Grey Areas by David Durbin - HTML preview

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Homing in on the sound he advanced until just outside, where he
paused and listened for a few seconds, comprising a mental image of the
situation he would likely find on the other side of the door. To Evans the
conversation seemed casual, tender even, a standard exchange of small talk
between a husband and wife as they prepared to sleep; they would not be
expecting him. Without warning he kicked the door open with brutal force,
charging over and pistol whipping the politician’s aide where he sat, blood
spurting from his nose as he slumped forward in his bed. Preparing herself to
scream, the aide’s wife opened her mouth wide but Evans was on her in a
flash, smothering her with the chloroform pad. She kicked and fought, but he
easily overpowered her, holding her firmly until her thrashing was subdued
by the chemicals. Gently letting her fall back onto the bed, Evans turned and
checked the man; he was unconscious and his nose was broken, but he would be fine. Satisfied, he holstered his pistol and lifted the overweight man from
the bed onto his shoulders in a fireman’s lift, barely exuding a grunt of strain,
despite the aide’s considerable bulk. Descending the stairs awkwardly he
navigated his way back through the house with the unconscious figure on his
back, making his way outside to the car. Bundling the aide into the boot, he
gagged and handcuffed him, ensuring he was securely fastened before
driving off into the night, ready to hand his new prisoner over and receive his
payment.
A few hours later Evans returned to his flat, his transaction complete. The
faint, lingering scent of smoke hung around his new clothes, a testament to
the burning of evidence he had performed shortly after picking up the second
car he had stashed away in advance. He slipped his key into the lock and
opened the door, quickly closing it behind him and sliding over to the alarm
panel to enter his code. It wasn’t until he had halted the countdown that he
noticed the piece of paper on his bare floor, illuminated in the soft moonlight that shone through the grimy glass panel set in the door. Immediately he
drew his pistol, fastening the three security bolts on the door and slowly
advancing into the tiny apartment, half-crouched to make himself a smaller
target. His eyes were well adjusted to the gloom after walking in the night
and he made his way around the entire flat in a few minutes, finding nothing
out of the ordinary. Feeling a little safer but not quite safe enough to holster
his gun or switch on a light, Evans crept back to the doorway, his curiosity
and adrenaline mixing together to form a pleasurable intoxication as he
crouched down to see what had been pushed through his mailbox.

Chapter 3

 

Thursday 27th October 2014 – Lincolnshire, England

 

GMT 07:03

 

Patrice Dulay gulped down air and lengthened his stride as he entered the last

 

straight of his run, determined to finish as close to physical exhaustion as possible.

 

His attitude to exercise was the same as his attitude toward everything he attempted

 

in life, he had always tried to push himself harder and harder, aiming to break the

 

limit of what his body and mind were able to do. Tall and heavily muscled, his

 

angular features and requisite close-cropped hair accentuated his black skin in the

 

morning mist and he looked every inch the elite soldier he had become. Tearing

 

free from the outskirts of the heavily wooded area, the personal compound of

 

General Douglas Haven came into view on the horizon and he wondered about the

 

nature of this morning’s interruption by his commanding officer. Dulay had been

 

contacted on his wrist-worn Personal Digital Assistant a little under twenty minutes

 

ago with a message requesting his presence at a briefing at 08:30 at the command

 

centre in the main compound. Nothing was inherently peculiar about the order, as operations were being planned nearly continuously at the moment, and as a newly

 

graduated agent he was heavily involved in the planning stages, even if he was still

 

waiting to be sent out on his own for the first time.

 

What was troubling to Dulay was that the email had come directly from

 

General Haven rather than from his personal secretary. This was unusual and

 

bothered him for reasons he couldn’t quite fathom, though he was determined to

 

stay positive and hoped that perhaps he was about to get the call to go on a mission

 

and that the General wanted to break the news to him personally. Dulay shook his

 

head, hearing the memory of his father’s frequently sharp words ringing in his ears;

 

he had been slowing down without even realising it, his thoughts occupying too

 

much of his efforts. Forcing his concentration back to the physical and mental

 

challenge of pushing himself harder and harder he pumped his arms and legs for all

 

they were worth, enjoying the sensation of speed. In full flight he was a glorious

 

sight; his high school track coach in Marseilles had often likened him to a sports

 

car, able to shift through gears so smoothly yet rippling underneath with muscular

 

raw power. Dulay had liked the analogy, and had certainly proved his coach to be

 

spot on with his assessment; he was a running machine. At 6’3 and a shade under

 

230lbs he should have been too big to be an exceptional distance runner, but his long stride, muscular build and tireless work ethic had proved a winning

 

combination both at college and the French military academy, where he still held

 

the record for the ten mile endurance test.

 

Pushing himself to a full sprint, he soon passed the marker he used to

 

measure his distance and, slowing to a gentle trot, he checked his PDA. Pleased

 

with his time, he breathed deeply in and out to regain his wind as he approached the

 

security checkpoint outside of the massive concrete barriers that surrounded the

 

internal compound. Standing separately, the checkpoint bunker jutted out from the

 

ground like a solid fist and he moved toward it slowly, already feeling a little tense

 

in anticipation of the familiar but unwelcome security protocol. As he approached

 

the bunker he glanced skyward briefly, noting the snipers in the towers above him

 

following his every move, weapons trained on his torso and head. Trying to ignore

 

them he focused his gaze on the Military Policeman behind the three inch bullet,

 

blast and shatterproof plasti-glass in the bunker control room in front of him.

 

‘Pass and palm,’ barked the man through a speaker system, motioning for

 

Dulay to move forward and place his DNA linked identification card into a small

 

retractable tray, and his hand in a circular gap to its right. Dulay sighed as he did as

 

he was ordered. He had quickly tired of the guards and the security procedures applied when someone whished to enter the compound, and although he understood

 

the reasons why they were important, he had yet to meet a soldier not

 

uncomfortable with the whole experience, which was always the same; a rude

 

Military Policeman, card swipe, pat-down and then rectal exam. There was even a

 

little rhyme the recruits had made up about it, which some of them had taken to

 

singing whilst going through the procedure; ‘Guard, card, down, brown, you gotta

 

be clean to get in this town.’ Dulay was not a person prone to bursting into song,

 

and instead just winced slightly as the clamp in the circular hole tightened around

 

his wrist, his palm trapped facing upwards. There was a faint whirring noise as a

 

small needle attached to a robotic arm appeared and moved toward his hand,

 

jabbing into his palm to retract its bounty of information-laden blood. Dulay

 

watched in silence as the guard ran the card and blood sample through the security

 

database, ensuring that the DNA on the card, the database and his blood matched.

 

There had been significant problems with the system recently; terrorist hackers had

 

managed to gain access to the computer database a couple of weeks ago for over a

 

minute and had switched some DNA records around, resulting in the guards

 

wounding innocent soldiers and recruits whose records did not match with their ID

 

cards. The commanding officers of the base had been doing their best to reassure everyone that the problem was quickly discovered and the system repaired and

 

Dulay believed them, but he doubted that helped the men who had been shot and

 

arrested.

 

Evidently a repeat of that incident was not going to occur today, or at least

 

not right now, as the guard in front of Dulay looked up from his screen and

 

indicated to his companions to advance to stage two of the check. Immediately,

 

four Military Policemen armed with automatic rifles appeared from the rear of the

 

bunker and advanced on him, their weapons drawn and aimed squarely at his chest.

 

Dulay stepped back slowly, removing his right hand from the clamp and raising his

 

arms as two of the guards split off to flank him, taking up firing positions at a safe

 

distance. The other two men aggressively closed on him, one thoroughly patting

 

him down whilst the other scanned him with an electronic wand. The wand probed

 

him for any chemicals or tools that he could possibly use in explosives or as

 

weapons, and was also use to scan his PDA for any viruses or hacking software he

 

could use to attempt to access the secure mainframe. Given the all clear, one of the

 

Military Policemen commanded him to drop his running shorts and proceeded to

 

give Dulay an unpleasant time with a very cold, gloved finger. ‘All clear,’ he announced after the inspection, but even as the men opened

 

the entrance to the compound and scuttled backwards into their bunker they did not

 

lower their weapons for one second. Dulay pulled his shorts back up, picked up his

 

ID card and strolled into the compound, stopping to allow a small group of soldiers

 

on their morning run to pass. Nodding a brief acknowledgement to the commanding

 

officer who led them, he continued onwards to the distinctive black steel building a

 

few hundred yards away. It was a symbolic structure, purposely designed to be very

 

different from the other buildings on site; the military wanted the building to

 

scream exclusivity and accomplishment, they wanted visiting soldiers and recruits

 

to desperately want to be part of the few who were elite enough to be part of the

 

unit it housed and their recent but already legendary history. Their wishes had come

 

true as the building had already spawned plenty of folklore, rumours and tall tales

 

that helped build on the myth of the agents who called it home. Dulay swiped his

 

ID at the entrance, the electronic lock acknowledging him as the most recent

 

addition to the club and his right to enter. As it did so the door slid smoothly open

 

and he entered the barracks for the elite soldiers of the European Union Terrorist

 

Task Force, known worldwide simply as the TTF. Thirty minutes later and Dulay was showered and dressed in camouflage cargo

 

trousers and a black t-shirt, waiting in briefing room number four for General

 

Haven. As he stood alone he felt the familiar mixture of excitement and trepidation

 

that he had regularly been experiencing since he first signed up for the TTF

 

selection process. It had been a whirlwind eighteen months in which he had found

 

himself constantly challenged and pushed, discovering more and more about

 

himself as he progressed. In essence the principles of the unit went against

 

everything he had previously experienced. Unlike traditional soldiers TTF agents

 

were more often than not sent out in the field as lone wolves, covertly investigating

 

and infiltrating terrorist organisations before attempting to annihilate them from the

 

inside. Backed with cutting-edge technology and the best training available, they

 

were a lethal force that had helped the European Union strike countless of telling

 

blows against its terrorist enemies.

 

It was the lone nature of the role that Dulay had on occasion struggled with;

 

previously he had been in the French Army and then the French special forces

 

division, the RPIMa (Regiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine) and had

 

never worked in teams of less than six people. He had grown accustomed to the rapport of a group of men working together for a common goal and he enjoyed the

 

banter and the team spirit. The feeling of someone watching his back had always

 

been a great comfort to him and it was still taking him time to adjust to the single

 

operative mentality, unable to trust anyone. It was something which went against

 

his natural instinct to see the good in people. Many agents had had the same

 

problem in the past and so as part of the training process they were now forced into

 

spending days and days in isolation; it was the only part of the training Dulay had

 

not enjoyed, the only area he had not excelled in, often finding himself locked in

 

battles against the memory of his father’s critical voice. It had been a draining

 

experience but he had passed the constant tests, though at what cost he wasn’t quite

 

sure yet; he had certainly reopened some mental wounds that he would have rather

 

have forgotten forever.

 

Coughing nervously, he scratched at the small but almost permanent

 

indentation in his palm from the DNA test, finding his mind wandering away from

 

any positive thoughts about the meeting and toward the negatives; what if it had

 

been decided that he was unfit to be in the unit after his most recent evaluation?

 

What if they’d decided to re-assign him back to his old unit? He had heard rumours

 

that the French forces were struggling in Algeria again and he had even heard whispers they were close to being overrun. Perhaps they were calling back all

 

soldiers assigned to the EU in order to bolster their forces?

 

Another nervous cough escaped his throat as he stared at the thick steel

 

door, waiting for General Haven, commander of the TTF and the man responsible

 

for Dulay’s new standing as an elite agent, to make his entrance. They had first met

 

nearly two years ago when the General had been visiting the RPIMa during an

 

evaluation for the top brass of the EU who were responsible for the combined

 

military forces. Dulay, one of the fittest and most proficient men in his unit had

 

been chosen by his superior to put on a show on the obstacle course and shooting

 

range; later that evening Haven had sought out Dulay in the barracks and informed

 

him that he was going to be entered for the TTF selection process and that he would

 

be hearing more via his commanding officer. With that General Haven had simply

 

turned and walked out. A few months passed and Dulay had heard nothing more

 

until one morning a chopper showed up at his base in Algeria to whisk him away to

 

Brussels to begin the arduous task of proving himself worthy of wearing the black

 

beret of the TTF.

 

Since then he had had much more frequent contact with General Haven,

 

who seemed to take an extremely close interest in Dulay’s progress through the training, something that had at first worried him; he had quickly learnt of the

 

General’s reputation and had heard many unsavoury whispers and rumours about

 

his past that made him nervous. Haven was young for a man in his position, only

 

just pushing forty five; strong, fierce and ambitious, everyone in the unit knew he

 

was someone to be feared as well as respected. One particular story from the many

 

that had stuck firmly in Dulay’s mind was about the General’s days as a young

 

officer with the Royal Marines. Whilst on a peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan,

 

Haven was leading an eight-man night patrol that stumbled into a major fire fight

 

between rival opium dealers. According to the story, Haven ordered his men to hold

 

their ground and observe; for twenty minutes they watched until only a few men

 

from each gang were left. Then the patrol attacked, wiping the survivors out in a

 

matter of minutes. The unit allegedly discovered a hundred kilos of opium, fifty of

 

which made it to the relevant authorities, fifty of which mysteriously disappeared, a

 

fate shared over the next few years by the patrol members who, one by one, ceased

 

to exist. The rumour mongers claimed Haven killed them all personally, not only to

 

keep them quiet but also so he could get a full share of the profit from the opium

 

sale, money he allegedly used to bribe officials into promoting him. Dulay considered the tale to be far fetched and more likely to be based on

 

gossip than fact, but there were a dozen other such stories circulating at any one

 

time, some of which were harder to ignore than others. Haven was considered a

 

brave and astute soldier by all, but not many people trusted him. Dulay certainly

 

didn’t to begin with, but the Frenchman had never seen any behaviour that

 

warranted suspicion, and over time he had come to admire Haven, who, in his eyes,

 

had an iron spine, a fierce intellect and a passion for the military, all elements of his

 

personality that Dulay wished to emulate.

 

As such, the General had become his mentor and role model, and Dulay had

 

assumed the role of star pupil, though he had never been overtly shown any

 

preferential treatment over the other trainees. A quick glance at his PDA showed

 

Haven to be ten minutes late, which was unlike him, and, with his anxiety building

 

a little, Dulay headed back out of the briefing room and into the dim metal corridor

 

to see if perhaps he had got the wrong room. He strolled up the hall a few paces,

 

glancing into the briefing rooms immediately around, all of which stood dark and

 

empty with their doors ajar. Walking on further however he could see that the

 

briefing room at the end of the corridor was occupied, the door hanging slightly ajar

 

and the light inside visible until a figure inside walked across its path and blocked it entirely. Surprised that anyone else was in the area at such a time of day, Dulay

 

listened intently and could faintly hear a voice, seemingly talking on a phone,

 

though it was so soft that he could not determine who they were or what it was they

 

were discussing. Having recently acquired agent status, Dulay was firmly in the

 

loop regarding any missions being planned and he knew that this morning there

 

were no briefings due to be going on. Curious, he approached the door, walking

 

more stealthily without even consciously thinking about it. As he got closer he

 

could make out some of the words.

 

‘…I need the equipment and intel sent to the safehouse ASAP. Yeah, he

 

has. Nighthawk is the code name. Ok. No, I don’t…’

 

Dulay was now just outside the door, leaning against the corridor wall,

 

tensed up, his breathing slow and deliberate, his mouth open to enhance his

 

hearing. He was so involved with what was going on in the room that when the

 

booming voice resonated from behind him it caused him to jump and thud into the

 

wall heavily, his heart racing so quickly from the fright that he hadn’t even

 

registered what the voice was saying. Whirling around he saw the voice’s owner

 

and his stomach sunk; it was General Haven, a fierce expression etched on his

 

broad face. ‘Dulay!’ he bellowed, his voice iron hard. ‘What the hell are you doing?

 

Why are you creeping around out here? Get in the briefing room, now!’

 

Dulay obediently followed the outstretched hand toward the room,

 

preparing excuses in his mind as he walked. Haven closed the door behind them,

 

placing a strong hand on Dulay’s shoulder before looking up into his eyes.

 

‘You’re going to be a fine agent Patrice, but try to keep your nose clean and

 

stay out of what doesn’t concern you. Do you understand?’ Not sure he understood

 

completely, Dulay simply nodded.

 

‘Good. Now, I have something very important to discuss with you. I’ve had

 

the approval I need to send you into the field and your first assignment has been

 

chosen.’ As he spoke he beamed a winning smile, his teeth as solid and strong as

 

the rest of him. Dulay’s heart began to beat quickly again as he struggled to contain

 

his excitement; this was what he had been waiting for, his chance to put his last two

 

years of training into practice in a live operation in the field. He was chomping at

 

the bit and was desperate to ask just one question, but Haven, after pausing to enjoy

 

Dulay’s reaction, beat him to the punch. ‘The target is a group called United for

 

Freedom.’

 

Chapter 4

 

Thursday 27thOctober 2014 – Manchester, England

 

GMT 19:28

 

The rain was falling lightly on the cracked pavement as Evans left his flat,

 

knowing he would never return again. As he strode off he blended in perfectly with

 

his run-down surroundings, sporting old blue jeans, a dirty black jumper and a worn

 

leather jacket. His entire outfit was a few sizes too big, designed to disguise his true

 

build and body shape from prying eyes. To further disguise himself he carried a

 

large backpack over his left shoulder, hunching under its weight to give the

 

impression that he was struggling with his load, even though despite its bulk he

 

could easily have sprinted with it for a good distance. His short black hair was

 

hidden by a dark baseball cap and his jacket collars were turned up in pretence of

 

shielding his face from the rain; the only feature which could have easily

 

distinguished him from the other miserable and down-trodden souls on the cold

 

street were his eyes. An unusual shade of blue-grey they were alert, moving rapidly

 

everywhere, checking for potential tails. His outward visage was one of calm, but internally he was nervous: someone had found him, which meant that others could

 

find him, others from whom his survival depended on staying hidden. He moved

 

purposely down the street, ignoring the various bums and drunks huddled around

 

the doorways and gardens of the derelict terraced houses all around him.

 

The night sky was already thick and black and there was a chill in the air to

 

go along with the light dusting of rain, which suited him perfectly; pedestrians were

 

few and far between as he ducked down a side alley and emerged onto a large but

 

deserted shopping street, only a few minutes from Manchester Victoria train

 

station, his first destination. There was little illumination from the mostly flickering

 

and cracked street lights but he could make out the bulky forms of the armoured

 

CCTV cameras on the side of some of the surrounding offices and other concrete

 

monstrosities that littered the gloomy night sky. He kept to the shadows to avoid

 

their watchful gaze; detection by their face-recognition software was unlikely in

 

these conditions but he wasn’t going to take any chances. Passing through the street

 

he descended a set of steps that led to a small area once used as a miniature park

 

and play area for children. Tonight the benches were occupied by the homeless, the

 

fountain was covered in graffiti and only muddy earth was left to represent the

 

green grass and flower beds of yesteryear, although there were some empty cans of Budweiser scattered around, impersonating decorative items. He crossed the park

 

and climbed the stairs at the far side, emerging onto street level again, spotting the

 

train station ahead. He slowed to observe the three armed policemen standing

 

around outside. They were dressed head-to-toe in body armour and wore

 

balaclava’s under dark visors and helmets, not only to help protect their faces from

 

shrapnel and burns but also to disguise their identities from the criminal gangs and

 

vigilantes who had begun to exert some serious pressure on the authorities

 

throughout the city.

 

Evans sunk into the doorway of an abandoned store, crouching down to

 

make it look like he was simply taking shelter from the weather and, from this

 

vantage point, he watched the policemen closely, looking for any signs that they

 

were tense or on a higher degree of alert than usual. They seemed to be fairly

 

relaxed, talking to each other and laughing, apparently not worried about any type

 

of attack or the sudden appearance of a wanted man such as himself. Checking the

 

time on his wrist-worn PDA Evans realised he was too early to make his move and

 

so he decided to sit it out for a few more minutes.

 

Moving further back into the shadows away from the rain, he mulled over

 

the reason he was here right now; the message pushed through his letter box from a potential client, asking for a meeting in London. This was highly unusual and

 

highly worrying for Evans. The normal process for him taking on missions would

 

be through his handler, an old Army friend named Bryce Peters, who would leave a

 

note at a specified public location when Evans had been made an offer of work by

 

someone; Peters and Evans would then exchange notes via a series of designated

 

locations to work out the fine details and set up a meet between Evans and the

 

prospective clients. It was a good system, affording a decent enough level of

 

security to all parties involved. Peters and Evans trusted each other having been

 

through some crazy stuff during their time together in the Paratroopers and then the

 

SAS; both men had saved the others life at least once and Evans considered Peters

 

to be the closest thing he had left to a friend, though the only times they ever met

 

revolved around business. The note pushed through the letter box worried Evans

 

enormously simply because no-one, not even Peters, knew where he lived, and that

 

meant he was exposed, he had been located and now had to assume his life was in

 

immediate danger. Additionally, whoever had written the note had obviously

 

wanted to make a point to Evans that they knew who he used to be; at the bottom of

 

the note had been his military identification number, part of the past that he’d been

 

trying to forget for the last four years. He pulled the message from his pocket and read it in full, going over the entire sentence and the attached address for the tenth

 

time:

 

‘Employment opportunity available, dangerous but very lucrative.

 

Meet at Wednesday, 12.00 midnight. Ask for Mary-Jane.’

 

The ID number scrawled at the bottom was one that he had never expected

 

to see again and he touched the paper with a sense of wonderment, like a child

 

remembering a favourite toy. He presumed the number was there to ensure he

 

turned up; whoever sent the message must have realised that an invitation for work

 

from an unknown source may have simply resulted in him disappearing of the

 

radar, which, he reflected, was an accurate assumption. This way he had to at least

 

ascertain who had discovered his identity and, if necessary, ensure they could not

 

circulate such information.

 

Watching the rain for a few moments he glanced at his PDA again, deciding

 

that he may as well get moving. Brushing himself off, he stood and started walking

 

toward the station entrance and its armed protectors, his plan as simple as it got; he

 

was going to brass it out and stride right past them as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He hadn’t seen anything to suggest this would fail; it seemed unlikely that

 

they would recognise him, there was a vast database of wanted men and women

 

believed to be in the UK and he doubted his face stood out amongst them,

 

especially since the active manhunt for him was called off several years ago.

 

Despite his experience and training he still felt a small twinge of anxiety

 

deep within as he approached and the policemen turned to study him. He was less

 

than a yard away from the foremost man now, the point of no return and Evans was

 

at peace with the fact that his immediate future would be made up of simple

 

possibilities; he would either fight to the death, be arrested or make it into the

 

station without trouble. An eternally practical man, he offered no silent prayers to

 

any gods; the world his mind inhabited had said goodbye to such romantic ways of

 

thinking a long time ago.

 

‘Alright mate?’ he said to the policeman in his perfect imitation of the local

 

accent, receiving nothing in return but a bored grunt and a slight nod of the man’s

 

helmet. Pleased with the indifference offered to him, Evans pushed open the main

 

station door and entered the dimly lit and sparsely decorated lobby, heading straight

 

toward the turnstile-cum-metal detector, reaching into his pocket as he did so. He

 

had paid a homeless man to buy a ticket for him late last night, having made the decision that he would travel today; there were cameras by the ticket machine so he

 

had studiously avoided that area. He pushed the ticket into the machine, bumped his

 

way through the scanner barrier and headed toward the stairs for platform three.

 

The dark figure watched from a vantage point high up in the rooftops as Evans

 

ducked past the policemen and disappeared into the station. Satisfied, they put

 

down the powerful night-vision binoculars and reached for a covert radio.

 

‘This is Nighthawk. The target has entered the station. I didn’t spot him

 

until he made his final move; he seems to be on high alert, very cautious.’ Many

 

miles away the response was terse and to the point.

 

‘Good work. The car will meet you in ten minutes. Don’t be late.’ ‘Understood.’