Authors: Andy McNab
It didn’t react well to a lower-case
‘Don’t fuck with me …’
I tried Jannah instead. I wasn’t an expert on the Quran, but a few of the most important words had stuck. And Jannah was the place all good Muslims were aiming for.
‘You … must go … through … the correct gate …’ The fucker listened to my increasingly staccato tapping. He was still wanting to play.
I allowed my mind to wander for a moment.
Back to the Iraqi desert.
The land of flaming oil wells and missile emplacements and storm drains.
And endless exchanges in interrogation centres during the dark hours as we took Frank’s advice and tried to get to know our enemy. There were eight gates to Jannah. The second was for those who had fought the Holy War. I was fucked if I could remember what it was called.
Then I did.
I hit the keys.
The security software didn’t like that version either. But I wasn’t going to give Hesco the satisfaction of asking him for another clue.
Was I going to be timed out?
A selfie with a palm tree and his Maserati filled the desktop, and was instantly peppered with icons.
I was in. I’d take a closer look at the contents later.
I shut down the HP and replaced the sleeve. ‘So, where’s the boy?’
‘First, you will cut me free …’ He strained against the cable ties.
I shook my head, not that he could see it. ‘No.’
Switching off the light, I pulled back the door and emptied the mug.
When I’d retrieved the map book and the torch from the cab, I let him know that I was ready for directions. He told me to find the E41 between Schaffhausen and Winterthur, and take the Zürich exit.
I traced the route with the LED beam.
If I turned right after fifteen Ks, before we got to Berg, then left, I’d find three construction sites. Stefan was being held at the one in the middle.
‘So that’s where your foot soldiers will be waiting to welcome me with pickaxes and shovels and power drills and fuck knows what else.’
He shook his head. ‘It will be … deserted … until seven … tomorrow morning. Three … Portakabins. One … security guard. Gated … I have … a key.’
Every word was still half drowned in Fanta, and he was not about to forget what he’d just been through. But I’d believe it when I saw it.
I poured him another mugful of ether, dipped the cloth in it and, as he was starting to relax, took him back to square one. I smacked it over his nose and mouth, held it in place until he went limp again, and forced three-quarters of it into his oral cavity.
I wrapped a metre of gaffer tape around his mouth and neck and, after making sure that his nostrils could still function, I picked up the map book, climbed out and slid the door shut behind me.
The night air was cool and fresh and I breathed in a couple of massive lungfuls. I realized only now that the cocktail of ether, vomit and sugary cherry had been making my head pound. No wonder Hesco was out of it.
Back in the cab, I took out Hesco’s SIG, flicked on the torch again and dismantled its working parts. I didn’t think it would have been anything less than fully functional, but I didn’t want to risk a dead man’s click at any point during the next couple of hours.
Once I was satisfied, I clipped in one of the mags, fed a round into the breech, positioned it under my thigh, and put the spare mag and the suppressor in my pocket. The Sphinx stayed where it was. The law of increasing firepower says that two pistols will defeat one, and a rifle will defeat two pistols. And no matter what he claimed, I needed all the help I could get.
Easing the van back on to the logging trail, I stopped long enough at the edge of the forest to take one more look at the map, set my sights on the E41, and put my foot down.
To start with, I drove with both windows down. The noise was deafening, but the cold air rushing through the cab continued to clear my head. I still couldn’t dredge up any more helpful stuff that Frank might have said to me in the green room before all this shit happened, but I now knew I was making some progress.
Dijani and Uran, and whoever else hadn’t yet come into view, had infiltrated a number of Frank’s companies. Why bother to build your own when someone else’s were already fit for purpose?
Frank had unearthed something, and didn’t like it. He didn’t like it so much they’d needed to kill him and his son. And then kill me too, for being there.
Lyubova had been keen to help.
Mr Lover Man had been forced to.
This still didn’t feel like a little local difficulty, though. GIGN and TIGRIS were the dog’s bollocks. They didn’t deploy for local difficulties.
I couldn’t shake the image of the iceberg out of my mind.
I wasn’t about to start believing every word the man in the back said, but three of his claims stuck with me.
You have more to fear than Putin …
You cannot escape the judgement of Allah …
Allah will welcome us to Paradise …
And Hesco was aiming to go through the second of the eight gates – for those who fought the Holy War.
That didn’t mean these fuckers were directly linked to the jihadist shit that was going down, but it felt like part of the same pattern.
And he’d gone rigid when I mentioned Italy.
I listened to the steady beat of the tyres on the motorway sections for a while, then powered up the windows and cut away from the big picture. Getting Stefan back was what the rest of tonight was about.
I took the Zürich exit off the main, carried on for fifteen Ks, hung a right, then a left and slowed as I approached the second of the three construction sites. Unless every alternate new build in the area featured the Adler eagle on its advertising, I was on target.
There were three double-decker Portakabins inside the gate. So far, so good. Only one of them was showing any illumination.
The artist’s impression on the hoarding promised a nine-storey apartment block next spring, complete with indoor pool, gym, twenty-four-hour concierge and young, good-looking residents relaxing between workouts on designer settees. And more to come the following summer.
As I drove past the Portakabins, I immediately spotted two bodies. Neither was Stefan. Hesco had said one, but why should I be pissed off about that? I was sure there were more lies heading my way.
There didn’t seem to be much construction going on above ground level yet, but a tower crane stood ready at the centre of the plot to swing its prefabricated sections into place. Sixty metres up, a pattern of red lights lined the boom, warning aircraft to keep their distance.
I took a right a K further on, past the third site. Only one of every ten streetlamps seemed to be connected to the grid there. My side of the road was lined with red-and-white-striped traffic cones and linked metal barriers covered with perforated orange plastic. Behind them was a freshly dug ditch, piles of cables and pipes and all the other shit required to take power and water to wherever it’s needed.
A parade of light industrial units with their own forecourts, all boarded up, ran along the opposite verge. I pulled over, parked in front of one and switched off the engine. We weren’t overlooked by massed ranks of inquisitive locals there. The whole area seemed to have been evacuated and earmarked for development.
About a hundred ahead, the tarmac curved to the left. I tucked the SIG underneath my jacket, shouldered the day sack and walked round the bend. Three pallets of breezeblocks stood at the front of the eighth lot I came to. I hid the sack beside the one nearest the perimeter wall and covered it with three empty cement bags. If the van had been pinged, and was no longer a safe option, I wouldn’t be totally fucked.
I screwed the suppressor on to the barrel of the SIG when I got back to it. After checking Hesco’s ties, I opened the toolbox and took his keys out of his briefcase. Then I climbed aboard him, sliced through the tape around his chin and uncovered his mouth.
He groaned as I pulled out the cloth and replaced it with the weapon’s suppressor. I jammed it down into his mouth until he gagged. Anyone in our business would know what that meant, no matter what state they were in.
‘OK. So here’s what we’re going to do.’
I explained that I was about to cut him loose, one set of ties at a time. I’d start with his neck, then free his arms, then his wrists. He was still mummified from the nose up, but I could see that he liked this idea a lot.
I turned the knife so that the blade bit into the plastic rather than his flesh, and sliced through it. He gasped in air like a bellows and raised his head a few centimetres off the floor.
When he’d settled, I cut through the restraints around his right bicep.
As I prepared to do the same to the ones securing that wrist, I moved the SIG to within three centimetres of the crook of his left arm, and took first pressure. Even in his weakened state, I knew he probably wouldn’t be able to stop himself trying to seize the initiative the first chance he got, whatever I said.
Up came the blade again.
And so did his hand.
Before it got halfway to where he thought the side of my head would be, I squeezed the trigger. There was a sound like a fist hitting a punch-bag and a neat hole appeared in the sleeve of his jacket. The exit wound was uglier.
Instead of clawing a big chunk out of me, Hesco gave a strangulated cry and tried to hold his shattered elbow together. Blood pooled on the plywood beneath it.
‘OK. This is the choice: either you stop fucking about, and let me patch up that mess, or you carry on and I’ll destroy your other elbow.’
His answer didn’t take long. ‘Patch … up.’
I pulled another five metres of cling-film off the roll, twisted it into a rope, looped one end around his right wrist, tied it off and bound it tightly enough to his neck to cramp his movement, but not so tightly that he couldn’t breathe. It left his undamaged elbow sticking up in the air. I tapped it with the butt of his pistol to remind him what was going to happen if he suddenly changed his mind.
I cut the ties around his left bicep and started to wrap the thing in cling-film. All I needed was for him to stop leaking so he could take me to the boy.
He wasn’t enjoying this process one bit. He was finally on receive, though. I got his best behaviour as I freed his left hand, untied his right and sat him up. I taped his wrists together behind his back. It would keep them where I wanted them. And would also mean that any attempt to free himself would rip the lid off another big can of pain. I kept the cling-film noose around his neck.
When we were ready to roll, I opened the rear door, sliced off the ties that still confined his ankles and tugged him out. He shuffled his arse towards me until his legs hung over the edge of the plywood and his feet touched the ground.
Keeping the SIG trained on him, I removed the noose and cut the rest of the tape away from his head. I might have been able to control him better if I’d left it in place, but it would be a nightmare directing his every step.
He sat there blinking for a couple of beats, took in the SIG, then his eyes bored into me. His chest heaved and he gobbed another mouthful of cherry-coloured phlegm in my direction. I didn’t look down to see where it landed.
‘You … cannot imagine … how much pain … you will be in.’
‘You know what? You’re the one without an elbow.’
I waved him up with my left hand.
‘Now, the boy.’
The SIG stayed where it was, zeroed in on his centre mass. I pocketed the second roll of gaffer tape and a fistful of cable ties, pushed the door shut and pressed the fob.
The indicators blinked, making Hesco’s uncertain steps seem even more uncertain. For a moment he reminded me of a
puppet. His knees didn’t seem able to carry his body weight. I thought he was going to crumble. Then he got his act together. He wasn’t totally stable, but he gradually managed to lengthen his stride.
On the way to the junction, I tried to put myself in his shoes. He probably assumed that I wouldn’t take his word for the number of security people standing by, and that I’d be switched on. At the same time, he’d be hoping that I’d completely focus on getting Stefan back; that I’d believe he was there; that it was about to happen; that tunnel vision might leave me exposed. And maybe I did have tunnel vision – but what else could I do to get the little fucker back?
We turned left on to the road that led to where he had said the boy was located. The streetlamps were fully operational there, but widely spaced. I slipped the pistol under my jacket as I followed him closely enough to try to camouflage the fact that he was my prisoner, yet far enough away to stay out of range of a sudden reverse kick, however much I reckoned he wouldn’t have the strength to deliver it.
The traffic was light and intermittent. Two or three wagons sped past in the oncoming lane; only one came from behind us. None of them slowed as they went by.
I kept an eye out for a way into the site that wouldn’t channel us straight at the security detail. There was a pedestrian door set into the hoarding fifty metres short of the vehicle entrance, but none of the keys on Hesco’s ring worked their magic. We moved on to the main gate.
The floodlit strip immediately inside it reminded me of the area you couldn’t step into without getting hosed down in
The Great Escape
. I told him to keep his distance while I got busy with the padlock. The third key snapped it open, and by the time it did so, we had company.
A not-quite-matching pair of lads in blue uniforms and white hard hats emerged from the ground floor of the middle Portakabin. A night stick, a torch and a two-way hung from their belts. I couldn’t see anything that might go bang. The older and more hard-bitten of the two balled his fist and yelled at us. I assumed it was Schweizerdeutsch for ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’