The Man Who Played Ross – Chapter 17

Stockwell Underground Station
Sunil060902, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Operation Kratos – 22nd July 2005

She was just another face in the hundreds of thousands of the diverse faces in London that morning. She was wearing jeans and a jacket, her Hijab worn loosely, resting on her shoulders. A pretty but otherwise unremarkable Muslim woman going to work, somewhere in the huge city. If you had the time or inclination to scrutinise her, you would probably conclude that with her jeans and training shoes, this was a cleaner going to work or a worker in many of the unskilled jobs in London. She paused as if to check her mobile phone, saw that nobody was paying the slightest attention to her and she opened the rear door of an unmarked and windowless van and climbed inside.

There were four men inside the van wearing workmens’ clothes, two in the rear and two in the front. They had been eating a Macdonald’s breakfast and the inside of the van smelled of greasy food.

“All right, Arthur?” One of them asked her.

“Yes thanks,” She replied sitting next to them, “Could you help me put on the radio kit please.”

They helped her fit the throat mike and earpiece. The transmitter and battery pack fitted under her jacket and her Hijab hid the mike and earpiece.

The four coppers in the van knew very little about the woman, just that she was military and had been seconded to them from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment at Hereford. Her codename was “Arthur,” She spoke at least three languages and was an expert in Middle Eastern affairs and took no nonsense from any of them. “Johnny” the team leader and “Merv” one of the surveillance team didn’t like her very much, probably because she was military and extremely good at her job, but more likely because of good, old fashioned racism. “Andy” who was single, good looking and had a great deal of interest in “Arthur” thought that she was “worth a squirt.” “Harry” who had fitted her radio, liked her because she was young enough to be his daughter and he thought she fitted in very well to the macho world of undercover police surveillance.

“Anything happening?” She asked.

“No nothing happening at the moment. There’s a team watching the flats and we’re ready in case they decide to go mobile.

For the next two hours the time passed very slowly and it got hot in the back of the van. Andy and Harry were playing cards and Arthur was reading Losing Iraq: Insurgency and Politcs. Merv went for a piss in the public conveniences across the road from where the van was parked.

“Lazy bastards these Somalians,” Johnny said looking at the woman. She studiously ignored him and continued to read her book.

The radio hissed and Johnny listened carefully.

“Roger, we have that. Standing by.”

“Somebody phoned the flat, asking for an electrician to fix a fire alarm at Kilburn. They’ve passed it on to Gold Commander who wants this guy followed. He’s just left the flats and is heading towards us and he’s a Somalian. Merv, you and Arthur follow him on foot.”

“An electrician?” the woman questioned, “I don’t recall any of the suspects being electricians.”

“Well they made fucking bombs, didn’t they?” Johnny said almost contemptuously.

“Yeah, and they didn’t work, did they?” she said opening the back door and stepping down onto the street. Merv left the cab and they were on different sides of the street.

“Hotel 9 now mobile. Radio check,” she said and heard “Hotel 9 OK.”

“Hotel One mobile. Radio check.

“Hotel One OK.”

Merv walked ahead a hundred metres while the woman pretended to be scanning her mobile phone.

“Here’s our man now, opposite side from you, Hotel 9.”

“Roger, seen. He is not, repeat not, Osman Hussain.”

She could sense the annoyance even over the radio. “Gold Commander insists that the subject is Hussain, confirmed by the officers in the flats. Mobile out!”

She scanned the man walking up the pavement with a back pack and knew that there was something wrong. His complexion was too light for someone from the Horn of Africa and the way he walked was completely wrong.

“Mobile I’m following. Please double check the identification.”

Up ahead, Merv walked on to towards the main road at Brixton Hill and paused, watching which way the subject would turn. Arthur was about fifty metres behind the suspect.

“Hotels One and 9, the subject is confirmed and he must be prevented from entering the underground system. Firearms officer inbound to your location. Keep reporting his position we are going mobile and following.”

The traffic was heavy on Brixton Hill road and the suspect headed towards the bus stop. The woman followed him and pretended to make a phone call, speaking in Arabic. Merv lurked a few feet away, ready to follow if he continued on foot. The bus appeared, a Number 2 and the suspect boarded it. The woman sat close to the suspect, while Merv sat near the rear door. Out of the windows she saw their van creep past, heading north towards Brixton. The bus pulled into the traffic and at the next stop Andy got on board. He sat down positioned between the suspect, Arthur and Merv.

“Mobile from Hotel 3, I’m on the bus, suspect seen.”

“Roger. To all Hotels, you must prevent suspect from entering the underground system.”

Outside of Top Shop the bus stopped and the suspect stood up. Arthur followed him closely and as she pushed towards the rear door, she looked at Merv and shook her head.

“Not our man,” she muttered quickly.

Merv and Andy followed her and the suspect out of the bus and the man ran across the road towards Brixton Underground Station. He paused at the shuttered doors of the closed Tube Station.

“Mobile from Hotel One, the suspect is trying to shake off potential surveillance and is behaving suspiciously.”

Bollocks, she thought, He just didn’t know that Brixton Station was closed.

The man they were following backtracked and re-boarded the Number 2 Bus, which was heading on for Stockwell. The three tails also got back on board the bus, sitting in different seats. The woman couldn’t find a spare seat, so she went upstairs and sat near the mirror so she could observe the rear door and platform. The bus ponderously ground through the traffic, past Brixton and onto the Stockwell Road. It stopped outside the Swan Public House and the suspect suddenly stood up and got off the bus quickly, the surveillance team struggling to catch him as he ran across Clapham Road.
Arthur was last off the bus, but she was the fittest and most agile among them. She ran past Merv who was nearest and temporarily lost sight of the subject. Frantically she looked up and down Clapham Road, but there was no sign of him. Andy’s agitated voice came over the radio.

“Mobile from Hotel 3. The suspect has entered the Underground Station.”

“Roger, Firearms team inbound to your location, minutes four. Prevent the suspect from boarding a train and detain.”

She ran towards the Station and was slowed and hampered by a scrum exiting the barriers and spreading through the concourse. She ducked and swerved past several people and saw that there were queues at the barriers. She vaulted the barrier and shoulder charged an Underground worker out of the way who tried to stop her. As she ran down the steps she caught sight of him, heading for the northbound train. He had just bought a newspaper, which was not the normal behaviour for this scenario. He ran across the platform and got on the train that was waiting, its doors open. She cursed because not only had they allowed him to enter the Underground system, but he had boarded a train.

She was the first of the surveillance team on the train. She sat down further up the carriage on the opposite side, separated by a glass screen. Hotel 3 sat three spaces away from the suspect and Hotel One positioned himself by the train’s doors. She pondered whether to dive for him and grab the rucksack, but the suspect had it on his lap and opened the newspaper. This definitely wasn’t the actions of a man who was about to blow himself and tens of the passengers on the train into pieces of bloody offal.

“All call signs from Hotel 9. The suspect is not Osman Hussain.”

But it was too late. The suspect was now a target. There was movement outside on the platform and four men walked swiftly down the train. Andy stood up and went to the door to prevent the doors from closing. He yelled: “He’s in here!”

Then he turned because the target had stood up as soon as the four men got on the train and was attempting to head for the doors. Andy lunged forward, grabbed the suspect, pinning his arms and trying to force him back into the seat. A woman passenger screamed and there was a low retort from a pistol. Two of the firearms officers dragged Andy off the train, although he was yelling: “Police!”
She watched what happened, sickened with impotence. Without issuing a warning, two firearms officers started to fire sub-velocity rounds into the subject’s head. She lost count after ten shots. They left quickly, passengers were crying and screaming. She was out of her seat and followed them as they calmly and quickly went up the stairs out of the station.  She didn’t want to look at the dead man or the blood.

“You fucked up! You’ve just killed the wrong man.”

She attempted to grab the nearest firearms officer, but he elbowed her in the face and she sprawled down a couple of steps. She stood up shakily, blood flowing from her nose as Merv caught up with her.

“We have to get out!”

“They killed the wrong man! It wasn’t Hussain.”

“Shut up and go up and get in the van.”

“You fucking bastards!” she shouted at him.

Andy arrived and grabbed her arm, “Come on. Nothing we can do now. Get in the van.”

“I told you, he was the wrong man. Didn’t I?”

“Shut up, Arthur and get out of here.”

“You know it, don’t you?”

They pulled her up the stairs and out of the underground station. The police were swarming everywhere and the Street outside was a sea of blue, flashing lights.


He had picked the location for the meeting, because it was equidistant between Hereford and London. Owens had phoned her to tell her the location and he knew the area was open and surveillance on them would be difficult. He left the M4 at Junction 15 and went through Chisledon to the road past the old RAF Hospital and past the airfield. Ahead of his car the terrain rose to the Ridgeway long distance path and the car park for Barbury Castle. He parked his 4×4 and walked out of the car park, turning right towards the double ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort. Some enthusiasts were flying model gliders from the summit of the uplands and their diminutive wings glinted in the sunlight as their controllers attempted to pick up the updraft from the hill.

He walked through where the path and hundreds of thousands of feet had cut through the outer ramparts. He could only imagine how imposing this place must have been with the reinforced wooden palisades but they were long gone, swept away by the legions of the Roman Empire. He headed through the inner ramparts and went to the middle and the highest point. Swindon was to the north and Marlborough distant to the south. The wind was pleasantly warm and some enterprising souls were enjoying picnics within the hill fort. It was another world.

He saw her over the far side, wearing a jacket and a head shawl, tightly wrapped against the stiff breeze. As he got closer, he could see she was watching the car park and path towards the fort.

“Afarin Khan?”

She spun round at the sound of his voice and put her leg forward defensively and reaching with her right hand behind her back.

“Who the hell are you,” she demanded.

He stopped, maintaining a non-threatening posture.

“My name is Alan Bartlett.”

She looked much younger than the stark words and description in her personal file had indicated. There was an air of vulnerability about her, protected by her tough exterior. Her eyes were striking and seemed to miss nothing. He concluded that she was too young to have to bear the wrath of the establishment and vested interests.

“I’m from Vauxhall Cross.”

She looked at him and he could almost feel her contempt.

“Where’s Owens.”

“He’s been taken off the case. I am your handler now.”

“I hope that you’re better than Owens. He is… Was a dickhead.”

He smiled and wondered how she would feel if he told her the feeling was entirely mutual.

“You have upset him.”


“In fact you’ve upset a lot of people.”

Her anger, simmering under the surface suddenly boiled over.

“The whole thing was a complete cluster-fuck! They were following the wrong person and was obvious to everybody but those incompetent fools that he came from South America and not the Horn of Africa. I continually told them that the man wasn’t Hussain. They killed the wrong man in cold blood. It is the Gold Commander who should have been shot and now I have that on my conscience. And what’s worse, not only did they murder the wrong man, but now the police are attempting to smear a dead man and his family. CCTV evidence that’s gone missing and no proper warning was given by the SO19, police officers on the train.

”And what about this fucking nonsense, that a military undercover operative called “Frank” was having a piss at a crucial moment and was unable to relay the image to the Gold Commander. I was the only military operative in the surveillance teams overlooking the flats and there was no fucking “Frank,” having a piss or otherwise. This is purely to deflect the blame away from the Gold Commander, who was fucking incompetent.”

She reached in her pocket and took a cigarette from a packet, lighting it with a flameproof zippo. Bartlett was amazed that a young woman who was so incredibly fit and spent so long honing her body, smoked. She walked down to a shelter out of the wind between the inner and outer ramparts. He followed, trying to remain calm. Owens was right, she was an extremely prickly character. He sat down next to her, maintaining a proper gap.

“Afarin. You are involved with forces you don’t fully understand and are well beyond your control. You are in danger. That so-called incompetent Gold Commander is destined for greater things. The government want it. The deep state insist on it. If you get in their way and try to make waves at the inquest, you will disappear and they will de-programme you. You understand what that means, don’t you?”

She inhaled deeply on the cigarette and thought about the CIA experiments back in the sixties, when the application of pain and chemicals had been used to brainwash subjects. This time there would be the element of revenge and after endless months of indescribable agony and chemically induced psychosis, they would dump her in a secure mental unit, unable to remember her own name, let alone her life and what she had been doing.

“Then I’m fucked aren’t I, Mr Bartlett.”

“It’s Alan,” He said quietly, “And not necessarily. You’re going to have to disappear…”

She stared at him in genuine fear and thought about the knife in its sheath in the small of her back, but he smiled and shook his head, “Don’t misunderstand me, Afarin. We need to get you out of the way while things cool down.”

“Keep me on ice and concoct a convenient accident? What’s it going to be, Mr Bartlett? Car crash? Drug overdose or just a good old-fashioned electrocution in the bath because I was drying my hair with a mains hairdryer?”

“No, nothing like that. I spent yesterday afternoon with the Director of Special Forces. We were talking about you. Did you know he rates you very highly?”

“I didn’t know he even knew I existed.”

“We want to get you out of the country while this blows over. You’ll be going back to the military for a few months, to Iraq. Basra Province to be exact. There’s a team already out there, but you’ll be an asset to them. Things are going horribly wrong and we need as many undercover operatives out there as we can get, particularly people like you with your obvious talents.”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”


She looked at him, “You’re not MI5 are you?”

“No. SIS.”

“Why are you interested in me?”

“Because of your language skills,” He didn’t tell her that he was her last chance and that nobody else wanted to touch her, in fact, Owens hated her but more out of fear than anything else. He knew she would have to be handled differently. “You’ll be doing jobs with us, the military and in the UK with MI5, once they’ve forgiven you.”

“Fuck them and fuck Owens.”

He sighed, “I wish you wouldn’t swear, Afarin. And I wish you wouldn’t smoke.”

She threw the butt away and folded her arms, “We have just discussed my being driven out of my mind, and you’re worried that I swear and smoke. Are you one of the good guy’s Alan Bartlett? Are you God fearing? Why should I trust you?”

He thought about it and thought of the good old days as a young officer in the Helsinki Station, before the wall came down. Life was so much simpler then and you knew who your enemies were. He would rather sully himself with a KGB operative than any of the amoral ordure of the Anthony Lyndon Blair government.

“Yes, I suppose I am. And you can trust me because I happen to have a lot of time for you. I’ll need it, and so will you.”

“I’m sorry I upset you with my swearing. But I’m not giving up the cigarettes. So what happens now?”

“Go back to Hereford and await instructions. We’ll get you out to Basra as one of the civil secretariat and the Int boys will assimilate you with your team once you’re out there. Your weapons will go out before you in the diplomatic bag.”

“She stood up and grasped his hand warmly, “Thank you, Alan. You’re much nicer than Owens.

“Sit back down, Afarin. I have something to tell you.”

She complied and looked at him. His face was sad, almost drawn.

“I’m so very sorry to tell you your father died last year. I know all about your family background and estrangement. I know that despite his faults, you loved him a great deal.”
She was quiet and started to cry discreetly.

“My deepest sympathy, Afarin.”

“Why didn’t Owens tell me?”

“Because he didn’t want it to affect your work.”

“Because he is a bastard… Sorry, but he is.”

“I thought you should know. It’s important that you trust me, so no secrets.”

She shook it off and dried her eyes with his clean handkerchief. The man who had saved her life stood up and smiled, giving her a business card, “I realise that it must be a shock to you. God go with you Afarin. I think you’re one of the good guys as well, strange as that may seem. I get the impression you don’t like yourself very much, which is a misplaced tragedy. I’ll give you fifteen minutes. Call me when you get back from Iraq and don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

As she walked back to her car, Afarin was consumed by swirling emotions. She had only met him for a couple of minutes, but she knew she could trust that rather stiff, proper and upright man. It was the beginning of a relationship that would last many years. At her car she paused and looked to the south and the rolling panorama of Wiltshire. One day I will live here, she told herself, If I’m still alive.

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