Andy Bowson received the command and sprinted across the street, followed by the others. Visibility was returning, only the smoke billowing out from parts of the building giving them any cover from unseen gunmen that might be lurking above, training weapons on them. They should have gone earlier, when a dust storm was still raging out there. They crouched by the shattered remains of a street level fire door, debris partly blocking the steps up, no sign of explosives. They entered, he and two others covering the stairs and ground floor doorway with their weapons while the others started to clear the debris, looking for booby traps, clearing a way out for escapees; secure it, that’s all they had been told, don’t go further in case you run into the assault teams who had been ordered to fire at will.
The gunfire had paused now, only the sounds of sirens and helicopter rotor blades, burning fires, settling debris, his own pounding heart, then a thump from behind like a heavy melon dropped on a kitchen floor. One of his team was violently sick; the broken body of a naked young woman had just missed him as he threw some wreckage out through the doorway. Satan was still at work up there he realised, George shook him.
“Andy, stuff orders, they must be right above us, several floors up. Let’s get up there; these stairs should take us close.”
Another crump of another falling body, he found himself saying, “Okay…”
A large explosion, rattling this side of the building, dislodging more debris from the stairs, glass and masonry falling onto the ground, broken bodies, lying there. A smaller explosion from just above them at the top of the first-floor stairs, must be a booby trap set off by the larger explosion. It brought him to his senses: he put his hand on George to restrain him; his assistant was almost slavering in his hate, his rage, at those above. He called the command centre for permission to push on; it was denied, hardly surprising.
“Back to work, we’re staying put.”
Seven floors above he was just reaching to push another infidel woman to her fate when the office floor erupted behind him, lifting him off his feet, slamming him into the adjacent wall before hurling him back to hammer into the remains of the floor’s metal beams and cables, leaving him suspended there. Broken, burnt, debris falling on him, his rifle dropping into the room below where a man appeared in view, black clad, masked, holding a submachine gun, silenced must be; the figure hesitated for a second, just slightly moving the muzzle of his weapon. Two tapping noises, two bullets, one in his stomach, one in his groin, fatal, but not fast; he hung there, bleeding onto the carpet below for a couple of minutes, couldn’t be more, the pain was excruciating, sweeping aside the stunning of the shock.
Hands above dragged him up and out of the room by his broken ankles, his trailing head noting that much of the floor was gone: they had identified where they were, blown it from under them, not from above as before; filthy Israelis must have taught them that. One of the naked women was pointing at him, bleeding profusely, screaming hate, fear, blasphemies, from behind another black clad and masked man. There were several of them, carrying out dead and wounded women, several more of whom seemed unhurt, dragging him past the corpses of his last brothers, towards an office with a missing window.
Four strong hands lifted him and hurled him out feet first, not uttering a word as they did so.
The cease fire order came through, hold position; they pressed on with clearing the exit way. Five minutes passed, no more shots, another message. Building believed cleared, but searches continuing, recovering bodies and weapons, fire engines and ambulances approaching along with bomb disposal teams, building still believed booby trapped. He detailed the rest of the entry team to recover the bodies of the women on the ground outside, others of the team coming from across the street to assist while he and George stood their ground, watching the stairs and door opposite.
A sound from behind the door, the handle being turned so very slowly, so gently, so quietly, he motioned George outside to hide behind the door while he lay flat on the stairs, gun facing the exit porch. He heard the door swing open, a pause, his senses so keen, so sharp, he felt he could hear the stillness of someone there, listening, patient, so patient, sniffing the air, treading carefully forward towards the door. The smoke outside was thickening now, some blowing into where he was lying, the person standing, wondering if it were thick enough to mask their emergence outside.
It was a man, he covered him with his carbine, finger twitching, dying to pull the trigger, right between the shoulder blades. He was young, fit looking, hoody up, white hands though, seems familiar, can’t be?
“That’s far enough, hands up, turn around. Drop the gun, now!”
Yes, he was carrying a silenced handgun; it all just fitted, almost too pat. The man froze, turned his head slightly, saw the weapon on him, then that of George emerging in front, released the pistol onto the floor.
“Put the hood down, turn around, I want a good look at you.”
He was standing directly behind him now; there was no escape, the man complied, white, twenties, steady eyes and hands, more than I would be in his place.
“George, make sure no one else comes in for a bit, block the door please?”
Now there’s recognition in the man’s face, he knows me. How?
“Did you shoot two armed men entering this building with that weapon? Is your name Matthew David Williams? Did you recently kill over thirty terrorists in the Chilterns, raid a house in Birmingham, another in Swindon or Reading as well, killing more of the same? You may as well tell me. Who do you work for? How do you know me, from Birmingham? Were you one of the ones who dragged us out into the back garden?”
“Where’s this going Andy?”
It was George, looking over his shoulder from the doorway.
The man seemed to slump.
“If it was Chief Inspector Bowson, so what? Arrest me?”
“Answer my questions. Was it you who sent me those memory sticks?”
“So what if I did? They needed to get to the right people, like you.”
“That young girl you took away?”
“She’s free, safe with those who love her, happier now than for years. She was the slave of those monsters, kidnapped from Kurdistan, her family murdered… Are you trying to tell me we did wrong?”
“Who’re you working for, the government?”
“In a way.”
The man’s confidence was rising now; he could see it, in proportion to his own uncertainty. George broke in again.
“Andy, he’s on our side, fighting them. He’s only helped us, let him go.”
Dilemma, dilemmas, a career, nay, a life defining moment. George was staring at him; he sensed the force of his younger colleague’s will pressing him to break his oath to the Service, to defy his sense of duty. No, not duty, that wasn’t so clear cut anymore. The images of those falling women replayed unprompted in front of his eyes, their naked broken forms strewn on the ground outside, the immense scale of what they were trying to combat, the vacillation of those at the very top of the chain of command, the descending greyness of relativism, politics, agendas, blurring the clarity of duty.
And finally, the words of ‘Henry,’ or was it ‘John’… “For whom do we do it?”
“Andy, please, for me, for us all, those poor women.”
What would Sally say? She’d had the clearest view on good and evil, much less grey than his own, almost medieval at times, he’d joked. Perhaps being a mother does that to you. What would the mothers, daughters, of those women on the ground outside say if they were here? How many more had this man saved, or tried to at least, on his own in that building, that circle of hell? How many more would those two he shot outside have slaughtered if he had just walked away?
“I suppose you’ve got no ID to confirm any of this?”
The man just smiled.
There it was done; the thought of her, those in there, outside on the ground, their imagined voices, entreaties, would ensure his conscience was clear.
“Pick the gun up, put it away. George, give him your baseball cap to identify him and get a couple of the others to guard this entrance and then catch us up. Follow me please Mr Williams, we need to get you out through the cordon and away.”
A few minutes later he was standing in a side street with George and the Matt who he was now pretty sure no longer answered to his names on file.
“Where’ll you go? Will you report this?”
“Somewhere safe. I can’t tell you. You probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
© 1642again 2018