She left the office for St Thomas’; Sam was making his own way to the Chilterns, and now she had to see how her other man was progressing. She was supposed to be working in the cab, but found it impossible for thinking about him, worries about his long-term recovery: was he now a marked man, needing to retreat into the shadows even further, reduce his contact with her? Sam too, that young man, almost entirely alone again, having exiled himself from the place he had come to call home, dependent almost entirely on her. Was she guilty of manipulating him, twisting him into inflicting her desire for vengeance on those who would destroy the happiness she increasingly felt was finally coming her way?
So many years alone, even when notionally with others, then seeing and wanting, settling for friendship at first and then the rising tide of longing, ignored for years by both of them, but now at flood level due to recent events, almost drowning in it. The panic when Elaine had told her, the elation when he returned from wherever he was and now the rage that someone had done this to him, to her. It had brought them closer, far closer than she could have envisaged, but she needed to be careful, he was frightened for her, had been for some time, that was obvious now. He needed to see she could take care of things, not just through money and brains, but take some of the strain off him, not let progress slip while he was out of commission, so don’t tell him everything, try not to worry him, let him know when they had something for him. Brush off any enquiries about Sam too; focus him on his own rehabilitation.
She opened the door into his room; he was sitting up.
“I’m surprised there isn’t a pretty young nurse cooing round you in here, or has she ducked under the bed?”
The smile he gave her made it all worthwhile.
There were eighteen of them tonight, in a room above another pub in Islington; so convenient for so many. The usual mix of backgrounds, some the same and others different from the previous meeting. It was ever thus, informal, a loose network, never an organisation. Of course, there were other such networks like theirs both around the country and internationally, working towards common goals, most of the members not really being much aware of the others unless considered one of the leaders. This though was one of the most, if not the most, important in the UK, if only because of its strength of presence in the national and international media and central government. Yes, he liked to think they were increasingly the pre-eminent group, the others starting to fall into orbit around them, and of course he was emerging as one of, if not yet the, most important among them.
Today he would introduce another to their leadership circle, his disciple Sheena Ellison who had been accepted by the others without too much cajoling on his part. Yes, she owed him now, another voice in his choir, blending with the others to establish the predominant harmony, written and conducted by himself of course.
He had reported on the incomplete success of their allies’ attacks on the list of names he had given them, only partial of course, and their consequent increasing arrogance towards them. Yes, the consensus was now for a parting of the ways, a loosening of contact ending in permanent divorce. She had not shown any emotion when she realised they had sanctioned deadly attacks on five individuals, had said nothing as befitted an ingénue. A test passed. All very satisfactory, and then on to the usual business, such unpleasantness swiftly forgotten, no blood on their hands at least.
As he had predicted, the fence was the easy way in, the various cameras had plenty of blind spots among the trees and would have little capability in the dark anyway. Sam’s main concern was the weight of his load: Barrett, night vision and thermal imaging kit, handgun, ammo, claymore mines and detonators, provisions for five days, shelter. Heading to the referenced valley was easy, no signs of trip wires or sensors; the time of year meant the shooting season had finished and it was still too early for next season’s birds to have been put out, so not much in the way of keeper activity, even if there were any here.
First thing was to establish his hide, just below the lip of the slope facing the little valley, scraped in under the carpet of leaf mould and bramble, home for the next few stiff days and nights. Second, establish his escape route out to the perimeter wall, cutting the wire but leaving it in place, finding a large log to help him scale it if the time came, then arraying four claymore charges along the route to buy time if pursued, hiding them under leaf mould at tree bases so they would shower, on command, ball bearings across a shaped 120° arc at any pursuers. Finally, setting the remaining four, two on either side and just in front of the hide to discourage anyone trying to outflank him if he were discovered. All this he and Hendricks had taught them, conceal your position, establish your route out, defend it if possible, and then worry about observation and attack. Move only at night and then sparingly, daytime was stone time, leave no trace.
His NV scope and goggles were the latest US digital 3+, giving him good night vision to over 400 yards, he could see down the slope, into the trees and then into the narrow clearing at the foot of the valley before it rose again on the far slope, which remained a mystery although the thermal goggles would give him advance warning of any living mammals moving over it. His own camo shelter was insulated and foil lined to impede any opposition use of thermal imagers, not perfect, but he should see them well before they could see him.
As dawn scraped its way across the valley, scouring away the lingering darkness, he switched the Barrett’s NV scope barrel to the day scope, already zeroed, and started to site key features, using the range finder to establish aiming points, check potential bullet falls, establish clear shot paths through the trees and undergrowth, monitoring wind direction and speed. He had chosen well; the whole valley would become a killing ground, even the top of the opposite valley side, it being just lower than his own position. He could even aim right down the valley’s exit, over three quarters of a mile. As long as he wasn’t sleeping when, if, they came, he would be in command of the terrain until sheer numbers started to get around his flanks, and, so long as they didn’t inspect his portion of the hill side closely, his mission of observation should be entirely uneventful.
TUESDAY, SECOND WEEK AFTER EASTER
He had permitted himself a few hours’ sleep as things were so quiet, just the usual night time wood sounds: owls hooting, the stealthy movement of foxes, deer, rabbits and stoats; the more obvious rooting and blundering of badgers pursuing their age-old trails, supplemented by the silent twisting shapes of owls and bats in flight, briefly visible in shafts of moon and star light, all signs of an environment with little nocturnal human presence.
Tomorrow night, if all remained quiet, he would move forward to the top of the opposite slope for a couple of hours to survey the next valley and place the house under distant observation. For now, it was all about remaining as invisible as possible as the woodland started to awaken and, potentially, the local human population too. He stretched himself again, took a sip of water and ate a carbohydrate bar; better be sparing, don’t want to be caught short in daylight, over twelve hours to dusk.
© 1642again 2018