Authors: Stephen Leather
‘So we’re trapped,’ said Malik.
‘It’s not a trap, it’s an opportunity,’ said Chaudhry. The kettle finished boiling and he poured water into the mugs and stirred. ‘When we first went to MI5 we went because we knew that people would die if we didn’t. We knew what Khalid and his people were planning to do, right?’
Malik nodded. Chaudhry splashed milk into both mugs and handed one to his friend.
‘I’ve already spoken to John. He’l be watching us. They’l move in before anything happens and we’l be heroes.’ He raised his mug. ‘Trust me, Harvey. We’l be heroes, this wil be over and we can get on with our lives.’ He clinked his mug against Malik’s.
‘I hope you’re right,’ said Malik.
‘We’ve got a live video feed from a van across the road,’ said Luke Lesporis, MI5’s head of London surveil ance. Lesporis had cut his surveil ance teeth fol owing drug dealers in south London, more often than not with dreadlocks and a Bob Marley T-shirt. But his streetwalking days were almost a decade behind him. MI5 had hired him to head up their London surveil ance team and he now had close-cropped hair and spent most of his time behind a desk in a Hugo Boss suit. He looked over at Charlotte Button and pushed his wire-framed designer spectacles up his nose and then pointed at one of the twelve LCD screens on the wal they were facing. Shepherd could see an Indian restaurant, and a traffic warden writing out a ticket. ‘The traffic warden’s ours,’ said Lesporis. ‘We also have two motorcycle couriers and a black cab in the street and black cabs in the streets paral el. We’ve a Met helicopter on the way.’
‘Thank you, Luke,’ said Button. She was wearing a grey Prada suit and had hung the jacket on the back of her chair. A smal gold crucifix nestled below her throat from a thin gold chain. They were in an operations room on the top floor of Thames House. There were no windows and the overhead lights were subdued to give them a better view of the LCD screens. There were half a dozen young men and women sitting at a bank of computer terminals, while Button and Shepherd were sitting in high-backed black leather chairs in front of a control console. Luke Lesporis was to their left, standing up and drinking occasional y from a plastic bottle. There was a large clock on the wal facing the door. It was twenty minutes to five.
‘SAS?’ asked Shepherd.
‘They’re on alert but we are confident we can handle this with the resources we have,’ said Button. ‘The Combined Firearms Response Team is ready to go and we’ve got six ARVs ready in north London. We’ve got three in position south of the river. We’re drafting in teams from other forces and within the hour we should have at least a dozen more in place.’
One of the lower screens was showing a map of London, centred on Stoke Newington.
Another screen flickered into life. This one showed a view from the roof of a building overlooking the street. Lesporis raised his hand and touched his Bluetooth earpiece. ‘We have a camera on the roof of a building opposite,’ he said.
‘Tel them to make sure they’re not seen,’ said Button.
Lesporis nodded and turned back to his computer.
Button smiled at Shepherd. ‘Coffee?’
‘Coffee would be good,’ said Shepherd.
Button picked up one of the handsets in front of her and asked for a coffee and a tea. ‘And sandwiches,’ she said. ‘Whatever’s going.’
Two dark-haired young men in pinstriped suits walked in, both wearing Bluetooth earpieces. Button greeted them by name and they sat down at computer terminals and logged on.
‘We’ve got two walkers on the ground – the traffic warden and a BT engineer – but this is going to be vehicle surveil ance obviously,’ said Button.
She picked up a Bluetooth earpiece and put it into her right ear.
‘There’s no chatter, no sense that anything big is happening?’
‘It’s quiet,’ said Button. ‘But it’s been quiet for weeks. That can mean that nothing’s happening or it can mean they’ve battened down the hatches in preparation for a big one.’
A blonde woman in a grey suit raised her hand. ‘Hel y tel y coming online,’ she said.
‘Thank you, Zoe,’ said Button. One of the top screens went live, giving them an overhead view from the Met’s helicopter. ‘Ask them to give the target plenty of room,’ she said.
Zoe nodded and began talking into her Bluetooth headset.
‘There’s a police commander on the way but this is our operation,’ Button said to Shepherd.
‘What do we do about Raj and Harvey?’
‘In what way?’
‘Hel ’s bel s, Charlie, two of our men are in the middle of this. If the cops start shooting what’s to say they won’t be kil ed?’
‘I can’t lie to you, Spider. The primary aim is to safeguard the public. We’l do what we can to protect our assets but that has to be a secondary consideration.’
Shepherd lowered his voice and leaned towards her. ‘Charlie, these guys trust us. You can’t hang them out to dry.’
‘That’s not what’s happening here,’ she said. ‘At the moment we don’t know where they’re going or what they’l be doing. This is a surveil ance operation. If we move to another level then hopeful y we’l have eyes on them and be able to identify and protect our assets. One step at a time, okay?’
‘Wil you stop referring to Raj and Harvey as assets?’ hissed Shepherd. ‘They’re people. Human beings. They’re not inanimate objects.’
‘They’re assets. That’s the technical term,’ said Button quickly. Her eyes narrowed. ‘I understand your depth of feeling,’ she said. ‘But keep in mind the big picture here. These people have been planning a major terrorist incident for several years so it’s going to be big. Just how big we’ve yet to find out. Preventing that incident has to be our priority.’
Shepherd opened his mouth to argue, but then abruptly changed his mind. As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. There would be no point in saving Raj and Harvey if dozens or hundreds of innocent civilians were kil ed. It was a simple matter of numbers. He nodded slowly. ‘I hear you,’ he said. ‘But I want to be here when the order is given.’
‘You wil be,’ she said. ‘I don’t want you going anywhere until this is over.’
‘We have two IC4 males on the street,’ said a balding middle-aged man in shirtsleeves.
Everyone looked at one of the centre screens. Chaudhry and Malik were walking down the road towards an Indian restaurant.
‘Here we go,’ said Button. ‘Just so we’re clear, Chaudhry is wearing the duffel coat, Harvey is wearing the green parka.’
Both men had their hoods up so their faces were hidden.
Malik was rocking from side to side, transferring his weight from one leg to the other, like a junkie desperate for his next fix. They were standing in Stoke Newington Church Street, in front of the Indian restaurant. Malik had his hands in the pockets of his parka and had his head down, staring at the pavement as he rocked.
‘Harvey, mate, you have to chil ,’ whispered Chaudhry.
‘Chil ? We could die today, Raj. That’s what could happen. I’ve never trusted Khalid. He’s a cold-blooded bastard. Even when he smiles he doesn’t smile with his eyes – have you noticed that?’
‘No arguments here,’ said Chaudhry. ‘But getting al worked up isn’t going to help anyone. John is on the case; he’l protect us.’
‘You don’t know that,’ said Malik. ‘You don’t know what he’l do.’
‘I trust him,’ said Chaudhry. ‘And you do too. We wouldn’t have gone this far if it hadn’t been for him. John’s real, you know he is.’
‘I guess,’ said Malik.
‘He’s probably watching us now,’ said Chaudhry.
Malik looked up and started scanning the rooftops of the buildings on the other side of the road. ‘Do you think?’
‘I’m sure of it,’ said Chaudhry. ‘He’l have people close by.’
‘Yeah, wel , I hope they’ve got guns because if anything goes wrong I want them to put a bul et in Khalid’s head.’
Chaudhry laughed, but he stopped when he saw the white van heading down the road towards them. The driver and the passenger in the front seat were both Asian. ‘This could be them,’ he said. There were no side windows to the van, just the name of a plumbing firm.
Malik looked at the van. ‘Where’s Khalid?’
‘He said there’d be two men in the van. He didn’t say he’d be there.’
‘Why not?’ said Malik. ‘Why isn’t he here?’
‘I didn’t ask and I doubt that he would have told me anyway.’
Malik stared at the van as it got closer. ‘It’s happening, isn’t it? This is real y happening.’ He looked back at Chaudhry. ‘I can’t do this, Raj. I’m not up for it.’
‘You’l be fine, brother. I’l be with you every step of the way.’ He stepped forward and hugged Malik. ‘Trust me. Just trust me.’
Malik nodded hesitantly. ‘Okay, I’l try,’ he said.
Chaudhry released his grip on Malik and looked into his eyes. ‘We’re going to be heroes,’ he said. ‘Remember that.’
Malik forced a smile just as the van pul ed up at the kerb. ‘I just don’t want to be joining the seventy-two coal-eyed virgins,’ he said. ‘Not today, anyway.’
Chaudhry punched him gently on the shoulder.
‘No virgin’s going to give it up for you, brother; you’re as ugly as sin.’
The van stopped next to them and the passenger window slowly wound down.
‘Salaam, brothers,’ said the man in the front passenger seat. He was wearing a white wool en skul cap and had a straggly beard. The beard worried Chaudhry because Khalid had always insisted that he and Malik were clean-shaven. It was important to blend in, he said, so no beards and no Muslim clothing.
‘Who are you, brother?’ asked Chaudhry. ‘I don’t know you.’
‘I’m Harith. We are here to take you where you need to go.’
‘But I don’t know you, brother. You could be anyone.’
The driver nodded at Malik. ‘You know me, brother.’
Malik leaned forward and put his hand on the door. ‘Afzal, brother, what are you doing here?’ he asked the driver.
‘I’m here on behalf of Khalid,’ said Afzal. ‘You’re to get into the back of the van.’
Malik looked at Chaudhry. ‘Afzal plays in my five-a-side league,’ he said.
‘Where’s Khalid?’ asked Chaudhry.
‘He’s in the control room,’ said Afzal. ‘You’re to get in the back.’ He looked at the cheap digital watch on his wrist. ‘We’ve got a schedule.’
‘What fucking control room, brother?’ Chaudhry asked Afzal. ‘Nobody said anything about a control room. What’s going on?’
‘There’re a lot of people involved,’ said Afzal. ‘He’s running things so he’s somewhere where he can’t be found, organising. Now get in the back, brother. We’re on a tight schedule.’
Chaudhry and Malik walked round to the rear of the vehicle. Chaudhry pul ed open the door. There were racks fil ed with tools and plumbing supplies on either side and plastic crates ful of equipment in the middle. They both got inside. Malik sat on the floor while Chaudhry pul ed the door closed. He checked that the door was secure and then sat down on one of the crates.
‘Are we good, brothers?’ asked Harith. ‘Are we ready to serve Al ah?’
Malik nodded. ‘Al good, brother,’ said Chaudhry. He pul ed down the hood of his duffel coat.
‘No mobile phones, right?’ said Harith.
‘No, we left them in the flat,’ said Chaudhry. ‘What’s happening? What are we doing?’
‘Al wil be explained to you at the right time,’ said Harith. The van moved away from the kerb and joined the traffic heading south, into the city.
‘Right, everyone on their toes. Under no circumstances are we to lose this van,’ said Button. ‘Zoe, make sure the chopper stays high. I don’t want them hearing it.’ On the screen the van had pul ed back into the traffic and was moving south. ‘Luke, are you in contact with the bikes?’
‘Tim is,’ said Lesporis.
One of the men in a pinstriped suit raised his hand.
‘Right, Tim, let them know we’ve got the eye in the sky so they can hang back for a bit,’ said Button. ‘But on their toes. If the chopper loses the van I want the bikes straight back in. I need you to keep them up to date on the van’s location every step of the way.’
‘Got it,’ said Tim.
‘Luke, what about the cabs?’
Lesporis nodded. ‘Two running paral el and one behind.’ He pointed at the view from the helicopter. ‘One is four cars behind the target.’
‘Okay, let’s get them al ahead of the target. And again, keep them informed, ready to move in if the chopper loses the van. Let’s give them no chance of seeing our vehicles, right?’
A uniformed police commander appeared at the doorway, his hat tucked under his left arm. ‘Ms Button?’ he asked, looking around the room.
‘Commander Needham, welcome. There’s a desk ready for you,’ said Button, pointing at a workstation and headset to her left. ‘The link to the Met is already up and your screen has access to the PNC once you’ve logged on.’
The commander nodded and took off his jacket as he walked towards the workstation. ‘We have three armed response vehicles en route,’ he said.
‘We need them wel away from the target vehicle, and absolutely no blues and twos,’ said Button. ‘At least a hundred yards away at al times and under no circumstances can there be any visual contact. I can’t stress that enough.’
‘Understood,’ said the commander, sitting down and adjusting the headset.
Button stared up at the screen showing the overhead view from the helicopter. ‘I need everyone to start considering possible targets,’ she said.
‘Any thoughts just shout them out – there’s no need to be shy.’
Chaudhry could feel his heart pounding as if it was about to burst out of his chest. He looked over at Malik. Malik’s face was bathed with sweat and he was breathing heavily.
‘Where are we going?’ Chaudhry asked Harith. ‘You can at least tel us that.’
‘Soon, brother,’ said Harith. He handed a mobile phone to Chaudhry. It was a cheap Nokia. ‘You wil be cal ed on this and given instructions.’
Chaudhry nodded. He ran his hand through his hair. ‘But what are we to do, brother? Why can’t you tel us?’
‘You are serving Al ah, that is al you need to know,’ said Harith. ‘Put the phone in your pocket. When it rings, answer.’ He looked through the windscreen at the traffic ahead of them. ‘We wil soon be there.’