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THE WICKED WILL

PERISH 3

THE ASSASSIN

By

Anthony Vincent Bruno

© 2014















THE WICKED WILL PERISH 3 - THE ASSASSIN

A thriller by Anthony Vincent Bruno

©2014 by Anthony Vincent Bruno

Paperback ISBN: 9781790411818





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission, except for brief quotations to books and critical reviews. This story is a work of fiction. Characters and events are a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

GLOSSARY

AK-47 – Kalashnikov gas-operated, 7.62 × 39mm assault rifle

APC - Armoured Personnel Carrier

AQT - al Qaeda Taleban

Bootneck - Royal Marine Commando

Browning 9mm – Hi power single action semi-automatic handgun

Casevac - Casualty Evacuation

COBRA – Cabinet Office briefing room A. UK crisis committee

CFT - Combat Fitness Test

Claymore - Portable anti-personnel mine

CO - Commanding Officer

C019 - Metropolitan Police Specialist Firearm Unit

Det cord - Detonating cord

FOB - Forward Operating Base

Flash bang - Stun grenade

GCHQ - Government Communications HQ

Gimpy or GPMG - General Purpose Machine Gun

GPS - Global Positioning System

HK MP5 - Heckler and Koch counter-terrorist sub machine gun

Icom - Intelligence communication

IED - Improvised explosive device

IR - Infrared

Klick - Kilometre

L109A1 - Fragmentation Grenade with a fuse delay of 3.4 seconds

L96A1 - Long range sniper rifle

LZ - Landing zone

MI5 – Secret Service, UK domestic counter-intelligence service

MI6 – Secret Intelligence Service, UK foreign intelligence service

MoD - Ministry of Defence

NOK - Next of Kin

Op - Observation post

PE - Plastic explosive

PIRA - Provisional IRA

RPG - Rocket propelled grenade

ROE - Rules of Engagement

RTU - Returned or Return to Unit

Remington 870 - Pump-action shotgun

SOCO - Scene of crime officer

SOP - Standard operating procedure

Sig Sauer P226 - Handgun used by SAS and other military units.

Stinger - Shoulder-fired Surface-To Air missile (SAM)

TAB - Tactical Advance to Battle, a long march.

Tubes - Mortars

UAV - Unmanned aerial vehicle such as a Predator Drone



CONTENTS





CHAPTER ONE

The assassin entered the covertly fortified cave in the Khost region of Pakistan. From the exterior, the location appeared to be just another gaping hole in the rock face. He began to relax as he ambled casually between his escorts, noticing how clean and organised the cavern appeared. Something like out of a 007 villain's lair, he reasoned. The cool air was a welcome relief to the suffocating heat of the arid landscape that sweltered under the dome of cloudless blue outside. His traditionally dressed Arab host sat on a beautifully designed rug about three hundred metres inside the heavily guarded complex. The contract killer had been searched repeatedly since making contact with the Sheikh's entourage near the Pakistan border. His dress code was his customary casual attire of faded jeans, sports sweatshirt and a leather jacket that he took off upon arrival in the unrelenting heat. He had left behind his weapons and personal effects in a Jordanian safe box before boarding a private jet that stopped off briefly in Yemen where more guards boarded the comfortable Gulfstream aircraft for the last leg to Pakistan.

'Welcome, thank you for coming.' The Arab said in perfect English.

'Salaam Alaikum,' the killer replied in adequate Arabic. He knew from the initial internet contact why he was asked to make the trip but he erred towards politeness. 'What can I do for you?'

The Arab looked at his robed Yemeni bodyguards, pondering the difference between them and the man who now sat cross-legged opposite him. All of the Sheikh's close protection detail had been trained by US Navy SEAL instructors as part of a joint Yemen and US anti-terrorist exercise. The reputation did not fit the man whose gaze he met. Yet, there was something in this stranger's cold grey eyes that the Sheikh's men did not possess. Something behind the eyes, disturbing yet intriguing. He handed the assassin a vanilla envelope.

'Can you kill these people for me?'

'Anyone can be eliminated,' he opened the envelope and took out nine A4 photographs attached to nine brief profiles, 'for the right price . . .' the assassin paused, reflecting on what he had just said. 'It's getting away with it that counts to men like me-'

'Men like you? You are one of a kind, or so I was told.' The Sheikh clapped his hands whereupon a guard appeared with a tray containing tea and pastries. Another guard appeared and laid a chrome suitcase beside his employer. 'As per your instructions, half now and half when all of them are dead?'

The assassin did not want to appear perturbed at the nine images so to regain his composure, he accepted a small slice of pastry that looked almond like and asked for bottled water instead of the tea. A generator's hum could be heard further down the cave's interior. The echo of the essential energy supply gave the newcomer a sense of the vastness of the hideout. He had no doubt that the billionaire Saudi prince had more than one of such complexes available for his use when organising meetings as the one that was taking place.

'You are shocked?' The Sheikh enquired, unable to detect any alarm.

'No. Most people have their reasons for people they want killed and I never enquire as to these reasons. But . . .'

The Sheikh eyed the Westerner with suspicion, 'but what, friend?'

'Not that it matters to me but this ninth and final target makes no sense as it would achieve nothing. And, his death if it comes to pass, will put a lifetime target on both of our backs. They will never stop looking for us . . . do you understand that?'

'Of course I do . . . open that case. Please?'

'Sure.'

'Are you not even interested in knowing my identity?'

'No . . . I'm good with "Sheikh" as the only thing that concerns me is your money. This is just business.'

The killer clicked the latch to open the glimmering case and ran his hands along the inner rim. He would check it thoroughly later, if he decided to do the job. 'Twenty five million in diamonds?'

The Saudi interjected. 'The other twenty five million in dollars and pounds, payable into your account on completion of all nine tasks.' He licked a remnant of Basboosa from his fingers. 'So, the twenty five million as promised and another twenty five million when the job is done. Though we will have no need to speak directly again, I will need a temporary cell phone number from you so that my London contact can fulfil your intelligence needs as to the targets' movements.'

'Who is your London contact?'

'A loyal servant, no need to worry who. This task will be accomplished in half the time with the proper intelligence. You will never meet him, just speak to him using one of those throw-away phones.'

The Westerner tried another almond delicacy and changed his mind about the tea. The guard who poured it gave him a curious, if nervous look. He ignored the glance and returned to the photos. He tossed the eight photos on to the magnificently crafted rug, 'he's not a problem . . . his protection are highly trained and courageous but they are mainly for show, let down by interfering agencies combined with the logistics of-'

'Killing a head of state is not a problem?' The Sheikh remarked curiously.

'The first six people will be dangerous enough as they work as a unit. The seventh will have protection but not too difficult. Head of state or not . . . the eight target is fine. As I said, the ninth victim would put me in harm's way and that is not a situation I take lightly. . . even for fifty million.'

'Will you do it?'

'Whenever there are multiple targets, it is far easier to strike when they are all present at the same location. Anything else borders on the insane. This is trickier than I imagined.'

'The unit and their financier have to be taken out first, everything I have planned elsewhere depends on that. Then the eight and . . . the ninth man being the last, in that specific order.'

'It would be my final contract, naturally. I could never work again; it would be foolhardy to even try.'

'Will you do it?' The Arab repeated.

'I need time, maybe a day, to see if this is possible?'

'What about my son?'

'I am not a stupid man, Sheikh. He's safe and will remain safe until I return to Europe intact.'

Before agreeing to meet with the Sheikh, the assassin had demanded insurance that there would not be a trap or rendition awaiting him. Hence, he had hired a retired doctor to meet with the Sheikh's entourage and provide DNA proof of their kinship. The doctor, oblivious to the situation, accepted twenty thousand UK pounds to protect and confine the dubious Saudi teenager in a secluded Swiss setting, sedated most of the time.

'Where will you go while you think on this?' The Sheikh enquired.

'Nowhere . . . I was hoping you would provide a place for me to rest my head?'

'Naturally, it is traditional for us . . . you will be my guest. We might talk about things-'

'Such as?'

'About you! To get an idea of the type of man you are. It is said that you are the only soldier to have served in both British and American special forces?' The killer gave no sign of acknowledgement. 'There is so much speculation and so called mythical talk of you and . . . your reputation. If it is not too intrusive?'

'It is.'

The smile faded from the Arab's face. 'Well, I will tell you something if it might interest you?'

'If it pleases you, Sheikh.'

'Bin Laden?'

'He was a puppet . . . a fanatical dreamer living on his reputation.'

'Ha-ha . . . you are well informed then. But, do you know of the man who pulled the puppet's strings?'

'I think I am looking at him!' The assassin showed no emotion, a fact that made everyone uncomfortable.

The Sheikh propped up his silk cushions and stared directly at the assassin. 'I know you say that you never need to know the reasons why your clients seek the elimination of people, but I am going to tell you why I want that ninth man dead!'

'If you insist, I am your guest.'

'I want his mother to feel the pain . . . the heartbreak, the knowledge that she outlived her son.'

'So you are saying that they are responsible for your son's death . . .?'

'My second oldest boy was in a Yemeni training camp two years ago when it was raided by a joint British, American and traitorous Yemen government task force. He was cut down like a dog, so . . . a son for a son!'

'It's your money, Sheikh. One question does spring to mind though and it does not concern the targets.'

'Ask it!'

'Why me . . . an infidel, a Westerner. You have many devoted followers willing to die for the cause?'

'You are the best at what you do, seemingly. I have heard that your motto is "98% preparation and 2% kill" which is a professionalism greatly to be admired but I wanted you mostly because of that crazy Israeli. Anyone capable of doing that and getting away with it . . . is someone to be taken very seriously. Yet everyone still believes he died of a stroke? The Jews are a proud race.'

'I have heard that quote was attributed to me and as I said to you, I never comment, but as to your ratios, I would say that 49% preparation, 2% kill and 49% escape would be more appropriate. And you are right, the Jews are a proud people and, in my opinion, a fierce enemy to take on. I admire them.'

The Sheikh cleared his throat. 'I will activate my network of cells in the West to cause enough distraction for you to go about your business. They are highly trained and are willing to die for the cause.'

'I act alone. Whatever you do beyond that is none of my affair. It's getting at the last two of these targets in one situ that is my concern.'

'You are a curious man, even for an infidel. We will have food at eight this evening?'

'It would be a pleasure, shukran.'

'You know a little of my language, I see?'

'Well, I did spend some time hunting and killing men who spoke it.'

A tall Arab who had been hovering in a nearby shadowed alcove stepped forward. He was the Sheikh's closest homeland bodyguard who had met with the assassin when he landed in Jordan the previous day. Unlike the other guards, he was dressed in an expensive coral blue, white trimmed tracksuit. His rolled-up sleeves revealed a myriad of scars, mostly blade wounds. The warrior carried no AK47 or sidearm; his presence was enough to deter anyone from seeking to harm his benefactor. He was the epitome of the fearsome Mujahedeen, a giant who stood muscular at over six and a half foot tall. He knelt down and whispered in his employer's ear.

'Atmani insists upon staying by your side for the duration of your stay with us, my friend?' The Sheikh remarked through another mouthful of Arabic sweetness. He was the far side of 60 and chubby, a man who appreciated the finest money could buy.

'Not a problem,' the assassin replied flippantly.

'While my son is under your . . . quarantine? I cannot allow you to be within close proximately of guards who are carrying weapons. We are strangers and there is no bond or trust established . . . agreed?'

'Naturally Sheikh . . . only sensible to take every precaution. I would take the same measure myself in your place. Now more importantly . . . what is for dinner?'

The Saudi Sheikh was awoken in the morning to the news that his guest had left, along with the contents of the reward case. It had been left behind, along with the hidden tracking device. Three guards were unconscious and one was missing. Atmani lay outside the cave complex, his neck broken and his jeep missing. There was a note tucked under a rock beside his corpse.

"The job will be done; all nine subjects will perish as to your instructions. Firstly - the six member unit. Secondly - their backer. Thirdly - the head of state. Lastly - the royal. You will not seek to interfere directly in my actions. You can contact me if needed through our initial channel of communication. We will not meet again unless you are fool enough to withhold the remaining twenty five million balance. I will send confirmation of how the funds are to be distributed to my accounts."

Sheikh Abdullah ibn Saud, a second cousin to the Saudi Arabian king, screwed up the note as he took in the expanse that dropped away before his morning-heavy eyes. A stream of cauliflower clouds split the vast blue heavens that belittled his vengeful thoughts. The infidel was a professional killer who would see it as a duty to carry out the nine assassinations but then he would be surplus to any and all requirements. There were other dangerous men who had blood ties to the Sheikh. In some ways, even more dangerous, as they cared not for their own lives.







CHAPTER TWO

COBRA is an acronym used for emergency meetings of the British government's hierarchy during times of national crisis and international incidents affecting Britons abroad. The term derived from urgent gatherings originally held in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. It has the power to call upon all affiliated security, intelligence, police and military agencies. As the saying goes - "Whatever Cobra wants, Cobra gets." When all legal and morally acceptable means had been exhausted, the question that was asked was simple - what deniable resources would Cobra use that could be disavowed if exposed?

David Keegan is former 22 SAS Regiment who had been 'returned to unit' and subsequently left the British army at the early age of twenty-nine. Nobody, including his closest friends, knew the real reason why such a dedicated soldier had been 'RTU' by the SAS. The truth was that he refused to use a human shield when targeting a Bosnian war criminal. Besides his 'Killing House' firearms expertise, his use of lethal force in close quarter combat was widely admired. Keegan was formidable in Tai Chi and Aikido but Jujitsu remained his favourite, most fearsome martial art.

Steve 'Coop' Cooper is a former SEAL TEAM SIX sniper with a fondness for money and a hatred for anything jihadist. Steve had a particular liking for England and had served alongside British Special Forces on two occasions in the First Gulf War. His affection for Britain had been fostered in his youth, listening to tales of his great grandfather who had married a fair-haired English nurse after the Second World War. They had met in Devon and fallen completely in love before his deployment to the Normandy beaches. Cooper, the oldest member of the unit at forty-four years of age, considered himself an honorary Englishman.

Sara Brahms is a Mossad agent; retired, though it has always been said that once in, you never leave. Her expertise is intelligence, gathering it and making sense of it. She had a rumoured IQ of 161 which she denied but did claim to be a keen observer of body language, a skill embedded into her consciousness in her early training years, meeting travellers at Ben Gurion Airport where Mossad placed their raw recruits; their first dealings with foreigners waiting for perusal in the huge passport control area. Sara had looks and was the youngest of the group at twenty nine. All of the others had seen how capable she was of extreme violence but they still looked upon her as a younger sister.

Yakov Zorin, 43: a former Spetsnaz interrogator. His role was simple; he made prisoners talk. "Everybody talks eventually . . . everybody." Other members of the unit frowned upon his participation but the unit's leader regarded the Russian as an essential clog in the machine. Officially, he was still in the employ of the Russian military but his Spetsnaz commanding officer had refused to treat him as a deserter; instead marking him down as an unsuitable soldier in need of psychiatric care. Zorin hated his homeland; detested the way the military had been treated in the Chechen campaign. Since Putin had replanted the Soviet seed, he hated it even more, vowing never to return.

The final member of the unit is surprising in the fact that he was once a sworn enemy of The United Kingdom and its armed forces. Seamus Cooney was at one time the Provisional IRA's most lethal bomb maker. When the Anglo-Irish peace accord was signed, he went to work on his uncle's farm in Maryland. His world changed forever when his pregnant wife was killed on 9/11/2001. He now made bombs again. He was the unit's explosive expert, capable of defusing IED's as well as a genius at their construction and placement. He and Keegan had not much time for one another initially, having been sworn enemies, but their relationship had thawed to the extent that the past was no longer an issue. It got to the stage where Keegan used to jokingly refer to Cooney as "The Irishman" or sometimes just "Irish". Cooney responded in kind by calling Keegan - "English". This banter was now commonplace, something that would have been inconceivable at their initial unit debrief. He had a beautiful Alsatian Shepherd, Rebel, who he spent years training in the art of explosives detection. The dog was more of a friend to him but it had come in handy on two previous occasions, once when the unit had been sent to Egypt during the Arab Spring. Rebel had wandered through the unit's quarters on the outskirts of Cairo one moonless night where he discovered an IED waiting to incinerate anyone in the lounge who switched on the television. Ever since, Cooney's colleagues had grown fond of the animal, except Zorin, who disliked pretty much anything or anybody.

Their commanding officer was a former British SAS Regiment captain, Kenneth Harris. He was the most naturally gifted killer of the six-member unit. Many members of the SAS frowned upon their 'Ruperts' (officers who had been fast tracked into the Regiment) but Harris was an exception. He had earned their respect the hard way, leading from the front, wounded twice while saving a sergeant from capture and certain death in the Afghan wastelands. The unit as they all referred to themselves, had just one objective - tradecraft and lethal covert operations for the British government when it could not be seen to sanction its own military, police or intelligence actions due to deniability.

Then one late autumn day, the unit faced their deadliest challenge - an enemy with no face, no name and no past. Not one single intelligence agency could ever get a fix on his location until he once again disappeared into the ether. Some agencies even began to doubt his existence. Harris' unit was well funded with all six set financially for life but the foe they were soon to encounter was in a different league, in the Black Ops sense. He was the most feared contract killer alive due to his reputation for certain kills, and the price he demanded, though more times than often he was offered a larger sum than he thought necessary. The death industry was a lucrative industry. If someone wanted a person or persons assassinated, it could and would be done with the very minimum of collateral damage. If innocents died as a result of his actions, it would be for one reason only - to protect his anonymity. He had his limits in this department such as when a Russian billionaire paid him five million US dollars to kill his wife and make it look like a terrorist attack. The kill was supposed to be aboard a yacht in the Caspian Sea but the yacht turned out to be a floating city with over one hundred and fifty people aboard, including families with small children. The assassin refused the job and returned the Russian's fee, minus ten percent expenses. The Russian was furious and tried to hit back with a daring plan of entrapment. He asked for a 'meet' to renegotiate another time and location for his wife's death. The meeting never took place according to the billionaire's aides as their boss was found hanging from the roof of a barn near his Crimean holiday mansion the night before the meet. His kills were a work of art with every infinitesimal detail scrutinised repeatedly. It would be done and appear to be done by an opposing faction. He never made mistakes.

Harris and his unit, together with his Whitehall and affiliated Langley CIA contact had never had the occasion to seek the man. They remained dubious as to a man who could live such a life and leave no trace in the modern computer age. Unlike 'Carlos The Jackal' and other notorious assassins, the man completed his task and vanished without trace, not to be heard of or suspected of something until after a coup, assassination or something inexplicable had occurred. If he truly did exist and was culpable for any of the surreal hits attributed to him, then his calling card was simple - he left no trace. Intelligence agencies all over the world had coordinated their efforts following a few implausible hits that made no sense; the ones where it turned out that the particular attack was made to look like the work of an enemy but one which the particular enemy took the time and risk to prove it had nothing to do with. In the spring of 2012, an infamous meeting took place in Reykjavik where intelligence officials from the West had met with some peculiar contemporaries; those of China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and North Korea among other unlikely regimes deemed suitable to cooperate. Three days of 'information sharing' gleaned nothing except that he was probably a male Caucasian in his thirties. There was no need to pass out dossiers at the extraordinary meeting's close; they agreed between them that 'if' he showed up anywhere, they would all be willing to network with the other agencies. The CIA's deputy director laughed aloud as he shook the hand of the sincere looking woman who had represented the South Africans. "What a crock of horseshit," he was heard to say, adding "anyone who catches this ghost will hire the fucker themselves!" The CIA man publically doubted the existence of the assassin insisting his agency had spent too much effort and money in trying to locate a shadow. A series of unsubstantiated and mysterious attacks were merely coincidental and probably the work of a variety of hard-line extremists was what the spooks at Langley had tried to convince their leader on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. The president at the time concurred with them until one day while playing golf in Texas, he found a blood stained ball in the course's deep rough; his ball. The Secret Service swarmed all over the area and after a fruitless search, they had the blood stained ball examined. The blood belonged to a former SS officer who had been rumoured to be living in Illinois. The ninety two year old German had been accused of causing the deaths of hundreds of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto of 1941. In truth, an Israeli internet millionaire had paid two million dollars to kill him. His corpse was eventually found near a synagogue in Chicago; he had died from an overdose of gas asphyxiation. The papers later printed a story that claimed that the US State department had allowed the suspected war criminal to live in the United States after offering up Nazi files on Russian atomic engineers. The golf ball was disposed of by a White House secretary despite requests by the Secret Service to hold it for further investigations. The unspoken reality of the Reykjavik meeting was an underlying consensus - no smoke without fire. An anonymous assassin was out there and more than one government would gladly pay for his services while others would detain him and melt the key in the lock.





CHAPTER THREE

New Road, Harlington, Middlesex. A three-man sleeper terror cell in the pay of the Saudi Sheikh had scaled a three-tier apartment block in the guise of roofers. They had waited most of the morning and mid afternoon, their eyes trained on Heathrow Airport's northern runway that lay within a mile of their position. Each man lay under a lightweight decorator's canvas, their RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenade) waiting for their target. Their fellow cell, a suicide-vested trio waited in the crowded arrivals hall of Terminal 3. Though air conditioned and well maintained, the area was always a mass of sweaty, eager bodies when awaiting the arrival of the big jets from The United States. Said, the leader of the cell looked up at the arrivals board to see that the 747 due to land from Newark was on time. All he waited for was the noise of the explosion from the runway. It came ten minutes later when two of the three RPGs struck the American Airlines A319 as its wheels scattered the afternoon shadow of the distant sun. One missile hit just above the wing, the other, just yards away near the tail fin. The third RPG flew through the blazing vacuum to land in a distant field. One hundred and sixty eight souls perished in an instant with burning wreckage and parts causing more fatalities in nearby structures. The explosion rocked the floors of the neighbouring terminals. Said gathered his breath and looked around to find his fellow martyrs in predestined positions. All three closed their eyes and detonated their vests after loud acclamations of their god. The simultaneous blasts ripped the arrivals hall apart as body parts collided in mid-air, seconds after the initial flash. The blasted walls and askew pillars within were covered blood red as the screaming began and debris started to fall. Among the two hundred causalities were seventeen children; youngsters standing beside their parents awaiting the arrival of their American friends, families and assorted guests.

***

An emergency meeting of Cobra was scheduled within minutes of the breaking Heathrow news. The Prime Minister had been in Cornwall and was flying back to London. The Home Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner along with representatives of the intelligence and military would be waiting for him in Downing Street. British airspace was closed indefinitely with incoming flights diverted to reachable European cities. All public transport was suspended and stations evacuated.

***

The Sheikh, reunited with his teenage son in his opulent Riyadh palace, watched as Al Jazeera devoted all their attention to the UK atrocities. His smile widened hours later when the laundry van exploded beneath New York's Times Square Marriot Hotel killing eighty nine people and then he beamed as five more of his martyrs caused the death of seventy shoppers in a Riyadh shopping mall. A cool breeze wafted through the lace curtains of the spacious, ornately decorated lounge, adding a sense of contentment to his already triumphant demeanour. His martyrs had killed Westerners and Saudis alike; indiscriminately spraying the crowds before detonating their vests as the emergency services arrived. He ate his favoured pastries, knowing the worst was yet to come. It would not rival 9/11 but it would cause the same fall out - the possibility of war. A situation he would use to eliminate his rivals and claim the Saudi crown from his cousins. His homeland terror cell was waiting to strike at the very heart of Saudi power; his empowered cousins.

***

The occupants of the lone aircraft in UK airspace were reeling with shock as the events unfolded. The Prime Minster drifted away from his entourage and asked to be left alone in the rear of the jet. He glanced out at the sleeping clouds, wondering what else was coming. How would his predecessors have handled the situation? Was there going to be more war, more body bags?

***

'Target acquired,' Cooper whispered into the communication comm attached to his jacket collar. As the "engage" signal came back, he placed his index finger on the trigger and squeezed. The high calibre 7.62 round pierced the windowpane and exploded within the head of Jak Shulku, the Albanian bodyguard and brother of a man renowned for kidnapping innocent teenage girls and pimping their drugged bodies to his native Balkan friends and associates. The three other men sitting at the card table had hardly time to react before the front and back doors of their improvised brothel burst open through the use of shotguns. Two figures in casual fatigues pointed their weapons at the startled Albanian trio.

'Where is Ardit?'

'Who . . . who Ardit?' A heavyset card player asked.

He was shot through the forehead.

'Where is Ardit Shulku?' David Keegan, the former SAS trooper asked the two remaining gang members.

'He is in the Albion House car park talking to a girl.'

'The car registration?' Asked Seamus Cooney.

'Ardit 47 . . . it's his personal plate.'

As he finished his sentence, he hit the rear wall, courtesy of a pump action trigger. His colleague met a similar fate a second later.

The unit leader spoke into his collar comm - 'Albion pub car park with a female, registration - Alpha, Romeo, Delta, Indigo, Tango, 4, 7 . . . copy?'

'Roger that . . . target in sight.' Steve 'Coop' Cooper responded, adjusting his sight. The round from his MK11 shattered the engine block of the silver Bentley.

Ardit Shulku felt the force of the blast as his car bonnet flew into the sky. The teenage waitress beside him screamed in panic, as did Ardit when he saw two men approach his immobile vehicle.

'Out . . . get out with your hands on your head!' Keegan shouted as Sara Brahms provided cover with Cooney bringing up the rear.

Ardit thought of reaching for his waistline pistol when another round cracked open his windscreen. 'Okay . . . okay,' he bellowed, hoping to draw attention from a passerby.

'Look at my eyes scumbag . . . look into my eyes . . .' Keegan shouted.

'Okay . . . okay!' Ardit screamed in panic, spittle dripping onto his red silk shirt.

'Take your eyes off mine and I will shoot you dead . . . understand?'

'Yes . . . okay.' The terrified Albanian kept his stare on the man pointing a shotgun at him.

Two hours passed during which the once fearsome gangland kingpin dwelled upon his past. He had been taped from head to toe and transported from vehicle to vehicle. He had no idea where he was or who his abductors might be. He soon found out.

The space sounded hollow and he had a hood over his head. This was good; they did not want me to identify them so I might be let loose?

The next words spoken shattered his illusions.

'You must know that you are a dead man, Ardit?' Kenneth Harris remarked casually as his unit stood around the mirror walled interrogation room, all privy to their prisoner's pervading sense of dread. The ominous scent of fear.

The Albanian shook his hooded head in despair.

'It's just a question of how you want to die . . . nothing else should disturb your thoughts. We just need the location of a certain individual-'

'If you are talking about Simchuk you can forget it because even if you torture me, I won't reveal anything. He would find out and slaughter my children, my entire family.'

'Very well Ardit . . . let us proceed with the messy killing of you part.' The ex SAS captain said in an unusually cheerful tone. 'My Russian colleague here would normally peel off your skin but he has something far uglier in mind. It's actually quite sickening to even hear him speak of it. All righty then?'

'You can't do this . . . it's inhuman . . . against the law to torture-'

'Ah . . . there you have it Ardit! You see, we don’t operate within any law. You won't hear of any Geneva Convention protocol around here.'

The Albanian soiled himself.

'How are you with cats Ardit?'

'Cats?'

'Not your household pussy so to speak . . . I mean the larger ones that rip a man to pieces and eat him while he is still breathing?'

'Please . . . you have to understand! Simchuk is the devil! He is a demon responsible for hundreds, maybe thousands of terrible things. He operates all over Europe?'

'That's exactly why we want him Ardit . . . you are just unfortunate in that you will have to tell us everything about him.' Harris replied sensing his mobile's vibration in his trouser pocket.

'Cats?' The Albanian enquired again. 'What are you going to do?'

'I am going to do nothing myself, we have more important issues as there are people out there who think it is alright to blow up our airports. I will leave you in the capable hands of our Russian friend. You are going to tell him Simchuk's exact location and what to expect there.'

'No-no-no . . . I can't!'

'I beg to differ,' the giant Russian responded as he grabbed his subject by his constraints.

The other unit members looked at Harris who gave his customary shrug of the shoulders as if to say - any of you want to torture someone?

The unit had use of a communal base; a sprawling mansion set back off the A40 Motorway near a small Oxfordshire town. The property was owned and sublet by one of Britain's wealthiest men, a friend of Kenneth Harris. He was a man who made his vast fortune building a transport and telecommunication empire out of outlandish publicity stunts. He sat in the House of Lords. Harris and he met very rarely but they shared the same belief - Britain was going down the toilet and something had to be done. The mansion and grounds had been modified years before with a warren of tunnels running beneath the extensive estate, a series of escape routes for any unit members who found their backs to the wall. There was a helipad above the stables but this was purely a decoy whilst the unit escaped beneath the tunnelled maze of subterranean escape routes below. At the entrance to each tunnelled exit were regularly maintained mountain bikes. At the end of these tunnels were innocuous exits that would not raise an eyebrow from unsuspecting curious locals. They were rusted gates covering camouflaged tunnel exits, waiting for any use of emergency. The underground labyrinth had been quietly constructed by a force of foreign workers who had returned to the Balkans years before. There were no loose ends. The property was owned and sublet by an offshore company that would take decades to link to Sir Raymond Blanch, a friend of The Prince of Wales. Sir Raymond and former SAS captain Kenneth Harris had met at the Wimbledon tennis tournament years before, quite by chance. They soon discovered they shared a bond of undeniable trust - Britain had not fought two world wars for nothing. Their country could not submit to foreign laws with their liberal immigrant dogma. Kenneth Harris and Sir Raymond Blanch were born to the same caste but their worlds separated when the former became a soldier and Blanch discovered he had a flair for money and marketing. Still, they were as close as brothers. This friendship was kept private to both men. Blanch had discreetly used his influence with the Royal family to make a connection and subsequently, down the line, Harris and his unit became known to the civil servants in power who passed on a discreet word to the particular government in power at any given time. David Keegan, Seamus Cooney, Yakov Zorin, Steve Cooper, Sara Brahms and Kenneth Harris never referred to themselves as 'The Cobra Denial' unit or any other such dramatic term but they most definitely were in the mind of Sir Raymond and his influential government contacts; those privy to the secret. Its public exposure would have devastating implications.

***

The mood within 10 Downing Street reflected the gloom outside where a light drizzle had steadily turned into a downpour.

'What about your dogs of war?' The Prime Minister asked the debonair man in a Savile Row suit. Not everyone at the smooth, lengthy table with its twenty high back leather chairs knew of the man's exact identity. A few of those gathered in the low ceilinged room knew he had been in military intelligence and now occupied an insignificant training post at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but they were unclear as to his precise position among the elected gathering. He was nearing seventy and had the look of a suave character from an American soap opera. His grey, slicked back hair fitted with his modest tan, though in years past his tan had been a lot more pronounced. He had aided the SAS in Oman and had seen much of Britain's military campaigns over the years. Yet he was a civil servant and had briefed Prime Ministers since 1990 when he retired from active intel duty. He had sat in on most Cobra meetings since then as his wisdom and reasoning had often been a mitigating factor. Politicians come and go, but civil servants collect their cheques on time until pushed out to graze.

'Finalising the Albanian affair, sir?' The former spook replied. 'They are on alert and will be heading to Yorkshire.'

'The July 2005 Arab?'

'Yes, Prime Minister.' The civil servant looked around the table. 'As you all probably know he was on our radar for quite some time after the 7/7 bombings but his acquisition is now highly pertinent in view of what has happened at Heathrow.'

The Chief of the Defence Staff, Britain's top military officer, put down his glass of water and readied himself for the continual strife when dealing with the controversial "denial unit" that he himself considered unnecessary.

'I am sick to death of these individuals. They are nothing but callous killers,' the Defence Secretary grumbled. 'Heathrow was an attack on British society, hence, we use legitimate British force to deal with the terrorists who attacked our country today!'

The room fell silent for a brief period before the PM arose from the head of the table and walked slowly to his Defence Secretary who swivelled to face him. The PM let out a deep sigh before he spoke.

'We will use everything at our disposal, but listen to me carefully . . . what happened at the airport today was an outrageous act of unparalleled barbarism on our soil. I will use any and every means to catch and punish anyone who had anything remotely to do with it. Understood?'

The MI5 director leant forward with an update. 'We have some mobile footage of the Heathrow attacks and my guess is that the aircraft's black box will provide nothing as witnesses saw projectiles strike it as it landed. Three men were seen leaving the area in a Volvo after emerging from an apartment block-'

'The northern runway has a corrugated grey fence shielding that area if I recall?'

'Yes Home Secretary, it does, but the cell seems to have used the three tier building's roof that gave them an advantage.'

'Always the fucking same, we learn after the facts. Every time these lunatics succeed we ask ourselves how we did not see it coming and only then attend to our negligence.'

'Any news of this three man cell?' The PM demanded.

'They most probably escaped through Harlington and joined the M4 heading east, sir. We are using CCTV but Harlington and its back streets do not have many cameras, crazy considering its proximity to Heathrow.'

'Towards central London?' The Deputy Prime Minister enquired.

'It would be my guess,' the Saville Row suit replied, without looking directly at the man he disliked and saw no reason for being in attendance. The present government was a coalition of convenience to his mind.

'Fuck me! This is what our era has come to people . . . waiting. Waiting for these fucks to devise new ways to surprise us.'

All present looked at their leader; none had ever seen him quite so enraged.



CHAPTER FOUR

Steve Ingram was an unassuming analyst working for Britain's MI6 intelligence agency. He had been designated a mere dogsbody by the recruiter who contacted him after he passed out from Oxford University. Steve was a wardrobe homosexual whose only companion was a Siamese cat named Pearl. His only vice were gay chat rooms on the internet that he accessed from a second-hand laptop that he had bought with cash through a local newspaper advertisement. Occasionally, he would venture out to a Soho bar or one of the gay dance clubs near Vauxhall Cross. Steve carried his official work home with him, in his brain. Ingram was no dogsbody; he had a knack for thinking outside the box, back in the box and around the box. The lowly MI6 slave was a gem - a gem undiscovered. He would spend endless hours on his work computer only to return to his modest semi-detached house to do the same with classical music softly playing in the background. He avoided television and cooked a variety of Spaghetti Bolognaise dishes four to five nights per week. During the initial search for 'the unknown assassin', his mind had wandered beyond the known parameters of intelligence gathering. This man had lived; Ingram was certain of that, as he did not believe in coincidences. But, how did this man disappear in an instant? With that in mind, the civil servant had taken a secure MI6 disc home and after transferring it to his personal computer via a decryption process, he had devised a specific programme. Who had served in the intelligence or military communities and had died in non-combat scenarios over the last 5-10 years? After the Reykjavik intel conference between nations, he began to wither down a list of possible candidates. In other words - were the death reports reliable from civilian authorities? After a chance flirtation with a handsome American in a Victoria wine bar, Steve Ingram came across a name that struck his analytical mind as odd. He was no fool and had been aware that the coffee drinker was probably CIA by the way he was asking unusual questions and making it obvious that he was. The stranger was pointing him somewhere, talking of The Day of The Jackal movie and asking if such a character could exist in reality. The elusive man whose entire portfolio seemed odd to Steve had served with the elite US Rangers and had then easily completed the dreaded SAS selection course only to dismiss the elite British regiment as "highly effective, but too eager". US and UK Special Forces often cooperated in training courses; adapting and learning from each other in the process. He had complained that the infamous mountain slogs had been too easy but most of all, he had a gripe with the SAS 'interrogation' exercise. "How could it be justified when the subject being grilled knew that he was never in any real danger, unlike capture by a genuine enemy?" He had taken part in the legendary Task Force Black deployment in Iraq between 2005 and 2008 - a joint US and UK Special Forces operation against Taleban insurgency. This unusual soldier was eventually medically discharged from the Rangers though it was not clear if he had actually served under Delta Force or SEAL command at any time. Alternatively, had he been SAS all along? It was a tangled web of misdirection, from beginning to end. Files had been lost or corrupted and that is what made it so suspicious. Who could do something like that? A hacker . . . a very pricey hacker? Strangest of all were his service photos. His US Fort Benning file showed a young fresh-faced soldier who you would see in a recruitment campaign. However, his UK Hereford file showed a different man completely - ragged and dead eyed. It was not only the difference in years; it appeared to be a different man. There was nothing more about him after discharge until he was listed as a missing civilian a few years later in the 2011 Japanese tsunami. What had happened between his discharge and 'alleged' death in the horror of the Asian tidal nightmare? Steve petted his cat beneath its chin that made him purr to both their merriment. He rubbed his eyes and made ready for bed only to hear the creak of the floorboards behind his computer desk.

'Don't move a finger . . . don’t touch that keyboard.'

Ingram, a non-combatant, turned slowly around, 'you . . . it's you?'

'It's not the milkman.'

'I can't believe this!' The analyst said, flicking back a strand of blond hair and adjusting his thin-rimmed spectacles. 'This is unreal!'

'Who put you on to me?' The Assassin asked.

'Nobody, just my intuition-'

'If you know anything about me, you must be aware that I am ruthless to the point of paranoid with regard to my safekeeping, Mister Ingram.'

'I just knew you existed but I was given a shove in the right direction by an American I met in a wine bar.'

'What is his name?'

'I don’t know, honestly.'

'Don't lie.'

'I honestly don't know his name and I never saw him again. I am sure he was a CIA spook who deliberately played on my sexuality but again, I don’t have any idea why he did it?'

'I believe you.'

'Am I going to die?'

'Yes.'

'How . . . how did you find me?' A tear crept from the corner of Ingram's right eye and his voice began to waver.

'Does it matter now, "SuperSteve69" . . . your chat room alias, as I remember?'

'Fuck! You must be "Superman69" in that case . . . you have to be. I recall one night I was chatting online-'

'You were drunk that night I'm guessing Steve, and you typed something about how you would show them all at work how clever you were by finding "an invisible needle in an invisible haystack?" I knew you were looking for me.'

Ingram was slipping into shock. 'But how did you know I worked at MI6 . . . how could you possibly have known that?'

'That's my business.'

'And the gay chat-'

'I followed you and several other likely males from your building on far too many tedious nights. Those awful bars . . . how could you bear that dreadful beat music? You bought me a drink one night in Vauxhall and several weeks later you paid me cash for a second hand laptop?'

'You don't look anything like you did on those two occasions . . . from what I recall. Your appearance is totally-'

'Enough. Sorry about this . . . collateral damage I'm afraid.' The killer said this as he knew it meant the subject would blab to cling a second longer to their life.

'I never told anyone else about you. I swear on my . . .'

'Who else knows what you discovered about me. What is the precise knowledge of me at Six?'

'Zilch . . . nothing, an original thought would be their last thought. They'd die from shock. The idiots can't think for themselves. They are totally in the dark.'

'I believe you, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing now on your home computer. You showed initiative . . . I'll give you that.'

'Don't kill my cat?'

'What recording devices have you active at the moment? Cameras and such like?'

'Nothing!'

'Hmm . . . hand me the cat.'

'No.' Ingram replied using his worn cardigan to shield his feline friend.

'Hand me the cat now or I shoot you and then I shoot the cat . . . or the reverse.'

Ingram looked at the emotionless face of the world's most elusive assassin. You exist. I was right all along! He had the appearance of a Goth, a man with pierced eyebrows and inked skin. His clothes were cheap market leather and his hair was a mess. 'Okay, but please don’t hurt him?'

'That depends,' the assassin replied taking the sleepy feline between his gloved hands, one of which held a suppressed automatic.

'Depends?'

'Depends on what you tell me. Are there any devices from here to the boundary of your property that might have recorded me?'

'No!'

The killer tugged at the cat's outstretched paw. The feline instinct turned to survival and retaliated by trying to break free. It did not succeed as the man's grasp had been expecting it. The leather jacket had protected his arm from the claws that reached out to escape.

'Are there any devices from here to the boundary of your property that might identify me?'

Ingram bent forward in his chair, 'you bastard, you bastard . . . you cruel bastard. You have me, don’t hurt my baby anymore-'

'Are there any devices from here to the boundary of your property that might identify me?' The killer grabbed another paw. 'I will tear this cat apart before I kill you-'

'There are hidden motion detector cameras in the hedges . . . they record footage of anyone coming to my door.'

'Where are the discs? Are they on that laptop or your PC . . . is there a hard drive back-up?'

'Yes, yes . . . now please release my baby.'

The killer eventually discovered the entirety of his recorded intrusion and set his plan in motion. It had not been much, just grainy shadows and silhouettes of an inept burglar.

'You could let me go you know . . . you have all the evidence of what I know on that hard disc and I will never breathe a word of this to anyone. What's the harm in letting me live?'

'I find it staggering that you should ask me something like that. I have spent years covering my tracks and believe me it is a tedious, although essential procedure. Yet here you are, a nice guy and all . . . highly intelligent but asking me to do something that is completely alien to me.'

'I didn't mean to insult you but surely there can be an exception where you can trust someone and show some mercy?'

'Would you, if you were in my position?'

'No . . . I mean yes, of course.'

'You died the second you latched onto me-'

'If I'm to die, answer one thing?'

'Go.'

'How did you serve both as a Navy Seal and a 22 SAS soldier? It's unheard of.'

'Not that it matters, but what source did you have for that intel?'

'Dragan Tadic!'

'What about him, he's dead.'

'I know. You are reported to have killed him . . . with a-'

'An IED in his kettle. Three of his fellow rapists went with him.'

'I know all about Tadic and his Serbian war crimes. He supposedly said that a Navy Seal was tracking him but later changed it to a former SAS man hell bent on killing him. Was that you?'

'Tadic believed so.'

'His widow has or had, a saying about you.'

'Do tell.'

'That you nearly died in Bosnia after you went rogue and that the only reason you didn’t die was because Satan refused you entry-'

The civil servant's words were cut off by a blow from a table lamp that rendered him unconsciousness. The killer stepped back and began to fill a holdall with anything of value. The laptop and the PC's hard drive were the first to load. He returned to the disc room and placed the table lamp's cord around the neck of Steve Ingram. As he began to squeeze, the analyst stirred and made a vain attempt to halt his imminent death. He died soon afterwards, his feet slowly losing their kick. The killer left by the back door with all the evidence of his intrusion. The scene he left behind looked like a bungled robbery that had escalated into murder.

"Say your name?" Were the last gasped words of Steve Ingram as he had watched his cat limp around the ravaged room.

'No can do Bubba.' The assassin replied as he tightened the cord.

'What difference does it make . . . I'm a dead man!'

'You don’t want to know, trust me' The killer replied as he finished him off.

He made his way to an alley over a mile away and placed the holdall into the boot of his car. His skin itched from the temporary tattoo ink and he could not wait to remove the fake Goth clips and the green contact lenses. The optical aids were a necessary requirement but they were the least favourite of all his accessories, especially when using a sniper's rifle. His Bohemian Goth was one of several disguises he had used over the years, slowly becoming an expert in wigs and make-up. He had attended a course in theatre design in South West London when he first settled in England. He prided himself on his chameleon disguises, always carrying a substitute disguise when travelling abroad. He had passports and credit cards to match the alias' appearances. He could enter a country looking like a banker or diplomat and leave the country in the guise of a thrifty backpacker. He knew gunsmiths (private weapon manufacturers) on every continent except Australasia, yet never made one-on-one contact with any of them. He had PO boxes to handle secure shipments, ensuring his anonymity. He was a perfectionist who left nothing to chance; killing was easy, evasion was the true art. Yet his true genius was the form of contact when his services were required. He watched the news and spent time online and it was he who contacted people who might be in need of his expertise. There had only been two exceptions; one of which was the Sheikh who was influential enough to put the word out through shadowy intermediaries that only the best would suffice. He had once heard of a former Egyptian commando who placed an advertisement in the London Times, offering to "eradicate pests" for a price. The man was picked up by a CIA snatch team in conjunction with the Cairo authorities. He was subsequently placed in a secure mental health facility and killed himself soon afterwards. Contacting possible clients in the first place was far safer than people contacting him - as entrapment or worse would follow soon after. And to aid him in the negotiation process, he simply used a predefined code agreed with a prospective client. It was simple and effective, sometimes using text from books such as Moby Dick and other literary classics. 111-7-6-2 was as simple as page 111, line 7, the sixth word and its second letter. The book would be simply 'liked' on a fake Facebook account and its code duly embedded on a separate dating site's message box. It was simple; tedious but safe and anyone trying to break or intercept the code would have to know the book title in advance. Before he set off for one of his two London safe houses, he took Ingram's cat from the holdall and pressed on the joint he had appeared to break. After applying suitable pressure, the cat's pain ceased. He found a house where a garden showed evidence of children's toys. He crept into the garden and placed the animal within a kid's toy-house. For a cold-blooded killer, he had an aversion to inflicting harm on animals or children. His targets were a different story, especially the truly malevolent ones. Soft targets such as Ingram were a regrettable consequence due to the life he led.


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