James Ashford looked at Gabriel Woods, aka the Prince, the assassin famous for the murder of a member of the Royal Family and nodded brusquely before walking into the safehouse.
To explore Wood’s past, was to acknowledge that the best men for this particular lifestyle, had often been the most unsavoury types humanity had to offer. Criminals, dealers, murderers, hackers, assassins … the worst were often recruited for the endless meat grinder. Fringe elements of society that were sharper and smarter than the average citizen.
Not because they were inherently more skilled or blessed in terms of genetics, but because the environment they grew up in, combined with their willpower made them different. Deadlier, more likely to view violence as another means of communication than an abnormal act of aggression.
They survived, thrived even, because only these types of people could survive for that long on the edges of civilisation. It was a life of predator besting another predator. Apex animals battling it out for the ultimate gift of another day of life.
But with Woods, it was a voluntary exile into the wilderness. He chose that life, and had become all the more skilled and terrifying because of it. He had all the opportunities that were provided for any child of a middle-income family.
Entry to a prestigious university degree, money to spend thanks to part-time work … popularity amongst his peers and friends.
But the moment he could, he abandoned it all for the dark edges of society. He had a strange twisted sense of justice and he wanted to see it through, to test his mettle and will against something greater.
Woods dove so completely off the radar, it was largely presumed he was dead.
His family gave him a grave in a prestigious cemetery. His girlfriend of 5 years wept for him and maintained a photo of their time together on her study. His friends toasted him mournfully and moved on with their lives.
Woods gave it all up on a dare he made himself.
Years after his death, rumours of a prolific and skilled assassin began to emerge from the shadows.
It took the NSA and the CIA nearly 2 years to uncover his true identity.
2 years is equivalent to generations in the intelligence community. Whole family trees were wiped from memory in a month. To best the Western Intelligence community for 2 years was an achievement in of itself.
But, as a retired CIA Director once stated,
“There’s a reason why he’s called the Prince. Everything he touches … dies.”
His mind was blessed with a photographic memory, his tongue could twist languages and hearts with ease. His hands made him a natural marksman and he possessed enough calm temperament and patience to outlast and and outsmart his targets.
He was a once in a generation skilled assassin.
Legends of his kills spread quickly through the underworld. A high-ranking corrupt French officer here. An Iranian terrorist cell leader there. A Columbian cartel leader over there. He was untouchable. Unstoppable.
Both sides turned against him, but desperately wanted to hire him.
Then came his crowning achievement.
The murder of a Prince, and the new nickname bestowed upon him, as befitting one of the most dangerous men in the world. Upon murdering a corrupt Prince, the intelligence apparatus gave him the deceased’s title.
It was one of the most shocking assassinations in the 21st century. Not only was the Prince killed in his sleep next to an unknown woman, who mysteriously disappeared 4 hours later, his entire history was exposed to the world.
A Royal pervert exposed to the world, a molester of underage children, a secret admirer of the occult and a world class manipulator of facts and lies.
An assassination of more than just his life …. the Prince’s character was torn to shred by the outraged public. A rampaging British public whose love for the Royal family was shaken to the core by the scandal, nearly resulted in a lockdown for London and Windsor Palace.
The SIS wanted Wood’s head on a platter. Airing out the dirty laundry was not the job of a complete stranger, especially because the secrets surrounding the Prince was theirs to keep and maintain and reveal at the opportune moment.
The next 6 months was spent searching under every rock, alleyway and dealings. Ashford himself headed the manhunt that saw him travel across every continent, always a step behind as he struggled to trace Wood’s movements.
A political rival’s death in Mumbai put Ashford close, literally a second’s hesitation meant Woods gave the SAS grab team the slip.
A Naval Officer’s expose and subsequent suicide in Argentina threw Ashford off completely.
The highly publicised death of a prominent nuclear engineer by his wife, after she found out his indiscretions in Iran shocked Ashford to the core with Wood’s brilliant manipulation of lies, facts and the truth.
The hunt finally drew to a close when a high ranking Politburo from the Xinjiang province mysteriously disappeared after his helicopter crashed mid-flight. Ashford was incredulous when his analysts came back with the report that this was the work of Woods.
The report was waiting from him on his desk, along with a handwritten note from his senior analyst.
Woods just made contact with me. Use this number to talk to him. Be careful boss …
James Ashford remembered how his hand had trembled slightly as he traced the call to a tiny house in rural Victoria, Australia, at a place called Tidal River.
It was as remote a town as could be, near the bottom of the world, a popular retreat for Victorians.
Ashford couldn’t believe it, when he heard the invitation to come down and visit him, Wood’s strange Melburnian accent throwing him off further. His paranoia was overwhelming him, but there was a innate sense of trust. After all, if Woods had willed it, he would have killed Ashford already.
So the head of British intelligence packed an overnight bag, flew down to Victoria, armed with only a single SAS bodyguard, rented a Ford Explorer and drove for nearly 4 hours before reaching the tiny town.
They drove past the tiny retreat with its picturesque river cabins and stunning ocean views and onto a private road that plunged deep into the Australian bush. Ashford recalled slamming on the brakes several times for native fauna, as emus, wallabies and full sized kangaroos sped past.
When they finally arrived, they noted the ramshackle fence that separated bush from property and that the metal gate had been opened for them. Driving through, Ashford looked around and noted the twilight hours in which they had arrived. His bodyguard was scanning the surroundings nervously, uncomfortable with how exposed they were, as the car trundled along the dirt road, across flat, burnt grass.
After nearly a kilometre of driving, they noted the large lush green English oak tree that guarded the left side of the house that was perched atop a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A tiny staircase was visible, no doubt leading down to the docks below where Ashford would later discover a Cessna 206 Seaplane and a Zodiac Milpro dinghy.
The house itself was moderately large, with a modern design aesthetic; large glass walls and a squarish design, the colours and materials matching the ocean. Dark grey stacked stone walls, were intersected with large glass panels to allow maximum visibility to the ocean, and Ashford could even tell that they were able to dim themselves in a instant, to give the house a cloudy look, allowing the occupants to see out but no one could look in.
It was an impressively modern house, a rugged and sturdy design, ugly almost in how it served to stand against nature instead of blending with the surroundings. During a storm, the building would be atmospheric in its brutality.
Ashford and his bodyguard parked the Explorer in front of the garage and walked out cautiously. The SAS trooper was taking zero chances and had a compact MP5K on a sling under his outdoor jacket and gripped it nervously as they walked to the front door.
Ashford pushed it open, surprised at the little resistance and they entered the house of an assassin.
The decor was sparse but tasteful, with minimalist modern styling that made the house more spacious than it seemed. A handwritten note was left on the front desk, with a metal rack next to it.
Please leave your weapons here.
The bodyguard looked at Ashford who nodded. The SAS trooper reluctantly unslung his MP5K and deposited his Glock service weapon on the metal rack.
As the pair of them walked through into the living room, Ashford noted the fireplace that was roaring and a still figure tending to the logs.
Gabriel Woods turned and faced James Ashford and said casually.
Evening. Welcome to my humble abode.
Ashford asked slightly breathlessly
Are you the Prince?
Only in name and legend.
Ashford sunk into the comfortable Ottoman lounge and stared at the man who had caused so much chaos with his death. Taking a deep breath, Ashford started down the long list of questions he had built up over the past 6 months of the most intensive manhunt the British intelligence service had ever conducted.
The subsequent conversation covered both men upbringing, their history, their skills and Wood’s exploits. The list of crimes that Wood had committed across all 7 continents was almost too many to count. The beauty of death meant that Wood was a ghost, with the ability to breeze through customs and borders with all the ease and benefits of an actual apparition.
It was nearly 7am in the morning when Ashford sipped at the tea provided for him and finally came to the real reason why he had travelled all this way to the end of the world.
There must be a reason why you allowed yourself to get caught Gabriel.
I just wanted to meet my opposition. You came close several times. I can respect that.
You want back into the game again don’t you?
Woods shrugged as if to say What offer do you have?
Ashford laid out his terms. Woods countered. The discussion went on for another night.
But in the end, Ashford got what he wanted.
The Queen got her assassin and he was allowed to remain dead.
The loan to the CIA occurred after 4 years operating for Her Majesty’s branches, in which Woods would only ever report to Ashford directly. Upon hearing the success the SIS had been having after a mysterious operative had joined their ranks, the CIA pulled strings and managed to secure the Prince’s services, putting him to work in Latin America before employing him to Afghanistan.
The bureaucracy and mammoth nature of the American war machine however meant that the CIA could never quite replicate the success their British counterparts enjoyed with the Prince.
To be welcomed back into the arms of the British was something Woods was appreciated. After all his deal was with Ashford and he much preferred the low-key operating style of the Brits over the Yanks’ more brash approach.
Woods greeted the two bodyguards that came with Ashford as they filed into the safehouse, leaving the standard issue Jaguar XJ L outside.
As he followed them in, Woods noted the paper dossier in Ashford’s hands.
Noting Woods’ puzzled look, Ashford handed it over silently.
A gift from Langley. Insight into the Sphinx. Burn it once you are done. I’ll be over here, making some tea.
Woods frowned and sat down in the armchair, opening the dossier to reveal two pieces of paper, all that was left of the Washington’s thumb drive that he had handed to Ashford earlier that day.
James Ashford rummaged through the safehouse’s pantry, grumbling softly under his breath as he realised that it had not been restocked in a while. In the end after an exhaustive search, he had only managed to find a near expired package of McVitie Original Digestive biscuits, and 4 teabags of some weak English Breakfast brew.
Putting some water into the kettle and waiting for it to boil, Ashford looked over at his top assassin and wondered just how at the tender age of 31, Gabriel Woods had managed to carve such a large slice of history for himself. He wasn’t even near the end of his operational tenancy either with at least another 6 more years in the field.
Bringing the tea over to Woods and his bodyguards, Ashford sipped at his cup patiently as he saw Woods commit the document to memory before heading over to the kitchen stove and placing a saucepan atop with the papers inside, he set the entire dossier on fire and tossed the ashes into a bin.
Any questions? asked Ashford.
Seems like I’m finding a mirror.
Where can I find William Aitken nowadays?
Dead said Ashford bluntly. I attended his funeral last year. Heart attack.
Left any records of this?
None to my knowledge. William was a different breed of spy. His paranoia was intense, almost Stalinist. I am certain he would have taken this to his grave. He never made any mention of this while I have been running things. He was a strange type of handler. Almost too lenient to a lot of different things.
Sounds like it. A teenage recruit … this was always going to come back to bite you.
It was the 80s, our moral compass wasn’t exactly as strong as it is now.
I’m shocked Aitken managed to turn him. I thought the Sphinx was too indoctrinated since he was trained in AQ camps at an early age?
Aitken got to him before the AQ camps. He was the guy who told the Downing Street that we got a source in AQ when UBL was running things. Aitken recruited a young kid, trained him, turned him and let him loose into AQ.
Woods shook his head. A child-soldier … not exactly an asset worth revealing in a COBRA meeting.
I know it’s mentioned in the dossier, but what really went wrong? asked Woods.
We’re not sure, replied Ashford. That’s up to you to find out. Aitken is dead. Whatever relationship he might have had with Hassan Malik he took to the grave and left us no actionable intel. I’m not even sure how the Americans found out about this. It’s not often Washington gets to pull something over me.
Well whatever Aitken did to Malik, it was damn effective. The guy is just as much of a ghost as I am. Explains his vendetta against the UK though. We made him. What makes you think we’ll find him in a couple of days?
Ashford looked at Woods in the eyes and replied calmly.
You don’t hire a saint to catch a sinner and you’re the Prince amongst them all.
It’s been a long time since I started writing for fun again!
But with festival work on the verge of winding down and I can finally settle into a decent routine again, I will be regularly posting once more.
Thank you to all the new followers who read my blog. I appreciate and salute your efforts to read anything, even awfully written stuff like mine.
This chapter is all about exploring and deepening the lore behind the Prince nickname I gave to the main character. I wanted to flesh him out and create an interesting mythology around his exploits.
The same intention was behind the slow reveal that Malik and Woods are mirror opposites of one another, differing only in the paths they chose.
Stay tuned for more!