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1.

The big, black Kawasaki 1400GTR motorbike expertly weaved around the light commuter traffic on the A24. It had rained heavily the previous night making the road slippery in places. Nothing the biker couldn’t handle. With consummate skill, he flipped the machine past another family car. Ahead, the back of a silver Jaguar saloon, the large leaping feline emblem clearly visible in the middle of the boot. This was no ordinary Jag. It was the XJ Sentinel model with B7 level armoured protection for its occupants. That meant surviving fifteen kilos of TNT at close range. The biker, though, was bringing something far more effective than explosives.

Although the Jaguar boasted a huge five-litre V8 engine, its top speed was only just over one twenty and its acceleration nothing to worry about for the two riders on the bike. The bulkier of the two moved the bike over to the centre line to look further up the road. In front of the Jag he could see the fluorescent white and yellow jackets of three police outriders. They were getting lazy. One of them should have been behind the Jag, even if it still had to pick up its passenger. This just made his job even easier.

The bike rider did not need to communicate with his passenger. She knew what she had to do. They had practiced this manoeuvre, and several possible variants, over the last two days. If done right, it would be a question of seconds. If they screwed it up, they would not have a second chance.

 Behind the driver, the passenger unzipped her green leather jacket. She inserted her right hand, sheathed also in leather, worn with double latex surgical-quality gloves underneath, searching for the zip-lock bag and its contents. Another practiced move. The bag was made of thick plastic, now folded over at the top rather than zipped for easy access to the small canister inside. She gripped the can firmly and withdrew her hand, keeping it behind the driver’s back. Her matte black helmet with tinted visor dipped as she glanced down to assure the position of her index finger on the can’s nozzle.

The Kawasaki’s rider pushed the bike forward. He took a line on the left of the Jaguar. By now the Jag’s driver had spotted him, hopefully labelling his weaving as a pre-empt to a charge past. Good. He looked up. A road sign announced a turning on the left. He flicked on his indicator. He could almost feel the Jag’s driver relaxing as he saw the flashing amber in the passenger-side wing mirror.

Fifty feet to the turn.

The bike accelerated; a short burst bringing it level with the Jag’s boot, on the inside of the lane.

The Sentinel’s driver edged the car over toward the centre line. The bike rider could see the chauffeur’s turned head bad-mouthing his actions.

Another twist of the throttle.

The bike jumped forward; very close to the rear passenger door.

The woman stretched her hand out as though to push on the Jaguar’s bodywork.

Calculating speed and windage, she depressed the nozzle on the canister.

A fine spray of almost invisible liquid erupted from the can.

She withdrew her hand, pressing hard twice with her knuckles on the back of the bike driver’s leathers.

The Kawasaki spurted forward again, then made a power turn into the road on the left, roaring away at speed.

The passenger carefully replaced the canister in the zip-lock bag, folding the top as best she could. She lifted her left hand, glancing at the large watch strapped to her wrist.

Twenty minutes.

They had twenty minutes from now.

2.

Seventeen minutes.

The driver left the main road at Beare Green and took a familiar turning on the left. This road was narrower, forcing the escort bikes to ride single file. They all knew the route; had done this every weekday, and several weekends like today, for over two years. No drama. He slowed. Ahead on the right was the house.

One of the motorcycle cops drew his bike to stop at the side of the driveway entrance. Two uniformed policemen, armed with MP5 submachine guns approached, recognised him and stepped to one side to allow the remaining outriders and the Jag to enter.

The Jaguar followed the driveway between tall conifers for thirty feet, under the gaze of several surveillance cameras, until the lane opened into a large, paved triangular area in front of the house.

As they drew to a stop, another armed man approached. This one was not in uniform, and the dark flak jacket worn over a green sweater did not carry the word ‘Police’. This man, and three of his colleagues around the sides and back of the house, was Special Air Service. He wore an MP5 submachine gun slung across his chest and a large calibre Beretta pistol on his hip. He had been at this posting for two months and, unlike the policemen, was as sharp as the first day. He watched as the driver, still seated in the Jag, announced his arrival with a couple of toots of the car horn.

3.

Thirteen minutes.

Bernard Trubshaw popped the last piece of toast into his mouth, just as the double toot sounded outside. He looked up from his reading in time to see his wife, Anne, retreating from the kitchen. As was their custom for the last three years at least, they had not exchanged a single word over breakfast. It was not a habit elected to form the basis of a family tradition; rather a consequence of what both knew, both accepted, but chose to ignore.

He lifted the mug of tea with his left hand, as his right, holding an uncapped fountain pen, drew the letter ‘C’ at the bottom right corner of the document he had been reading. He took a sip of the lukewarm liquid. Another damned Intelligence briefing destined for those whose own intelligence was in doubt, at least in his mind. Bloody politicians! He looked closely at the object in his right hand; a beautiful limited edition fountain pen, a recent gift from a grateful Prime Minister. Its cool majesty, white palladium and deep blue etchings, aloof from whatever mayhem its ink manifested on the page. Somehow today it seemed a perfect analogy of his job. No, of his life. Or at least, what his life had become.

A feminine voice yelled something from the lounge. He elected to ignore Anne’s question, mentally filing it with all the others he had ignored for so many years. He capped the pen, gathered the documents and returned them to the large battered leather briefcase leaning against the leg of the kitchen table.

“Bernie, I asked what time you would be home today.” This time with more insistence; forceful, closer, as its source strode back into the room.

“Not sure. Probably late. The usual.” Standing, he spoke as though every word was taxed heavily; its cost outweighing its value. Efficient use of minimal communication, he thought.

Her response was a grunt. He had expected even less. Her thoughts would be on whatever tryst she had planned for that afternoon. Was it the turn of the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker? Who they were, what they did; he no longer cared. More a matter for his security people than an integral part of his marriage. He hoped she had not screwed that low-level French diplomat again; that had certainly put the cat among the pigeons a year ago. Almost lost him his job; touch and go for a short while, until one of the SAS lads, at his behest, had paid the Frog a visit.

Bernie collected the bulging briefcase and, after a quick swipe of his mouth with a cotton serviette, spun, neatly sidestepped his wife, and headed into the lounge to retrieve his jacket. He clipped the fountain pen into the inside left-hand pocket of the jacket, knowing it would come in handy in the next few days, and donned the dark-blue garment. He let his eyes rove around the room, aimless yet not inattentive. He absently patted his right trouser pocket, feeling the solid lump of the three flash drives, held together by a fat elastic band, in turn attached to the lining with a safety pin.

Everything ready.

In seven quick strides he was at the front door. He opened it just enough to see the SAS guard outside. The man nodded once. Bernie opened the door wider, slipped through, and walked over to the waiting Jag. As per protocol, his driver, Mark, stayed behind the wheel. The SAS bodyguard had his hands full with his submachine gun, his eyes constantly scanning the surrounding area, his ears receiving updates from his colleagues around the property.

Bernie reached out and took hold of the Jag’s door handle.

4.

Two minutes.

Bernie Trubshaw swung the briefcase onto the far side of the backseat, behind the driver. He flopped down alongside it, as the SAS man climbed into the front passenger seat.

“Mark, have you got a tissue? Some bloody bird’s crapped on the door handle. I’ve got bird shit or something all over my hand.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll get the car washed this morning,” said the driver as he leaned over to retrieve a packet of wet wipes from the glove box. “Here you are, sir. That should take care of the problem.” He handed the pack back to his boss, catching a suppressed grin from the Special Forces soldier sitting alongside. He focused his attention on the journey ahead. Route Four, this morning; A24 all the way, then a dash to beat the early risers. Thank God for the police outriders! He looked over at the SAS man, received the nodded Okay, and put the car into gear, accelerating smoothly out of the house grounds behind the blue flashes of the leading motorbike duo.

“It’s bloody warm in here today, Mark. Can you turn up the air a bit?”

The driver complied, suppressing a shiver. Warm? He was freezing. He had kept the heating at a minimum on the way here so the windows would not mist up on this wet and cold morning.

 *  *  *  *  * 

Five minutes passed in silence, the car’s three occupants dedicated to their respective tasks. The soldier scanning the road ahead, his right index finger resting just above the trigger on the MP5. The driver running the route through his memory, mapping in the movements of vehicles they encountered, analysing choke points and angles, driving defensively. Their charge, leafing through papers on the backseat.

Bernie raised his hand to his forehead; cold sweat beaded and ran into his bushy eyebrows. He let the papers fall onto the seat beside him, not bothering to stoop to recover an errant sheet heading for the foot well. Trubshaw’s hand came away visibly wet from his brow. He took a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, careful not to accidentally extract the pen drive bundle, and wiped first his palm then his forehead.

Without warning, he bent to his right and vomited over the paper in the floor well; the single eruption, soon joined by two more.

The driver glanced in his rearview mirror.

“You alright, sir?”

Trubshaw did not respond. His eyes were watering, stinging fiercely. His face felt on fire. His hands were ice-cold. He slumped over the briefcase.

“Code Three. Repeat, Code Three.” The strong Yorkshire accent of the SAS bodyguard resounded in the car’s quiet interior. “Stop. Now!”

The driver complied with rapid efficiency, occupying the centre of the lane, using the car’s mirrors to control the road’s other vehicles. The following police bike pulled over and took up station at their rear, turning his bike sideways as an improvised barrier. The rider drew his gun, concentrating on the cars behind them.

The SAS bodyguard pushed open his door, leapt out and stepped toward the rear door of the Jag. He remembered about the bird crap and used the tip of the MP5’s short barrel to operate the door lever. The older man was slumped across the rear seat, leaning away. The soldier unceremoniously grabbed the dark blue jacket and tugged his charge upright. Trubshaw’s face was deathly white; his eyes, bloodshot, unseeing; his lips, slightly blue. The soldier reached out and checked the carotid for a pulse; weak, still alive. Heart attack, maybe. Could be a seizure. Or a stroke. He was out of his depth.

The SAS man spoke on his tactical radio to the police outriders.

“Looks like the Boss is ill. Could be a heart attack. Get an ambulance here now!”

Ahead, the lead outrider switched channels and called up the dispatch office. He quickly confirmed the call as priority without identifying their charge; you never knew who was listening in, reporters or the damned paparazzi. He asked for medical assistance pronto, like yesterday. Radio chatter filled his headpiece as the dispatcher went into overdrive; the call ID code would have shown him who was in the motorcade.

5.

The three motorcycles and the silver Jaguar blocked the road. Traffic started to build behind them; angry car horns sounded despite the firearms in evidence.

Over the lead police biker’s radio, a new voice interrupted.

“Charlie Tango Eight, this is Air MedEvac Six Alpha. We have been diverted and are on route. We have your position but the road there is too narrow to land. You need to advance another couple of miles, junction with Chart Lane. There’s a large field on your left. We’ll land there. ETA five minutes. Copy?”

“Air MedEvac Six Alpha, copy that. I’ll get the show on the road. ETA four minutes approx.”

“Roger that, Charlie Tango Eight. Air MedEvac Six Alpha out.”

The policeman switched channels again, rapidly informing the rest of the convoy of the new plan. Bikes spun wheels as they roared ahead. The Jag followed, the SAS man scrunched on the backseat with his now unconscious charge.

6. 

The Jaguar slid to a halt at the mouth of the narrow lane. To their left a large area of open land stretched away, easily seen over a low, stone wall. Slightly behind them, again on their left, a short wooden fence. A metal gate offered entrance to a two-storey structure housed in a walled enclosure: a large farmhouse and stables. Near the gate, a hand-painted sign proclaimed ‘Microchiped Horses’; the driver looked over, letting his mind wander while they waited: shouldn’t that be two p’s?

 *  *  *  * *

The SAS man stood just outside the opened rear passenger door, his MP5 submachine gun raised, safety off, sweeping the area slowly. About ten feet ahead, a gap in the wall gave access to the expanse of green beyond. He thought they could get the Jag through, but belayed the order. The overnight rain had been heavy; the ground could be a mud trap. He raised his head, looking over to the far side of the field.  High above the trees he could now see the squat shape of the helicopter whose rotors he had heard as soon as they had ended their headlong rush.

He squinted, looking at the chopper as it turned in the air, lining up with the field. He could see the pilot’s helmeted head moving rapidly from side to side as he checked the width of level ground between the sparse trees near the road and the copse on the far side. Rotor clearance looked good, at least to the man on the ground. The soldier took in the blue and white livery of the MD Explorer helicopter; ‘SURREY’ was printed in large, bold lettering across the rear door; ‘Air Ambulance’ in smaller script underlined the county name. He mentally logged the five-letter ID registration printed along the tail, between the cabin and the dual rear fins; he’d probably be doing paperwork all-day on this one, might as well get the facts straight.

The helicopter’s nose rose sharply as the pilot flared the craft for a landing in the middle of the field. The skids bounced against the wet grass, sliding the chopper forward a good ten feet. The pilot reduced the revs on the blades and the noise level dropped noticeably. The far-side rear door slid back; two pairs of feet hit the ground, running toward the road. The SAS man raised the MP5.

A smaller figure, obviously a woman despite the unisex orange flight suit and oversized white helmet, led the charge. Behind, a taller, solid bulk; male, orange suit and white helmet too; porting a dark orange plastic litter in one hand and an oversized rectangular holdall in the other.

They neared, all the while under the cover of the MP5’s muzzle.

“You Charlie Tango Eight? We’re MedEvac Six Alpha. Doctor Grace. Where the patient?” The woman’s voice, muffled through the helmet, but clear enough for the SAS man. He stood to one side, allowing the medics to access the prone figure in the back of the car.

The soldier watched as the doctor ran a quick pulse check, then ripped open Trubshaw’s shirt, extracting a short, black dumb-bell shaped device from a side pocket of her flight suit. She ran the cable from this into a socket on her helmet, then pressed one of the dumb-bell’s flat surfaces to Trubshaw’s chest.

“What…?” The SAS man reached out a hand.

The other medic intercepted his arm and leaned in to speak.

“Noise Immune Stethoscope. Use it to hear over the noise of the rotors.” A slight Scottish accent.

The soldier nodded, looking over at the other man. Through the helmet’s tinted eyeshade he saw a couple of dark eyes looking back. Calm, cool. Does this every day. The man nodded, conveying shared worries; one pro to another.

“Thready pulse. Cyanotic lips. He threw up, right?” The female doctor had turned toward the soldier.

“Yeah. Lost his breakfast.”

“That’s probably a good thing. No blood in the vomit from what I can see. Looks like it may be food poisoning, but I’m taking him for a full scan. Don’t like it he’s lost consciousness. Oxygen for now. We’ll plug him into the diagnostics on the chopper.” The last part was for her companion.

The tall man opened the orange holdall and extracted a small metal cylinder painted black with a wide white stripe around its top. He reached past the doctor and fixed the attached plastic mask onto Trubshaw’s face. Then he stepped back, grabbing the plastic litter.  He elbowed the soldier to one side as he and the doctor manoeuvred Trubshaw’s unconscious form onto the stretcher.

“We need to come along.” The soldier indicated himself and the nearby policemen.

The doctor looked over at the armed police.

“Can’t fit them all in. Two maximum.”

“Me,” he pointed to one of the police, “you.”

“Need to turn your radios off. Interference with the on-board medical gear,” said the big Scot.

The SAS man nodded and turned to the man who was to accompany him. “Call it in. Tell them we are going with the Principal on MedEvac Six Alpha to…” He looked over at the doctor.

 

“Frimley Park,” completed the medic.    

 

 “Got that? Frimley Park Hospital. ETA?”

The doctor glanced at a chunky watch on her left wrist. “Say about ten minutes max.”

The policeman started to speak into his helmet radio, as the doctor and her assistant grabbed the litter, with Trubshaw’s unconscious body and the holdall balanced on his legs, and started trotting toward the waiting helicopter. The soldier and the police outrider ran behind.

7.

The MD Explorer helicopter was much larger up close. As the SAS soldier followed the two medics around the nose, he glanced at the pilot. The latter was busy flipping switches and talking on his radio. Even so, he did find a brief instant to take his hand off the cyclic stick and flash a reassuring thumbs-up, although without an accompanying smile.

The large side door of the chopper, already slid open, exposed the passenger hold. The doctor’s assistant placed his end of the litter on the doorsill and climbed into the compartment. He worked a lever and the long metal-framed patient bed pivoted toward the opening, sliding to the right as it did. He operated another lever and the bed assembly tilted, a third of its length now protruding outside the helicopter. Thick black straps on top were unclipped and tossed aside. The man reached down, took hold of the litter again, and in unison with the doctor, placed the orange litter directly on top of the metal-framed bed. They systematically applied all the straps, securing Trubshaw’s limp form. More lever manipulation and the bed assembly returned to its former position, parallel to the door’s opening.

“Sit over there.” The female voice was all business. She indicated two fold-down seats built into the rear bulkhead, separated by a column of medical gear.

The soldier signalled to the policeman to precede him into the belly of the chopper. The cop strapped himself into the seat, but the soldier remained free of the webbing, his MP5 sloped across his chest, pointing toward the ground beyond the door.

“You have to strap in. I know you want to be free to do your job, but if we hit turbulence, you could become a human missile in here and that could kill us all.” Forceful instructions from the Scot.

Reluctantly the SAS man released his grip on the submachine gun, allowing its strap to hold it in place, as he slipped his arms into the four-point seat harness and clicked home the buckle.

“What about you guys?”

“When we’re sorted, I’ll sit in the co-pilot’s seat. The Doc’s got stuff to do here.” As the pilot twisted the throttle on the collective, the Scot had to shout to be heard above the increasing rotor noise. He leaned over and slid the bay door closed. The noise level dropped appreciably.

The SAS man watched as both the medics busied themselves with their patient. The doctor reached into a plastic pouch attached to the forward bulkhead, extracted a large syringe and took off the grey protective cap around the long needle. She felt Trubshaw’s naked chest, locating a specific point, then stabbed the needle deeply into the torso. He had seen Epinephrine shots done many times in field operations, yet they never failed to make him wince.

The helicopter slid forward slightly. The soldier felt slight pressure on his body at the craft’s rotor blades grabbed into the air and lifted them off the ground. Both the medics stumbled backward toward the rear bulkhead. They extended their arms to prevent themselves crashing into the policeman and soldier.

The SAS soldier felt cold steel against his neck.

He heard a ‘pssst’, audible above the rotors.

Immediately his head swam.

He tried in vain to raise his arms.

His body refused to obey.

Blackness crept into his consciousness, luring him into its depths.


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