact throughout. ‘But we can’t control everything, not even here. There are other ways to make a difference. Drake has his own agenda and you have yours.’

‘Don’t defend him.’

‘Never.’ Deane’s eyes burned bright as he held his ground. ‘This isn’t going to achieve anything; you know that. Let him go and come back with me.’ To Oman he wanted to say but he forced himself not to.

‘My career, my team, who I am; this man has gone out of his way to take that away.’ Olsen’s eyes looked lost.

A faint smile came to his lips. ‘Unlike me…you’ve always been more than just the job. You’ve built a life away from the agency. The biggest mistake you could ever make would be to throw that away now. Don’t let someone like him take you away from what you were born to do.’

Drake had given up trying to break free but glared at Deane ahead of him. He had never felt so helpless.

Deane took another two steps and reached the boy he loved. He slowly placed a hand on Olsen’s arm and spoke in delicate tone. ‘Let him go…Rachel is waiting for you. I can take you to her. Come on.’

Thoughts continued to scream at Olsen in his mind, but they were slowing down now. Just minutes ago when he had pounced on Drake he had struggled to make out one from the other. The contact from Deane had broken through to him and his pace of thought was now slowing. Olsen realised he was out of breath and for the first time registered Drake’s body next to his. He slowly released the Chief of MI6, who promptly collapsed on the floor. Olsen knelt down and saw the red-faced weasel gasping for breath. He spoke in a more controlled voice, the terrifying whisper now gone. ‘You should count yourself lucky.’ His large right hand grabbed Drake’s hair on the side of his head and lifted him slightly. ‘By the way, I quit.’

Without so much as a second look he stepped over his adversary and followed Deane down the corridor. Along the way, a touch of sympathy welled up inside of him as he caught sight of Jordan sitting all alone in briefing room three, his head in his hands. No fiancée waiting for him…

Deane studied Olsen’s features as they made their way out of MI6 headquarters. He struggled to decide what to say, with so many words to choose from. ‘Sam. Quitting is a drastic measure. There will always be a place for you in Oman with me.’ As they came to the security checkpoint, he saw a young woman in the distance. ‘For you and Rachel, if that’s what you want.’ He placed his huge right hand on Olsen’s shoulder. ‘I’d just hate to see you throw it all away and I don’t want to lose you.’

Despite having his career crushed by one man and feeling terrified about what he would become, he still couldn’t repress a smile. Ahead of him was Rachel, who stood by the checkpoint, with the Thames nearby and a beautiful blue sky above her. Streaming golden rays of sunlight gave Rachel an almost angelic look about her. Olsen was worried about his future; there was no doubt about it. The lost at sea feeling he had been expecting had yet to come though and why would it? With Rachel beside him and Deane, as ever, always there, things could have been so much worse. He turned to face his mentor. ‘You know something, in the last three months I think we’ve learned more about each other than we have in the last twenty years. There’s never any chance you’ll lose me, I’ll always be here, no matter what job I do.’

Deane closed his eyes briefly and grasped his former partner by the scruff of the neck. ‘Contact me if you change your mind.’ He couldn’t deny it, there was a deep sadness within him, knowing that Olsen was leaving and would no longer be doing what his destiny had led him to from the start. Feelings of failure welled up inside him and he couldn’t push them away.

Olsen said his goodbyes and walked towards the love of his life. He felt better than he had expected but an uneasy feeling lingered in the background. He used every ounce of energy inside him to push it away as he tried to adapt to the future that awaited him.

 

Jozef heard his boots squelch underneath the sodden grass, as he stood near his brother’s coffin in the bleak looking graveyard. The thick drizzle continued to pour down as dark, deadly looking clouds loomed overhead. Jozef stood next to Ferec. His dark green lifeless eyes focussed on the coffin in front of him. Jozef felt in a trance and had done for hours, as the loss of his twin brother refused to sink in. The words on the plaque almost changed to a different name; not Gyorgy. He bowed his head and didn’t feel the rain run down him, the senses inside him felt deadened with every passing moment. He grabbed Ferec’s arm and dragged him away from the bleak scene. Jozef spoke in an emotionless tone, one that was totally fixed on every word. ‘I don’t care how long it takes Zoltan, what we have to do, I will avenge my brother, I promise you that.’

Ferec watched his friend walk back to the coffin and wondered what excitement was coming his way. For a moment he caught the glance of another mourner whose glare was so intense, even Ferec had to look away.

Akira had heard every word, his eyes had never strayed from Ferec, who was beginning to walk off. Everyone in the cemetery could feel Akira’s vibe. No one stood near him and nobody spoke to him. The continuous rainfall soaked his darkened robe to the core but the scene to him seemed somewhat appropriate. The loss of Gyorgy Kiprich, a devoted follower to the cause, had been felt by the entire network but emotional revenge had no place in Akira’s thoughts or actions. He had considered intervening in the vow he had overheard but had immediately decided against it. Jozef, with Ferec at his side, could prove to be a formidable partnership, one that could well do some damage to their Western enemies.

Akira lowered his head and trudged away from the scene. There had been danger, but Patrice Marraud was gone forever and could no longer threaten him. His bid for Salenko to be the next President of Russia was on course and the protectors of the West were diminishing in numbers by the day. Let Jozef have his revenge. My plans for the West are all that matters. The future will be so different.

 

Look out for the next novel in the series…

 

UNDERGROUND MURMURS

(Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 2)

 

The path to revenge is not an easy one. Akira has been stopped once but his hunger and desire for global change grows stronger every day. With the help of a political puppet he starts down a dangerous path to bring a former super power back from the dead to aid his strike at the heart of the West.

 

With Russia in turmoil Thomas Deane is dispatched with his new partner to prevent a political uprising unaware that he is walking into a trap. With his health failing him he has to draw on all of his experience to survive, but standing in his way is Akira who will stop at nothing to gain his revenge.

 

With MI6 de-stabilised by an attack it’s forced to re-activate S.U.C.O. (Special Undercover Covert Operations) who together must prevent an attack on home soil. Masterminded by two of Akira’s closest allies, Jozef Kiprich and Zoltan Ferec what lines will S.U.C.O. have to cross to stop them? Sam Olsen leads his team into the depths of the London Underground network and its many abandoned stations. Deep beneath ground level in tunnels not touched for decades are the clues they need to stop another attack.

 

Available now in print from Amazon and eBook format from Amazon, Kobo, Nook and iBooks

 

Register at www.timjopling.com and be sent a free eBook copy!

 

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Thanks again for reading ‘Out of the Shadows’.

 

 

Tim Jopling

 

 

 


Out of the Shadows (Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 1)

Nothing is ever what it seems... Don't turn your back on anyone or anything... Akira is a dangerous man, a man who has lost everything and has nothing to lose. Fuelled by the death of his beloved wife Madeline and desperate to seek revenge on those who took her from him, Akira is on a mission, a mission to rid the world of the corrupt West and everything it stands for and he has one man set in his sights. Thomas Deane, a fiercely loyal MI6 agent and one half of an elite partnership he is everything Akira despises - a patriotic man devoted to the service of his country, no matter what the cost. Assisted by the brave S.U.C.O. agents (Special Undercover Covert Operations) the elite MI6 team, are completely unaware of what lies ahead. Will they succeed in bringing Akira out of the shadows?

  • Author: Tim Jopling
  • Published: 2015-09-09 17:50:14
  • Words: 82438
Out of the Shadows (Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 1) Out of the Shadows (Akira and Deane Thriller Series Book 1)