It Takes One to Know One by David Macfie
It was an overcast day in London, but it wasn’t raining, for which James Blind was sincerely grateful. The Man from AUNTI was staking out the offices of a company called “Future Notions”. The office was rented from Regus in King William Street near the Monument Street subway station. On paper, it specialized in technology innovation and boasted a significant number of high profile clients. But there was more to the enterprise than met the eye.
Yesterday, Blind got a call from “P”, who gruffly briefed him and promised the detailed dossier that evening.
The document gave the address he now overlooked and told him that the business was one of the founder members of the brotherhood of gangsters that had been headed by Jens van Dijk, the Diamond Man. Blind remembered well his mission to “send this man to a better place”. The new dossier said that the demise of its leader did nothing to slow down the activities of the brotherhood in the nuclear arms trade. They had transferred their leadership to Peter Faulkner, CEO of Future Notions, and carried on as before. Blind’s new mandate was to “cut the whole head off the beast”. There followed six pen pictures of the top men in the brotherhood, all of whom were prominent in the London social scene as part of their legitimate personas as executives in Future Notions. There were good photographs in the file and Blind had confirmed sightings of all six entering the offices. AUNTI’s intelligence section had also provided details, including a floor plan, of the office space occupied by the company on the third floor of the building.
Blind had been watching now for upwards of four hours. He’d managed to get onto the roof of the building across the street and had a very good view of the entrance. The six had all entered between six thirty and seven thirty that morning and hadn’t left yet. The agent spent the day taking pictures of everyone who entered and left the building. And he left the roof only once the offices were empty and night had fallen. He didn’t want to take any chances.
The next day he repeated the process on a roof that overlooked the back entrance to the building. He spent another two days first at the front, second at the back. Each evening he studied his pictures. He sent all of them to the intelligence section as well and asked them to report back on any they recognized.
The fifth day was all analysis of what he had. Most of the people who’d gone in and out had only done so once or, at most, twice. Blind put all those to the side. He didn’t think they were employees of either part of the business. He was left with eight individuals, who had been in and out all four days. There were two women and six men. Blind googled the company and looked for the employee section of the website. Six of the eight turned out to be technical employees, who worked on design and reality testing of innovative products. Production was outsourced. That left two, one man and one woman. Blind asked intelligence to focus on those two. While they were busy, he studied the pictures. Over the years, he had developed an instinct that allowed him to make accurate assessments of people from their photos. Both of these set off alarms in his head. And both had only entered the building from the back. The rest had come in and out through the front door. That, in itself, suggested something clandestine.
The following day he returned to his view spot at the back of the building, but all the way he took precautions to prevent a tail from following him unnoticed. He saw nothing. That evening, he began to repeat these mechanisms as he started back to his lodgings. Within minutes, he knew he was being followed. He’d planned for this and researched possibilities during the darkest hours of last night. So now he varied his route to use an alley behind one of the buildings he had to pass.
He’d noticed that it contained a perfect place for him to hide as long as the tail was far enough behind. It worked perfectly. He ducked into his hidey-hole just seconds before the tail entered the alley. He heard the footsteps speed up as the tail realized there was no sign of Blind. As the sound got closer and closer, the agent prepared his tranquilizer gun. Just as the footsteps got to a few feet away, Blind stepped out and shot the dart into his pursuer’s neck. He dropped like a stone. Blind checked. It was the male from his two suspects. The agent called for backup and waited for it to arrive.
“I want you to get all you can out of this guy,” he said as the backup cuffed the tail and threw him in a cage in the back of their panel van. Blind had already searched the man and found a silenced pistol and a stabbing stiletto. Both assassination weapons. He handed them over.
“He didn’t have nice thoughts in his mind,” commented Barney, the senior of the two backup agents. “Better you be extra-specially careful, my friend. I don’t think you’re popular.”
“I’ll surely do that. Thanks Barney,” replied, the Man from AUNTI, wondering how he’d been tumbled. He worried about this all the way back to his room. He could only conclude that there was some sort of surveillance on the roofs of buildings surrounding the office building. And that probably meant he wasn’t safe where he was staying. He packed and left his room. It wouldn’t be long before the second suspect realized that her colleague was missing.
Blind knew he was now a marked man. And all this would get in the way of his real mission. He called the intelligence section and got through to Brian, who was a specialist hacker as well as being really good at listening in to telephone calls of all sorts.
“Brian, I need you to do something for me. You guys identified the six top guys in Future Notions. I need you to monitor their phone traffic. Can you do it?”
“Of course, James. I’ve already got all the relevant numbers. It’ll take about two hours to set up. Anything in particular you want to know?”
“Yes. I’m going to try to cause them some grief and I expect that they will retreat from the office to work out their response. I want to know where and when they will all be together in a different location.”
“I’ll get right on it.”
“Thanks. I’ve been compromised at my first lodgings so I’m moving to the backup place. Contact me there.”
Blind turned his attention to figuring out how to stay alive long enough to use the information that Brian discovered. He sneaked out of his old lodgings and hurried to the alternative. Once settled in, he started thinking the problem through, talking to himself to help him concentrate.
“OK, what do I know? They had two professional assassins, who presumably did all their wet work. Now they have only one. The man was sent to follow me and probably kill me for snooping on their turf. When will they realize that the guy is missing? They probably know already, because it’s been a while since I should have been home or dead. If the guy had been successful, he would have been back to base by now. So what will they do next? They’ll discuss alternatives and conclude that I must have killed or captured their operative. They’ll agree that I’m now a problem that must be dealt with urgently. The second operative will be sent to end the problem ASAP. So what will she do? If it was me, I’d start by trying to work out how much my target knows. Like does he know whether we know where he’s staying? Will he stay there or will he move? Of course, maybe they don’t know where I was staying. So two possibilities. The first if they don’t know where I was staying. Then she’ll have to wait until I show up again at their offices. They’ll increase surveillance around their building and keep her on call. But if they do know where I was staying, she’ll have to come there to check. If I’m there she’ll finish it. If not, she’ll go back to the first alternative. So that means I have an opportunity to start causing grief.”
Blind exhaled with satisfaction. But now he had to be quick or the opportunity would be gone. He dressed in his all black night gear and armed himself with his tranquilizer gun and his silenced Heckler and Koch VP9. He also slipped his own stiletto into a sheath in the small of his back. He slipped out of his new room and headed back to his old one. He quickly made the bed look like he was in it and hid in the closet, leaving the door ajar. Then he settled down to wait, keeping his ears and reactions in top gear. While he waited he thought about whether to kill or capture the second operative.
About two and a half hours later, the slightest of sounds alerted Blind. The faint noise of scratching at the lock raised his adrenalin levels instantly. A tiny click preceded a muted squeak and Blind sensed movement towards the bed. There were two suppressed gunshots and Blind slid open the cupboard door and fired a single shot. The dart hit the back of the assailant’s neck and slowly the figure crumpled onto the bed. It was the female operative.
“It takes one to know one,” whispered the man from AUNTI, as he called for backup for the second time.
Once the scene had been tidied up, James returned to his second room and slept.
The following morning, the phone tapping immediately paid dividends. Faulkner received an early call.
“Boss we got a problem. Both Kurt and Helga are now missing.”
“I thought they were the best.”
“They are, or were. They’ve had nothing but successes up until now.”
“Do we know who we’re up against?”
“No. All we know is that we found a person snooping from the roofs and decided to take action.”
“Did we get pictures?”
“No, the face was always covered. We don’t even know gender. The figure wore a long coat.”
“Is this person on the roof today?”
“OK. I need to make a plan. I’ll get back to you. Find some better operatives in the meantime.”
Faulkner then called each of the other five. His message was the same to all.
“We will meet at the farm this afternoon at three. We have a crisis. We must decide how to handle it. Don’t be late.”
“Well done Brian. Do we know where this farm is?”
“Yes, luckily we do. We’ve been watching these guys for a while and their breakaways have always been at the same place. It’s not really a farm. It’s more of a big old house on the outskirts of Reading.”
“What’s the fastest way to get there?”
“Train. I’ll send details to your phone.”
“What staff are at the house?”
“A domestic, a butler and a gardener. They live in rooms in the house.”
“Do you have plans of the property?”
“Yes. You’ll be met at the station at nine. The messenger will have everything you need. Wait at the ticket office.”
“Will do. Thanks,”
Blind was in position well before nine. He had already bought a return ticket and a map of Reading and he’d found the address of the house. The messenger was right on time and Blind recognized him from previous missions. The man handed over an A3 envelope and left as quickly as he’d arrived. Blind studied the contents while he was in the train. By the time he reached Reading he had a plan. He caught a taxi and reached the address before one o’clock. The floor plan showed that the drawing room had been converted into a meeting room that contained AV equipment and WIFI as well as a large boardroom table and twelve chairs. There were six smaller rooms that were used as individual offices by the company executives. Six en-suite bedrooms catered for longer stays. As well as the floor plan, Blind’s envelope had also contained an ID card with his picture on it. I said he was a senior technician for a technology company with the unlikely name of Rent a Nerd. There were also two canisters with double sided tape on the back and fitted radio receivers as well as a small radio transmitter.
Blind strode confidently to the front door, nodding to the gardener in passing. He was wearing jeans, sunglasses and a peaked cap and carrying a nondescript carrier bag. He knocked and waited. The butler answered and just looked at him.
“Mr Faulkner called us and asked us to come and check out the technology in the large meeting room. He said he had a big meeting starting at three and wanted to be sure his equipment was working.”
“Do you have identification?”
“Oh yes, sure. Sorry I should have shown that first.”
He fished in his pockets, then pulled out the card. He handed it to the butler.
The man must have read the card three times, front and back, before he handed it back.
“Thank you. That seems to be in order. But I must say you don’t look like a professional person, so I had to check.”
“Not a problem. Happens all the time. Us nerds aren’t usually that smartly dressed. Get paid for expertise not wardrobe, you see?”
“Yes, quite,” replied the butler, wrinkling his nose as if there was a bad smell under it. “What’s in the bag?”
“Bits and pieces – tools of the trade. Some cleaning compound, a radio receiver to test signals. That sort of thing. Want to look?”
He held the bag up in front of the butler’s face.
“That won’t be necessary. Follow me.” He turned and walked. Blind followed like a shadow. He was shown into the meeting room. The butler left and closed the door behind him.
“Convenient,” thought Blind with a grin. He quickly stuck the canisters under the table just to the right and left of the middle on the center line. There, they wouldn’t be seen and knees wouldn’t reach far enough to touch them. He activated the receivers and then, just to justify his presence he started to test all the equipment. Not a moment too soon, as it happened. He had just got the mega screen working when the butler walked in with a tray containing all that was required for a nice cup of tea.
“Thank you. That’s most considerate. And it seems that all is well here. These images are being streamed to this screen from the internet. So the signal is strong, your internet connection and WIFI are both working and so is the audio-visual equipment. If you don’t mind, I’ll drink the tea before I go.”
He smiled at the butler and poured his tea. He knew that the tea was just an excuse to return to the room to check up on the visitor. But now the butler seemed convinced.
“Of course. Press the button next to the light switch when you’re ready and I’ll see you out.”
He left with dignity. Blind enjoyed his tea, then pressed the button. In no time he was back out on the street. He crossed the road and walked to a nearby bench that had been placed under a spreading chestnut tree. He sat, pulled out a newspaper he’d bought as cover and settled down to wait. All six arrived within ten minutes of each other. They were all inside by five to three. Blind gave the six ten minutes to settle in then called a cab. He asked to be picked up at the front gate of the house next door. As he passed the gate of the farm, he pressed the transmitter. The display showed signal sent and received. Blind moved on and five minutes later he was on his way to the station.
The following day Blind scanned the newspapers. He found the story on page two of the Guardian. The headline screamed “Mystery Nerd Kills Six”. Further down it told how six prominent business men had been found dead in their meeting room. Poison gas canisters were found taped to the underside of the desk. The suspect was a scruffy, techie type wearing blue jeans, a peak cap and sunglasses. His ID had proved false as had his name and his company. The story speculated that some gangland dispute might be behind the killings.
Blind smiled. Someday, he’d tell his kids that he’d once been a scruffy nerd. They’d never believe it.
Later he received feedback, from Brian, on the two captive assassins.
“The guy’s name is Kurt. He held out for a while then sung like a canary. We got lots of good stuff on the brotherhood. The woman’s dead. As soon as she woke up, she bit on a poison capsule in one of her teeth.”