Set a Thief to Catch a Thief by David Macfie
Late in the afternoon, James Blind scowled as he looked at the enigmatic heading on his latest mission brief. It simply said “TAG”.
“What the hell does that mean?” he thought, feeling an angry flush creep over his face. “I don’t have time for silly games.”
And it got worse when he opened the brief. There was only one page, or more correctly, a quarter of a page. He couldn’t believe “P” could seriously think of this as a brief.
“We have this word “TAG” from several of our most trustworthy sources. All have picked it up in the context of the nuclear arms trade, but none have more information than that. Suffice it to say that the tone of the context was threatening. Your mission is to determine the meaning of this word and take whatever action is appropriate to protect our interests. Our departments have been put on alert and instructed to assist you in any way you require.” I expect short verbal reports when you have anything meaningful to share. I stress, this is not a joke. We believe that something is going on that may be a serious problem for us.”
“Typical,” he growled. “”P” hasn’t even shared the names and contact details of the sources. Talk about the blind leading the blind!”
He chuckled as he realized that he had just made a pun on his own surname.
And he grinned when he realized that his first thought was back to the childhood game of tag that he and his friends had played.
Then he got serious. He began by researching recent news, with emphasis on articles dealing with terrorist activity particularly involving any form of arms dealing. He wasn’t expecting much, so he simply moved on when he drew a blank. Next, he Googled the word “TAG” and got a whole variety of meanings but nothing useful
He moved into the dark side of the internet and searched for organizations in the nuclear arms business. He found several and recognized a number from previous missions. He was particularly familiar with one that had been the object of his last job and of a previous one as well. This organization was a successful technology organization called “Future Notions”. But it was also a front for Nuclear Arms trading. His first action against them had been to terminate the “Diamond Man” then their leader, based in Amsterdam. A restructure took place resulting in a new leadership group based in London. Blind’s second brush with Future Notions resulted in the deaths of the entire leadership group. A suspicion began to grow in Blind’s mind, but he put it aside while he looked at the other possibilities.
A second group had also been the subject of two missions, so he studied it next. All the evidence indicated that they had been very quiet since his last interaction with them. In fact, there was no suggestion of any action since then. He rejected them and moved on. He rejected three more because they were small and hadn’t pulled off any significant operations. He worked through the others, but his mind kept pulling him back to Future Notions.
“These guys have every reason to dislike me if they managed to find out that I was responsible for the termination of their last two sets of leaders,” he mused. “I wonder how they could have found out? I suppose, by extension, they could then have an axe to grind with AUNTI.”
On impulse, he called one of his own most secret sources, a small-time criminal who had been part of one of the early arms dealing groups. He’d moved on since then but had kept extremely well informed.
Hey, Rocky, it’s Blind. You got any stuff passing by on the underground?”
“Hey yourself, Blind. Surprised you’re still alive. Heard you did some serious shit not long ago.”
“Where you hear that, man? Thought I’d covered my tracks pretty well.”
“Heard, some butler saw more than you wanted. He worked with some guys and came up with a pretty good picture of your ugly mug. Then the bad guys tracked you down. Word is your Aunti, is on a list.”
“What sort of list?”
“Don’t be dense, my man. A hit list, of course. What other kinda list you expecting?”
“And this list belongs to the butler’s superiors?”
“Now your brain’s working again.”
“You ever hear of TAG?”
“Yeah, that’s the name of the list. Well, not the list exactly. It’s more the guys, who must deal with the list.”
“I got it. And who’s on the list?”
“It’s a comprehensive list, man. It’s got every person, who works for AUNTI on there.”
“Just out of curiosity, what does TAG stand for?”
“Terminate AUNTI Group.”
“Is any time set on this?”
“The buzz’s been around for a couple weeks. That’s why I was surprised you still alive. Thought they’d have hit somebody by now. At least one or two, anyway.”
“Any word on where these guys are holed up?”
“Nothing, but you can bet your ass, it’s not far away.”
“Call me if you get anything on that, will you?”
“Sure. You keep your head down, hear?”
Blind called “P” and filled him in.
“I’ll put our people on full alert and increase security everywhere,” said the crusty, old man. “And you go off the radar until you track these guys down. Only call me on the secure number, from a call box. I’ll get messages to you at the dead drop.”
Blind dressed in his “homeless” disguise, complete with disreputable, filthy, wig and long tatty beard. He smeared his hands and face with dirt and sprayed an offensive odor all over the outfit. He concealed his pistol and a stabbing knife in his clothing and stuffed other essentials in a dirty old hessian sack.
Once it was full dark, the agent secured everything in his house, crept out his back door and hit the street. As he shuffled along, passers-by swerved to avoid him or covered their noses with their handkerchiefs, providing ample evidence of the efficacy of the disguise. He left no dustbin unsearched and picked up three abandoned newspapers to sleep on later.
He reached the offices of Future Notions and skulked in the shadows of the alley across the street. Slumped down, back against the wall, shoulders rounded, he looked like a pile of discarded old clothes. Lights were still on in two parts of the building and Blind decided to watch until everybody left. Not long afterwards, one set of lights went out. A short while later two burly men exited the alley to the right of the front door and moved purposefully to a parked car two blocks up the street. Blind took the number and stayed where he was. He stayed very still and breathed evenly, with a small snuffling snore. Finally, after about an hour, the last lights went out, leaving only dim, red security lighting. The front door opened, and a smartly dressed man stepped out. He locked the door and used a remote to set the alarm. As he stepped onto the pavement a limousine pulled up. The driver got out and opened the back door, giving Blind plenty of time to note the number and take several photos. On the front passenger door, Blind spotted the crest of Future Notions.
The agent waited for fifteen minutes, before creaking to his feet and heading in the opposite direction to that taken by the car. He wandered slowly until he found a call box. He dialed the number of the Intelligence section at AUNTI. He gave both vehicle numbers and waited while they were traced. The first was a hire car, in use for a week already. An address was entered on the hire papers. The second was the Chief Executive Officer’s dedicated vehicle. Again, an address was given. Blind requested full surveillance on both addresses. Then he asked for the address of the nearest place where homeless people gathered.
When he reached it, he settled down at the edge of the huddle and tried to get some sleep. He used his sack as a pillow and his newspapers as a mattress. He woke twice to grab hands that were trying to search his pockets or reach into his sack. In both cases he broke one finger and after the second incident, he warned all the people that the next time he’d break all the fingers. The nearest people edged further away, and he wasn’t bothered again.
He woke after two hours and clambered up. As he shuffled away, he heard a whisper.
“Don’t come back. You’re not welcome.”
He made for the dead drop by a roundabout route, checking for followers all the way. He saw nobody. As he reached in to the hiding place, he watched for surveillance. Again, there was nothing suspicious. He wandered away, clutching a brown envelope that he quickly hid in his sack. He followed signs to a public toilet and locked himself into a cubicle. He tore open the envelope and extracted two sheets of paper. The first had a complete description of the CEO’s residence and it also said that he lived there alone. A note at the bottom said, “map and security details to follow by noon.” The second was a similar description of the second address, which was in a less salubrious area. It was an apartment in a tenement building. It had been hired for two months starting two weeks ago and eight people were in residence. There were no security arrangements. The note at the bottom said, “descriptions and photos to follow by noon.”
Blind begged for enough money to buy a roll and a cup of coffee and wandered around until noon, when he returned to the dead drop. He received all that had been promised as well as a bonus layout of the apartment. He studied all the material and then made his decision. He called “P” and told him what he had in mind. “P” went quiet for a moment then he cleared his throat.
“Sounds pretty risky. Are you sure you don’t want backup?”
“Certainly not for phase one. I’ll consider it for phase two. But nothing unless I call for it. OK?”
“OK. Good Luck.”
Blind checked his equipment and flagged a cab. The driver didn’t want to take him because of the smell. Blind offered a tenner for fumigation and got the ride. The driver let him off one street over from the CEO’s address.
Staying in character as a homeless person, the agent made his unsteady way to the correct address. The house was set back from the road and it had an imposing entrance gate with tall pillars on each side and a metal gate that looked like a portcullis from a medieval castle. There was plenty of vegetation offering cover inside. Blind sat on the pavement and drank from a bottle that looked like rotgut but was really sparkling water. He knew the security layout and had worked out that there was a blind spot at the extreme left front boundary. He waited until the street was quiet then legged it to the corner and vaulted over the fence.
Quickly he moved to the back of the empty house and used a universal key to unlock the back door. The security alarm buzzed, and Blind entered the code provided by intelligence. The buzzer went quiet. The agent hid in the master bedroom and waited. Around eight o’clock that evening the CEO got home. The driver let him out of the car and drove to the garage. He then retired to the cottage at the bottom of the garden. The CEO came straight upstairs, stripped off and climbed into the shower. Blind gave him time to get soap in his eyes then opened the shower door and stuck a pistol barrel in his ear.
“Do I have your undivided attention?” he asked as he switched off the water.
The man just nodded.
“I’m the man from AUNTI and I want to know all about TAG. And I mean all. Leave nothing out or I will administer extreme pain. Understand?”
The man nodded again.
“So, don’t just stand there. Start talking,” growled Blind. “I haven’t got all night.”
“You smell really bad. I don’t think I can concentrate.”
Blind drew his stabbing knife and sliced off half of the guy’s left ear lobe.
“Does that help?” he whispered.
The man nodded and started to talk. He talked for along time and when he was done, Blind gave him an injection. The man died quickly.
“They’ll think it was a heart attack. Rest in peace, Buddy.”
Blind left the property the same way he’d come in. He hailed another cab and paid another bribe for a ride. He arrived near the tenement apartment close to midnight. He easily found the fire escape at the back of the building and climbed quietly to the correct floor. From his interrogation he knew who was where and he knew the eight made up the whole TAG team. He fished in his sack and pulled out a silencer and four stun grenades. He fetched his gun from the small of his back, fitted the silencer and checked the magazine to make sure it was full. Luckily all four bedrooms were on the same floor.
He silently opened the fire escape door with a key that intelligence had provided and slipped inside. He used a dim flashlight to get his bearings. The living area came first then there was a short passage with two doors on each side. He listened at each door and heard only deep breathing. He put in ear plugs and donned dark glasses then he silently opened each door and pulled the pins on all four grenades. In a flash he tossed a grenade into each room. All four went off with sharp cracks and bright lights. He followed the fuss into the first room. Two guys were sitting in bed looking spaced out. Blind quickly shot them both in the head and moved to the next room to repeat the process. He finished off the guys in the third bedroom before half a minute had passed. In the fourth bedroom, he hit a snag. He shot the seventh guy but there wasn’t an eighth. Instantly he dived to the floor behind the door and froze. He heard someone moving in the passage, but he didn’t move. Two or three minutes later muted footsteps approached the final door. A dark figure edged into the room, frantically scanning, gun at the ready. Blind bounced up and finished the job.
He returned home as quickly as he could, threw the disguise in the wash and hit the shower. His late message to “P” reported, “TAG team bagged and tagged.”