June 10. 11:58 p.m. Canary Wharf, London.
“You’re asking for trouble.”
Trevor Carswell ignored the uneasy voice. He watched the long black limousine creep into the construction site near the north dock of Canary Wharf, in the shadow of the tall HSBC building. The huge cranes at the dock sat as silent sentinels this time of night. He moved out of the shadows so the limousine’s driver could see him. Eric Koller followed him. The limo changed direction and eased to a stop forty feet away. The driver killed the engine and flipped off the headlights.
Trevor stayed put. He could feel Eric’s anxiety pulsing behind him. The construction site seemed eerie and a fitting place for this meeting. A jaw crusher sat perpendicular to two ten-foot stacks of gravel; an equally tall pile of long pipes hemmed him in on the other side. Nothing moved. Even the hum of the few cars still out at midnight seemed far away.
After an endless minute, a man emerged from the front passenger seat and walked toward them. Eric tensed up, muttering something.
Of course it was dangerous. This whole mission was dangerous; but insisting on meeting the brains behind the anarchists who called themselves the Philosophy of Bedlam was doubly so. A calculated risk. It was a good sign that the man had agreed to meet Trevor, but that didn’t lessen the pucker factor one whit.
Nor did the fact that he had the cell’s leader at his back.
The man stopped a few feet away. “Alright, Eric?”
Eric nodded, but didn’t come forward. “No one followed us, Mr. Smith. It’s all gravy. This is Trevor Willoughby. Like I told you, we fought together in Northern Ireland back in the day. He’s sound.”
The man frowned. His short, compact body looked soft to Trevor. Neat hair stopped well above the collar of his starched white shirt. The creased wrinkles in the shirt told Trevor he’d worn a suit jacket today. “So what’s the purpose of this meeting, Willoughby?”
“I meet the man I’m risking my life for. I take his measure, or I walk.” As he had when he’d been undercover as a new SAS officer, he dropped his voice into a growl. Rough. Threatening.
Mr. Smith continued to scowl. Trevor supposed he was trying to look threatening, but his attempts were laughable.
“Very well,” the man said finally. “Our focus is the ridiculous trappings of a corrupt society. People need to wake up and realize how much government money is spent on useless pastimes like making movies instead of feeding the poor.”
Trevor feigned outrage. “On that we agree. It’s bollocks that faux celebrities warp public opinion. They’re not the gods they pretend to be. They’re just stupid, self-centered fools. But it’s been proven time and again that socialism doesn’t work.”
Mr. Smith’s lip curled. “Socialism is just another form of bondage. A privileged few ruling sheep. We’re for Great Britain shaking off the blinders they wear and realize the government does not have their best interests at heart. Their skewed policies keep Britons as little more than slaves.”
“We don’t need a government to control us,” Eric said. “It’s long past time the English butt out of our business and let us live as we want. In Ireland and everywhere else.”
“I hear you.” Trevor nodded to show he understood. “Now how about the meeting I asked for? I talk to your boss. I thought I made it clear. I don’t deal with flunkies.”
Mr. Smith widened his arms and turned his palms up, as though to say, ‘Here I am.’
Eric frowned. “Jaysus, Trev. You’re gone in the head. Stop messing about.”
Trevor’s lip curled. “Not bloody likely. He’s just a kiss-ass. I want to talk to the real Mr. Smith.”
Both the man and Eric shot him startled looks.
“What makes you think—”
“He is the—”
Trevor cut a hand through the air, effectively stopping both men. “No. You’re not. I want to talk to the man in the back of the limousine, not the lackey in the front.”
The man stilled. Trevor read the indecision on his face.
“Now. Or stop wasting my fucking time,” he snapped. His mission hinged on finding the brains behind the brawn. If Eric’s cell fell, another would simply rise to take its place.
Finally, the man shrugged and walked back over to the limousine. The back window rolled down, and the man bent over to speak to whoever was inside. When he returned, he jerked his head at Trevor.
“He’ll talk to you.”
Trevor stalked past him, Eric and the man following. The driver exited the vehicle on an intercept course. Massive shoulders and bulging biceps declared him the muscle. He put out an arm, halting them.
“Just him,” he said, pointing a sausage-sized finger at Trevor.
Annoyance flashed across Eric’s face, but he obediently wandered to the bonnet of the limousine and lingered there, lighting up as he waited. The flunky returned to his seat in the front of the limousine.
“Arms out,” the driver said, voice and face expressionless.
Trevor raised his arms and suffered the man to pat him down. He found Trevor’s .380 and stuffed it into his belt. Jerking his head, he led the way to the back and opened the door. Trevor ducked inside, settling into the seat directly opposite a man sitting in the deepest shadows.
Trevor could barely make out the graying blond hair and lines on the fifty-ish face. The unwelcoming stare. The real Mr. Smith had a slender build and wore an unbuttoned suit coat.
“Always a pleasure to meet Eric’s friends.” The cultured voice rolling out of the darkness contained an undertone that wasn’t British English. Trevor strained to identify it.
“So who’s the suit? He looks like a bloody bureaucrat. Come to think of it, so do you.”
The man’s dry chuckle held little humor. “He’s no one of consequence. My accountant. And I assure you that I am no bureaucrat. Just a man who sees a problem that needs repairing. Now. To what do I owe the honor?”
Trevor leaned forward, looking directly into the man’s eyes. He seemed vaguely familiar, but Trevor couldn’t put a name to the face. “I make it a habit to know exactly who I’m working with before I risk my life. No exceptions.”
“An understandable precaution.” His tone suggested he did the same.
“So precisely who are you? Why would a suit want to dismantle our government?”
The man’s voice grew icy. “As far as you’re concerned, I’m Mr. Smith. Consider me the money. As for as anything else, my reasons are mine alone.”
Trevor sat back, dropping his voice even lower. “Well, that bloody well explains nothing.”
Mr. Smith tapped his fingers on his leg. “I’m meeting you as a courtesy to Eric. Don’t overstep your place. You’re easily replaceable.”
“Untrue. Each person in your cell brings his own expertise to the table. Safe cracker, arsonist, hacker. I’m the only explosives expert. Your last bloke blew himself to bits, I believe?”
The head of the joint MI-5/SAS task force, Brigadier Lord Patrick Danby, had informed him that the dead man was the only clue they had to finding the anarchists. The man, identified through dental records as Jing-sheng Qiū, had been a textile mill worker in Leeds before moving to London and joining the Philosophy of Bedlam.
Mr. Smith slashed a hand through the air. “An unfortunate turn of events.”
Unfortunate? A man had died. A terrorist, to be sure, but Smith’s callous disregard for Qiū’s life vibrated in the quiet of the limousine.
“The man knew shite,” Trevor said, burying his disgust.
“I trust you will not make the same mistake?”
He forced himself to laugh. “Not bloody likely. Pipe bombs are some of the most dangerous to use. Even something as small as static electricity can set them off. As Eric tells me, Qiū was fifty feet away when it exploded, and the shrapnel still killed him. I prefer plastic explosives. PE-4. Stable until detonated.”
“And you can acquire this?”
“Already have. My question is, why should I waste it on you?” Trevor had to walk the razor wire of learning who the head of the snake was, and being accepted as an anarchist.
Mr. Smith nodded. “A fair question. Let’s just say I have certain interests in the weapons arena. Government agencies scrambling to stop terrorist bombings won’t be searching for me.”
He was an illegal arms dealer? Maybe that’s where Trevor had seen him – on a wanted poster. He sat back in the soft leather. “So this isn’t about ideology for you. Just money.”
Mr. Smith laughed. “There’s no such thing as ‘just’ money, Mr. Willoughby. Now. I’ve answered your questions. You answer mine. Do you support the anarchist philosophy of my Bedlamites?”
The cover MI-5 had given him was rock-solid. Trevor had known what lies he would tell before he insisted Eric introduce him to Mr. Smith. “I don’t give a shit what your anarchist philosophy is. I want to bring the government to its knees. Starting with the bloody National Health Service all the way up to Her Fucking Majesty and Parliament. If you’re the real deal, I’m in.”
“That’s none of your business. Just be assured I’ll do what needs doing.”
The man stared at Trevor for a moment, then picked up a file folder from the seat next to him. “But it is my business. I, too, make a point to know with whom I’m dealing.”
He opened the folder and flipped up the top page. “Trevor Calum Willoughby, born April 23, 1980 to blue-collar parents. The oldest of five children, which kept your parents poor. Spent your teenage years getting into fights. Vocally critical of the disparity between the social classes. Joined the Provisional IRA in 2004, left in 2005 to join those trying to reestablish the Saor Éire, which failed. Was there not enough action for you, Mr. Willoughby?”
Trevor didn’t answer. So far, his cover was holding.
Mr. Smith shrugged, and flipped to a new page. “Married in 2011, divorced in 2012 when you caught your wife cheating. You beat the man half to death and spent eighteen months in prison for it. Daughter diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia while you were being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure at Gartree. National Health Service wouldn’t cover the cost and you couldn’t. Daughter died last year.”
“All right,” Trevor gritted out. “Enough.”
Mr. Smith put the folder back on the seat. “You’ll get your chance with the NHS, Mr. Willoughby. But I have something else in mind, first. Are you interested?”
“Bloody hell. Yes.”