Chapter Nine: Gardens of Peace
December – MI6, London
“Glad to see you up and about, Dennis. I hear it was a near one this time.”
Ian was sitting in the office of Benjamin Cross, Director of the British Secret Intelligence Service. Although Cross’s name and background were a matter of public record, at the agency he was always referred to only as “The Director” or “Sir.”
“Yes, so I was told. Thank you for your concern, Director. Doctors said that if either shell had hit just a few centimeters one way or the other, I would have been killed instantly.”
The Director chalked up Ian’s stoicism to the attitude of a career agent, not knowing that during his recovery, the man had worked out the events of the night of Hall’s death in great detail.
“I’m sure you realize I didn’t call you in just to inquire about your health.”
“No, of course not, Sir.”
The Director picked up a plain colored folder and briefly thumbed through the papers inside. Then he closed it and set the object back onto his desk. “Really first rate bit of detective work on your part, Dennis.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“You also violated several internal protocols not to mention a few actual laws.”
Ian knew that the Director wasn’t so much concerned with laws being broken as he was whether or not he could trust the agent.
“There was a mole inside SIS. I didn’t know whom I could trust.”
“You are also now in possession of information that is well above your security level. There aren’t a dozen people in the U.K. who know the truth about the North Korean nuclear program, or the lack thereof.”
“Excuse me Sir, but do we really want to let the Chinese play out their hand and goad the United States into a war that would give all of Korea to the Communists?”
The Director allowed himself a slight smile and steepled the fingers of both hands together. “What if I told you the Americans weren’t as gullible as they might seem?”
That actually had occurred to Ian, but only because he presumed that his covert information source might also be talking to his counterpart in the CIA.
“How much can you tell me, Sir?”
“Only that President Trump’s belligerent sabre-rattling may be designed to call Kim Jong-un’s bluff and thus stop the Chinese plan in their tracks. North Korea launches missiles across Japan prompting the Americans to send stealth bombers into North Korean airspace. As long as the U.S. doesn’t cross the line but goes close enough to make the North Koreans nervous, Kim Jong-um will have to, as the saying goes, put up or shut up.”
“In that case, the Chinese plan falls apart before it can gather momentum.”
“Correct, Dennis. However for this to work, it must be kept in strictest confidence. I only regret that the operation cost the lives of Krista Bernham and Agent Hadad. I understand you knew Bernham’s family.”
“I knew Bernham professionally, the ex-husband and son more casually. I also had met Hadad on a few occasions. Bright lad, shame he was cut down so soon in his life.”
“Yes, quite.” The Director let down his professional facade for a moment and his face expressed genuine regret.
“You realize I’m sealing all files relating to the Mauritius case and you are not to speak of it in any detail to anyone besides Class One level personnel.”
He meant about six or seven people walking the face of the Earth, which included The Director.
“Yes, of course, Sir. At least the situation doesn’t seem as dire as it did when I came to work this morning.”
“Speaking of which, your doctors say you are not yet cleared to return to service. I want you to remain on leave until after the holidays. Try to relax. You’ve earned it, Dennis.”
“Yes sir. Thank you, sir. Will that be all?”
“Of course, Dennis. You are dismissed.”
Ian stood and as he turned to go, the Director continued. “Oh, thank you for…well, for everything.”
“Thank you, Director.”
Ian Dennis left the office, the building, walking slowly to the parking garage. He’d spent a long time thinking while in hospital. He was still thinking.
He had contacted a man from the team that had investigated the crime scene, both Hall’s flat and rooftop the shooter was on. There had been some interesting developments.
The first was that Hall’s flat was bugged as was his phone, but not by MI6 and further, the agency had no clue until they did a deep search of the premises. Israeli make, but Ian knew the Mossad wasn’t behind it.
The shooter had stationed herself on the rooftop opposite Hall’s flat. Had a good clean view in both windows. She must have been following Ian following Hall. She knew enough of Ian’s habits that she could have predicted within one to three days when he would confront Hall at his place.
The shooter used a .308 sniper rifle and AAC sound suppressor. The three shots had been relatively quiet. Still heard across the street, but likely the shooter didn’t require hearing protection.
Crime scene people reconstructed events and let Ian see their preliminary report. 19:39 and 32 seconds, the first shot is fired, instantly killing Hall.
Now here’s where things get interesting. There’s a pause of approximately seven seconds between the shot that killed Hall and the two that struck Ian. Turns out the building the shooter was on was “hosting” the Vietnamese ambassador and his mistress engaged in their weekly tryst. One of his security people was making a routine check of the roof when he spotted the shooter.
In those seven seconds, the security man got a round off wounding the shooter. The shooter managed to pull a handgun, Walther PPK most likely, killed him, then returned to her rifle and quickly put two into Ian before escaping. One more thing was unusual. The shooter’s blood spill had been rapidly treated with some sort of chemical agent that rendered it incapable of analysis. No blood type or DNA could be acquired. A few unaffected drops were found, but not enough to be useful.
Xiao. At Cyprus she hinted that she might have to kill him. Obviously she’d been ordered to assassinate him and Hall. She completed her first hit, was interrupted for seven seconds while dispatching the Vietnamese security guard, then returned to her rifle long enough to attempt to kill Ian. She couldn’t have known she’d failed and had to escape before confirming both kills.
But that’s not the way it really happened. She wasn’t supposed to bug Hall’s flat. She wasn’t supposed to know what he knew. It made sense to wait until Hall and Dennis were together and kill them in one stroke, but Xiao never left anything to chance. She waited until Ian forced Hall to divulge the entire plot.
She knew the security man was there and no doubt positioned herself to take the slug in a non vital area, probably the shoulder. She quickly killed the man and then, expert marksman that she was, shot Ian in exactly the correct areas near the heart to make it look as if she was trying to kill him while actually critically wounding him. She meant to leave him alive. She also meant to have the secret of the North Korean nuclear program hoax.
It had to look as if she had an overwhelmingly plausible reason why Ian was still alive. Once he had reported back to his superiors, killing him would no longer be necessary. Was it enough? Qian was unforgiving and failure to complete a contract usually meant death. If her ruse worked, she could still work within Qian, serving them as well as her own mysterious agenda.
If it didn’t work, then she was on the run carrying one of the most vital secrets in the world, for sale to the highest bidder. If she had to go rogue, then she was an exceptionally dangerous and effective assassin for hire, a shadow in the darkness, a ghost on the breeze.
She spared Ian’s life. He still wasn’t sure why. He never understood what she wanted. Not money. No doubt she was very highly paid. It was rumored that in ten years of work, any Qian member could retire as a multi-millionare.
Then what motivated her?
He discovered what motivated Hall. The third corrupted file. The one Ian hadn’t been able to read. Ian had been obligated to turn over the copies of Krista’s computer files to SIS. A friend of Krista’s, a highly placed analyst, leaked the report to him. Stephen Hall had an incestuous affair with his sister for over a year. He’d been fourteen and she twelve.
His official file merely said she suffered from depression and suicidal ideations requiring repeated hospitalizations. She hadn’t told anyone of the abuse, not even their parents. The Chinese somehow found out. She’d gone missing for a week when she was twenty, probably interrogated using a truth agent to see what she knew about her brother’s work. When she told them her secret, they realized they’d stumbled onto a gold mine. Once they presented their evidence to Hall, he would do anything they wanted.
Gardens of Peace cemetery
Ian pulled over to the side of Huntsman Road next to the Gardens of Peace Muslim cemetery. Rabah Hadad was interned there. He didn’t go inside to pay his respects. It would be a security breach, a living agent paying respects at the grave of a dead one. He stood by his car attempting to act casually. The sun was setting and it was getting colder.
In a bygone era, he’d have smoked a cigarette and pretended to wait for someone. The modern equivalent was to pull out his cell and pretend to check his texts.
“Sorry, Rabah. I’m sorry it came to this.”
Someone was approaching, walking slowly. Muslim woman, full hijab, face covered, stooped over, probably an elderly person making her way home after visiting a deceased loved one. She passed Ian giving no indication she’d noticed him. Still, there was something.
He put his phone back in his jacket pocket and re-entered his car. He couldn’t wait to turn over the engine and blast the heater. Ian looked in the rear view mirror. The woman was proceeding slowly. He’d be a kilometer away before she got to the end of the block.
Wait. Something was wrong.
His phone pinged. He had a text.
“I can see you. Glad you are better.”
“Dammit bloody hell.” He threw the door open and looked back. The old Muslim woman had vanished. “Idiot. Muslim women are not permitted to visit graves.” He continued to stare into the direction he had last seen Xiao. Then he got back in his car again.
“Be careful,” he texted. He waited. No reply. Ian Dennis started his car and pulled onto the road. He had a long trip ahead of him. He told Evie he was visiting the family for the holidays.
That ends my spy thriller mini-series featuring MI6 agent Ian Dennis. Hope you enjoyed it and that it kept you entertained. To read it all from the beginning, follow this Table of Contents:
I hope you are all having fun reading this (and even if you aren’t, I still want to hear from you). The aftermath of my saga should be coming soon.