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Carshalton Estate, Surrey, England, UK – 2013
Death, sweat and fear drifted on the stale air.
The short, round figure of Lord Francis Butler gagged a second time as he walked down the old sandstone spiral stairs, the stench of it all causing his body to convulse. Dizziness forced him to stop and grab onto the rope balustrade with one hand, the other hand pushing up against the opposite curved wall. Passing seven locked doors that lined the dimly lit stone corridor that ran below Carshalton House, he stopped at the last room. Shifting in his stance slightly, he felt himself getting aroused at what awaited. Pulling at his white long shirt sleeves, he readjusted his waistcoat and walked into the open doorway, stopping to look at the figure in the centre of the room.
Bound to the small wooden bench positioned beneath a single hanging light bulb was the naked Monhinder Singh. The Indian billionaire’s cheeks were stained with tears and blood from his swollen eyes. He trembled violently from cold fear and looked up at Lord Butler with begging eyes, mumbling something through the mouth gag.
‘Would you remove his gag, please?’ Lord Butler said to the well-muscled figure of Alex Brun, who stood beside the billionaire. He leant across the trembling man and yanked the dirty rag from his mouth.
Monhinder Singh gasped at the fresh air eagerly before focusing on Lord Butler. ‘Francis, what the bloody hell is going on here? What have I done to deserve this barbaric treatment?’
Alex punched the battered man in the face again, sending a spray of blood and sweat across the concrete floor. The captive man groaned and swayed to the side, his long black hair falling across his face.
‘Thank you, Alex, that’s enough,’ Lord Butler said, pulling a wooden chair closer. ‘I think it is time that Monhinder and I have a little chat about his predicament. Get him a blanket, please. He looks decidedly frozen.’
Monhinder bowed his head slightly, the long matted hair falling forward.
‘You’ve disappointed me, Monhinder, and because of that, you don’t get to address me by my first name anymore. Is that clear? Friends and those whom I trust may call me Francis, and at this moment, you are neither.’
Monhinder Singh leaned forward against his restraints and shook his bowed head. Alex grabbed a handful of long hair and snapped his head back, causing him to whimper in terror.
‘Time and time again, we’ve explained the generous offer on the table yet you refuse to cooperate with us. Every billionaire at the lavish party above our heads has signed up to be part of this organisation. I have personally invested everything I own into this new venture. It all makes logical sense.’
The man stared at Lord Butler. ‘Why would I join a deluded organisation that is high on the lust for world domination? A group which mistreats its partners like I’m being treated? You’ve just demonstrated to me that if I ever disagreed with you in the future, I would be tortured again. You’re all bloody psychotic.’
‘Monhinder, dear fellow, you need to be more open-minded about the world we’re building. We’re a crucial organisation for the future of the planet and will go on to do a lot of good in the world. We want you to be a part of that.’
‘Ha! What a load of rubbish,’ Monhinder said with a slur as a trickle of blood dripped off his chin.
Lord Butler shifted in his seat. ‘By pooling all of our wealth and assets, we’ll be able to control and influence government policy around the world, thereby ensuring that no one country ever gains monopoly over the planet’s dwindling resources.’
‘That’s a load of bullshit,’ Monhinder said. ‘You must think I’m bloody naive? None of you gives a shit about the planet or its resources. It’s about you and the rest of the power-mad vultures upstairs wanting to control the world like spoilt little bullies trying to control a playground. I will have no part of it. There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.’
Lord Butler felt the darkness swelling within him. He swallowed hard to stem its rise because there was diplomatic work to be done. He cracked his knuckles behind his back and chewed his lower lip, eyes narrowing as he stared across at the Indian billionaire. The man dared to question the motives of the Billionaires Club which he’d started two years before. His smile skewed into a sneer as he struggled to control the dark lust. A black shroud that always took charge of his psyche when he cowered away from making tough choices. The small pine chair creaked as Lord Butler leant back. He ground his teeth and forced a grin, nodding across to Alex, who laid into the man with a flurry of fists. Screams echoed around the cold dark walls of the room, and Lord Butler realised he had an erection.
‘Now, let’s take a look at your dilemma here. Upstairs, there’s a group of the world’s wealthiest and most influential men, who witnessed you taking recreational drugs while seated at the dinner table. They saw you kissing a young prostitute and fondling her breasts before dragging her off to your room. Quite decadent and hedonistic behaviour even for one of my parties. She will, of course, testify to the fact that you collected her in London and brought her to the party knowing full well that she was below the legal age of consent in the United Kingdom,’ Lord Butler said. ‘This information is being collated and will first be leaked to every member of your respected family back in India before being sent out to the global press.’
Monhinder sat upright, his eyes pinched into a swollen squint. He shook his head a few times, swaying in the wooden seat. ‘Butler, you cannot blackmail me,’ he said. ‘Go ahead and inform my family. They will forgive me my transgressions. My reputation will suffer a setback, but it will survive. You will not get away with this farce. I promise you that.’
Lord Butler felt the last of his patience ebb away as the darkness rush in to consume him. It would only ever be satisfied with the spilling of blood. He leaned forward and sneered. ‘Okay then, Monhinder, have it your way.’
A slight nod to the two heavy-set men standing in the shadows at the back of the room moved them into action. One of them checked the binding that kept Monhinder tied to the bench before the other heaved Monhinder forward. There was no way to break his fall with his hands bound behind his back. A loud crack rang out as his face hit the concrete. He screamed out in pain, wriggling to turn his face to the side as his lips started to quiver.
Lord Butler felt giddy as he walked over to a small metal side table against the brick wall and ran his hand over the extensive range of Alex’s implements of torture. The cool feel of the metal excited him even more. He lingered over one of them for a brief moment like a child picking his favourite sweet, then eagerly grabbed it. Happy with his selection, he walked to Monhinder and squatted next to the man’s head. ‘This could have been such a painless exercise, my friend, but now you must pay for your stubbornness and stupidity.’
He placed the scalpel at the base of the man’s buttocks, which were comically raised into the air, and made an inch long incision, drawing a small trickle of blood that followed gravity down the groaning man’s back towards his neck. Lord Butler continued with a second cut, then a third, each getting deeper along the spine. The tortured man’s groans got louder, and Lord Butler’s breath quickened as the euphoria grew stronger inside him. The darkness sang out with happiness.
Alex walked over and placed his hand over the scalpel in Lord Butler’s hand. ‘Shouldn’t we move on with the next phase of the plan, sir?’
Lord Butler blinked slightly, hearing his own shallow, rasping breath. Disorientated with pleasure, he smiled up at his trusty henchman and nodded. ‘Thank you, Alex,’ he said, taking a deep breath. ‘Monhinder, you sack of shit, now listen to me. I’m going to give you twenty-four hours to reconsider the offer on the table. I’ll be upstairs having a wonderful time with our other colleagues if you do have a change of heart. This will be your last chance to reconsider, and if you fail to change your mind, I am going to instruct Alex to go to work on your delicate bits with some of his favourite toys over there. He won’t be as nice as I’ve been. You see, I’ve witnessed his work in Equatorial Guinea on many unfortunate prisoners of war. I can assure you he understands the finer art of inflicting pain and terror better than I could ever hope to do.’
Lord Butler nodded to Alex, who opened the heavy wooden door. Two more of his men dragged a corpse of a naked woman into the room and laid it down on the floor next to the Indian billionaire. Monhinder desperately tried to turn his head away from the lifeless face of the girl, placed inches away from his, her opaque eyes staring at him coldly. He started to sob. ‘Please, Lord Butler, you’ve made your point. She smells disgusting so don’t leave her here. Who is she?’
‘She’s another young prostitute who caused me some embarrassment yesterday, so I had her killed and placed on ice. Such a pity really, she seemed like such a bright little thing. Her death won’t be in vain because I had such a great idea this morning. I could put her corpse to good use.’
Lord Butler threw the scalpel back onto the table, grabbed an old wooden cricket bat that was leant against the nearby wall, and walked back to the whimpering man.
‘I’ve always loved the feel of wood, you know. The feel against one’s skin is just so… just so natural,’ he said. Clenching his fists around the wooden handle, he swung the bat over his head and slapped it across the man’s exposed buttocks. He slammed the bat down again and again until the darkness ebbed away, satisfied. Wiping away beads of sweat from his reddening face with his forearm, he tossed the bat across the floor.
One of his henchmen handed him a small tied-off plastic bag, which he threw onto the ground in front of the crying billionaire’s face. ‘That’s what’s left from her so-called heroin overdose. You have twenty-four hours to make the right decision, or it’ll be pumped into you after Alex has finished with you.’
Walking down the stone-walled corridor to the staircase, Alex turned to his boss. ‘I’ll check on him every hour, sir.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about checking that often. Let the bastard stew in his own private hell for the night.’
‘As you wish, sir.’
‘Thank you for pulling me back from the edge there, Alex. It’s has been quite a while since I lost control like that.’
‘I am always here to assist you, sir. If I may say, I’ve never seen you give a man a second chance before. What if he won’t sign?’
Lord Butler stopped at the base of the stone spiral staircase and placed his hand on his long-serving bodyguard’s shoulder. ‘I need him to sign over all his wealth to us. He’s one of the only billionaires in India who we deemed as controllable, you know, with his illegal vices. However, my patience is wearing thin with him, so if he doesn’t sign, we’ll have to get someone else. Then, Alex my friend, I’ll have no further use for him, and you can have him for as long as he will last.’
Lord Butler and Alex Brun walked through the high-ceilinged reception room at Carshalton House, taking in deep breaths of the fresh, sweet-smelling air that came through the large bay windows on either side of the open front door. Alex whistled across to one of the young waitresses carrying slim flutes of champagne as she headed towards the group of billionaires gathered in the main lounge. She hurried over to give Lord Butler a glass, which he downed in a single gulp then took a second before waving her off. It was time to let go of the troubles in the basement and have a good time.
One of the wealthy guests caught his eye and peeled away from a tall brunette escort to intercept him.
‘Alex, would you mind if I have a word with Lord Butler in private?’ the slim, balding man asked. Alex bowed slightly and took two steps to the side.
‘Hello, Jürgen. I hope you are having fun so far.’
‘Has the man signed, Francis?’
‘Jürgen, tonight I’d just love to relax with my friends and not bother with Billionaires Club matters. I’ve presented our case to Mr Singh, and he needs time to think about it. Let’s give him time to come to terms with that.’
The forty-something German billionaire took a sip of champagne. ‘But will he sign the document? Jürgen Kohler asked. ‘We can’t afford to be without a presence in India much longer.’
Lord Butler frowned and clenched his teeth. ‘I said I’d make it happen. One way or the other we will get into India, okay?’ A warm sensation started to flood through him again. He clenched his fists once and stretched his fingers outwards.
‘Why are you taking so long to bring him around? You claimed your tactics and methods were foolproof. Maybe someone else should try and speak to him. You know, someone he may listen to.’
Lord Butler took a step forward and spoke in a hushed tone. ‘My friend, we’ve been through this before. I’ve warned you several times about questioning my wishes. Let me stress again that I will not be questioned over this, certainly not by the likes of you. You don’t have a choice here. Now go away and have a good evening with your lady friend there.’ The darkness swirled around in his core, and he felt his shoulders move backwards.
‘Or what, Francis? I’ll end up like your best friend, Michael Mercer? Found rotting at the bottom of a gorge with my car brakes that have accidentally failed? I’m not intimidated by you or your methods,’ Jürgen said and turned away.
The darkness made Lord Butler feel ten feet tall. His gaze focused on the back of the slim man’s head. ‘Tell me, my German friend. How is that beautiful young wife of yours doing? And what about those two handsome boys of yours? What are they now, sixteen?’ Lord Butler said. He turned to Alex and placed his hand on his shoulder. ‘The most beautiful twins I’ve seen, Alex, but thankfully they take after their mother. And pretty soon they will be adults, going out into the world by themselves. A delightful thought.’
The German spun around, his pale face reddening as he walked back towards Lord Butler, his finger pointing. ‘You stay away from my family.’
‘I only have to whisper a word into Alex’s ear, and your family will suffer horrors that you don’t want to imagine. What’s more, I’ll make sure you’re there to watch the whole gory thing. Question me or my methods again. I dare you.’
Jürgen went pale and started to speak.
Alex moved in front of Lord Butler and took a step towards the German. ‘I think you should go back to the party, Mr Kohler. You don’t want to make a scene, now do you?’
Jürgen looked past Alex Brun. ‘Someday, your henchman won’t be at your side to protect you, Butler.’
He walked backwards for three steps before turning and trudging back to his date for the night.
Lord Butler walked up next to Alex and placed his hand on his shoulder. ‘They don’t always understand what we are trying to achieve here. So, consumed by their wealth, they fail to see the importance of it all to our planet.’
‘You will make them understand, sir. They are all expendable.’
‘Exactly. But first, we drink.’
Naudeh, Afghanistan – 2013
Rocks made for cold mattresses.
Kyle Gibbs shifted his body position in another futile attempt to get comfortable against the wall of stone. He looked down at his chapped hands and gently rubbed them together to get the circulation going. Gibbs looked across to Malcolm “Killey” Kilfoyle and Spike Johnson, who also huddled against the natural stone wall of the small ridge. It was the only shelter from enemy eyes for them. As longer serving SAS soldiers, they seemed more at ease with waiting around for the action to begin. He was the new kid on the block.
At three-thirty the early morning chill started to descend onto the desert, making it uncomfortable for all the SAS units that were dotted around the five designated targets. The desert terrain was stark and barren in the bright moonlight, and the clear evening meant a light frost would soon form around them. The waxing moon would make movement across the open areas towards their target easier underfoot but would increase the chance of being spotted.
Gibbs studied their unit’s intended target, a dilapidated clay brick building, through the night vision scope he had bartered back in the camp in return for a few gentlemen’s magazines. A single guard was on duty, huddled next to a drumfire that was under a wood and corrugated iron lean-to that was in front of their target. The intelligence brief had predicted more sentries, but it seemed all the major personnel movement was up at the main building to the west of them.
Gibbs looked towards the main building and counted three old trucks parked outside. With only four guards patrolling around the outskirts at thirty-minute intervals, it indicated that most were still asleep inside. Further up the gradual slope from the main buildings, nestling in rocky alcoves were the two enemy machine gun positions they’d been warned about. These were the target of the snipers.
Blinking twice, he switched his focus back to the old building and caught sight of the guard stretching and yawning in the golden light of the fire before wrapping himself up in a blanket again. He could just about make out the guard’s M16 leant up against the wall.
At four am, team commander Sergeant ‘Whitey’ Lawson and three other team members, who were laying-up about thirty meters to the west of Gibbs’s position, got up and slowly moved down the gentle stony slope towards the main opium factory building. Gibbs, Killey and Johnson followed seconds later, moving quickly in a low crouch towards their smaller target. By keeping low, and with the hillock behind them, they were unlikely to be silhouetted against the moonlit horizon.
The three men spread out and spanned about five meters apart as they trod carefully in a low crouch, trying not to dislodge any loose rocks that would give away their position and draw the guards’ attention. Gibbs’s adrenaline level ratcheted upwards as a man dressed in army fatigues appeared at the open door in the front of the building. He spoke in Arabic to the guard, who threw off his blanket and stood up to stretch. The three SAS soldiers dropped silently onto one knee, keeping their guns trained on the guards.
The soldier laughed at a joke the other guard had made and walked straight towards the waiting SAS men. Gibbs swallowed hard. The man stopped at the small mud wall and squinted, waiting for his eyes to get used to the dark, barren landscape.
Gibbs’s finger caressed the trigger lightly. Would he spot them?
The man stood looking into the moonlit night for a minute then reached down and unzipped his fly.
Gibbs looked across to Killey and signalled that he should take out the tall soldier who was now urinating over the wall. Gibbs, as previously agreed, would neutralise the guard by the fire.
He looked at the guard through his MP5 nightscope and slid his forefinger onto the trigger. The guard had sat down again and looked like he’d soon be asleep. He stirred when he heard the dull thump of Whitey’s grenade launcher as their leader fired a grenade into the main group of guards to the west of their position. The explosion shattered the quiet desert night, and Gibbs squeezed the trigger. His target sat up in shock then slumped backwards as two bullets exploded into his head, sending a wash of blood-splatter up the wall behind him.
Killey fired twice at the standing soldier, hitting him in the chest. He stumbled backwards, golden urine backlit by the fire, spraying everywhere. The soldier looked down at the holes in his chest then collapsed as his legs gave way.
The instant the guards went down, Johnson was up on his feet with Killey right on his heels, running hard towards the building. They jumped over the small eroded mud wall and ran straight towards the open doorway.
Gibbs covered their approach to the building before running towards the target himself. As he leapt over the small peripheral wall, a bearded man emerged from the doorway, his white thawb flowing as he ran. He shouted something in Arabic and fired his pistol blindly into the night. Gibbs dove face down into the ground and heard the whizzing of bullets flying over his head. Killey swung his M16 machine gun at the man’s head and clouted him flush on his jaw, the force smashing him backwards with his flailing gun arm firing into the sky. In one swift movement, Killey stood on the man’s pistol hand and pulled out his trusty hunting knife then knelt on the flailing man’s chest. With a sawing movement, he slit the man’s throat and silenced him. Gibbs pushed up off the floor and ran to the side of the doorway, preparing to enter the building.
Killey sheathed his knife and lifted his M16 moments before a volley of gunshots erupted from inside the building. Two bullets hit him in the chest area of his body armour, flinging him backwards onto the ground, gulping for air as the wind was knocked out of him. Mike Johnson’s head snapped back as a bullet ricocheted off his helmet. His knees buckled slightly, sending him staggering backwards before he tripped over the peripheral wall, disappearing from view. Gibbs froze for a split second then fired a long covering volley into the room. He heard a man cry out in pain.
Gibbs wondered how many more guards were inside and was loudly answered when he heard the rattling of machine gunfire from inside. Fragments of mud and plaster from the door frame radiated outwards. Killey was in their line of fire and not moving.
Diving down to the dusty floor again, he reached across to drag Killey out of the path of the doorway by his chest webbing.
Gibbs’s world seemed to slow down as he plucked two flash grenades from Killey’s webbing and tossed them through the doorway. A few seconds later, the deafening explosion and blinding flash went off inside. He flipped the night vision goggles down and crouched as he walked in.
The acrid smoke still burnt his nose and lungs despite their numerous training exercises. Gibbs stood with his back against the nearest wall waiting to see if anything moved. Through the green hue of the goggles, he saw two men staggering about near the opposite wall, their machine guns hanging downwards as they tried to reach four old filing cabinets. With quick bursts from his MP5, he dropped them both and continued to move through the adjacent rooms, checking for other enemy soldiers.
Loud explosions and more stuttering machine gunfire drifted on the wind from other parts of the complex. Would the other teams need their help? He walked back to secure the main room and grabbed a pile of burning documents out of a coal burning stove, stamping on them to preserve any possible intelligence. Looking down at the dull stare of one of the bodies, he shook his head. The body belonged to a teenage boy, the AK47 still in his grasp.
Gibbs moved back to the doorway. ‘Killey, I’m coming out,’ he called, waiting a moment and then walking out weapon first, scanning the desert in front of their target then up in the direction of the main building. All seemed clear. Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the complex with the odd muzzle flash the only indication that the battle was still underway. He moved past his friend and looked over the wall to where Johnson had fallen. The man was lying down on his back, looking at the dent in his helmet. He looked up and raised his eyebrows.
Gibbs turned to see Killey kneeling and gulping in a large lungful of air. Helping him up, he led him to a bench up against the building. There were no traces of blood on his friend, so the body armour had done its job. ‘You okay, mate?’
Killey nodded. ‘A bit embarrassed, mind you. I should have shot the bugger instead of trying to silence him with a knife. The bastards were sleeping near the doorway. Are they all dead?’
‘It’s all clear now, and there weren’t that many of them. I shot a few of them trying to destroy documents, so the operation might have been worth it after all.’
‘Thanks, mate. I owe you,’ Killey said.
‘Aye, you do, and I’ll take payment in cases of beer when we get back.’
‘Don’t tell anyone about this, yeah.’
’Sure thing, mate. It’ll stay between us,’ Gibbs said.
The night sky to the east was changing to an orange glow, and the barrenness of their surroundings became more apparent. Gibbs stood and faced the main buildings that had now fallen silent. Looking down at his hands, he clenched his fists to stop them from shaking. The adrenaline was taking its time to dissipate, fuelled by an old anger. A deep breath or two usually brought him back to the moment, but it wasn’t helping this time.
‘You okay, killer?’ Killey said.
Gibbs nodded, looking across at three goats that had started to work their way down the hillside.
‘You still see your old man’s face when you’re in the middle of the action?’ Killey asked, walking up behind him.
‘It’s crazy, right,’ Gibbs said.
‘It’ll get easier over time.’
‘But when? These memories drive me to a dark place, man. Even after all these years, the fucker still lives in my head.’
‘That dark place saved my life today, so let’s leave it inside you for now. In the meantime, stop whining like an old woman.’
Gibbs turned to see his friend holding out an open pack of cigarettes. He took one and looked down at it, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger.
‘Jesus, Killey, you smoking plain cigarettes now?’
‘All I could get my hands on before we left camp,’ he replied, lighting both their cigarettes with a single match. ‘Take a nice slow draw on this baby.’
‘After surviving beatings from my drunk old man for all those years, it would be a shame to die because of your bloody cancer sticks,’ Gibbs chuckled, taking a long draw and instantly feeling himself relax.
‘Like I said, less moaning about the past, more living for the future?’ Killey said, patting Gibbs’s shoulder.
After thirty minutes of waiting and keeping a concussed Mike Johnson company, Gibbs could make out the figures of Whitey Lawson and a radioman making their way towards him. He signalled to let them know all was secure in their building.
‘Any major problems here?’ Whitey asked, glancing at the bodies of the men lying outside of the building.
‘Nothing we couldn’t handle, sir,’ Gibbs said. ‘There’s a load of documents lying around inside plus a few old filing cabinets in the main room. They might be of interest to the intelligence boys.’
‘Good job, Gibbs,’ Whitey Lawson said, slapping him on the back. ‘We rotate out at ten hundred hours, so wait for the intelligence boys to arrive, then get back to the vehicles. Beers are on me this evening.’
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