Part 2 of the Section Alpha series of books.
First published in 2013 by Alan Kiernan
Copyright © 2013 Alan Kiernan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
The information, views, opinions and visuals expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect those of the publisher. The publisher disclaims any liabilities or responsibilities whatsoever for any damages, libel or liabilities arising directly or indirectly from the contents of this publication.
A copy of this publication can be found in the National Library of Australia.
ISBN: 978-0-9873672-3-5 (pbk.)
Published by Alan Kiernan
Cover design by Palmer Higgs
Cover image by Palmer Higgs
Printed by McPherson’s Printing Group
“Arms alone are not enough to keep the peace – it must be kept
– John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963)
THREAT INVESTIGATION SQUAD
HEADQUARTERS — MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
Still low on the horizon, the bright midwinter’s morning sunlight streamed through the windows of the Threat Investigation Squad Director’s office. Particles danced in the long swathes of yellow light that were cast across the carpet, drifting effortlessly. The silence counted past by the soft tick of the antique clocks on the eighteenth century credenza.
Tony McAvin, Section Head of the squad, stared at the particles as they swirled and hovered. ‘Tony?’ a voice said from beside him. ‘Tony?’ the voice louder, jolting him back. Looking down at the MI6 and Interpol document in front of him, he took a deep breath as he studied the sheet.
He would have liked to lie his tired body on the carpet and sleep but his SAS training had kicked in to help him analyse information that may be important under conditions of extreme stress and exhaustion.
With great effort he reached up and winced; sudden pain shot through his shoulder and down his arm, making it feel weak. His thumb and forefinger gripped the bridge of his nose, then rubbed his eyes. He blinked again. They had stopped randomly going in and out of focus.
Dried blood—his blood—red and brown, had been smeared from a handprint across the page he was holding, smudged fingerprints at the corners where it had been grabbed in the chaos. His tired eyes drifted to the next page, which was also blood-smudged, slightly torn and singed from intense heat.
OFFICE OF THE DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ASIO
Deputy Director Bert Lyons stood watching the large screen television. ‘The area has been closed to all traffic while the investigation into exactly what happened here continues—‘ a young reporter stated during the live cross to the blast scene. ‘—but the smell of gas was certainly evident in the air when we arrived this morning, adding to the mystery of this explosion.’
Lyons shook his head and leaned back against the side of his desk. His disbelief and irritation at what he was watching was clearly apparent, his face was flushed as he fidgeted and kept flicking up the volume, sighing and shaking his head.
‘God damn it,’ he snarled. He was a cool-headed man but could be volatile, especially when something got under his skin, kicking him out of his comfort zone into irritation zone.
He had previously been the Assistant Deputy Director of ASIO’s Victorian branch for six years before stepping into the Deputy Director’s chair just on three years ago. Some might call him a control freak, but his ASIO domain had recently had to come to terms with a small, relatively insignificant department being renamed the Threat Investigation Squad by Canberra, along with upgraded power that was starting to really irk him. It not only fed off his ASIO budget but was now clearly overstepping its authority and would have to have its wings clipped and its teeth blunted.
WEST OF THE TIWI ISLANDS, ARAFURA SEA
The constant chug of the old diesel vibrated through the deck, punctuated by the splashing sounds of the waves as the bow of the fishing boat cut through the warm azure water.
His dark eyes watched as the splash from the bow hit his bare feet and occasionally he could catch his reflection in the deep water. He had chartered the blue and yellow vessel to take him from Timor to Darwin, including cargo of one Pakistani photographer and his boxes of equipment. It would have been much easier to have chartered one from Indonesia but that would have raised the attention of the authorities and coastguard, and they would have given the boat a thorough security check at its final destination in Darwin. It was a little longer this way but the only safe route was through Timor. They seemed to have no problems with the Australian authorities as Timor was somehow considered safe now it was newly independent from Indonesia. It had many Australian law enforcement personnel training the locals on how to conduct operations but the island’s lax way had rubbed off on the Australian visitors and they weren’t as thorough as they would have been back home.
He glanced up, his eyes scanning the horizon as the breeze ruffled his long dark hair. In the distance the Tiwi Islands coastline lay ahead off to the left. Just a shimmer over the blue water, its position was signalled by puffy white clouds building up over the land despite this being the dry season.
John Form pressed his weight on his fingers at the end of the conference table, glancing around at the assembled operatives in front of him. Midmorning light streamed through the windows, lending the room a warm glow.
Exhausted, he sighed to himself as his gaze reached the two vacant seats at the end. It had been a very long night or a very early morning, he couldn’t figure out which. Swallowing hard, he continued his summation of the events of the night before.
‘From what Tony can remember, and what Steve Barnard mumbled early this morning, Pete and Mark were following the Trident members into the premises. It’s unclear what happened after that.’ His head lowered momentarily before he continued. ‘It looks like they were taken by surprise when either Mudarres or one of his helpers set off an explosive device.’
Agent Katie Irving leaned forward, fingers rolling her pen. ‘Are you saying “taken by surprise” or do you mean they were ambushed?’ she asked.
The door opened and the team turned to see McAvin standing in the doorway. ‘Tony,’ Form greeted him. ‘Do you feel up to joining us?’ ‘Absofuckinglutely,’ he answered, as he stepped into the room hampered by more than a few aches and pains. ‘You really should be in the hospital resting up you know,’ Form chided him.
DARWIN HARBOUR, NORTHERN TERRITORY
Aziz threw the rope to the man on the pier who quickly and deftly wrapped it around a bollard. The captain positioned the boat and cut the engine. Aziz could see the customs officials hovering nearby against the sheds. They waited until the boat had settled and the captain came from the wheelhouse to greet them.
‘Morning,’ chirped one of the officials in his mid-fifties. ‘Good morning sir,’ the captain yelled back. ‘All I need are passports thanks.’ ‘Sure,’ the captain replied, making his way across. The customs official reached down to take the passports and study them. With an enquiring eye he glanced at the group of five as he was filling in the paperwork. ‘Which one of you is Aziz?’ he asked. ‘I am Rashid Aziz.’ ‘What is the nature of your visit to Australia?’ ‘I’m a photographer and I’m here to take photographs for a British magazine called Planet World.’
The official looked at him suspiciously over his gold rimmed glasses. ‘How long are you expecting to stay?’
‘Only a couple of weeks,’ Aziz replied assuredly. ‘Then I should have enough photographs for my shoot.’
The official weighed him up ahead of writing something in the passport then stamped it before handing it to him. ‘Well, welcome to Darwin, I hope you capture our true spirit,’ he said with a smile.
MCAVIN FAMILY HOME, EAST KEW, MELBOURNE
He woke with a start. Breathing heavily he snapped upright in bed, his mouth dry, his body covered in sweat. A nightmare had woken McAvin from the sleep he was desperately needing.
‘Shit,’ he cursed as he sat for a moment trying to get his bearings, his head pounding. He could see the light outside seeping through the side of the curtains, hear birds tweeting and a garbage truck beeping as it reversed. He glanced at the little bottle of pills on the bedside table and yawned. The doctor had said they would work but could give him bad dreams. She was right on both counts. He rubbed his eyes as he looked at the time—8:46; he had been asleep for almost twelve hours. The house was quiet, no kid noises. April would have taken Amy to school and Todd to his swimming lesson.
Still feeling a little groggy from the sleeping pills he dragged himself to the shower. He knew exactly what he needed. The ice-cold needles of water hit his skin and he reddened and felt alive. It shocked his system and started the adrenalin pumping. It reminded him of his arctic training in Canada with JTF 2, the Canadian super secret commando unit he trained with when he was on the British SAS course— survival in freezing conditions. Compared to that, Melbourne winter tap water wasn’t so bad. After a few minutes he felt awake enough to turn up the hot and enjoy its warmth before getting out.
STUART HIGHWAY, NORTHERN TERRITORY
A massive road train passed, heading in the opposite direction. The pressure wave was like nothing he had ever experienced and caused Aziz to swerve on the road. He held tightly onto the steering wheel as he fought to keep control of the 4WD. He had never seen a truck so long and stared in amazement at its four trailers. Having gained control he glanced into the rearview mirror as the truck disappeared into the distance. Shaking, he pulled to the side of the road and walked into the Spinifex grass to calm down.
The sound of a crow calling from a distant ghost gum echoed across the quiet landscape and the hot sun beat down on him. He clicked his tongue and realised he was thirsty. Looking down at the rocks he noticed a large copper-coloured lizard sunning itself and moved closer to take a look. It suddenly hissed, extending a large frill around its neck showing the orange inside of its mouth. Aziz jumped in fright and he returned to the 4WD, shaking more from the lizard than the truck.
A speck appeared up ahead. A green sign full of bullet holes slowly grew larger as he approached it. Pine Creek 55 kilometres—he was making good time even though he didn’t have a schedule to follow.
He looked across at the road map on the passenger seat and his finger traced the route down through western Queensland and to his final destination, his contacts in Sydney.
MCAVIN FAMILY HOME, EAST KEW, MELBOURNE
April McAvin stood quietly by the window. Despondently, she watched the rain pattering onto the windowsill in its random drumming effect; little splashes flicking up onto the window. A soft sigh left her beautiful lips as she dabbed her eyes with the tissue. She had just taken Amy to school and Todd to kinder so the next few hours were hers, but she had been steamrolled by an unexpected discovery which caused worrying dark thoughts to congregate in her head. They wouldn’t let go and she switched between happiness and an ever-increasing sadness. She tried to put the bad ones aside and focus on getting organised for Todd’s fifth birthday. She started thinking about the party. Should they have entertainment or should it be just a family get together? Even though her husband had jumped up a pay scale with his new postion, money wasn’t exactly flowing like the rain outside. But that wasn’t the most worrying thing racing around in her mind.
Her thoughts deserted her momentarily as she watched rain drops magically combine to make a large one running down the glass, collecting more along the way before mingling into the pool at the bottom. Her hand held a cup of hot tea, which steamed against the window. She watched as the steam dissipated and left the window clear. From cloudiness to clarity. She wished her thoughts were much like that; cloudy now with clarity soon but the more she attempted to forget that she had stumbled across something she perhaps shouldn’t have, the more she found she was obsessing about it.
OUTBACK NORTHERN TERRITORY
His dark eyes opened and immediately snapped shut to keep out the dust. He blinked hard a couple of times in an attempt to focus them. His head was pounding, his breathing raspy and dry as he gulped massive breaths. He coughed, spitting out dirt and gravel that had stuck to his dry tongue. Blinking hard again he tried to bring his focus back but it didn’t work. Sweat from his chin and neck carrying fine particles of grit was running into his eyes.
When he was able to focus he surveyed the carnage. The temperature was furnace-hot, like one hundred degrees, and that was in the shade. He rubbed his eyes only to grind in the dust. Moving his arm felt weird as he tried to get a glimpse of his watch and it felt like gravity was around the wrong way.
Okay Rashid, situation fucked up, he thought. He realised he was upside down, surrounded by shattered glass and stones. Dust swirled as a breeze blew through the smashed side window onto his face. Salt brush stuck through the window opening and invaded the interior of the wrecked 4WD.
‘Shit,’ he whispered through cracked lips coated in dirt and blood.
A sudden flashback filled in his memory gap; he remembered looking at the sign post that read ‘Barkly Highway—Ranken 100 kilometres’ then unscrewing the top off a bottle of water, noticing a massive kangaroo bounding from the left straight in front of him, swerving to avoid it but
NORTHERN SUBURBS ISLAMIC CENTRE, EPPING
The glass front door opened and a young man in a suit stepped out into the midmorning sunshine. He looked around the street before continuing toward his car.
‘Heads up, he’s leaving.’ Katie Irving nudged Jason Nguyen. The pair were seated in a car in the shade of a large tree further down the street.
The man stopped and turned suddenly after someone called him. He shook hands in a casual greeting with a tall African man at the front of the Islamic centre.
‘Who do we have here?’ she mumbled, resting the lens cap on the dash and snapping a couple of shots. Nguyen attempted to sit a little more upright in the driver’s seat. ‘What is it?’ he asked, rubbing his eyes.
‘Fahd just shook hands with that guy there.’ Nguyen shrugged. ‘Maybe they know each other. It’s not illegal to shake hands.’
‘True. But, it seemed more than just a “G’day”. More like it had purpose, like they were associates.’ Nguyen sat up and focused a pair of binoculars on the two men deep in conversation.
The men ended their chat and the African man walked toward the Islamic centre while Fahd Al-Aswadi continued on to his car. Katie took another few snaps of the tall dark African man. ‘Where do you think he’s from?’ she asked.
Nguyen studied him. ‘North African, probably Ethiopia, around there. We’ll know once we get his name.’
Sensei Yoshimura’s weathered face was a road map of years of triumphs over the body and the mind. He may not now be as quick or as powerful as he was in his youth, but the Eighth Dan Aikido instructor, now in his late sixties, could still take on the best.
The thing McAvin liked most about him was the way he took the time to explain the philosophy behind the movements he had learned personally from the great O-sensei Morihei Ueshiba, the true founder of Aikido, when he was in Iwama.
Sensei Yoshimura had a fluid style that McAvin had been trying to emulate during his ten years as Sensei’s pupil. Although the Sensei had stopped instructing in his own version of the martial art five years earlier, he still conducted classes from his private Dojo for a select group of his students. This kept his mind and body in perfect physical balance and harmony and he guided the students in a way that found a balance between physical exercise and mental energy.
Sitting on the tatami mat by the open doorway to the garden, the Sensei blinked hard silently sipping his green tea, for his student sitting opposite had a troublesome inner energy flowing from him like a stream and he could sense this out of balance Ki. Unusual for his star student, Anthony McAvin.
Sensei watched as McAvin sipped from the small cup. He had made a special blend of green tea today for he knew his pupil was not in good physical condition to train so he
Form looked at his operatives sitting around the table and said, ‘That was a call between Fahd Al-Aswadi and his cousin Khamel in London yesterday afternoon our time.’ His disappointment was clear as he and the team listened. An exasperated sigh slipped from his lips as the interpreter relayed the conversation from Yemeni Arabic to English. ‘— you had some problem with our brother who was working for you?’ Khamel asked Fahd.
‘No problem. He must have seen an opportunity and took it, Masha’Allah,’ Fahd told him. ‘Allah be praised,’ Khamel murmured and Fahd repeated the words agreeing.
‘The heat will be on you soon and you should take leave from it and do what I did.’ ‘I know, I know, I’m told that. I see that now,’ Fahd answered. Does your father know?’ ‘Not yet, I am meeting with him after I finish our call,’ Fahd said. ‘How is your project going?’
‘Good. It is a very important one that will bring great recognition to its workers and the cause, Allah willing. On the internet look up that website I told you about, it will explain all. But it is big, very big.’ Form turned to Marshall. ‘What website?’ She shrugged. ‘I’ll find out,’ she whispered. ‘Maybe I will come and help you,’ Fahd said. ‘Is your project finished now?’ Khamel questioned.
John Form went back to his office and sat at his desk. He couldn’t help but feel that letting Fahd Al-Aswadi slip through their fingers had cost them dearly. Fahd had been the main source of intelligence into this terrorist cell and his team were waiting for the right moment to strike—now that had been put on hold.
He made himself a cup of lemongrass tea, walked back to the window and kicked off his shoes, placing his feet on the cool glass, taking in the view of the sunlit city expanse. The main thought to cross his mind was the fact that if Lyons got wind of this he would no doubt turn it into something big just to highlight the shortfall in his TIS management.
Stop it, he scolded himself. This is the time to think of your new family. He felt guilty that he hadn’t gone to visit his father in hospital when he had called. It had been a shock to Form because he hadn’t had any contact with him in over forty years and then out of the blue the old man rings requesting him to visit so he can explain his disappearance from his life.
He reached across to his desk and extracted the old photo of him on his father’s shoulders just before he disappeared. It was worn and tattered around the edges and he looked happy. He could still remember the old box brownie his mum used to take it and this brought a smile to his face. He had still harboured hurt and resentment and didn’t go to see him straightaway as requested. Consequently, his father died and John Form missed the only opportunity to see him alive for one last time. He felt guilty and in a bid to bring closure to that painful part of his life he went to the grave site
April moved the kitchen chairs as she vacuumed the floor. She had her headphones on listening to music and didn’t hear the knock at the door. It was only when she noticed Todd and Amy running up the hallway to answer it that she became aware someone was there.
Switching off the vacuum, she shouted ‘Wait for me please,’ but they had already opened the door and she could feel the winter wind blow into the hallway. Todd was taking possession of a large box and talking to the stranger stooping down to hand it to him. April reached the door and looked at the man in a long overcoat and gloves handing the box to him. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked with a frown looking from the man with the box to the other well-built man standing behind him watching the street.
The man raised his head and his piercing blue eyes met hers. ‘Good morning, you must be April,’ he said in a Russian accent.
She nodded, looking confused as to why he would be on her doorstep on a Saturday morning.
‘I am a friend of your husband’s and remembered it was a special boy’s birthday today.’ He smiled and looked down at Todd. ‘So I thought I would personally deliver a gift. Forgive me if I have startled you, I know it was unexpected.’
April’s blood ran cold as she realised who he was. She glanced down at Todd who was beaming at the racing cars wrapping paper.
‘My husband is not home at the moment,’ she said. The man waved his gloved hand. ‘I am not here to see him, just to deliver a gift.’
SUBURBAN STREET, MELBOURNE
Dennis Balfour and Rick Seddon had stopped three houses down and around the corner from the house of the man they had identified as Abdi Dhahar, the man who had shaken Fahd’s hand outside the Islamic centre. While Fahd was overseas, Dhahar and anybody he associated with would be kept under surveillance.
‘Shit,’ Rick Seddon said as he splashed coffee on his windcheater. ‘Just for the record, I hate this surveillance crap. It’s boring and numbs my brain,’ he protested and wiped off the spill.
‘Well, that’s a load of bullshit and you know it,’ Dennis Balfour replied, lowering his copy of the London Times. ‘You don’t actually have a fucking brain, so quit your whinging. Anyone would think you are British.’
Seddon flipped a finger toward the house. ‘This mob has to be the most boring bunch of fucking terrorists in history. I mean they’re doing nothing, just giving me the utter shits.’
‘Would you feel better if they came out the front door right now with an AK47 and shot the shit out of our car?’ he snapped as he stared hard at Seddon. ‘Would that make you feel any better?’
Seddon returned his stare. ‘Yes it would because that way I would know these dickheads are definitely a threat and one I could deal with. Besides, it would relieve the fuckin’ boredom and my sore back.’
SUBURBAN STREET, SOUTH YARRA, MELBOURNE
Stony-faced, the guard looked McAvin up and down as he stood at the front security gate to Oleg Ryumin’s fortified mansion.
After a moment Ryumin’s voice came over the intercom. ‘Let him in Uri. He is okay.’ The muscles in the guard’s jaw tightened as he reluctantly pressed the button. There was a click and the heavy steel gate opened. McAvin walked past the guard feeling the intense dislike the guard felt for him. On a previous visit here with Caz Kennedy to question Ryumin about the assassination of Ivanovich Mikhail Grinkov, a rival Russian drug tsar, one of Ryumin’s guards and McAvin had had an altercation and the guard had come off second best and embarrassed.
McAvin walked past the tropical garden to the large carved wooden doors. They opened as he walked up the steps and another guard ushered him into the expansive gym area. Ryumin was dressed in an Armani tracksuit and punching a bag that was hung from an exposed wooden beam.
McAvin looked at the guard who was steadying the bag. ‘How many minders do you need?’ he asked as Ryumin delivered a flurry of blows to the bag.
Breathless, he stopped and smiled at McAvin. Sweat ran down his face, soaking his T-shirt. ‘These are dangerous times my friend,’ he said as he peeled off his gloves, handed them to the guard and wiped his face with a towel. ‘You are most vulnerable to your enemies when you least expect it.
SUBURBAN STREET, MELBOURNE
Balfour slid the curtain to the side, taking in the view up the street. It wasn’t a perfect angle but it was a comfortable place to act as a long surveillance post for the Dhahar house. From here they would be able to observe Dhahar, his comings and goings, and be able to fill the place with electronic surveillance.
Seddon unpacked a tripod and screwed a camera on the top. The garage ran off the other street so they could come and go without Dhahar seeing them. It was now late morning and Dhahar was mowing the front lawn. Balfour opened out a camp chair and positioned himself by the window as Seddon plugged in the kettle to make the coffee. They had requested the sign on the front lawn be left in place so as not to change Dhahar’s perspective of the streetscape.
A blue Commodore stopped outside Dhahar’s house. He looked across, shut down the mower and walked over to the car where he leaned on the roof as he spoke to the occupants inside.
‘We have visitors,’ Balfour said as Seddon grabbed the log book ready to write down all information. ‘Blue VR Holden Commodore, registration Papa Sierra Yankee five one eight. Two males in front seat, both appear African, possibly Ethiopian or Somali,’ he squeezed off a few shots. ‘Suspect Abdi Dhahar has willingly approached vehicle, familiar with occupants inside.’
THAMES HOUSE, LONDON
The day was usual for London at this time of year. A light drizzle, overcast and grey, but not too cold as it was coming into summer.
After Leo Camm payed the driver, he and Travis Hayes stepped from the black London taxi onto the pavement. Hayes looked up at the large arch at the building’s Millbank entrance, Thames House, headquarters of MI5, Britain’s domestic secret service agency. It gave no hint of the secrets and deals that would have been made, paid or broken in its history of protecting the United Kingdom.
They walked up the steps to the first blast-proof door. Hayes opened it for Camm to walk through. ‘After you, Duchess.’ He extended his arm and motioned for Camm to enter.
‘Why thank you, your royal asshole!’ Camm answered, walking through with an air of importance as if he were part of the royal family.
They entered the second set of doors that led into the foyer of apricot and gold marble that appeared warming yet slightly austere. Camm wondered if any foreign agents had successfully infiltrated this building and lived to talk about it.
The interior of the building had a different feel to it and was unlike the exterior, which was stone cold. It whispered hints of the secrets and deals—lives traded and ended with the wave of a hand or the stroke of a pen.
POLICE HEADQUARTERS, MELBOURNE
Dell’s thumb pressed ‘end’ on his phone. The call to Fahd Al-Aswadi had gone to message bank for the third time. One thing Bernie Dell didn’t like was being played for a fool. That little fucker is trying to avoid me, he thought angrily. In frustration his fist balled and banged the locker door in front of him. If he thinks he’s going to get away with this he’s got another thing coming. He scrolled through the numbers in his contact list and came to a stop. He knew he must somehow find out who was next in charge in the drug distribution gang and send a clear warning to pay up.
EPPING MOSQUE, MELBOURNE
Through binoculars, Seddon and Balfour watched as outside the ornate building Abdi Dhahar greeted his associates. They had identified the main two as Jama Musse Warfa and Mohamed Haji Samatar, the two men in the car that had visited the Dhahar home a few days before. Not having the luxury of an inside agent, they could only track his movements when he was not inside the mosque or the Islamic centre.
Another man approached and joined in the conversation. ‘Who’s this, then?’ Balfour asked, making note of the new person they had not previously sighted.
The camera whirred as Seddon took a number of images of the men talking before they disappeared inside for the call to prayer.