Ethan Justice: Incendiary – Prologue
Catch up with Ethan and Savannah in Ethan Justice: Incendiary, the third installment in my action thriller series (although it is a stand-alone tale).
Click HERE for more information, or check out the prologue below to whet your appetite.
Five months of careful planning find me face to face with the Islamic fundamentalist Faruq Saeed. He is number four on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted Terrorists’ list, but in a dark suit, similar to my own, he looks more like a banker. My larger frame, unkempt long blonde-grey hair and facial scars don’t carry off the smart image as well as the younger man. But banker or terrorist, Joe Public, no doubt asleep at this unearthly hour, would thank me if I sent a bullet his way. For a banker, they might even slap me on the back. At least the terrorist owns up after the event. Takes pride in his wrongdoing. That fact alone puts him one rung above the banker in most people’s books. To me, there’s little to choose between them.
The single garage sits beneath a vacant office on the outskirts of Madrid, in an old part of the city where streets, barely a car’s width, provide the perfect cover from a satellite’s prying lenses. Outside, darkness envelops the unlit streets, a service I provided at Saeed’s request with a cheap pair of wire cutters. Inside, two ancient fluorescent tubes overfill the small space with a harsh bluish light which, thankfully, is partially absorbed by badly laid grey blocks.
In an area too poor and run down to warrant a police interest, it is the perfect place for one killer to meet another.
An old desk without drawers and two chairs sitting in the centre are the sum of the garage’s contents. Like wild cats, we circle the furniture, sweeping hands beneath its surfaces, feeling for hidden weapons. Our movements are slow, deliberate and cautious. There is no trust here. Our eyes lock in mutual suspicion as we near either side of the battered wooden desk. I turn off my iPhone and place it on the uneven surface to my right. He follows suit with his phone. I raise my hands in the air, fully aware that I am showing more respect than he is returning, or deserves for that matter. He frisks me roughly, a procedure I have received and dished out on all too many occasions. It is the nature of my business and most certainly the nature of his. He crouches and runs his hands up the insides of my legs. Moving up, he pats my buttocks before pressing either side of my penis. I grind my teeth. My fingers curl out of his sight, and I resist the urge to club the back of his head with a clenched fist. I’m too close to fail now.
There are more than a few male Muslims who don’t have a problem fondling around another man’s prick, just like they love to suck on a beer like it was their mother’s tit or snort cocaine until they forget why they hate the West in the first place. Put enough miles between a travelling jihadist and his home soil and before long he’s revelling in anything and everything his religion denies him. Like the priest holding the sponge and soap in the choirboys’ communal shower, they are the proverbial hypocrites. I have no doubt the wide-ranging plethora of Western vices will find their way into the latest Koran supplement once the bloodthirsty savages have finally destroyed us. Killing those that piss them off is always Allah’s will, no matter how obviously fucked-up the reason. The power of denial can never be underestimated.
I decline his raised-hands offer of a return molestation with a shake of my head. I expect he’s armed, and I know that all of his men, at least ten, are nearby. We take our places across the age-worn desk. I am unsure of terrorist protocol and allow Saeed the privilege of speaking first.
“Your persistence has granted you an audience, Mr Nelson. I suggest you use it wisely,” he says, in a voice swathed in the finest of English educations. “What is it you want?”
“I have discovered an opportunity of mutual benefit,” I say.
He jerks back, surprised by the gravel in my voice. It is deep and husky beyond compare, partly why I haven’t spoken until now. It spooks people, which sometimes helps but can just as easily hinder communications. Saeed looks to his left and composes himself. I pretend I don’t notice, but I relish the tingles at the base of my skull that his discomfort rewards me.
He leans forward, close-shaved chin on balled fists. There is a hint of a sneer on thin lips. “You are a gangster, Mr Nelson. No more, no less. What possible symbiotic relationship do you envisage?”
Talks like a banker too. Normally I don’t get spoken to like this, and were this meeting not so important to my plans, I would snap his neck and piss on his corpse before heading off for a beer. Besides, Saeed clearly feels compelled to make up for his display of weakness at the sound of my voice. I meet his gaze and mirror his position, leaving our faces breath-sharingly close.
“You’re a long way from home,” I tell him. “Far removed from plentiful resources, with a recognisable mug the world would pay millions to see detached from your body.”
He leans in a little further. His aftershave is sweet, almost effeminate. “Is that a threat?” he growls, doubling up on the sneer.
I remove my hands from beneath my chin and show him my palms, like a magician proving he is hiding nothing before pulling a pigeon from thin air. “Take it easy, Faruq. I have no interest in your capture. Far from it. I wish to carry out an act of terrorism on your behalf. Simple as that. I’ll do all the work. You take all the credit.”
“Fair question. Because it’s in my interest and I have the connections to make it happen. For you, it’s another publicised kick to the infidels’ balls, a welcome boost to your jihad marketing campaign without the cost.”
“Are you mocking me? I have men outside who specialise in the administration of pain.”
I shake my head. They certainly are a sensitive lot. Pain and killing seem to be the answer to all their woes. “I’m not a religious man, and I don’t care about your cause. Are you interested or not?”
“What scale are we talking about?”
“The death toll will exceed the 2004 Madrid train bombings. I’m estimating over two hundred.”
Dark eyes widen, and Saeed can no longer hide his interest. He sits back and adjusts the knot of his yellow tie. “Who do you want to kill, and where is the venue you speak of?”
“Not important. Just know the event is big enough to warrant celebrity interest. The publicity will be massive.”
Saeed ponders, assisted by further tie adjustments, while I slouch in my chair like his decision doesn’t matter to me. I crack my knuckles, partly to intensify my stereotypical gangster persona but more as a distraction from my accelerating heartbeat.
He lays both hands palms down on the desk. “Have you approached anybody else with this proposal?”
I look directly at Saeed. “No.”
“What do you need, and what is the time frame?”
“I need you on video taking credit for the bombing.”
“That is all?”
Saeed’s lips part in an even-white-toothed smile. I wonder whether it is the thought of mass murder or the adulation from his peers that lights up his face. Perhaps it’s the perfect risk versus reward ratio on offer. I pick up my iPhone and select the video camera via the touch screen.
Saeed regards me with a furrowed brow. “What are you doing? We agreed no calls from here.”
“It’s in neither of our interests to meet again. I need the file here and now. This phone gives excellent quality video playback.”
He picks up his own phone and tucks it inside his suit jacket. There is anger in his voice. “This is not how we operate. I will provide the file after the successful detonation. The recording is a holy moment, not for the eyes of a kafir.”
“Then it’s off,” I say, looking down at the table, my heart disobeying my mental command to slow down. My palm is damp where the phone rests against skin. “I can’t take the chance that you don’t come through with your side of the deal.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Cold feet, orders from Allah, how would I know? Your admission is my guarantee of anonymity, and that’s the way it has to be. Perhaps I should look elsewhere for assistance.”
Saeed slams his fist on the desk, cracking brittle timber and filling the air with tiny dust motes. “No!”
A film of emotion in Saeed’s eyes is quickly blinked away. This man is a glory hunter, I’m sure of it. “So we’re good?” I ask, raising the phone and waving it.
He pauses like a man with a head full of thoughts, but his eyes have already spoken. “We are good,” he agrees.
I frame him in the phone’s screen while he preens himself. I almost snigger at his vanity, but I can’t take risks with an ego so delicate. I nod to signal my readiness, and he begins a rapidly concocted speech. I barely listen. My mind lingers on the future and the extra influence and riches this joint venture will deliver to my door. I hear ‘infidels’, ‘death for the sake of Allah’, ‘degrading of his enemies’, ‘holy warriors’, ‘dripping with blood’, and all the usual pro-Muslim publicity buzz words, but these rants of hatred mean nothing to me as my mind bathes in the pleasure of my own ambitions.
“The deed is done. Let me see it,” he says, snapping me out of my indulgence.
“Sure,” I say, standing, operating the phone with one hand and pushing myself up from the desk with the other. I walk around the desk, arm outstretched, pointing the phone at Saeed. I thumb up the volume. Behind him, I bring the small screen to within a foot of his face. He is mesmerised by his own image, too narcissistic to realise the imminent danger.
My left arm circles Saeed’s neck, lifting him off his chair, the crook of my elbow crushing his Adam’s apple like a pair of nutcrackers. I pocket the phone in my trousers, the device still spouting his pompous bile as I grab my left hand with my right and pull the deadly grip tighter. He tugs at the offending arm, desperate for air and a chance at continued life, long manicured fingernails ripping through fine cloth and into the meat of my forearm. I hang on like he’s a mechanical bull, knowing from experience that for the first thirty seconds, before the brain is starved of oxygen, he is at his most dangerous. His relative size belies his strength, and his thrashes continue longer than anticipated. Blood from gaping gouges in my arm soak through my jacket sleeve and drip onto his tie and shirt. I could speed up his demise, snap his neck in an instant, but where’s the pleasure in that? Approaching a minute, his flailing limbs slow. Maintaining my grip, I snap his head back and stare down into dark and glistening eyes. Fear and understanding radiate from the bulging orbs. The eyes, windows to the world, are a reliable indicator of life, and like a candle’s final flickers, Saeed’s fade rapidly before me. As the final spark of life extinguishes, dilated pupils dim and unfocused, I make my own godless prayer that no afterlife awaits him.
His chair tips over as I pull the body backward and drag him face up along the concrete floor. A shoe’s heel catches and slips from one foot. I stretch out my aching back and look down at Saeed. His swollen tongue pokes out at me between blue lips, a last defiant taunt from beyond life’s realm.
I retrieve my phone and call Atkins, my right hand man.
“Boss,” he answers.
“Did you get them all?” I ask.
“We downed ten. I saw another some distance from you, but he escaped through the backstreets on a motorbike.”
“Are you sure he was one of Saeed’s lot?”
“Who else would be out at this time? Besides, he looked Middle-Eastern and scarpered the moment he saw me. Chances are he was hanging back and waiting for orders.”
I take a deep breath but say nothing. Saeed had been hiding in Spain for the last six months with no added assistance from his network of associates. Hiding in his game means not operational and completely cut-off. According to my inside man, Ahmed Rafiq, the corpse at my feet had not disclosed the nature of this meeting with any of his small band of men. Saeed would have taken credit for the holy carnage only after the success of my operation, never risking the reporting of his liaison with me until then. The lone escapee knows nothing and is the last of Saeed’s men. I have no need to hunt him down. I release the breath I’d not known I’d been holding.
“Did you take down Rafiq?” I ask.
“Any of ours see you?”
“Did we lose any others?”
Now I have peace of mind. Who knows what ideas those sick bastards might have filled Rafiq’s head with? His career was over the second he accomplished his infiltration. He served his only purpose, and I could never trust a man who would betray his own kind. One day he might have resented me for turning him against his brethren. What then? I’m pleased Atkins did for him in secret. I can’t have the men wondering about their dispensability. It’s not good for morale.
“Good. Get in here with a couple of the others and clean up. I’m sure he has a gun on him. Remove it, get his prints all over it and bag it up. Make sure the body disappears forever. Not one skin cell can remain. Once the body’s taken out, torch this place, understood?”
“Understood. What about the other bodies? Saeed’s men?”
“Get them back to Malaga, and dump them out at sea. We don’t want the Madrid police thinking there’s an al-Qaeda cell around here.”
“Does it matter? It’s a risk to haul them all that distance, Boss.”
“I have my reasons.”
I end the call, keen to be away from the scene of my crime. I double check the video footage on the iPhone, not that I can get a repeat performance from Saeed if it’s subpar. It’s perfect. I unzip my fly and empty my bladder on his face, standing to one side and back a little so that the backsplash misses my shoes.
“That’s for touching my dick, you homo,” I inform him as I zip myself back up and make my way out of the garage. My men won’t thank me for making their clean-up job that much more unpleasant. Not that a little piss ever hurt anyone.
Stage one is complete. I have the confession I came for. But there’s no time for celebration or complacency. I walk the mile and a bit back to my battered van through deserted streets, playing the next step over and over in my head. It involves another planned explosion at a popular restaurant in Malaga, but one detail continues to bother me.
How can I be sure my stepson will be in the restaurant when the gas ignites?