2020 WIPEOUT by Stuart Holland

EXTRACT FOR
2020 WIPEOUT 
(Stuart Holland)


PROLOGUE

The world is a dangerous place. When they killed the leader of al-Qaeda, the politicians told everyone it would make the world a safer place. But, it hasn’t. All it’s done is to drive the fanatics and the members of the networks underground. Now, instead of a few central locations for the authorities to watch, each of these groups of just a few people or even lone wolves, is capable of acting on their own. They’ve got smarter, act more intuitively, and are becoming progressively more dangerous.

For example, take this new plant we have discovered in Syria. Heaven only knows what it’s for or who funded its construction. It could well be for legitimate purposes, but it could equally be highly dangerous. We just don’t know, because the world has changed, so finding out its true purpose is next to impossible.

Any of our sleeping targets, and we have hundreds of them, could wake up tomorrow and decide it’s the right day to create mayhem on the mainland or elsewhere. We have reached the point where we simply don’t know what resources they have to hand, or how they intend to use them, or when. In truth, apart from the usual array of knives and guns that are so prevalent on the streets these days, we have no idea what other types of weapons they may already have access to.

But, our greatest fear is that the greatest threat to our security may well not be the targets who are known to us. The world has changed, because we now have to worry about the have-a-go type lone wolf who we know nothing about. Add to that we have to worry about organisations like Braddock. We have to worry about them because they could be a threat, not because they are already known to be a threat.

With this in mind, I would suggest we will need more and more resources to endeavour to at least stay on a level playing field with the threats we may well be facing.

Selena Preston
Projects Manager
ATRIUM, March 2020


CHAPTER ONE
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

The market at Yalvac was already bustling when the white van arrived. The temperature was already over eighty degrees and would certainly reach ninety by mid-afternoon. The van had no air conditioning and its driver mopped his forehead with a grubby handkerchief as he pulled the vehicle into the dusty side of the road. It was a journey Daniel Newton had made many times before. Yalvac was one of his more regular destinations and Newton had long since decided on the best day of the week to make his visit, the best time of the day to arrive and the best place to try and park. He was a couple of hundred yards from the marketplace and the side road in which he had parked was almost deserted. A woman in traditional Turkish dress was busy mopping the step that led into her humble dwelling. She ignored Newton as he alighted from the van, carefully locked it and began the short walk to the market. As he walked, Newton glanced at his watch and smiled to himself.
Newton walked casually, trying hard not to look like a tourist. He reached the first of the market stalls and stopped to look at the array of fruit and vegetables. He picked out some oranges and held them up to attract the stallholder’s attention. Two minutes later he was walking away with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm.
He browsed through a couple of stalls that sold leather belts and bags. The marketplace was already full of American tourists. Summer had arrived. The coaches that bussed in the flocks of willing, eager tourists had already begun to arrive for the day and Newton knew some serious haggling would be taking place at most of the stalls. The local people relied heavily on the tourist trade and with the ruins of the Biblical city of Antakya, or Antioch, no more than a short journey away, Yalvac attracted some heavy tourist traffic in season. It was the beginning of the season and Newton knew the marketplace would soon be heaving. It was so different to the quieter, winter months.
Newton found the street café he had frequented so many times before and took a seat at a roadside table. The coffee was strong and ice cold, a refreshing drink on what was already a scorching, summer’s day. Newton sipped the coffee carefully, watching the flow of shoppers with some amusement. He’d spent six days on the road getting here. Now he had a couple of days to pick up the consignment before his journey home would start. He’d use the afternoon to make contact with his supplier. As always, he knew the orders would not be ready. They never were ready, which was why he always allowed a couple of days in the area. It was Tuesday so most probably he’d be kicking his heels until Thursday or possibly Friday. There was no rush, there never was. As always he had all the paperwork in the van. The import licences, order manifests, the lot. He could account for everything he transported, he always could. He was meticulous and fastidious as to detail, which was why he had been chosen.
It had all started years earlier when Newton had been involved in the mercy dashes to take aid to Syria and other countries. He hadn’t had the white van then but had hired one for the trip. It had been an experience he would never forget and it had opened his eyes to the opportunities that were presented by travelling around Europe and beyond. After a while he’d made some contacts and had orders to import various kinds of goods. All he’d done was hire another van, travelled around Europe picking up the various goods he was to import, and taken them back to England.
Somewhere along the way, and he couldn’t remember when, he’d been approached by two well-dressed businessmen. They owned a string of shops and needed to bring the goods they sold into Britain on a regular basis. Their proposition had been a good one. They bought Newton his white van, supplied him with the orders once every two months and he did all the travelling and collecting of products. Everything was legitimate, above board and covered by immaculate paperwork, licences and the necessary travel documents. He was paid two thousand pounds for each journey together with all his travelling and accommodation costs.
For a single man who’d just been made redundant it had been like a dream come true. Newton had begun the journeys, visiting the towns mentioned by his employers, picking up the orders as they directed him. At first he’d been eyed by the various authorities with a good degree of suspicion but he’d learned how to handle them. Helped by the immaculate paperwork he’d never been held up for more than a few hours. The products were mainly rugs, linen, leather goods and other miscellaneous gift items. There was never any cause for concern at any border crossing.
He’d made over twenty journeys before he’d been introduced to Dieter Zussman. Zussman was a jeweller, a small time trader with Eastern connections. Like the two businessmen Newton worked for, he needed certain products brought into the country. Again it was all legitimate, paperwork was provided and the contacts seemed authentic. It was easy for Newton to accept the additional business, especially as his new contacts were all in the same areas he was already covering. The extra thousand pounds a trip also helped Newton, and to the people behind Zussman it was a price worth paying.
Newton began collecting the cheap bracelets, bangles, watches and other, more expensive, items of jewellery he had on his order sheets. He’d now made well over a dozen such collections. They were always almost the same in terms of quantity. There’d be a few hundred bracelets, twenty to thirty watches, a couple of trays of rings of various types, some strings of necklaces and various other items.
Newton watched the tourists as they flocked to the marketplace, seeking out the ultimate bargain, in much the same way a bird of prey seeks out its next victim. Newton smiled to himself as he sipped the second iced coffee. The Mediterranean area was hot by this time of year and the rugged Turkish coast was only a few miles away. If, as he knew would be the case, he was going to be delayed for a few days, he’d take the van off down to the secluded cove he’d discovered. There he’d be able to relax a bit and catch a few hours of sunshine. The marketplace was busy now with the numbers of tourists that had swooped on it. Newton stood up, reckoned the temperature was fast approaching ninety, and joined the bustling crowd.
***
Dieter Zussman was a small man, stocky and balding. He wore silver-rimmed half-spectacles that perched on the end of his somewhat ruddy nose. The dark blue pinstripe suit sported a clean, neatly pressed handkerchief in the top pocket. He looked what he claimed to be, a displaced Jew who was building his own business in a foreign land. He stood diminutively behind the counter. On the customer side of the glass-topped counter stood a woman. Taller than Zussman by some four inches, she had long, blonde hair that flowed down over her shoulders. She was attired in a simple frock and the bulge in the lower part of the dress revealed the later stages of her pregnancy.
‘Gavin,’ she said, ‘that’s my husband, insisted I came to look for an eternity ring. I think the diamond and sapphire band you have in the window looks absolutely gorgeous. Do you mind if I try it on?’
‘Of course you must try it on, Madam. We do actually have a number of designs, if Madam would like to look at some others for comparison purposes.’
‘Oh, that would be splendid.’
‘Sandra,’ he called out into the back of the shop, ‘could you bring out the diamond and sapphire rings please?’ Zussman smiled and walked over to the shop window. He unlocked the glass panel and withdrew the tray containing the ring from the display.
‘Now, Madam, this contains seven diamonds and on the top part of the band there are five sapphires.’
‘What a strange design,’ she commented.
‘Yes, Madam, it is a ring from the East of Europe, one that we import especially for our more discerning clients. Ah, Sandra, thank you my dear.’
The pretty, dark-haired twenty-something had opened the door behind the counter and handed Zussman a tray containing about twenty rings of various designs.
‘Now, Madam, I have to say that because it is a special ring, this is reflected somewhat in its value.’ Zussman coughed delicately as if somewhat embarrassed by the price tag.
‘I should hope so too. Oh look, are those angels?’ She’d been looking at the tray of rings and swooped on one of them. Tiny figures appeared to have been carved into the gold band on either side of the central, top diamond. Further diamonds and sapphires covered the majority of the rest of the band.
‘I believe they are love birds or some such. They are rather delicate, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, absolutely delightful. Can I try it on?’
‘Of course you may, Madam.’ The woman offered the finger on which she already displayed a rather ostentatious diamond engagement ring and a plain band of gold for her wedding ring. Zussman delicately placed the ring on her finger. It fitted easily.
‘We can adjust the ring in about an hour if Madam wants us to,’ Zussman offered.
‘Oh, it’s gorgeous. How much is it, please?’
‘Three thousand two hundred pounds,’ Zussman replied. He noted the woman did not flinch or react to the sum of money. She held her finger up to the light, admiring the beauty of the creation. As she did so, Zussman recognised the design marks on the engagement ring. They told him it was one of his own. ‘We could, of course, give you a ten percent discount seeing as you are a regular customer,’ he hastily added.
‘That is very kind of you, Mr Zussman. You know, I think Gavin will be delighted with this. It’s to celebrate our third child you know. Yes, I’ll take it, but it will need to be made a bit smaller I think.’
‘Yes, I would agree with you. Do you know what size your wedding band is?’
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
‘It doesn’t matter. We can fit you very quickly.’
Ten minutes later the size had been determined, the ring paid for in cash, which surprised Zussman, and the woman was walking back down the road with the receipt in her handbag and an hour to wait before she could make the collection. The ring was in the backroom, the band size being skilfully adjusted by the young woman who Zussman had employed as an assistant jeweller. She was showing promise, a great deal of promise and Zussman considered she would be more than capable of doing the job he had planned for her if he expanded the business to a third shop in a few months’ time.
The man had been standing nonchalantly at the back of the shop, his face turned away from Zussman as he looked at a display case, while the customer was being served. Now, as she closed the door behind her, he stepped forward.
‘Yes, sir,’ Zussman was still closing the window display cabinet, having replaced the ring. The tray of rings was under the counter out of view.
‘Mr Zussman, how are you today?’ The voice was heavy, thick set and heavily accented. The man was thin and sporting a short, grey beard. His eyes were heavy set, and his breath stank of garlic.
‘Very well, thank you.’ Zussman started to sweat slightly as the man took one step towards the counter.
‘That is good, very good. Our friend asked me to drop in to see if you had heard anything about the goods yet, so I can assure him everything is okay.’
‘I’ve heard nothing yet, but as the driver is not due back for another eight days, it is likely the contact has not been made yet. Phone me in a few days and I will tell you if I have any news. Now, to avoid suspicion, I suggest you don’t come back here. Use the method we agreed before. We don’t want anything to go wrong, do we?’
‘No, Mr Zussman, we do not. That would be most unfortunate for everybody. Let us hope the driver is as astute on this journey as he always has been before.’
‘He will be. Your people have been using him for several years. Has he ever let you down?’
‘No, but some of our people are just a bit nervous seeing as this journey is, how shall we say, a bit special.’
‘He’ll be fine. The paperwork is as good as ever. I am sure everything will go smoothly for all of us. Now, before my assistant hears anything untoward, I will bid you good day.’
Zussman came from behind the counter and escorted the other man to the door. Zussman held the door open politely and quietly ushered his visitor back onto the street. With the door closed behind him, Zussman took the neatly folded handkerchief from his top pocket and padded the top of his forehead.
‘Sandra,’ he called, ‘I am going out for some coffee. I will lock the door on the way out so you won’t be disturbed. You have the ring we just sold to adjust and after that the carriage clocks need to be polished. If there are any phone calls, please take messages.’
He’d barely finished speaking before the door behind the counter opened and the young woman appeared.
‘Okay, Mr Zussman. How long will you be?’
‘About forty minutes. You can wait that long for a break until I get back?’ He framed it as a question but the woman knew it was really a statement.
‘Of course I can.’ She disappeared into the room behind the shop and closed the door. Zussman turned the shop sign to display ‘Closed’ and, locking the door behind him, walked briskly down the High Street of Reigate in Surrey. It was early for coffee, barely ten o’clock, but Zussman had much on his mind. So much depended on a chain of events taking place several thousand miles away, events he could not control, events that would severely affect his future if they went wrong. Yes, Dieter Zussman was a troubled man.
***
Most people think of an Operations Room as being a place bustling with activity. Selena Preston was different. Her Operations Room consisted of a single desk on which sat a solitary telephone and a laptop computer. The room contained the usual filing cabinets and bookcase, two sofas and half a dozen chairs that were arranged in waiting room fashion around the walls. The building in which the Operations Room was housed was not ostentatious. In fact it hardly merited attention at all. The room was on the second floor of the building. Some obscure firm of city lawyers occupied the first floor and a chain store owned the street level premises. The room suited Preston perfectly. It gave her the solitude she liked, yet at the same time she was never more than a phone call away from the team. The team, she laughed to herself on occasion, was almost anything but a team. The mere word, ‘team’, implied some kind of bonding, unity, working together, yet she had eight disparate individuals who worked mostly on their own, without contact, unless it was through her. They were, in Selena Preston’s opinion, almost like shadows.
Selena Preston was a unique woman. Now in her late thirties, she had often been paraded as the high flier she had proven to be. She was attractive, with short-cropped blond hair and a disarming smile. Her credentials were, of course, visibly impeccable. They had to be for she was entrusted with one of those jobs that required utter, unswerving loyalty to the Crown. She’d been vetted, checked and double checked by just about every intelligence agency and she had come through them all. She had no known boyfriend or other baggage in her life and she was totally devoted to her job. Her rise through the essential departments and the necessary training programs had been meteoric and at some point she had been shown to have an IQ that would make most MENSA members blush with envy. She had a razor sharp mind, an almost photographic memory that absorbed details like a sponge and she was one of the rare breed of people who had remained totally calm and clear thinking during every crisis that had been thrown at her during training. She deserved the job and she worked at it for up to sixteen hours a day. Some people reckoned she even slept with the job.
Preston looked out of the window of her office across the waters of the river Thames and scratched the top of her head. The London Eye was rotating as it always did, the sun glistening off the capsules as they continued on their unending journey. Even though the wheel was some distance away it still dominated her line of sight when she looked upstream.
It had been quiet, too quiet, since the team had been put together. The aftermath of the Twin Towers disaster, the reprisal actions in Afghanistan, the dismantling of a number of terrorist networks, and the death of Osama bin Laden, once leader of al-Qaeda, were all in the distant past. Other terrorist factions had arisen, including ISIS, but they had not caused the formation of this particular team. What had caused the formation of the team was a new threat that had risen, or at least there was fear that it could be about to rise. From the smouldering remains of the original factions and the more recent ones still in distant lands, some Mandarin in Whitehall had conceived the possibility of a new, even more deadly, force being formed.
Five years earlier a top-secret laboratory deep in the Nevada desert had been breached by what was believed to be a lone assailant. It had taken months for the news to leak out to the relevant authorities in allied countries and then the threat had been categorised as small though the suspected assailant had never been captured. A single phial containing the deadly Marburg virus could not be accounted for after the breach and after a while it had been attributed to a possible accounting error. The boffins who worked at the top-level laboratory had suggested that a single phial would not be able to pose a significant threat and as there had been no outbreak of the deadly virus that could be attributed to the phial, it was widely considered the virus would have died given the phial in isolation gave the virus a life-expectancy of just a few months. But it was this breach that had caused the first elements of the team being assembled in the UK.
More recently, incidents in the UK involving nerve agent poisonings, Paris, Belgium and elsewhere on Continental Europe had also influenced the minds of the relevant people. As a result, the machinery had been put in motion because no possible risk to National security could be ignored. Moreover, the Mandarin in Whitehall carried a good track record and a great deal of influence in the right circles. He was not a member of the Old Boys club of influence but he had certainly gained the respect and more importantly the ear of certain members of the club over the past twenty or more years.
ATRIUM (Anti-Terrorist Research, Infiltration and Undercover Manoeuvres) had been formed as part of the strategy to unearth plans any terrorists might be making, as well as provide a separate layer of protection against this new, perceived threat. That had been well over a year ago and for all their contacts, all the targets they had followed and watched closely, they’d come up with nothing. Of course, the eight members of ATRIUM, nine if you included Preston, had been assisted greatly. New Scotland Yard, the Intelligence Services and the various authorities all around the country had played their part, watching and following the known suspects and sympathisers. They’d all reported back through the lines of command until the disseminated information arrived back on Preston’s desk. Then it was filed, meticulously.
Preston looked out of the window and wondered if the time had come to call it a day. ATIUM had unearthed nothing that the other intelligence services did not know about. They had uncovered nothing of a specific terrorist threat, not even an inkling of any activity, for the past year and it was costing a great deal of tax payers’ money. Questions were already being asked in certain quarters and if the existence of the group were to become known outside of those quarters the disaffection would rise rapidly. Preston was keen to avoid the public condemnation of yet another Quango, for that is how people would doubtless see ATRIUM.
After a few minutes looking out at the London Eye, Preston turned back to her desk and picked up the plain, manila-coloured folder. In it were the eight sheets of paper that comprised the latest reports from the team. She read them again, looking for signs of something, though she didn’t know what. She looked at the report from Travis Marshall. He’d spent the month watching a couple of known fanatics but had nothing to report other than the observation that one of them had either walked past or visited a jeweller’s shop south of London on three separate occasions within a period of ten days. The visits seemed innocuous but Marshall deemed them worth including in his report if only because there was nothing else to include.
Preston turned to the next report which was from Brian Keeley. Based around Newbury he’d been keeping a watching brief on a small group of known activists. There were five of them, all of Arabic extraction. They visited the local Mosque regularly, and met at a café on the outskirts of the town centre twice a week. Other than that they either spent much of their time in the local snooker hall which was owned by a past star of the game, or they spent their days out and about. None of them appeared to have employment but that was nothing unusual and nothing to get excited about.
The other six reports were equally as unimpressive as Keeley’s and Marshall’s. Preston banged the folder down on her desk and paced around the room seeking inspiration. She came to the coffee maker sitting on top of the filing cabinet next to the door to her office and poured a cup for herself before returning to her desk. She picked up the phone and pressed a speed-dial button.

2020 WIPEOUT by Stuart Holland

EXTRACT FOR
2020 WIPEOUT 
(Stuart Holland)


PROLOGUE

The world is a dangerous place. When they killed the leader of al-Qaeda, the politicians told everyone it would make the world a safer place. But, it hasn’t. All it’s done is to drive the fanatics and the members of the networks underground. Now, instead of a few central locations for the authorities to watch, each of these groups of just a few people or even lone wolves, is capable of acting on their own. They’ve got smarter, act more intuitively, and are becoming progressively more dangerous.

For example, take this new plant we have discovered in Syria. Heaven only knows what it’s for or who funded its construction. It could well be for legitimate purposes, but it could equally be highly dangerous. We just don’t know, because the world has changed, so finding out its true purpose is next to impossible.

Any of our sleeping targets, and we have hundreds of them, could wake up tomorrow and decide it’s the right day to create mayhem on the mainland or elsewhere. We have reached the point where we simply don’t know what resources they have to hand, or how they intend to use them, or when. In truth, apart from the usual array of knives and guns that are so prevalent on the streets these days, we have no idea what other types of weapons they may already have access to.

But, our greatest fear is that the greatest threat to our security may well not be the targets who are known to us. The world has changed, because we now have to worry about the have-a-go type lone wolf who we know nothing about. Add to that we have to worry about organisations like Braddock. We have to worry about them because they could be a threat, not because they are already known to be a threat.

With this in mind, I would suggest we will need more and more resources to endeavour to at least stay on a level playing field with the threats we may well be facing.

Selena Preston
Projects Manager
ATRIUM, March 2020


CHAPTER ONE
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

The market at Yalvac was already bustling when the white van arrived. The temperature was already over eighty degrees and would certainly reach ninety by mid-afternoon. The van had no air conditioning and its driver mopped his forehead with a grubby handkerchief as he pulled the vehicle into the dusty side of the road. It was a journey Daniel Newton had made many times before. Yalvac was one of his more regular destinations and Newton had long since decided on the best day of the week to make his visit, the best time of the day to arrive and the best place to try and park. He was a couple of hundred yards from the marketplace and the side road in which he had parked was almost deserted. A woman in traditional Turkish dress was busy mopping the step that led into her humble dwelling. She ignored Newton as he alighted from the van, carefully locked it and began the short walk to the market. As he walked, Newton glanced at his watch and smiled to himself.
Newton walked casually, trying hard not to look like a tourist. He reached the first of the market stalls and stopped to look at the array of fruit and vegetables. He picked out some oranges and held them up to attract the stallholder’s attention. Two minutes later he was walking away with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm.
He browsed through a couple of stalls that sold leather belts and bags. The marketplace was already full of American tourists. Summer had arrived. The coaches that bussed in the flocks of willing, eager tourists had already begun to arrive for the day and Newton knew some serious haggling would be taking place at most of the stalls. The local people relied heavily on the tourist trade and with the ruins of the Biblical city of Antakya, or Antioch, no more than a short journey away, Yalvac attracted some heavy tourist traffic in season. It was the beginning of the season and Newton knew the marketplace would soon be heaving. It was so different to the quieter, winter months.
Newton found the street café he had frequented so many times before and took a seat at a roadside table. The coffee was strong and ice cold, a refreshing drink on what was already a scorching, summer’s day. Newton sipped the coffee carefully, watching the flow of shoppers with some amusement. He’d spent six days on the road getting here. Now he had a couple of days to pick up the consignment before his journey home would start. He’d use the afternoon to make contact with his supplier. As always, he knew the orders would not be ready. They never were ready, which was why he always allowed a couple of days in the area. It was Tuesday so most probably he’d be kicking his heels until Thursday or possibly Friday. There was no rush, there never was. As always he had all the paperwork in the van. The import licences, order manifests, the lot. He could account for everything he transported, he always could. He was meticulous and fastidious as to detail, which was why he had been chosen.
It had all started years earlier when Newton had been involved in the mercy dashes to take aid to Syria and other countries. He hadn’t had the white van then but had hired one for the trip. It had been an experience he would never forget and it had opened his eyes to the opportunities that were presented by travelling around Europe and beyond. After a while he’d made some contacts and had orders to import various kinds of goods. All he’d done was hire another van, travelled around Europe picking up the various goods he was to import, and taken them back to England.
Somewhere along the way, and he couldn’t remember when, he’d been approached by two well-dressed businessmen. They owned a string of shops and needed to bring the goods they sold into Britain on a regular basis. Their proposition had been a good one. They bought Newton his white van, supplied him with the orders once every two months and he did all the travelling and collecting of products. Everything was legitimate, above board and covered by immaculate paperwork, licences and the necessary travel documents. He was paid two thousand pounds for each journey together with all his travelling and accommodation costs.
For a single man who’d just been made redundant it had been like a dream come true. Newton had begun the journeys, visiting the towns mentioned by his employers, picking up the orders as they directed him. At first he’d been eyed by the various authorities with a good degree of suspicion but he’d learned how to handle them. Helped by the immaculate paperwork he’d never been held up for more than a few hours. The products were mainly rugs, linen, leather goods and other miscellaneous gift items. There was never any cause for concern at any border crossing.
He’d made over twenty journeys before he’d been introduced to Dieter Zussman. Zussman was a jeweller, a small time trader with Eastern connections. Like the two businessmen Newton worked for, he needed certain products brought into the country. Again it was all legitimate, paperwork was provided and the contacts seemed authentic. It was easy for Newton to accept the additional business, especially as his new contacts were all in the same areas he was already covering. The extra thousand pounds a trip also helped Newton, and to the people behind Zussman it was a price worth paying.
Newton began collecting the cheap bracelets, bangles, watches and other, more expensive, items of jewellery he had on his order sheets. He’d now made well over a dozen such collections. They were always almost the same in terms of quantity. There’d be a few hundred bracelets, twenty to thirty watches, a couple of trays of rings of various types, some strings of necklaces and various other items.
Newton watched the tourists as they flocked to the marketplace, seeking out the ultimate bargain, in much the same way a bird of prey seeks out its next victim. Newton smiled to himself as he sipped the second iced coffee. The Mediterranean area was hot by this time of year and the rugged Turkish coast was only a few miles away. If, as he knew would be the case, he was going to be delayed for a few days, he’d take the van off down to the secluded cove he’d discovered. There he’d be able to relax a bit and catch a few hours of sunshine. The marketplace was busy now with the numbers of tourists that had swooped on it. Newton stood up, reckoned the temperature was fast approaching ninety, and joined the bustling crowd.
***
Dieter Zussman was a small man, stocky and balding. He wore silver-rimmed half-spectacles that perched on the end of his somewhat ruddy nose. The dark blue pinstripe suit sported a clean, neatly pressed handkerchief in the top pocket. He looked what he claimed to be, a displaced Jew who was building his own business in a foreign land. He stood diminutively behind the counter. On the customer side of the glass-topped counter stood a woman. Taller than Zussman by some four inches, she had long, blonde hair that flowed down over her shoulders. She was attired in a simple frock and the bulge in the lower part of the dress revealed the later stages of her pregnancy.
‘Gavin,’ she said, ‘that’s my husband, insisted I came to look for an eternity ring. I think the diamond and sapphire band you have in the window looks absolutely gorgeous. Do you mind if I try it on?’
‘Of course you must try it on, Madam. We do actually have a number of designs, if Madam would like to look at some others for comparison purposes.’
‘Oh, that would be splendid.’
‘Sandra,’ he called out into the back of the shop, ‘could you bring out the diamond and sapphire rings please?’ Zussman smiled and walked over to the shop window. He unlocked the glass panel and withdrew the tray containing the ring from the display.
‘Now, Madam, this contains seven diamonds and on the top part of the band there are five sapphires.’
‘What a strange design,’ she commented.
‘Yes, Madam, it is a ring from the East of Europe, one that we import especially for our more discerning clients. Ah, Sandra, thank you my dear.’
The pretty, dark-haired twenty-something had opened the door behind the counter and handed Zussman a tray containing about twenty rings of various designs.
‘Now, Madam, I have to say that because it is a special ring, this is reflected somewhat in its value.’ Zussman coughed delicately as if somewhat embarrassed by the price tag.
‘I should hope so too. Oh look, are those angels?’ She’d been looking at the tray of rings and swooped on one of them. Tiny figures appeared to have been carved into the gold band on either side of the central, top diamond. Further diamonds and sapphires covered the majority of the rest of the band.
‘I believe they are love birds or some such. They are rather delicate, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, absolutely delightful. Can I try it on?’
‘Of course you may, Madam.’ The woman offered the finger on which she already displayed a rather ostentatious diamond engagement ring and a plain band of gold for her wedding ring. Zussman delicately placed the ring on her finger. It fitted easily.
‘We can adjust the ring in about an hour if Madam wants us to,’ Zussman offered.
‘Oh, it’s gorgeous. How much is it, please?’
‘Three thousand two hundred pounds,’ Zussman replied. He noted the woman did not flinch or react to the sum of money. She held her finger up to the light, admiring the beauty of the creation. As she did so, Zussman recognised the design marks on the engagement ring. They told him it was one of his own. ‘We could, of course, give you a ten percent discount seeing as you are a regular customer,’ he hastily added.
‘That is very kind of you, Mr Zussman. You know, I think Gavin will be delighted with this. It’s to celebrate our third child you know. Yes, I’ll take it, but it will need to be made a bit smaller I think.’
‘Yes, I would agree with you. Do you know what size your wedding band is?’
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
‘It doesn’t matter. We can fit you very quickly.’
Ten minutes later the size had been determined, the ring paid for in cash, which surprised Zussman, and the woman was walking back down the road with the receipt in her handbag and an hour to wait before she could make the collection. The ring was in the backroom, the band size being skilfully adjusted by the young woman who Zussman had employed as an assistant jeweller. She was showing promise, a great deal of promise and Zussman considered she would be more than capable of doing the job he had planned for her if he expanded the business to a third shop in a few months’ time.
The man had been standing nonchalantly at the back of the shop, his face turned away from Zussman as he looked at a display case, while the customer was being served. Now, as she closed the door behind her, he stepped forward.
‘Yes, sir,’ Zussman was still closing the window display cabinet, having replaced the ring. The tray of rings was under the counter out of view.
‘Mr Zussman, how are you today?’ The voice was heavy, thick set and heavily accented. The man was thin and sporting a short, grey beard. His eyes were heavy set, and his breath stank of garlic.
‘Very well, thank you.’ Zussman started to sweat slightly as the man took one step towards the counter.
‘That is good, very good. Our friend asked me to drop in to see if you had heard anything about the goods yet, so I can assure him everything is okay.’
‘I’ve heard nothing yet, but as the driver is not due back for another eight days, it is likely the contact has not been made yet. Phone me in a few days and I will tell you if I have any news. Now, to avoid suspicion, I suggest you don’t come back here. Use the method we agreed before. We don’t want anything to go wrong, do we?’
‘No, Mr Zussman, we do not. That would be most unfortunate for everybody. Let us hope the driver is as astute on this journey as he always has been before.’
‘He will be. Your people have been using him for several years. Has he ever let you down?’
‘No, but some of our people are just a bit nervous seeing as this journey is, how shall we say, a bit special.’
‘He’ll be fine. The paperwork is as good as ever. I am sure everything will go smoothly for all of us. Now, before my assistant hears anything untoward, I will bid you good day.’
Zussman came from behind the counter and escorted the other man to the door. Zussman held the door open politely and quietly ushered his visitor back onto the street. With the door closed behind him, Zussman took the neatly folded handkerchief from his top pocket and padded the top of his forehead.
‘Sandra,’ he called, ‘I am going out for some coffee. I will lock the door on the way out so you won’t be disturbed. You have the ring we just sold to adjust and after that the carriage clocks need to be polished. If there are any phone calls, please take messages.’
He’d barely finished speaking before the door behind the counter opened and the young woman appeared.
‘Okay, Mr Zussman. How long will you be?’
‘About forty minutes. You can wait that long for a break until I get back?’ He framed it as a question but the woman knew it was really a statement.
‘Of course I can.’ She disappeared into the room behind the shop and closed the door. Zussman turned the shop sign to display ‘Closed’ and, locking the door behind him, walked briskly down the High Street of Reigate in Surrey. It was early for coffee, barely ten o’clock, but Zussman had much on his mind. So much depended on a chain of events taking place several thousand miles away, events he could not control, events that would severely affect his future if they went wrong. Yes, Dieter Zussman was a troubled man.
***
Most people think of an Operations Room as being a place bustling with activity. Selena Preston was different. Her Operations Room consisted of a single desk on which sat a solitary telephone and a laptop computer. The room contained the usual filing cabinets and bookcase, two sofas and half a dozen chairs that were arranged in waiting room fashion around the walls. The building in which the Operations Room was housed was not ostentatious. In fact it hardly merited attention at all. The room was on the second floor of the building. Some obscure firm of city lawyers occupied the first floor and a chain store owned the street level premises. The room suited Preston perfectly. It gave her the solitude she liked, yet at the same time she was never more than a phone call away from the team. The team, she laughed to herself on occasion, was almost anything but a team. The mere word, ‘team’, implied some kind of bonding, unity, working together, yet she had eight disparate individuals who worked mostly on their own, without contact, unless it was through her. They were, in Selena Preston’s opinion, almost like shadows.
Selena Preston was a unique woman. Now in her late thirties, she had often been paraded as the high flier she had proven to be. She was attractive, with short-cropped blond hair and a disarming smile. Her credentials were, of course, visibly impeccable. They had to be for she was entrusted with one of those jobs that required utter, unswerving loyalty to the Crown. She’d been vetted, checked and double checked by just about every intelligence agency and she had come through them all. She had no known boyfriend or other baggage in her life and she was totally devoted to her job. Her rise through the essential departments and the necessary training programs had been meteoric and at some point she had been shown to have an IQ that would make most MENSA members blush with envy. She had a razor sharp mind, an almost photographic memory that absorbed details like a sponge and she was one of the rare breed of people who had remained totally calm and clear thinking during every crisis that had been thrown at her during training. She deserved the job and she worked at it for up to sixteen hours a day. Some people reckoned she even slept with the job.
Preston looked out of the window of her office across the waters of the river Thames and scratched the top of her head. The London Eye was rotating as it always did, the sun glistening off the capsules as they continued on their unending journey. Even though the wheel was some distance away it still dominated her line of sight when she looked upstream.
It had been quiet, too quiet, since the team had been put together. The aftermath of the Twin Towers disaster, the reprisal actions in Afghanistan, the dismantling of a number of terrorist networks, and the death of Osama bin Laden, once leader of al-Qaeda, were all in the distant past. Other terrorist factions had arisen, including ISIS, but they had not caused the formation of this particular team. What had caused the formation of the team was a new threat that had risen, or at least there was fear that it could be about to rise. From the smouldering remains of the original factions and the more recent ones still in distant lands, some Mandarin in Whitehall had conceived the possibility of a new, even more deadly, force being formed.
Five years earlier a top-secret laboratory deep in the Nevada desert had been breached by what was believed to be a lone assailant. It had taken months for the news to leak out to the relevant authorities in allied countries and then the threat had been categorised as small though the suspected assailant had never been captured. A single phial containing the deadly Marburg virus could not be accounted for after the breach and after a while it had been attributed to a possible accounting error. The boffins who worked at the top-level laboratory had suggested that a single phial would not be able to pose a significant threat and as there had been no outbreak of the deadly virus that could be attributed to the phial, it was widely considered the virus would have died given the phial in isolation gave the virus a life-expectancy of just a few months. But it was this breach that had caused the first elements of the team being assembled in the UK.
More recently, incidents in the UK involving nerve agent poisonings, Paris, Belgium and elsewhere on Continental Europe had also influenced the minds of the relevant people. As a result, the machinery had been put in motion because no possible risk to National security could be ignored. Moreover, the Mandarin in Whitehall carried a good track record and a great deal of influence in the right circles. He was not a member of the Old Boys club of influence but he had certainly gained the respect and more importantly the ear of certain members of the club over the past twenty or more years.
ATRIUM (Anti-Terrorist Research, Infiltration and Undercover Manoeuvres) had been formed as part of the strategy to unearth plans any terrorists might be making, as well as provide a separate layer of protection against this new, perceived threat. That had been well over a year ago and for all their contacts, all the targets they had followed and watched closely, they’d come up with nothing. Of course, the eight members of ATRIUM, nine if you included Preston, had been assisted greatly. New Scotland Yard, the Intelligence Services and the various authorities all around the country had played their part, watching and following the known suspects and sympathisers. They’d all reported back through the lines of command until the disseminated information arrived back on Preston’s desk. Then it was filed, meticulously.
Preston looked out of the window and wondered if the time had come to call it a day. ATIUM had unearthed nothing that the other intelligence services did not know about. They had uncovered nothing of a specific terrorist threat, not even an inkling of any activity, for the past year and it was costing a great deal of tax payers’ money. Questions were already being asked in certain quarters and if the existence of the group were to become known outside of those quarters the disaffection would rise rapidly. Preston was keen to avoid the public condemnation of yet another Quango, for that is how people would doubtless see ATRIUM.
After a few minutes looking out at the London Eye, Preston turned back to her desk and picked up the plain, manila-coloured folder. In it were the eight sheets of paper that comprised the latest reports from the team. She read them again, looking for signs of something, though she didn’t know what. She looked at the report from Travis Marshall. He’d spent the month watching a couple of known fanatics but had nothing to report other than the observation that one of them had either walked past or visited a jeweller’s shop south of London on three separate occasions within a period of ten days. The visits seemed innocuous but Marshall deemed them worth including in his report if only because there was nothing else to include.
Preston turned to the next report which was from Brian Keeley. Based around Newbury he’d been keeping a watching brief on a small group of known activists. There were five of them, all of Arabic extraction. They visited the local Mosque regularly, and met at a café on the outskirts of the town centre twice a week. Other than that they either spent much of their time in the local snooker hall which was owned by a past star of the game, or they spent their days out and about. None of them appeared to have employment but that was nothing unusual and nothing to get excited about.
The other six reports were equally as unimpressive as Keeley’s and Marshall’s. Preston banged the folder down on her desk and paced around the room seeking inspiration. She came to the coffee maker sitting on top of the filing cabinet next to the door to her office and poured a cup for herself before returning to her desk. She picked up the phone and pressed a speed-dial button.

EXTRACT FOR
2020 WIPEOUT 
(Stuart Holland)


PROLOGUE

The world is a dangerous place. When they killed the leader of al-Qaeda, the politicians told everyone it would make the world a safer place. But, it hasn’t. All it’s done is to drive the fanatics and the members of the networks underground. Now, instead of a few central locations for the authorities to watch, each of these groups of just a few people or even lone wolves, is capable of acting on their own. They’ve got smarter, act more intuitively, and are becoming progressively more dangerous.

For example, take this new plant we have discovered in Syria. Heaven only knows what it’s for or who funded its construction. It could well be for legitimate purposes, but it could equally be highly dangerous. We just don’t know, because the world has changed, so finding out its true purpose is next to impossible.

Any of our sleeping targets, and we have hundreds of them, could wake up tomorrow and decide it’s the right day to create mayhem on the mainland or elsewhere. We have reached the point where we simply don’t know what resources they have to hand, or how they intend to use them, or when. In truth, apart from the usual array of knives and guns that are so prevalent on the streets these days, we have no idea what other types of weapons they may already have access to.

But, our greatest fear is that the greatest threat to our security may well not be the targets who are known to us. The world has changed, because we now have to worry about the have-a-go type lone wolf who we know nothing about. Add to that we have to worry about organisations like Braddock. We have to worry about them because they could be a threat, not because they are already known to be a threat.

With this in mind, I would suggest we will need more and more resources to endeavour to at least stay on a level playing field with the threats we may well be facing.

Selena Preston
Projects Manager
ATRIUM, March 2020


CHAPTER ONE
Tuesday 23rd June 2020

The market at Yalvac was already bustling when the white van arrived. The temperature was already over eighty degrees and would certainly reach ninety by mid-afternoon. The van had no air conditioning and its driver mopped his forehead with a grubby handkerchief as he pulled the vehicle into the dusty side of the road. It was a journey Daniel Newton had made many times before. Yalvac was one of his more regular destinations and Newton had long since decided on the best day of the week to make his visit, the best time of the day to arrive and the best place to try and park. He was a couple of hundred yards from the marketplace and the side road in which he had parked was almost deserted. A woman in traditional Turkish dress was busy mopping the step that led into her humble dwelling. She ignored Newton as he alighted from the van, carefully locked it and began the short walk to the market. As he walked, Newton glanced at his watch and smiled to himself.
Newton walked casually, trying hard not to look like a tourist. He reached the first of the market stalls and stopped to look at the array of fruit and vegetables. He picked out some oranges and held them up to attract the stallholder’s attention. Two minutes later he was walking away with a brown paper bag tucked under his arm.
He browsed through a couple of stalls that sold leather belts and bags. The marketplace was already full of American tourists. Summer had arrived. The coaches that bussed in the flocks of willing, eager tourists had already begun to arrive for the day and Newton knew some serious haggling would be taking place at most of the stalls. The local people relied heavily on the tourist trade and with the ruins of the Biblical city of Antakya, or Antioch, no more than a short journey away, Yalvac attracted some heavy tourist traffic in season. It was the beginning of the season and Newton knew the marketplace would soon be heaving. It was so different to the quieter, winter months.
Newton found the street café he had frequented so many times before and took a seat at a roadside table. The coffee was strong and ice cold, a refreshing drink on what was already a scorching, summer’s day. Newton sipped the coffee carefully, watching the flow of shoppers with some amusement. He’d spent six days on the road getting here. Now he had a couple of days to pick up the consignment before his journey home would start. He’d use the afternoon to make contact with his supplier. As always, he knew the orders would not be ready. They never were ready, which was why he always allowed a couple of days in the area. It was Tuesday so most probably he’d be kicking his heels until Thursday or possibly Friday. There was no rush, there never was. As always he had all the paperwork in the van. The import licences, order manifests, the lot. He could account for everything he transported, he always could. He was meticulous and fastidious as to detail, which was why he had been chosen.
It had all started years earlier when Newton had been involved in the mercy dashes to take aid to Syria and other countries. He hadn’t had the white van then but had hired one for the trip. It had been an experience he would never forget and it had opened his eyes to the opportunities that were presented by travelling around Europe and beyond. After a while he’d made some contacts and had orders to import various kinds of goods. All he’d done was hire another van, travelled around Europe picking up the various goods he was to import, and taken them back to England.
Somewhere along the way, and he couldn’t remember when, he’d been approached by two well-dressed businessmen. They owned a string of shops and needed to bring the goods they sold into Britain on a regular basis. Their proposition had been a good one. They bought Newton his white van, supplied him with the orders once every two months and he did all the travelling and collecting of products. Everything was legitimate, above board and covered by immaculate paperwork, licences and the necessary travel documents. He was paid two thousand pounds for each journey together with all his travelling and accommodation costs.
For a single man who’d just been made redundant it had been like a dream come true. Newton had begun the journeys, visiting the towns mentioned by his employers, picking up the orders as they directed him. At first he’d been eyed by the various authorities with a good degree of suspicion but he’d learned how to handle them. Helped by the immaculate paperwork he’d never been held up for more than a few hours. The products were mainly rugs, linen, leather goods and other miscellaneous gift items. There was never any cause for concern at any border crossing.
He’d made over twenty journeys before he’d been introduced to Dieter Zussman. Zussman was a jeweller, a small time trader with Eastern connections. Like the two businessmen Newton worked for, he needed certain products brought into the country. Again it was all legitimate, paperwork was provided and the contacts seemed authentic. It was easy for Newton to accept the additional business, especially as his new contacts were all in the same areas he was already covering. The extra thousand pounds a trip also helped Newton, and to the people behind Zussman it was a price worth paying.
Newton began collecting the cheap bracelets, bangles, watches and other, more expensive, items of jewellery he had on his order sheets. He’d now made well over a dozen such collections. They were always almost the same in terms of quantity. There’d be a few hundred bracelets, twenty to thirty watches, a couple of trays of rings of various types, some strings of necklaces and various other items.
Newton watched the tourists as they flocked to the marketplace, seeking out the ultimate bargain, in much the same way a bird of prey seeks out its next victim. Newton smiled to himself as he sipped the second iced coffee. The Mediterranean area was hot by this time of year and the rugged Turkish coast was only a few miles away. If, as he knew would be the case, he was going to be delayed for a few days, he’d take the van off down to the secluded cove he’d discovered. There he’d be able to relax a bit and catch a few hours of sunshine. The marketplace was busy now with the numbers of tourists that had swooped on it. Newton stood up, reckoned the temperature was fast approaching ninety, and joined the bustling crowd.
***
Dieter Zussman was a small man, stocky and balding. He wore silver-rimmed half-spectacles that perched on the end of his somewhat ruddy nose. The dark blue pinstripe suit sported a clean, neatly pressed handkerchief in the top pocket. He looked what he claimed to be, a displaced Jew who was building his own business in a foreign land. He stood diminutively behind the counter. On the customer side of the glass-topped counter stood a woman. Taller than Zussman by some four inches, she had long, blonde hair that flowed down over her shoulders. She was attired in a simple frock and the bulge in the lower part of the dress revealed the later stages of her pregnancy.
‘Gavin,’ she said, ‘that’s my husband, insisted I came to look for an eternity ring. I think the diamond and sapphire band you have in the window looks absolutely gorgeous. Do you mind if I try it on?’
‘Of course you must try it on, Madam. We do actually have a number of designs, if Madam would like to look at some others for comparison purposes.’
‘Oh, that would be splendid.’
‘Sandra,’ he called out into the back of the shop, ‘could you bring out the diamond and sapphire rings please?’ Zussman smiled and walked over to the shop window. He unlocked the glass panel and withdrew the tray containing the ring from the display.
‘Now, Madam, this contains seven diamonds and on the top part of the band there are five sapphires.’
‘What a strange design,’ she commented.
‘Yes, Madam, it is a ring from the East of Europe, one that we import especially for our more discerning clients. Ah, Sandra, thank you my dear.’
The pretty, dark-haired twenty-something had opened the door behind the counter and handed Zussman a tray containing about twenty rings of various designs.
‘Now, Madam, I have to say that because it is a special ring, this is reflected somewhat in its value.’ Zussman coughed delicately as if somewhat embarrassed by the price tag.
‘I should hope so too. Oh look, are those angels?’ She’d been looking at the tray of rings and swooped on one of them. Tiny figures appeared to have been carved into the gold band on either side of the central, top diamond. Further diamonds and sapphires covered the majority of the rest of the band.
‘I believe they are love birds or some such. They are rather delicate, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, absolutely delightful. Can I try it on?’
‘Of course you may, Madam.’ The woman offered the finger on which she already displayed a rather ostentatious diamond engagement ring and a plain band of gold for her wedding ring. Zussman delicately placed the ring on her finger. It fitted easily.
‘We can adjust the ring in about an hour if Madam wants us to,’ Zussman offered.
‘Oh, it’s gorgeous. How much is it, please?’
‘Three thousand two hundred pounds,’ Zussman replied. He noted the woman did not flinch or react to the sum of money. She held her finger up to the light, admiring the beauty of the creation. As she did so, Zussman recognised the design marks on the engagement ring. They told him it was one of his own. ‘We could, of course, give you a ten percent discount seeing as you are a regular customer,’ he hastily added.
‘That is very kind of you, Mr Zussman. You know, I think Gavin will be delighted with this. It’s to celebrate our third child you know. Yes, I’ll take it, but it will need to be made a bit smaller I think.’
‘Yes, I would agree with you. Do you know what size your wedding band is?’
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
‘It doesn’t matter. We can fit you very quickly.’
Ten minutes later the size had been determined, the ring paid for in cash, which surprised Zussman, and the woman was walking back down the road with the receipt in her handbag and an hour to wait before she could make the collection. The ring was in the backroom, the band size being skilfully adjusted by the young woman who Zussman had employed as an assistant jeweller. She was showing promise, a great deal of promise and Zussman considered she would be more than capable of doing the job he had planned for her if he expanded the business to a third shop in a few months’ time.
The man had been standing nonchalantly at the back of the shop, his face turned away from Zussman as he looked at a display case, while the customer was being served. Now, as she closed the door behind her, he stepped forward.
‘Yes, sir,’ Zussman was still closing the window display cabinet, having replaced the ring. The tray of rings was under the counter out of view.
‘Mr Zussman, how are you today?’ The voice was heavy, thick set and heavily accented. The man was thin and sporting a short, grey beard. His eyes were heavy set, and his breath stank of garlic.
‘Very well, thank you.’ Zussman started to sweat slightly as the man took one step towards the counter.
‘That is good, very good. Our friend asked me to drop in to see if you had heard anything about the goods yet, so I can assure him everything is okay.’
‘I’ve heard nothing yet, but as the driver is not due back for another eight days, it is likely the contact has not been made yet. Phone me in a few days and I will tell you if I have any news. Now, to avoid suspicion, I suggest you don’t come back here. Use the method we agreed before. We don’t want anything to go wrong, do we?’
‘No, Mr Zussman, we do not. That would be most unfortunate for everybody. Let us hope the driver is as astute on this journey as he always has been before.’
‘He will be. Your people have been using him for several years. Has he ever let you down?’
‘No, but some of our people are just a bit nervous seeing as this journey is, how shall we say, a bit special.’
‘He’ll be fine. The paperwork is as good as ever. I am sure everything will go smoothly for all of us. Now, before my assistant hears anything untoward, I will bid you good day.’
Zussman came from behind the counter and escorted the other man to the door. Zussman held the door open politely and quietly ushered his visitor back onto the street. With the door closed behind him, Zussman took the neatly folded handkerchief from his top pocket and padded the top of his forehead.
‘Sandra,’ he called, ‘I am going out for some coffee. I will lock the door on the way out so you won’t be disturbed. You have the ring we just sold to adjust and after that the carriage clocks need to be polished. If there are any phone calls, please take messages.’
He’d barely finished speaking before the door behind the counter opened and the young woman appeared.
‘Okay, Mr Zussman. How long will you be?’
‘About forty minutes. You can wait that long for a break until I get back?’ He framed it as a question but the woman knew it was really a statement.
‘Of course I can.’ She disappeared into the room behind the shop and closed the door. Zussman turned the shop sign to display ‘Closed’ and, locking the door behind him, walked briskly down the High Street of Reigate in Surrey. It was early for coffee, barely ten o’clock, but Zussman had much on his mind. So much depended on a chain of events taking place several thousand miles away, events he could not control, events that would severely affect his future if they went wrong. Yes, Dieter Zussman was a troubled man.
***
Most people think of an Operations Room as being a place bustling with activity. Selena Preston was different. Her Operations Room consisted of a single desk on which sat a solitary telephone and a laptop computer. The room contained the usual filing cabinets and bookcase, two sofas and half a dozen chairs that were arranged in waiting room fashion around the walls. The building in which the Operations Room was housed was not ostentatious. In fact it hardly merited attention at all. The room was on the second floor of the building. Some obscure firm of city lawyers occupied the first floor and a chain store owned the street level premises. The room suited Preston perfectly. It gave her the solitude she liked, yet at the same time she was never more than a phone call away from the team. The team, she laughed to herself on occasion, was almost anything but a team. The mere word, ‘team’, implied some kind of bonding, unity, working together, yet she had eight disparate individuals who worked mostly on their own, without contact, unless it was through her. They were, in Selena Preston’s opinion, almost like shadows.
Selena Preston was a unique woman. Now in her late thirties, she had often been paraded as the high flier she had proven to be. She was attractive, with short-cropped blond hair and a disarming smile. Her credentials were, of course, visibly impeccable. They had to be for she was entrusted with one of those jobs that required utter, unswerving loyalty to the Crown. She’d been vetted, checked and double checked by just about every intelligence agency and she had come through them all. She had no known boyfriend or other baggage in her life and she was totally devoted to her job. Her rise through the essential departments and the necessary training programs had been meteoric and at some point she had been shown to have an IQ that would make most MENSA members blush with envy. She had a razor sharp mind, an almost photographic memory that absorbed details like a sponge and she was one of the rare breed of people who had remained totally calm and clear thinking during every crisis that had been thrown at her during training. She deserved the job and she worked at it for up to sixteen hours a day. Some people reckoned she even slept with the job.
Preston looked out of the window of her office across the waters of the river Thames and scratched the top of her head. The London Eye was rotating as it always did, the sun glistening off the capsules as they continued on their unending journey. Even though the wheel was some distance away it still dominated her line of sight when she looked upstream.
It had been quiet, too quiet, since the team had been put together. The aftermath of the Twin Towers disaster, the reprisal actions in Afghanistan, the dismantling of a number of terrorist networks, and the death of Osama bin Laden, once leader of al-Qaeda, were all in the distant past. Other terrorist factions had arisen, including ISIS, but they had not caused the formation of this particular team. What had caused the formation of the team was a new threat that had risen, or at least there was fear that it could be about to rise. From the smouldering remains of the original factions and the more recent ones still in distant lands, some Mandarin in Whitehall had conceived the possibility of a new, even more deadly, force being formed.
Five years earlier a top-secret laboratory deep in the Nevada desert had been breached by what was believed to be a lone assailant. It had taken months for the news to leak out to the relevant authorities in allied countries and then the threat had been categorised as small though the suspected assailant had never been captured. A single phial containing the deadly Marburg virus could not be accounted for after the breach and after a while it had been attributed to a possible accounting error. The boffins who worked at the top-level laboratory had suggested that a single phial would not be able to pose a significant threat and as there had been no outbreak of the deadly virus that could be attributed to the phial, it was widely considered the virus would have died given the phial in isolation gave the virus a life-expectancy of just a few months. But it was this breach that had caused the first elements of the team being assembled in the UK.
More recently, incidents in the UK involving nerve agent poisonings, Paris, Belgium and elsewhere on Continental Europe had also influenced the minds of the relevant people. As a result, the machinery had been put in motion because no possible risk to National security could be ignored. Moreover, the Mandarin in Whitehall carried a good track record and a great deal of influence in the right circles. He was not a member of the Old Boys club of influence but he had certainly gained the respect and more importantly the ear of certain members of the club over the past twenty or more years.
ATRIUM (Anti-Terrorist Research, Infiltration and Undercover Manoeuvres) had been formed as part of the strategy to unearth plans any terrorists might be making, as well as provide a separate layer of protection against this new, perceived threat. That had been well over a year ago and for all their contacts, all the targets they had followed and watched closely, they’d come up with nothing. Of course, the eight members of ATRIUM, nine if you included Preston, had been assisted greatly. New Scotland Yard, the Intelligence Services and the various authorities all around the country had played their part, watching and following the known suspects and sympathisers. They’d all reported back through the lines of command until the disseminated information arrived back on Preston’s desk. Then it was filed, meticulously.
Preston looked out of the window and wondered if the time had come to call it a day. ATIUM had unearthed nothing that the other intelligence services did not know about. They had uncovered nothing of a specific terrorist threat, not even an inkling of any activity, for the past year and it was costing a great deal of tax payers’ money. Questions were already being asked in certain quarters and if the existence of the group were to become known outside of those quarters the disaffection would rise rapidly. Preston was keen to avoid the public condemnation of yet another Quango, for that is how people would doubtless see ATRIUM.
After a few minutes looking out at the London Eye, Preston turned back to her desk and picked up the plain, manila-coloured folder. In it were the eight sheets of paper that comprised the latest reports from the team. She read them again, looking for signs of something, though she didn’t know what. She looked at the report from Travis Marshall. He’d spent the month watching a couple of known fanatics but had nothing to report other than the observation that one of them had either walked past or visited a jeweller’s shop south of London on three separate occasions within a period of ten days. The visits seemed innocuous but Marshall deemed them worth including in his report if only because there was nothing else to include.
Preston turned to the next report which was from Brian Keeley. Based around Newbury he’d been keeping a watching brief on a small group of known activists. There were five of them, all of Arabic extraction. They visited the local Mosque regularly, and met at a café on the outskirts of the town centre twice a week. Other than that they either spent much of their time in the local snooker hall which was owned by a past star of the game, or they spent their days out and about. None of them appeared to have employment but that was nothing unusual and nothing to get excited about.
The other six reports were equally as unimpressive as Keeley’s and Marshall’s. Preston banged the folder down on her desk and paced around the room seeking inspiration. She came to the coffee maker sitting on top of the filing cabinet next to the door to her office and poured a cup for herself before returning to her desk. She picked up the phone and pressed a speed-dial button.

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