Eleven o’clock now, all ready to go into town, park by the restaurant just before twelve, make sure there was beer on their breath, ham it up a bit so it would be just another tipsy boys’ night out’s last stop. Still haven’t heard from him, a bad feeling, have tried calling twice, no answer, never any message service on his numbers. What if something’s gone wrong and we’re walking into a trap? Sam suggests they phone his lady friend in London, he’s met her a couple of times, she gave him her number too, she was a bit free with things like that, just trying to help. If anyone knows anything it will be her.
Alan always tries to be decisive, prevarication just makes things worse, but this is matter of protocol. Sam and Art are watching him, wanting him to call, for Sam at least he has become something of a totem, solving problems, easing their paths, he’s worried.
“You call her Sam, she’s met you, but don’t say anything about us, what we’re doing, understand? Just about him, if she’s heard from him.”
Sam had memorised that number years ago, a possible lifeline if ever he were stranded alone again in an outside which was feeling increasingly alien to him. She’s just got off the phone to her cousin and picks up right away fearing news from the hospital.
“Hello, Miss, its Sam, remember?”
“Of course I do Sam, what do you want?”
“News of him please Miss,” he always called her Miss, it made her feel like a school mistress. “We haven’t heard from him today when we expected to and don’t know anyone else who might know something.”
Oh no, I’ve got to go through it again, but not panic them, they’ll feel out-of-their depth here without him watching over them. Hold it together, for him, them, just long enough. “There were some terrorist shootings last night in London, you might not have heard.” He had but didn’t know who was involved. “He survived, but he’s wounded, in hospital, still unconscious. He should be alright they say, but it could be quite some time.”
A second of stunned silence, almost as if Sam had thought him invincible.
“I’m sorry Miss, are you alright?”
“Yes, so long as he is. Are you alright; are some of the others with you?”
“Err, yes Miss.”
“Well Sam, if you’re doing what I hope you’re doing, give them something special from me, won’t you?”
“Of course, Miss.”
The phone goes dead.
It’s Alan’s call now. Abort or go? Almost certainly not a trap then and Sam was pretty sure she wouldn’t lie to him. Just terrible luck then, he clearly wasn’t the only one targeted last night, must have been because of his official job. What a complex life he led: he had his own aims within an unofficial job inside an official one which was of itself supposed to be a secret. Well, somewhere along the line the subterfuge had faded enough to allow someone to get to him. Sam and Georgy were, if anything, keener to get on with it, Sam especially, Art was fine if they were. Well, we’ve come all this way, he helped set it up, let’s do it as planned, but not tell the other teams until afterwards in case it unsettles them, we all need to be focused.
Then straight back home.
WEDNESDAY AFTER EASTER
In the end Tom had decided to take his team in earlier than planned; the waiting was preying on their minds, feeling vulnerable as if every passing car or pedestrian could see through their van’s sides and perceive what they were planning. It was about 11.50; traffic had been light and the streets dark; few people here seemed to stay up late, in the week at least. They had pulled up outside, at least the door had a buzzer rather than a knocker which could wake the neighbours. He fed some gas from the small camping canister he was carrying through the letterbox, the smell of which would prevent any arguments at the door. He rang once, twice, again, impatiently. Footsteps down the stairs, someone looking through the fisheye glass, sees his workman’s overalls, holding what passes for ID, a tool box, smells the gas. The door’s opened; it’s an older man, well into his sixties, the resident male then, just awake.
“Excuse us sir, we’re from the gas company, reports of a gas leak, can you smell it? We need to come in and check urgently. Could you bring anyone else staying here downstairs, but quietly; we don’t want to cause panic, do we?”
He’s bewildered, off-guard. He lets them in and goes off to wake the others and bring them down. By the time they’re back, him, two women in their fifties, a boy of college age looking daggers at them, a younger sister, mid-teens, his whole team are in, the front and back doors locked and the rear checked. The residents are ushered at gunpoint into the back room, strapped ankles, knees, wrists and elbows behind, on their knees, gagged.
Two of the team head upstairs to check it’s clear and commence a search, while the interrogation begins below. The bit he’s dreaded, knowing what was agreed had to come: the importance of rapid success in saving many, many innocent lives, they need the evidence, the information. Nothing too direct at first; threats, knock him about a bit in front of the others, the fear in their eyes growing as the shock wears off. Fifteen minutes in, one of the men searching upstairs brings down three AK47’s, a handgun, boxes of ammunition, a laptop, a plastic bag of mobile phones, a small leather bag containing a quantity of currency.
So, their information was right then.
Tom asks where the rest is. They’re all wearing masks, hairnets, gloves; it’s terrifying for their captives, something they’ve only seen done to infidels by their heroes on web videos. The man refuses. The son is shot between the eyes and then in the heart, just silently, no comment, no fuss.
The women are in silent tears, unable to make a sound, pleading with the man with their eyes to tell all, to save them. The gun is aimed at the first woman’s head, six feet away, but he knows they won’t miss. The first two guys have finished upstairs now, are searching the front room, the kitchen, while the man answers some brief questions about his contacts, numbers, plans. He’s part way through and suddenly finds more resistance from somewhere, and stops in mute refusal. Tom’s hand is starting to shake as the first and then the second women slump down. The girl is having silent hysterics, the man finally broken; he had never imagined this, pitiless ghost killers in the night.
Twenty furious minutes later, it’s there; two pages of notes, names, places, outline plans, some more phones revealed hidden under the sofa, a single memory stick. There must be more? He shakes his head in resignation. If he’s been lying, well they’re taking the girl with them, does he get the idea? He does. The smell of leaking gas mixed with spreading petrol is now noticeable, he sees the future. The girl’s pulled out to the hall and stunned, her father a lifeless corpse on the carpet with the others, their clotting blood pooling around them.
Nobody about in the street at all.
The base team have texted in the all-clear, the van’s loaded with everything plus girl, front door shut and detonator set for ten minutes, by which time they are coming to the northern outskirts headed for the Chilterns and indirectly home. The girl’s turfed out, still tied and gagged, into a field behind a hedge. She didn’t really get a look at them and they didn’t get into this to kill kids; there were limits.
Heading up the farm drive now, the van abandoned long ago, stripped and burning fiercely. Tom just feels exhaustion. First time after all. It had gone like a dream, but it felt like a nightmare.
Alan pulled the van up, just before midnight, almost directly in front of the restaurant. The two watchers from the supporting standby team, parked down the street, had reported that it seemed to be a quiet night and they had better go early in case the proprietor closed before they got in. They had decided to change the story: plumbing contractors away from home, working a late shift, just needing a late meal before hotel and bed, so in they walked in overalls, carrying large tool kits saying they didn’t like leaving them in the van. He shrugged, it was late; there was only one other couple just finishing their coffee, better to have some trade after all, just him and the chef left anyway.
Food was swiftly ordered, with soft drinks: they had to work early again tomorrow apparently. The other couple leave and then, as the owner brings their first plates out, he’s confronted by four masked men holding silenced pistols, one pointed at his head. Two of the men concentrate on closing the blinds, locking the door, putting up the ‘Closed’ sign and dimming the lights. The fourth man, dark skinned, steps past him and into the kitchen at the rear. As he obeyed the silent gesture to place the plates on the table he heard three whispered shots from the kitchen, two in quick succession, a sound like a body slumping to the floor, a third hushed whisper and then, the worst sound of all, a faint chuckle.
Alan heard it too and looked at Sam, who was impassive.
Leaving Art downstairs to check the remaining service rooms and commence preparing their getaway pyre – there was plenty of cooking oil and two large gas stoves – it should go up like Guy Fawkes’ Night, the other three, with their prisoner, head upstairs to the first and only other floor. It’s a rabbit warren, sub-divided rooms, office, stores as well as living accommodation. They soon gather up the other residents: a middle-aged woman, surely the wife, seven children ranging from an infant girl to a mid-teens son, an older woman, presumably grandmother or aunt, and commence the ritual of kneeling, binding and gagging.
“It’ll take all week to search this place,” growls Georgy, “it’s like a flea market, full of crap everywhere, let’s just get straight to the point.”
“Hold them there you two; don’t start anything ‘til I get back. I’ll check the office, that’s the most likely place.”
© 1642again 2018