Well, he had made the last train back from Brussels to St Pancras; that was one of the few things about the day to give him any satisfaction. Following the previous week’s meeting, he had insisted to his contacts that the Turk meet him. Three times they had refused, finally relenting on Sunday afternoon and, even then, the Turk wouldn’t meet him directly, but through a lieutenant in a non-descript suburban Brussels hotel, with the Turk in another room nearby and the intermediary conducting shuttle diplomacy between that room and the meeting room they were using. It was obvious they were trying to humiliate him, demonstrate who the supplicant was and who the granter of favours. So medieval, so primitive, so certain to be their ultimate downfall. That could wait until sometime in the future for now though.
They would not disclose what they were up to, security reasons they said, but it would be big: several actions of large scale, enough to rock the state apparatus on its heels, confuse the populace, cause them to lose faith in their government’s ability to protect them. They weren’t talking anymore of forcing a change of government policy, even a change of government, but the crippling of the state itself, its assumptions, and its economy, a seismic series of blows to the morale and self-belief of the country. They had never expressed their ambition quite so openly before, nor indicated their self-confidence or depth of resources. It was deeply disturbing, like trying to ride on the back of a tiger; the sooner they dismounted the better, but he had had one last favour to ask.
He had handed over a short list of names and addresses for their consideration, people in whom they might want to take a lethal interest, their common opponents so to speak. There was no reaction, no gratitude, just a demand for information in return. Odd, they just wanted a list of government and other senior figures who might be attending major events celebrating Whitsun: didn’t they understand that hardly anyone bothered with such things anymore? But he had promised to do his best; he vowed it would be his last favour to them. Perhaps it was time to get our networks to press for rebuilding border controls, new restrictions on immigration, deportations of those not sufficiently subscribing to ‘British values’ whatever they were, new laws restricting religious expression and freedom of association. Yes, the primitives’ boundless desire for blood could play right into our hands, so help them out one last time and give them the noose that hangs them.
MAUNDAY THURSDAY, HOLY WEEK, BEFORE EASTER
He sat back in his office chair, staring at the ceiling, stretching his back muscles, arms braced behind his head. Outside his door Elaine Ferris decided to intercept any calls and deter any would-be visitors; she knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t staring vacantly at all, he was furiously at work in that eccentric way of his, thinking, making connections, twisting and testing all known possible permutations.
She hoped that he was thinking of the person behind that voice, but somehow she doubted it: he had said that the latest COBRA and other sub-committee meetings he had been obliged to attend were just going around in circles, as was the investigation, with ever rising proportions of successive meetings concerned with ‘community relations’ and PR issues. He had made a joke of it when she appeared worried by his candour, but the office gossip was unequivocal: little progress at all and whoever was behind these events had simply dropped off the radar without leaving a trail.
Yes, the lady behind that voice. It seemed things were getting serious; she smiled inwardly, well good for him. She had had to handle the paperwork for the issue of firearms and security equipment to the lady’s apartment, classy, but not flashy, address, another box ticked on Elaine’s checklist. She had a full name as well, the office gossips would have traded a lot for that, but none of them would ever learn it from her. He was taking the threat seriously; steel lined front door, alarms, sensors and a reinforced panic room too. Their trusted contractor would be in there for several days at least, but should finish sometime on Saturday.
Yes, his hunch, based on the data from the sticks and their follow up work was promising. Some of the numbers he had been monitoring had gone dead, either switched off or discarded, but others listed had been activated, and other numbers also appeared to be operating at the same cluster locations. Call traffic to and from them was staccato and brief, almost to the point, not conversational in tone at all, another indicator to raise suspicion.
The computer translations of the recorded conversations had never proved adequate substitutes for actual speech, missing all the tones and inflexions which provided so much context; nevertheless, it was clear that these two addresses housed people of some level of importance in one of the organisations they were up against. They used phrases that were obviously coded, indirect allusions, but they were planning something, marshalling resources, checking the willingness of others and, in doing so, inadvertently identifying for him the outliers in their network, the numbers of their correspondents and the scale of the group appeared larger than even he had thought. More interesting was a small cluster of numbers in Belgium that had divided into two, one staying on the move in the Low Countries, the other heading for Turkey. Tracing their call networks could be extremely interesting, but for now he had to focus, not get distracted.
Observation in situ had confirmed that the larger cluster was at a Bangladeshi restaurant on a tertiary arterial road into Swindon, the other lesser cluster in a residential house in an immigrant populated area of suburban Reading. The former was easier to watch simply by posing as customers, but more difficult to draw good intelligence from given the large numbers of staff, suppliers and diners coming and going. It seemed to have only one large family, including one Asian male, living in the flat above. The residential address was difficult to monitor given the surroundings, with few observations of residents, although the electoral roll gave one Asian male and two females as living there.
Here we are confronted by our greatest weaknesses: the lack of resources, our inability to just patiently monitor and analyse the identities of visitors, to unpeel slowly the network associated with these addresses. It would be so much easier to just pass it on to those authorities who had the resources and then to observe any progress from the inside, but that’s not how we are going to find the bigger game behind all this, the allies they refer to, their backers. So, what to do? We don’t have the capacity yet to operate outside the mainland which would allow us to pass any information on when we have found out their friends over here, their key links. So, what to do?
The Birmingham house job had been, in the end, a huge success: many of these people were paranoid, not true professionals; they had a tendency to keep sensitive information close to hand and were prone to crack under pressure. Could we handle similar jobs at both these addresses simultaneously? Go in late at night when only the residents were in situ, interrogate them, search the premises, bring anything of real interest away, burn the rest and eliminate anyone found there who seemed to be involved?
It would certainly disrupt anything they were planning, enable us to send on the lower level contact finance and logistics information we had already collected, so that the authorities could inflict further damage while we go after those further up the chain. Especially these so-called allies, perhaps identify those at the pinnacles of the power structures who must be associated in some way?
With good planning we could just about manage it. Beta team to Reading, with back up from the base team. Alpha team to Swindon with support from the standby team; both teams move in straightaway. No messing, silenced weapons, extreme measures where necessary, minimise risk, straight back home via two vehicle changes and the base farm. That’s the only way: a challenge, a risk, but observation hadn’t indicated any active cells based there, just one or two individuals at most. Surprise and speed would be the key; we could get inside the restaurant disguised as customers, giving us an advantage. Ok, that’s it. Get a note to the teams: be here for Tuesday morning after their Easter, briefings at the farm, final planning then go.
What to do this weekend? She would like me to stay, go away with her somewhere, especially as the contractors will still be there into Saturday now. Too busy though, too much planning, need to get away and join the base team, given the scale of what we’re attempting. They might need persuading as well, given the ambition involved, the risks to so many; I’ll need to spend some time at the farm as well if they want to talk. There’s also the American girl, she needs to be taken to the farm for the final run home… I could kill two birds with one stone, pick her up on route, she could come that far at least to introduce me to the girl, Lena wasn’t it?
Hopefully, Sam would be waiting to take her through the barrier; I’ve never understood why it will allow people in, but not out, if they are accompanied by someone who’s been touched.
Helena will be upset and angry, she’s clearly getting to the end of her tether, work stress, me, all of this, no longer in full control, that’s probably the worst for her.
She is quite remarkable, a far better person than me, but she still doesn’t really know what she wants, just what she doesn’t. I’ll make it up to her, stay Monday night, perhaps other nights too, just not Tuesday when the teams go in, I’ll need to be elsewhere then, probably Wednesday too. I need to catch up with her cousin; what an amazing family, perhaps she’ll have her over one night when I’m there. I just don’t want to see either of them hurt, wish they hadn’t got sucked into this. Wish I hadn’t, sometimes.
© 1642again 2018