The Headhunter by Michael Whitehouse is out now as an Amazon ebook and can be purchased for £0.97/$1.37 for viewing on a Kindle or Kindle for PC.
If anyone has already bought a copy of The Headhunter my sincere apologies for any grammatical, continuity or factual errors found in the original. The book has now been updated and is as error free as I can get it. If, within your Kindle/Kindle for PC, you go to 'Help' and then click on 'Send Feedback...' you can ask Amazon to update the book. The book as it is now should be with you shortly afterwards.
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Here are a few extracts from THE HEADHUNTER:
Sir Roderick Johnson, MP: 'You ignore the will of the British people at your peril. For every million tolerant, gentle and stoical souls who will bear the terrible burdens you impose with quiet resignation, there may emerge a vengeful psychopath who will not'.
Commander Beresford Barnes: 'The Blueprint is real... There is a vast, white supremacist organisation behind these killings! This is the start of a civil bloody war!'
Chapter 1: A human tongue inside a sandwich
Chapter 2: The masters of the universe were getting worried
Chapter 3: One never hears about the little Britons
Chapter 4: Batman, you just killed the Joker
Chapter 5: Rosemary’s fucking baby!
Chapter 6: The infernal regions beyond the abyss
Chapter 7: There may emerge a vengeful psychopath
Chapter 8: Sacrifices are made and must be made
Chapter 9: The number one exhibit in the trial of the century
Chapter 10: Politics is a dirty game
Chapter 11: What would the Crazy Gang do?
Chapter 12: I always wanted a Viking funeral
Chapter 13: Over the bridge from fear
Chapter 14: They stood up together, firing as they did so
Chapter 15: The cop, the journalist, the boot and the nose
Chapter 16: The enemy within
Chapter 17: Life is a game of chess
Chapter 18: It drove them almost mad
Chapter 19: Another powerful message had been sent
Chapter 20: They buried Horatio Nelson just down the road
Chapter 21: Checkmate
Chapter 22: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
Chapter 23: A living hero at odds with us
Chapter 24: Ghostly, black automatons oozing up out of the grey
Chapter 25: Rock the cradle gently
Here are the first five chapters of THE HEADHUNTER:
A human tongue inside a sandwich
He had come to killing late. By the time he set out on the career that suited him best the world was not as it was in the beginning. Back then he dreamed of shooting bad men dead in fairly fought gunfights. Today he had cut the head off a terrified woman when she was tied up and begging for mercy.
They weren’t ready yet. There’d be negotiations, patter, time to ensure he came out of it in one piece. He had to survive this. For some sweaty, trigger-happy cowboy to unceremoniously end it here just wasn’t an option.
The young man shivering in the corner groaned and, not wanting to meet his gaze, turned away. He watched the terror ebb and flow. At ease with it. Finally, he walked over, knelt down beside him and began tapping the bloody kitchen knife lightly on the buttons of his jacket.
“Nothing you’re wearing will fit,” he said, frowning. "Why are you all so bloody small these days?"
When the petrified cop didn’t reply, the killer shook his head, stood up and left the room.
James de Florian Jakes, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was finding it difficult trying to concentrate on what was being said. It was so unfair. It wasn’t his fault the loony wouldn’t come out. It wasn’t his fault he was making ridiculous demands. He’s a nutcase for crying out loud! That’s what he wanted to say. But instead he was having to listen to this Eton Johnny wank.
He had dashed over to take charge of Operation Bogeyman as soon as he heard they’d got him. It would look good if he was in at the kill. He prided himself on being on the ball, willing to do whatever it took to progress. That’s what he was good at. Media-savvy, politicians’ best friend, never a feather ruffled at the top table. And now a Hooray Henry even younger than him was treating him like he was the class dunce!
“I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t quite catch that… Yes sir, honestly. I was listening, really. No, it’s the phone; really, there’s something wrong with it. The SAS, sir? I don’t think that will be necessary, really I don’t. I mean, our own people are very professional.”
After a three-minute conversation which consisted, for the most part, of stock responses such as: ‘I’m not authorised to do that and ‘that’s not within my brief,’ he interrupted the Commissioner, saying:
“I think you’d better put me onto the main man. Forgive me for saying so but you don’t seem to have much of a clue.” Jakes wanted to scream down the phone but instead went the ‘not authorised to do that’ route again. As it was the fifth time he had used the phrase, the man brought the conversation to a halt.
“Get me Chalmers. You’ve got five minutes. Chop, chop, there’s a good lad.”
“What if he’s otherwise engaged? I mean, what happens in five minutes if I can’t get hold of him?”
“Like I said: chop, chop.”
Before he set out to revenge himself upon the world he’d arranged a meet with some of the very few fellow travellers he trusted implicitly. As soon as they were all assembled, they were asked to complete a questionnaire. After it was handed back, MI5 Mary asked him straight out what he was up to.
“You’re planning something big, aren’t you?”
“Not necessarily,” he lied. “I was interested in knowing how far all of you were prepared to go, that’s all.”
“All the way, boss,” said Somerstown Steve. “We’ve waited too long already!” Others kept their counsel. They drank, ate, debated and argued the merits of regular and irregular politics for over five hours before he called time on the meeting. Steve cornered him on the way out. “I’m not sure I answered every question right. I’m not a great speller.” He chuckled and wanted to know what spelling had to do with it. “No but, honestly, boss, if it’s kicking off, you know I’m with you all the way, don’t you?” He reminded him to keep what had been discussed to himself.
“I know, boss. Top secret. Got it.” He watched as the cab moved off. Returning to the room, he stretched himself out on the tatty chaise longue. Mary wanted to know if he was going to sleep.
“Of course not.” He was snoring a few moments later.
“All hail, the great leader,” said Deep Cover Dan.
“He’s definitely up to something,” replied Mary. “Would you give your life for a just cause if you approved of it?” she asked. That had been the first question on the list.
“If it was my own cause, for sure. But I wouldn’t necessarily want to die for someone else’s cause. It might not suit me, you see.” Dan, an English teacher and part-time journalist, was drunk. He fancied a lie down himself, despite the come hither cleavage inches from the end of his nose. Mary, who had downed as much as anyone that night but was still as fresh as a daisy, said she would do it for him.
“Yeah. Me too. I’d definitely do it for him,” he replied, resting his head on the table. Five minutes later, Mary paused mid-sentence and looked down at the sleeping Dan. She rose from her seat and tiptoed across the room. Checking to see if he was still asleep, she reached down into his bag and drew out the questionnaires. Turning back, she gasped and dropped them. He was staring at her with one open eye.
“What’s all this then?” he wondered, Dixon-like.
“Just me being nosey,” confessed the guilty party, well and truly caught in the act. He told her to switch the light off when she was all done spying and turned his back. Mary gathered up the spilled papers and began looking through them, relieved he hadn’t made more of it.
The Prime Minister was at pains to point out that his hands were tied. He couldn’t be seen to give in to his demands, no matter what the consequences.
“You do know the history of these things, don’t you? The British Government does not negotiate with terrorists, you see.”
“Oh yes, I know my history quite well as it happens. Now let me get this straight. In effect, you’re saying that if I offered to swap a hostage for a couple of plates of chicken sandwiches and a few bottles of cold beer, that wouldn’t be doable?” Chalmers hesitated. Was he being serious? Would he really swap a hostage for some refreshments?
“Well, of course, that wouldn’t be a problem, if you’re actually offering. Sandwiches, beer. Anything else you fancy?” He was beginning to sound like he was best mates with the creep. Don’t be too eager, he thought. Keep it formal.
“Good. I thought there’d be some room for manoeuvre. So, let’s get serious. For one hostage, how about beer, sandwiches and troops out of Afghanistan?”
“For God’s sake!” replied the Prime Minister, heatedly, “please don’t try my patience, you know very well I couldn’t possibly accede to such a demand!”
“So, Afghanistan’s a no-no. A referendum on the EU is out of the question too, I suppose. Now what does that leave me? I’ll tell you what, how about you let me determine the BBC’s schedule for the rest of the day?” The Prime Minister was astounded. Surely he must understand that he wasn’t in any position to ask for such things?
“Look, Mr… do you have a name? What am I supposed to call you?”
“I’m not going to call you that.”
“Call me what you want. Just be quick and tell me what you’ve got to offer. Your SAS boys must be busting a gut to get on with it.”
“I can’t make you an offer off the top of my head. Can I get back to you?”
“Five minutes. After that, the catamite cop gets a tongue sandwich, courtesy of your former Immigration Minister. Five minutes after that, he gets her head on a plate.”
“You sick…” The phone went dead.
He had rigged up a system of tripwires and obstacles that he hoped would interfere with any straightforward assault of the premises. He didn’t expect any SAS assault to come at him through the door but, if the cops could be persuaded to give it a go before the SAS were ready, he reckoned their plan of attack might be a little more predictable. That’s what he was banking on.
The Brazilians had snipped the heads off several boxes of matches and the coffee jar was now almost full. He had also found some contact lens cleaner and half a bottle of hydrogen peroxide that the lady of the house must have been using to lighten her hair. These he had been gently heating to reduce the water content. Removing the peroxide mixture from the heat, he put it into the fridge and began inserting the matchstick heads into a tennis ball. He gave the girls a ball each, showed them what to do and soon the four balls he’d found were almost full.
After introducing a quarter of the remaining contents of a bottle of nail polish remover into each ball he looked at his watch. He didn’t really want to chance putting the peroxide in yet, it was probably too hot, but he wasn’t sure he had a choice. His mobile rang.
Chalmers told him that that they were prepared to switch the electricity back on and unlock the Valhalla web site, along with his own. He asked how long that would take.
“Your site is already up and running and, trust me, they’ll have the other one switched on in a jiffy.”
“Trust you? Like we did when you promised a referendum on the EU and said you’d limit mass migration? Like we did when you sent our lads to fight and kill and die in your dirty wars for oil, Israel and the Great Satan? Prime Minister, I wouldn’t trust a politician with his mother’s false teeth.”
“Now you wait a minute,” retorted Chalmers. He was finding it difficult keeping the irritation out of his voice. “I wasn’t the Prime Minister when we went into Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean we weren’t even in government! You can’t blame me or my party for that!”
“Refresh my memory, will you? That was you and all but sixteen members of the parliamentary Conservative party I saw slavering for easy pickings in March 2003, wasn’t it? If it wasn’t for the likes of you, your predecessors wouldn’t have had a mandate to make war upon millions of innocents minding their own business.”
“Excuse me! That sounds a bit rich coming from a homicidal racist who despises the immigrant as much as you do?” He laughed.
“Racist, eh? It’s a funny sort of non-racist who is happy to eradicate as many foreigners as Messrs Chalmers, Groan and Lyon.” Alan paused to collect his thoughts. Be calm, Alan. At least you’ve got the bastard talking. He glanced at his watch.
“I’d like to press on with our third offer if I may. We’ve decided that we can grant your request for BBC access. We can let you have BBC3 for as long as it takes to get this matter resolved peaceably.”
“Interesting. And when do you and your soldier boys expect the matter to be resolved?”
“Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it?”
“You know, with yours truly out of the picture, you’ll never find the ladies. They have no food, no water, no sanitation and no one to help them. I wish you had a conscience. Maybe then you’d give a damn. But you don’t. You are a politician, after all.” The psycho put the phone down as he was about to let fly. The Colonel opened the door and strode in without knocking.
“We’ll be all set in ten minutes, Prime Minister. We’ll go in at 16.12 hours.” Alan Chalmers took a deep breath and picked up the phone.
“Get me Jakes,” he said.
He told her that the people outside the door had to think he was attacking her. Part of the equation necessitated her tongue being held between his finger and thumb as she screamed. He wanted them to think he was cutting it out. The maid was staring at him, wide-eyed.
“Please, senor. Do not do this.”
“I’m not going to hurt you. But you have to make it sound real. Come on now, open up for Rio.” She began to whimper. “Loud. Loud as you like, Dolores.”
Jakes didn’t hear his mobile at first. He was, at the precise moment it began to ring, transfixed by another sound.
“Is that screaming I can hear?” asked the horrified Prime Minister. “For God’s sake, man, why didn’t you ring me?”
“It’s only just started, sir!”
“Well, what are you doing about it?” Just then a uniformed sergeant appeared at the entrance to the elevator area where Jakes had taken refuge.
“This just got slung out the door, sir.” The sergeant held out a bloodied handkerchief. There was a sandwich on top of it. “I’m afraid there appears to be a human tongue inside the sandwich, sir.”
“Oh, God.” Jakes felt faint.
“Jakes! Talk to me. What’s going on down there?” Jakes took a deep breath and told him.
“It’s a tongue, sir! A human tongue inside a sandwich! It came from the flat.” The Prime Minister felt himself sag. He heard the Commissioner asking him what he should do.
“Do your job, Jakes,” he said quietly. “Do the job we pay you to do.” The Prime Minister was putting the phone down when the screaming started up again.
As soon as she saw her sister was still alive, Maria began to wail. He had asked Dolores to explain what he was about to do but something must have been lost in translation. The younger sister shouldn’t have been there. It just happened to be her day off and she was visiting her sister. Tennis was her sport and Raphael Nadal was on the box. Her employers didn’t like her watching anything on their flat screen 48-inch.
Taking hold of her gently, he picked Maria up and led the girls through into the bathroom. After Maria was safely in the bath, he told her sister to lock the door behind him and get in with her when he left. Dolores was very unhappy. An illegal, as was her sister, she had overstayed her visa by a full five years. The thought of being questioned by the police wasn’t as bad as being with this man but it wasn’t far off. As he made his way through to the kitchen, he heard the key turn in the lock.
“That didn’t sound too good to me, Prime Minister,” said Jakes, his voice shaking. “I have a feeling Mrs Green may no longer be with us.” Alan Chalmers bowed his head. The Home Secretary asked him what was happening.
“Jakes thinks Esther’s dead.”
“What do you want me to do, sir?”
How many times had Jakes asked that same question? Wasn’t he the policeman? Wasn’t he there on the ground, for pity’s sake?
“Sir? What would you like…”
“Jakes! If you ask me that one more time I swear…”
“But sir, it isn’t my fault. I mean, something as important as this. Surely the need to liaise?”
“Initiative, Jakes,” said the Prime Minister through gritted teeth. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to have? You’re the man on the spot! You’re there, I’m here. Can’t you make one single decision on your own? You’re the nation’s top policeman, for goodness sake!”
For the umpteenth time that day, Jakes was struck by the unfairness of it all. If it had been up to him, he would have gone in with the SFOs an hour ago and the lady might have lived to tell the tale. But no, the hooray bleeding Henrietta in Downing Street had made him wait for the Army. And now he was trying to pass the buck on to him!
“Go! Go in whenever you’re ready! You have my full permission. Get the son-of-a-bitch!” The Prime Minister’s words took him by surprise and for a moment he wondered if he’d been talking to himself. Had he said anything he shouldn’t have? No, the Prime Minister would have said something.
“Parrish!” barked the Commissioner.
“Yes, sir?” The CO19 team leader poked his head round the entrance to the room where his men had taken up residence.
“We’ve got the green light. It’s a go. Go! Go! Go!”
In Downing Street, the Colonel pressed a button on his walkie-talkie and passed the message on.
“They’ll be inside the building in two minutes, sir.”
“Good show, Colonel,” the Prime Minister replied. “Well, I tried to settle it peacefully,” he said heavily. The room murmured its gratitude.
“Nobody’s fault, Alan. It’s the way of these things,” said Jasper Ellman. Chalmers looked down at his notes and sighed. He was still holding the phone. All the time he’d been giving the Colonel the go-ahead he’d had it inches from his face. Jakes was probably still standing there with his mouth hanging open waiting for instructions.
“Jakes. Jakes? Jakes are you there?” That’s when he heard the first explosion. And the screams.
He opened the refrigerator and, though it had been off for an hour, the residual frost had cooled the peroxide sufficiently for him to mix it with the rest of the ingredients in the tennis balls. Using rubber gloves and a small plastic funnel he’d found in the kitchen, he emptied the saucepan’s contents into the first ball until it began to overflow. After repeating the process three more times, he secured each ball with tape. Soaking a dishcloth with water, he headed for the bedroom and, once there, thrust it deep into the neck of the cadaver and began smearing his face and hands with gore. Back in the kitchen, he unearthed a bag of flour, which he doused himself with before smearing a little of the black boot polish he had found earlier on his hands and face.
After collecting the improvised Molotov cocktail he had made from turpentine and jam and stuffing his ears with cotton wool, he thought he was as ready as he was ever going to be and took shelter behind the living room door. The heavy, oak dining room table and a mattress had been propped up in front of it. On the floor beside him were his sawn-off shotgun, his C-75 15-shot 9mm pistol and two spare magazines. He had just three spare cartridges for the 12-bore left in his jacket pocket.
Opening the door enough to allow him to throw his bombs, he looked out into the anteroom off the hallway. He didn’t have to wait long. Despite steeling himself for the inevitable attack, the sound of splintering wood made him jump. The yelling and cursing began even before the front door was fully breached and, as he had imagined, some cowboy began firing his MP5 almost immediately. It continued until the shooter hit the first tripwires. He had rigged nine of them in the hallway using screwdriver, bradawl, rawl plugs, screws and brute strength. He didn’t want anyone outside to know what he was up to so hammer and drill were a no-no. Three of the wires were about eight inches above ground level, a metre or so apart, and the first of them was about a metre and a half inside the front door. Two more were set at neck and chest height just beyond the first ground-level wire in the hope that, if anyone was upended by that wire, they might fall foul of those in the second rank. The last four wires were strung across the entrance to the anteroom, at waist to face height.
He had smashed as many empty wine bottles as he could find and the debris was now littered beneath the tripwires. He had also poured vegetable oil on the hallway’s marble floor along with the contents of an unopened bag of marbles he had found in a kitchen drawer. Finally, he had positioned a suitably attired half-mannequin he had found in the bedroom at the living room’s entrance. He supposed this was what had drawn the fire.
The first specialist firearms officer hit the first wire at a run and fell headlong into the second pair. He cried out as a wire bit into his face and, as those who followed slammed into him, so it cut even deeper. The first wires gave way under the pressure and a sprawling mass of armoured bobby was soon thrashing about in the hallway. At that point, he stood up and lobbed the first tennis ball into the melee. It exploded in the confined space with an unexpectedly thunderous roar. The massive bang stunned the downed officers but the screaming didn’t begin until the turpentine bomb smashed against the hallway wall and showered them with napalm. That’s what Alan Chalmers heard at the end of the phone in Downing Street.
He could see an uninjured officer just outside the door doing his best to drag one of his colleagues away from the flames and he threw his second ball straight at him. It skidded off his shoulder without exploding. The third ball thudded into the body armour covering his chest and it blew him off his feet. This tempered the courage of the others outside the door and the SFOs inside the flat, who were not incapacitated, were left to scramble out as best they could.
Keeping a close eye on what was happening outside, he grabbed the unconscious man who had been first through the door and dragged him through the last set of wires. Relieved to see he was bigger than the cop in the wardrobe, he removed his helmet, body armour, jacket and boots out of sight of anyone brave enough to poke their head around the door, carried him into the bedroom and put him in with his fellow officer. Back in the anteroom, he stripped off and quickly put on the SFO’s gear, all of which was still a size and a half too small, and slung his machine gun around his shoulders.
He had just one more thing to do now. After inserting one of two plastic bags into a bottle containing his remaining hydrogen peroxide, and then emptying the contents of the other into the mix, he screwed the lid on tight and stuffed it as far down inside Esther Green’s skull as it would go. He then sealed the neck with more tape and tossed the head of the former Immigration Minister through the open door.
With the helmet and cotton wool shielding his ears, he barely heard the blast that preceded the entry of the SAS men into the bedroom. Nevertheless, it knocked him off his feet. Winded and gasping for breath, he dragged himself towards the wires and the burning hallway.
The SAS man entered and saw the injured cop trying to escape the flames. Satisfying himself that the mark wasn’t present, he took hold of the his right foot with his right hand, keeping a firm grip on the HK53 with his left, and began hauling him out.
“You all right, mate?” The man groaned. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed movement outside the hallway door and instinctively raised his weapon. It was Jakes. The SAS man saw the cop bend at the waist to inspect something on the floor. Whatever it was, he should’ve waited for the bomb squad.
He really wanted to tell one of his men to go and get it but he thought it might improve things a bit at the inevitable inquiry if he was able to say that he had retrieved it himself. Curiously, the closer he got to it, the less afraid he became. It wasn’t as if it was alive or anything. Harmless, he thought, as he scrutinised the letter H carved into its forehead. Happy Halloween. Bit like a left over joke really. Jakes bent down to take a closer look.
The soldier was knocked back across the room by the force of the explosion and it took him a moment to regain his wits. He stood up unsteadily and saw that the disorientated cop was crawling back into the flames.
“Steady on, mate, that’s not what you…” Then it hit him. Just like that, he was coughing up a storm and gasping for air. All thoughts of the policeman gone, he turned away from the choking stink and fell back into the living room, where he collapsed into the arms of another soldier. He nodded at a third, who moved to the doorway cautiously.
“Gas!” he cried, reeling backwards away from it. It hit the sergeant as his fellow SAS man blundered passed him and, blindly, all three men made their way, coughing and spluttering, to the safety of the bedroom.
“Gas!” gasped the sergeant. One of the unaffected soldiers slammed the door shut and unceremoniously dragged the quilt from underneath Esther Green’s headless corpse and stuffed as much of it as he could beneath the door.
Before he got started on the tennis ball grenades, he had been working on something else.
He had cut open four shotgun cartridges and wrapped the powder and shot tightly in a small plastic kitchen bag. After protecting his hands with rubber gloves, he filleted the manganese dioxide from an unused pack of batteries. Then, on the lowest possible heat, he slowly cooked the chemical for ten minutes, watching it all the time, until it was dry. Once this was done, he crumbled it up until it was as powdery as he could make it. He put this into another plastic bag.
Whenever he went on a mission he took a small canister of pepper spray with him and he inserted it now as far as it would go into the head. This, together with the extremely volatile magnesium oxide/peroxide mixture (with added gunpowder and shot) is what blew up in James Jakes’ face.
Just before the head bomb blew he had taken a deep breath and he held it as he crawled towards the exit a second time. Braving the flames, which were mostly confined to the walls anyway, he began to claw his way out over the prostrate bodies of a couple of groaning SFOs. Near the door he swept the floor clear of marbles and glass and stood up. Reaching down, he grabbed hold of two incapacitated cops and heaved. The urge to take a breath was immediate but he knew he couldn’t. His eyes were already beginning to sting and inhaling pepper spray at that point would surely scupper everything.
The scene outside was chaotic. He could just make out Jakes’ body through eyelids that were almost totally shut. Two policemen were down near him, hacking and pitifully gasping for air. Two more had made it past the outer door into the space by the lifts and he could hear others out there somewhere, doing their best to shelter from the blinding haze. The lads near Jakes were both appreciably smaller than the two he’d pulled from the flat, so he grabbed them instead and commenced, with the machine gun banging against his ear, to pull them awkwardly towards the lifts. He got there as the door opened and he was immediately relieved of his burden by a plain-clothes man and a constable. He pointed towards the flat and they went through. They came out with their fellows a few moments later.
He was in the lift now, bent double and desperate for air but determined not to breathe until the lift door closed. By the time he arrived at ground level he appeared to be in as poor shape as any of the others and wasn’t putting it on. He was helped to a lawned area by the constable and, giving him the thumbs up when he was asked how he was, he hurried back into the building.
“Here let’s take that off for you,” said an authoritative voice tugging at his helmet. Resisting his efforts to relieve him of it, he pointed agitatedly at the front doors of the building. Luckily, the old boy got the message and disappeared. He raised the visor and rubbed at his eyes. A paramedic was approaching. Less than a minute later, he was out.
The helmeted officer signalled that he wanted dropping off.
“The hospital’s around the corner. Nearly there now,” replied the female paramedic as she tended another injured policeman. Coughing with the conversational effort, he told her that he lived close by and wanted to tell his wife he was OK. The paramedic wasn’t having it.
“Tell me what her number is and I’ll ring her for you. I’ll tell her to bring what you need.” He pointed his machine gun at the ambulance door and said he would blow a hole in it and jump if she didn’t do as he asked. “No need to shout,” she replied, heatedly.
Banging on the front screen, she told the driver to stop. He turned in his seat, took one look at the fearsome looking weapon the fretful officer was waving around and hove to. The paramedic opened the door and he got out.
“You’re in shock. Get to a hospital soon as you can!” Without looking back, he raised his better arm in acknowledgement and pressed on.
So far he’d only passed a mother with a pram and she had studiously kept her eyes averted from the tatty, machine gun-toting Robocop, limping slowly along on the other side of the road. He dodged into an empty shop doorway and pulled off his helmet. As the evening air cooled his face, he put the gun at his feet and began to take off his jacket and body armour. Which wasn’t easy. His hands were sore and both were covered in blisters. Once the MP5 and the vest had been wrapped securely within his inside-out jacket, he emerged from the doorway and began to make his way home, trying not to limp.
He walked around the front of the building, past the front entrance, fishing around for his keys as he did so. For one moment he thought he might have lost them but then he remembered putting them in the back pocket of the cop’s trousers. He opened the door to the refuse disposal unit and tossed his bundle into one of the big bins, having first removed all his odds and ends from the pockets of the jacket.
Shuffling back around to the side entrance, he checked reception through the plate glass windows. The concierge wasn’t there. Entering the building cautiously, he got into his flat without anyone noticing him. His hands were in a bad way but he didn’t have time to do anything more than coat them with Germolene and apply a few plasters. Bandages were out, as he’d be wearing gloves when he left.
He phoned the local taxi office, ordered a cab and allowed himself the luxury of a cup of tea before packing up. It was 5.00 p.m. He fell asleep in the chair and woke with a start at 5.28. In the next ten minutes he stuffed two cases and a haversack with money, clothing, compact discs, his laptop, spare batteries, credit cards, trophies and sundry valuables he’d lifted from his victims. Diaries, priceless mementos of his parents and daughter and a ton of junk he didn’t need but felt he couldn’t do without were also packed away. He was about done when the phone rang. The taxi was waiting.
He zipped up his bulging suitcases as far as they’d go and headed out. With difficulty, the driver hefted them into the boot as he made his way back to the disposal unit. Closing the door behind him, he hooked the MP5 and the flak jacket out of the crud and stuffed them into an empty holdall.
Without his van, the chances of getting out of London in one piece weren’t good so he got the driver to head over to where the Ford Transit was parked, three hundred yards away from Esther Green’s place. That morning, he’d cursed the fact that he couldn’t get any closer but now he was grateful to be as far away from the crime scene as this. Feigning unfamiliarity with the area, he had the Asian cabbie drive past his van before doubling back. A little way down the street he got out and fussed around with his luggage until the taxi disappeared.
A patrol car came gunning down the street towards him, lights flashing, siren blaring. Expecting it to pull up alongside, he carried on past the Transit, turned right into a cul-de-sac and waited for a minute or so before peering cautiously back around the corner. The street was clear. He made his way back to the van as quickly as his luggage would allow and opened the back door gingerly, feeling sure there would be a nasty surprise waiting for him on the other side.
Five minutes after climbing into the driver’s seat, having fallen asleep again without realising it, he keyed the ignition, gripped the wheel hard and moved off.
“I have some very sad news to report,” said the Prime Minister.
“Two officers lost their lives today in the performance of their duties. Sergeant Parrish, the first to enter the flat, died in the ambulance on the way to hospital. Commissioner James Jakes is also no longer with us.” The assembled Ministers gasped. “It is thought he lost his life whilst endeavouring to remove the previously mentioned gas bomb to a place of safety.”
“Good grief!” exclaimed Eros Treadwell, the Justice Minister. “Why on earth was he doing such a thing himself? Something so risky should have been delegated to someone further down the chain of command.”
“James was, as I understand it, a hands on kind of police officer,” replied the Prime Minister without a hint of irony. “He was a very brave man. If only there were more like him the United Kingdom would be a far safer place.” The table was thumped a few times and the odd muted call of ‘here, here,’ was voiced but no one was in the mood to make a big thing out of Jakes’ passing.
‘A hands on Bobby, my arse,’ thought Tony ‘Tubber’ Loud, the Transport Secretary. ‘If there were more like him, we’d all be wearing tutus to work!’ The phone rang. The PM picked it up half way through a sentence.
“Thank you Deputy Commissioner.” Chalmers looked up at his colleagues. We have a name and an address.” There was a collective exhalation of breath at the news. “They are about to go in now. This time there will be no delay.” Everyone in the room applauded. Chalmers waved the papers he was holding, Chamberlain-like.
Nodding at the wheel, he’d pulled into the first lay-by outside the M25 and slept for over an hour. Shit! He’d left a head, three tongues and a bag of fingers in the flat. Ah well, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already made a mark. An assortment of grisly dross had been left at Stonehenge and other bits and pieces had been deposited elsewhere. Besides, he still had a ton of good stuff up north. As he started the engine, he laughed out loud thinking about the surprise waiting for some poor sod in the fridge.
It was past midnight when he entered the driveway leading to the lock-up. As quietly as he could he unlocked the door and slid it upwards. Despite his best efforts, the noise was deafening. It was just as bad on the way down. As he backed the van into the lock-up he felt it nudge up against his old Typhoon. He felt for the torch that he kept on one of the racks and switched it on. Edging to the back of the cramped, little garage he tugged at the overhead light’s cord and saw his scooter leaning against the bench. He righted it, gave it the once over and, satisfied nothing was amiss, sat down heavily at the workbench.
He reached down and dragged out a thick, black plastic bag containing a sleeping bag and a pillow. After first removing his baggage, he climbed into the back of the van, took off his trousers and shoes and struggled into the sleeping bag. ‘Unbelievable!’ he thought, irritably. ‘I’m wide awake!’ Staring into the darkness and feeling sorry for himself, he was out cold before he closed his eyes.
The phone was ringing.
“Hugh, for God’s sake, answer the bloody phone!”
“Can’t you answer it? It’s on your side”, he replied blearily.
“It’s your mobile!” Her back glared at him. Rather than reach across, Hugh Champion, The Herald’s top political reporter, got up and wandered round to the bedside table.
“Who is this?” he fumed. “It’s 3.30 in the morning!” He knew he sounded petulant but didn’t care.
“Hugh! Take it outside!” yelled his wife, cramming the pillow over her head.
“Look, whoever you are. It’ll have to wait.” Then the anger, along with the colour in his face, was gone. Clearing his throat, Champion asked him how he’d come by his mobile number.
“Oh, we’re all easy to find,” he replied. “Anyone can track down anyone if they really want to.”
“What do you want? Why did you call me?” Despite his best journalistic instincts, Hugh wanted the conversation over. He was told that the hostages needed a knight in shining armour. “Did you want me to pass a message on to the police?” he asked warily. He said it would be better if he went himself as they were just around the corner and, if the police got there first, they’d spend hours looking for booby traps. Champion’s silence prompted him to mention that they hadn’t been fed and watered and would be cold also.
“Just a minute. I’ll need to get a pen and write this down.”
“No. I’ve been on the phone long enough. Just listen carefully…”
He thought better of telling his wife what was afoot so he sneaked out as quietly as he could and drove to the location. The boarded-up house was off Brecknock Road and wasn’t difficult to find. He tinkered with a couple of wooden struts and found they could be dislodged quite easily. Behind the top strut, which was firmly fixed, he found the key.
Despite the man’s reassurances, a part of him kept thinking a trip wire would blow him to smithereens. He listened for signs of life in the darkness but couldn’t hear any. Switching on the small torch he kept in the glove compartment, he repeated the mantra the man had had him learn. ‘Second door on the right. Through the facing door. Through the door opposite. The door immediately to the right of that opens onto a staircase leading down to a cellar. The ladies are in a pit covered with boards and a tarpaulin.’
The tarp was in front of him now but he still couldn’t hear anything. Something horrible was bound to be waiting for him underneath it. Despite the terrible sense of foreboding, he began to tug. Someone or something groaned eerily. He dropped the heavy cover and turned to run as the groans multiplied. Falling over something in the dark he lost his torch.
“Is that you, sir?” a disembodied, female voice wondered from beneath the tarpaulin.
“Help me,” cried a different voice. A third mentioned the toilet. Champion heard himself ask, ridiculously, if anyone was there. His question was greeted by a cacophony of high-pitched screams and cries for help. He found his torch and heaved at the tarpaulin again. As it came away from the wooden boards covering the pit, he fell over once more and lost the torch for a second time. He made a grab for it but only succeeded in knocking it through a gap in the boards. It went out as it cracked on the floor of the pit.
He began groping his way around the walls looking for a light switch. In the process his head clanged into an overhanging shade from which a string was dangling. He pulled on it cautiously and the cellar was flooded with light. He removed the wooden slats and looked down on the pitiful sight below. The women’s eyes were closed against the light but all had their faces turned up towards it. They were dirty, dishevelled, shivering and, with one exception, hysterical. The stench forced him to hold the sleeve of his jacket against his nose as he surveyed the scene for familiar faces. He recognised The Torch’s journalist, Helen Lawson and the TV presenter Patsy Barnett, the only one still sitting. She appeared calm in comparison to the others.
“Patsy, it’s me, Hugh Champion. Can you get the ladies to be quiet for a moment?” Arms wrapped protectively around her knees, back against the wall, Patsy was lost in her own thoughts and didn’t respond. The rest just carried on wailing. Champion saw a steel ladder perched up against the back wall. Cautiously, he picked his way through the builder’s rubble and retrieved it.
After saying that he wanted them to climb out one by one in good order, there was a mad scramble as the ladder was lowered and he pulled it up again quickly. Admitting defeat, he reached into his pocket and phoned Fred Ashleigh. When the Deputy Commissioner discovered where he was and what he was doing he brusquely reassured him that his men and an ambulance would be with him in less than five minutes and put the phone down. “Charming!” said Hugh, staring at his mobile as though it was somehow to blame for the other man’s rudeness. He decided to stay where he was. Let the professionals handle it, he thought, not wanting to set the women off again.
“Hugh, are you there?” It was Patsy. She sounded anxious and unhappy but at least she wasn’t hysterical. Edging guiltily towards the edge of the pit, he told her the police were on their way.
“Can you send us down some water, please? And the bucket?” After he found what they wanted, he lowered it down to them and asked once again if they wanted to ascend the ladder, averting his eyes as one of the women lowered her knickers. Patsy, who sounded better now she’d had a drink, nodded and thanked him.
By the time the first patrol car arrived, they were all huddled together outside the house, apart from Patsy who was sitting by herself.
“Oh but God is good. God is such a cracker sometimes that it makes you want to shag a priest. Get the camera out, Papa,” said Bob, as he drew into the kerb.
“On the case, Razzi,” replied Wayne, reaching into the glove compartment.
“If there isn’t ten grand in this, I’m not the laughing policeman,” opined Bob, licking his lips.
“And I’m not his best pal, Snapper,” answered Wayne, eyeing the scene with a semi-professional eye.
The last people on earth Hugh Champion wanted to see, at that moment, were the paparazzi. One large, extremely harassed English gentleman, head in the air, nose twitching, surrounded by five fragrant, semi-naked ladies, as they engulfed their reluctant saviour, would have made excellent copy but Champion knew full well that the press room hilarity at his expense would last a lifetime.
“Pleased to see you, officer,” Champion murmured tightly, holding his breath. “Do you think you could lighten the load a little, please?”
“No problem,” sir, said Bob, prizing Ada Merrils, MEP, off the bunch. He led her over to the waiting car and ushered her into the back seat. As the officer strode back towards the group, leaving her alone momentarily, Ada was suddenly afraid again. He was back. He was outside the car! Paralysed with fright, she couldn’t move or cry out. She didn’t dare look. Then she did anyway. A policeman was taking photographs. When he smiled and winked at her she burst into tears.
He knew as soon as he put her in the back of the van that he would have her that night. He had very little use for women these days but there was a delicacy about her that appealed. She had whimpered and fluttered and sobbed and shook and disappeared off into her own fearfully orgasmic world much of the time and it was all unusually thrilling. According to Patsy, she’d been turned early and he was her first man. Perhaps her own freshness with it all had moved him.
Would he have bothered to ring Champion if Patsy hadn’t been there? Probably. There was more to be had from them being discovered fit and well. Joe Public might not have understood if he had left them there to rot.
He set his alarm for 5.30. An hour’s extra sleep. Everything had to be moved to the other place before anyone was up and about. Then he had to bring the van back and get over to Mansfield and the other, larger lock up without anyone seeing or hearing him enter.
Five minutes later he took a deep breath, rubbed his eyes, got out of the van and began packing up.
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