Table of Contents

A Social Killing

Part Four

Chapter Sixteen

Nash watched as Private Walden lowered the hydraulic support legs on the SWARM launch truck and secured them on the uneven ground with practised bursts from the control lever. His colleague, Private Frankland, was out of sight, running a telecommunications cable through the maze of scrapped cars surrounding the truck.

Nash didn’t have anything to contribute so simply watched them at their work. They seemed competent and efficient.

The scrapyard owner, a squat barrel of a man, ambled over with a gorilla-like swagger. He hooked a thumb towards the truck with its conspicuous army camouflage. “That contraption gonna catch the bastards?”

“I hope so,” said Nash. He pulled a wad of notes from his pocket and held them out. “Five hundred quid, as promised, Mr Johnson.”

“Call me Jim.” He reached out a meaty hand and closed Nash’s fingers around the money. “Your money’s no good here,” he said. “My sister lives over in Whitby. She could’ve been killed by that bomb. You just catch the bastards responsible, Mr Nash, and me and the boys will look the other way.”

Nash slipped the money back into his jeans. “Thanks, Jim.”

Johnson nodded and turned to walk away. “And don’t worry, anybody let’s slip about you being here and they’ll be getting a thick ear.” He waved his fist around for emphasis as he headed back to the shack which doubled as his office.

Nash smiled and turned back towards the truck.

Private Walden stood patiently a few feet away, waiting to catch his attention. “Sir, systems check complete. SWARM is ready to deploy.”

“Good work, soldier. And you don’t need to call me sir. This is a civilian operation.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

Nash wanted to laugh, but held it in check. Walden was only doing the same thing he had done in the Brigadier’s office. It was simpler for the military mentality to assume whoever was in charge had to be a more senior officer, and to treat him accordingly.

“How’s Frankland doing?” he asked, finally.

“Almost finished, sir. There’s a fibre-optic hub on the main road and he’s piggybacking onto it. We should have high speed internet within the hour.”

“Excellent. And you know how to hook into the council CCTV network?”

Private Walden nodded, a quick bob of the head. “Affirmative, sir. They won’t know we’re there, sir, but we’ll know as soon as the terrorist taps into the network. SWARM can be in the air in twenty seconds and fully deployed across the town centre in less than two minutes.” He allowed himself a little smile, just a slight upwards curl at the corners of his mouth. “We’ll catch him, sir, I promise you that.” His pride in the secret hardware shone through.

Nash reached out and gave his arm a pat and squeeze, nodding encouragement. “Carry on, soldier.”

“Sir.” Walden did a neat about-face and stepped briskly back to the truck and climbed inside.

Nash threaded his way through the scrapped cars to the rear of the scrapyard. The high wire-mesh fence backed onto the River Tees and a cooling breeze came off the water to counteract the sweltering heat. He lifted his face to feel the wind on his skin as he thought through his next steps.

Two days had passed since the sniper attack in Hull and, unless North planned another bombing further south, there was little doubt in his mind that he would be heading back to Middlesbrough. If he hasn’t already arrived, thought Nash, he’ll no doubt make it back at some point over the weekend. North had achieved his objective - the anti-terrorist police were now spread far and wide.

Nash suspected that North was reaching the pinnacle of his plan. That he intended to do something, which in his mind, would be spectacular. A something, probably another bombing, which everybody else - everybody with a normal understanding of the world - would find to be devastating. And, after that, he would kill Nash.

There might well be subtleties to the plan, of course, such as an intention to frame Nash or to expose his role as an assassin, but they were inconsequential. The important thing to Nash was to stop him from carrying out a further attack against innocent civilians.

Nash had based his entire counterstrategy on the assumption about North’s plans and he suddenly felt a pang of doubt. He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling on a tuft, willing himself to think of an alternative. What else might he be planning? he wondered. He couldn’t think of anything – North wanted to kill Nash; Nash was in Middlesbrough. Simple.

He pulled his mobile out and quickly dialled a number from memory. There were ten consecutive rings and he almost gave up, but finally a voice answered. “Sark? It’s Nash.”

“Missing me already.”

He laughed. “Who wouldn’t miss your scintillating conversation?”

“Yeah, right. Anyway, I thought you’d be dead by now. Found out who the killer is yet?”

“Edward North.”

“Mmm. Can’t say I know him. Except by reputation, of course.” There was a whistling in the background and Sark could be heard bustling around as he moved a kettle from the hob.

“It’s thirty degrees outside. You’re not having a hot drink, are you?”

“Tea cools the blood. Don’t you know anything, Nash? Hang on a minute – I can’t hold the phone and the kettle at the same time with this bloody useless hand.” There was a thud as Sark put down the phone, followed by the sound of clattering china. “That’s better,” he said, after a few moments, “I can think better with a cuppa. As I was saying, I heard North was an arrogant S.O.B. – thought he was some kind of superman. Got royally fucked by the Taliban, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, they cut his leg off a chunk at a time.”

“Nasty. And I take it he blames you for it somehow?”

“Yes, I was with him when he got captured. Turns out he had another mission objective. No idea what though.”

“Is that why you called? You want me to find out what he was doing?”

Nash shook his head involuntarily. He always made physical gestures while talking on the phone, despite the fact that the other person couldn’t see. “I want some advice. But now you mention it, I would be interested.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he agreed. “What advice are you after?”

Nash paused. A dog walker was following the riverside path and he waited a few seconds until he was out of earshot. “I think North is going to use another bomb against me. Probably a very big bomb.”

“Yeah, I can see that. It’s worked for him so far. And there’s lots of collateral damage from a bomb which is harder to achieve with a rifle. I mean, as soon as a sniper shoots someone, everybody else ducks for cover.” Sark slurped his tea noisily. “You’ll never catch him planting it by hacking the council CCTV, though, if that’s your plan. He can hack the network as easily as you can, and all you’ll get is yesterday’s recording.”

“I have a SWARM.”

“No way,” exclaimed Sark. It was the first time he’d sounded excited. “How did you manage that little trick?”

“You know what it is?”

“Sure. I can’t remember the acronym, but it’s a distributed airborne surveillance system with intelligent image analysis. Laser tagging capability as well, I think.”

“Fuck sake.” Nash opened his eyes in surprise; Sark never ceased to amaze him. “Remind me when this is all over to get you a job with the Department. You seem to know everything.”

“I like to stay informed. But keep the job; I’m writing a bestseller.” Sark chuckled. “Well, its clear that you’ll be able to track North – if you can spot him in the first place, that is – and you’ll know if he plants a bomb anywhere in Middlesbrough. So what do you need from me?”

“Tell me how to disarm it?”

“Call the bomb squad.”

“Ok. Let’s say we do that. We spot him with SWARM. Call the police. They evacuate the town. The bomb squad comes in. And North knows we’re on to him and runs away. It’s no good – we need to leave the bombs in situ and disable them without him knowing. It’s the only way to catch him.” Nash started working his way back through the scrapyard towards the SWARM unit; he could think better while on the move.

“Difficult. Very difficult.” There was a long pause as Sark pondered the problem. “I know he used mobile phones to trigger the last two devices, even the BBC know that, so you could use an ECM unit to block the signal. That’s easy. But if this really is his grand finale, he could be planning a different method: a pressure switch or timer. It could have anti-tamper devices. It might be in a car or van so you’d have a moving target. Or he might be planning a suicide bomb to really end things with a bang and that would likely use a dead-man’s trigger and you’d wouldn’t be able to stop him.”

“I know. I wouldn’t be calling if the answer was simple.”

“Things were so much easier when we weren’t friends,” said Sark, laughing. “Ok, leave it with me. I’ll call you back.”

“Cheers.” Nash stuffed the phone back in his pocket just as he reached the side of the truck. The side door was open and the two privates were hunched together behind a monitor array. “How’s it going, boys?”

“Ready to go, sir,” said Private Frankland. “We have a strong link to the council network and analysis software is running. We can launch as soon as you give the go ahead, sir.”

“Perfect. Good work.” He looked at the two eager faces before him, wondering if he had ever been that young himself. “It’s Saturday, boys, and I seriously doubt our terrorist is going to make a move before Monday at the earliest. He’ll need the weekend to make a plan of attack. “What say I check you into a hotel and pay for you to have a night on the town? In civvies, of course.”

The two soldiers looked at each other briefly. Their expressions remained stern, but with a slightly concerned look in their eyes like a rabbit caught in the headlights deciding whether to freeze or run. It was Private Walden who finally broke the silence. “If it’s all the same to you, sir, we’d rather stay with the SWARM,” he said. “We have bivi’s and rations. We can take it in turns to bed down while one of us monitors the network. If you don’t mind that is, sir.”

Nash smiled and nodded. Brigadier Nolan had no doubt given the young soldiers strict instructions – he wasn’t about to leave his secret weapon unmanned and unguarded. “No problem, lads. Thought I’d offer.”

Frankland held out a radio. “We can reach you up to fifteen miles away on this, sir. Failing that, we’ll contact you on your mobile if we spot anything.”

“Roger that,” he said, taking the offered radio. “Keep in touch.” He smirked as he walked away. Cheeky bugger just dismissed me, he thought.

Nash drove his car out of the industrial estate and headed home. He wanted to avoid any large concentrations of people and the easiest way to do that was to sit in the garden behind his flat. If North wanted to come to his home to confront him that was fine with Nash. He would happily fight to the death with fists, knives or guns if it avoided more innocent lives being lost.

He was almost home when his mobile rang. For a brief moment he wondered if North had made a move earlier than expected, but then saw the smiling face of Jenny on the screen. He reached over and pressed answer. “Hey.”

“Hey, Danny boy. How’s life without me?”


She laughed. “Do you think of these cute answers in advance?”

“No. I’m just naturally witty.”

“Is that what you call it?” she giggled. “Just a quick call. I’ve decided to come back tomorrow with Fiona instead of going straight to Cumbria on Monday.”

“Oh, you missing me?”


Nash couldn’t help grinning. “Me too. Seems like ages since I last saw you.”

“It was yesterday, Dan. Listen, will you pick us up from the station? We get in about 2 pm.”

“No problem. I’ll wear a pink carnation so you recognise me.”

“Fool,” she laughed. “See you tomorrow, hon.”

“Bye.” Nash stopped smiling as soon as he ended the call. He had wanted Hughes safely out of harm’s way and even coming back for one night increased her risk. No sleep tomorrow, he thought, and not for any of the pleasurable reasons.

Chapter Seventeen

Nash parked the car outside the train station and went looking for a coffee shop. He had time to kill before the train arrived and nowhere else to go. He’d called to visit the SWARM unit that morning, but there had been no reason to linger. The two privates had set up a little encampment beside the truck and busily spent their time checking and rechecking equipment. They had made it abundantly clear that they didn’t need Nash to supervise and there was nothing yet to report.

He had made a quick call to Sark and received a curt response. “I have enough to do without interruptions,” he’d said. “I’ll ring you when I have something.” That had been the end of that call.

Nash was frustrated. It was the waiting without any purpose. He knew he was tied to North’s agenda and it weighed heavily on his mind. Always in the past, he had a clear plan to work towards, and he hated being inactive while awaiting North’s next move. He knew the end was approaching, but it couldn’t come soon enough.

He walked from the car park back towards the town centre. The day was muggy and humid with patchy cloud cover, a change from the week of blistering heat. A thunderstorm is brewing, he thought, which will at least clear the air. His denim jeans felt clammy with sweat and he regretted not choosing a lighter fabric trouser that morning. He reached a church on the edge of the town centre and found a bench in the graveyard to sit down. A few minutes to cool down and gather his thoughts.

Nash looked at the rows of gravestones littered across the neatly tended lawn. Some of the older ones were canted at odd angles where the ground had subsided, their inscriptions smoothly weathered and unreadable. Some of the newer graves had flowers, most withered from the hot weather, but the odd bunch so fresh they must have been placed that morning. The scene made him ponder his own mortality.

He didn’t often think about death. His entire working life had involved him imposing the condition on other people while trying to stop it happening to him. He knew how to kill people. In myriad ways. He had killed with weapons and with his bare hands. Gently and quietly, on occasion, physically close to his target where he could watch the life seep slowly from their eyes like a curtain descending. And likewise noisy, bloody exchanges of gunfire with barely glimpsed targets in the distance. He had lost count of the number of people he had killed. It was all he had ever done, all he had ever known.

But Nash rarely thought about his own death. He knew it was coming. It came to everybody eventually. It didn’t scare him. If there was an afterlife, great; if not, he’d never know about it. But he didn’t want to be just a fading name on a gravestone; a fading memory in the minds of people who had known and loved him. Nash suddenly realised that Jenny gave him a reason to keep living, but he worried that losing this battle to North would take him from her. Death didn’t frighten him, but failure did.

Enough, he told himself. Self-doubt rots the mind. He forced himself to stand and leave the cemetery. The warmth of the day washed over him as he stepped from beneath the shadow cast by the church. Life still goes on, the sunlight said to him. No more morbid thoughts. He strode purposefully away.

In the town centre he found a sandwich shop and bought lunch, eating it as he walked. He dropped the wrapper in a bin and went into another shop for a steaming latte. He carried the carton back to the station and went to wait on the platform for the train to arrive. He picked up a thick Sunday paper from a newsstand to while away the time.

He was reading a piece about more troubles in Israel when his phone rang. The number was blocked. North, he thought.


“Ready for another boom?” asked a distorted voice.

“You can turn off your voice changer, Ed. I know it’s you.”

There was a pause and then he spoke again, this time in a normal voice, gravelly and deep. “Clever boy, but knowing who I am won’t help you.”

“I also know you’re a fucking psycho,” said Nash, “and I haven’t done anything to deserve this.”

“You left me,” he yelled. “Left me to die.” He breathed heavily into the phone, and then lowered his tone. Nash could hear the trembling quaver in his voice. “Don’t tell me what you deserve. I was tortured for months.”

“I know and I’m sorry for it. But we thought you were dead.”

“We? You mean O’Leary. Don’t try and blame him. He didn’t hear anything; he was too far away. I called out to you, Dan.”

“I didn’t hear.”

“You heard.” His voice rose again. “You fucking well heard me, and you ignored me. To save your own skin.”

“No.” Nash couldn’t help but feel a moment of sympathy for him. His pitiful tone laced with anger and resentment, reliving the horror of capture, and desperate for somebody to blame. “We barely got away ourselves. I would never have left you if I thought you were still alive. Even if it had meant my own death.”

North laughed. “Well you’re fucking dead now, Danny boy.”

“Fine. Come and meet me. Face-to-face. Let’s have this out.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he smirked. “Fighting a cripple. Hardly fair, is it? But no, I have another idea. Hang on, we’re just coming into the station and I need to get off.”

Nash sat upright and looked along the tracks. No train in sight. He jogged along to the connecting tunnel, the phone held tight to his ear, and ran through to the other platform. No train in sight. “What station?”

“Just a sec. Almost there.”

Nash paced up and down, frantic. He must be on Jenny’s train, he thought, there’s no other explanation. But what was he going to do on a crowded intercity?

Nash briefly considered hanging up and trying to ring Jenny, but North would clearly have thought of that – whatever he had planned couldn’t be stopped now.

“Ah, that’s better,” said North, “I hate trains. Death-traps that they are.”

What’s going on? Where are you?”

“York. A beautiful city,” he said. “Oh, there goes the train. Right on time. You can always rely on East Coast mainline to stick to schedule.”

“North,” snarled Nash, “if you hurt one hair on her head I’ll …”

“You’ll what? Kill me? Oooh, I’m scared. You already threatened that and I’m still here.”

Nash gripped the phone tighter, his blood boiling. “I mean it, North. I won’t just kill you. I’ll make you suffer worse than the Taliban did.”

“No begging this time?” He laughed again. “Give it up, Nash. It’s too late. She was very pretty though. Such a shame.”

The phone went dead.

Nash stared at the blank screen for a second, torn with indecision. He tapped in Jenny’s number, dreading the response, but it just rang and rang and finally clicked to voicemail. Her breezy voice invited him to leave a message, but he ended the call and stuffed it in his pocket. He set off at a run back to his car.

The radio had nothing to report. He left the news channel on low as he sped down the A66 and onto the A19. It would take an hour to reach York and he needed to remain calm. He tried to force his body to relax, but could feel the knots of tension in his shoulders and in his grip on the wheel.

Nash knew it could all be a ruse. A calculated move by North to push him towards recklessness. But he had to know she was safe. He decided he would drive to Thirsk and, if nothing had been announced on the radio by then, he would turn back to meet the train at Darlington. Because North could be planning to do something there and just want Nash out of the way.

He was almost at the Thirsk turnoff when a news bulletin came on. He quickly turned up the volume.

An intercity train had derailed just outside York. Details were sketchy, but witnesses had reported hearing an explosion as the train left the station. There was no news on the number of casualties, except to say there were an unconfirmed amount of injured who were being taken to York Hospital.

Tears welled up in his eyes as he drove and he used the back of his hand to rub them and clear his vision. He unconsciously accelerated and gripped the wheel tighter. He had to know about Jenny, but deep down he already knew.

Traffic on the inner ring road in York was in turmoil, with emergency vehicle sirens wailing across the town as they moved back and forth from the crash site to the hospital. It took Nash another forty minutes from the outskirts to work his way through the jam and into the hospital car park.

Accident & Emergency was even more chaotic than the roads outside. The waiting room and lobby were overflowing with people. Camera crews from the press stood outside as they made their live reports, with the poignant backdrop of paramedics wheeling a seemingly never-ending stream of injured inside.

Nash fought his way through the throng. The reception area was mobbed and he realised it would take an age to get any information. Looking around, he saw Fiona leaning disconsolately against a wall, a blanket draped across her shoulders in spite of the day’s heat. He waved and cried out, “Fiona.”

She looked up at him, blinking through red-rimmed eyes, and dashed forward. She threw her arms around him and the blanket fell away as she began to sob. “Oh, Dan, it’s awful. Jenny.”

“What happened?” he whispered. “You’re not hurt.” He had felt a momentary uplift when he’d seen her with no injuries. The two sisters would have sat together, so if one was alright then so might be the other.

“I was in the buffet car.”

Damn, he thought, so Jenny was alone in the carriage when the bomb went off. Lucky for Fiona though, to choose that moment to go for food.

“She’s not…?” He couldn’t say the word.

“I don’t know,” she sobbed.

Nash held her tighter as a tear squeezed from his eye and rolled down his cheek.

Later, when their joint grief subsided, they found a corner of the waiting room and stood silently together, waiting for news. It was a long wait. The stream of casualties gradually subsided as the hours passed and the people with minor injuries finally began being called forward. Late in the afternoon a nurse came over to them. “Miss Hughes,” she said. “Your sister has been moved to Ward 20. You can go up to see her now.”

They wandered through the bleak halls to the ward and were directed to a private room. Jenny lay motionless in the bed, her face swathed in bandages and her left leg suspended in traction. A nurse fussed around her, straightening the tubes and monitor wires, before patting straight the edge of her covers.

“Miss Hughes?”

Fiona nodded as the nurse flicked a glance at Nash. “This is Dan. He’s Jenny’s boyfriend, erm, partner, I mean.”

“I see. Well, Jenny’s sedated right now, so you can both stay for awhile, but she won’t be able to speak, I’m afraid.”

“How bad is it?” asked Nash.

The nurse’s eyes widened slightly. “I really should let the doctor tell you. But,” and she smiled slightly, “I think she’s through the worst now. She’s had emergency surgery and they managed to stop the internal bleeding.” The nurse pointed to Jenny’s raised leg. “And she has a couple of nasty fractures, but they’ll heal in time.”

“What about her face?”

“I really should let the doctor speak to you.”

“Nurse, please,” demanded Fiona. “She’s my sister.”

The nurse nodded sagely. “There was an explosion at one end of your sister’s carriage. Another bomb. They think it was on the baggage shelf.” She paused, clearly struggling with her words - trying to choose the most appropriate phrase to break the news – and deciding that bluntness was best. “A piece of shrapnel hit her in the face. In her eyes. I’m very sorry.”

“She’s blind?”

The nod was barely noticeable, a fractional movement. “I’ll ask the doctor to come along as soon as he can. Again, I’m truly sorry.” She hurried with relief from the room.

Fiona stumbled around the bed and slumped into a chair. She didn’t say anything. Her face looked numb with shock as she digested the knowledge that her sister would never again see anything.

Nash remained at the head of the bed, looking down at the damaged form of the woman he loved. This is my fault, he thought, and I could have prevented it. All it would have taken was for Nash to have told Jenny the truth, so she could have understood the dangers. So she could have stayed away from him.

And now she was blind. She had paid too high a price for his secrecy.

Behind it all, though, stood North. Bitter and twisted by his experiences – a cruel and calculating terrorist who had once been of exemplary character. It was his actions which had really done the damage to Jenny. It was North who had to pay.

Death is too good for him, decided Nash. He needs to suffer.

Chapter Eighteen

Nash sat awake all night at Jenny’s bedside. She didn’t stir. Different nurses came in periodically to check the monitors and left as quickly as they arrived. Fiona sat in the seat opposite and fell asleep in the early hours. Her head lolled in a fitful sleep as she sank lower into her chair. Nash glanced her way occasionally to ensure she didn’t fall, but spent the majority of the time focused solely on Jenny.

Fiona awoke as dawn was breaking. She looked towards the bed and then to Nash – he simply shook his head. No change.

A little later he went to get them both coffee and, at around 8, he stood up. He leaned over the bed and kissed Jenny tenderly on the forehead and turned to Fiona. “I have to go to work.”

“What if she wakes up?”

“Call me if there’s any change.” He quickly wrote his number on a scrap of paper and put it on the bedside cabinet. “I’ll be back later.”

“Can’t you cancel work, Dan?”

He shook his head. “I’m not doing social work today, Fiona,” he told her. “I’m going to find the man who did this. And then I’m going to kill him.”

Before she could respond he turned and left the room, but he caught her stunned expression as he swept past. He thought he detected a spark of fire in her eyes, shining through her shock, willing him to succeed in his bold claim.

Outside, he found Sark waiting for him. He was perched on a low wall near the main entrance, an inch of metal leg visible where his trousers had hitched up. “I got your message,” he said.

“Thanks for coming. Been waiting long?”

“All night,” he answered, then shrugged. “Thought I should stay in case the arsehole decided to come and finish the job.” He patted his jacket. “I wanted to introduce him to my friend, Mister Glock.”

“You’re a good man.” To think it had only been a few days since he had suspected Sark of being the terrorist, thought Nash. And after the history of animosity between them during their army days, the change in their relationship in such a short time felt almost ethereal.

“Yeah. Don’t I know it,” he agreed. “Listen, I’ve found out what North was doing in Afghanistan.”

“Hunting Osama?” It had seemed the obvious choice to Nash.

“Yeah. That would have made sense – the slimy bugger was still running around back then and everyone wanted to be the first to catch him – but, no. He was after plutonium smugglers.”

“Weapons grade? From Russia?”

“Yep. Intelligence sources believed a shipment was coming over the border. And you know what that would have meant? Even those stupid goat-herders could make a dirty bomb if they just wrapped the stuff up in dynamite. North’s job was to get a ‘confirm or deny’ for the intelligence. If it was true then a SAS team would follow you in and mop the bastards up.”

“Well, it can’t have been true, can it? Al Qaeda and the Taliban have never used any kind of nuclear device.” He frowned. “As interesting as it sounds, I don’t think it helps us. All it does is explain why the whole thing has been kept so damned secret.”

“Unless that’s his grand finale, of course.” Sark winked at his sour expression. “Just kidding.”

“Don’t even joke about things like that,” said Nash. He glanced down at his watch. “I have to get back and check on the boys. We need to be ready.”

“We will be. Everything’s in hand.”

“Good.” He flicked his head towards the hospital entrance. “You going to keep an eye on things here?”

“Of course,” agreed Sark. “I doubt he’ll come, but if he does, he won’t get past me. Let me know if you confirm he’s back in Middlesbrough.”

“Will do.” Nash walked slowly back to his car and set off back to Middlesbrough. The early morning traffic was building steadily, but most of it was heading into York as he headed out, so it didn’t delay him. By the time he reached the A19, however, the commuter traffic heading to Teesside was in full flow. On the outskirts of Middlesbrough it was so heavy that all progress had slowed to a crawl.

Nash drove on autopilot. He couldn’t get the image of Jenny’s bandaged face from his mind. Blind. And still so young. It broke his heart.

He wondered if their relationship could survive this accident and, on reflection, felt it could. But during the long night’s vigil by her bedside he had decided to tell Jenny about his real job. The real reason she had lost her sight. He wasn’t sure how she would react to the news and he knew it would be that, and not her injuries, which would really test their love.

The trouble was that he could imagine her horror when she discovered the truth. Its one thing to kill another man in combat; another thing entirely to kill an unarmed man without warning. He’d had the same reaction when he had first been approached by the Department’s recruiters. “Isn’t that what the Nazis did?” he’d asked them. “Kill the people they thought were undesirable?”

It had taken a long time for him to reconcile the ideology of the Department in his mind and to really understand and accept its goal. It didn’t exist to target a specific racial or religious grouping, he knew that now. There were no political motivations in its decision-making. Its targets were simply individuals who contributed nothing but misery to society; individuals who did deliberate harm to others, especially children; individuals who had no right to stand alongside decent citizens.

Nash believed his work was for the betterment of Great Britain. He genuinely believed his targets were undesirable members of society. And because of that, he believed they deserved their fate. Deserved to die.

But he wasn’t sure Jenny would agree.

The industrial estate was quiet after the bedlam on the dual carriageway and he drove uninterrupted along the curving river road to the scrap yard. There wasn’t a great deal of activity in the yard, with the exception of a forklift in the far corner which appeared to be randomly stacking smashed cars into neat piles.

Private Frankland stood alert, but not quite at attention, beside the SWARM van. He was clearly unsure of the appropriate posture to adopt when on a military assignment in a civilian location. His SA80 rifle was safely stowed in the van, as per Nash’s orders, but he looked uncomfortable being on guard without a weapon.

As Nash pulled up he noticed Frankland pull his feet together and straighten his back in anticipation. Is he going to salute me? he wondered. He stepped from the car and Frankland’s right wrist twitched, but he kept it by his side.

“Morning, sir,” he said.

“At ease, soldier.” He stepped past him towards the van. “Anything to report?”

“Nothing yet, sir.”

Private Walden was hunched over a monitor in the back of the van, but swivelled neatly around at his approach. “Morning, sir.”

“Morning,” said Nash. “How’s it going, Walden?”

“Fine, sir. We’re still monitoring the CCTV, waiting for North to make a move.”

Nash nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that on the drive over. What if he doesn’t hack the council network to disable the CCTV? Then we’ll never know what he’s up to.” Walden coughed and his cheeks blushed. “Well, sir, that’s not entirely true. I’ve, erm, hacked the networks of all the surrounding local authorities, sir, and, erm.” He pointed over Nash’s shoulder at Frankland. “Frankie, erm, Private Frankland that is, has used North’s army personnel file to make a software body map and …”

“Spit it out, Walden. What are you talking about?”

Frankland took a step closer to Nash’s back. “Sir, Private Walden is trying to tell you that if North walks in front of a CCTV camera anywhere in the Tees Valley area, the SWARM analysis software will spot him. Unless he’s wearing a bloody good disguise, sir.”

Nash glanced round at Frankland then back to Walden. “And you’re embarrassed because you did this without orders?”

“Erm, yes, sir.” His cheeks were in full bloom.

“The army doesn’t need Yes men, Walden. Sure, you have to follow orders, but you also have to have initiative.” He smiled warmly at both of them. “That’s bloody marvellous work from the pair of you. We’ll catch this bastard yet.”

“What about York?” asked Frankland suddenly.

“What about it?” said Nash, instantly thinking of Jenny and feeling a stab of regret.

“I just wondered if there should be more of us, sir. I mean, we’re not even officially here, or anything. Shouldn’t there be more units, sir? Down in York. Or patrolling the trains. He could bomb anywhere, sir.”

“He’s coming back to Middlesbrough, Frankland. Count on that.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the police are doing everything they can. We’re just here in case they fail. York was unexpected, is all.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” Nash nodded and smiled. “Keep doing what you’re doing. And call me if you find anything.” He turned away, and then turned back as a thought occurred to him. “What about this weather?” He pointed up at the roiling blackness above them. “Looks like a thunder storm brewing. Can SWARM cope with that?”

Walden pursed his lips. “Rain isn’t too much of a problem, sir, but if the wind gets up it will make it difficult to keep the low-level drones on station.”

“Ok,” he said. “We’ll have to play that by ear. Keep in touch.”

“Yes, sir,” they said in unison as he walked back to the car.

Nash drove into the town centre and spent an hour buying a replacement outfit. He used the public toilets to change and shoved his dirty laundry into carrier bags to dump in the boot of his car. He’d decided not to return to his flat today; North knew where he lived and might go back there to locate him. Nash wanted him to believe he was still in York. He walked around the shopping arcades looking for possible sites to plant a bomb. The actual centre of town was pedestrianised which made him think that a car bomb was unlikely, though a big enough explosion on one of the encircling roads could still do a lot of damage. It just didn’t strike him as very efficient, and certainly wouldn’t guarantee taking out Nash as well, if that really was North’s intention.

At the central pedestrian hub on Corporation Road, he paused briefly beside the light-emitting sculpture which passed for contemporary art in Middlesbrough. It looked like nothing more than a metal frame with some barely visible LEDs and Nash thought it was a pile of overpriced crap. But it was perfectly located for a bomb. Even for a Monday morning there was a continuous stream of shoppers heading past the sculpture in every direction. A bomb placed here, he thought, especially a fragmentation device wrapped in ball bearings, would cause a huge number of casualties.

Perhaps that’s his idea, thought Nash. Lure him to this spot, reveal his grand finale of revenge, and then blow him up along with a few hundred innocent shoppers. It made a perverse kind of sense and certainly fit with his actions to date.

Satisfied, he walked the long way around the perimeter of the shopping centre, back towards the town hall and his parked car.

He passed alongside the open park area where North had exploded his first device and wondered briefly if he might try the same location again. He doubted it. There was still a significant police presence in and around the town centre and especially in the park. The council did use the enormous open area for music festivals and the like, but all of the planned events for the summer had been cancelled in the wake of the bombing. So there would never really be a large gathering of people in the park for some time to come. Commuters were also avoiding it as a walking route into town since the bombing.

The park area that morning was almost empty, he noticed, apart from a few people wandering around the edges of the yellow police tape which marked the boundary of the bomb blast. A few people simply stood and stared into the charred crater, but most sidestepped instead along the line of bouquets, reading the messages and prayers left for the dead. One old lady was on her knees praying and, even from a distance, Nash could see the tears running down her face.

No, thought Nash, he isn’t going to use the park again.

He bought a sandwich and drink to have on the journey back to York and headed back to his car. Before setting off he dialled the number for the Department.

“Go secure,” commanded a familiar voice.

He tapped in his code. “Hey, Hollingberry. How’s it hanging?”

“Nash,” she said, sounding strained, “glad to hear your voice.”

“I thought you’d be at home sitting in the garden.”

“Why would I be?” She sounded puzzled.

“The Department’s been suspended, remember? What are you doing there?”

“Oh, right. There are a few agents still to get back from the field. Then it will all be shut down in a week or so.”

“Don’t be down about it,” he said, “treat it like a holiday. A few weeks in the sun, they’ll catch this guy, and then business will be back to normal.”

“Let’s hope so. North might even surprise us and hand himself in.” She sighed. “It feels strange not typing notes as I’m talking to you. How’s the girlfriend?”

“Not good,” he answered, glad she hadn’t started telling him off about having a relationship while on assignment or implying that her injuries were all his fault. Even though he knew it to be true. Nash also avoided any reference to his own plans to catch North; it suited him that the Department thought he was helpless and unprepared. The mole still hadn’t been identified and he didn’t want any information getting back to him. “Listen, just tell Morgan I’m almost finished here and I’ll be leaving in a few days.”

“I’ve always liked working with you, Dan. Thought it would last forever.”

Her tone had a note of finality about it, almost a resignation that he wouldn’t survive. He tensed the muscles in his jaw, his mouth a grim line. “I’m not dead yet, Hollingberry. I’ll be seeing you.”

Chapter Nineteen

“Have you killed the terrorist yet?” She chuckled, a painful rasping wheeze. “Fiona told me what you’d said.”

Nash squeezed her hand and laughed. “Not yet. But I’m working on it.”

“Not funny, Dan. Don’t even joke about it. Fiona thought you were serious.”

He shrugged. “Ok. I won’t mention it again.” Not until he’s actually dead, he thought, and then Jenny needs to learn the whole truth.

She had been awake when Nash made it back to the hospital that afternoon. After his call to Hollingberry he’d driven straight to York to see Jenny, but had needed another half an hour to confer with Sark before going up to the ward. Sark loves all this, he thought. The chance to be a soldier again was like a dream come true for him. Nash still couldn’t believe the speed with which they had developed a working partnership - a step towards a lasting friendship - after years of petty distrust and dislike of each other.

After a night and day standing guard, Sark had looked tired. “Get some rest,” Nash had told him, after they’d concluded their discussions.

Sark had shaken his head at that. “I need to get the truck up to Middlesbrough. I’ll catch a few winks later.”

“Fine, but don’t get caught.”

“Not likely.”

Nash had given him directions to the scrapyard and then gone inside the hospital. Sark meanwhile had hobbled away to retrieve his stolen refuse truck and drive it to Middlesbrough.

It was definitely a weak aspect of their strategy, thought Nash. Refuse trucks weren’t the usual target of joyriders, but they needed one for the next phase of their plan and there wasn’t time to get one legitimately. Sark had arranged for one to be stolen in Leeds and brought to a warehouse in York. His contacts had then resprayed the truck in Middlesbrough Council’s livery. Even so, the police might decide to pull him over and the game would be up. After all, they knew a refuse truck had been stolen and they would be naturally curious if they saw an identical truck with Middlesbrough-markings driving near York - a town it had no place being.

Nash kept glancing at his mobile hoping to get a confirmation text telling him Sark had arrived safely. His phone remained stubbornly silent.

“Tell me something nice,” said Hughes suddenly. She tilted her bandaged face towards him and smiled weakly. “Cheer me up”

“Ok,” he said, stroking his chin. “I went to Croatia as a boy, just before the war. It was still part of Yugoslavia back then. It was the last time I went on holiday with my dad. He died in a car accident a few months later.”

She slapped his hand gently. “Something nice, I said.”

“It is nice. I’m just getting to that bit.” He cleared his throat. “We were backpacking, just the two of us. He never really said much, my dad, but we were still closer during that trip than we ever had been before. I think my mum had made him take me to build some bridges between us – it always bothered her that we didn’t speak much, but I don’t think we needed to – our relationship was solid really, just different. So one morning in the middle of the trip, we packed up our rucksacks and set off towards the Plitvice National Park. It’s beautiful up there – azure lakes and waterfalls surrounded by forest – we’ll have to go there together someday.”

“It’s a date.”

“Good. Anyway, I digress. That particular morning we headed along the road at a gentle walk, holding out our thumbs for a ride. The people there were always kind and friendly – they’d go out of their way to be helpful – and hitchhiking was still a good way to travel. Not like these days. So there we were, hoping for a truck or passing car to take pity on us, and you know who picked us up? A guy on a motorbike.”

“No. For both of you?”

“Yes, but wait, you haven’t heard the best part,” said Nash. “The bike had a sidecar, but it was filled with junk and, tied to the top, was a crate with two chickens inside. Live chickens, squawking happily away to themselves. My dad took one look at the bike and the chickens and tried to refuse the lift but this guy was having none of it. He took my rucksack and forced it into the sidecar next to the chicken crate, then motioned for me to get behind him on the bike. My dad had to get behind me, perched on the back edge of the seat and still wearing his own rucksack. And off we went with the three of us squeezed onto one bike.”

Jenny laughed. “Sounds fun.”

“It wasn’t, believe me. It took a couple of hours to get to the national park and I spent the whole time clinging for dear life to the driver. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I think dad was worse though; he was clinging to me so hard I could barely breathe. I was so happy when we finally got there.”

“A bit of an adventure then.”

“Exactly. And it turned out the guy went about twenty miles out of his way to take us there. Amazing people. That was a great trip.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand again in thanks. She lapsed into silence for a few minutes, the only sound in the room her breathing and the regular beeping of the attached monitors.

“Things are never going to be the same, Dan,” she said suddenly. “We’ll never be the same.”

Fiona chose that moment to come back into the room, carrying two cups of coffee. She passed one to Nash with a smile and looked down at the bed. “I’ve just spoken to mum and dad. They’re driving up in the morning.”

Jenny simply nodded and Fiona walked around the bed to sit in the opposite chair. Nash held his cup in one hand and Jenny’s slender fingers in the other. “Things will get better, I promise,” he said. “And we’ll get through this together.”

Jenny lay silently for a while and sobbed gently, but it wasn’t clear whether it was sadness or relief she was expressing. Eventually, she drifted back off to sleep, helped no doubt by the constant drip of pain-relieving drugs. Nash and Fiona glanced occasionally at each other across her sleeping form, but neither spoke.

The hours dragged by. Jenny awoke every few hours but had little to say. Her pain was a palpable entity in the room and Nash always felt relief when her latest dose of drugs eased her back to sleep.

It was after 4 am when his phone rang and woke him from a fitful sleep. He sat bolt upright on the chair and pulled the noisy mobile from his pocket. Across the bed, Fiona sat up rubbing her eyes and peering at him. He quickly stepped from the room into the corridor. “Hello.”

“Frankland here, sir. It’s started.”

“On my way.”

Nash went back into the room and leaned over to kiss Jenny on the forehead. She moaned softly but showed no other sign of recognition. He picked his jacket from the back of the chair and hung it over his arm. Fiona watched him silently.

“I have to leave,” he said.

“To kill the men responsible?” she asked, sarcastically.

Nash ignored the comment. He looked down at Jenny with concern across his face. “Your parents will be here soon. It might be best to get Jenny moved securely to another hospital. Nearer to your parents, perhaps.” He stared at her. “Safer for her in London.”

Her eyes suddenly brimmed with tears. “This isn’t personal, Dan. It was just a tragic accident. You’re scaring me with all this talk. She’ll be safer from whom, the terrorists?”

“I’m sorry, Fiona, I really am. But believe me, it is personal.” He reached down and squeezed Jenny’s hand. “I’m in love with your sister. You can believe that. And I want to make sure nothing else happens to her. So please ask your parents to move her to London.” He held her gaze for a moment. “Please?”

“Ok, Dan, I’ll ask them. And you be careful, whatever it is you’re doing.”
Nash nodded and smiled tightly. “I’ll be in touch.”

It was raining outside, a persistent shower, and he held his jacket to cover his head as he ran to the car. The sky above was black with clouds, threatening heavier rain to come after the long dry spell.

There were roadworks for the first five miles of the A19, with only one lane open, and he limped along behind a slow-moving lorry. The delay frustrated him, particularly as no workmen were in sight on the coned off section. They’re probably sheltering from the rain, he thought.

As he drove he thought about his comments to Fiona. He didn’t mean to frighten her and he knew she had no history of military service. The world he inhabited was an anathema to her. She had never seen death up close. But Nash needed her to feel some of his fear if that ensured Jenny would be safe. And he knew deep down that Jenny would be safer being a long distance away from him. At least until North was stopped.

He felt reasonably confident that Fiona would do the right thing. He also thought that a part of her wanted him to kill North. She just didn’t want to know the details. He made good time once he’d passed the roadworks and arrived at the scrapyard a little after five. A refuse truck was parked beside the main entrance, facing outwards, and he drove around it and pulled to a stop. The SWARM truck side-door was closed – protection from the rain, he thought – but its rear end was lowered, exposing multiple launch tubes which protruded into the air.

He bent over as he jogged through the rain to the truck and quickly climbed inside. Frankland and Walden barely glanced at him as he entered; they continued to tap keys and scrutinise the multiple images in front of them. Sark lounged in a seat at the back of the control room, sipping from a soft drinks can.

“What have we got?” asked Nash.

Walden tapped the keyboard to enter some additional commands, before turning slightly in his chair. Frankland remained resolutely fixed on the monitor in front of him, his right-hand controlling a mini-joystick.

“We detected a hack into the council network at 3.45 am, sir,” explained Walden, “and deployed SWARM. We spotted North almost immediately.” He pointed at one of the monitors. “That’s him, sir.” The image was sharp but taken from some height above the figure. It was only possible to make out a man pushing a cart – a street cleaner.

“You sure that’s him?”

“Yes, sir.” He tapped the keyboard again and an overlay graphic appeared around the figure’s face – the image rotated and enlarged as multiple feeds added detail and it gradually resolved into a high resolution photograph. An old army picture of North appeared alongside and the computer began drawing comparison angles between the two – measuring the distance between the eyes, length of nose, size of ears and so on – but Nash didn’t need any of that. It was unmistakably Edward North. A little older, perhaps, but he recognised him immediately.

“Ok, so what’s he up to?”

“He’s left now, sir. Frankland is monitoring him. But before he left he pushed his cart through the town centre and planted some bombs.”

“Some bombs? As in ‘more than one’?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Six to be precise,” said Sark. “Placed in bins between the two shopping centres.”

“Jeez. He’s really going for it, eh?” Nash looked over Frankland’s shoulder at the moving image of a car seen from above. “And where is he heading?”

“Looks like the coast, sir,” said Frankland. “He’s just passed Redcar and is heading towards Marske and Saltburn.”

“How long can you keep up pursuit?”

Walden piped up. “We pulled a Level 3 drone from the SWARM to follow him, sir. It has a two hundred mile range and can stay in the air for eight hours or so.”

“Level 3?”

“Yes, sir. SWARM has three levels of drones. Level 1’s are the most numerous – there are over a hundred of them – and they stay at a lower altitude. Individually, their resolution isn’t great, but collectively they can count single hairs on a target’s head. Level 2 are the control drones – there are only nine of them – and they can laser tag a target. Which we’ve done with North, by the way. We’ll know he’s back in Middlesbrough the moment he sticks his head out in the open. And then there are the Level 3 drones – and there are only three of them – which cruise at over a thousand feet. They’re for pursuits like this when a target leaves the deployment area.”

“Are they weaponised?”

Walden shook his head. “No, sir. I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Nash knew from the SWARM plans that it had been designed to be unobtrusive and light. Weapons would have been too heavy even for the larger drones. He turned to Sark, still sitting casually in his seat. “You ready to play chicken with some bombs?”

He pushed himself to his feet. “Let’s do it.”

Nash slid the truck door open. If anything the rain outside had become heavier, and thunder rumbled above. “Keep in touch,” he called to the two privates as he jumped down and ran through the muddy puddles towards the refuse truck. Sark hobbled quickly behind.

Chapter Twenty

Nash drove the refuse truck around the one-way system and turned into Corporation Road towards the onramp for the rooftop car park. He stopped and struggled for a moment to find reverse, grinding the gears.

“Want me to get out and push?” asked Sark.

“Yes, could you?” He yanked at the stick and finally found the gear. A loud klaxon sounded and an automated voice warned pedestrians of the truck’s direction. Not that anybody would be around this early in the morning, he thought, especially in this weather. He pulled onto the pedestrianised area and backed up almost to the metal sculpture.

“Where did he put them?”

Sark pointed each way up the long avenue between the shops. “Three up towards the Hill Street Centre and three alongside the Mall.”

“Right. We’ll do the Hill Street one’s first.” He lifted a bomber jacket with a high-viz vest from the seat beside him and pulled it on, along with a knitted hat. “Do I look the part?”

Sark nodded. “You look great. I’d be more concerned that it’s not bin day.”

“Nobody thought North was suspicious cleaning the streets in the middle of the night, so nobody will notice us. Come on.”

The rain had become a continuous shower and they could barely see thirty feet ahead of them as they walked to the farthest litter bin. Sark strained under the weight of a large canister he’d retrieved from the back of the truck. It looked a little like a scuba tank, but instead of a breathing tube it had a dispensing hose attached. He looped the tank over his shoulder and used his prosthetic hand to lift out a rucksack one-handed. He passed it to Nash as they set off. A flexible antenna stuck up from the pack.

“We look more like Ghostbusters than bin men,” said Nash.

“Well, if this doesn’t work, then who you gonna call?” Sark chuckled.

An early morning pedestrian walked past and barely glanced in their direction. She was too intent on holding her umbrella just above her head to protect herself from the driving rain. Thankfully, there was nobody else in sight, and especially no police to challenge them.

They approached the first bin cautiously and stopped a few feet away. Nash opened the side pouch of the rucksack and turned it on. A red light began to glow. “Electronic counter measures working.”

“Good, good. I watched the footage when North placed them and he wasn’t gentle. I’m guessing there aren’t any tamper switches.” He turned to Nash. “Although he could have activated them remotely when they were in situ. Do you think?”

“I have no idea.” He gestured towards the tank on Sark’s back. “Want me to do it?”

Sark stood silently for a few seconds, staring at the floor. “Fuck it,” he declared, suddenly, “you only live once.” He swung the tank to his front and walked forwards with Nash close behind. At the bin he slotted the hose through the waste slot and turned the lever. An icy mist rose from the inside of the bin.

Nash put the rucksack down and used a penknife to force the lock on the bin’s door. The bin itself was really just a shell to house a standard wheelie bin – it made it easier to empty than the old fashioned variety.

Sark turned off the hose and handed the tank to Nash. “That should do it.” He took hold of the wheelie bin handle with his prosthetic hand. “Here goes.” He tilted the bin slowly and eased it out onto the pavement.

“No boom,” said Nash.

“That’s a good sign.” Sark leaned forward and looked into the bin. The bomb package nestled on the top of piles of general rubbish – sandwich wrappers, drinks cans and the like – all with a coating of frost from the liquid nitrogen. The bomb itself consisted of a brown paper-wrapped parcel with protruding wires leading to a mobile phone – each side of the explosives was taped a clear bag filled with ball bearings. “Looking good. Let’s go.” He wheeled the bin back towards the refuse truck with Nash walking alongside carrying the ECM pack.

At the rear of the truck Nash pulled a lever to open the compactor. He turned back towards the bin. “Hands?” he said.

“Probably the best way. We don’t want to just chuck it in there.”

Nash nodded and reached into the wheelie bin for the bomb package. He instinctively held his head back by stretching his neck, although he knew at this range it wouldn’t make any difference. He lifted the bomb and held it at arms length and placed it in the back of the truck. Using a broom he found hanging on a rear bracket he gently eased the package along the floor until it was beyond the line of the compactor door. He finally pulled the lever to lower the door into place.

“You think this will contain the blast?”

Sark shook his head. “It will take the edge off it, but that looks like a big chunk of C4. And six of them together…” He shrugged.

“Right. Let’s get the rest.”

“One sec.” Sark climbed back into the cab and came out with another rucksack. He switched on the ECM and hung it from the rear bracket of the truck. “Ready.”

Nash grabbed the wheelie bin in one hand and his rucksack in the other and ran back to the first bin. He closed the door and turned the lock back into place before running back to join Sark.

They repeated the same process for the next two bombs. Sark used liquid nitrogen to chill the mechanism and Nash stood by with the electronic countermeasures pack. They safely stowed the bombs in the back of the truck each time, pushed them into place with the broom, and lowered the door over them.

Then, with a suddenness like a tap being turned off, the rain stopped. The clouds were still grey with patches of shadowy darkness, but the deluge was at an end. To the east the lightening sky announced the arrival of dawn. The transition was so sudden it made them pause to look at each other.

“Its going to get busy around here soon,” said Sark.

Nash nodded. “We’ll have to pick up the pace.”

The next bomb was safely disposed of without incident, but a pedestrian stopped to watch them as they worked on the fifth. Sark sprayed nitrogen into the bin and the icy steam wafted over the top. The observer frowned at the sight. “What’s going on?”

“Rats,” explained Nash.


“The cheeky blighters climb into the bins at night. We have to freeze them or they jump out and maul us.”

Sark held up his prosthetic hand. “You might want to stand back. It doesn’t always work and they go for the throat when they’re angry. This is what happens if you block them with your hand.”

The man shook his head in disgust and walked away, muttering.

Nash laughed. “He didn’t seem convinced. Come on, we’re almost done.”

He pulled the bin out and started back towards the truck when his radio beeped.

“Walden here, sir. Are you receiving?”

“Loud and clear. Go ahead, private.”

“North parked near the pier at Saltburn, sir. He’s been sitting there for twenty minutes. Looked like he was waiting for the rain to stop.”

“And now?”

“He’s walked to the end of the pier. Another man has approached him and they’re talking to each other.”

Nash stroked his chin. “Who could that be?”

“No idea, sir. What would you like us to do?”

“Keep monitoring. I’ll get back to you.” He clipped the radio back to his belt and took hold of the wheelie bin again. He waited until they had he bomb safely stowed before turning to Sark. “What do you think?”

Sark shrugged. “We thought he was working alone.”

“Yeah, I never considered him as being in a cell.” He walked slowly back towards the last bin. “He might have somebody watching us now. We never guessed there was anyone else involved.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody spying on us.” He swept an arm along the rooftops. “Or they’d have contacted North and he wouldn’t be calmly chatting away on the pier. No, this vendetta against you is a solitary affair, I’m sure. But maybe he’s planning his next trick. I mean, he has no reason to think this thing isn’t going to work. Maybe his next job needs more people to pull off.”

“Good point. In which case it would be useful to know the name of this strange man.”

“So follow him,” said Sark. “North is going to have to contact you if he wants you here for his planned finale. He’ll think you’re in York so he’ll have to give you at least an hour’s notice to get here, and as soon as he shows up in Middlesbrough he’ll be picked up by SWARM anyway. It’s a no-brainer.”

Nash placed the ECM next to the final bin and unclipped the radio. “Walden. It’s Nash.”

“Reading you loud and clear, sir.”

“Follow the stranger when they separate.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sark quickly froze the final bomb and Nash picked up the ECM with one hand while pulling out the bin with the other. They headed casually back to the truck as if really just collecting rubbish rather than moving a lethal explosive device. In seconds it was safely stowed with the others and Nash ran back to replace the wheelie bin.

As he got back to the truck a pair of police officers wandered towards him. “Morning, Officers,” he called.

“Good morning,” replied one; the other smiled briefly. They ambled past the truck and headed towards the bus station, oblivious to anything out of the ordinary. Probably going to the coffee shop for breakfast, he thought, and not thinking there’s anything suspicious about early morning council workers emptying bins.

Nash started the truck and drove back along Corporation Road towards the dual carriageway. “Did you find somewhere safe for this lot?”

“Yes. Head towards Great Ayton.”

“I live in Great Ayton,” he objected.

“Don’t panic. Its a few miles out.” Sark pulled out his mobile and switched on a satnav application to direct Nash. On the outskirts of the village the route led round towards the hills and through another small hamlet before taking a single-track road up to a locked gate. Sark jumped out and pulled a set of keys from his pocket for the padlock. He opened the gate and held it as Nash drove the truck through. The track wound upwards for another two hundred metres and ended in a disused quarry.

“Right,” said Sark. “We can either leave it here or drive it into the lagoon.”
 “What lagoon?”

Sark laughed. “That’s what the kids used to call it before the quarry was fenced off. The blue lagoon. Its part of the old iron-ore mine workings. The tunnel roof collapsed and filled with rainwater. The locals used to come and swim in it until someone got caught in the weeds and drowned.”
“Where is it?”

“Just round that bend,” he said, pointing to the left of the rough hewn cliff.

Nash shoved the truck back into gear. “Sounds good. I doubt if these bombs will go off without a signal, but better to be safe than sorry.” He drove slowly over the uneven ground and took a few minutes to reach the edge of the pool. The ‘lagoon’ was about fifty feet long by thirty wide with an uneven edge – there was a drop of ten feet from the top to the surface of the water.

Nash stopped the truck and climbed out. He stepped to the edge and peered down, kicking a stone far out across the water and watching the ripples it made. He couldn’t see the bottom through the murky water; it was more a brown lagoon than a blue one, he thought. “Sure it’s deep enough?”

“Only one way to find out.”

Nash climbed back into the cab and left the door open. He pulled it forward slowly until it started to roll over the edge and then slapped the gears into neutral and jumped clear. The truck teetered for a second or two before gathering speed. It ran headfirst into the water with a large splash. As it started to sink, the back wheels slid at an angle on the bank above and it fell slowly onto its side. Both of them watched carelessly from the edge of the pool despite being aware of the dangers. If the bombs were triggered by the violent crashing about of the truck, the blast would kill them. That regardless of the thick steel compactor walls and they knew it. But nothing exploded and the truck settled into the pool; its sheer weight pulled it quickly below the surface and it vanished from sight.

“That’s that,” said Nash slapping his palms together.

“Does that mean we won?” laughed Sark.

“Not quite yet.” He smiled at him. “How did you find this place anyway?”

Sark shrugged. “I know a guy. Come on, its half a mile back to the road. There’s a car waiting for us. And yes, before you say it, I did think of everything.”

They started walking over the rough ground, Nash slowing his pace to match Sark’s, and thought about their next steps. It was still not eight o’clock and they’d managed to avert a catastrophic terrorist attack and saved possibly hundreds of lives. Not bad going before breakfast, thought Nash. Now all he had to do was catch North and kill him and a good day would be transformed into a great one.

At the gate Sark locked the padlock and shoved the keys back in his pocket. “I’m going to suggest to my friend that he fill the lagoon up after our visit. A few hundred tons of earth on top of that truck can’t hurt anything.”

“Good idea. Send me the bill.”

He laughed. “That goes without saying. So what next?”

“Breakfast.” Nash grinned. “And kill North for brunch.”


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