The latest wet work from the machine that calls itself Phelan. With a cover quote from Mr Lee Child. I am envy.
Dan Bellamy looked at the highlighted screen of his unlisted cell phone and considered bumping the call. He’d had confirmation of the job just fifteen minutes ago, and now his field operative was calling him again. He had been expecting a call, but not this call. It was too soon.
A complication, at their end. Calling him from the field.
He leaned back in his chair and rested his feet upon his desk. Looking out his window, he could see straight to the Capitol Building. It was after midnight. He had come by the office to handle some paperwork; at least that’s what he told his wife. In reality he was here to make sure the operation was successful. Bellamy had a lot riding on it. Too much.
Across the room – a modest wood-panelled space that was swept for surveillance bugs every week – his daughter slept on the couch. Still in her soccer uniform; she had won tonight. A good omen. His baby girl.
Bellamy answered the phone. ‘This call came sooner than expected.
You can’t be outside Rome yet.’
‘I’m still here. There’s been a complication.’
‘What is it?’ He thought the worst: carloads of Italian cops have his operative’s team surrounded. If that were the case, it would be gut-wrenching stuff until his lawyers did what they did and he did what he did to bury it all.
‘There’s someone on scene,’ the voice said.
Bellamy relaxed a little. ‘Someone?’
Bellamy paused, said, ‘A man. On scene?’
‘Define “on scene”.’
‘Inside the target’s apartment.’
Bellamy winced. ‘I don’t want to know such details.’
‘It’s a complication.’
‘And you’re still there?’
Bellamy thought it through, then said, ‘Forget it. Get out of there.’
‘No. Not like this. I don’t like it.’
Bellamy processed the implications: the op had started barely half an hour ago, they had been in and out within fifteen minutes, and yet his team was still there, watching the scene of their crime. Why?
‘Who is it?’
‘I don’t know,’ the voice replied. ‘A guy. Could be a cop, but I doubt it.’
‘But you’re spooked by him. Enough to break protocols and contact me.’
‘I thought I’d check in first.’
‘Before I proceed.’
Ah, right . . . it’s about money. Trust, too, but money. To those guys in the field, this was another job.
Bellamy didn’t have time for complications. He checked his watch.
Eighty-one hours until deadline.
Inside the apartment in Rome it looked like a bomb had gone off. Jed Walker entered warily, unarmed, using the heel of his boot to push the door closed behind him, leaving it unlocked as he had found it. The place was empty, but the trail was warm.
He scanned the rooms in ten seconds and learned all he needed to. It was late nineteenth century, well made and maintained. A corner site on the second floor, with two windows looking south, three to the east. Opposite, two doors ran off to a kitchen and a bedroom with en suite. Everything was tastefully appointed, the furnishings sparse and modern: hardwood parquetry floors, herringbone pattern; an expensive TV and stereo the centrepiece of the living area; a set of custom-made golf clubs by the door. All of it fitted the profile of a successful banking executive – the cover job of the CIA operative who had lived there.
It had all been tossed. Recently.
Walker looked around each corner of the apartment and concluded that whoever had tossed the place was looking for something specific. They’d done a messy job of it, like cops do in the movies when they search a perp’s apartment: lamps and vases broken, the sofas slashed and overturned, the carpets lifted, the bed flipped on its side, the kitchen cabinets emptied. The refrigerator had been pulled out and its panels separated; the oven and washing machine and dishwasher too. Piles of screws were everywhere: they had used cordless drivers to pull things apart quietly rather than pinch bars to wreck it loudly. The desk was upside down. A mess of cables remained, but at least two hard drives and a laptop were gone. Whatever was in the desk’s drawers was also missing. No useful physical evidence remained.
This had been a search for something small, or a clean-up of anything incriminating that might lead back to the guy’s employers. Could have been by the CIA or another crew. Either way, no friends of mine.
Walker knew that this had been conducted by pros.
And he knew that the occupant had been killed here, within the past hour.
‘It’s your op,’ Bellamy said quietly to his man on the phone while his daughter slept across the room. ‘It must be clean, that was my main requirement. Clean and final . . . but that’s not why you called me now.’
There was a pause, and then the man said, ‘I thought maybe you sent another crew.’
‘Now, why would I bother doing that?’
‘I don’t know.’
Bellamy was silent.
‘Okay. Well, this guy,’ his contact said, ‘he’s not local. He looks ex-military. Big guy. Late thirties. Caucasian. Can handle himself.’
The wheels in Bellamy’s mind turned on that one. He trusted his operator on this mission, and trusted that like could spot like. So, who is this ex-military guy in the apartment? A competitor? The target’s protection, arriving too late? Could be anyone. Could mean anything.
Could mean that they were too late . . . either way, this is getting messy.
Bellamy said, ‘Can you pick him up? Take him in? Question him?’
‘When he gets out,’ the voice said. ‘Though it will attract attention.’
‘What if he makes a call from inside the apartment?’
‘We’re scanning for that.’
‘What do you want to do?’
‘Go back inside. Deal with him in the apartment.’
‘Do it,’ Bellamy said. ‘Question him first, see who he is and what he knows, then clean it up. Go in there and clean it up and be sure of it. Don’t leave a trace. Burn it all.’
The voice was waiting.
Bellamy said, ‘Something else?’
‘My fee? This matter of another target . . .’
‘Consider it doubled.’
Bellamy ended the call. He stared at his cluttered desk. This op was not meant to be messy. Getting rid of a guy in the middle of Rome?
Getting rid of two? All in a day.
He looked across at his sleeping child. Some books and a field of McDonald’s debris were spread on the table in front of her. It’s all getting harder, busier, less certain. It’ll pay off, soon . . .
He looked through his open doorway, to the large open-plan office empty of staff for the day; an office and business he had created from nothing more than a limited skill set and a lot of networking and risk-taking. Now INTFOR was on the verge of becoming the largest and most powerful private intelligence outfit on the planet. He swivelled around in his chair and focused on his collection of framed photographs: him with presidents and prime ministers and VIPs from around the world. Powerful men and a couple of powerful women. All of them more reliant on him with each passing day. He looked out the window to his left.
The sun was gone, now the streetlamps and uprights bathed the monumental town.
The end of another day.
A new dawn was just around the corner. Three more dawns before everything changed.
The blood the killers had left behind told Walker most of what he needed to know. The mattress in the bedroom held a bloodstain – large, the size of a frying pan, and still red. After about two hours’ exposure to oxygen, blood that has thinned and splattered and atomised onto absorbent material like a mattress oxidizes and turns brown.
They never got that right in the movies.
So, Felix was killed where he lay. Which meant that his killers entered quietly enough not to wake him. Which meant that this was an assassination: either to get what Walker had come here for, or to tidy up a loose end. Maybe both.
Two kill shots, through the chest, the heart probably. Not the head – less messy that way. Plus, like Walker they knew to protect the head; like Walker they knew what type of information was in it.
So, this was not a straightforward case of professional killers. This was the work of men in the know of current CIA tradecraft. Maybe they had asked Felix a question or two before they fired, but probably not – this was a quick job, and what they needed most was not known to their target. Yet it was on his person.
They, like Walker, had come for what was sewn into the base of Felix’s skull: a tiny chip containing information. Felix was a head-case courier, used by the CIA to transport intelligence from one wireless hot spot to another. Someone knew what was on that chip – if not the killers then whoever had hired them.
On the floor, blood had pooled where they had tossed the body from the bed. Once blood leaves the body, it begins to clot quickly, within five to ten minutes. After that the blood begins to separate as the clot retracts into a dark knot and squeezes out a halo of yellow serum. This process takes another hour or more, when the blood then dries to a rusty brown stain.
The blood here had clotted but not separated – this hit took place more than ten minutes but less than an hour earlier. The bed sheets were missing, so the killers had wrapped the body in them and then placed it in a wheeled duffel bag. Judging by the track marks of blood on the floor, it was a 120-litre bag, which meant they had folded and stuffed the body in tightly. They weren’t squeamish, these men, and they were strong. There were at least two, probably three, so someone stood sentry in the apartment while two dealt with the body. Or perhaps he had tossed the place while the others packed the body. The packers must have noticed the tracks the wheels had started to make, from where they had run through the blood pool, and wiped the castors clean with the quilt. The tracks then disappeared.
They had been careful and relatively quiet but they hadn’t taken the time to clean up. So, it was a quick job. A three-man crew, on the clock. Walker inspected the mattress. Two gunshot holes punctured the centre of the bloody mess. The underside was shredded. The floor below looked like it had been sandblasted, the surface pockmarked with dime-sized punctures, grouped more tightly in the centre, spreading out to a dozen chips in a diameter roughly the size of a dinner plate. Soft fragmentary rounds had been used, semiwadcutters with heavy grain, the slugs further slowed by a suppressor, fired up close, the soft lead tearing apart as it hit bone and bedsprings. So, the bigger and slower .45 calibre rather than a 9-millimetre.
Serious men doing a serious job of it.
Outside the apartment the three professionals in the back of the van readied and checked their weapons. Each had a Beretta .45 calibre, the PX4 Storm, locally sourced and made, custom silenced, untraceable, ten-round capacity apiece. Their leader was Brendan Crowley, a contractor who did most of his work for the CIA, from extraordinary rendition around the Mediterranean to making people disappear completely. He spoke half a dozen languages and could pass as a local in Italy, France, Croatia, Greece and Spain. As an intelligence operator he was a specialist in wet work; the messy end of the intelligence world. He and his team were known as ‘outcome specialists’. Those back in DC didn’t want to know specifics about the jobs these men took care of – just outcomes. Positive outcomes were their preference.
Crowley had planned that his team would stay on the scene for twenty minutes after their exfil from the apartment, mainly to be sure that their near-silent work had gone unnoticed, and partly to complete their cover. The van was marked as city-gas department, which in this middle-class but crumbling neighbourhood would not draw second glances. Outside the van they had erected a taped-off cordon around the street’s main supply and left the hatch open. It had now been twenty-five minutes since they had left the apartment, and they had sat in the air-conditioned van, silent, watching, waiting. In the back were two large duffel bags of rubbish to drop, weighted down, in the
Adriatic later that day. One bag contained the body of CIA courier Felix Lassiter, the other a collection of his papers and computer equipment.
The spoils of a job done.
The disposal, however, would have to wait.
Crowley and his team had another job to do.
Time to go back in.
Walker knew better than to search the apartment hoping for a clue missed by those who had worked here this morning; this was the well-executed job of a well-trained team. Maybe not the best operators, but they weren’t far from it. They were expensive, and not many entities had access to such men.
This fitted what he knew about the man who owned this apartment.
Not so much a target as a person of interest and an unwitting courier – a perfect cut-out agent. For the CIA, and for someone else. It was the someone else that was of interest to Walker.
And clearly Felix Lassiter had garnered the interest of other parties.
Time to leave.