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Authors: Gordon Bickerstaff

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Medical, #Conspiracies

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BOOK: Everything to Lose
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3

 

University of South England, Hampshire, England

 

The mood of the three young men was much more than sombre. In fact they were angry. They were hot favourites defeated at the last moment by a most stupid fluke. It should never have happened. All that pain and sweat in training, wasted. In the semis they wiped the floor with a strong team from the University of Chichester. It was a great performance for an unranked team to reach the final and earn the chance of a winner's medal. Thrown away in a reckless moment by a careless idiot.

Team
captain Mohammed stormed off in disgust but not before he blasted their ears in the changing room for losing what should have been an easy final.

"I'm
thinking like, maybe we should let him out now," Jack said.

"No
way man, wait 'til we're ready to go," Sam said.

"He’ll
be blazing mad," Jack said.

"Honestly,
do I look like I give a shit? He needs to suffer," Sam said.

"Has
he sent a text?" Stevie asked.

"Not
yet," Jack said.

"When
he does then he's had enough," Stevie said.

"Okay
cool."

Jack,
Oliver, Sam, Steven and Mohammed were the losing judo team in the final of the South England Universities Open Judo Team Championships hosted this year at U.S.E. Student’s Union, Waterlooville campus, Hampshire.

They
had home advantage, their preparation rigorous but they lost 3-2 because Oliver had decided to show off to a rapturous home crowd with some exhibition judo.

The
draw had matched Oliver against the opposition’s weakest team member in the final match and it should have been a formality. An experienced black belt pitched against a recently graded brown belt. No contest.

Oliver
dragged and pulled his reluctant opponent like a full size rag doll over every inch of the mat. He pranced around with fancy ballet-dancing footwork until his opponent saw an opportunity and put Oliver flat on his back for an
ippon
(full and conclusive point) to win the match and the Championship.

For
punishment they had locked remorseless Oliver Mansole in the Student Union shower room while they drowned their sorrows in the bar.

Sam
was particularly upset because he would graduate this year and not be able to return next year for another try at the medals. Not even warm kisses and consolation cuddles from Sam's girlfriend Karen and Stevie's girlfriend Anna could lift their spirits.

It
was late in the evening. The large Student Union bar was almost empty and the PA system played Boney M's 1976 hit 'Daddy Cool' in the background. The Student Union bar was quite dark with limited lighting except for a few spotlights on some walls and fluorescent lighting for the bar.

The
whole room had a strong stale smell from many beer spillages and inadequate air circulation. The door made a loud clatter that echoed in the room when people came through. It served as an unofficial announcer for arrivals and departures.

Two
guys and a girl played strip pool at one of the four tables in the room. She had most of her clothes on but the two guys were down to underpants and one sock. The girl was sober, giggly, having fun. The two guys were drunk, almost legless and soon to be naked as the day they were born. Two other girls gathered near the pool table to catch the final undressing, mobile phones at the ready. YouTube here we go!

Beside
the stage a tearful comedienne and her anxious roadie boyfriend argued as they packed their gear and cursed the disaster they had just experienced. It was her second gig on the university circuit and it bombed. Even the warm-up belly dancers got more applause.

She
didn't know the only things that get a laugh from students are poos, vomits, bums, willies and tits. Her material on marriage, tax, kids, impotence and real work didn't connect because the bodies in the audience might look adult-like but in fact the brains are still child-like.

She
tried bravely to find a workable connection and lambasted the uselessness of a degree in media and cultural studies in the grand scheme of the big society. Big mistake.

She
didn't appreciate that subtle communication with young drunks was harder than show jumping on a horse with severe learning difficulties. The spilt beer puddles everywhere and students passed out on the floor before eight in the evening should have dropped a clue.

It
started to go wrong when a noisy group of students got bored. They started a drinking competition with volunteers guzzling a yard of ale while others shouted and pranced around like Zulu warriors.

Finally,
half way through her act the bar staff switched on the TV screens because some students wanted to watch an episode of 'The Big Bang Theory'. Still she persevered, hoping for a big laugh that might settle them down. Those comedians who manage to conquer the university circuit deserve an honorary degree.

"I’m
gonna let him out now. Gimme the key," Jack demanded.

"Jack.
You’re like, as much fun as that stupid comedienne," Sam whined as he finished off his pint of Old Speckled Hen ale and retrieved the shower-room key from his pocket.

Jack
got up and none of the others moved. He was sure Olly would be angry. He returned and insisted they all go to the shower room in case Olly wanted to thump somebody. They moaned, cursed and dragged their feet. They were in no hurry to face Olly.

They
ambled along the corridor that led to the shower room. They'd all had too much to drink. The corridors were quiet and deserted as they had been when all the teams disappeared after the championships. Jack unlocked the shower room and expected Olly to start shouting and balling. The others waited in the corridor.

A
thick pall of cloudy steam hung in the air and escaped when Jack opened the door. Jack called out to Olly but the noisy showers and extraction fans roaring drowned his voice. Jack waved his arms in the steam to try and clear a path to the showers. The steam caught his breath and made him cough deeply. No response from Olly. It didn't sound like Jack was getting beaten-up or balled out so the others decided to leave.

Jack
darted to the shower room in case Olly had had an accident. He slipped on the greasy floor and almost fell down. He wondered why Olly left the showers and extractor fans loudly bursting a vane. The shower room had no windows and everything in the room was exactly as they had left it earlier.

Jack
switched the showers off and the fans started to clear the room. Jack looked puzzled. Oliver’s judo kit was still on the bench and his clothes were still in his locker. In the corridor the others heard Jack shout again for Olly. His voice sounded worried so they headed back to the shower room.

Sam
was first into the room and saw Jack appear through the cloud of steam as he came through the changing rooms heading to the toilets. Karen stood outside while Stevie and Anna started snogging in the corridor.

"What?"
Sam asked.

"He’s
not here," Jack replied.

"He’s
mucking you about. You sure the door was locked?"

"Yeah,
if it's not locked it hangs wide open."

"Someone
let him out. STEVIE," Sam called.

Stevie
unwrapped himself from Anna's arms and stood in the doorway of the shower room.

"What?"

"He's not here," Jack said.

"Checked
the toilets?"

"Yeah,"
Jack said.

"Where
did you get the key?" Stevie asked.

"George,"
Sam replied.

"So
Laraine went to George and told him Olly was locked in the showers. He came down and let him out with a spare key," Stevie said.

"Hmm.
I'm not sure," Sam said.

"Why
not?"

"George
told me like, not to lose it, cause it was the only key he had," Sam replied.

"He
was just saying that," Stevie said.

"He
hasn’t gone anywhere. His clothes, his wallet, judo kit are still here," Jack said.

Karen
and Anna heard the conversation and went inside. Anna rolled her eyes to the ceiling, she was fed up and aching for some love. She had been looking forward to jolly celebrations, high jinks followed by championship lovemaking.

"He's
pissin on us. He's got someone to loan him a tracksuit. He took off to make us feel like shit when it should be him," Stevie said.

"Karen,
when did Laraine go home?" Sam asked.

"Dunno
didn't see her after Olly's first match. Saw her and Olly arguing over by the fire exit. Looked serious, like pushy-shuvvy stuff. Think Laraine went home soon after," she replied.

"I'll
bet Mo let him out," Jack said.

"So
Mo's like, James Bond and picks locks with a pencil," Sam said.

"Mo
will never look at him again never mind speak to him. Not getting a medal is going to stick in his craw forever," Stevie said.

"This
is disgusting. You guys are like, pigs, total pigs," Anna said with repulsive expression and shaking head.

"What?"
Stevie asked.

"This
place is a disgrace. You spray lotion like, on your body, not all over the benches. The ceiling tiles aren't bloody frizz bees. Bunch of mindless gorillas."

Anna
drew her finger over a bench seat and showed them the heavy yellow residue on her finger and looked up to the ceiling. Only one ceiling tile remained. All of the other tiles were either scattered fragments on the dressing room floor or crumbled piles of wet matted material in the shower room floor. The boys seemed unconcerned. These things and worse can happen during championships when other teams use the facilities.

Jack
picked up Oliver's mobile and entered his password. He’d seen Oliver do it many times.

"He
hasn’t phoned or text anybody. Only text he received was from me."

"Well
he's not bloody Houdini. You say the room was locked. There's no window in here. He didn't climb out through the bloody extractor fan. He must have organised something. Maybe Laraine came back for him. Screw him, gather his stuff, we're off," Sam said.

Jack
pulled Oliver's sports bag from his locker and they all helped to put Oliver's stuff into his bag.

"What's
this?" Stevie asked.

"Wow!
Is that like, heroin?" Karen asked.

Stevie
held up a silver foil blister pack containing two sealed fifty ml vials of amber liquid. The foil had space for six vials and four were missing.

"Think
that's his muscle stuff, testosterone or something steroid," Jack said.

Karen
picked up a black spectacle case and opened it because she knew Olly didn't wear spectacles.

"Shit!"
Sam said when Karen opened the case.

The
case contained a needle and syringe and there was a small amount of amber fluid in the syringe.

"Don't
think he would leave his stuff like, for people to find, do you?" Karen asked.

"Where's
his towel?" Sam asked.

"There's
a towel in the showers but it's been thrown into a pile of filthy muck from the ceiling tiles," Jack said.

"Leave
it."

Sam
ushered everyone out of the shower room. He closed and locked the door. Olly was a smart guy and somehow he outsmarted them. He'd need to come crawling back to get his stuff. Sod him.

Four
hours later, in the early morning, the whole building was dark and quiet. Locked up for the night. A dozen brown rats of various ages from the resident colony scampered through ducts and panelling, under floorboards, over joists following a trail of urine that led to the men's shower room.

As
they got closer they heard the distinct ultrasound chirps of excitement. To human ears rats seem very quiet because they communicate using ultrasound that we can't hear. The rats in the shower room were excited. Some were tooth grinding with delight and some were so excited they eye-boggled as they waited for the pack leader to arrive and assume control.

 

4

 

CIA Headquarters, Virginia, USA

 

Director of the NCS Bill S Maverack grunted loudly as he moved a stack of files from his desk to his safe when Communications Officer Josh Masson knocked on his door then waited the obligatory one minute for the traffic light signal on the door to turn green before he entered the room.

It
had been a long hard day with a series of back-to-back confrontational meetings at the George Bush Centre for Intelligence. Several meetings were much harsher than he expected. Sometimes they just pan out that way. Colleagues, allegedly, tried to undermine, question, doubt and scrutinise his strategy. Bill held his own corner strongly, got his own way but the arguments did wear the mind down to a low level. Time to go home.

"Masson,
what is it?" Maverack sounded like a man anxious for some peace and quiet.

"Priority
one message sir from Great Britain, it's a POINT-K."

"Procedure."

"To the letter sir," Masson said as he handed over a single sheet of paper.

The
standing instructions for receipt of POINT-K messages were that a single printout was made then the electronic message was deleted permanently from the server.

The
paper copy was taken immediately to the Director of NCS no matter the time of day. If there was a reply, it would be transmitted then the message would be permanently removed from the server.

Neither
Bill Maverack nor Josh Masson knew what POINT-K was or the significance of the message. Bill Maverack took possession of the paper and a flash of anger surfaced on his face. He reviled the fact his office was being used as a simple messenger for some Agency or Department of Defence business. His anger soared.

"Return
to your desk Masson. If there's a reply I'll bring it."

"Yes
sir."

I've
had
enough
.
This
nonsense
ends
now
he thought. He read the message then spoke into his office intercom.

"Janice,
call the Joint Chief's office. Request the Chairman call me back on a secure line. If they give you any bullshit. Tell them I have a priority one communication for the Chairman."

Bill
Maverack sat back in his chair and his feet lifted off the ground as he re-read the message. He was five foot five inches tall and working hard to keep his weight under seventy-four kg. He put two fingers to the bridge of his nose and rubbed the skin between his eyebrows as he searched the message for anything that might offer a clue.

Educated
at Yale he wore a light blue short-sleeved shirt, Yale University silk tie and dark brown suit trousers with matching shoes. His hair was crew cut short. He was well presented but no one other than his mother would say he was handsome.

What
he lacked in good looks he more than made up for in ruthlessness, determination and guile. He hadn't gotten to Director Level in the CIA while still in his early forties without knocking some experienced and capable people off the ladder.

Eighteen
minutes later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) George Schumantle returned the call. Bill Maverack looked at the row of clocks on his wall. Local time was twenty-two forty-two hours.

"Bill,
good evening."

"Sorry
for the late call General. I have a priority one message marked for attention ONLY of POINT-K," Bill said and his voice didn't disguise his annoyance.

"Who
is it from?"

"Agent
Dovecoat."

"Read
it out please."

"Message
reads. PR 1: FAOO - POINT-K: Subject: Tucuxi. Report: Subject relocation imminent. Plus one lens package STAT. End. Dovecoat."

"Thanks
for that Bill, no reply. Can we meet tomorrow first thing to organise this package?"

"Of
course. I'll have my secretary liaise with your office."

Bill
Maverack felt elated. With a satisfying smirk he wondered if, at last, he was going to find out what POINT-K was and who was involved. It was clear from the log of long standing protocols that POINT-K had been in operation for more than fifty years.

When
it first came to his attention fourteen months ago he was dismayed that he was denied access. He quizzed others and was certain that none of the other Office Directors knew anything about it. He felt confident that neither the Associate Deputy Director CIA nor the Deputy Director CIA had ever heard of POINT-K.

Bill
Maverack had raised POINT-K with the Director CIA and voiced his concern that there was a clandestine operation in play in Great Britain that he knew nothing about. He demanded permission to do some digging but the Director CIA told him to leave well alone. Whatever POINT-K was it had remained one of the USA's most closely guarded secrets.

To
be in existence for more than fifty years and still remain secret from the most senior members of the CIA was a massive achievement. It infuriated Bill Maverack and made him even more determined to dig it out. There is nothing more irritating for a senior person in the secrecy business with the highest security clearance than a seemingly unobtainable secret held by your own side.

A
meeting with the Chairman of the JCS to discuss an additional support package for POINT-K was a digging opportunity but given the depth of secrecy it would need to be handled with extreme care. It was well known in certain Washington circles that Bill Maverack and George Schumantle didn't like each other. Bill Maverack began to formulate a plan that would trick the stiff-backed narrow-minded soldier into revealing POINT-K.

As
he pushed back on his executive leather chair he smiled smugly and clasped his hands on his chest and thought of himself having to apologise to his fellow CIA Office Directors for not having leave to tell them about POINT-K.

Bill
Maverack met four star General George Schumantle in his palatial office in the Pentagon. It was tastefully decorated with military honours and memorabilia dating back to the War of Independence. The General was compelling as he specified what CIA support he wanted from Maverack. He wanted a base house in Hampshire, England and a two-man team to install surveillance equipment at an address specified by agent Dovecoat. He wanted monitoring equipment at the base house for agent Dovecoat. No more and no less.

"Hampshire. That's in the south of England," Bill said.

The General handed over GPS coordinates for a target location in Hampshire and precise protocols for contact with Agent Dovecoat. Bill Maverack started out on a prepared discussion to draw out information on POINT-K. The General blanked Maverack like he was a junior reporter from the gutter press. He pressed his intercom and told his Aid to escort Mr Maverack to the reception office. The General returned his eyes to a paper on his desk and started writing. Maverack wasn't military so the General didn't dismiss him or even say 'that will be all'. He chose to say nothing and let Maverack wait in limbo.

During
the twelve seconds it took for the General's Aid to enter the room Bill Maverack felt like a head boy who'd been scolded by his headmaster. By the time Maverack returned to his office in Langley he was incandescent with fury. Bill Maverack and the military worked together when they had to but they had no respect for each other.

The
military had deep suspicion and mistrust of Maverack's mission planning. It was based on his premise that FCD (friendly collateral damage) was not only acceptable but also inevitable. It seemed to the military that it was always their people rather than CIA agents that were first into the line of fire.

Maverack
pressed the intercom button on his desk phone and leaned toward the microphone.

"Janice,
find out what assets we have in Hampshire, England. And track down Hopper. He's in Eastern Europe somewhere."

"Yo
mean Joe T Hopkine? I doan like him. He's trouble."

"JANICE
shut-up. Just get him. Patch him through," he replied and his tone told her he was in no mood for her normal chitchat. But Janice was a strong-minded woman.

"AM
JUSS SAYIN. He's one bad ass son-of-a-bitch. Aah mean wee'ze talkin super-size can of worms here y'know," she said as she typed on her keyboard.

"I'm
sick of this army game shit. It's time these SOB's were put in their place. Hopper is the right man to split open this whole POINT-K crap."

"Yo'll
regret it. Mark ma words."

"ENOUGH
already."

He
picked up a framed picture from his desk and stared at it. It was a picture of him standing shoulder-to-shoulder and shaking hands with the President.

Mr
President
it
has
come
to
my
attention
that
senior
members
of
the
military
are
withholding
secrets
and
it's
my
duty
to
inform
you
... he imagined himself in the Oval Office in private conversation with the President.

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