Traceur 5-O

A shot from Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (2009), a decent French action film with a focus on parkour sequences.

Detective Alex Dujardin was finding it difficult to breathe.

The typical thrills of hunter-prey dynamics were starting to get to him, accelerating his anticipation and excitement.

It did not help a single bit that he was sitting in a truck beset by armoured men with intimidating rifles. The infamous Special Operation Group (SOG) of the Victorian Police were the Australian equivalent of the famous American SWAT Teams, called in regularly to deal with armed offenders and other sensitive, high risk crime.

The 6 men that sandwiched Dujardin in the armoured truck were dressed head to toe in extremely dark blue uniforms, with balaclavas masking their faces and the word: POLICE emblazoned in bright white letters across their chest and back. The atmosphere inside was deathly quiet, nerves and steely resolution mixing and fighting together in each man’s mind.

As for Dujardin, he was dressed like the casual Sunday version of the SOG men, with jeans, a polo shirt underneath his armour and radio, with his pistol and baton on a thigh rig across his right leg. Attached to his left hip was a taser gun and CS spray. As the lead case officer, his job was merely to observe the take-down and allow the bigger men with their rifles, shotguns and other paraphernalia do the heavy lifting.

Routine thought Dujardin, even though he knew that anything involving the SOG was quite far from normal.

At a modest height of 175cm, with soft hazel eyes, Alex Dujardin was not the most intimidating of police officers in the Metro area. What he lacked in brawn however, was aptly filled in by speed. His body was hardened and lean after years of competitive athletics, excelling in the 400m and 600m sprint.

His acceleration, in spite of the standard police equipment, was immense, often out-sprinting criminals and rugby-tackling them before they were even aware of what was happening. In his patrol days, Dujardin’s prowess was so highly respected, any officer that had to run to catch their collar made the joke that they performed a ‘Jardin that shift.

It also helped that Dujardin was a practitioner of parkour, the French phenomenon that was borne out of a desire to conquer a obstacle course as efficiently as possible. His weekends were often spent with the Melbourne Parkour community on the CBD’s Southbank, leaping from wall to wall, vaulting benches and answering kids’ questions about his job.

Simply put, there wasn’t an officer on the force more suited for chasing down criminals than Alex Dujardin.

Feeling a rumbling beneath his feet, Dujardin looked up as the truck began to slow, approaching its’ destination carefully and quietly. As it halted a few hundred metres later, the point man of the SOG team cranked the door open and the men filed out quickly.

Looking around, Dujardin noted their location with a familiarity that only a locally born native could. They were near the Carlton Gardens which hosted the Royal Exhibition Building, and the Melbourne Museum.

The contrasts between the two buildings could not be any more dissimilar, with the Royal Exhibition Building a testament to old-school architectural styles, the entire structure Italianate in looks, complete with a Florence Cathedral inspired dome, whilst the Melbourne Museum, showcased the contemporary post-modernism styles, with sharp angles and abstract colours, a more complex mess of glass, metal and concrete.

However such historical architectural footnotes, were of no relevance to Dujardin, who had visited both many times as a child, and was more eager to prevent the criminal residing in an abandoned building across the street from escaping to said Museum and Exhibition Building.

At the corner of Rathdowne St and Victoria St, the abandoned building in question, was a former Cancer Council Victoria office building, the charity organisation having moved to greener pastures in South Melbourne, leaving behind a dilapidated, and ugly squat building. With its brown styling, dark tinted glass windows that was prone to dust and dirt collection, and dull interior, it was slated for demolition, the ugly style of the building only worsened by incessant amount of graffiti and poor maintenance.

The place had already been stripped clean, with nothing of value inside, however, for the brazen thief known as the Spectre, it had proved the perfect staging grounds for some daring B&E (Breaking & Entering) raids into affluent people’s homes and a particularly messy robbery at a restaurant that had escalated to murder.

Little was known about the Spectre beyond his physical description which was caught on camera, after the gunning down of a restaurateur as she was closing her business. At a lean 180 centimetres tall, and possessing dark hair with blue eyes, the Spectre was surprisingly attractive, in a rugged mid-30s way.

However, his panic over the restaurateur’s death had lead to many uncharacteristic mistakes and proved to be the break Alex Dujardin needed to track his target down. Now, only hours after the murder, Dujardin stood outside the lair of the Spectre, eager to see his target in cuffs.

Handing the warrant over to the SOG pointman, Dujardin watched as the elite team began their approach towards the building’s walls, each man scanning in all directions.

Due to the proximity of the civilians, a safety boundary had been established 200 metres out, with patrol cars blocking streets and people from moving around. Since the operation was being conducted late at night, at 10pm, traffic was mercifully quiet and the Museum was already shut down.

Dujardin heard, rather than saw, the teams making entry into the building, with flash-bangs creating lights inside a building that had not seen them for years. Loud yells of POLICE, COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP! came billowing through shattered glass.

Waiting impatiently, with his right foot tapping the ground nervously, Dujardin was waiting to hear the sounds of an arrest being made over his radio, when he felt a strange prickling sensation across his neck, causing him to look up.

Just in time to see a man bolt onto the roof of the abandoned building and without hesitation, aim a zip-line launcher that shot across the street and pinned the line into a Greenco Carpark.

Dujardin scowled, as he watched the SOG team burst onto the roof, only to fall back into each other as the Spectre unleashed a torrent of gunfire from a pistol. By the time the point man could bring his rifle to bear, the Spectre had already dropped the pistol, attached a T-bar to the line and begun his swing, 50 metres across the street.

Within seconds, the Spectre had cleared the police cordon and was now sprinting through the carpark that would allow him to disappear into the city populace as it connected onto Latrobe Street.

However, even before the final shot from the Spectre’s pistol had finished echoing across the urban jungle, Alex Dujardin was vaulting over police cars, leaving his fellow officers behind as he ran underneath the Spectre’s feet.

Bursting through the doors of the Greenco garage, Dujardin sprinted furiously past rows and rows of cars, as he made for the opposite side. As he was halfway through, a banging noise could be heard up ahead and Dujardin made his way over, sliding over a shocked BMW driver’s hood, as he braked furiously to avoid a collision.

Noting that the fire escape door was still swinging on its hinges, Alex put his shoulder through and immediately scanned left, then right.

Remembering that the Spectre was wearing a dark blue jumper and green cargo pants, Alex felt fear when he couldn’t see any traces of the man on either side of the street, until he saw the alleyway to his 1 o’clock.

Dashing across, and nearly getting hit by another car, Dujardin swore when he saw the Spectre halfway down the alleyway, his boots clattering on old cobblestones.

Pushing himself into a more comfortable rhythm, Dujardin blasted down the short 40 metres of the alleyway, gaining every so slightly, as he noted the Spectre turn the corner and nearly collide with a businessman on a call. The two men stared at each other, the businessman yelling angrily at the Spectre, only to go down in a heap as the criminal pushed him hard into the wall and ran in the direction of Melbourne Central.

The busiest shopping centre in the entire CBD, replete with multiple entryways, dozens upon dozens of restaurants and shops, and more crucially a train station.

Dujardin blasted out of the alleyway, only checking his speed a tiny bit, as he took a wider line onto the opposing footpath to the Spectre and pressed a button on his radio.

Suspect is moving down Little Lonsdale St, in the direction of the State Library! Get the MC PSOs up here now! half yelled Dujardin as he watched as the Spectre nearly collide with a couple walking out of a Uyghur restaurant.

His hazel eyes widened with opportunity as he noted the Spectre recklessly running across traffic, cars screeching horribly to a halt, and the man desperately trying not to get hit.

Seeing a tiny metal fence obstructing him, Dujardin smoothly gripped it with his weak hand and vaulted over with ease, before taking 2 steps and performing a kong vault over a silver Mercedes, a move where he placed both hands on the hood and then hopped his legs through in a smooth motion.

The elderly couple in the Mercedes could only stare in astonishment, as they saw the casually dressed police officer in tactical gear, smoothly slide over the bonnet of a stray Uber Toyota before exchanging incredulous looks with the Uber driver and his passenger.

As the Spectre glanced behind him, he was shocked to see a police officer keeping pace with him. Not only was he keeping pace, it seemed he was only getting closer.

In desperation, the Spectre crossed from the Library side of the small street and into QV, another one of Melbourne’s famous shopping malls. Nearly crashing through the glass doors, the Spectre made a beeline for the staircase with an escalator beside it, shoving and pushing people aside, yells and screams erupting behind him.

As he reached the bottom of the escalator, he could hear the policeman yell about the PSOs from MC, making their way down Swanston St, which was adjacent to the direction he was heading.

Swearing, the Spectre ran across the small food court and out onto a small alleyway, where he could see another shortcut through a car-park which lead into Melbourne’s Chinatown district.

As the Spectre waited for a break in the traffic to allow him to cross, he heard a loud thud behind him.

Turning slowly around, the Spectre’s blue eyes widened in shock, as he beheld the dogged policeman, recover from his 3m drop to the ground, in a smooth recovery roll.

Aware of the Spectre’s intention to lose him in QV, Dujardin made a calculated gamble, and had bluffed a call about the Protective Services Officers (PSOs) that normally patrolled and guarded Melbourne’s busy train stations making their way down Swanston St.

Instead of following in the Spectre’s descent to a lower level, Dujardin had simply sprinted across the upper square to the surprise of the many young people who were resting on the artificial turf, and without pause jumped the 3 metre difference in height down, behind the Spectre.

The Spectre, now properly spooked by the sheer determination of this police officer, sprinted across the traffic once more, his panicked expression now beset by flashing red/blue lights, as Dujardin’s fellow officers, tracking him on the GPS, were now joining the chase and were pouring down Lonsdale St in their patrol cars and sirens.

The Spectre ducked under the car-park gate.

Alex Dujardin leapt over it.

The Spectre shot through the car-park, before putting his shoulder into a fire-escape door and knocking back a sleepy bouncer who was pacing the length of the street, outside the door of the Shanghai Club Pokies.

As the bouncer fell on the floor, dazed by a door slamming into his face, the Spectre stepped over him and looked up and down the red-lantern lit street of Melbourne’s Chinatown.

Seeing the Target entrance that would take him to Bourke St, via a quiet strip of Chinese food and boba shops, the Spectre hauled ass, just in time to look behind him and see the dark expression on Dujardin’s face.

By now, both men had slowed down considerably, their initial furious pace, unsustainable over such long distances. The Spectre was especially breathing hard, his feet now lumbering a bit more as they pounded their way through the arcade, in vain hopes of keeping ahead of Dujardin to Bourke St.

Dujardin, whilst feeling fresher, was struggling as well, his exertions compounded by the gear he was wearing and the explosive energy he needed for parkour moves wearing him down.

The chase was nearly at an end.

It was now, just a matter of time.

As the Spectre burst out onto Bourke St, he swore even louder, when he realised that he had just put himself into police custody, as less than 25 metres away, the Melbourne’s Police HQ was right there.

Before he had time to run away again, Dujardin had caught up and launched himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The Spectre, moving quickly, was not fast enough and tumbled to the ground. But he was able to roll away from Dujardin’s grasp and lurch to his feet, only this time facing the policeman with a switchblade in his right hand.

Dujardin’s strong hand went for his baton and flicked it open.

Don’t do this. cautioned Dujardin as the two men eyed each other.

Just give it up man. There’s no need for extra violence mate. Just put the weapon down and get down on your knees.

The Spectre said nothing and continued to warily circle Dujardin.

Don’t be stupid man. PUT THE WEAPON DOWN AND GET ON YOUR KNEES. shouted Dujardin. The words were barely out of his mouth, before he was swatting the Spectre’s knife hand out of the way with his baton. The blow was enough to push the Spectre off-balance and Dujardin took the opportunity to go for his taser with his left hand.

However, before he could properly draw, the Spectre moved in again.

With his hand on the grip of the taser, Dujardin could not effectively block the incoming knife due to his awkward body position.

Without hesitating, Dujardin did the only move he could.

He tucked down small and rolled himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The knife thrust sailed over his head by the smallest of margin, and the Spectre buckled as his leading leg took the full weight of Dujardin’s body. Yelling in anger and pain, the Spectre whirled around, only to receive 50,000 volts to his system.

Convulsing, the Spectre went down hard, his face smashing directly into the hard smooth stone floor of Bourke St.

Alex Dujardin exhaled heavily, as he held onto the trigger of the taser, before letting go in an explosive effort.

As one of the most iconic and busiest streets in Melbourne slowly began to light up in red and blue flashes, and the murmur of the crowds, began to get replaced with siren wails, Alex Dujardin stepped over the twitching body of the Spectre and wrenched the man’s hands behind him, slipping on the cuffs.

As Dujardin did a rough check for any other weapons, he did his best to ignore the dozens of phone cameras that were recording his every move. It wasn’t long before the crowd dispersed before the onslaught of officers who had finally caught up. As cars formed a barricade and officers piled around Dujardin, Alex could barely stop shaking under the weight of congratulatory back slaps and handshakes that poured in.

Dujardin smiled wearily at the point-man of the SOG unit, who gave him a thumbs-up in approval, before walking the Spectre over to the police station only metres away.

The chase was now over, now … the real work began with the paperwork that awaited such a public and messy foot-chase through the city.

Dujardin’s self self-congratulatory mood soon disappeared as he realised that every single person affected by the chase today, would have to have a statement taken off them and that there was going to be a very long review process, especially after the spectacular body-cam footage that he had unwittingly taken.

Can’t outrun everything … thought Dujardin wearily, as he took off his body vest and sat down at his desk for a long night ahead.

Author’s Note.

Short, sweet and sharp, I wanted to make this smaller and leaner, a bit more of a quick read than my usual entries. Inspired by every single foot chase ever, with cops and robbers involved. But mostly financed by my dreams to film a foot chase in my home town one day.

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

With Love …. (Espionage 6)

London, England

Being invisible in today’s world is not difficult. With the advent of smart-phones, wireless earbuds and ever increasingly feelings of self-isolation, a spy could be wearing an outlandish outfit and still be unnoticed for hours.

Dressed in a smart suit, Gabriel Woods stared out from a cafe on the corner of a busy London street, a newspaper in his hand, with a coffee mug in front of him. As stereotypical a “spy” pose this was, in the city of London, such behaviour was almost obligatory once you entered a English cafe.

With his deep cover now assured by the SIS and stripped of any American gadgetry, Gabriel Woods was now operating as quietly and efficiently as he used to in the days of his Prince career. Anonymously, low-tech and armed only with his instincts and the Glock 19 in a shoulder holster, hidden underneath his dark navy blazer.

Gone were the smart surveillance glasses, the disguised earbuds that acted as a microphone and recorder and the voices of handlers in his ears. The British were stubbornly steadfast in their old-school spycraft, and James Ashford trusted his man to such a level, that he allowed Woods to operate completely on his own and instructed the Queen’s Assassin only to report to him if absolutely necessary.

It was this unique freedom and trust that made Gabriel Woods agree to come back into the intelligence community. Only the British would give him this amount of leniency. There weren’t even any support units to assist him, the 14th Det, the usual grey men that tracked terror suspects across the UK, having been repositioned elsewhere to track other elements of the Sphinx’s cell.

The Prince was finally allowed to operate on his own, to his own discretion and rules.

Woods kept his eyes alert as he scanned the streets, occasionally turning the page of his newspaper to mime the act of reading and relaxing with his morning coffee. Le Petite Cafe made decent coffee, but it was their fresh baked goods that enticed the likes of Sofia Sumarwata, courier to one of the world’s most feared terrorists.

Situated as he was outside the cafe, with very little opportunities to miss him, the moment Sofia Sumarwata would make entry into the cafe, she would notice him. The Valentine’s Day deadline was ever approaching and Woods had to be bolder in his attempts to track down the Sphinx.

As his watch ticked over to 10am, Woods saw an attractive woman come down the street, her long shapely legs encased in figure hugging jeans and calf-length brown boots. Her svelte figure was accentuated by a matching brown long coat, and a flattering cream turtleneck.

As she drew closer to Woods, he felt his breath catch slightly, as he noted that photos of her in the dossier, did little justice to attractiveness of the woman walking towards him. With her curly brown hair, tied loosely in a bun, soft brown eyes, full lips, and an attractive straight nose, Sofia Sumarwata stood out from the more conventional English Rose beauty like a warmer sunrise.

Nodding politely to Woods, she went inside and ordered her baked goods in a English accent that sounded natural. Woods paid an absent ear to the exchange but there was nothing untoward about the conversation. As Sofia waited, Woods continued to look at his newspaper, resisting the urge to look behind him, and into the cafe.

Holding her brown bag of baked goods, Sofia walked out and went back in the direction she came. Woods waited patiently for a good minute, when she had almost disappeared in the distance, before folding up the newspaper, and waving goodbye to the shop-keeper who nodded politely.

For Woods, urban tracking was a skill that came naturally to him. He instinctively understood body language and a key component of ensuring you are never spotted following someone, is to read the target’s behaviour with great skill and perception.

Little gestures like slowing their pace, hesitating before stops … turning around …. Woods could anticipate and predict these gestures and knew how to break line of sight, often dodging into shops or simply hiding behind poles, turning his back on the target.

Such skill was often underappreciated by the target themselves, unless they were a professional, which to Woods’ suspicion, Sofia Sumarwata was. Her elegant pace never changed once, but her alertness was high, as judged by her constant scanning of her surroundings. Woods also noted that she was a taking very circuitous route to her home, which to his concern, was not where she was heading at all.

The distance between her flat and Le Petit Cafe was no less than 4 kilometres, a simple right angle route that would take her only 20 or so minutes to cover.

They were now in the opposite direction to her flat and Woods could sense that Sofia Sumarwata was heading somewhere else, somewhere where her every movement wasn’t observed by UK intelligence services and every single electronic item in her home wasn’t teeming with bugs.

Woods’ original plan was to introduce himself her at her home, stating that he had only just moved in to the flat near hers, using his considerable charm to present himself as the “affable neighbour” but now that plan was scrapped.

As his mind raced to determine where exactly Sofia was going, Sofia herself made the answer known.

Stopping front of a completely unknown building to the SIS, Sofia fished out an electronic fob and waved it in front of the card reader.

In the 30 seconds that the entire process had taken Sofia to enter the building, a myriad of things happened in Wood’s mind.

The apartment building that Sofia was entering, was extremely upscale. It was christened the Londowntowne, and was promoting itself to be a home away from home, one of those new fads where people could rent an expensive place out for a week and enjoy luxuries that couldn’t normally be afforded at home.

With its contemporary design, all glass, steel, obsidian rock and carefully placed greenery, the Londontowne was a symbol of modernity amidst all the history that ruled much of the capital that had stood for 2000 years.

Naturally, it was an affront of English sensibilities and was an attractive eyesore to all that beheld it.

Owning to the newness of the building, Woods realised that he could still enact his plan.

As Sofia was about to let the shiny, automatic doors close behind her, Woods rushed forwards and banged on the glass.

The sound startled her and she turned around, nearly dropping the bag of baked goods.

Sorry! I forgot my key fob … do you mind letting me in? half shouted Woods.

Sofia nodded, and opened the door for Woods to enter.

Thanks so much. I only just moved in here. said Woods breathlessly, as he mimed a man in panic.

It’s not a problem. replied Sofia as she balanced the bag in her hand, whilst reaching for the elevator button.

Woods and Sofia stared at each other as they waited for the elevator to arrive, before Woods made the first move.

Say …. weren’t you at the cafe earlier today?

Sofia looked at him puzzled.

I only say that, because I recognise that bag. Le Petit Cafe right? queried Woods.

Yeah …. oh wait, you were the guy at the front weren’t you? said Sofia, as recognition dawned in her eyes, along with what seemed to Woods, a trace of suspicion

Yeah that was me. smiled Woods in a placating manner.

Sofia looked at Woods more closely and sighed.

It’s not going to work. she said softly and quietly with an air of resignation. There was a weariness in her tone, a quiet sadness that hinted at something darker within.

Any good spy knew instantly when their cover was blown. Woods hadn’t anticipated to be uncovered so soon, but then he was dealing with a fellow professional. Coincidences didn’t exist in the world of shadows. Both of them who each other was.

No more lies. Only the truth and a plea directly to the heart.

Woods didn’t reply to her, but merely ushered her in the elevator silently and looked at the buttons expectantly. Sofia pressed the button for the 9th floor. As they rode up in silence, Woods looked at Sofia with a blank expression, revealing nothing that was going on in his mind.

For the first time, in her life, Sofia felt a strange mixture of fear and hope blossom in her heart.

As the doors slid open, Woods checked both aisle of the corridors quickly before taking Sofia by the arm and leading her out gently. As they walked to the room 904, Woods kept his hands loose, ready to draw his pistol at any second.

How many inside? asked Woods intensely.

She shook her head. Woods glared at her and held out his hand for the electronic fob.

As the door beeped open, Woods motioned for Sofia to go in first, as he followed closely behind, his paranoia almost at a feverish pitch.

After a thorough search of the apartment, which was luxuriously furbished with contemporary aesthetics, Woods only found Sofia’s overnight bag. Going back, he motioned her to stretch out her arms. To his surprise, Sofia was completely clean. There was only her phone, wallet and keys.

Everything so far matching the intelligence gathered on her … whatever methodology she was using to communicate with the Sphinx was well-disguised. Her movements might be suspicious, but then so was the behaviour of people who cheated on spouses and that didn’t indicate mass murder on a international scale.

Motioning her to sit on the couch in the centre of the room, Woods took his place opposite her. He adopted a comfortable position, crossing his legs and leaning back. This only seemed to put her on edge further.

It was the tan wasn’t it? asked Woods with a cold ironic sense of humour.

Sofia looked at him puzzled. She didn’t know how to respond.

Yeah I figured … answered Woods to his own question. Do you mind if I ask you something?

Sofia didn’t respond.

Do you love him?

Her brown eyes widened in surprise. She was unable to hide her true feelings

Of course you do surmised Woods. Why go through all of this if you weren’t in love?

It can’t be out of revenge. Your husband’s ghost has longed been silenced in your mind …

It definitely can’t be out of religious zealotry. I know you pray everyday, but your clothes, your lifestyle … it fights who you see yourself before God.

There’s no real money in all of this either … I mean …. all of this Woods gestured at the phoney apartment they were sitting in. I know you didn’t pay for.

So … if it’s not money, revenge, fanaticism or patriotism … why be a courier Sofia?

Sofia Sumarwata looked at the spy before her, his emerald eyes boring into her own, eager to uncover the truth behind her actions, her long career as a enabler of terrorist acts.

She was certain that he was working for the other side. He was far too well dressed, and had an strange accent that seemed to blend American, English and Australian inflections. Then there was the suspicious timing of their meeting. Why, with only 2 days until the Valentine Day deadline was a person meeting her, at her safehouse?

That was, until Woods asked her in fluent Farsi

When did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia Sumarwata did a double-take at the change in language. The man before her was speaking in her mother Iranian tongue with a curious dialect that could only be mistaken for a native. Now confusion reigned supreme in her mind. She was unsure how to respond to the man before her.

It’s OK Sofia, I am a friend. But I need to know that you are still loyal to the cause said Woods beseechingly in Farsi.

So tell me … when did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia tore her eyes away from Woods, unable to speak. For some compelling reason, she believed him. Of course Hassan would send someone to test her on the eve of his biggest event. She had never felt lonelier than the past 6 months without him and here was a man who was part of the cause and wanted to know, so that he … and Hassan could trust her still.

Holding back a big emotional sigh, Sofia told the Queen’s Assassin the whole story.

~

My husband was a man who looked after his family. For Hakim, there was nothing more important than his younger brother, Assad who loved to make trouble.

It all started with Assad, when he decided to join the Taliban in their fight against the Americans. Hakim didn’t want any part of it, because he was betrothed to me. He made Assad promise to only join, after we got married so that he could look after him better.

But Assad didn’t listen. Only a week later, he got into a firefight with an American squad patrolling our area. He managed to escape, but was wounded in the fight. This was on the night of our wedding. Hakim heard what happened, kissed me once and ran into the night to rescue his brother.

I was left alone, in my wedding dress, screaming for him to come back. He didn’t once look back at me.

Hakim never returned.

Because when he finally found his brother, Assad had bled out in a ditch, alone. That very night, he marched into the caves and demanded a vest. Of course they gave him one …. and he immediately walked over to the checkpoint that had been set up near where we were getting married and killed 7 soldiers.

I heard the blast from my home and at that moment, I knew I had lost him.

My brothers later told me, that he was still wearing his wedding suit when he died.

I knew Hakim for 10 years. We grew up together, played football together, shared tea … He was my first and only ever crush. We kissed each other when we were 16.

Hakim and I made a promise to each other to stay together forever.

Then in one night, he was stolen away from me. By the Americans. By the soldiers who can’t seem to understand us, by men who think they have the right to decide what is good for our people.

4 months after Hakim’s sacrifice … someone came to my family’s home and asked for me.

They told me that if I wanted to honour Hakim, I was to enter the caves and be reborn a fighter.

They gave me a week to consider it.

I only needed 2 days.

The next 6 months, changed me forever. By the time I left the caves, I wasn’t a girl anymore. I had become a warrior.

My very first mission was when I first met Hassan Malik. I never thought I would ever meet anyone like Hakim.

Hassan changed all of that. He knew I would be nervous and afraid. My mission was to lure an American Officer away from the base, so that we could capture him and demand a ransom. But I didn’t know how to.

Hassan showed me the way. How I could be more of a weapon, how I could use my feminine wiles to further the cause. How much of an asset I could be. How I could bring justice to the memory of Hakim.

How I could be loved again.

I’ve never made love to a man as skilled and gentle as him. I felt like a woman reborn under him. Hassan gave me more than purpose, he gave me life.

After that first mission, I didn’t see him again for months. I did what he asked and maintained a low profile. But I missed him terribly.

It was only in the spring of that year, that I finally saw him again. He was just as gentle as I remembered, as beautiful as the green grass that surrounded us and as warm as the desert sun.

I am forever his. I will love another man, as deeply as I love Hassan now.

We used to chat online, but that became too dangerous.

Now we just deliver food to each other. It is not the same, but that is the only way I can continue to communicate with my love.

~

The Queen’s Assassin left the latest eyesore of London and the beautiful, grieving, romantic widow only minutes later, his mind racing at the genius of the Sphinx’s terrorist cell communication method.

Before he left, he had comforted Sofia the best he could, with one hand around her heaving shoulders throughout her lonely sobs and the other, hacking into her cell-phone to extract all the meta-data hidden in her apps.

Somewhere, deep down, he pitied her, but he couldn’t afford to spare any true sympathy for her. Her love made her vulnerable to manipulation and at the end of the day, no matter how tragic her story was, it didn’t give her the right to create more widows like herself.

The genius of their communication methodology could not be denied though.

Through the use of Just Eat food delivery service, Sofia had been coordinating all the individual cells, at their safe houses, with encrypted messages added onto the food delivery in the meals. It would be brief sentences that would contain the encryption key for cells to unlock further instructions online.

This avoided unnecessary online communication that could be intercepted, and also made everything subtle, as delivering food could be seen as a kind gesture. Even then, as Woods trawled through Sofia’s order history, she only made food deliveries occasionally, no more than once a day, to ensure the operational security was tight.

Hence why everyone missed this.

Gabriel Woods smiled coldly to himself. It was only hours into the chase and yet he was closer to the Sphinx than anyone before him.

Hailing a taxi to drop him back to his car, Woods checked his tail several times, making random loops around London to ensure no other operatives were following him, before driving back to his safe house in St James.

As Gabriel Woods began to make his dinner for the night, and prepare the steps for the next 24 hours, he wondered what was going on in the Sphinx’s mind right now.

Author’s Note

It has been a long time since I returned to make another entry into the Espionage series. Sometimes I get huge writer’s block and need to step away before re-reading my own material and knowing where the story can go next.

It was originally planned to have Woods seduce Sofia into revealing the method in which the Sphinx’s terror cell communicated, but I couldn’t justify a completely random, out of the blue sexual tension between opposing side without a huge amount of build-up (one of the many lessons I learned not to do from Spectre (2015), that horribly written James Bond film).

So instead I wanted to delve deeper into why Sofia was doing what she doing and I think I took a lot of inspiration from the Gabriel Allon series which always highlight the common tragedies that plague the Middle East and how both sides suffer.

The food delivery idea is just something I happened to create on the spot, and personally would like to thank my own genius. Obviously the Sphinx’s terror cell must be well funded to afford the exorbitant prices that come with food delivery and doubtless an accountant in the terror organisation would be having a stroke at the running cost, but it is a very sneaky and clever way to deliver messages.

I am of course, not advocating for terror organisations to start using Uber Delivery Drivers as couriers and I definitely do not want them to adopt the idea!

If you wish to read the previous entries, merely type in espionage on my search bar!

Anyway, hopefully the next chapter comes soon!

~ Damocles

RAC3R

Mazda RX-7 FD3S at Bathurst – All credit goes to The Lowdown for their incredible photography.

At 100,000 strong, the atmosphere around the race track resembled the Ancient Roman’s Colosseum; excited, energetic and predatory with anticipation.

Down the start/finish straight, the pit-lane was busy with preparations for the upcoming race. Drills whirred, cranks creaked under the strain of hoisting machinery aloft, and there was the usual precise, techno-jargon that all engineers and racers understood better than their native language.

Give me a quarter more boost here.

Turn this exactly 2 more quarter screws.

What’s the tailwind like out of turn 5?

Adjust Mode 75, I repeat, adjust Mode 75

Adjust my front brake bias by an extra 4.7%

Button 9 is now used for overtake function.

You are 4 centimetres too left going into turn 14

If the atmosphere, tension and nerves was getting to Daniel Lockeheart, there were no signs of it as he stood calmly in the garage as engineers fussed over his car. At 19 years old, with dark brown hair that was always cut a bit too short, and emerald green eyes, Lockeheart’s attitude belied his youth, with a seriousness that spoke of much more racing experience than he possessed.

He had the scar to prove it too. A long wicked scar ran across his left cheekbone, courtesy of a stray piece of carbon fibre that smashed through the gap in his visor. Even to this day, Lockeheart recalled the number of stitches required to get his face mended.

It didn’t stop him from getting back in the car, and finishing the race though.

Staring out at the crowd, with his headset over his ears, Lockeheart was busy visualising the track layout of Mount Panorama, for the upcoming sprint race to the sounds of Japanese rock, from his favourite game Gran Turismo – Sport, the inspiring lyrics and addicting electronic rock from maestro Daiki Kasho allowing him to create an internal rhythm of how he would approach each corner.

At a length of 6.213km, Mount Panorama was one of the most unforgiving tracks in the world, with iconic ascents and descents that punished drivers for the smallest of errors. With long straights, that dominate Sector 1 and 3 and incredible difficult braking points, with even trickier chicanes and esses for Sector 2, Mount Panorama barely allowed anyone to breathe, before they start another assault on the track.

Earlier that day, there had already been 4 safety car deployments for the Scuderia Ferrari challenge, with their monstrously wide and powerful Ferrari 488 Evo GT3s crashing at iconic locations that have traditionally always claimed drivers, like The Cutting and The Dipper.

The most spectacular of the crashes caused a red flag, suspending the race, after an overly ambitious Taiwanese driver, pushing his 488 to its absolute limit, came flying down the super long Conrod Straight in excess of 270km/h. With horrible misjudgement of his braking in time for the The Chase corner, the Taiwanese driver sent the supercar flying off into the grass and dirt, plowing through multiple speed signage and flipping the car several times, before coming to a bruising and horrific halt.

Through a miracle, the driver survived the crash, with nothing but a sore neck, thanks to the safety features of the car and his crash helmet. However, due to the severity of the crash and damage to the track, Lockeheart’s tuner sprint race was delayed by an hour.

Whilst other drivers chose to peel off their race suits and get comfortable, Lockeheart instead retreated to the simulator at the rear of his team’s motorhome and played with his lap times, punching in his average lap times from practice sessions and attempting to find the mystery tenths that would enable him to get ahead.

By the time the 15 minute warning came, Lockeheart had driven the circuit so many times, to the point he was driving by instinct, the ideal mental state for a driver as it free up his mind to focus on other tasks. As the announcement died away, Lockeheart merely stepped away from the simulator and walked into the pit garage, his mind clear and still focused on the race compared to other drivers who were now struggling to amp themselves up again.

Interior of the Mazda RX-7 FD3S.

With its average lap time of 2 minutes and 14 seconds, the tuner 20 laps sprint race, was still an exhausting and taxing endeavour, as was atypical of your racing at Mount Panorama. After all, Australian racing, was not so much about clean racing, as it was about who could survive lap after lap of assaulting a course that crashed, banged and trashed every part of your body along the way.

The winner of any race at Mount Panorama was delivered by the elimination of lesser drivers, who cannot handle the stress and were simply not insane enough to post competitive lap times.

45 minutes of long, precise and daring manoeuvring was required by Lockeheart to make up his poor qualifying session starting 7th out of 15 racers. Despite the monumental task ahead of him, Lockeheart was not unduly worried.

His race pace, was something else to behold, and his team knew better than to question Lockeheart’s inherent ability to find gaps where none seemed possible. He was typical of Australian racers …. daring, brash and bordering on insane, but fair on the overtakes and Lockeheart knew he had the machinery to climb where none others could.

His car, a heavily modified Mazda RX-7 FD3S was a 90s JDM that still enjoyed strong competitiveness in hillclimbs and descents. With its iconic rotary engine, providing near perfect power-to-weight ratio, low slung body and precise handling, the Mazda RX-7 FD3S was going to make places over the other modified cars.

But the question was, how many?

As the 5 minute warning came through the garage, Lockeheart stepped into his white RX-7 and listened to the iconic rumbling of the rotary engine at idle. A cross between a growl and a burble, the sound was deafening in the garage, as Lockeheart revved it several times to ensure everything was working well.

Brap … Braappp! Brap .. Brap, Brap, Braappp!

Giving the thumbs up to his engineer, Lockeheart felt the car being lowered down to the floor and waited for the signal from his pit crew, before peeling out into the sunshine and the rough track that only a country like Australia could create.

The starting grid for the Tuner GT Championship, with this final sprint determining the championship leader.

Cheers from the grandstands came through in a muffled roar as they filtered through his distinct red/black crash helmet, and he slid in behind the slipstream of the car in front, a grey BMW M3.

However it was really the top 3 cars that warranted his attention, a dark purple Nissan R33 GTR that belonged to a Japanese racer: Tak Nakigama; a matte red Audi Quattro TT helmed by a young German, Ben Waldorf and the racing green a Porsche 911 that belonged to an Australian, Jordan Chaser. Each car was third, second and first respectively and fine racers all.

It was the Porsche he feared the most though. If Waldorf’s Audi and Nissan of Nakigama could not keep him busy, there was a very good chance, the insufferable braggart at the wheel, Jordan Chaser, would get a clean getaway and pull away on the straights, where the Porsche’s horsepower would outrun anything behind it.

Behind the visor, Daniel Lockeheart scowled at the thought of Jordan Chaser winning the race. Never mind the fact that this race was going to determine who was going to earn a spot at a top level team next season, or that the prize money was enough to cover his rent for 7 months … losing to Chaser was more humiliation than he could bear. Especially after the rude send-off he had given Lockeheart after scoring pole position in the qualifying.

Sighing, Lockeheart looked down at his dash and noted everything seemed OK. Chaser and Lockeheart had a long history and none of it was pretty but his job right now was to catch the man, when he was a full second and a half behind.

As the 20 cars slowly trundled up the track for their formation lap, many began weaving along the straights, attempting to bring more heat into their cold tyres and get them switched on in time for the race. Keeping an eye on the gauge that indicated the tyres’ temperatures, Lockeheart heard his race engineer’s voice over the radio in his helmet.

Just a reminder, 7th position is on the left side of the track when you come to the grid.

Copy that. replied Lockeheart curtly.

As they came through the fastest right-hander that indicated the section known as The Chase , Lockeheart saw Chaser’s green 911 turn left into Murray’s Corner. A strange premonition came over Lockeheart, as he had this strange feeling that his race would depend on a late lunge into that corner.

Shaking it off, Lockeheart heeded his engineer’s advice and parked his Mazda RX-7 on the left side of the track, the inside line as they came to Hell Corner.

The race was now about to begin.

One of the most challenging tracks in the world, Mount Panorama is famous for the Supercar championship and my screams of rage as I scrape the walls and mess up my exits in Gran Turismo: Sport. Many races have been abandoned and sessions ending with me tossing my simulator wheel aside in frustration.

T minus 10 said the race engineer in Lockeheart’s ear.

Silence descended over the grid, with only the rumbling of many different engines to soothe the tension. The crowd’s energy was now suppressed, their excitement now under a bubble of anticipation. People put their food down to watch the start, chatter died away and all eyes were now eyeing the cars on the grie.

Lockeheart flexed his fingers over the wheel of his precious car and found himself murmuring under his breath, as was his habit

Keep it clean. Keep it clean. Clean.

To his rear right, was a eager 8th placed, Taiwanese racer, Tim Wu in his yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, its chassis jumping about as Wu revved his engine aggressively.

His immediate front was taken up by the tail-lights of the 5th placed grey BMW M3 he was shadowing the entire formation lap, driven by an Egyptian, Ishan Koury, a fine racer that had recorded many battles with Lockeheart.

Meanwhile his front right was blocked by a 6th placed orange Holden V8 Commodore, whose engine rumbling was familiar enough to anyone who had the unpleasant experience of being drawn into an impromptu street drag with one at a traffic light and driven by a bogan stereotype, Sam Jones, with his mullet hair peeking out from underneath his crash helemt.

Lockeheart knew his car did not have the acceleration to storm past the Commodore, but if he could draft behind the M3, and judge his braking point right, he could take the Holden in Hell’s Corner.

The 5 dark lights began to flash red, 1 second at a time … one after the other …

5

4

3

2

1

Then they disappeared.

Note the incredible list of decals on the side of the RX-7, each of them indicating the source of the parts in this vehicle. I have always loved RE Amemiya after-market parts and this car exemplifies why I love that brand so much.

Within two tenths of the lights shutting off, Lockeheart slammed his foot down, the rotary engine roaring with all the muscle of its’ 255 brake horsepower and slammed his stick shift into first.

Within seconds, he was shifting into second, and flying down the main straight, following the M3 incredibly closely, with only 2 metres separating the cars from a collision.

Then every single car’s red brake lights lit up, as they approached Hell’s corner.

Up ahead, Chaser had a poor start, mistiming his shifts as he struggled to pull his Porsche 911 away from the pack.

Smelling blood, Waldorf in his Audi nudged closer to Chaser, as they went almost side by side into Hell’s Corner, Chaser desperately trying to protect the inside line, whilst Waldorf struggled for grip around the outside.

Bang!

The two cars touched, bumper to bumper, as the TT’s nose nudged the rear of the 911 and Chaser twisted his wheel to and fro viciously to correct the incoming spin at 90km/h. The over-correction was costly and Chaser cursed Waldorf’s name loudly as the Audi came alongside and overtook him.

The curse became even more pronounced when Nakigama’s GTR also came blazing past, the mighty roar of the Godzilla’s powerful engines screaming in his ears. Slamming his foot down furiously, Chaser punched his 911 down the Mountain Straight, not caring about the small bump that scraped his underside, desperate to regain his lead.

Meanwhile in the pack, Lockeheart had timed his small drag race to Hell’s Corner perfectly, the slipstream behind Koury’s M3 giving him extra speed to out-run the more powerful Commodore. The rotary’s engine kept an running commentary of Lockeheart’s actions with exhaust fire and brapping noises, as he turned the RX-7 into the corner and out-braked Jones’ Commodore by a clear car length.

To both the M3 and RX-7’s delight, Cho’s 86 had gone wide on the exit of Hell’s Corner, the rear wheels of the Toyota scrabbling for grip as it touched the grass. Lockeheart mimicked Koury’s acceleration down the Mountain Straight, as they zoomed past the struggling 86.

Pacing himself and pleased with 2 overtakes, in the space of 1 corner, Lockeheart settled down his heart-rate and focused on following the Egyptian’s BMW through Griffin’s Bend, and then upwards towards The Cutting, the sharp lefts followed by a more sweeping vertical right hander.

As the pair of cars rocketed up the mountain, Lockeheart did his best to keep the car planted and grippy, preferring to not risk drifting his car and destroying the tyres too early. As they reached the peak of the mountain at McPhillamy Park, and begin their slow, technical descent, Lockeheart noted that Koury made a mistake at the Skyline that would compromise the entire flow of his rhythm through the Esses.

Koury had braked too late.

White smoke billowed out from the rear tyres of the M3 as Koury desperately tried to avoid the wall, the car screeching horrifically and filling the cockpit of the RX-7 with the smell of burning rubber.

As the M3 veered raggedly to the right, Lockeheart, without fear nor hesitation, kept his foot steady and the car fast through the smoke of the burning rubber, jinxing his chariot to the left, on the inside line of the corner.

The M3 crunched into the wall, with Koury scrapping the side of his M3 and shattering the left side mirror. Somehow the car managed to right itself, but was now damaged in the most iconic of Mt Panorama ways, the wallrider scar.

Koury’s mistake though, meant that Lockeheart now had nothing between him and the top 3 drivers, with Waldorf still in the lead, Chaser’s 911 having barged its way back into second and Nakigama’s R33 itself only 2 seconds in front.

Clean air, clean laps. whispered Lockeheart inside his helmet, the sweat and perspiration of his concentrated effort soaking into his Nomex balaclava.

The RX-7 slowed down into second gear, as Lockeheart steered the front of the car into the most difficult corner of the track, Forrest’s Elbow, a near blind hairpin, with a steep descent. The turn seemed to last forever, but as the nose cleared the apex, he punched the accelerator, correcting the car as the rear slid out a tiny bit.

It was now time to tackle the Conrod Straight, and achieve top speed.

The rotary engine roared, as the rev indicator went to the red limit, then flicked down as Lockeheart shifted up. Within seconds, the RX-7 was carving a hole through the air, at 240km/h, nearing its absolute top speed, before Lockeheart lifted his foot ever so slightly to swing the car to the left, to prepare for the fast right hander that would end with The Chase’s chicane of left and right turns, a move designed to bring cars from their top speed down to a crawl of 80km/h.

Conscious of the Ferrari 488 that came before, but aware he had to be committed, Lockeheart blasted through the sweeping right turn and then slammed on the brakes, as he approached the turn, downshifting expertly mid-way through the corner, so he could reserve speed. Short shifting as he approached the right turn, he kept his revs high as the car screamed the last 200 metres to the final corner, Murray’s Corner that led onto the main straight.

The braaaaaaapppp of the rotary’s engine thrilled every single spectator on the grandstands as they watched the white RX-7’s front left wheel deftly cut the corner perfectly, millimetres away from the wall, and come shooting through onto the main straight, flames shooting out the exhaust as the engine fired its way up into high revs again accelerating the low slung car across the finish line in a blur of ferocious speed.

Cheers followed the car as it braked hard into Hell’s Corner and once again began its ascent into Australian bushland racing.

The Lowdown has a talent for finding the best modified vehicles, with owners that have an serious eye for aesthetics. Am proud to say that the company is based in Melbourne and that their website is quintessential car porn.

Gap to car in front, is 5-tenths. You are within 2 laps of getting Nakigama. Hunt. Him. Down.

The race engineer’s voice echoed in Lockeheart’s head, as he roared past Hell’s Corner for the 13th time. After the heroics of the first lap, the race had settled down, with drivers now concentrating on maintaining smooth rhythms through turns and chicanes and bumps. Koury in his M3, for a time had mounted a challenge to Lockeheart’s pace, but after 4 laps of chasing, was unable to keep the iconic black strip of the Rx-7’s taillights in view and dropped back to manage his tyres.

On his side of the cockpit, Lockeheart ignored the threat, choosing to focus on his laps and listen to his race engineer as they told him when to brake later and when to relax, to conserve his tyres. Thanks to his smooth and consistent driving, the RX-7 was in a serious contention for a podium finish, with Nakigama’s R33 now within sight, just disappearing around the next corner, as Lockeheart chased.

By the end of the 15th lap, Lockeheart was now within 2 tenths of Nakigama, the 4 red tail-lights of the R33 taunting him only metres in front.

As they both cleared Hell’s Corner, and proceeded down the Mountain Straight, Lockeheart kept his RX-7 directly in the slipstream of the much bigger purple car and felt, rather than saw, his car get closer and closer to the rear bumper of the R33.

With just 200 metres to go of the straight left, Lockeheart jinxed his car to the right, taking inside line to Griffin’s Bend, as Nakigama began his braking early.

Carrying more speed, Lockeheart waited for a heart-stopping second as the rear of his car cleared past Nakigama and downshifted, as the RX-7 screamed in high revolutions into the corner, the front right clipping the off-camber kerb and the RX-7 roared again, as Lockeheart upshifted, and put his foot down, the white paint of his car, millimetres from wall-riding out the exit and to the complete shock of Nakigama, was already halfway up towards The Cutting by the time he accelerated.

The victorious roars of his crew came through the radio, as Lockeheart smiled in relief at the daring move and began to negotiate the next series of turns.

Yes mate! Fucking yes! OK, Waldorf and Chaser up next, they are only 9 tenths ahead! breathed his race engineer heavily into the radio, as he struggled for air after his exuberant cheering.

By the time the 20th lap came, Lockeheart was eyeing the Audi of Waldorf’s as it cleared its way through the Esses, Chaser finally overtaking the German on the prior Lap 18, down the Conrod Straight.

It was also at the critical point of the race, where all the drivers were suffering from massive degradation on their tyres and lap times were increasing, as the cars were unable to push their limits any further. Wallriding was now more common, with Tran’s Impreza and Wu’s yellow Evo X retiring in the pit lanes after extensive damage to their front bumpers and side doors.

Other racers like Koury’s M3 and Lowry’s brown Golf kept going, but due to their wallriding scare, were unable to post competitive lap times, falling prey to calmer heads like Suki Fujiwara, the only female racer on the grid, whose pink RX-8 was now entering into the Top 5, her car now attacking the rear of Cho’s 86.

It was also time for Lockeheart to take advantage of the unique properties of his RX-7 FD3S. With lap times such as they were, drifting was now a viable option, although Lockeheart would have to use it sparingly to save the grip for the long straights.

It was this weapon that Lockeheart intended to use for the two cars that separated him from victory.

Is there anything more pleasing to a gearhead than the sight of a beautifully crafted machine, against the backdrop of a gorgeous landscape and road? The answer is no.

Lap 21 commenced and Lockeheart was still behind Waldorf, his Audi employing dubious defensive techniques that restricted passing. As they roared past the spectators standing at Quarry’s Corner, Lockeheart knew that he was running out of laps to hunt down Chaser who was maintaining a strong 5 tenth gap between himself and the two cars running behind him.

Still pressuring Waldorf, Lockeheart began to feint his car to the inside as they passed Reid Park, the Germa gamely blocking the move with a blatant block that covered the entirety of the track.

Lockeheart backed off, braking for a nanosecond, as he allowed Waldorf to retain the lead into Turn 7, before again baiting Waldorf with a move that was never going to work in Turn 9.

Waldorf took the bait, again, blocking Lockeheart’s feint, moving his Audi over to the left, leaving the right side of the track clear into Turn 10.

As the two cars came through the small straight that separated Turn 9 and 10, Waldorf began to brake for the dip into Turn 10, maintaining his left side of the track.

But as he downshifted cautiously, the brap, brap, braapppp of Lockeheart’s rotary engine filled the cockpit of the Audi and the German could only watch in astonishment, as at nearly 100km/h, the RX-7 FD3S came drifting to the right of him!

The white Mazda blazed past in an arrogant showman display of driving skills and insane desperation, and Waldorf could only watch, his mouth agape as the Mazda continued sideways down the track, tyres screeching and burning, before performing an inertia drift the other direction, the car’s long nose facing the right direction, just in time for the Skyline’s Turn 11 right hander.

His astonishment and fear of a crash, had inevitably caused the Audi TT to slow down and by the time he recovered from his shock, Lockeheart’s Mazda had already gong through the Esses and begun slowing down for The Dipper, a full 6 tenths ahead of the stubborn German.

The cheers that came through the radio, was only matched by the flabbergasted screams of delight from the entire circuit as they watched the replay of the overtake in slow motion, each race-fan’s attention now focused solely on the image of the white Mazda RX-7 FD3S chasing down the racing green Porsche 911.

As Lockeheart sped down the Conrod Straight, and into the final corner, a Mexican wave followed his progress, the crowd now fully invested in his pursuit of a win.

I remember seeing this car for the first time, and just admiring the overall curvature of it all. It is such an undeniably attractive chassis and in spite of its age, still remains a stunning representation of Japanese automotive aesthetics.

Lap 24 of 25.

Lockeheart’s mind was now melded completely into his machine. Every single turn was taken even smoother than it was before. The sensation of driving was instinctual, guttural and beautifully balanced. Even the car’s slight wiggles as the tyres struggled for grip, were corrected within a microsecond. After a single lap, it was clear to all, who had the superior pace.

By the time the RX-7 had climbed to the peak of Mount Panorama on the 24th lap, the distance between Chaser and Lockeheart was now within 3 tenths of each other.

Less than 2 car lengths apart.

Game on.

Lockeheart harassed the 911 all the way through the Esses and even managed to nudge his nose past the 911 on the entrance of Forrest’s Elbow. However the 911 was not a machine to be underestimated lightly, the superior horsepower on the precision driving machine instantly checking the RX-7 in place, as both cars rocketed down the Conrod’s Straight.

But it was in the turns where the RX-7 shone, and the crowd were on their feet, as they watched the RX-7 shoot through the chicane of The Chase and gain on the 911 as they approached Murray’s Corner.

They entered the corner, end to end.

Chaser, in his desperation, braked checked Lockeheart. Slowing down more than necessarily, intending for the RX-7 to ram into the back of his 911.

Lockeheart’s green eyes widened, as he recalled the odd feeling he had before the race, in the formation lap.

Man and machine reacted instantly, and Lockeheart spun the wheel, sending his car into a drift, around the rear of the 911 and on the outside.

Boos turned into yells of encouragement as the crowd watched the white RX-7, flames brapping and smoke shredding from the tyres, almost overtook the 911, the two cars crossing the line side by side.

The final lap was now commencing.

Do or die.

The 911 entered Hell’s Corner for the final time, ahead.

The RX-7 completed the same turn, a nanosecond later.

The sounds of the rotary clashed with the aggressive growl of the Porsche all the way down the Mountain Straight.

The RX-7 once again, shows its nose alongside the 911 as they enter Griffin’s Bend almost side by side, the 911 only just edging out the RX-7 as they shoot through The Cutting, then Quarry Corner, up past Reid Park, and into Frog Hollow.

Chaser’s breathing is erratic and his heartbeat is pounding away nearly at the same beat as his engine.

Lockeheart’s breathing is shallow but controlled, the rear lights of his prey all he can see, as he probed for any opportunity.

Then, there it was, at the most critical section of the race, where Lockeheart had seen the most luck swing his way.

Skyline, Turn 11.

Chaser, panicked, stressed and desperate, unaware of the stress his tyres had gone through after 25 laps of hard racing, not caring and frantic for breathing room away from Lockeheart, over-committed into Skyline

Realising a nanosecond after his fatal error, Jordan Chaser slammed both of his racing boots into the brake pedal and yanked hard on the handbrake.

But the tyres had no grip, regardless of how much braking power the 911 possessed.

A huge lock-up occurred, as the wheels refused to spin, and the smoke that came from the rubber burning clouded the track.

Daniel Lockeheart didn’t even pause. He went to the inside of Skyline and neatly overtook the POrsche, as the poor 911 wall-rode for an excruciating 2 seconds, before Chaser managed to peel it away.

Through The Dipper the RX-7 flew, right, left, right, left before slowing down for Forrest’s Elbow.

As Lockeheart came to a crawl around the Elbow, he briefly checked his rear view mirror and within a heartbeat of realising what was going to happen, punched his accelerator harder than he had ever had, as Jordan Chaser came back at him, intent on vengeance.

The 911 almost slammed into the back of the RX-7.

Lockeheart and Chaser flew down the Conrod Straight, both cars whining as they were pushed to their limit for the final time. The 911 roared in Lockeheart’s mind, as it came alongside the RX-7 and was about to overtake him.

NO! screamed Lockeheart in his mind.

But then they had to slow for the fastest right turn on the circuit, and both cars were side by side when they approached the final chicane: The Chase.

It was then Lockeheart did the unthinkable.

He yielded the lead to Chaser. He allowed the 911 to pass him into the final chicane

Chaser braked harder than he had ever done before as he tried to set up his car for a good exit out of final turn of The Chase.

But he had mistimed it all wrong, and he was upshifting poorly as his 911 neared Murray’s Corner. Chaser though was confident. Lockeheart had let him past, he was going to win. No matter what he did, poor entry speed into Murray’s Corner or not, the race was his.

So Jordan Chaser gingerly took Murray’s Corner … much slower than he needed to.

It was then, Lockeheart initiated his plan. He knew, deep down, that the 911 was going to beat him down the Conrod Straight. So this was his only chance. The only time he could catch Chaser off-guard. When he thought he had gotten the final jump over Lockeheart.

The 911 had just begun its left turn onto the straight, to the boos of the crowd, when to their utter shock, delight and disbelief, Daniel Lockeheart’s white RX-7 FD3S drifted around the outside of the 911, the wheels smoking hot rubber on the tarmac of the road, and as both cars found their grip for the final tiny drag race, Daniel Lockeheart with his high revolutions and perfect timing on the upshift, nudged his car a mere 10cm ahead of the 911!

To the spectators, it looked like both cars crossed the line together, but when their eyes ventured up to the leaderboard, it was D. LOCKEHEART that was at the top!

Daniel Lockeheart had won, by a margin of 0.003.

3 thousands of a second.

The roar of a ballistic crowd and his team shattered everything Daniel had managed to build up for himself before and during the race and everything came out in a yell. His joy, his fears, his excitement, and his relief

YESSSSSSSSSS! YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! YEEESSSSSSS! screamed Lockeheart through the radio, his voice jubilant and echoing through the garage as his team of mechanics hugged each other in a big huddle, jumping up and down ecstatically.

YOU ARE THE MAN BRO! You are the goddamn man! I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT MOVE. You had us so bad with that fake-out out of Turn 22. Insane! screamed his race engineer.

Daniel Lockeheart laughed. Ah man. WE DID IT! YES! Great job today boys. The car felt unbelievable. This one is for us.

As Daniel waved to the crowd on the cool-down lap, through the open window of his Mazda, he looked down at his car, and patted the steering wheel gratefully.

Thank you car. whispered Daniel.

He was now a King of the Mountain. A race winner at Bathurst. A champion.

Author’s Note

Another surprisingly long short story, clocking in at 5K plus words, this one was mostly inspired by my constant re-reads of Hover Car Racer by Matthew Reilly in my teen years. I couldn’t put that book down, such was Reilly’s way with words and my already strong obsession with racing. I tried to do my own imitation of his fast paced writing, but honestly, I doubt anyone can copy his frenetic style.

This one is a love letter to racing, and what I have always loved and raced in video games. I am a self-confessed fan of 90s JDMs, having watch Initial D an unhealthy number of times and falling in love with their aesthetic, despite poor performance in comparison to other cars. Nowadays, the love is less obsessive, but I still harbour a strong soft-spot for them.

In reality, a 911 drive by someone capable, would easily smoke a RX-7 FD3S but then that is half the fun, imagining a scenario where a humble JDM, modified and restored with care and love, could go toe to toe with a high performance vehicle, costing twice as buy. After all, it’s usually the pilot that makes the final crucial difference between winning and losing.

A confession: I have actually never been to Mount Panorama, in Bathurst, but have always wanted to go, after hearing so much about the track and its quintessential Australian nature. I can already attest to the difficulty of the track, mostly judging from the endless number of laps I have put on it, in Gran Turismo – Sport.

I chose this track, because of its hill-climb and sharp descent, as well as iconic straights that can play to the strengths of a lot of different cars. However, that said, it is indeed a power circuit, hence why the Australian Supercar Championship is always held there (and why the 911 was able to stage such a late comeback, despite the wall riding).

Heavy inspiration was drawn from The Lowdown.com an automotive lifestyle brand that is based in Melbourne. I have been a fan of theirs, ever since exploring their high production videos on Youtube and am grateful for all the photos they have taken over the years, many of which are now wallpapers on my PC. I can only express my envy at some of the project cars that they have covered over the years and it was this feature that inspired me to use the RX-7 FD3S as the hero’s car.

As always, I hoped there aren’t too many grammatical mistakes and that you enjoyed reading this.

~ Damocles.

One last glory shot of the RX-7 FD3S, moving at speed at night, it’s luminous paint and black accents looking absolutely resplendent. Nothing beats a drive a night.

Habitué

Shame (2011). Even now, this film will occasionally creep into my consciousness and remind me how confronting cinema can be in the hands of an auteur. I watched this film, in my university days and it has haunted me since.

WARNING:

This story is about sex, addiction, and pornography. Please do not continue reading if you find such content offensive.

Insomnia gripped me like a desperate woman. Uncomfortably tight and uncompromisingly demanding.

I tossed aside my bed sheets and took several deep breaths. It was another dark, restless night alone. Just another one of those nights where nothing you do will knock you out. It is the middle of the week, and nothing has happened, yesterday or prior, is noteworthy.

I’ve always slept naked. Not only is it supremely comfortable, but it’s a habit I’ve found hard to shake off after lying in so many strangers’ bed in the exact same position, my eyes staring at the ceiling, the feeling of desire creeping up on my mind, and taking it and my body hostage.

I didn’t really feel like masturbating, but nothing else would put me to sleep. I have work the next day, in … 6 hours and I knew that if I didn’t masturbate, I would pull an all-nighter.

So I blearily shoved away my alarm clock and padded over to my computer. As the screen flickers on, I made sure to adjust my headphones so they sat comfortably on my head.

Soon, I am browsing my usual sites and the collection I have building away on my hard-drive. I like to download my favourite clips and organise them by category on my computer. My mind likes to start slow, browsing through artful nude photos of women, in various outfits and poses. My favourite ones involve a woman where she is just wearing panties and a dress shirt.

You can still see the shape of her breasts underneath the shirt, but it is just hidden by the transparent nature of the shirt. The reason why I prefer her to wear panties underneath, is because that is half the tease; half the fun. You can still see the shape of her vagina through the sheer lace panties, and the panties never take away anything from admiring her legs.

Your reward is when she finally takes it all off and lays it all to bare. Nude as the day as she was born and as resplendent as she will ever be.

Breasts, Butt and Thighs … the holy trinity all just hidden or accentuated just so in that outfit.

It’s a combination that never fails to get me hard.

Of course, only European porn does this sort of thing. They tend to try and make porn artsy. Typical Euro-pretentiousness, trying to make something vogue, despite its crude nature. Not that I am complaining, I am an customer after all. I download their photos all the time.

After feeling some heat begin to enter down below and my penis actually starts to awaken, I move onto my hardcore stuff. I prefer POV porn, as it is the only thing that really makes me feel like I am there, pounding and grunting away at the woman beneath me. I love it when the porn actress is a convincing screamer, when she knows how to time her moans and really stretch those vocals when she is about to orgasm.

What is wrong with vanilla sex? I hear you ask.

I’m just not overly fond of the male performers. It takes the immersion out of experience. It feels weird to be watching a couple go at it, even though in POV that is exactly what is happening. But that is just how my mind works. I can substitute another man’s penis for mine, but I can’t unsee his face.

After all, I want it to be me that is fucking the woman I am seeing on screen.

Besides, most of the male performers are damn ugly.

You think there would be more of a harsh criteria for male pornstars and their bodies.

As these thoughts chase through my mind, as I am watching scenes after scenes, I realise that I am still not getting close to that orgasm I crave.

What the hell is wrong with me today? I think to myself. What could it be? Why am I stroking my dick, but nothing is really working?

I move the mouse, onto something that has always worked for me. But now the tip of my penis is cherry red. It is getting rubbed raw. I am holding it too hard.

Cursing, I look at the bottom left of my computer. I’ve been at it for over an hour and nothing is working.

I want to sleep, but now my mind is too preoccupied with nude bodies and the moans of ecstasy.

So in desperation, I pick up my phone and dial my escort service I always use.

The silky tones of the operator answers almost immediately and promises a girl will be over in less than 10 minutes. I keep rubbing my penis the entire time I wait, eager to keep it hard for the call girl that will be over.

Time seems to stretch, and I find myself getting impatient and soft. So I start to envision where I will take this girl. The bedroom, the kitchen … up against the wall. Over by the balcony …. This perks me up again and I find something resembling pleasure creep into mind. My narcissistic, and lascivious thoughts are turning me on properly.

So by the time, I heard the soft knock at the door, I am ready for the stranger that will take me to Nirvana.

Blonde, buxom and bodacious, Serena walks in, and doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at my nakedness. Instead she grabs me by the arm and face and we begin to make out for an intense 30 seconds, before breaking apart.

My hands begin to peel the tight dress off her curves. She doesn’t hesitate to reach down and tug away at me. I toss her dress away and play with her pert breasts, enjoying how her nipples stiffen under my touch.

We start to make out again, no less intensely, as we slowly make our way to my king single bed. She wraps her legs around me, and I carry her to the bed, where I set her down roughly and scrabble at the bedside table for a condom.

She stops my search halfway, with her mouth around me, the sensation so sharp and agonisingly good that I stop moving and focus on the feeling of her tongue all over my cock.

However it is too good. The hour I spent masturbating had made me hard for too long. I ejaculate inside her mouth and at the peak of my orgasm, I feel this hot shame and frustration bubble over and pop inside my mind.

Serena looks disappointed in me., as she picks up a tissue and spits my load out. It was all too quick.

I can’t bear to look at her in the eyes, as she slips back on her dress and is gone from my apartment in less time than it took for her to arrive.

As I lie on my bed, I look across at my alarm clock and note that it was now only 4 hours to work. I had blown my load and 250 dollars in less than two hours, for an orgasm that felt terrible and unsatisfactory.

There was no way I was going to sleep now.

So, for the next 3 hours, I laid in bed, my eyes transfixed towards the ceiling and occasionally glancing over at the open window that overlooked the city of Melbourne. My mind went everywhere, from replaying scenes of porn in my mind to theorising what I was going to do at my job later today.

By the time the sun rose, I was also ready for work. Bitter and sour about my experience last night, a part of me was still fixated on getting a real orgasm.

The itch I couldn’t scratch.

I boarded the train with gritted teeth, and a terrible headache from my lack of sleep. I look a far cry from anything resembling Don Juan. However, despite my splitting migraine and baggy eyes, I still found the time to admire an attractive woman, in her mid-30s, with strawberry blonde hair. She was elfin in her looks, with porcelain skin.

She returned my gaze evenly, and we held each other’s eyes for a long time. I longed to do something with her throughout the entire train ride. My imagination pictured her naked, her long blonde hair trashing in the throes of ecstasy. The way how her voice would sound when I pushed her against the wall. The way how she would run her long fingers across my body.

She got off a stop early, so my chance with her was flushed away.

But I could tell there was something there, it was in the way how she looked back at me, once she left the train.

Perhaps I would see her again, at a similar time, on the same train in the future.

As I entered the lobby for my workplace, one of my colleague came up to me, excited.

Alfie! How have you been man? Keen for tonight?

Johnno, of course I am, my man. I’ll see you in the lobby at 6pm yeah?

You got it bro! Bring you A-Game!

As John dashed off to his desk, I settle into mine. It was going to be a long 8 hours. The work I did for the entire day was mediocre and lacklustre. It was all passable, but nothing to earn me the promotion I had been eyeing. I am unable to resist sneaking peeks at Euro porn throughout the entire shift. It helps that I have my own office with blinds.

To put it simply, I am unable to concentrate properly. Sex is all I have on my mind. I want that euphoria of an orgasm again.

Throughout my entire shift, I fight the urge to reach down and touch myself. Halfway through my lunch break, I think about making a break for the toilet.

The thought evolved into action.

I actually end up in the stall, jerking off. But again, I am unable to climax. Something is amiss today and I don’t know what it is.

Maybe I really do need a woman to get me off. But that’s normal right? There is no shame in that. I just have to score with John tonight and I know I’ll be happy again, and able to get some semblance of normalcy again. I can feel good again with my cock in hand and the sounds of a woman moaning.

The hours count down, until finally it hits 6pm. I look down at my suit pants and relieved that my penis is behaving somewhat normally. It isn’t erect. It’s just slightly engorged, not enough to really see anything. I promise it, that it will have its fill by the end of the tonight.

I meet John in the lobby and we head out to his favourite drinking spot. A watering hole that is more known for its hook-ups than its cocktails.

There, we hit it off with a pair of office-workers like us, two girls out for a spontaneous night of fun. Alice and Sharon. Alice is sweet and a lovely brunette. Without even checking with me, John selects her as his goal for the night. To my surprise, Sharon is the strawberry blonde I saw on the train earlier that day. We both pretend not to recognise each other, and I buy her a drink nevertheless.

As she speaks, all I can hear inside my mind are her potential moans. When she reaches out to touch me, when I make a joke, all I want is her to caress me tightly. Every toss of her hair and flirtatious gesture is amplified to the highest sexual degree in my head.

My pants are no longer able to hide my attraction. Not that Sharon cares, she brazenly touches me twice down there with a mischievousness that belied her casual nature.

As we get drunker and drunker, we eventually call it quits and wave goodbye to Alice and John, who don’t bother to acknowledge us, their eyes only staring at each other.

Somehow, in spite of our drunkenness, Sharon and I end up in a taxi together and she call out her address. The taxi ride itself is the most forgotten part of the night. Only the sense of movement is registered in my mind. I have waited all day for this.

By this time, my head is on her chest, my hands are full of her hips and my mouth is tasting the softness of her skin.

As we stumble together into her small apartment, we start to peel the clothes away. Everything is a haze of sensual alcoholic gratification. My mouth devours her lips, her breasts, her navel and her bush. She is squirming above me in titillation, unable to stop her body from reacting the way I want it to.

In an effort, she spins me around and wrap her mouth around my penis, as I tongue away at her. Soon the foreplay had built up to such an extent that I can feel pre-cum building on the tip of my penis and her vagina getting more and more wet by the second.

I push her head away and without pausing, hilt her. She screams and I ignore them for passionate cries.

But moments later, the fists start coming and flying at me fast. I am shoved off her and deprived of my wanton desires and I snap out of my feverish state to see Alice before me, her hands clutching her lower stomach in pain, tears streaming down, her brunette hair splayed across her face, hiding her pained expression.

I do a double take in shock and horror. Had I unwittingly committed rape? Where was Sharon? Why was Alice here? How did I get the two mixed up so badly? Where was John?

What have I done?

screams my mind above all the other thoughts.

I pick up my clothes and in my rush, hurt my still throbbing penis, it almost getting caught in the zipper of my pants. I stumble out of the apartment, still reeling from what just happened. My shirt is untucked, my blazer is skewed and my shoes aren’t slipped on properly.

What the hell just happened?!?!

I had only taken several steps, down a foreign block, when the weather changed drastically and the first pellets of rain slammed into my head.

I look up and hear the crack of lightning and thunder as it echoes throughout the sky.

Rain lashed at me, the chill killing any lingering thoughts of sex I had been so obsessed over for the whole day and I could only run to find shelter, as water slowly pooled in my shoes.

As the wind and water cut away at me like vengeance from a woman scorned, I struggle to bring out my phone and call for a taxi home. The feat was so difficult, I spent nearly 5 minutes thumbing for the number, my mind still wracked with guilt, shame and confusion.

When it finally arrives, I am soaked through. I am so wet, the driver even goes out of his way to spread a towel over the seats to prevent me from soaking the car further.

By the time I crawl into my apartment, I faced with a similar dilemma only earlier today. Only 4 hours of sleep until I need to get ready for work.

Only this time, no amount of porn, sex and titillation will get me to sleep.

I keep flashing back to seeing Alice. Where was Sharon …. had I made her up?

I glare at my computer and in a fit of rage, delete everything off it. Every single gigabyte of pornography, after years of collecting …. gone in a green bar that indicates deletion.

I feel like trashing my room, but refrain from doing so.

As I lie on my bed, soaking wet, naked and afraid … I come to a horrifying conclusion.

Everything that had happened today … all the misery, all the lack of pleasure, all the shame and delusions …. hallucinations … occurred because I was addicted.

I am an sex addict.

The thought flashed in my mind, as bright as neon, and I knew from then on, I knew I would never be the same person again.

I would never touch a woman the same way again.

I would never experience a woman’s moans without fear.

I would never approach sex again without anxiety.

I looked down at myself and saw for once, something flaccid and sad.

The true price of addiction.

Humiliation.

Author’s Note

Beyond breaking the normal taboo of writing and creating sexual content, I actually breached one of my personal rules, when it comes to fictional writing: I made the story entirely in first person.

There are several reasons for this, the most important, was that I wanted this Alfie character to be as immersive and haunting as possible. He is not meant to be a character to be liked … but pitied. He is a victim of his own doing, and I really wanted to tap into what life might be like for a sex addict. The only way to make this story as shocking and confronting as possible was to go beyond my comfort zone and really pretend I was an sexual addict. That meant writing in first person.

For the story itself, I purposefully skipped large chunks of his day and focused on the sexual aspects, because that is what an addict’s mindset is like …. always seeking the next fix, always chasing a high. The world and time becomes irrelevant in comparison to the chase. It was bizarre at first, and I thought it didn’t flow, but when I read it again, it made sense.

I will also make a humbling confession that some of Alfie’s traits and taste come from my own experience in pornography and that is part of the reason why I wanted to write something as weighty as this. I knew deep down, this story would have to involve my own experiences, my own taste and conclusions and I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to write it and see it laid bare for all to see.

When I was younger, I was a porn addict. After all, it is such an easy trap to fall into. You make yourself feel good, with stimulus. A simple spell that has doubtless bewitched many young teenage men. Fortunately, my habit was only ever confined to once a day and it never affected my relationships, work or lifestyle. It was just a habit I fell into when browsing the internet late at night.

But the main reason why I felt so compelled to write this, is because it is such a taboo and sensitive topic. I’ve always loved issues that forced you to confront an ugly truth about yourself. Sexual addiction is one that has always held a long-term fascination for me, primarily due to my interest in sex work, prostitution and the psychology behind sexual desire.

I thought Shame (2011) was a brilliant dissection into the mental state behind a person’s sexual addiction and for the longest time I wanted to write a compelling story about something similar. I daresay, this story was one of the fastest I have ever written, with 2.7K words flying across my screen in a mere 2 hours. I would like to thank Abel Korzeniowski’s work on Nocturnal Animals (2016) to really allow me to tap into something disturbing and the romantic song heard in Lucifer’s Season 5 Episode 6: Galleaux – Tether Me for helping me get over the line and reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

My story mostly parallels the journey of Brandon from Shame except I added the hallucinogenic twist at the end to show how his mental state had deteriorated and succumbed so much to his addiction that he wasn’t aware of the woman he had bought home.

I would also like to acknowledge the sex scenes that I wrote. I hope they were written in such a way that it came across as very unsexy. I myself felt no particular thrill in writing them, as the way how Alfie described women and collapsed his self-worth so heavily into his addiction was more disturbing than thrilling. I actually (surprise, surprise) do not have a lot of experience writing sex scenes, preferring to favour violence as my main means of spilling fluid everywhere.

So believe me, when I say, I would pause slightly before I typed the words “penis” or “vagina” … which goes to show what a silly shrinking violet I am when it comes to writing sex. Perhaps in the future, I shall practice writing some form of erotica, just to make sure I am actually capable of turning someone on with words out there and that my mind can display a healthy appreciation of romance.

For those cinephiles out there, I did name the protagonist, Alfie after the titular movie Alfie (1966) staring Michael Caine.

Any addiction is bad. Don’t waste your time on pornography when you can go out there and develop real relationships with a partner as cliched as that sounds.

But coming to the realisation that you have a problem is always the first step to take. Knowing you have an addiction of any kind is giving you wrestling your life, self-respect and agenda back.

That is the first step towards recovering.

Anyway I hope you, my dear reader, did not mind this short story.

Expect me only to dive deeper into more confronting topics in the future!

~ Damocles

Silverburn

Oh.

The tip of the cigar glowed under the darkness of the city smog.

With the strong cloud cover, the usual brightness of the city that glowed under the stars, was dimmed and could only shine under the power of its grid.

Overlooking the entire landscape, stood Raphael Silverburn, at the precipice of the roof, his left forearm stretched along the thin silver railing, as he leaned and exhaled rich Cuban smoke out of his mouth.

The roof itself, was an extraordinary testament to the contemporary style of modern architecture, a near completely obsidian affair that merged glass, metal and stone seamlessly to create an incredibly rich, sleek effect. The dark pool was infinite in its’ concept, taking up a North to South strip, allowing guests to swim to the very edge of the glass on either side of the building, and feel like they were floating above the city. Piercing lights accentuated the ripples and flow of the water.

In the centre, was an all glass room, that housed the upper bar, storage area for deck chairs, towels, and other necessities. It was the island in the middle of the pool, with a central staircase, and four compass point pathways that lead to ends of the roof.

The entire design was disconcerting, disorienting and offered little consolation to anyone but the architect himself, Raphael. He himself, was standing at the North East corner of the roof, a glass of Japanese whiskey beside him, on a permanent cigar/drink stand that was styled in a black wolf howling, in which the outstretched jaws would hold his whiskey glass.

At 2 metres and 9 centimetres tall, Raphael cut a monstrous figure in his bespoke suit, with a physique resembling that of a professional fighter. His arms were cast of granite, his legs resembled tough California Redwood trees, and his chest threatened to darken the sun above most people’s head in conversations.

Silverburn’s face was no different either, with a serious, perpetually cruel expression across a chiselled jawline, complete with a highly masculine cleft in his chin. His mouth was a thin line, that barely spoke, and his patrician nose gave rise to exceptionally bright blue eyes, that were offset by dark raven hair, kept tight and neat by an undercut hairstyle.

His complexion was genuinely well tanned, a result of his younger years spent endlessly outdoors, chasing the rush that was the Iron Man Competition in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, being a multiple podium finisher, as well as 4x winner. Even still to this day, Raphael would train consistently, pleased that he was still able to finish the gruelling triathlon in a relatively competitive fashion, despite his encroaching age.

Glancing out at the neighbouring skyscraper, Raphael noted the curious flashes that were coming the 20th floor, illuminating the rooms with brilliant spots of light. Each spark would be tempered with a tinge of red that left little to the imagination of the initiated.

Picking up a pair of binoculars, Raphael Silverburn focused the lens to pierce through the darkened glass of the skyscraper and smiled cruelly as he watched a pane of glass become splattered with crimson flecks.

Checking his expensive Omega watch, with its dark Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional face, Raphael noted the time and placed the binoculars down, to look across the more North West corner of his roof.

Whilst the explosion of the car could not be heard, the dark, oily, black plume of smoke that rose lazily into the skyline of the city was unmistakable. Below him, sirens blared angrily, as police and fire brigade units rushed to the site of carnage, their blue and red lights reflecting brilliantly across the lower levels of the city’s buildings.

Raphael turned sharply on his heels and meandered across to the South side of the roof, casting his sapphire eyes over at the easterly direction. There, he noted through his binoculars that a certain office complex was now ablaze, some distance away. It was burning with a fury, accelerated in its’ anger by strategically placed gasoline. Silverburn could even almost see a figure on his knees, in supplication before the might of the flames that threatened to consume him.

A secondary explosion deep within the guts of the office complex soon enveloped the figure, and there was nothing left of him to bear witness to the effigy of sabotage.

Fool thought Silverburn. He was quite fond of the building and its’ art deco architecture. The combination of handsome limestone and modernist style with curves meeting clean panes of glass was attractive and striking.

More’s the pity thought Silverburn pragmatically, his mind instantly dismissing the sentiment, as he glanced at his watch, turning his attention west.

In another building neighbouring his, Silverburn cast his eyes upwards as he noted a helicopter begin its descent to the roof of the building. To his amusement, he watched as the door opened, and with almost comical timing, a very large, man, in a pin-stripe suit fell out into open space.

His suit flapping wildly, his hands grabbing at nothing, with his cane falling at the same pace as he was, the mob boss sunk like a stone, for all 35 floors. He behaved like a beetle, helpless on its back, scrabbling at nothing at all, his desperate scream transforming into a wail as his terror reached a feverish pitch.

The amalgamation of his weight, speed and velocity in which he struck the ground, almost vaporised the corpse upon impact, the skin lying loosely, broken in a million places, torn in a thousand others and now stretched across a pavement that was swiftly emptied as citizens ran in every direction horrified by the sudden appearance of a concrete pancake.

Pleased with all the work performed in the space of 20 minutes, in all compass points, Silverburn retired back to his North East corner and washed the taste of victory with a deep exhalation of cigar smoke. He stood there, still, against the railing, pondering when exactly his phone would erupt in a flurry of calls.

Within 15 minutes, his phone had buzzed a total of 4 times. Each of them were ignored, and then it would vibrate again, as a text message would enter the ether of digital communication. Raphael Silverburn didn’t bother to answer any of them. They would soon be marching here, upon this roof.

As the last vibration ended on his phone, Silverburn walked back to the glass room, and pressed a single button.

Yeah boss? answered his right hand man.

Company will be arriving soon.

Understood. replied his consigliere curtly.

Silverburn looked down at the table, at the array of drinks, weapons and cigars. Plucking an elegant Heckler & Koch P30 off the table, Silverburn loaded in a magazine, before slipping on a large belt with an array of equipment, from spare magazine holders to first aid kits. Adjusting his blazer, so that it sat loosely over the belt, Silverburn tucked the P30 into the holster on the belt, and picked up a large futuristic looking HK433 rifle, with a holographic sight, magnifier, laser designator and a torch attached to the rails.

With a smooth precision that suggested long experience, Raphael tucked in a magazine, pulled the charging handle, and closed the dust cover, before looking through the red circle and dot combination that came with all EOTech sights. Pleased that the torch was also working, as well as his red visible laser, Silverburn set the rifle down and poured himself a single finger of vodka.

Savouring the burn as the still, clear liquid woke his senses, Silverburn slung the HK433 around his shoulder and under his arm, and moved to the edge of the roof once more.

Flicking the magnifier to the holographic sight, he looked down at the street, some 30 floors below and noted the huge array of vehicles that were coming in.

With amusement, he also noted how the 4 different directions in which they were all coming in by, represented each faction.

Without fear, Silverburn waited a bit longer for them to get closer, before flicking the safety off his rifle.

Controlled aggression were the words that entered Silverburn’s mind as he placed 2 rounds into each bonnet of the lead cars, before stepping back to enjoy the show, letting the rifle hang loosely by his side and picking up the binoculars atop the wolf stand.

Predictably, the Triads were the first to scramble out, as they pulled over in their large SUVs and piled out of the car, staring to the west at the Hell’s Angels who were now dismounting their big bikes, submachine guns in hand.

As the firefight erupted between the two, the MS-13 gang rolled up slowly with their low-slung cars, laughing at the eruption of violence in front of them. Unbeknownst to them, directly opposite, on the south side, were the incoming Bratva mob of Russian fame. They were all driving in with modified Mercedes sedans, their leather jackets barely concealing their illicit weapons.

Silverburn waited with all the patience of a saint, letting the firefight between the 14K and the Angels to reach a crescendo, before aiming the red dot upon a pair of MS-13 gangsters.

He had barely registered their slumped bodies, when he flicked the sight over at the Bratva and took out their lieutenant who was ordering the troops to take cover and was in the midst of riling up their spirits with a pompous speech.

The shocked face of the lieutenant as two 5.56mm rounds punched their way through the top of his skull and exited out his chin, caused all around him to yell in shock and the man’s body had barely hit the floor, when the Bratva looked across at saw the Chinese, Angels and Latin Americans staring at them.

Within seconds, bodies dropped faster than they had ever had in the city’s history, as a full internecine war broke amongst all the biggest gangs. The gunfire was beyond immense, the sound reverberating across corridors of wind and concrete, punctuated only by the screams and groans of the dying and wounded.

What was a formidable force, eager for revenge from each respective gang had now turned into a desperate race for survival and pure bloody-mindedness. There was no retreating, no escaping. Insanity now ruled the area.

Each man with a gun in his hand, was now beyond rational thought. All that was left in his mind was a singular thought: kill or be killed. The moment the weapon went empty, they would fumble for a reload and aim in three directions. To the front, to the left and to the right. When no magazine was forthcoming, they would pick a fresh gun off their dead comrades and use it instead.

The 14K was now whittled down to 2 men scrambling for cover behind a BMW SUV.

The Hell’s Angels had fared the worst, with only 1 surviving member of their chapter, hidden by his large Harley Davidson and the corpses of his brothers.

The MS-13 had 4 men, one of whom was gravely wounded and was doing his best to arm a grenade.

The Bratva were survived only in name by 3 soldiers, their weapons being the biggest of the 4 gangs, and now dominating the field with overwhelming firepower.

It was then, within the space of a single breath, the second last 14K was killed by an unknown shot, of unknown origin.

Another exhalation, and the MS-13 man fumbling with the grenade was shot before he could throw it. As 2 of them tried to retrieve him, they too were shot efficiently, with no wastage of time.

The Bratva stared, confused, before 3 of them died, in the time it took the mind to register that the shots were coming from above.

As the last shot rang out, Silverburn’s consigliere with his small squad of men. walked out of the building that had bared witness to the horrific carnage, and swiftly disarmed all of the last remaining survivors, cuffing them tightly with cable ties and dragging them yelling and kicking into the lobby.

Whilst the consigliere stood with the prisoners, the rest of the men walked out and systematically killed the wounded. Singular shots rang out, as coup de grace headshots were delivered dispassionately, the pleas for mercy or assistance ignored with a pithy scorn.

As the men began to collect weapons in garbage bags, the rumbling of 2 large garbage trucks came barrelling out docking bay of Silverburn’s building, the professional cleaners wrapping up bodies in cellophane and assisting the squad of men with the clean-up.

A few minutes later, they were joined by a convoy of tow trucks that began the slow work of removing all the vehicles involved in the carnage. Millions of shattered glass shards were swept up into bags, alongside thousands of shell casings. Each man and woman that worked the scene was silent, focused and fastidious. They were all professionals, used to Silverburn’s methods and unfazed by the daunting nature of the work. Each person was loyal to a fault and prided themselves on being able to work efficiently and effectively to Silverburn’s ever constant watch.

To be late, or slow in their job, was akin to career suicide. Livelihoods depended on the second hand of Silverburn’s expensive watch and it was to be said, that the last person Raphael had to fire was over 5 years ago.

Naturally, his body was removed by the men and women that were still serving.

The warning was enough.

Don’t be late and you will be rewarded well.

Those words echoed in the consigliere’s mind as he lead the 4 remaining survivors into the elevator that would take him to the infinity pool, where Silverburn was waiting.

He had served Raphael loyally for over 10 years now. Each operation undertaken by the pair was meticulous in its detail and near flawless in its execution. For many years, they had toiled together silently, efficiently and effectively. To announce themselves on the map with such a strong show of force was beyond a statement.

It was an affirmation of their inner belief, that the city needed a better class of criminal.

Silverburn’s outfit was to be that new yardstick in which all would be measured.

However, even this plan confused the faithful consigliere. There seemed to be a strange personal touch to it all. An air of distrust and secrecy, that only Raphael could answer. When the consigliere received the orders, he was incredulous. Such bold action invited challenge and a desire to finally throw away the cloak and dagger the two had long wielded for something much sharper and simultaneously blunt.

Despite his misgivings though, the consigliere did as he was asked. His belief in Silverburn was unshakeable. His boss had never once led the organisation astray. He wouldn’t know how to. Privately, later, when they shared a drink, the consigliere would ask what was the motive behind such blunt action. But for now, he would do as he was told and to the minute.

The elevator doors silently rushed open and the consigliere deposited the four wretched survivors at the base of the bar, where Silverburn looked over at them dispassionately. Nodding his thanks, he raised two elegant fingers and waved them in a circular motion.

The consigliere nodded, bowed and made his way downstairs to commence phase 2.

Looking down at the four men that kneeled before him with hatred in their eyes, Silverburn calmly looked at each gangster in their eyes, seeing their defiance slowly melt into confusion, as each man failed to recognise the impressive giant specimen before them. His sheer size and physique dwarfed theirs and when Silverburn laid a hand on their shoulder, almost placatingly, there seemed to be a huge weight pressing down on their bodies.

Fear instead replaced rebellion. They had all realised that this man who stood before them, was a complete mystery. None of them had heard of him, seen him before or could work out any angle that they could exploit. He didn’t belong to any of their crowd. He was a cut above. A figure even more terrifying than their bosses.

Raphael Silverburn, for all intent and purposes, appeared like an angel of death to them. He had just orchestrated a symphony of death, that had laid waste to the best of their respective forces. Who else could wield such power? Nothing mortal. The giant before them, had to have some kind of supernatural ability. Perhaps he was a descendant of a god?

As each man struggled to come up with conclusions about Silverburn, Raphael continued to silently stare at them all, with no emotion etched across his face. He was as still and mysterious as the Sphinx and nothing else unnerved a gangster more than a person who refuses to display any sign of emotion.

Gangsters by and large, run the gambit of emotions every day. They are thin-skinned, prone to violence and enjoy giving in to emotional whims. This is a result of the environment in which they are grown in, and the scarce hold on life they possess. When you live life on the edge constantly, it is the heart that dictates what the body needs. The brain merely acts as a tool to fulfill that heart’s desire.

Steal, kill, rape, burn, punch …. all of these actions are a direct extension of a heart’s too afraid of death that awaits it around the corner of a house.

To be confronted by a man, with complete mastery over his emotions, especially anger, is as terrifying to a gangster, as a hunter face to face with a vicious tiger that has the drop on him.

A mixture of fear, respect, and the sensation that you have finally fired your last round and nothing will prevent the jaws and fangs from closing over your head.

The 14K Triad kept his eyes downcast unable to match the intensity of the ocean blues that stared coldly back at him. His mind was full of regret and contemplation of the past. He was ashamed of himself.

The Bratva tried to hold an air of superiority, as if his belief in his gang would protect him. The sweat on his forehead betrayed his demeanour. Vengeance filled his mind. One day, this giant would get his and he would be the one to pull the trigger.

The MS-13 gangbanger counted the number of tattoos on his arms, and wondered if he would be accepted into heaven or hell. He was mentally preparing himself for death, but in spite of this, he was afraid. He wasn’t ready, he still had so much to do.

The Hell’s Angel was the most nervous of them all, his stomach already churning through his poor diet and health. Without his fellow bikers, he was powerless. His imagination ran wild, conjuring up all sorts of torture and horrific ways to go. His heart pounded away, almost bringing him to a cardiac arrest.

Raphael Silverburn remained motionless and silent, his eyes probing each man, studying their psyche and taking mental notes. This continued for a long hour, the atmosphere thick and intense with fear and terror, all 5 men not saying a word.

It was then, at precisely the end of the hour, Silverburn looked at his watch and cast an eye at the elevator, which opened seamlessly, before the minute hand completed its’ revolution.

The consigliere entered once more, with 4 more men. Without a word, he placed each respective man in front of their surviving member. Their backs were towards Silverburn, and they could only stare at their underlings.

The survivors’ eyes widened in shock, as they beheld their bosses. Each man was cable tied similarly to them, their clothes bedraggled and there were red marks from repeated beatings.

Despite their appearance though, their bosses were still angry, indignant even. These powerful men were still under the assumption that they were Kings. Not reduced to the peasantry that had died under their watches. This rebellious attitude sparked the flame of loyalty and hope in the survivors.

Then, Silverburn spoke.

His speech was one of a natural orator. Time itself slowed when Silverburn spoke. The deep intonation, the clear pronunciation and slow delivery of each word held weight. His accent was mysterious, and an amalgamation of English intelligence, American charm and a hint of Russian gutturals.

He chose only to address survivors.

Doubtless, you are all wondering why I have chosen to take up arms against your respective gangs.

Money? Power? Malice? Godhood?

I have no aspirations in any of those ambitions. Your bosses knew that already. I was a rising player in the their game, but had no part to play against or for them. They have heard of me and the power I possess over the city. Yet they kept me a secret, because it galled them to admit that they have lost control over their regions.

Pride prevented them from reaching out to each other in the spirit of cooperation, to crush the common threat; me. Had they swallowed their differences, the corpses of your fallen brothers would not be liquefied and instead you would be enjoy a different type of liquor at each other’s expense. It would be I, who would be disappearing into the depths of criminal history. No one would remember my name. Your respective gangs would have continued your foolish quests and charades none the wiser.

But your bosses fucked up. They did not obey the rules. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way you do not have to fear their vengeance.

Had they merely left me alone, I would have responded in kind. But your bosses crossed the line. They stole something from me that cannot be replaced. Something so severe and precious that it forced me to shed my cloak of anonymity and placed me into the light of the damned.

However, such matters do not concern you. All that matters is what you shall do next. I am offering you a choice. Please, make a decision within the next minute.

Silverburn nodded at the consigliere and the bonds of the survivors were cut off. As they massaged their sore wrists, Silverburn stood in front of them and placed in front of them, 4 knives.

Then he stood back and watched impassively as the 4 survivors ran through an entire roller-coaster of emotions, as they beheld their bosses’ eyes which were now devoid of defiance and have been replaced with terror and pleas.

Confusion, Gravitas, Fear and Hope. The most toxic combination of emotions that one could experience in a minute.

After half a minute had passed, it dawned on each survivor that Silverburn expected them to slay their bosses, in the tradition of Cain and Abel. Each survivor stared at each other, unwilling to make a choice or a move, unwilling to look at their bosses who were now screaming behind muffled mouths.

They looked at Silverburn who stared back impassively and merely counted down the seconds in his head.

10

9

8

7

Then the MS-13 gang member stood before his boss and plunged the knife into the man’s throat, arterial blood spraying out and onto the MS-13’s face. He stared at his boss’ eyes, watching the light slowly fade from them, a manic look on his face. He staggered back, unable to comprehend what he had just done, as the body slowly keeled over to the side.

6

The Hell’s Angel stood frozen in fear as he was unable to move. He could not believe what had just happened. The knife felt like a leaden weight in his hands.

5

With a vicious war cry, the Bratva copied the movements of his MS-13 counterpart and almost hacked his boss’ head clean off, the knife slicing through the entire throat, causing the remaining skin to fray and tear apart from the weight of the head, as it toppled over, the silent scream behind the mob boss’ eyes captured forever, as it rolled on the floor.

4

3

The 14K Triad exploded into action, his hands a blur as he rushed towards Silverburn, a desperate scream cutting through the air, as he moved the knife towards Silverburn’s stomach.

With a speed and ferocity that could only come from a professional fighter, Silverburn brushed aside the outstretched knife hand with a casual bat of his hand, and moved towards the 14K gangster, shortening the distance between them.

As the gangster reacted in surprise at Silverburn’s move, Raphael slammed the hard, callused edge of his hand into the man’s throat, crushing his larynx, causing all oxygen to disappear from his brain.

As the 14K Triad staggered back, Silverburn gripped his neck in a vise-like grip and staring at the boss, shattered all the vertebrae and brittle bones in the gangster’s neck with a sickeningly audible crack.

Without pausing, Silverburn allowed the limp corpse to drop, and without mercy, picked up the knife and stabbed both the boss’ eyes out, before sticking the knife in the man’s throat and coldly allowing the man to bleed out, as he screamed in agony.

2

1

Silverburn walked behind the desk and looking at the frozen Hell’s Angel who had still not made a decision, picked up his P30 pistol and blew the brains out of the survivor, with two precise shots that were millimetres apart on his forehead.

He then shifted his aim, and executed the Hell Angel’s captive boss in the traditional Russian way, with 3 bullets into the back of the head, so that the face could no longer be identified once the rounds exited out the other side.

A punishment even beyond death.

Silverburn looked at the two surviving men, The MS-13 gangster whose chest was heaving from the emotional exertions and furious attempts to wipe the blood of his deceased boss off his face. The Bratva, recognising the execution method, merely stared, shell-shocked at Silverburn, before going down on one knee, in subservience.

Silverburn did not acknowledge the gesture, but merely turned around and proceeded to wipe the blood off his hands at the bar.

The consigliere cuffed both survivors once more, before escorting them out of the building and allowing them to walk away, into an unknown future with an envelope stuffed with bills. He waited until they were out of sight before taking a small cigarette break, for precisely 2 minutes. His hands trembled slightly as he lit the cigarette up and the consigliere scowled at his weakness.

As he climbed into the faithful elevator once more, the consigliere took a ragged breath of clean air, before exiting out onto the infinity roof. In the 4 minutes he had been away, the bodies and blood had already been cleared away and it was just the solitary figure of Silverburn staring out at the cityscape, a whiskey glass atop the wolf’s head once more.

Looking at the bar, the consigliere moved towards the glass of whiskey that Silverburn had made for him, and paused slightly at the neat handwritten note on the napkin left behind. Alongside the note, was the key to a safe that the consigliere knew contained several gold ingots.

With gratitude.

The consigliere stared at the figure of his own boss and wondered whether he could do the same as the men did today. Then he realised, he couldn’t. If anything, he would reverse the knife and plunge it into his own stomach before betraying Raphael Silverburn.

He raised a glass to the figure that stood at the edge of the roof, downed the whiskey, before walking back towards the elevator. As he turned, the consigliere saw a small framed photo of a woman tucked away in the corner of the bar.

She was dark, beautiful, mysterious and had an ethereal quality to her.

Disturbed by this new knowledge and aware of what Silverburn had said in his speech earlier, the consigliere gave a sad glance at the giant man on the precipice of infinity and left his boss alone, to grieve.

Author’s Note

Originally inspired by a youtube musical compilation that described itself as A playlist for a 19th century villain plotting their revenge this story has evolved into a very long and surprisingly difficult piece to write, with many stop/start attempts over the course of 2 weeks.

I genuinely struggled to create Raphael Silverburn as a formidable character, as the idea of creating a story with the villain as the protagonist proved to be very challenging. I wanted him to be cruel, dark and yet possess some attractive magnetism that is crucial for any main character for a reader to identify with.

I didn’t want to make his motive as simple either, but struggled to find some real emotional hook as to why he was doing the things he was. In the end, the slain spectre of a lover is still something we can all semi-relate to, so I ended up making it more of a mystery why he was performing such wickedness.

I modelled much of the roof setting on the scene in the first John Wick film, where Viggo has his first discussion with Aurelio regarding the physical punishment of his son. I was struck by the lighting, setting and reflective nature in that scene and wanted to emulate such lonely luxury for Silverburn, only with a slightly more Blade twist to it (recall the strange penthouse sequence with Deacon Frost and the vampire familiar).

As an amateur architecture critic, I have always long admired luxury hotels and their infinity pools and I thought of no better way to capture existential loneliness than to depict a single person standing by one, using it for the adverse purpose of internal reflection, when in reality, infinity pools are celebratory in nature.

I would also like to point out, I took elements of Jack Reacher, Mr Big (in the Bond novel, Live and Let Die) and Viggo Tarasov for the characterisation of Raphael Silverburn. The name itself, had to be intriguing as with all villains, and the only way I came up with it, was by researching old English ancestral names, and then playing on the words that were suggested.

Silverburn is completely made up, but has such a lovely way of rolling off the tongue, so I kept it, whilst Raphael is taken from my favourite quartet of names in any mythology; the archangels – Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Gabriel.

This proved long to write, standing proud at 5111 including this note, but I am glad it eventually came to fruition. I hope you enjoyed it!

~ Damocles.

Flint & Powder

Justified – One of the best shows ever created and the most underrated.

Arthur looked at himself in the mirror and glared.

The salt and pepper was slowly increasing at his temples, lending him an air of seniority that he didn’t particularly like but didn’t detest either. After all, Arthur Flint was a man who never really cared for his looks, women came easily to him, as did his natural swagger and laid-back charms.

What he was truly angry about, in his reflection, was the fact that his brown eyes were beginning to develop crow’s feet and they only served to heighten the similarities between his father and the man who stood slim and tall before him in the mirror.

He had spent most of his adult life overseas, fighting someone’s else war, in a desperate attempt to get away from the long, notorious shadow cast by his overbearing, powerful father.

Now he had finally been sent back home, to the highlands and dark forests, and much to his annoyance, he cast an uncanny resemblance to his father to everyone with eyes and half a brain.

Arthur turned away from the mirror in disgust and went to his closet where he picked out a neat flannel shirt, threw on a skinny black tie and a dark blazer that offset his dark jeans and brown Chelsea boots.

Moving over to his bedside table, Arthur thoughtfully placed a weathered Casio G-Shock watch on his left wrist, a silver ring on his right hand and then picked up a large appendix holster, housing his customised Glock 22 with a Surefire X300U light attached to the bottom of the rail.

Arthur looked at the weapon and sighed heavily before slipping the entire weapon system in between his underwear and the front of pants, adjusting his belt as he did so, to ensure the entire package was snug and hidden. The only thing left was the tin star that he liked to clip to his belt. He slowly ran a hand over the silver polished metal, that made the difference between crime and law and reminded himself of the oath he took.

Now he was ready for work.

Running a hand through his long wavy hair, Arthur placed a wide-brimmed hat on his head and headed out into the blinding sun and heat.

~

Arthur Flint! yelled his boss, Morgan Crewstone, as Arthur was about to leave his desk for lunch. Frowning in puzzlement, Arthur slowly approached the office of his formidable boss and peeked his head through.

You rang boss?

This paperwork … bad news for you.

Why? What’s up with it?

He got away. Jumped his bail officer and now he’s loose.

Arthur moved his entire body through the door and scowled. He took the proffered manila folder and flicked it open with a practised hand.

Jody Davies. That sonvuabitch. How is the officer?

Not good. Lacerations across his neck, after Jody used his handcuffs to grab him. He died on the scene, after getting shot twice by his own gun.

Arthur winced. He could already picture the ugly scene. Jody using the element of surprise to jump the officer as he taking him out and then digging the steel cuffs into the man’s neck. But then ….

Was there an accomplice? Jody couldn’t have gotten free without some help.

Crewstone nodded approvingly at his best Marshal.

The bail officer managed to shoot the guy who helped spring Jody. He’s alive, but in intensive care. Wont be talking for a while. According to the forensics, the second guy had spiked the car’s tires and then tried to shoot the bail officer. Somehow in the scuffle, the guy got shot, and Jody broke free from his cuffs and then killed his bail officer. He left the scene on foot apparently.

So, I guess it falls down to me to find this guy and bring him in again …

You got 24 hours, Flint, before the trail runs cold. Crewstone paused and with a stern look in his eyes, sarcastically said By the way, do your level-headed best to bring this one in alive?

Arthur didn’t bother responding. He merely nodded wordlessly and tipped his hat. Escaped convict or no … he had to get lunch first. No manhunt could start on an empty stomach, and he was going to start his right, with a few buttermilk fried wings, and sweet corn at Princes.

~

His stomach sated, and his mind razor sharp, after the distractions of his stomach had been dealt with, Flint paid a brief visit to the crime scene and put himself in the mind of Davies. Which way would he go? Looking south up the road, Flint thought about what was further up …. the border to Tennessee was at least a solid 2 hours drive, whereas North, the way Flint had came, was towards Lexington, the closest town and best way to find a car.

Then there was always the possibility that some kind hitchhiker had come along and given a man in an orange jumpsuit a lift.

Flint dismissed that as improbable, before recalling the gas station he had passed on his way here.

Sauntering back to his car, Flint drove the 7 minutes to the nearest gas station and casually entered the store, the doorbell ringing annoyingly to announce his entrance. He noted with cold amusement that the attendant was not at his usual post behind the counter. But then he could merely be on a toilet break, judging by the Be back in 5 minutes. Don’t steal nuthin’. sign on the counter.

Making his way to the back of the small store, past endless rows of snacks, chips and quaint road necessities, Flint stopped by the refrigerated section and grabbed himself a can of Red Bull and a pack of gum. Still pretending to browse, he waited patiently, when to his surprise, the attendant actually came back.

Flint walked up to the register and placed the items on the counter.

It was then, he noted the attendant’s nervousness, and the way how his brown eyes kept darting behind Flint, and the slow beads of sweat running down his face into the collar of his white Visit Kentucky for a Swell Time! shirt.

Flint’s eyes raised in consternation, as he noted the mirror behind the attendant and was in the process of lifting his shirt to pull his Glock, when the sound of a shotgun racking in a shell stopped him cold.

Marshal Flint … is that youse? exclaimed Jody excitedly as he moved close to observe Flint more closely. Having ditched his orange jumpsuit, he was dressed similarly to the attendant with the same with Kentucky tourist shirt, and a pair of loose jeans. He was a ferret of a man, unpleasant and possessing a vicious streak.

Jody Davies …. said Flint in a low, threatening voice.

I’ll be gawddamned. I knew it was youse. The cowboy Marshal in the flesh. Didn’t think they would send youse after me again. Did ya miss me?

Next time I won’t.

Hahahahaha. Funny one Marshal. Especially considering I’m the one with a scatter gun aimed square at your back. I still remember the last time youse pulled on me. Still got the scar from when the docs got your bullet out of my damn chest.

I’ll be sure to write a complaint letter to the docs for letting you live.

Davies laughed scathingly. Gawddamn Marshal, I’ve forgotten just how cool youse are in the face of death. Now time’s-a-wastin and I got somewhere to be. So take that gun of yours out, nice and slow. Any funny business and both youse and the fatty gets it.

Flint slowly took out his Glock 22 and raised his hands once more.

Now toss it where the sun don’t shine and don’t forget that back-up I know youse got somewhere.

Flint threw both his service weapon into the corner of the store and the much smaller Glock 19 he kept in the small of his back.

Good job Marshal. Now throw me back the keys to your car … I’ll be gone before you know it.

Flint smiled at the reflection of Davies in the mirror and slowly pulled the keys of his car out. In an act of defiance, he flicked the key directly back at Davies, hard and swift.

The key rattled against the shotgun, throwing Davies aim off, as he tried to catch the keys before they striked him in the face. The move bought Flint precious time, as he threw himself over the counter and tackled the attendant to the floor. Buckshot exploded above their heads, a second too late.

Without hesitating, Flint pinned the attendant to the floor, as he grabbed a bottle of bourbon from behind the counter and aimed it directly at Davies, who racked in another load and manages to shatter the glass mid-air.

Alcohol sprayed the immediate area, blinding Davies. Moving quickly, Flint dove for the two pistols he had thrown into the corner and as his body hits the floor, another shotgun round perforated the snack stand near him.

Grabbing his Glock 22 with his right and his Glock 19 with his left, Flint, spun around on the floor and began pumping rounds through the air. Davies ducks through the hellfire and manages to scrabble out the front door, the bell ringing above the echo of gunfire.

Scrabbling upwards, Flint looked at the attendance and yelled whether he was OK. The man nodded meekly and Flint waited by the door and poked his head out. Immediately ducking back, Flint crouched as the door’s glass exploded inwards towards him, the roar of a shotgun shot across the Kentucky wooded landscape. Holstering his Glock 19 in the small of his back, Flint checked the load of his Glock 22 and did a swift mag change.

Hearing the sound of his car starting up, Flint risked a move and ran out the door and laid flat on the ground as he saw a shotgun barrel stick out the window of his car.

But it clicked empty.

Smiling coldly, Flint raised his pistol to fire, when the car stopped and a pair of hands popped out the window.

Frowning, Flint stared as Jody Davies came out with a shit-eating grin on his face. The distance between them was at least 60 feet.

OK! Hokay! Marshal, youse got me again. I ain’t gonna cause youse no trouble deadeye.

Davies kept walking towards Flint, until they were now down to 30 feet.

Youse got me Marshal. Come on, now, just slap the cuffs on me and git it over with.

Flint suddenly smiled as he understood what was going on and holstered his Glock 22 in its’ appendix holster. The exact opposite of what anyone would do in this situation.

Davies froze, as he read the cold look on Flint’s face. His bluff had been called out. Flint knew about the officer’s weapon he had stolen.

Standing there with his hand on his hip, Arthur Flint stared at Jody Davies’ brown eyes and flashed the U.S. Marshal star near his trigger finger under the twilight sun.

I want you to be very aware of one thing, Mr. Davies. The last time we did this tango, it didn’t end so well for you. Are you sure you want to be dancing this close again?

Cos I don’t pull, unless I shoot to kill.

Somehow … the last time, I made a mistake with you.

I don’t plan on repeating that err.

So … what is going to be Jody? We gonna settle this like regular human beings, or outlaw style?

Jody Davies looked at Arthur Flint and felt his own resolve hardening. He had the drop on the Marshal just a second ago, didn’t he? There was also no way he was going back to prison. That wasn’t an option. Besides the Marshal had to clear his shirt to draw his Glock. Maybe it would get caught on the shirt. Maybe his finger would hit the mag release and all his ammo would drop out.

The last time they had drew, Davies knew that he almost caught Flint out. Just maybe, ol’ Jody was actually faster this time.

There was only one way of finding out. Davies felt his hand slowly creep back to the big pistol he had tucked in the waistband of his jeans.

Arthur Flint kept his eyes trained on Davies the entire time. The moment was coming. The tension was rising. Jody Davies had no intention of going down without a fight.

Besides, there was the fact that he had killed an officer of the law.

Flint was old-school … an eye for an eye, may the best man win. There were too many dumb, stupid hicks out in the world, to lose sleep over the murder of another.

The way Flint saw it, if a man was willing to die for his ill cause, it might as well be his sword that killed him.

The seconds ticked over, but it felt like hours. Davies felt his hand start to bead over with sweat and it getting increasingly clammy. The silence was unlike anything he had ever experienced. The whole world seemed to shrink until it was just the figure of Arthur Flint, standing there, as cold as death, his hand on his hip, the U.S. Marshal star glinting in the sun, seemingly burning a hole in his mind with how bright it was. The hat he wore, covered his left eye just so, all Davies could see was the cold glimmer in Flint’s right emerald.

A wind blew through both of them, Davies felt he was getting colder, despite the searing heat of the twilight sun.

Marshal .. I just got one thing to say to youse …

I’ll see youse in …

Davies’ right hand whipped behind him and grasped the cold steel of the gun.

Flint’s shirt flew up and his hand grasped the warm metal grip of his Glock 22, and the weapon was flipped from side to straight in a nanosecond and spoke twice eloquently.

Davies’ right hand was still outstretched, far away from the silhouette of Flint, when he fell to the ground, a stunned looked on his face, that slowly replaced by pain. Flint, with his Glock 22 still at hip height, fired once more, his arm now outstretched, finishing off the convict that tried escaping.

Looking down at the pool of blood that was creeping across the front of the Kentucky shirt and behind the lifeless eyes, Arthur Flint holstered his Glock, kicked away the gun, and took out his phone.

This is U.S. Marshal Arthur Flint. I’m going to need a ambulance and a coroner. The Jody Davies case is resolved.

What? No … It’s not for me. There’s a civilian who needs looking after.

Huh? Yeah. It was legal.

He drew first. I shot him.

Author’s Note.

Drawing heavy and I mean …. excessive inspiration from one of my all-time favourite shows, Justified, Flint & Powder was actually slow to start but then once I remembered some of my favourite episodes and lines, the flow and unravelling of the story became a lot easier. In fact, the final line is stolen verbatim from the first episode.

I shall be waxing lyrical about Justified soon, once I rewatch a couple more episodes. Rest assured there will be plenty of quotations about that show and my big man-crush on Timothy Olyphant.

While I have yet to read any of Elmore Leonard’s work, I do plan on doing so very soon, as a good crime writer is always of interest to me.

In addition, I stole from Ian Fleming, his habit of writing literal phonetic spelling of certain words, like youse or gawd to add extra flavour to the reading experience.

Hope it was fun reading! This was more in line with being a short story than it is a screenplay.

~ Damocles.

The Queen’s Assassin …. (Espionage 5)

St. James, London.

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.

Ashford nodded.

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.

Woods nodded.

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.

Author’s Note

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!

~ Damocles

Londonistan …. (Espionage 4)

City of London, United Kingdom

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.

Fara Harut.

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.

Author’s Note:

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.

Damocles.

Alexanderplatz …. (Espionage 3)

Alexanderplatz Station, Berlin.

There are 12 ways to identify a suicide bomber, intoned the Israeli captain to the class. Woods recalled looking up at the dot points and the commentary that came along with them.

Point 1: If the suspect is male, check for a fresh shave.

Most of these men will be sporting a slight colour difference on their lower jaw. This is because they want to look less suspect. Keep an eye on whether the skin is lighter around the mouth and the jaw. They want to blend.

Point 2: IED-borne insurgents will be wearing suspect clothing.

Vests are awkward and so are belts. Large coats, outdoor jackets, those padded vests, all of them are suspect and are commonly employed to break up the form of the vest underneath.

Point 3: The suspect will have a robotic walk or shuffle awkwardly along.

There are 2 reasons for this. One, they are about to blow themselves up. Psyching yourself up to do something that rationally means not doing it, isn’t easy. But the real reason is because the vest is heavy. All that semtex, is fucking heavy. Not to mention all the other shit they have on there, like ball bearings, glass or even fucking cow-shit. Point is, if they’re walking slowly, or robotically, they’re loaded down and don’t want to detonate the damn thing early.

Point 4: Irritability

Point 5: Profuse sweating

Point 6: Tics

Point 7: Nervous behaviour

All of these are variations on stress. I don’t need to tell you boys about stress. You know what it does and how it affects people. But combat stress is different to suicide stress. There is a lot to suicidal stress. Most of the time, it will take a normal person lots of convincing and willpower to commit suicide. I mean, the damn act goes against human survival instinct. But in this case, it’s about making sure you don’t get detected, it’s about slipping through the security net and not being held up by some well-meaning asshole that will cause you to detonate early.

Point 8: Most suicide bombers have been reported to have irregular breathing

Beyond the obvious weight of the vest, this is also a psychological reaction to their task. Remember, everyone is new to suicide bombing. It’s their first time after all.

Point 9: Almost all suicide bombers have a blank stare before detonation

Opioids. This isn’t some 1000 yard stare because they are afraid of death. It’s the drugs in their system. We’ve only know this, because usually the head is separated from the body easily in an explosion, especially with the way how they shape the charges. After all, the head is held mostly in place by gravity and limited neck muscles. All heads discovered about 100 yards from the site of detonation usually have an opium strip in their mouths. This is to calm them down and gives them extra motivation to go through with the deed.

Point 10: Most survivors report hearing mumbled prayers from the bombers

Prayers are normal. It is normal to hear repeated surahs and phrases from the Bible or the Qu’ran before detonation. It will often be in a monotone, and serves as an enhanced psychological method to rile yourself into a religious fanaticism.

Point 11: Almost all bombers carry a large bag

Beyond the vest, there is usually a secondary amount of explosives in a bag. After all, you only get one chance of blowing yourself up. Might as well go big. You can pack a lot more in a bag, with all the extra shit they love loading in. Shrapnel kills just as much as the explosive does. If you don’t die from the explosive, then it’s the infection that gets you later.

Point 12: Their hands are almost always either in the bag or holding a switch in their pocket.

We used to be able to stop guys from blowing themselves up. Pin them in a bear hug and they can’t reach the detonator. But now they play it safe. They got it on a dead man’s switch or their hand is already ready to go without reaching for anything.

Woods remembered a student asking the Shin Bet expert on how the IDF dealt with such issues.

Easy said the Israelite with a fatalistic shrug Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off. If you don’t …. it won’t matter either way then.

Woods felt this advice keenly impressed upon his mind, as he moved through the Alexanderplatz Station, one of the busiest terminals in Berlin. Looking at his clock, he knew this was prime time.

Rush hour. 1745 HRS. A familiar time to hear IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) go off in Afghanistan.

Not quite so common in the heart of Europe.

The end of your shift. Everyone rushing home, eager to get some R&R, their attention on getting there, causing them to lose crucial awareness. Traffic was flowing hard and fast in both directions. People eager to make the train home and people eager to get out of the station towards home.

With 3 regional trains, 4 inner Berlin S-Bahn and 3 outer Berlin U-Bahn lines, there could be upwards of 2000 people alone in the station at any given time.

Taking out his recently acquired phone and slipping on the new glasses he had received, he activated both, going to a auspiciously named app “Handle Me!” and depressing the frame of the glasses to begin broadcasting the live tracking of the suicide bomber.

Checking that the glasses and the phone were connected, he immediately heard a slight crackle, as he placed the new headphones in one ear, the other one left alone to maintain situational clarity.

G. Woods, Whiskey Oscar Oscar Delta Sierra. Situation: Imminent ITA (International Terrorist Activity). Need TACINTEL on suspect stat. Get German BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst – Federal intelligence Service) up now.

A calm female voice immediately came through.

Wait one, Whiskey. London Station Chief coming online. Patching through your feed now.

Woods scowled to himself at the delay and mentally ran through the list in head one more time, just to be sure he wasn’t targeting a random person. The timing fit all too well but he had to be sure.

Walking past a couple who were admiring the architecture of the attractive station, he angled his head and aimed his glasses at the profile of the man, before walking quickly further up, stopping down to pretend to tie his shoe and getting a front on view of the man’s face.

Everything screamed suicide bomber. Points 1 down to 12.

Woods felt his fingers brush the Glock 19 in his waistband instinctively.

~

In London, the CIA’s CTC (Counterterrorism Centre), the Station Chief, a Machiavellian type political operator and former U.S. Army Ranger Captain, Richard Washington stared aghast at the huge Screen One that dominated the room, displaying Woods’ livestream of the events unfolding in Germany.

With over 50 people in the room, monitoring almost the entirety of Western Europe, the London CTC was home to some of the CIA’s best, brightest and ruthless intelligence analysts and hackers. More coverage, analytics and surveillance footage filtered on and off the 7 huge screens along the wall in a day, than a Wall Street firm, and Washington’s team was as adept as they came at processing raw information.

Give me CCTV’s eyes. I want to see if there are any more at Alexanderplatz. Screen Two.

Copy sir said one of the female technicians as her computer flickered through a dozen surveillance cameras.

I want a direct line to German BND stat and immediate coverage of all other major Berlin transport hubs. Screen Three. Patch BND to 2IC.

On it sir! yelled a male technician as his fingers immediately began hacking into a myriad of German transport hubs and bypassing firewalls.

Find out who that asshole Woods is following. I want everything. Name, phone, emails, give me all of it, and put it on Screen Four. Any contact he’s made in the recent weeks, anyone he’s fucking travelled with. How he got there. Give me all of it.

Washington’s aide came besides him, a fellow Ranger who had served under his command, a reliable 2IC (2nd in Command) as they came, John Watts.

Watts. I want you talking to BND. See if they got anything.

On it sir. Watts ran over to the technician who handed him a headset as he continued to ping the German intelligence service.

Give me a direct line to Woods. I want to talk to him.

~

Woods?

Sir.

I want you to be eyes on this guy, follow him. If he tries anything … take him down. We’re gathering immediate actionable intel on him now. BND will be on record in 1 mike. Do you copy?

Copy Sir. repeated Woods robotically. He was too busy navigating the crowds to say any more. His eyes were glued to the bomber.

With his freshly shaven face, the bomber looked young, in his mid-20s. He could have been considered handsome, if it weren’t for the pockmarked acne scarring across his cheeks and mouth.

His brown eyes were glazed over, his jaw heavy as he sucked on an opioid strip and tried to murmur prayers at the same time. Beads of sweat ran down from his temple and onto his collarbone and into his clothes. The jacket looked heavy, and far too warm.

The backpack arced his back slightly, causing him to stoop slightly forward to compensate for the weight. His hands was tucked deep into the pockets of his jackets and there was even a visible wire bulging through the jacket sleeves as it led up into his body.

Woods’ every instinct screamed at him to pull the trigger.

Washington’s voice came over the earpiece.

Woods, BND has confirmed that they have been tracking this terror cell for the past 2 weeks, but did not receive any actionable intel on these guys. GSG-9 and SEK are on-route now. ETA 10 mikes.

We don’t have 10 mikes to spare. Where are the station cops?

Wait one.

Woods kept the bomber on his peripheral vision as he tried in vain to look less inconspicuous. However, the bomber seemed to focus on putting one step forward to notice the CIA operative standing less than 10 metres away from.

Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off. thought Woods, recalling the Shin Bet operator’s advice.

Don’t stop at double-taps. Shoot them repeatedly in the head. Even the smallest amount of brain functioning can depress a button. The only way to stop that, is to keep shooting.

Woods? interrupted Washington in his voice. Two undercover SEK operatives are making their way to you now. They should be coming up to your position in 2 mikes. South-entrance.

Copy. Tell them to get their weapons ready. The attack is coming soon. I can feel it.

Signing off, Woods kept following the bomber as he walked up a flight of stairs to the upper level.

To his horror, as the bomber neared the centre of the station, he noted 4 more similarly dressed men start to converge into the middle.

~

Washington’s face immediately paled as he noted Woods’ livestream focus in on the 4 other terrorists.

The entire CTC room grew quiet, as they realised the magnitude of the situation. The silence was a moment of sheer dismay, shock and the dawning of failure.

Then Washington heard Woods’ voice come clear through the comms and immediately everyone sprung back into action, their hands moving in a blur across keyboards as they did whatever they could to prevent the incoming catastrophe.

I need execute authority. I can take out 4. But not the last guy. I need it now. Someone give me a sitrep on those SEK boys.

Washington paused. Every instinct screamed at him. He looked over at Screen Four and began scanning the information gathered on the first suicide bomber.

He had to be sure.

Fara Harut.

Iranian born. An orphan. Adopted early by a state sponsored religious school, suspected of strong anti-western indoctrination practices. A ready supply for terrorists cells.

Washington skipped ahead to Harut’s last recorded movements, facial recognition placing him entering Germany via Czech Republic, last seen with the 4 other men that were now converging upon each other in Alexanderplatz Station. They had split up upon crossing the border and made zero contact with one another until now.

Coincidences in the world of spies didn’t exist. Connections could always be traced back. Deja vu acts as confirmation not coincidence.

5 men, following basic operational security, to prevent detection. A busy train station at the peak of rush hour and nearly a month since the last attack. Enough to relax security services and slip past the net.

All the hallmarks of a Sphinx’s train station attack.

Washington gritted his teeth and said the fatal words.

Whiskey. You have execute authority.

~

Woods kept his eyes focused on all 5 of the suicide bombers. They were not identically dressed. But all had the 12 boxes ticked. One of them even had the decency to look nervous and afraid.

Looking behind him, Woods noted the undercover SEK policemen (German SWAT Unit) and how well armed they were with MP5 submachine guns. With their civilian clothing boosted by ballistic armour and balaclavas, they looked more paramilitary than regular armed forces, but that was the idea. The crowd parted for them like Moses in the Red Sea.

Woods moved towards them and waved them forwards. The officers, having been briefed by BND, immediately closed in behinds Woods as he pointed out the 5 men.

Both pairs of the SEK officers’ eyes widened and stiffened into shock. Both men had never dealt with suicide bombers before. One of them, the younger Officer asked Woods shakily on how to deal with such a threat.

Woods replied coldly back with an echo from his past lesson: Gun them down in the head before they blow yours off.

Motioning that one of the officers had to stay back and warn civilians away, Woods took the other officer and told him to stay at the right flank, whilst he moved left of the group of 5 men. He also stole an extra magazine for his Glock as he moved past the crouching officer.

Anyone I miss … you kill. said Woods firmly to the SEK Officer who nodded firmly and tried to hide his shaking hands.

To his relief, Woods noted that the 5 men were still standing near each other, their chanting and prayers beginning to pick up in volume slightly.

People were beginning to catch on and whilst panic had not quite set in yet, it was a hair-trigger away from full blown pandemonium.

Woods knew this was his only chance.

In his appendix holster, he had 1 spare magazine. 17 rounds + 15+1 in his actual Glock 19.

Another 15 rounds in his back pocket, from the SEK Officer who didn’t realise he was missing a magazine.

47 bullets.

This was going to be close.

Woods moved directly towards them, as they began to split up. There was no point in detonating all at once. You didn’t kill as many people if you all went up together. Structural damage and psychological terror could only be achieved through multiple blasts that threw people in every single direction.

This would buy Woods time.

Precious seconds.

The closest terrorist began moving closer to Woods, his eyes focused on the floor, his hands coming out of his pocket, as the station’s clock began the final countdown to 6pm exactly. A mental countdown started in Wood’s mind. He had a total of 10 seconds.

Woods felt his Prince persona shine through and without hesitation, he lifted up his henley shirt with his left hand, and gripped the Glock 19 with his right.

The palm of his hand smacked into the butt of the dark pistol, and his fingers curled around and snatched the weapon up and outwards, his left hand meeting both the pistol and right hand halfway through, before they continued in unison into a firing position, elbows slightly crooked, the back sight and front sight lining up level to his green eyes.

4 sharp cracks in rapid succession, resounded resolutely and the atmosphere of the entire station changed.

The muted pop music that once dominated the station’s rhythm, aiding in people getting home in a hurry and to believe that they were safe, was suddenly drowned out by screams, mass hysteria and the sounds of thousands of feet moving in unison.

The sounds of thousands of people running in every direction, activated in everyone a primal urge to flee. It didn’t matter what the threat was, the average brain was locked in a rictus of fear and panic, and that was all Washington could see on the screen, as what was once orderly was now chaotic.

Hundreds of people were screaming, running, jogging, sprinting and many more were standing equally still, frozen before the mass of movement, unable to comprehend the situation before them.

Confusion reigned supreme, as the CTC staff looked on in horror. Then one of the technicians noted Woods advancing through the crowd, the lone SEK officer doing his best to follow with his clunkier MP5 submachine gun and placed the CCTV grainy footage on Screen 1.

Washington noted the bleeding corpse that the Prince casually stepped over, as he moved through the crowd with ease, the blood rapidly spooling out from the four headshots that the Prince had inflicted within a blink of an eye.

Squinting hard, Washington watched with concentrated horror and encouragement as the Prince moved to within 5 metres of the next terrorist and Washington watched as another 5 rounds expelled from the Glock 19 in the Prince’s hands and somehow magically miss everyone that ran in between and beyond, and slam directly into the target’s head.

The rounds, snapped the terrorists head to the side, flinging him down to the floor, his finger unable to depress the button that would activate the detonator.

By now, the crowd was slowly beginning to thin out, people aware that the action was all occurring in the middle of the station and learning to avoid it.

The SEK officer was still desperate to try and aim at the target Woods had told him to, but his fear of hitting a civilian was too great and he couldn’t press the trigger. He froze, his finger desperate to press inwards, but his mind unable to commit to such a dangerous action. None of his training had prepared him for this moment.

But he kept moving closer towards the threat. His duty overrode his fear.

He looked across at the Prince, as he ruthlessly tripped a sprinting woman to the ground, causing her to fall heavily, but open his line of sight to the third terrorist who was slowly catching on to what was happening and beginning to turn around to face the Prince.

The Prince’s seven rounds crossed the 10 metres and impacted heavily across the man’s face, ripping through eyes, brain, jaw and cheek, the final round neatly severing the medulla oblongata, causing the terrorist’s outstretched hand to never function.

With his immediate twelve, two and eleven o’clock target dealt with, there were now only two terrorists left, his original suspect, Fara Harut and the final bomber behind him.

The execution of the three men had elapsed the Prince’s precious inner timer down to 4 seconds remaining.

An example had to be made. The Prince’s right thumb depressed the magazine catch, as his left hand swept down, and took out the spare magazine in a smooth and robotic motion, a rehearsed manoeuvre that took only a precious second, as the hand swept upwards and into the base of the pistol, before wrapping around the right hand again. His right thumb released the slide catch, and the Glock’s slide slammed forward, chambering the first round.

The green eyes never wavered behind the sight and the Prince kept moving forwards, his right index finger a blur, as Fara Harut, in a sacrificial gesture, stepped between the Prince’s Glock and his fellow terrorist behind him.

The entirety of all 17 rounds of the Prince’s Glock slammed into Harut’s head, somehow the terrorist’s body staying upright under the onslaught of 9mm rounds. His face completely disappeared under the weight of the fire, chunks of flesh, brain, blood and bone spraying outwards as round after round slammed in a move so fast, that it actually stunned the final terrorist, whose fear was now palatable as he beheld the Prince.

However the Prince’s final reload would take too long. He had reach into his back pocket for the final 15 round magazine he had taken from the SEK Officer.

The SEK Officer in question, who had only just received an emergency call from BND and was looking forwards to a hot dessert after his shift. A man who told his younger partner to take the safer job of warning away civilians.

It was he who noted that it was now too late for the Prince to do anything about the final bomber and was himself only a mere 3 metres away from the vest, having fought his way through the crowd to get a shot in with his MP5.

He knew the Prince’s plan, prayed that it was going to work, but could see it would fail and was resigned for this very eventuality.

With a final look at the Prince, whose hands were blurred in a reload, the SEK Officer gritted his teeth, sprinted forward and tackled the bomber. The momentum slid them towards a support pole, that would take most of the blast.

He closed his eyes, as the terrorist did the same.

The finger pressed the button.

The Prince’s persona left Woods as his survival instinct took over the moment he saw the SEK Officer make his move.

Dropping his pistol, he spun on his heels, and dove for the floor, and rolled behind a sturdy food stall selling snacks and drinks.

Clamping his hands over his ears and burying his head as low as it could get into his knees, Woods shut his eyes.

He felt it first in his chest, then he heard a cavernous roar and then nothing.

The Prince sunk into an eternal darkness where nothing could hurt him again nor would anything comfort him for an eternity.

Author’s Note

Those who are fans of Paul Greengrass’ adaptation of book to film, Bourne’s Ultimatum (2007) will no doubt notice the similarities I’ve adopted for the Alexanderplatz Station with the famous and tense Waterloo sequence in that film.

Alexanderplatz is also a rather obvious reference to the previous entry in that series, Bourne Supremacy (2004) where the temporary abduction of one Nicky Parsons by Bourne also took place.

I wanted to capture the urgency, tension and paranoia of that scene and am grateful for John Powell’s incredible score to help me tap into that.

I also based the final sequence where Woods kills the terrorist on my favourite espionage series’ Gabriel Allon in Prince of Fire where he is faced with a similar scenario and is forced to take similar drastic actions to stop a series of terrorist bombings from going off in Paris’ Gare de Lyon station.

For fans of Jack Reacher, the 12 ways to ID a suicide bomber are stolen directly from Lee Child’s Gone Tomorrow for which I gratefully pay props to. I have no idea if it is accurate, and based on truth, but his writing always had an air of believability about it, so I thought it would be fun to incorporate into this story.

I originally planned this to be a quick stop and make Woods go straight to London, but chose to make this extended action sequence for further motivation and establish the threat of the Sphinx.

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

The Prince …. (Espionage 2)

Alexanderplatz, Berlin.

An anonymous man in a suitably non descript black suit walked towards Woods, his hand gripping a briefcase.

Gabriel Woods watched from the corner of his eye, as the man stopped nearby and turned to examine the famous tourist square. The movement allowed Woods to see the the man’s hand on the briefcase, in which he was gripping it with just his index, and thumb. The other three fingers were splayed out.

Three is good, 2 is bad recalled Woods.

Miming his surprise at seeing an old friend, Woods walked over to the man with a smile and an arm outstretched. The man responded similarly and they mimicked a conversation, whilst the man handed the briefcase in an effusive gesture. Woods smiled and walked away, the grin wiped away the moment the charade was over.

Walking towards the Berlin Alexanderplatz Station, and past the famous Weltzeituhr (World Clock), displaying the current time in 148 major cities around the world, Woods rested the briefcase in one hand and popped the clasps with the other.

Taking out a small key, he walked over to the train lockers that lined the exterior of the station and searched for the number on the key.

Opening the locker, he placed the briefcase inside and looked at the contents proper.

Inside, Woods noted the new passport that had been issued to him, proclaiming his name to be Christian Taylor, a UK resident from Cornwall. Noting that the photo featured rather thick framed glasses, Woods looked inside for the pair of spectacles that would accompany him as a disguise. Opening the simple black case, Woods tried the glasses on, and was pleased with the fit.

Tapping the side of the glasses, he noted the thickness of the frame, a feature that allowed tiny pin-sized cameras to be installed on both sides of the spectacles. A simple unidirectional microphone also allowed remote recording of audio up to 20 metres away, and with its wireless capability, it could transmit intel to his phone that would send the audio-visual footage to a CIA station nearby.

Woods also noted the new phone that would replace most of the capabilities of the military laptop he was used to. An nondescript Android design, the phone hid its true potential behind false apps, that Woods would have to explore to unlock what each function would do.

The final spy-craft item in the briefcase was a pair of headphones, that disguised recording and transmitting abilities allowing him to talk and report back, or listen in on conversations heard through his glasses. Shaped like any wireless headphones, they were a functional black colour, and fit in his ears snugly.

In addition to the gadgets, Woods found a wallet with 1000 English pound and 1000 Euros, with plenty of different denominations, a car key that also featured another key to the safe-house and to his surprise, a spare pair of smokey lens for his glasses that would double as sunglasses.

Taking all these items into various pockets on his person, Woods left the briefcase in the locker and took out the key. He would head over to the Tiergarten, a huge national park that was near the US Embassy and deposit the locker key in an agreed spot for collection.

As he hopped aboard a yellow-white Strabenbahn tram to the park, Woods recalled the brief he had read onboard the C-17 from Afghanistan, about the target he was meant to observe and eventually stop.

Blessed with a photographic memory and near perfect recall, Woods replayed in his mind the personal call from the Station Chief in the CIA London’s operating centre, as the C-17 flew through the night sky, Woods gripping a headset that the loadmaster had given him.

Woods,

You’re probably wondering why we took you out of Afghanistan and transferred you to Europe. Well, we’re aware of your history there and this is priority one. Our Foreign Security Assessment (FSA) indicates that there is going to be a global terrorist attack happening on UK soil in a week from now.

Intelligence suggests that it will be occurring on the Valentine’s weekend where traffic is expected to be at an all time high. We’re putting every major asset in Europe on standby and we’ll be cooperating with the UKSF and SIS on this.

The truth is, you were asked to come, because the UK PM specifically asked for your services. We know that you are on loan for us, so we couldn’t refuse when they asked for you to come back.

Anyway, the bad news is that we don’t know the exact time of the attack. We suspect the evening because that is where traffic will be high. However, because Valentine Day’s falls on a Friday, we are not exactly sure whether they’ll be hitting Friday, Saturday or Sunday or worse case …. all three fucking days.

In any case, it is imperative that you make contact with your SIS contact and start covert surveillance on Sofia, a courier for Hassan Malik, an operative we’ve nicknamed the Sphinx, due to how well he seems to hide his tracks. We’ve been after this guy for nearly 2 years and have still been unable to properly track his whereabouts and movements.

We know he is Europe based, because we’ve managed to extract intel from detainees and low-level HVTs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He’s been responsible for the recent train bombings in Paris, Madrid and Athens and we think its only a matter of time before he strikes in England.

As you can already see in the brief, actual photographs and intel on Malik is scarce. The only photo we have is approximately 5 years old, way back when he was in AQ training camps in Iran. At the moment, he’s considered a rogue terrorist for hire, a highly dangerous operative who offers his services to any groups linked to anti-Western agencies and government.

We don’t know who is backing him, as it could be any source ranging from Hezbollah, the Ayatollah or even Saudi backers. All we know is, he’s got a domestic network in Europe, and the logistics and capabilities to strike almost anywhere on the Continent.

Thus the key for you, is to find Sofia. Detainee reporting states that she is one of Malik’s most trusted couriers and sources.

Find Sofia, track her, and then eliminate Malik.

Currently, Sofia is under heavy surveillance. A team from 14th Det is tracking her 24/7. She has not made any suspect moves, but we’ve done the usual tracking on her phone, apartment and email.

I’m not gonna sugar-coat it Woods, the reason why you were chosen, is because we still think you’re the scalpel you were in the past.

Europe could use help from a graduate from the Counter-Revolutionary Warfare. The guy known as the Prince only 10 years ago.

Show the Sphinx, why Europe is really the Prince’s domain, not his.

Good luck Woods.

Woods snapped out his reverie when he heard the tram driver announce the stop for Tiergarten. The change from the mountains of Afghanistan to the well-oiled streets of Germany still played with Woods’ mind. He found himself unused to the sensation of comfortable footwear that didn’t drag in the snow and mud. The sharper, cleaner air that didn’t have the faint scent of petrol, oil and spice.

Even the atmosphere was different, the sounds of people chatting softly in German, slower and more measured, relaxed and safe, a far cry from the rapid-fire Dari and Pashto in Kabul, the type of conversation you knew you had to hurry, because you didn’t know when something would end it terminally.

Even the idea of being onboard a functioning tram was alien to Woods, who had spend so many months simply walking everywhere in Kabul.

Acclimatise quickly and blend in even quicker recalled a mantra taught to him long ago.

Hopping off, Woods walked towards the park and began to countdown the trees, before hiding the key to the train locker underneath an auspiciously placed rock at the base of the 7th tree.

Walking away and taking the tram back towards Alexanderplatz, Woods tried to relax slightly, but his mind was occupied on the Sphinx. As Woods got off the tram at the Alexanderplatz station and began his walk to long-term carpark for his car, it was then he noted the odd shuffle of a man wearing a backpack nearby. He was making his way into the main entrance of the train station, pale and murmuring under his breath.

At first, Woods decided that it was just a homeless guy moving around the city. Berlin, whilst prosperous still had its fair share of homeless people.

But usually due to malnutrition and mental health, they would pick a spot and rarely move. They would beg along a popular street, they wouldn’t be out and about if they didn’t have to.

Besides this man didn’t have the usual ragged clothing of a homeless person. He was dressed like an out-of-towner. A man who didn’t belong. A tourist. An outsider.

Woods frowned as he noted people seemed to subconsciously give this man a wide berth. Women would give double-takes, their eyes coming up from their phones more than once, unsure about why the man had his head down and was shuffling his feet so much.

Men would take an extra step to the right or left, unwilling to brush past closely, as if he smelled bad. They made the extra effort to sidestep him.

An alarm bell began to signal in Woods head. The fresh scars from Afghanistan were still bleeding into his mind. He recalled his training, the impressions he had received on his very first tour of Afghanistan, embedded in him by a Israeli IDF Shin Bet operative.

The 12 ways to identify a suicide bomber. They all gave the same clues. They were all unprofessional at it. After all, they’re amateurs at blowing themselves up. This is their first time doing it.

No one gets another chance at doing it.

Nor does anyone get another chance at stopping it.

Woods dropped his carry bag, lifted his shirt to check the Glock 19 in his waistband and immediately starting running.