Richard Washington looked at menu of the high-end London restaurant and couldn’t quite stomach anything rich or hearty.
Grimacing, he ordered the overpriced eggs benedict, with sliced cherry tomatoes and an extra serving of hash browns. It was too filling of a breakfast, but there was nothing else simpler on the menu. Checking his watch, an elegant yet striking all-steel Doxa SUB300 Professional, with its orange face, he frowned when he realised that his English counterpart was running a minute late.
Spies, whenever possible did not run late. In a world, where so many things happen so quickly and rapidly with huge ramifications, precision and timing was the key to success.
To be late, was to take chances.
To take chances in this business, was to play with lives.
Washington noted with relief when he finally saw a man with impeccable English tailoring enter through the front door, his grey hair shorn short for style and ease of maintenance. His suit was double breasted, and an elegant dark navy blue, with a classic English striped necktie to complete the look. He shrugged off his coat and handed his umbrella to the waiter who nodded and gestured towards Washington.
Washington stood and beheld the head of the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service), James Ashford, a descendant of a legendary Cold War spy now striving to prove his own value.
An old school patrician and classically trained in Oxford, Ashford seemed like the typical public servant, were it not for his own exploits across Asia, where he rose to prominence and notoriety during the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.
He had vehemently opposed the move, having seen the threat China posed to the people of Hong Kong early, but was overruled.
Incensed, Ashford, under the noses of his masters, continued to operate his secret network of spies, and sources, providing the SIS with valuable intelligence on Chinese trade movements and development in HK.
It was not until one of his most trusted sources finally broke cover that Ashford revealed the extent of his network to his paymasters, who were shocked by the extent of the deception and high grade intelligence.
The daring management of such valuable intel, earned him the most vaunted seat of Chief of the SIS and new headaches. Washington and Ashford got along well, having fast become friends after recognising similar values in each other.
Sitting down, Ashford motioned for the waiter to bring a strong cup of fresh coffee and he swiftly ordered a full English breakfast. The waiter nodded and walked away to fulfil his order.
Richard. You look awful.
Same could be said about you James.
Ashford smiled wryly. Just as well I don’t have any plans for heirs.
I don’t think any self-respecting woman would consider you Ashford. You’re too much of a hard bastard for them.
Speaking of hard bastards murmured Ashford quietly. How is the Prince?
Washington waited as the waiter came around and delivered a fresh jug of coffee and orange juice. Just as the first waiter disappeared, a second efficiently came from the second, her hands holding aloft their breakfast. With a flourish, she handed Washington his eggs benedict, and Ashford his English breakfast, before asking whether they wanted pepper.
Both men nodded and took appreciative bites out of their breakfast before continuing.
He’s already out.
Ashford’s hands paused momentarily, stunned by the three words.
He’s discharged already?
Yeah. He just had a mild concussion. That stall he hid behind took the brunt of the damage. The SEK Officer, Bruno Muller saved the station and his life. The blast was definitely smaller because of Muller’s sacrifice, however Alexanderplatz Station will be undergoing major reconstruction work to replace the support beam.
I’m sure you’ve already seen the footage we’ve sent over. The Chancellor is furious about this whole debacle.
Ashford grimaced and sipped his coffee. The footage captured on CCTV was horrific. But were it not for the actions of Muller and Woods, things would have been catastrophically worse.
As it stood, the death toll was limited only to 20 people who were nearby the blast at the time. A miracle by all means.
Yet despite this, and rigorous electronic scrubbing, they had been unable to catch all the footage that showed Woods coldly drawing and gunning down an terrorist in a hail of rapid gunfire.
It was fortunate for his OPSEC (Operational Security) that most of the footage was extremely blurry and within minutes of posting, the NSA (National Security Agency) had effectively scrubbed Wood’s digital footprint off the internet with no-one really being the wiser.
What footage did remain was highly censored. Political parties on both side were clamouring for Woods. Most proclaiming he was a hero and the others decrying him as a murderer.
Several fringe terrorists groups were eager to claim responsibility for the attack and had already revealed the names of the terrorists, lauding them as martyrs for the cause.
To aid in furthering clouding Wood’s OPSEC, the NSA even leaked a story about Woods being an Israeli intelligence agent through several Facebook alt-right groups they controlled.
Within hours the Mossad denied it, fuelling the fire for many of these conspiracy theorists who were aware of Israeli techniques when it came to suicide bombers and convincing them that it was the doing of the feared and much vaunted Mossad.
Ashford looked at Washington keenly, aware that it was he who cleverly twisted the narrative and pinned the blame on Mossad.
Doubtless there was an angry phone call from Tel Aviv in the morning regarding such political scapegoating, but it was harmless and done out of protocol. After all, the Israelis had created the playbook when it came to terrorists, and privately it was assumed they approved of such tactics and deception. One could even interpret the phone call as congratulatory instead of a critique.
How’s Schindler? Ashford asked as he continued his breakfast.
Washington dabbed the corner of his mouth and replied.
Rumour has it, he might be stepping down from the BND. But that’s sort of thing always spread after an attack. I doubt it will happen. He’s too important for this fight. Watts is on his way to Berlin now to debrief the TIOC (Terrorism and International Organised Crime).
Tobias Schindler is too clever to get politically ambushed. I agree with you, Richard. He’ll survive this one. Besides if the stories are to be believed, he has far too much information of the Parliament to lose his seat.
There’s a grain of truth to that. I’ve heard enough chatter to be aware. said Washington wolfishly. What’s new on your end though? Whiskey will be your asset in a couple of hours soon.
Ashford met Washington’s eyes and said coldly, Under no circumstances are we going to allow something like Alexanderplatz happen in London. We’ve only got 3 days till Valentine Friday and I’ll be damned if the Sphinx is allowed to detonate anything here.
You know that he’s going to be more ambitious right? For him, London is personal.
I know. It’s why the Prime Minister has given me special consideration for the Prince.
It was Washington’s turn to pause, his fork frozen in limbo between his plate and mouth.
It’s that serious is it?
Ashford nodded. Things have not been this tense since 2017 Manchester. The PM is adamant that no terrorist attack on London is to take place under any circumstances.
Washington shook his head. The 2017 Manchester terror attacks were the reason why these two men were so close. Joint failures from both of them, resulted in too many lives lost. It was an unmitigated disaster for both men, to prevent such attacks from happening.
Ashford held himself accountable and the subsequent guilt and work lifestyle since had destroyed his marriage of 20 years. Another sacrifice in the name of Queen and Country.
Washington sighed and slipped across the table a thumb drive.
Ashford gave his old friend a puzzled look.
Destroy it after you’ve finished reading. warned Washington. The Sphinx’s Riddle might be a little less puzzling after you’ve read it.
Gabriel Woods stared at the small TV screen reliving the moment that had nearly killed him.
Sequestered away from the outside world, in a small flat in East London, Woods was flown into country by a private military contractor whose private helicopter was often requested by the CIA for covert insertion.
Upon landing at Heathrow Airport, Woods had immediately made his way to the long-term parking area and acquired new transportation in the form of an elegant but powerful grey Audi A6 sedan.
A common workhorse in the CIA stable, Audis were favoured for their reliability, ease of maintenance, discreet looks and ample functionality. The boot was one of its most attractive features, large enough to load bodies or weapons in without sacrificing horsepower for quick getaways.
It’s exceptional handling was a godsend in the maze like streets of Europe and spacious interior design also meant that comfort for certain SAC (Special Activities Centre) paramilitary types loaded for bear wasn’t an issue either.
Fleets of these cars were readily available for all type of CIA personnel across Europe.
However, as Woods was reminded when he received his first ping from his new spymasters, he was now serving the SIS, the famed MI6 of English fame and notoriety.
Back under the pay of Queen and country.
Woods wondered what the Queen would make of his actions in Alexanderplatz, as he stared at the grainy image of him, gunning down 4 men in less time than it took for people to board a train to head home.
His stomach twisted when he saw the SEK Officer, Bruno Muller save his life by diving on top of the final suicide bomber, the original man who had set everything into motion and counter-motion.
Woods continued to remain transfixed to the screen, as he saw himself roll behind the stall, and then a second later, a white hot glare from the suicide vest vaporised Harut’s body and Muller was blown apart into disgusting chunks everywhere, his limbs flying in all different directions, as his chest remained on top of the primary blast, protected by his kevlar vest.
The explosion still had enough force to nearly disintegrate the food stall Woods was hiding behind and he watched as the walls folded over and crashed heavily onto his crouched body, knocking him down onto the floor that was beginning to run slick with blood.
He continued to watch as 10 minutes later paramedic streamed in and began helping the wounded, with another pair of SEK Officers rushing in and identifying Woods. They carried him bodily to a stretcher and the ambulance that took him away, went in a different direction to the others.
The intelligence apparatus at work, eager to hide the involvement of one of their own.
However, there were dozens of grainy images of him floating around everywhere. Already, a huge shitstorm on the internet had erupted over his actions, with people defending and contesting his actions. Thousands of comments on Facebook and Twitter called for him to be arrested alongside the terrorist and hundreds more jumped on those comments to label him a hero.
The news was having a field day, interviewing several university professors who had already come forward, with the overall opinion seemingly expressing disapproval for Woods’ actions.
Woods winced inwardly as he heard a lecturer describe him as a “barbarian, a terrorist in his own right who violated the Geneva conventions and a stain on Western intelligence service.”
“What is the point of paying these intelligence services so much of our taxpayer money when they can’t prevent attacks like this? Are they so desperate and late to the crisis that they have to engage in a gunfight in a public train station? What if he hit an innocent person?” decried an outraged woman.
Uglier scenes followed with footage of people being wheeled out from Alexanderplatz on stretchers and several eyewitnesses shakily telling their story on the news in unsteady German with poor dubbed English.
“When I heard the gunshots … I thought it was a car misfiring. But then people came at me, screaming and running. I didn’t know what to do, so I also ran out and then I heard the explosion. It was horrible. I was praying the whole time.” cried a woman as a microphone was shoved in her face.
Switching channels, Woods saw footage from another media outlet, where a bespectacled and dishevelled man waved his arms animatedly and shook his head furiously at the notion whether Woods was a terrorist.
“He saved us, the man with the pistol and the glasses. I couldn’t see him, but he saved us. Wherever you are, thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. He deserves better than to be called a terrorist”
Sighing, Woods switched off the TV and stared blankly at the screen. He recalled the extremely quick debrief that Washington put him through, the London Chief reassuring him that he had made all the right moves.
Woods could only imagine the political snafu (situation normal: all fucked up) that was occurring in Berlin, Washington D.C. and London. Doubtless there would be ramifications for all parties involved, but as Washington had told him
You’ve got a job to do. Prevent the Sphinx from striking again. Focus on that.
Thumbing through the dossier that the SIS had given him on the Sphinx, Sofia and Harut, Woods placed it down and committed large chunks of crucial information to his memory before deciding on a plan of attack for tomorrow. His body had not fully recovered as well as he had liked on the private flight to England, and he knew he had to rest to prepare for the fight ahead.
Leaving the dossier open while he prepared dinner, a simple meal, spaghetti aglio e olio he stared at the photo of Sofia, the woman who was the courier to one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
Attractive, svelte and non traditional for a Muslim woman, Sofia Sumarwata’s surveillance photos indicated a lot of independence for a woman who was raised in the oppressive environment of Iran.
She refused to wear a headscarf, was unashamed about baring her smooth, olive skin and was unapologetically Westernised.
However, closer examination of her records indicated that she was extremely devout to her Islamic faith and often practised all the rituals and tenets privately when she thought she was alone. Despite her Westernised appearance, she didn’t sleep around, nor did she spend a lot of time out partying at pubs.
A clever operative then. Perhaps not as classically trained as Woods, but capable of fooling the outside world.
Woods continued to read her profile, as he twirled spaghetti on the end of his fork, and appreciatively eat the meal, pleased to get away from Afghan food after months of undercover work in Kabul.
It was the little things that made life more bearable, thought Woods. For him, it was the spice and zest of home-made spaghetti, for Sofia, it was the time when she spent praying, facing Mecca.
Her signs of radicalisation began early, when she was engaged to a suicide bomber who detonated himself during the Iraq War, taking with him, 7 American soldiers guarding a checkpoint. After her betrothed’s death, she was bounced from terrorist camp to terrorist camp, moving all around the Middle East. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine …. a courier for hire.
It was her skills as a honey pot, and a discreet messenger that caught the attention of Hassan Malik, the Sphinx. She fell under his spell, and it was her skills at managing and handling communication between terror cells that allowed the Sphinx to strike so often and ruthlessly.
The only issue was … there was no real sign of her being a courier for the Sphinx. The usual evidence of emails, phone records and paperwork turned up nothing for the boys and girls at London’s CIA CTC. She was conspicuously clean.
Wood’s job was to discover what method she was using to communicate with terror cells and the Sphinx, then to go after the Sphinx himself directly.
Hearing a buzz at the door, Woods frowned and reached for his Glock 19. Holding in his right hand and hiding behind his leg, he looked through the peep hole and slowly opened the door to reveal James Ashford with a pair of SAS bodyguards in suits.
Evening Woods. May I come in?
Woods gestured with his head and allowed the head of the SIS into the safe room.
I really wanted to touch on the political and media ramifications of Woods actions. I mostly based this extra element on the Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series who really balanced how political clout impacted military and intelligence agencies operate.
I plan on adding more of a political spin in future chapters of this series!
Until the next one.