The man about to die pulled the green framed glass door shut and glanced furtively up and down the street before locking the door and placing the key in his jacket pocket.
His would-be assassin stretched his right index finger to relieve tension and took a slow deep breath to reduce his heart rate before cradling the rifle stock firmly against his shoulder. Using the open rear window of the van, his mobile hide for this hunt, to frame his target, he carefully sighted on his intended victim through the sniper scope attached to his weapon. The light remained weak in the overcast early morning conditions and he flicked on the scope’s target illuminator. It was taking too long for the target to turn around to face the street so that he could get a final identification, but long enough for the tension to build again though, for his heart rate to rise and his palms to feel clammy, long enough for the doubts to begin anew. He knew that killing his first human quarry, even a man such as this, put him on the far side of something, but the far side of what: a moral or spiritual chasm with only Hell for an escape? Whatever it was, he only knew there could be no way back once the trigger had been squeezed.
Chief Inspector Andrew Bowson stretched out to shake his slumbering colleague into consciousness. Their third long night of surveillance on the bounce was coming to an end and the muggy atmosphere of the van was proving particularly soporific on this early spring morning. As the dawn established itself he put down the night vision viewer and picked up the binoculars, allowing him to get a good look at the man they had been observing, firstly from a distance and now more closely, for the last six days. Five-nine, wiry build, curly black hair and beard, non-descript clothing – all perfectly normal in this immigrant populated part of Birmingham – but there was something about the way he carried himself though, an arrogant assurance that ensured he stood out to the trained eye. It was definitely him, another ideological psycho, a walking bomb, primed to explode at any random moment.
These people took up all his time now, most of that of his colleagues in the other Counter-Terror teams too. How many had he investigated, watched, then raided over the last few years? Far too many to recall, that was for certain. When Andy first considered joining the police family he was told that this should be where to specialise: exciting, vital, high profile, all the requirements for the ambitious young man on the rise. All true, but what he hadn’t really appreciated was the addictive intensity, the inability to ever turn off the adrenal tap, the career narcotic that demanded increasingly more of him as he rose through the ranks. His family life was suffering too, his work consumed him, and they were paying a heavy price; he’d need to make it up to them and soon.
“What’s up?” Detective Sergeant George Edward said stretching into life, his reddish-blond hair now complemented by thick stubble.
“He’s just coming out of the house, let the relief team know he’s on the move and he’s all theirs now; we can stand down”.
The sniper watched the target glance surreptitiously right and left up both sides of the street. A sign of training, a marker of suspicion, further, but not final, confirmation of his identity. Now he was looking down the street leading directly away from him in front, lined on both sides with cars and vans, the red brick terraced housing gently cascading down the hill and rising again up the other side of the low valley, intersected regularly by other roads, until it ended at another residential street, perhaps two thirds of a mile away.
The rifleman grunted assent to the confirmation of his spotter beside him, exhaled gently as the target pulled a car key from his trouser pocket, and squeezed his index finger, doubts stifled by the habits of long training and the impersonality of it all, and then saw his target, one Mohammed Amallifely, hurled back into the green door, his chest a fragmented red mass slumped against a now shattered front portal. Already the shooter’s rifle chamber was recharged, he was barely aware of the action, the aiming point varying just a fraction, steadying, exhaling, trigger finger pulling for the second time.
Andy Bowson never got the chance to finish his profanity as a sound like the air being torn asunder by a street level ballistic missile engulfed his vehicle and resounded down the street. The suspect was thrown backwards like a rag doll into and partly through the now broken front door, glass, wood and blood clouding the air like sea spume. As the body settled against the door’s remains, the banshee-like scream came again, only this time his shaking binoculars saw the victim’s head struck by the invisible force, flying backwards in a red mist.
“Get the support team and an ambulance here soonest, and let local liaison know as well,” Bowson ordered Edward as he reached for the van’s sliding door.
He retained enough self-awareness to know that he was in shock, but adrenalin and training took over as he stepped down into the street and broke into a run to where what could only be a broken corpse lay partly hidden by the doorway. Thoughts that they were in a hostile neighbourhood with a gunman in the immediate vicinity never even reached his consciousness. Reckless he told himself later. By the time he reached the shattered front door he could hear the siren of the unmarked support car as it turned into the street, and Edward just behind him with his handgun out as the car pulled up to a stop.
Bowson rose from the body and looked down the adjoining streets, breathing furiously from his exertions, the body… Well, he had seen nothing quite like it. Dimly viewed shapes were peering through windows and doors were opening. The support team of two were by him now, and the wail of sirens could be heard in the near distance.
“You two, keep the scene secure while the Sergeant and I check the house.”
“Success” whispered the spotter, in a language which only a tiny handful in the country could have understood, as he moved to the front of the van and turned the key in the ignition while the sniper packed away their equipment in the back.
“That second was a beaut, 1,000 yard head shot. Shame it wasn’t really needed.”
Slipping backing into English tinged with the remains of an Australian accent, its inherent warmth contrasting with the clipped delivery of the cold-blooded statement.
The shooter spoke for the first time since he’d pulled the trigger, “Didn’t come all this way not to make sure.”
The equipment all now secure in building tools cases, the marksman remained in the back with his thoughts. So, what they had taught him was right, the training kicked in and mastered the fear, albeit the doubt was racing back now. He could feel his raised pulse, which he knew would be followed by an overpowering exhaustion, and a certain elevation of spirit, the endorphin effect, they called it. The target deserved it and much more, but his conscience was conflicted, hopefully his maker would understand. But of one thing he was certain, not just his, life but his world, would change dramatically now. A lot more would inevitably follow.
Blood on his hands, blood on his soul. So, he had done it after all; he, Sam Penwarden, the names he normally used these days, really had graduated now. He sat in the back of the second change vehicle as they drove towards the meeting point with the lifting team, as they were jokingly nicknamed. The van they had used had been left flaming in an abandoned warehouse, although the plastic liner in which they had wrapped the interior had been removed for burning at the farm. Good luck to any forensics experts trying to use it to find them. The second vehicle, belonging to a family on holiday, had been returned to its owners’ home without anyone being the wiser.
People said he had had a hard, young life, but nothing in it had fully prepared him for what he had just done or what he would do in the future. A life involving drugs, petty crime, being shuttled in and out of care, rough sleeping, all the usual markers of a life with an absence of real direction, meaning or luck. Then quite unexpectedly he had been found, offered meaning, value, companionship, true wonders which smashed the carapace that had accreted to him and given him a path to a new home, a new country, a new family and even a new name. All things which created debts he could never hope to repay, but must try or lose his new self-respect. In finding his soul, he must risk its loss, its final pollution once again. Ironic, he knew, but once that first shot had been taken, the path he had willingly trod had become as one of those moving travellators one saw at airports. There was no turning back, just an onwards rush impelled by forces far greater than himself. But it had been his decision.
Sam looked at the back of his spotter and boss on this mission, Alan the Aussie, who was driving. Here he was on the other side of the world from his homeland; something had reached out and drawn him here to this place, this purpose, just as it had drawn him from the hard streets and harder lessons of his native south Bristol and then the alien London. He envied his colleague’s apparent lack of introspection, his antipodean cool, but suspected that the older man was, in reality, just more self-possessed than anything else. Well, when he returned home his confession was going to be a long one.
They were pulling up now. The other team couldn’t be far away unless something had gone wrong. They drove into the waiting barn, closed the door and unloaded their equipment before approaching the farmhouse to be met by one of the base team holding open the front door and looking at them quizzically. Alan’s broad, relieved grin answered his unspoken question.
The section headings used in this novel relate to the ancient Celtic church’s Easter dating system, which was used in much of Britain before the progressive adoption of the Roman Latin church’s method of dating Easter, following the old Anglo-Celtic kingdom of Northumbria’s recognition of papal authority at the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD. The differences between the two traditions as to the calculation of the falling of Easter in any one year led to occasional disagreements as to on which Sunday Easter day should fall.
For reasons that will become apparent, this story employs the Celtic Easter cycle, whereas some of the characters within it are following the modern western usage of Easter dating. This may cause some confusion in the mind of the reader, for which the author does not apologise on the assumption that any reader that enjoys this novel is both sufficiently intelligent and curious to cope with this and other antiquarian references. They are important components of the book’s central premise.
Acknowledgements to Colonies Cross and the Lady Protector
© 1642again 2017