PART 1 of 5
Bennett stormed into the abandoned house, flinging the door open with such force that it bounced back off the wall and almost struck him in the face. Further angered by the doors unwillingness to play fair, he grabbed hold of it again and slammed it shut. ‘Easy there big guy!’ came an amused voice from behind a computer screen on the other side of the room.
‘When I want your opinion Strike, I'll give it to you.’ grumbled Bennett, removing his sodden poncho and throwing it onto a nearby table. He wandered over to the burning fire to warm up, disturbing another man from his reading.
‘Any news then?’ asked Andersen, placing his book down on the table.
‘Nah’, he replied, rubbing his hands together in front of the dancing flames, allowing the warmth to restore feeling to his fingers, ‘Ghost's still out there waiting for them to return.’
‘Not to worry, as soon as they've got the intel they'll be back. Then we can get on with the job.’
The big man sighed and sat down on a nearby chair. ‘I'm sick of the rain. Everywhere we go, it rains. And not just normal rainy rain, it's big fat rain, every single time. What's the deal with that?’
‘It's that big bald head of yours’, offered Strike, ‘Well known fact that rain is naturally attracted to dense, flat surfaces...’
Bennett stared over at the younger man, a slight look of confusion on his face. ‘But I was wearing a hat...’
PART 2 of 5
The man sat quietly in the corner, his long hair hanging loosely about his face. The dim light from the single bulb in the room cast shadows across his features, exaggerating his natural scowl. In his hand he held a knife, its edge glinting in the darkness as he ran a whetstone down its length, honing the blade to a fine edge. The lonely sound of his sharpening filled the empty cottage, a soft grating noise that echoed off the bare walls.
The door opened abruptly and two men strode in. The first was wearing a suit, his head completely free of hair and a briefcase in his right hand. He set the case on a wooden table and clicked it open, lifting the lid to reveal the contents.
The rasp of the sharpening continued.
The second man reached in and picked out several documents and set them on the table. ‘What have we got then, Goldman?’ he asked.
Another metallic rasp echoed around the room.
‘The target will be travelling down this road at 08:00 tomorrow morning.’ replied the man in the suit, plucking a map from the case and laying it out next to the briefcase. ‘There are several vantage points on the hillside to the south.’ He pointed out details as he spoke.
The sharpening continued.
Looking up from the map, Goldman glared into the corner. ‘Who’s that?’ he asked his companion. ‘He’s the new guy, we picked him up on a job in South America.’ replied Granger. The seated figure glanced up briefly but his hands continued their work.
‘Do you want to stop doing that?’ demanded Goldman, the frustration obvious in his voice. The sound stopped but the shadowy face turned and glowered at the suited man. Goldman paused briefly, the intensity of the man’s stare catching him off guard slightly, before laughing nervously to himself. ‘OK, OK, calm down there amigo,’ he joked, ‘Have a shot of tequila or something...’
Before he’d finished the sentence, a metallic flash shot across the room and a newly sharpened knife embedded itself in the lid of the briefcase, slamming it shut loudly. Goldman jumped back at the sound, instantly pulling a pistol from underneath his jacket and turning it on the knifeman.
A tense silence filled the room briefly, before being broken by the sound of Granger’s roaring laughter. ‘Goldman,’ he said as he reached out and pushed the pistol down towards the ground, ‘meet Rodriguez.’
PART 3 of 5
Mason crept slowly through the pine trees, guiding his feet carefully through the brush underfoot as he approached the edge of the forest. His target was less than fifty yards away now, a small patch of bushes at the edge of the tree line where he’d spotted the exposed barrel of a sniper rifle half an hour ago. Since then he had circled around through the trees, approaching from downwind to reduce the chances of detection.
He knew who this was, and he also knew that he would only have one opportunity to catch him out.
Gradually he advanced, each step precise and deliberate, his eyes fixed on his objective. He could still see the barrel, only just visible among the foliage, but it was enough. As close as he was now, he remained calm, his heartrate only slightly higher than normal.
Passing silently from tree to tree, he moved within twenty yards of the bushes. Shifting his weight onto his back leg, he carefully stepped over a rock, its surface covered in lichen, before testing the ground on the other side. Satisfied with his footing, he started to bring his trailing leg over. And that was when the hand grabbed him.
Sinewy fingers wrapped themselves around his ankle and dragged his leg out to the side, throwing him badly off balance. His eyes darted to the ground just in time to see the rock come alive, the mass of lichen raising up and barrelling into the back of his other knee, sending him face first into the ground. He felt the weight of the rock roll up his body, a sharp knee jabbed into his back and a heavy weight braced his shoulders to the ground.
‘Alright Mason, how’s it going?’ asked the amused rock.
Cursing under his breath, he spat out a mouthful of pine needles. ‘Screw you, Ghost.’ he replied.
PART 4 of 5
The four men laughed amongst themselves as they sat at the table. One was dealing from a well used deck of cards. ‘How am I doing?’ said Bennett, already expecting the answer.
‘You currently owe me ten thousand matchsticks.’ replied Andersen, grinning. ‘But don’t quit while you’re ahead...’
As they chatted, a girl entered from a side room and stopped at their table, hands on her hips. ‘Where’s the moisturiser?’ she asked.
The four men looked up briefly from their game, but no one offered an answer.
‘Really guys?’ she sighed, ‘We’re actually going to do this?’
Bennett glanced sideways at the girl as she stood next to him. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ he said, the slightest hint of a grin evident on his face. ‘You seen it Connor?’ The man opposite him smirked, ‘Nope, me neither.’
Slowly and deliberately, the two other men placed their cards on the table and pushed their chairs backwards slightly. ‘We’ll sit out this hand’, stated Mason.
Unable to contain himself any longer, Bennett pulled the missing moisturiser from a pocket and threw the plastic tube across the table to Connor. His partner caught the container, laughing as he did so. ‘Come on Charlie, you don’t need this,’ he joked, waving the tube at her. ‘There’s plenty of mud outside!’
The girl sighed once more, a deep sigh that signalled she didn’t have time for this. With one hand she grabbed the back of Bennett’s shirt, lifting it up and over his head, covering his face completely. Her other hand lifted the table edge nearest to her, tipping a mix of cards and drinks onto Connor. Her right leg came up, planted itself on the exposed underside of the table and shoved it towards the man, tipped his chair backward and sending him sprawling to the floor. Finally, she reached down, grabbed a handful of Bennett’s underwear and yanked it upwards until the big man squealed in pain.
With a satisfied nod to herself, she walked around the upturned table and picked up the discarded moisturiser from the floor. ‘Hey, Strike!’ she shouted. A pale face appeared from behind a computer monitor in the corner of the room. She tossed the container over to him, ‘Get it yourself next time.’
PART 5 of 5
The group huddled around the bonnet of the pickup truck, the morning sun not yet visible over the hills around them. They’d arrived before dawn, parking their vehicles under the cover of the trees in the small valley.
‘Here we go guys, just like we talked about last night.’ said Granger, his hands resting on an open map. ‘We’ve got three jeeps heading east along this road.’ His finger traced a winding track roughly a mile north of their current location, just over a small ridgeline.
‘The target’s in the middle of the three, so we need to isolate it as quickly as possible. Andersen, Connor, you’re taking the front vehicle; Bennett and Rodriguez will take the rear. Mason and Strike will grab the target and get him out of there asap.’
‘We’ll have Ghost on the ridgeline to the south providing cover, and Strike’s on backup if we need support. The trucks are in radio contact with the base, so we’ll need to be in and out before they’ve got chance to react.’
He looked up at the group as he folded the map away, ‘Just another job, guys.’
Bennett smiled as he pulled on a pair of gloves. ‘Just a job!’ he laughed. ‘A real job has perks, like healthcare, pension, chances of promotion... Ain’t none of that going on here!’
‘Don’t talk daft.’ replied Mason, as he turned and began to walk up the slope out of the valley. ‘You get to travel the world, meet new people, blow things up. And if you’re lucky enough to get home in one piece, you might even get paid!’
‘Alright, that’s enough.’ called Granger, ‘Let’s get it done.’ With that he tucked the map into a pocket and started to follow the others up the grassy incline.
‘Oh, and Bennett?’ he called to the big man ahead, ‘When we get back, you’re buying the first round. We’re all about the perks here.’