Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chapter 31 - To sunny climes

Hammond locks me back in my cell, I can hear the sounds of hurried activity down the hall. He returns only a few minutes later with a bundle of new clothes for me to wear. He instructs me to get changed and quickly, so I do as I am bid. Soon I am clad all in black, black combat trousers,  black T-shirt, black boots, even black underwear. I am a modern day ninja.
After I am dressed, he returns into the cell and tells me to lie down. There is a syringe in his hand.
“So I don’t get to enjoy the ride then?” I ask him.
“Not this time” He replies as he expertly injects the solution into my arm.
This seems a little unfair I think, as I slip into the warm darkness.
* * *
I have no idea how long it has been when I wake up. I’m feeling hungry so it must have been a few hours at least. I sit up, groaning from the stiffness in my body. Maybe a bit longer than I first thought then. I take a look around, I’m in a room this time, not a cell. I’m sitting on a bed with a proper mattress, there’s even real furniture. A dresser, a wardrobe, nothing fancy they look quite rustic, but I do seem to be going up in the world. There’s even a real window, framed with flowery curtains.
I expand my awareness just to have a quick sniff of what’s around. There’s no barrier on the walls around this room. I can sense some form of shielding some distance away around the whole building, but nothing imprisoning me.
The temptation to soar is great, but there’s no point upsetting the management just yet.
Standing up I realise how warm it is. I head over to the window and open it. The air outside is warm as well, but the breeze is pleasant upon my skin. I take a look through the window, it looks like we’re in a Mediterranean farmhouse. In front of me I can see a guard by the gateway in a rough stone wall. He is watching all around and notices me with a an offhand salute.
I wave back, it only seems polite.
I can see we are surrounded by farmland, there’s a field of parched wheat and another field of scrubby grass where goats and sheep chew lazily in the warm sun. This is easily the best view I’ve had in quite some time. In the distance I can see a range of hills, cut into those hills is something strange. I can see giant flags cut into the soil of the hills. I remember somebody telling me about this, that means that we’re in Cyprus.
The door opens and it’s a normal latch, not a lock. Hammond pokes his head through. “Ah good, you’re awake.” He says in that low, gravelly voice of his. “Follow me, the Friar is about to begin the briefing”. I let him lead me down the narrow stairs, past a kitchen that smells divine. My stomach growls in protest as I walk by. We continue along the corridor and into an annex. The stonework here looks fresher, this must have been built after the main farmhouse.
In the room the Friar stands against the far wall, a large screen beside him, fixed to the wall. There are six other people in the room, all sitting on cheap plastic chairs. Some have laptops, the others just sitting waiting for the Friar to start. Half of them are in black paramilitary gear, similar to what I’m wearing. The others are wearing cassocks like the Friar. I take an empty chair to one side of the room. The Friar nods a greeting at me, which I casually return. Some of the other faces look at me in curiosity, but only for a quick glance. Hammond pulls a chair up behind me, positioned between me and the door.
“I’ll start from the top for the benefit of the newcomers.” The friar begins and the screen snaps to life displaying a map. He points at the map. “Here, high up in the hills is the old Crusader Fort, it’s pretty much in ruins now. It was built in the late Thirteenth Century on the site of an ancient Christian church, itself just a ruin at the time.”
The map dissolves into a picture of a ruined fortress perched precariously on top of a cliff. “Here is one of  the locations for the events that Lazarus must complete.” The image returns to the map. “There is only one road to the ruin.” He traces the route through the hills, stopping at a small area below the fort. Here is the nearest village. Well, more of a hamlet really. There’s a dozen houses and a single cafe situated where the road forks. One road leads north, to the fort, the other follows this line of hills to the east.”
The image changes, this time to show a balding middle-aged man. His skin is reddened by the sun. His paunch is clearly visible beneath his stretch shirt. “A week ago this man was spotted by our surveillance team entering the village. He booked the only room in the cafe and has stayed there since. He has since been observed wandering around the hills, concentrating mostly around the ruins.”
“We’ve identified him as Sam Jenkins. Twenty years ago he was a well know Evangelist preacher, he then disappeared. He’s been tracked since then in Europe, Africa and very occasionally in the US. On most of those occasions he was seen in the company of known associates of Lazarus. We believe he’s a money and PR man. He helps set up new contacts and funnels funds where needed for Lazarus’ network.”
“He is definitely not a field operative and we think that he’s acting as a scout here for Lazarus himself. Which would indicate that Lazarus is having to scrape the barrel if he has to use somebody like Mr Jenkins in the field.”
This time the screen shows a satellite image of the village, the cafe is highlighted. “Yesterday our friends in the British listening post based on one of the airbases here in Cyprus intercepted a telephone call from a mobile phone in the cafe. Both parties on the call where identified by voice analysis as Sam Jenkins and Lazarus himself. The contents of the call indicate that in two days time Lazarus will meet Mr Jenkins at the cafe. The meeting is supposed to happen at midday, their plans after that time are unknown.”
“We have people at all of the airports as well as the smaller airfields watching for Lazarus’ arrival. We also have all of the ports being watched, but this coast also has many small fishing villages so there are a number of places where he could sneak in undetected.”
“You all know who we face and the challenge that presents. We have brought a new member of the team who should be able to help us.” With this he indicates me, everyone swivels in their chairs to get a better look. They know I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider and that’s enough to make them curious.
“We have an observation team at the ruins and another watching the village. The village team are watching from a distance, which is far from ideal, but we want to avoid spooking Mr Jenkins.”
He pauses again while the screen changes. This time it is a blurry image of a man in his mid-thirties. He has an intense look about it with dark, shadowed eyes.
“This is our target, Lazarus. You all know what he is and the challenge he represents. As I mentioned in the earlier briefings he close to achieving his goals. Much too close for ours, or anyone’s comfort. We need to take this opportunity and ensure that we take Lazarus down for good.”
“Your first job is to familiarise yourselves with the local terrain, you’ll have to do that remotely and via simulation for now. We will reconvene in a couple of hours to go through the plan.”
The Friar then steps away and heads towards me, I can feel Hammond standing up, so I do the same. The others are crowding around the laptops, two of the military looking guys head out of the room.
“You should get something to eat.” The Friar says to me. That sounds good to me.  “I also want you mask the perimeter guards. I doubt that they’ll have the time or the manpower to scout this far out, but if they do I don’t want to make it easy for them. Go to the kitchens, they will sort you out. Hammond, you stay with him and make sure you are both back for the planning session in two hours.”
I expand my awareness beyond the farmhouse to get a good feel for the immediate area. I can sense three guards on the perimeter wall, I mask them from view. The other guards are watching from vantage points in the farmhouse itself, I do the same with them and fade their presence from view. Anyone trying to view remotely shouldn’t see anything interesting. I then head to kitchen, following the delightful smell all the way. Hammond, my ever present guard dog follows in my wake.
I eat so much that I have to rest for an hour before I feel able to move. I like it inside the kitchen, the smell is delicious and it is warm and inviting. There’s a scarred wooden table where they deliver me dishes to tuck into. Hammond sits opposite me, he doesn’t eat and just drinks some iced tea. He doesn’t seem interested in conversation.
The food is amazing. I don’t think I could identify most of it, but everything is freshly cooked and a delight to eat. I wash it down with iced tea, something I have never drunk before. I find it very refreshing. As I recover from this feast, I just sit and expand my awareness. I don’t enter anybody’s mind, I just brush past them to get a feel for who I am working with.
Every one of them has a rock in their heads, some are smaller than others, but I can sense that anchor in all of them. The Friars all have shields over the minds, some are strong, not quite as strong as the Friars, but impressive all the same. Skilled as they are, they still need me and that is important.
Sitting back in the chair, I am contented and snooze a little before Hammond touches my arm and tells me that it is time to go.

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