Authors: Conrad Jones
OTHER TITLES BY CONRAD JONES
SOFT TARGET II `TANK`
SOFT TARGET III `JERUSALEM`
THE CHILD TAKER
GerriCon Books Ltd
Copyright 2010 Conrad Jones. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.
The places named in this book are real. The fictional events are based on factual ones but have been changed by the author. Any similarity between the fictional characters and people in the public domain are coincidental, and are generated purely from the imagination of the author.
First published by GerriCon Books Ltd 2010
Nick was sweating as he sat and watched the rain run down his windscreen. The wiper blades squeaked annoyingly as they moved back and forth relentlessly, struggling to move the deluge from the glass. His nerves were jangling with excitement and anticipation, while fear pumped his veins full of adrenalin. He could smell the explosives that were packed into the back of the rusty white panel van, two hundred litres of hydrogen peroxide and a nitrogen-based fertilizer filled three oil drums. Surrounding the canisters were huge bags of two-inch wood screws, and steel ball bearings, which would become a maelstrom of deadly shrapnel when the device detonated. A smile crept across his face as he caught his reflection in the rear view mirror. Nick was ridiculed for most of his childhood, because of his Aboriginal type facial features. There were no Aboriginal genes in his family anywhere, he was plain unlucky. He had a wide flat nose, protruding brow bones and a thick angular jaw-line. In the weeks before, he had grown a thick beard and dyed it blond. He tinted his hair and eyebrows to match. Thick black spectacles completed the disguise. He waited patiently for his targets to appear from inside the building. The bomb-maker had done a good job, but then he always did, a proper little Einstein. They didn’t always see eye to eye, but they shared a single goal. Sometimes he had to be put in his place, but generally, they were a good team.
Nick scanned the front of the building. It looked nothing like a mosque; however, it was the first of its kind in Britain, built in the previous century by a lawyer in the Everton area of Liverpool. He had converted the interior of a Victorian terraced property into a place of worship for the followers of Islam, and in its heyday, prayers were held five times a day. Christmas Day, 1889 was the original opening day, but his attempts to champion Islam were not welcomed by local residents. Prejudice, which often erupted in violence against the founder and his followers, finally forced the lawyer to close up, and move abroad. In the 20
century, the building was used as a registry office for a while, before it fell into disrepair, and the facade began to crumble, as it tumbled into dereliction. Recently, the leaders of the local Muslim community decided to buy the building and renovate it to its former glory, because of the historical significance as Britain`s first mosque, and today was the official reopening.
Parking close enough to the entrance for the device to be at its most effective had been a hurdle to overcome, and Nick drove the vehicle to the ideal spot the previous day, leaving it there overnight. He received a fixed penalty notice for his trouble; the yellow parking ticket lay discarded in the passenger foot well. Movement caught his eye as the front door of the mosque opened, and three photographers jostled for the best position to snap the guests as they walked down the wide stone steps, smiling and shaking hands with the other VIP`s as they left. Small groups began to form along various parts of the pavement as the departing guests made small talk and promised, half-heartedly to keep in touch with each other. Nick waited patiently for his targets to appear, but they hadn`t left the building yet. His mind drifted back to his school days, where he had first become involved with the bomb-maker and his family. Their lives were scarred by events from the past, and their future was inseparably entwined. A loud rap on the window snapped him back to reality.
Nick cursed under his breath, realising that a traffic warden caused the knocking. He hated people in uniform. They made him nervous. Nick served fifteen years of a life sentence, and the stigma of being subservient to uniforms became engrained in him. The traffic warden`s image was blurred by the pouring rain, but he could tell that she wasn’t best pleased. She gestured to him to open the window, which he did reluctantly.
“You`re parked in a restricted zone,” she barked. Rainwater dripped from her peaked cap in tiny rivulets onto her saturated jacket. Angela Williams hated being a traffic warden, her childhood dreams of being a police officer were dashed by her asthma. She thought that becoming a parking attendant would fulfil her desire to work in law enforcement, but it didn’t. Her first day in the job began was a whirl of excitement, the uniform, the authority, gave her a rush. By lunchtime, she had been spat at, sworn at and verbally abused by strangers in passing cars. The novelty wore off quickly.
“Get a proper job you slag!” If she had heard it once, she had heard it a thousand times. Every day was a constant battle with the public, verbal abuse was a frequent occurrence. Her bosses set unachievable targets every week, forcing her to issue tickets wherever possible. Angela couldn’t sleep at night, worried about the stress of working the next day, every shift became a trauma. To top it all her husband was recently made redundant, his drinking was spiralling out of control, and her marriage was going down the toilet.
“This is a restricted zone.”
“I`ve broken down.” Nick lied.
“Have you arranged for the vehicle to be repaired?”
“Yes, they`re on their way.”
“How long will they be?”
Nick was becoming annoyed with the woman. He looked up and down the street and considered punching her in the throat, before bundling her into the back of the van. There were too many vehicles on the road, and the crowd from the mosque were lingering around. He looked in his wing mirror and spotted his targets emerging from the building. Panic set in and forced him into action.
“I`ll go and call the breakdown company again.” He opened the door and steeled himself against the rain. He slammed the door closed and pushed past her, breaking into a jog as he crossed the road.
“I`ve already issued this vehicle with a fixed penalty notice,” the pedantic warden called after Nick as he crossed the road away from the van. She lost sight of him as a double-decker bus trundled by, spraying the rusty van and the hapless warden with surface rainwater. Her boots and socks were deluged, freezing cold water seeped between her toes, and she swore as she removed her ticket machine from her sodden jacket. He was getting another ticket now, and she would enjoy issuing it too. Just when she thought, her day couldn’t get any worse the rusty panel van was ripped apart as the fertilizer bomb inside it exploded remotely. One second she was unhappily doing her job in the teeming rain, the next her head and limbless torso dangled from spiked iron railings, impaled through the throat.
Alec Ramsey stood on the steps of the mosque, inspecting the aftermath with an expert eye. After twenty years service, he had reached the dizzy heights of Superintendent and was the Senior Investigating Officer with the Major Investigation Team. His department was tasked with analysing the scene of the bomb blast, alongside the Counter Terrorist Unit. His blond hair was dishevelled, and a breeze from the river blew strands into his blue eyes, annoyingly. When he frowned, his forehead furrowed with deep lines, his chin dimpled. His friends and colleagues teased him constantly that he looked like the celebrity chef that was his namesake. The protective hood and suit were doing little to keep the wind out as he inspected the scene. He studied the pattern of the blast damage. Shrapnel from the explosive device pockmarked the front elevation of the building. Chunks of render were blown away by the impact of steel ball bearings travelling at four thousand feet per second, and blackened screws were embedded in the front door and window frames. A senior officer from the uniformed division approached him, dressed in a white paper suit. Alec recognised him as Chief Carlton, a key player in the divisional hierarchy. They`d been involved together in several cases over the years, and their relationship was one of polite tolerance.
“What are your first impressions?” the Chief asked, his face etched with deep worry-lines, dark circles shadowed beneath his eyes. The workload of senior personnel in Britain`s police forces took its toll mentally and physically, especially in the big cities. The economic downturn was biting at every level of society, and crime was on the increase. Carlton looked like he was feeling the pressure.
“The device was built by a competent bomb maker. They used household chemicals and fertilizer. As long as you know what type you need then it`s available at any discount warehouse to manufacture the explosive compound. The shrapnel could have been purchased at any home improvement store, and the detonator was a simple remote, possibly from a toy or a mobile phone.”
“The internet has a lot to answer for,” Carlton mumbled. He was referring to the dozens of websites that carry instructions for homemade explosives. “Anyone using a search engine could find `fertilizer bombs` and put that together.”
“I`m not sure that this is the work of amateurs.” Alec pointed to the wreckage. “The van was modified to aim the blast at the pavement, by welding metal plates into the side and the floor of the vehicle. The bombers directed the blast toward the pavement, and the mosque,” Alec said. He stepped around a congealing pool of blood, walking toward the remnants of the van. Alec was tall, and the Chief struggled to keep up with his long strides.
“It`s a miracle more people weren’t killed,” the Chief replied. He grimaced as he navigated his way between the blood and gore. The bodies had already been removed, but smaller particles, human and otherwise, were still being collected by a small army of forensic scientists.
“What was the final body count?” Alec Ramsey asked. He had no idea how many fatalities there were, for now it wasn’t the priority. Finding out who built and detonated the device was uppermost in his mind. Superintendent Ramsey spent seven years working in a combined unit, investigating bombings in Ireland. He knew how to follow the evidence, and piece together the details that added up to the bomb maker`s signature. From what he had seen so far, the perpetrators of this attack were well versed in their trade.
“Four dead so far, and one man is still critical. Most of the guests had left, thank God,” the police Chief shook his head as he spoke. “A minute or two earlier and dozens could have been killed. It`s a good job their timing was slightly out.”
Alec wasn’t so sure that their timing was out. He studied the scene again from a position next to the wreckage of the van.
“Do you have the initial photographs?”
“I`ve got some of the early shots here,” Chief Carlton took a small digital camera from inside his protective suit. He turned the viewing screen toward Alec. The Superintendent compared the crime scene images taken immediately after the explosion. One of the casualties was a female traffic warden, obviously in the wrong place at the wrong time. The head and torso dangled from the railings, her peaked cap still in place. Two bodies lay close to the stone steps, and two more were nearer to the van, their clothes shredded by the blast.
“Who are they?” Alec asked, pointing to the images.
“The two men here were photographers, one died instantly, and the other is hanging on by the skin of his teeth in intensive care.” Chief Carlton referred to a notebook before he continued. “This is Amir Patel and his wife Mina, both died at the scene, and that poor soul impaled on the railings is Angela Williams, a traffic warden.”
Alec caught sight of his number two, Detective Inspector Will Naylor, picking his way through the rubble, towards them. Will was talking on the telephone as he approached. Chief Carlton nodded a silent greeting, which Will returned as he ended the call.
“Your forensic teams can take the van, we`ve got all the information we need from it for now,” Will said abruptly to the police Chief. Initial tests had been done, and now the wreckage belonged to the Counter Terrorist Unit. Chief Carlton wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to so curtly, especially by a fast track detective. Will Naylor was one of the new breed of detectives that enter the force on the back of a university degree, and then fly through the ranks at a rate that is offensive to time served, senior officers. Chief Carlton had spent more time on the beat than Will had on the force in total. He saw him as insolent and disrespectful.
“Did they find anything of use?” Alec ignored Carlton`s discomfort, confused as to why they were allowing the terrorist division to claim vital evidence already.
“It has been bleached inside from top to bottom. They tested every remaining flat surface, and they`re all positive for sodium hydroxide. The vehicle has been sterilised.”