Gayan hated the Tube with a passion. He had boarded the train as close to his destination as he could. Any closer could have meant detection and disaster. However, to travel the last five miles across London meant using the Underground; there was no other way.
The Tube left him exposed to unnecessary danger. The cramped stations with limited exits reduced his ability to improvise, should his mission become compromised. He needed to succeed.
He stood close to the doorway, clutching the strap above his head, balancing against the bumps and lurches of the carriage, his shoulder bag hanging like a dead weight from his shoulder. He wore black, loose-fitting clothes and lightweight boxing style boots custom fit with hidden steel edges. Before leaving the safe house, he had warmed his muscles with vigorous exercises. The perspiration was still seeping into his clothing, leaving him hot and irritated in the cramped compartment.
He focused on the other passengers, observing them, wondering where each had come from and what they would do with their evening. The distraction kept him calm. There were suits, artisans, tourists, shop workers and beggars – a diverse group of people representing many cultures, styles and faiths – all packed in together, reading, watching, wishing they where somewhere else.
A young Asian man in his early twenties with a neat haircut and a clean shave, Gayan didn’t hold anyone’s attention for long. He blended in to the cosmopolitan soup of the city with ease. He wondered if he was the only person on the train carrying a loaded submachine gun over his shoulder, or a silenced pistol under his jacket – if he was the only trained killer onboard. He certainly hoped so.
He disembarked at Holborn Station and inched forward with the crowd as they made agonizingly slow progress toward the escalators. He could feel a faint queasiness, like the first flutter of the stomach at the onset of food poisoning. In all likeliness, his enemies had sensed his arrival already. They would raise an alert, but they would be too late.
He reached the ticket barrier and passed through. The sky outside was grave and foreboding, darker than the time of day dictated, heavy with the promise of rain. High Georgian buildings loomed overhead, decorative and menacing in the early dusk. Buses and taxis dominated the streets, held immobile by the chaotic webs of traffic.
He crossed the road, eyes fixed ahead.
The British Museum was still open to the public for another hour. He had a forged academic pass that would grant him access to the library for a while longer if he needed it, but he didn’t want to stay any longer than necessary. A car would have been dispatched already to hone in on his location, a sinister vehicle with black tinted windows and diplomatic plates. To linger would put him in great danger.
As he entered the courtyard of the museum, the glowing lights behind the massive columns of the Greek revival façade poured out a warming welcome. The rain had begun to fall in earnest, cold water trickling down the back of his neck.
His pass permitted him to keep his bag as he entered the main building, and luckily, the guard had not bothered to search the young academic.
Gayan walked inside and headed directly to the place where he had arranged to meet the American diplomat.
They had chosen the vast library for their rendezvous. To meet in public was risky, but every choice he made right now involved a gamble. It had always been that way for people like him, those who shared his talents and knowledge. Maybe someday, he hoped, this would not be the case.
The anteroom was small and unpopular, a peep, shrug and move on kind of room, with a few tables and chairs for reading pushed up against a wall. It was quiet here and secluded.
The American was there, but he was not alone. Someone was speaking to him, standing extremely close with a hand on his shoulder. Gayan could see the American was rigid with fear. He backed against the wall, defensive like a man about to be mugged. He mouthed something in protest, jerked twice and fell forward.
Gayan backed out of the doorway, but he had been seen. The killer stood facing him; his gun barrel pointed at the floor, smoke still wafting from the end of the silencer.
Gayan sprung towards a stairway, familiar with the layout of the museum. He was shocked and disappointed by what he’d witnessed, but not scared.
He paused to glance back at the killer, feigning a look of fear and panic, momentarily manufacturing these feelings and allowing them to overtake the muscles of his face. The killer saw his expression and pursued him.
The museum was nearly empty now; only a few guards remained, tired and eager to go home. They paid no attention to the young man passing quickly through the galleries; they probably assumed he was just another tourist rushing to catch a few more exhibits before closing time.
He entered one of the Egyptian rooms, confidant that his pursuer would follow. Taking refuge behind a colossal statue of a Pharaoh, he waited for the killer.
The massive hall was silent and empty, the only sound echoing from the killer’s footsteps as he approached. The steps slowed slightly as the killer passed the statue cautiously, listening for his foe, aware that his target had stopped moving.
Gayan placed the sound suppressor of the submachine gun tight against the back of the killer’s neck.
“Heckler and Koch MP5, with a neat little silencer,” Gayan said. “It will take your head clean off at his range.”
The killer froze in place.
“How long do you think before they notice my handiwork?” he asked.
Gayan put a hand into the killer’s jacket and pulled out the gun, dropping it to the floor next to the statue. The loud clank of metal against marble echoed around the walls. Gayan backed into the corner, pulling the killer back with him.
“CCTV can’t see us here. We’re in a blind spot, but you probably know that,” he said.
“You’re one of them, aren’t you,” the killer said, “one of The Rising.”
His accent was distinctly English, but the subtle traces of an American dialect gave him away.
“I know who you are, Major Browning. I know that you are American, that you work with the CIA, and that you believe you are cleaning up their mess. I know that you hunt us and kill us.”
Browning said nothing.
“I also know that you are wrong about a lot of things,” Gayan added.
“So what do we do now?” Browning asked, his American accent returning. “We can’t stay here all night talking.”
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Gayan said.
Browning turned slowly to face him. He was in his thirties, his black hair cropped in military style. His casual clothing was in the style of a native Londoner, but Gayan had recognized him straight away as CIA.
“That diplomat was going to help us destroy something,” Gayan said.
“He was a traitor,” Browning snapped.
Gayan put pressure on the trigger as he mentally ran through his options. He decided to take a risk.
“He was going to deliver documents to the US government. I have those documents on me right now. Give me your word that you will read them in their entirety before turning them over to your people, and I will let you keep your life.”
Gayan lowered the MP5. Browning eyed him cautiously before nodding in agreement. The American relaxed a little, a thin wisp of a smile spreading across his lips. It was the smile of a dead man recalled to life.
Footsteps were now approaching them, heavy and fast. Gayan pulled a manila envelope out of his shoulder bag and tossed it at Browning’s feet.
“I said your life, Major Browning. No one else’s.”
Gayan moved out from behind the shelter of the statue, his first bullets taking the closest man off his feet with a patter of dampened thuds before the man could react. Gayan rolled skillfully to the floor as a spray of returned fire cut the air above him. He fired a burst of rounds into the second man, showering mists of blood into the air. He was already sprinting past before the man hit the floor. He sensed that Browning hadn’t moved an inch; he just stood watching.
He could feel a presence approaching rapidly, almost tasting its malevolence as it closed in. The enemy must have suspected the diplomat and sent Browning to kill him via their CIA channels. He needed to get out fast.
The Americans would have a backup and extraction team standing by, most likely Special Forces like Browning, but Gayan knew they wouldn’t risk open conflict on British soil.
The enemy would have also alerted the British forces by now. That meant the London Police would be on him, followed by the Special Air Service. Their reaction time would be quick, but Gayan still had several precious minutes to escape.
He ran through corridors. Unarmed museum guards backed out of his way as he approached them. A few frightened visitors cowered and ducked against glass displays as he hurtled past, still clutching his sub-machine gun.
He exited the building through a fire escape leading out to the English Gardens, across the lawn and into a manicured row of bushes, pushing wet branches out of his way. He crossed another damp lawn, the muddy water sloshing around his boots. Finally reaching a stone path, he kicked open the back door of a townhouse that faced Montague Street. He raced to the front of the structure, past the perfunctory coffee and fax machines of a law office. Behind him, he could hear sirens approaching the museum.
He opened the front door and stepped out into the street, composed, the MP5 held straight against his leg, as though this was a normal accessory one carried on a drenched autumn evening.
A taxi waited by the curb. He climbed in, slumped against the seat, and it pulled away.
They passed several police cars as they turned into Russell Square. Flashing lights reflected off the water in the road and off windows, creating a scene more like a nightclub than a street. The driver looked into the rearview mirror. He was an older man, a German, with kind eyes and a worried expression.
“They got to him first,” Gayan said, sinking lower into his seat.
The sickening presence was close, but it was fading. They were moving away from it, using bus lanes and illegal short cuts, heading towards a lighting storm that raged over North London. The violent thunder ahead mirrored the intensity of his thoughts. He hoped he had made the right decision.