Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chapter 34 - Going in hard

It is dark when I am roused from my brief slumber, I’ve managed to get a couple of hours rest and feel better for it. I quickly dress in the clean black fatigues, shirt and boots provided by the soldier who awoke me. I’m not given a weapon of any kind, but I do get an assault vest with a water pack built in. I investigate the various pockets and discover a variety of energy bars, it’s going to be a long wait. A snack and a drink should prove most useful.
Within minutes we are all assembled in the courtyard. The moon is high in the sky, but thin and casts very little light. I take a moment to just look at the sky, it is simply magnificent. I have never seen a sky so clear before, the stars hardly twinkle at all. I had never realised how full the night sky was. I could just stare at it for hours, but I am interrupted with one of the soldiers giving me a pair of night vision goggles. With the goggles on the world is transformed into black and shades of luminous green. I find the view confusing and take them off, relying on my awareness to guide me instead.
We all bundle in the van, it’s a little too cosy in the back with the four soldiers of the snatch team, Friar Francis, Hammond and myself. Checking my watch, another present from the grim faced soldier, I can see that it is soon after midnight when we head out of the farm and onto the road towards the village.
As we approach the village the van pulls over, the driver switching off the headlights. Hammond moves to get out of the van, he has to tab the few miles around the village to join up with the observation team. He needs to be in position before dawn breaks.
Tab means walking very quickly while carrying a load of crap apparently.
He collects his gear which includes the biggest gun I have ever seen in films, let alone in real life. Before climbing out through the side door he claps me on the shoulder and wishes me good luck. I am a bit taken aback by this gesture and just nod back in acknowledgement.
With Hammond gone into the night the van seems much more spacious. Friar Francis says to me in a low voice, ”Time to do your thing. Just do what you did yesterday, keep us hidden until Lazarus arrives and the first shot is fired.”
“Ok.” As I did all through the previous day I expand my awareness and erase the van and its eight occupants from view. “Done” I tell him. He then instructs the driver to carry on. We continue the journey, the driver has kept the headlights off and is navigating using his night vision goggles. We travel slowly, minimizing noise as much as possible.
While I was practising all day, the snatch team had been busy looking for suitable hiding places. They had found a ruined barn on the outskirts of the village, only a few hundred yards from the cafe. Once Lazarus’ arrival had been confirmed the snatch team would approach the cafe from the rear and launch a surprise assault on Lazarus and any companions he had with him. I would have to mask the four soldiers as they approached as well as maintaining the cloak on the van and the rest of us.
We crept slowly through the village. Aas we passed by the first group of houses a dog started barking. I sent a soothing thought at it which seemed to calm the beast down. The driver carefully backed us into the ruined building and turned off the engine.
There was absolute silence, only the sounds of our breathing filled the van. It was now just past two in the morning. In four hours time it would be dawn. The Friar and the snatch team had each brought laptops which they now opened. The soldier sitting in the passenger seat quietly got out of the van and setup small satellite antenna. Once connected to the laptops their screens snapped into life showing various images of the sleeping village. All were grainy from the light intensification filters.
I couldn’t go to sleep, but allowed myself to rest as best I could with my eyes closed. Every so often I could hear one of the soldiers talking to the observation team. I still couldn’t place their accents, they all seemed German or French. “They’re Swiss Guards. “ The Friar told me after I enquired. “They are a special team from the Swiss Guards that have protected the Vatican for hundreds of years. You don’t need to worry, they know what they’re doing.”
I wasn’t worried, I’m almost insulted by the suggestion.
The time passed slowly, I daren’t use my awareness to investigate the few houses. Any slip up might betray our position and all the effort so far would be wasted. I wanted my showdown, so I kept my urges in check.
Dawn finally arrived unannounced, we suddenly realised the sky was starting to lighten. A radio report informed us that Hammond had arrived at the observation team and that he was now setting up in the camouflaged hide they had created.
On the screens we watched the village slowly come to life. Most of the locals seemed to be elderly. A few of the younger residents were seen leaving by old cars to work. The cafe opened and a few locals went there for their morning coffee and for one bent old man, his breakfast.
The sky was unmarred by clouds and as the sun rose, so did the temperature. The back of the van quickly became hot and stuffy. I took a drink from the camel pack on my back. I wondered how much water it contained. I was surprised that the water still tasted cool.
We had the doors and windows open to try and let some air movement provide some cooling, but there was barely any breeze. The Friar and the soldiers seemed to take it in their stride. I was sweating buckets and found it hard to breath. Noticing my discomfort the Friar advised me to relax.
Relax he says, it’s a million fucking degrees in here! I smile as that reminded me of an old joke. The Friar is right, I must relax. I retreat a little inside myself and inject calm into my own mind.
As the morning drags on the pace of the village, already slow, slowed even further. At eleven o clock Sam Jenkins makes his appearance. He sits at one of the tables in the shade of the building. The cafe owner brings him iced tea and he drinks it slowly. Although he has a local newspaper in his hand, he spends most of the time watching the road. He has an oversized phone resting on the table in front of him.
Half an hour later a vehicle can be seen heading towards the village. The observation team reports that it is a police car, two officers can be seen inside.
This causes some consternation between the Friar and the snatch team. The area was supposed to be clear of the local forces. The Friar tried to calm their fears, the local police wouldn’t have been told, otherwise word would have leaked. This was probably just a local patrol that would soon head off and there was nothing to worry about.
No-one is convinced. Lazarus is due to arrive in less than half an hour’s time.
The police park next to the cafe, exit their car and after a quick and polite greeting to Jenkins, sat at the table farthest away from him.
We watched the cafe closely on the laptop screens. The visual feed wasn’t real time video, it was still images that updated every second or two, so it is like watching a slide show. The images are crystal clear though, every detail can be seen.
Midday passed slowly. It is baking hot in the van, even the soldiers are showing some signs of discomfort. The Friar alone remains unruffled. The police have ordered a second cup of coffee, they seem in no hurry to leave.
Another half hour and Jenkins answers a phone call. We see him talking, there’s a brief glance at the police and then the call ends. Jenkins calls for the owner and there is a brief conversation.
“Are the police providing additional security?” One of the soldiers asks. “They could be just having a quiet one out of the way.” Another replies. “So what do we do if they’re still here and Lazarus arrives?” The first one asks.
“We proceed with the plan. If possible use a non-lethal takedown, but the mission objective remains the same. Lazarus is the priority.” The Friar has spoken.
On the screen we can see Jenkins taking another call. It lasts for thirty seconds. A few minutes later the owner brings out a number of dishes, places them on the table, before going to the policeman. Their conversation seems lively, they appear to know each other well..
The tension in the van is incredible. Lazarus is now two hours late. Is he holding off because the police are here?
Fifteen minutes later the policemen both stand up and after waving to the cafe owner, head towards their car. We watch them on the stuttering screen as they climb in and drive off. I can almost hear the signs of relief from everyone around me.
As they drive down the road the observation team call in, they have spotted a vehicle, a black SUV heading up the road towards the village. On our screens we can see the black car getting closer. They pass by the police car without incident. The observation team cannot identify anyone in the SUV, there is a driver and somebody else sat beside them. The rear windows are darkened preventing them from seeing if there is anybody else inside.
At the same time I can sense a ripple pass through my awareness. I maintain the mental picture.
The SUV pulls up beside the cafe, the engine still running as the passenger gets out. We watch frames of a brief conversation between him and Jenkins. The cafe owner goes into the cafe. I bet it is lovely and cool in there. I take a sip of water.
One of the rear doors opens. A man in a light linen suit can be seen climbing out. The build is about right, but he does not face the camera so no-one can confirm his identity. The driver also gets out following the man in the suit. Both the driver and the passenger are dressed smartly in trousers and short-sleeved shirts. They are both wearing jackets despite the blazing sun.
The driver waits by the SUV, the other stands in the shade of the cafe, close to the suited man. The suited man sits at the same table as Jenkins, as he twists his body into the chair his face comes into view.
“Target confirmed.” I can hear the tension in the Friar’s voice. “Let’s move.”
The soldiers in the snatch team deploy from the van quietly, and following the contours of the houses approach the cafe from the rear. In my mental picture they do not exist.
The snatch team split into two, each pair stealthily flanking the cafe. “Take the shot.” I can hear the Friar order. There is a single clap of thunder that reverberates between the hills. On the screen in one image Lazarus is talking to Jenkins, in the next he is on the ground, the table and chairs in mid fall.
The snatch team lob their prepared stun grenades around the cafe, they explode, the burst of bright light distorting several images in a row. Another boom echoes across the landscape. When the screens clear the guard by the SUV is down, the front wing splashed with dark, lumpy liquid. Jenkins is down, one of the soldiers taking aim, a moment later we hear that nearer gunshot. His partner is kneeling by Lazarus’ body.
I can’t believe it, in those few frames he has moved.
The driver is now moving the van towards the cafe, we’ll be there in a few seconds. I keep watching the screen. The other pair of the snatch team have both shot the other guard, he has fallen across one of the tables. His hand never reached the pistol in a shoulder holster beneath his jacket. I can hear the buzz of automatic gunfire.
The van screeches to a halt in front of the cafe. The soldiers are dragging Lazarus’ body towards the van. There is a gaping hole in his chest. You can see the dirt of the ground through the hole. I can see his fingers moving.
On the radio the observation team are reporting that the police car has stopped and is turning round. A third clap of thunder rand the team reports their vehicle has been neutralised and they are now cowering behind their stopped car.
Lazarus has now been dragged into the van, the Friar swiftly injects him with the drug cocktail prepared earlier. As the soldiers climb in, he takes another syringe and injects that as well. The side door slams closed as the van speeds down the road.

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