Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Guest: Robert Wilson

My Guest this week is a bestselling, award-winning author who has even had some of his books picked up for TV series. He's here, however, to talk about something far more provocative...  Ladies and Gentlemen...



Robert Wilson

Where are we now?






The world is in the process of an extraordinary upheaval. We are living, perhaps, in a period of greater uncertainty than at any time since the end of WW2 and the onset of The Cold War. Never was the world economy so precarious as more and more people question the neoliberalist ideas that have informed the basis of global economic strategy. Never was the world in such a state of inequality. Never has politics been so divisive and people so divided. Never have we felt so threatened by implacable terrorists and the insoluble problem of climate change. Never were there so many world powers capable of destabilizing global peace. This should be an era for great crime and thriller literature.

Amazon Link
Great work comes from digging deep to describe a new world where a different, pervasive attitude is prevailing. John Le Carré memorably achieved this in ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ where he managed to depict not only the protagonist’s struggle in dire circumstances, but also a new global battle hidden from us all.

The publishing industry was different then. Put simply: there was no internet. Publishers were small companies producing books they wanted readers to read. They were supported by reviewers who drew readers to new books in the culture pages of newspapers read by significant numbers. They sold to bookshops that knew the titles, authors and their readers and could recommend.
Most of that has disappeared. Publishers are now huge conglomerates with accountants and shareholders who demand profits. Editorial teams no longer decide on what books will be published, but rather pitch their titles to sales and marketing who judge whether they’ll sell in the market place. They have no mid list, just best sellers and rookies. The few reviewers that remain in the diminishing culture pages cover the books that follow the trend so that their newspapers can maintain their dwindling readers. Readers have so many avenues through the internet to find out about new books that it’s impossible to quantify their effect. 75% of sales are made through Amazon who hoard all the information about their buyers, so that publishers can do little but follow trend. Fashions become imbedded and are much more difficult to break as we’ve seen from the present wave of ‘psychological thrillers’ prompted by the success of ‘Gone Girl’. The self-publishers are numerous, have no quality filters and sell their books at rock bottom prices. Amazon are only concerned by numbers, not caring if a thousand writers sell three books each or one writer sells three thousand. Bookshops are heavily demarcated and have little relationship with their customers. Everybody is following and nobody is leading.
This is the industry with which writers now have to engage.

Amazon Link
Six years ago, talking to a friend and her intelligent, 28 year old, high-achieving daughter, I was recalling times in the 80s, working in London, when all I wanted to do was read. I would get up early, read on the way to work, read in breaks and get back home to read. I was reading in order to get to grips with the strange world in which I was living. Books like ‘Illywhacker’, ‘London Fields’, ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, ‘The Confederacy of Dunces’ and ‘The Book of Evidence’ had done that for me. I asked the daughter, a Londoner at the time, whether the same had happened to her. Her mother said: ‘Am I going to tell him or are you?’ The answer was that it had happened to her and the last book that had done it was the latest Harry Potter. Puzzled, I asked her why? She told me she’d wanted to escape from her complicated, stressful life back into the simple pleasures of her childhood. She wasn’t alone. I was talking to a sophisticated, intelligent and well-off reader in his fifties who recently told me that he, too, reads ‘to escape’. Not Harry Potter but crime novels like Craig Johnson’s series featuring the wryly amusing Walt Longmire in the culturally unfamiliar surroundings of the wilds of Absaroka County in Wyoming.
I’d always wanted to be a travel writer. I’d travelled a lot, had strong descriptive powers and thought that this was the road for me until the travel writing industry collapsed in the late 80s early 90s. I turned to crime as a way of using the settings and my experiences to describe and understand the countries in which I was living in the context of a rapidly changing world. As my first book was published in 1995 the Fantasy wave was on the rise. By the end of the 90s children were into Harry Potter, teenagers were wrestling with vampires and the world seemed to want to revisit Middle Earth. We are still in the grip of that colossal trend.

My point here is that those of you who are thinking that the best way to bring readers on board is to attempt to explain the complex, uncertain world in which we are now living, as John Le Carré did back in 1963, then think again.

Unless, that is, the current change induces such a level of discomfort that readers feel they’re in need of new tools for this brave new world.


BIO:

Robert Wilson has written thirteen novels: four West African noir, two WW2 Lisbon, four psychological crime novels set in Seville, and three international thrillers featuring kidnap consultant, Charles Boxer. A Small Death in Lisbon, won the 1999 CWA Gold Dagger. The first two Seville books were filmed by Sky Atlantic in 2012. The first Boxer book, Capital Punishment, was nominated for the 2013 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.Stealing People is out in paperback now.

Website: robert-wilson.eu
Thank you Robert, for an interesting post. As my own fans will already know, one of my own formative influences is Charles Dickens, a master of wrapping stinging social comment in to entertaining tales. They will also know that I strive to do this with my own novels - entertain while taking pot-shots at all kinds of issues. One of my favourites, again as my readers are aware, is the abuse of electronic surveillance in our present society, but everything from money-laundering by Vatican banks, through questioning what information our governments have the right to withhold, to the criminal side of the Internet have all come under my critical pen whilst entertaining with my tales.

What do you think? Do readers need new tools in our frenetic times? Opinions in the comments below, please. I'll figure out a prize for the best one.

Eric @ www.ericjgates.com
    



Thursday, September 22, 2016

FREE READING #9

For the last of the Free Reads this Summer, I bring you the opening chapters from the first novel in the 'Shadows' series, 'Leaving Shadows'. The series relates the missions of a kidnap recovery service, CACS, and the ex-Special Forces operatives it employs. It is a spy story, with a difference...

Amazon Link

Short Summary:

On a routine journey to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) headquarters, its Chief is kidnapped by a well organized group.

Once MI6 reacts they find their internal procedures have been updated and now all kidnappings must be handled by CACS, an apparently seedy outfit operating out of a Victorian shopping mall in central London.

Against his better judgement, the Deputy Chief of MI6 assigns one of his own agents to work with CACS in the recovery of their sequestered boss.

But NOTHING is as it seems...


1.

The big, black Kawasaki 1400GTR motorbike expertly weaved around the light commuter traffic on the A24. It had rained heavily the previous night making the road slippery in places. Nothing the biker couldn’t handle. With consummate skill, he flipped the machine past another family car. Ahead, the back of a silver Jaguar saloon, the large leaping feline emblem clearly visible in the middle of the boot. This was no ordinary Jag. It was the XJ Sentinel model with B7 level armoured protection for its occupants. That meant surviving fifteen kilos of TNT at close range. The biker, though, was bringing something far more effective than explosives.

Although the Jaguar boasted a huge five-litre V8 engine, its top speed was only just over one twenty and its acceleration nothing to worry about for the two riders on the bike. The bulkier of the two moved the bike over to the centre line to look further up the road. In front of the Jag he could see the fluorescent white and yellow jackets of three police outriders. They were getting lazy. One of them should have been behind the Jag, even if it still had to pick up its passenger. This just made his job even easier. 

The bike rider did not need to communicate with his passenger. She knew what she had to do. They had practiced this manoeuvre, and several possible variants, over the last two days. If done right, it would be a question of seconds. If they screwed it up, they would not have a second chance. 

Behind the driver, the passenger unzipped her green leather jacket. She inserted her right hand, sheathed also in leather, worn with double latex surgical-quality gloves underneath, searching for the zip-lock bag and its contents. Another practiced move. The bag was made of thick plastic, now folded over at the top rather than zipped for easy access to the small canister inside. She gripped the can firmly and withdrew her hand, keeping it behind the driver’s back. Her matte black helmet with tinted visor dipped as she glanced down to assure the position of her index finger on the can’s nozzle.

The Kawasaki’s rider pushed the bike forward. He took a line on the left of the Jaguar. By now the Jag’s driver had spotted him, hopefully labelling his weaving as a pre-empt to a charge past. Good. He looked up. A road sign announced a turning on the left. He flicked on his indicator. He could almost feel the Jag’s driver relaxing as he saw the flashing amber in the passenger-side wing mirror.

Fifty feet to the turn.

The bike accelerated; a short burst bringing it level with the Jag’s boot, on the inside of the lane.

The Sentinel’s driver edged the car over toward the centre line. The bike rider could see the chauffeur’s turned head bad-mouthing his actions.

Another twist of the throttle.

The bike jumped forward; very close to the rear passenger door.

The woman stretched her hand out as though to push on the Jaguar’s bodywork.

Calculating speed and windage, she depressed the nozzle on the canister.

A fine spray of almost invisible liquid erupted from the can.

She withdrew her hand, pressing hard twice with her knuckles on the back of the bike driver’s leathers. 

The Kawasaki spurted forward again, then made a power turn into the road on the left, roaring away at speed.

The passenger carefully replaced the canister in the zip-lock bag, folding the top as best she could. She lifted her left hand, glancing at the large watch strapped to her wrist.

Twenty minutes. 

They had twenty minutes from now.

2.

Seventeen minutes. 

The driver left the main road at Beare Green and took a familiar turning on the left. This road was narrower, forcing the escort bikes to ride single file. They all knew the route; had done this every weekday, and several weekends like today, for over two years. No drama. He slowed. Ahead on the right was the house.

One of the motorcycle cops drew his bike to stop at the side of the driveway entrance. Two uniformed policemen, armed with MP5 submachine guns approached, recognised him and stepped to one side to allow the remaining outriders and the Jag to enter. 

The Jaguar followed the driveway between tall conifers for thirty feet, under the gaze of several surveillance cameras, until the lane opened into a large, paved triangular area in front of the house.

As they drew to a stop, another armed man approached. This one was not in uniform, and the dark flak jacket worn over a green sweater did not carry the word ‘Police’. This man, and three of his colleagues around the sides and back of the house, was Special Air Service. He wore an MP5 submachine gun slung across his chest and a large calibre Beretta pistol on his hip. He had been at this posting for two months and, unlike the policemen, was as sharp as the first day. He watched as the driver, still seated in the Jag, announced his arrival with a couple of toots of the car horn.

3.

Thirteen minutes.

Bernard Trubshaw popped the last piece of toast into his mouth, just as the double toot sounded outside. He looked up from his reading in time to see his wife, Anne, retreating from the kitchen. As was their custom for the last three years at least, they had not exchanged a single word over breakfast. It was not a habit elected to form the basis of a family tradition; rather a consequence of what both knew, both accepted, but chose to ignore.

He lifted the mug of tea with his left hand, as his right, holding an uncapped fountain pen, drew the letter ‘C’ at the bottom right corner of the document he had been reading. He took a sip of the lukewarm liquid. Another damned Intelligence briefing destined for those whose own intelligence was in doubt, at least in his mind. Bloody politicians! He looked closely at the object in his right hand; a beautiful limited edition fountain pen, a recent gift from a grateful Prime Minister. Its cool majesty, white palladium and deep blue etchings, aloof from whatever mayhem its ink manifested on the page. Somehow today it seemed a perfect analogy of his job. No, of his life. Or at least, what his life had become. 

A feminine voice yelled something from the lounge. He elected to ignore Anne’s question, mentally filing it with all the others he had ignored for so many years. He capped the pen, gathered the documents and returned them to the large battered leather briefcase leaning against the leg of the kitchen table.

“Bernie, I asked what time you would be home today.” This time with more insistence; forceful, closer, as its source strode back into the room.

“Not sure. Probably late. The usual.” Standing, he spoke as though every word was taxed heavily; its cost outweighing its value. Efficient use of minimal communication, he thought.

Her response was a grunt. He had expected even less. Her thoughts would be on whatever tryst she had planned for that afternoon. Was it the turn of the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker? Who they were, what they did; he no longer cared. More a matter for his security people than an integral part of his marriage. He hoped she had not screwed that low-level French diplomat again; that had certainly put the cat among the pigeons a year ago. Almost lost him his job; touch and go for a short while, until one of the SAS lads, at his behest, had paid the Frog a visit.

Bernie collected the bulging briefcase and, after a quick swipe of his mouth with a cotton serviette, spun, neatly sidestepped his wife, and headed into the lounge to retrieve his jacket. He clipped the fountain pen into the inside left-hand pocket of the jacket, knowing it would come in handy in the next few days, and donned the dark-blue garment. He let his eyes rove around the room, aimless yet not inattentive. He absently patted his right trouser pocket, feeling the solid lump of the three flash drives, held together by a fat elastic band, in turn attached to the lining with a safety pin. 

Everything ready.

In seven quick strides he was at the front door. He opened it just enough to see the SAS guard outside. The man nodded once. Bernie opened the door wider, slipped through, and walked over to the waiting Jag. As per protocol, his driver, Mark, stayed behind the wheel. The SAS bodyguard had his hands full with his submachine gun, his eyes constantly scanning the surrounding area, his ears receiving updates from his colleagues around the property.

Bernie reached out and took hold of the Jag’s door handle.

4.

Two minutes.

Bernie Trubshaw swung the briefcase onto the far side of the backseat, behind the driver. He flopped down alongside it, as the SAS man climbed into the front passenger seat.

“Mark, have you got a tissue? Some bloody bird’s crapped on the door handle. I’ve got bird shit or something all over my hand.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll get the car washed this morning,” said the driver as he leaned over to retrieve a packet of wet wipes from the glove box. “Here you are, sir. That should take care of the problem.” He handed the pack back to his boss, catching a suppressed grin from the Special Forces soldier sitting alongside. He focused his attention on the journey ahead. Route Four, this morning; A24 all the way, then a dash to beat the early risers. Thank God for the police outriders! He looked over at the SAS man, received the nodded Okay, and put the car into gear, accelerating smoothly out of the house grounds behind the blue flashes of the leading motorbike duo.

“It’s bloody warm in here today, Mark. Can you turn up the air a bit?”

The driver complied, suppressing a shiver. Warm? He was freezing. He had kept the heating at a minimum on the way here so the windows would not mist up on this wet and cold morning.

* * * * *

Five minutes passed in silence, the car’s three occupants dedicated to their respective tasks. The soldier scanning the road ahead, his right index finger resting just above the trigger on the MP5. The driver running the route through his memory, mapping in the movements of vehicles they encountered, analysing choke points and angles, driving defensively. Their charge, leafing through papers on the backseat. 

Bernie raised his hand to his forehead; cold sweat beaded and ran into his bushy eyebrows. He let the papers fall onto the seat beside him, not bothering to stoop to recover an errant sheet heading for the foot well. Trubshaw’s hand came away visibly wet from his brow. He took a handkerchief from his trouser pocket, careful not to accidentally extract the pen drive bundle, and wiped first his palm then his forehead.

Without warning, he bent to his right and vomited over the paper in the floor well; the single eruption, soon joined by two more.

The driver glanced in his rearview mirror.

“You alright, sir?”

Trubshaw did not respond. His eyes were watering, stinging fiercely. His face felt on fire. His hands were ice-cold. He slumped over the briefcase.

“Code Three. Repeat, Code Three.” The strong Yorkshire accent of the SAS bodyguard resounded in the car’s quiet interior. “Stop. Now!”

The driver complied with rapid efficiency, occupying the centre of the lane, using the car’s mirrors to control the road’s other vehicles. The following police bike pulled over and took up station at their rear, turning his bike sideways as an improvised barrier. The rider drew his gun, concentrating on the cars behind them.

The SAS bodyguard pushed open his door, leapt out and stepped toward the rear door of the Jag. He remembered about the bird crap and used the tip of the MP5’s short barrel to operate the door lever. The older man was slumped across the rear seat, leaning away. The soldier unceremoniously grabbed the dark blue jacket and tugged his charge upright. Trubshaw’s face was deathly white; his eyes, bloodshot, unseeing; his lips, slightly blue. The soldier reached out and checked the carotid for a pulse; weak, still alive. Heart attack, maybe. Could be a seizure. Or a stroke. He was out of his depth.

The SAS man spoke on his tactical radio to the police outriders.

“Looks like the Boss is ill. Could be a heart attack. Get an ambulance here now!”

Ahead, the lead outrider switched channels and called up the dispatch office. He quickly confirmed the call as priority without identifying their charge; you never knew who was listening in, reporters or the damned paparazzi. He asked for medical assistance pronto, like yesterday. Radio chatter filled his headpiece as the dispatcher went into overdrive; the call ID code would have shown him who was in the motorcade.

5.

The three motorcycles and the silver Jaguar blocked the road. Traffic started to build behind them; angry car horns sounded despite the firearms in evidence.

Over the lead police biker’s radio, a new voice interrupted.

“Charlie Tango Eight, this is Air MedEvac Six Alpha. We have been diverted and are on route. We have your position but the road there is too narrow to land. You need to advance another couple of miles, junction with Chart Lane. There’s a large field on your left. We’ll land there. ETA five minutes. Copy?”

“Air MedEvac Six Alpha, copy that. I’ll get the show on the road. ETA four minutes approx.”

“Roger that, Charlie Tango Eight. Air MedEvac Six Alpha out.”

The policeman switched channels again, rapidly informing the rest of the convoy of the new plan. Bikes spun wheels as they roared ahead. The Jag followed, the SAS man scrunched on the backseat with his now unconscious charge.

6.

The Jaguar slid to a halt at the mouth of the narrow lane. To their left a large area of open land stretched away, easily seen over a low, stone wall. Slightly behind them, again on their left, a short wooden fence. A metal gate offered entrance to a two-storey structure housed in a walled enclosure: a large farmhouse and stables. Near the gate, a hand-painted sign proclaimed ‘Microchiped Horses’; the driver looked over, letting his mind wander while they waited: shouldn’t that be two p’s?

* * * * *

The SAS man stood just outside the opened rear passenger door, his MP5 submachine gun raised, safety off, sweeping the area slowly. About ten feet ahead, a gap in the wall gave access to the expanse of green beyond. He thought they could get the Jag through, but belayed the order. The overnight rain had been heavy; the ground could be a mud trap. He raised his head, looking over to the far side of the field. High above the trees he could now see the squat shape of the helicopter whose rotors he had heard as soon as they had ended their headlong rush. 

He squinted, looking at the chopper as it turned in the air, lining up with the field. He could see the pilot’s helmeted head moving rapidly from side to side as he checked the width of level ground between the sparse trees near the road and the copse on the far side. Rotor clearance looked good, at least to the man on the ground. The soldier took in the blue and white livery of the MD Explorer helicopter; ‘SURREY’ was printed in large, bold lettering across the rear door; ‘Air Ambulance’ in smaller script underlined the county name. He mentally logged the five-letter ID registration printed along the tail, between the cabin and the dual rear fins; he’d probably be doing paperwork all-day on this one, might as well get the facts straight.

The helicopter’s nose rose sharply as the pilot flared the craft for a landing in the middle of the field. The skids bounced against the wet grass, sliding the chopper forward a good ten feet. The pilot reduced the revs on the blades and the noise level dropped noticeably. The far-side rear door slid back; two pairs of feet hit the ground, running toward the road. The SAS man raised the MP5.

A smaller figure, obviously a woman despite the unisex orange flight suit and oversized white helmet, led the charge. Behind, a taller, solid bulk; male, orange suit and white helmet too; porting a dark orange plastic litter in one hand and an oversized rectangular holdall in the other. 

They neared, all the while under the cover of the MP5’s muzzle.

“You Charlie Tango Eight? We’re MedEvac Six Alpha. Doctor Grace. Where the patient?” The woman’s voice, muffled through the helmet, but clear enough for the SAS man. He stood to one side, allowing the medics to access the prone figure in the back of the car.

The soldier watched as the doctor ran a quick pulse check, then ripped open Trubshaw’s shirt, extracting a short, black dumb-bell shaped device from a side pocket of her flight suit. She ran the cable from this into a socket on her helmet, then pressed one of the dumb-bell’s flat surfaces to Trubshaw’s chest.

“What…?” The SAS man reached out a hand.

The other medic intercepted his arm and leaned in to speak.

“Noise Immune Stethoscope. Use it to hear over the noise of the rotors.” A slight Scottish accent.

The soldier nodded, looking over at the other man. Through the helmet’s tinted eyeshade he saw a couple of dark eyes looking back. Calm, cool. Does this every day. The man nodded, conveying shared worries; one pro to another.

“Thready pulse. Cyanotic lips. He threw up, right?” The female doctor had turned toward the soldier.

“Yeah. Lost his breakfast.”

“That’s probably a good thing. No blood in the vomit from what I can see. Looks like it may be food poisoning, but I’m taking him for a full scan. Don’t like it he’s lost consciousness. Oxygen for now. We’ll plug him into the diagnostics on the chopper.” The last part was for her companion. 

The tall man opened the orange holdall and extracted a small metal cylinder painted black with a wide white stripe around its top. He reached past the doctor and fixed the attached plastic mask onto Trubshaw’s face. Then he stepped back, grabbing the plastic litter. He elbowed the soldier to one side as he and the doctor manoeuvred Trubshaw’s unconscious form onto the stretcher.

“We need to come along.” The soldier indicated himself and the nearby policemen.

The doctor looked over at the armed police.

“Can’t fit them all in. Two maximum.”

“Me,” he pointed to one of the police, “you.”

“Need to turn your radios off. Interference with the on-board medical gear,” said the big Scot.

The SAS man nodded and turned to the man who was to accompany him. “Call it in. Tell them we are going with the Principal on MedEvac Six Alpha to…” He looked over at the doctor.

“Frimley Park,” completed the medic. 

“Got that? Frimley Park Hospital. ETA?”

The doctor glanced at a chunky watch on her left wrist. “Say about ten minutes max.”

The policeman started to speak into his helmet radio, as the doctor and her assistant grabbed the litter, with Trubshaw’s unconscious body and the holdall balanced on his legs, and started trotting toward the waiting helicopter. The soldier and the police outrider ran behind.

7.

The MD Explorer helicopter was much larger up close. As the SAS soldier followed the two medics around the nose, he glanced at the pilot. The latter was busy flipping switches and talking on his radio. Even so, he did find a brief instant to take his hand off the cyclic stick and flash a reassuring thumbs-up, although without an accompanying smile.

The large side door of the chopper, already slid open, exposed the passenger hold. The doctor’s assistant placed his end of the litter on the doorsill and climbed into the compartment. He worked a lever and the long metal-framed patient bed pivoted toward the opening, sliding to the right as it did. He operated another lever and the bed assembly tilted, a third of its length now protruding outside the helicopter. Thick black straps on top were unclipped and tossed aside. The man reached down, took hold of the litter again, and in unison with the doctor, placed the orange litter directly on top of the metal-framed bed. They systematically applied all the straps, securing Trubshaw’s limp form. More lever manipulation and the bed assembly returned to its former position, parallel to the door’s opening. 

“Sit over there.” The female voice was all business. She indicated two fold-down seats built into the rear bulkhead, separated by a column of medical gear. 

The soldier signalled to the policeman to precede him into the belly of the chopper. The cop strapped himself into the seat, but the soldier remained free of the webbing, his MP5 sloped across his chest, pointing toward the ground beyond the door.

“You have to strap in. I know you want to be free to do your job, but if we hit turbulence, you could become a human missile in here and that could kill us all.” Forceful instructions from the Scot.

Reluctantly the SAS man released his grip on the submachine gun, allowing its strap to hold it in place, as he slipped his arms into the four-point seat harness and clicked home the buckle.

“What about you guys?” 

“When we’re sorted, I’ll sit in the co-pilot’s seat. The Doc’s got stuff to do here.” As the pilot twisted the throttle on the collective, the Scot had to shout to be heard above the increasing rotor noise. He leaned over and slid the bay door closed. The noise level dropped appreciably. 

The SAS man watched as both the medics busied themselves with their patient. The doctor reached into a plastic pouch attached to the forward bulkhead, extracted a large syringe and took off the grey protective cap around the long needle. She felt Trubshaw’s naked chest, locating a specific point, then stabbed the needle deeply into the torso. He had seen Epinephrine shots done many times in field operations, yet they never failed to make him wince.

The helicopter slid forward slightly. The soldier felt slight pressure on his body at the craft’s rotor blades grabbed into the air and lifted them off the ground. Both the medics stumbled backward toward the rear bulkhead. They extended their arms to prevent themselves crashing into the policeman and soldier.

The SAS soldier felt cold steel against his neck. 

He heard a ‘pssst’, audible above the rotors. 

Immediately his head swam.

He tried in vain to raise his arms.

His body refused to obey.

Blackness crept into his consciousness, luring him into its depths.

8.

The female doctor, standing over the police officer, replaced the single-use gas-powered hypodermic injector in a pocket in her flight suit, and examined the cop. His pupils were completely dilated, his breathing slow but steady. She looked over at her companion.

“This one’s out, Derek,” she yelled.

“Same here.” The Scot replied. He keyed his radio, talking to the pilot. “Patch me through to the Boss, will you.”

In his helmet, a short burst of static signalled the connection was complete.

“Boss, it’s Jenkinson here. Phase Two completed successfully. We have him. Proceeding to Phase Three.”

A short pause.

A faraway voice, overlaid with the emotionless tones imposed by encrypted transmissions.

“Good job, Jenks. Acknowledge Phase Two complete. Phase Three is a go. Stay off the air now. They’ll be trying to trace this. Out.”

Jenkinson turned to his companion and raised three fingers then made a thumbs-up sign. So far, so good.

9.

The casual pedestrian would probably walk past the light grey stone building at 35 Great Smith Street in London’s Westminster without a second thought. However, behind its dark oak, double-door entrance, a suite of offices exist. There, a group of nine Members of Parliament meet under the auspices of the Official Secrets Act to review the workings of the UK’s Intelligence Services. At this early hour on a Sunday, foot traffic into the building was at a minimum. 

The dial on Gary Deacon’s wristwatch showed twenty-five past eight. He jumped from the black taxi as soon as the security locks allowed him to open the door. He had already handed the driver a Ten-Pound note for the fare as they neared their destination. Without a backward glance, he slammed the cab door and raced across the pavement. 

One of the double doors was open and he slipped through easily. Inside a police officer, standing before an X-ray machine and security arc, held up his hand, palm aimed at Deacon, until he saw the ID wallet held in the younger man’s fingers. The policeman waved him through the arc. A triple ‘peep’ served as the soundtrack to Deacon’s passage.

Deacon took the stairs, three at a time, to the second floor. He turned left, heading down a musty corridor, to the third door on his right. He opened this and entered quickly, startling a secretary as she placed a coffee cup on her desk.

Ignoring the woman’s protests, he crossed to an interior doorway, and entered the room beyond without bothering to knock. Inside he found his objective seated behind a large wooden desk, shuffling papers. Behind him, the secretary burst in.

The office’s occupant took one look at Deacon’s expression and spoke.

“It’s alright, Mrs Lane. Can you close the door on your way out? Thank you.”

Both men waited until the door clicked shut.

“Now,” said the burly politician, standing and extending his hand in welcome, “what’s the SIS’s liaison man doing here today. We’re not scheduled for a meeting until Fri…”

Deacon interrupted the MP, ignoring the proffered handshake.

“Sir, C has been taken.”

“What? C? Your boss?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“How?”

“All we know is that he had some sort of seizure on his way in this morning. An air ambulance was called to take him to hospital. The helicopter was found fifteen minutes ago, abandoned in a supermarket car park in Surrey.”

“And his escort?”

“No news. One of them was SAS. Whoever took C had balls.”

The older man, sat. He paused for a moment, then hit the intercom button on his desk phone.

“Mrs Lane, get me the Prime Minister, will you? Priority. Then bring Mr Deacon a cup of tea. Thank you.”

Both men waited in silence, Deacon sinking into one of the chairs in front of the big desk.

The phone peeped twice. The Member of Parliament lifted the handset.

“Good Morning, Sir. Michael Howell at the Intelligence and Security Committee here. I’ve just received some disturbing news. It appears that C has been kidnapped.” 

A pause, listening.

“Yes, Sir. C, the Chief of the SIS… MI6, Prime Minister.”

10.

Gary Deacon was in another black taxi; this time accompanied by Rhys Edwards, the Deputy Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service. Edwards sat staring ahead, oblivious to Deacon’s presence; oblivious to the London streets whizzing by outside the cab’s windows. Deacon thought he was mulling over the developments of the last few hours. 

For Gary, however, the surprise had not been the image sent to Vauxhall Cross, the home of the SIS south of the river, rather the fact there was a contingency plan ready for just this emergency. In the seven years he had been in the Firm, he had never heard of an agent, let alone anyone higher up, being kidnapped and ransomed. He had done a little research before leaving Legoland, only uncovering two incidences of agents being taken, both times in South America, and these had been killed shortly afterward. Never had a ransom demand been made. And that it should be C who had been kidnapped! That sent a message!

The taxi came to a stop with a piercing squeal of brakes. Both passengers exited, and Gary turned to pay the driver, seeking a receipt for his expenses claim. As he pocketed the slip of paper, he turned and looked at their unusual destination.

He probably had driven past this building thousands of times. Vaguely, he recalled the warm glow of Christmas lighting beckoning shoppers into its interior. Rathbone Arcade was a typical central London, Victorian-era shopping mall; its lower floor populated by a variety of small shops and snack bars. Its upper floors, five from what he could see by craning his neck to look at the grey stone façade, housed anonymous offices.

He took out his smartphone and checked the address he had noted earlier.

“It’s this way, Mr Edwards.” He pointed to a wood and glass door, flanked by tall columns bearing the street number.

Both men walked over, stopping to read the small brass plaque fixed to the side of the right-hand stone column:

CHARLIE ALLSOP CONSULTING SERVICES.

If it had read ‘Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective’, Deacon would not have been surprised; it was that sort of neighbourhood. Yet the name Charlie Allsop didn’t inspire confidence; more suited to some run-down, Cockney, private investigator than an outfit who had signed a deal with one of the arms of British Intelligence. 

They entered the foyer to be greeted by a cheery, rotund man, wearing a dark grey suit. He looked like someone’s tailor. At least, that would have been an easy conclusion except for the small bulge of a firearm beneath the man’s left armpit, visible to Deacon’s experienced eyes. The Tailor spoke from behind two large computer monitors sitting atop his small desk.

“Good morning, gentlemen. Can I help you?”

Edwards glanced over at Deacon, signalling he should take the lead.

“Yes, we have an appointment with Charlie Allsop. Fifth floor they told us.”

“Who should I say is here?”

For an answer, Deacon took out his ID card and held it for inspection by the Tailor.

“Please take the lift to the fourth floor, gentlemen. I will call up and announce your arrival.”

Edwards and Deacon walked over to the waiting elevator. It was a four-person affair that had seen far better days, creaking as they opened its wooden doors, sagging slightly as they stepped inside. The floor buttons were few; off-white plastic deformed by cigarette burns, numbers painted by hand alongside, in accordance with the overall seediness they were coming to expect.

Deacon closed the lift doors and pressed the topmost button. The elevator obviously didn’t serve the fifth floor. 

Edwards emitted a disapproving ‘tsk, tsk’. 

Deacon shook his head, sadly. 

What in Hell had they let themselves in for?

11.

The wooden cage shuddered to a halt. Instinctively Deacon looked down as he opened the inner door. He expected to see a shortfall between the elevator’s cracked linoleum-covered floor and the landing outside, and wasn’t disappointed. Part of his job today, was keeping the Deputy Chief safe; that was why he was carrying a pistol in a shoulder rig.

“Watch out, sir.” He pointed down. 

Edwards executed a theatrical step out of the elevator, all the while tsk-tsking under his breath. The cage jumped a good couple of inches; Deacon leapt out as soon as he could. 

In front of the elevator was a blank wall, adorned only with yellowed paint that hinted at a previous colour. Both to their left and right, the short landing ended in closed doors. Wrapping around the left hand side of the elevator was a staircase heading down. 

Edwards noticed this too.

“They said ‘fifth floor’ on the phone, right?”

“Yes, sir, they did. Maybe there’s another staircase inside.”

Edwards didn’t reply. He examined both doors. No signs; nothing to indicate which way they needed to go. He looked up, spotting a small security camera over the top of the left hand door. He pointed to it and looked at Deacon. By unspoken agreement, both men took a step toward the left. An audible click. Someone had released an electronic door lock.

They approached the door. Deacon raised his hand and pushed on the dark wood. He could feel a strong spring pushing back, but the door swung inward easily.

They stepped inside. As soon as Deacon released the door, it shut with a solid click behind them. Deacon looked back; the door was a single sheet of steel, as were the walls and ceiling of the hallway. Underfoot there was carpeting, yet it felt solid, not the spongy give of old wooden floorboards underneath, more in tune with their experience so far. He took in the narrow, dark corridor moving off to their right. Midway, another door beckoned. They advanced. 

“Bloody games” muttered Edwards.

“What?”

For a reply, Edwards pointed to the end of the corridor. It turned to the right, obviously accessible by the other outside door. Whichever they had chosen, they would have traversed this hallway, shrouded in penumbra, to reach the door at its midpoint.

“It’s a killing floor,” said Deacon.

This time it was Edwards’ turn to say ‘what?’

“It’s a dead zone where you channel your attackers so you control them and can pick them off. There are probably night vision cameras and firing ports hidden in the walls. It’s a modern version of medieval castle architecture.”

Before Edwards could speak, a further click sounded from the door just ahead, and a thin shaft of warm light invited them to enter.

Deacon moved past his boss and pushed open the door. He stepped through into a large, modern open-plan office. In front of him was a desk facing the door, its top strewn with flat-screen computer monitors. Behind it sat a man who could have been the twin of the one downstairs. He stood and beamed a smile at Deacon.

“Welcome, gentlemen. Will you follow me please?” He walked off to the left. 

As Deacon and Edwards trailed the man they took in the rest of the office. Deacon counted another twelve desks, clustered in groups of four, each festooned with computer monitors. Three people sat at one of the groups, immersed in low-voiced conversation as they consulted the images on the screens before them. The rest of the desks were empty; no papers or personal items on their surfaces, just a single keyboard and several blank screens. It reminded him of an operations room at Legoland.

The twin took them to the middle of three offices at the end of the floor. He opened a door without knocking and waved them inside. Deacon and Edwards found themselves in a windowless meeting room. A large polished wood table, capable of seating twenty people, occupied its length. It was empty today. The walls were decorated with white marker boards and large unlit LCD screens. At the far corner, a small side table held a kettle, coffeemaker, the makings for both drinks and several assorted packets of biscuits.

“If you’ll just wait here, gentlemen, Mr Bannister will be with you in a minute. He’s on the phone, but won’t be long.” With that, their minder closed the door and left.

Deacon glanced over at Edwards. The Welshman had his mouth half open, as though he was about to say something, yet he did not speak. Instead he pulled out one of the chairs and sat.

Before Deacon could duplicate his actions, the door opened quickly and another man entered.

“Good afternoon. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long.” He extended a hand towards Deacon. “I’m Roger Bannister.” Deacon shook the hand briefly. Bannister, turned, took a step towards Edwards and proffered his hand again. Edwards ignored the gesture.

“Look, we are in rather a hurry here…”

“I assumed as much, Mr Edwards. Yet my father always told me one should always be courteous with one’s friends… and one’s enemies. Most of our clients are ‘in a hurry’ as you put it.”

“You know who we are?”

“Yes, Mr Deacon, we do. We always do our homework, even for something as mundane as a meeting.”

“Do you know why we are here?” Edwards watched Bannister as he walked around the table and sat opposite, pulling his waistcoat down across a generous belly. He spent a few seconds intently arranging a notepad and fountain pen exactly parallel to one another and perpendicular to the edge of the table. Satisfied, he leaned back in his chair and spoke.

“No. But I’m sure you will enlighten me. I suspect it has something to do with the contract we signed with C a few months ago.”

“Indeed. That contract puzzles me. Our Personnel people tell me that C expressly indicated that this company,” said with a note of disdain, “was to handle incidents of a specific nature, should they arise.”

“Kidnappings,” interjected Bannister, leaning forward in his seat, readjusting the pen’s position slightly. “Has someone been taken?”

Edwards ignored the question.

“Why you?”

“Did C not explain?”

Edwards’ response was to remain silent, staring at his host.

“Alright. It’s simple really.” Bannister folded his hands above the notepad, careful not to alter its alignment. “We specialise in discrete kidnap resolution. Most of our clients are high profile, and don’t want word to get out to the media that they have been targeted. We’re quick, efficient and quiet. We retrieve the ones taken and try to recover the ransom whenever possible. Sort of un-kidnaping the victims.” He chuckled, although Deacon was sure it was a phrase Bannister used to belie the tactics they employed. His brief investigation before leaving Vauxhall Cross had shown this outfit had an impressive record. Of the eight cases documented in SIS files, both victim and the ransom had been recovered in all but one. In that, the victim had been murdered before a ransom had been demanded, before CACS had been called in. If they were as discrete as Bannister claimed, he was also sure there were far more than eight cases.

Edwards sighed.

“I’m not happy with someone outside SIS handling this. We have resources that far outstrip any you may have,” he glanced around the room, “but C’s instruction are specific. I don’t know what he sees in this outfit, but for the moment, I have no choice in the matter.”

“I would suggest you do two things, Mr Edwards: One, don’t prejudge; two, stop wasting time and come to the point.” A hard tone had crept into Bannister’s voice, although the smile did not leave his lips, his eyes directing more realignment of the notepad and fountain pen before him.

“One of our people appears to have been kidnapped. We’ve received a ransom demand. This must be resolved quickly and efficiently.”

“Who? When? Ransom details?”

“It’s C himself, Bernard Trubshaw. He was taken this morning on his way into Vauxhall Cross. Just after seven fifteen. They are asking for twenty-five million pounds.”

Bannister was silent. He nodded once and looked toward the door to the meeting room. A few seconds elapsed. The door opened, another man joined them. He walked around the table and sat next to Bannister.

“This is Paul. He’ll be running the operational part of this matter.” The man nodded at Edwards. Deacon looked at their new attendee closely. He had an air of ex-soldier about him: an outdoor tan; close-cropped hair; muscular build, not the sort you get lifting weights in a gym though; and hard eyes that missed nothing.

“Now, we need the details. All of them. Don’t leave out anything no matter how insignificant it may seem.”

Edwards was a little taken aback at the sudden increase in pace. He stood.

“I’ll leave Mr Deacon here to fill you in. He will be working with you and will liaise with me directly. What about your… fees?”

“We take ten per cent of the ransom recovered or one million pounds if no ransom is paid. Nothing if we are not successful. That was in the contract, as I’m sure you know.”

“That’s a bit steep…”

“Mr Edwards, if you were unprepared to pay our fee, why did you bother coming here? Please stop wasting time with petty posturing and let’s get C back to Vauxhall Cross. Alright?”

“I’m not used to being…” began a flustered Edwards.

“I’m sure you’re not. But not all of us are accountants, or ex-accountants, like yourself, Mr Edwards. Tell me now if we have a green light or…” Bannister pointed to the door behind them.


oo00oo

Some of the things they are saying about 
Leaving Shadows

"I am a huge fan of Ian Fleming and the 007 films. Gates gives the classic thriller a thoroughly modern upgrade... one of the better thrillers I've read this year."

" intense, gripping, compelling and thought provoking. I don't do spoilers so I won't say much more. But those who love a great thriller, with a plot so believable that is feels like(a) non-fiction read will enjoy this thrilling story."

"I really can’t say much about this book because it left me so breathless. That is to say, I can’t say enough about it!"

"I can't recall ever breaking out in a sweat while reading a book before, but this one certainly got my adrenaline pumping. I was right there with the operatives trying to unwind this mystery and figure out just what was going on. The author used a (I'm hoping) fictional weapon of mass destruction, which was very creative and terrifying. Cheering the good guys on is a favorite past time of mine - but in this case? It took me a while to figure out who wore the white hat and who wore the black and to be honest, I wasn't really sure until I read the last page."

"Eric J Gates' thrillers always deliver the goods and his latest offering, 'Leaving Shadows', is no exception."

"Wow, this is one of the best thrillers I've ever read! I'm a die hard Eric Gates fan and loved The Cull Series and his other works. The plot in Leaving Shadows is brilliant and extraordinarily complex. The characters are well developed and the book is riddled with great description and unexpected twists and turns that kept me on my toes page after page. The plot is so well developed, I was often confused as to who were the good guys and who were bad, but in truth, the author kept on point and did a did an amazing job, not letting on until the very end. Not only is the novel all of the above, but in its own way, it was quite terrifying. The prize was elusive until the end and I questioned until the very last page who would come out of top.
An amazing read. I recommend highly."


All this… and you’ve still not read it?
Make that right today: Amazon Link


Watch out for the sequel, 'Chasing Shadows', out soon!

And there's another espionage thriller of Eric's in the new short-story anthology:


Amazon Link

Next week we move back to our regular
Guest Posts with a visit from a top-notch, bestselling crime thriller author.


Summer Reads so far:
[all either FREE or on Kindle Unlimited]
NOTE:
Read them this week because all will be removed from the blog in 7 days

Amazon Link