Authors: Stephen Leather
Seal Bravo took a step back. Shepherd’s MP5 was hanging on its sling and he’d taken his Glock out of its nylon holster and it was now pointing at the soldier’s groin. Shepherd’s finger was tightening on the trigger.
‘Stand down!’ shouted Henderson. ‘Both of you.’
‘Tel him to take his gun away from my neck or I wil shoot him,’ said Shepherd.
‘Eddie, stand down,’ said Henderson.
Seal Bravo snarled at Shepherd, but he took another step back and lowered his weapon.
‘Shepherd, if you’ve got a problem with what happened, you take it up with your bosses,’ said Croft. ‘You’ve no jurisdiction here. You’re an observer, you observed, now get back to the chopper or so help me God I’l leave you here for the Pakistanis to find.’
Shepherd holstered his Glock and walked out of the room.
Henderson fol owed him. ‘Dan, you’ve got to watch it with these guys. In a war zone they’re a law unto themselves.’
‘So they can get away with murder? Is that what you’re saying?’
‘I’m saying this is their mission; you’re a passenger. If you’ve got a problem with anything you’d better stow it until you’re back home.’
‘What’s his fucking problem?’ growled Seal Bravo. ‘I thought the SAS were special forces, but he’s behaving like a crybaby.’
‘He’s an observer, that’s al ,’ said Croft. ‘The Brits insisted he was on the team because they supplied the intel. I told them it would be like mixing oil and water but the top brass said he was in so he’s in. Doesn’t mean we have to like it.’ He looked at his watch. It had been just thirty-four minutes since they had entered the compound. In al the rehearsals they’d done in North Carolina and Afghanistan they’d been in the air and on their way home within thirty minutes.
Seal Echo rol ed Bin Laden’s body into the body bag and zipped it up.
‘Take it down to the helo,’ said Croft. Seal Echo and Seal Charlie picked up the body and carried it out.
The Seals by the television had stashed the laptop and the DVDs in their backpacks and were working their way through a stack of magazines and newspapers they’d found in the wooden cupboard.
‘Take it al ,’ said Croft. ‘They’l want to know what he was reading; it’l give a clue to what he was planning.’ He nodded at Seal Bravo. ‘Five more minutes and we’re out of here,’ he said, then hurried down the stairs.
More Seals were searching the bedrooms. The wal s were al concrete and the floors were tiled, which cut down the number of possible hiding places, but they tapped everything with the stocks of the M4s to be sure. They smashed cupboards and tables and used their knives to rip open mattresses.
‘Come on guys, the clock is ticking, mover it!’ he shouted before hurrying down the stairs to the ground floor, with Seal Bravo hard on his heels.
Shepherd stood and watched as four Seals brought half a dozen children out of the compound. They were al barefoot and wearing shabby nightgowns and their hands had been tied behind their backs with flex cuffs. Two of the children were girls who couldn’t have been more than six years old and they were crying uncontrol ably. ‘They’re just kids,’ said Shepherd.
‘Kids are as dangerous as adults in this part of the world,’ said Henderson. ‘We have to make sure they’re not a threat.’
The Seals pushed the kids along the perimeter wal to where a group of women and children were sitting. One of the women tried to get up but a Seal pushed her back down with the barrel of his weapon. ‘Stay on the ground!’ he yel ed.
The woman screamed at him in Arabic and the Seal prodded her again.
The children ran towards her and sat down around her. The younger ones were crying but one of the boys, barely a teenager, glared sul enly at the Seals. Even though he was standing fifty feet away Shepherd could feel the hatred pouring out of the boy.
Off in the distance, to the west, Shepherd heard the twin rotors of a Chinook helicopter. ‘Cavalry’s on the way,’ he said.
He pul ed his night-vision goggles back over his eyes and scanned the night sky. The Chinook was half a mile away, flying low. It was a much bigger helicopter than the Black Hawk and able to carry four times as many troops. It was only slightly slower than the Black Hawk but it didn’t have the Black Hawk’s stealth capabilities and was an easy target, hence the pilot’s decision to fly as low as possible.
The Chinook transitioned into a hover and came in to land about a hundred feet away from the compound. Immediately six Seals jumped out and took up position around the helicopter, guns at the ready.
Four Seals came out of the compound, carrying a white body bag. They were jogging and breathing heavily from the exertion, their faces glistening with sweat.
As they headed towards the Chinook, Croft appeared, fol owed by half a dozen of his men. They were al carrying black bags stuffed with whatever they’d taken from the building.
The Seals with the body bag dumped it on the ground at the rear of the Chinook as the ramp slowly descended and banged on to the ground.
A medic ran down the ramp and hurried over to the body bag. He unzipped it and then took out a medical kit from a pouch on his belt. He rol ed the body over and pul ed up the shirt, then stabbed a hypodermic into the base of the spine and careful y extracted more than fifty centilitres of spinal fluid. He put the hypodermic into a plastic case and handed it to a Seal, who jogged over to the Chinook and climbed on board.
Croft and his men hurried up the ramp with their black bags as the medic took another hypodermic and withdrew a second sample of bone marrow, which he put into a plastic case before hurrying back into the rear of the helicopter. The two Seals zipped up the body bag and carried it up the ramp after him. Croft came out of the Chinook and headed back to the entrance of the compound, looking at his watch.
‘Why the two samples?’ asked Shepherd.
‘We’re not home and dry yet,’ said Henderson. ‘Taking two samples gives us twice the chance of getting the DNA back home.’
‘Did you know this was a kil mission, Guy?’ asked Shepherd. Henderson ignored him. ‘What, are you deaf as wel as blind?’ said Shepherd.
Henderson shook his head and sighed. ‘You just won’t let it go, wil you?’
‘Let it go? We’ve just assassinated five people, and from what I’ve seen only one of them was holding a gun and that gun wasn’t fired. We kil ed an unarmed woman and shot another in the leg.’
‘You’re just an observer, remember? No one here wanted you to come in the first place.’
‘Yeah, wel , if my bosses had known this was going to be a kil mission I don’t see that they’d have sent me,’ said Shepherd. ‘So I’m asking you again, did you know they were going to kil him?’
Henderson turned to look at him. ‘We rehearsed dozens of scenarios. We tried it with booby traps, with return fire, with grenades – they ran us through anything that we might come across, and yes, in a lot of scenarios the targets ended up dead.’
‘And what about rehearsing what just happened? Where not a single shot is fired and Bin Laden is standing unarmed with his hands up?’
‘There was an AK-47 in the bedroom. You saw it.’
‘He wasn’t holding it, Guy. And he didn’t even make a move towards it. He wasn’t resisting. And he was shot twice. A double tap. One in the chest, one in the head. You only do that when you want to be sure of a kil . If Croft was worried about return fire one shot to the arm or leg would have done the trick.’
‘Dan, with the greatest of respect, you weren’t in the room. It was dark, there was a lot going on, they had no reason to know that they weren’t under fire. Plus, you had those screaming women, who could easily have been hiding bombs under their clothes.’
‘That’s bul shit and you know it.’
The twin rotors of the Chinook started to pick up speed.
‘You’re asking me if I knew that they weren’t going to take him alive. I didn’t. That’s God’s truth.’
‘They had a body bag ready, Guy. And a kit to take spinal fluid for a DNA test. They wouldn’t have needed either if he was alive.’
The demolition team came out of the compound. Croft shouted over at Tommy and pointed at the crashed Black Hawk. Tommy flashed him an
‘OK’ sign and ran over to the helicopter with his men close behind.
The co-pilot was already in the cockpit using a hammer to smash the radio and the instrument panel, and any other equipment that the military regarded as classified. America was years ahead of the rest of the world when it came to helicopter technology and the Pakistanis would happily sel anything they found to the highest bidder.
As the co-pilot continued to smash up the cockpit, the three demolition Seals began attaching C4 charges around the Black Hawk, paying particular attention to the engine, the avionics and the rotor head. Tommy shouted for the co-pilot to get clear as the Seals placed the final charges around the undercarriage.
Tommy shouted, ‘Fire in the hole!’ and tossed two thermite grenades inside the bel y of the Black Hawk. The Seals al pushed up their night-vision goggles as the helicopter erupted in a bal of flame.
Croft ran over to Henderson. ‘We’l use the Chinook,’ he said. ‘You and your girlfriend take the Black Hawk. You’l probably have to refuel over the border.’
Henderson nodded. Croft looked at Shepherd as if he was about to say something but then he appeared to have a change of heart and just shook his head contemptuously before running over to the Chinook. He stood at the rear of the helicopter counting off his men as they approached.
As the final Seal ran up the ramp, Croft clapped him on the shoulder, then he stopped to look at Shepherd. He mouthed an obscenity and gave him the finger, then turned and jogged into the bowels of the helicopter. The ramp at the back slowly rose into place then the turbines roared and the Chinook rose a few feet off the ground. It turned to the east and then sprang forward and leaped into the air.
The remaining Seals were hurrying towards the Black Hawk, bent low as its rotors began to blur.
‘Come on, Dan, I’ve got the feeling that they wouldn’t be heartbroken if we got left behind.’ Henderson slapped Shepherd on the back and the two men ran towards the helicopter, cradling their weapons.
Chaudhry hefted his bike on his shoulder and carried it to his second-floor flat taking care not to mark the wal paper. There was more than enough room to leave it in the hal way but one of the residents had taken to pushing pins into the tyres of any bike left there overnight as a way of registering displeasure. It was probably the little old lady who lived on the fourth floor. Her name was Mrs Wilkinson and no matter what the time of year she wrapped herself up in a tartan coat and a fur hat. On the rare occasions that she passed him on the stairs she glared at him with open hostility and once he was fairly sure that he’d heard her mutter ‘Paki bastard’. Chaudhry didn’t care; he was twenty-four and over the years he’d heard much worse. Besides, she was in her eighties, born in an era when Britannia truly did rule the waves. He put the bike down in front of the door and fumbled for his keys, but before he could open the lock the door opened. His flatmate, Malik, was standing there, his eyes blazing.
‘Where the hel have you been?’ said Malik.
‘Lectures,’ said Chaudhry. ‘Where do you think?’
Malik stepped to the side and Chaudhry wheeled his bike inside. ‘I’ve been cal ing you al afternoon.’
‘Yeah, wel , I turn my mobile off in lectures,’ said Chaudhry, steering his bike through the narrow hal way. There was a smal balcony at the far end of their poky kitchen where they left their bikes.
‘You haven’t heard, have you? You’ve no idea what’s happened?’ Malik was bobbing from side to side like an excited toddler. His first name was Harveer but like many British-born Pakistanis he had adopted a nickname that was easier to remember and everyone other than his immediate family cal ed him Harvey. Chaudhry’s own true name was Manraj, which meant ‘the heart’s king’, but he’d been known as Raj ever since primary school.
‘Heard what?’ said Chaudhry, taking off his safety helmet and putting it on the kitchen table.
‘He’s dead,’ said Malik. ‘He’s fucking wel dead. The Sheik. The Americans have kil ed him. It’s been on the TV al day.’
‘No way!’ said Chaudhry. He took off his grey duffel coat and dropped it on to the back of a wooden chair.
‘Total bloody way,’ said Malik. ‘On every channel, pretty much.’
Chaudhry hurried into their sitting room and dropped down on to the sofa in front of the TV. A blonde newsreader was on the screen. Behind her was a head-and-shoulders photograph of the man himself, his eyes blank, his straggly brown beard streaked with grey, a white skul cap on top of his head: the most hated man in the western world.
‘Navy Seals blew him away,’ said Malik. ‘Shot one of his wives and maybe one of his kids – they’re not sure.’
Chaudhry shook his head in disbelief. ‘It can’t be,’ he said.
‘It’s on al the channels,’ said Malik. ‘Why would they say it if it wasn’t true?’
‘I don’t know. Today. Last night. But he’s dead, Raj. They bloody wel kil ed him.’
‘And it was at the house? The house in Abbottabad?’
Malik nodded enthusiastical y. ‘They went in with helicopters. Stormed the compound.’
Chaudhry stared at the television. His whole body was trembling and he clenched his fists, trying to steady himself. ‘That’s not what John said would happen. He said they’d take him out with a Predator. Shoot him from the sky. That’s what John said.’
‘Yeah, wel , John’s a British spook and it was the American military who kil ed him so maybe the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand’s doing.’ Malik’s eyes blazed with a fierce excitement. ‘You know what this means, Raj? We did it. You and me. We kil ed Bin Laden.’
Chaudhry folded his arms to try to stop them trembling.
‘Don’t you get it, Raj? We’re bloody heroes.’
Chaudhry turned and glared at his flatmate. ‘Are you crazy? Talk like this is going to get us kil ed.’
‘There’s only you and me here,’ said Malik. ‘What’s crawled up your arse and died?’