In this section of 'Operation Chequered Flag', Scott Gibson (operating under his secret identity 'Derek Osborne') is assigned to an MI6 operation reviewing a remote, abandoned house in the Welsh countryside. The property is believed to be a hideout for the illusive Elena Cadena. Derek and the MI6 team have a single task- recover the blue folder containing 'Project Acquisition' ...   

Chapter 23

Silence enveloped the night. Everywhere was still, dark and sinister. In a baron, country landscape a single house stood out only for its isolation. Its five large windows stared into the black like long, lonely eyes. If these eyes could have seen through the darkness and out onto the hills, they may just have made out two vehicles hidden among the trees. Inside them, two men sat in one car, three in the other. The biting wind of that winter’s night once again made its self known, sweeping its icy hand through the interior of each vehicle. No one inside the cars as much as shivered. Their special training had tested them against far worse than temperature. No one that was except for Scott Gibson, or Derek Osborne as he sat desperately trying to keep warm in his disguise. More used to the raging heat of places like Bahrain and Malaysia and their Grand Prix circuits, Derek was particularly glad for his thick wool coat, which seemed to be the only thing separating him from pneumonia. For once he was even glad of the grey wig that sat on his head above his tortoiseshell glasses. It provided welcome, additional insulation from the frosty cold of the night.       

The five figures stared out into the blackness. With their eyes accustomed to the dark, the outline of the house was just visible from their hill-top position. In the driveway of the property, between an abandoned cattle shed and empty horse stables, another vehicle sat stationery. The figures gaped at it like ravenous Owls, waiting for any sign of movement so that might descend and quench their hunger. Tonight, as they looked down at the house believed to be Elena Cadena’s hideout, Derek was accompanied by four of the finest operatives in the whole of MI6. Alongside Agent Woolf, he was joined by Agent Steele, Agent Franchot and the Operative leader, Agent Voltz. Steele, Franchot and Voltz were seated together in one car. Together they presented an imposing combination of talents 

Steele and Franchot were opposites in every respect-

Steele a woman, Franchot a man.

Steele: tall, sleek and refined. Franchot: short, powerful and raw.

Steele: a strategist and thinker. Franchot: inclined to act and ask questions later.

Keeping this duo in check was Voltz, the man tipped to one day supersede their boss, TheO in the unlikely event he should ever retire. Voltz was a man who combined ice-calm instincts with a height and build that gave him an aura of invincibility. With his army crew-cut and a jaw-line that looked like it had been sculpted from molten iron, he was not someone to meddle with. He was certainly not a person you would want to be the wrong side of on a dark winter’s night in the Welsh countryside. Derek was extremely grateful that Voltz was on their side. He just hoped there was not a Voltz-equivalent working with Elena Cadena, whom he might have to face later on.    

Sitting with Derek in the other black Mercedes saloon car was Woolf. His silent indifference had been maintained for the entire journey, from the house to their current location. They had not got off to a great start. Perhaps understandably, the Racing Champion had requested to drive. This request was denied by Woolf with a slight shake of his head and a signal to get into the passenger seat. Despite Derek’s attempts to break the ice, it seemed Woolf liked to keep things frosty. Derek’s decision to try and turn on the in-car stereo had been met with a glare of such intensity it nearly shattered the car windscreen. Woolf was under instructions to keep tonight’s operation hushed and quiet. It seemed he was following that instruction to the letter.

As Derek gazed beyond the house, to the cliff face and the steep drop beyond it, he wondered if Elena Cadena really would follow her usual routine that evening. On the horizon, Derek could just make out the distant lights of a harbour, an enormous cruise-liner sat in port, its ghostly outline like a coffin on the black water. Wherever Derek looked it was like time had stopped. The dead port, the trees devoid of movement, the endless black fields. The night was like a freeze-frame trapped across the landscape.

Suddenly time re-started. An eerie creak crept its way across the valley. It was the sound of the door of the house opening. The archaic hinges on the doors groaned audibly in protest at their lack of love and maintenance. The neglected door moaned again as it closed, expelling the four inhabitants of the house into the night. The crunch of feet on gravel preceded more opening and closing of doors. The four figures had entered a black 4x4 Range Rover. Suddenly, a pair of headlights burned into the darkness. Their scorched trail moved off slowly, then turned, speeding up and weaving through the narrow road. Derek held his breath as the two lights grew ever closer, flicking out across the hillside like giant searchlights. Briefly, the lights caught the two waiting cars. Instinctively, four of the five members of the operation ducked to remain hidden. Only Voltz remained calmly upright. He knew he had stationed the car deep enough in the thicket of trees to make being seen from the road impossible. He was confident enough to put his conviction into practice. Whilst Derek’s heart rate seemed to have shot up and thundered in his chest, Voltz sat with the calmness of a man enjoying a beach-holiday. Four minutes later, with a forward flick of two fingers, Voltz indicated his party should head out in the direction of the sea. It was time to pay a house call whilst Elena Cadena was out.

Slowly, the two-car party crept down the hillside. With all car lights disabled, including brakes and headlights, the drive required some skill. Voltz’s lead-car tip-toed into the black, with Woolf behind trying to avoid running into the back of the vehicle. In the passenger seat, and still with vivid memories of the Chinese Grand Prix, Derek felt he had experienced quite enough of vehicles running into the back of others. Though only a few minutes in the car, the journey seemed to take an eternity. The barren property loomed larger as the two cars made their way towards the front of the house. Pulling up at the side of the road, the convoy suddenly stopped. Voltz nodded and Steele and Franchot exited the vehicle. The pair would go ahead and check that house was definitely as empty as it appeared from the outside. With guns drawn in front of them, the pair meant business. The definition of ‘cold calling’ had just been taken to a new level.

Nervously, Derek waited in the vehicle with Woolf. Steele and Franchot were inside. This time, the door hinges did not get their opportunity to wail with self-pity. A front-window had been left slightly ajar. Slowly, Franchot slid the window upwards, crawling through the open space with surprising grace for a man of his build and frame. Steele followed suit. Ahead of Derek, Voltz looked on with serene composure towards the house. Danger seemed to install in him about as much fear a Polar Bear has of snow. Though Derek could only see the silhouette of the back of his head, Voltz was in his element. With the nerves causing his own hands to shake, Derek was glad that someone seemed to be in control. After an agonising wait, a crackly radio message was relayed to the two cars and their inter-communication system. It was Franchot from inside the property. He muttered one simple word.

“OK.”

It was the moment for Derek to jump out of the car and join Steele and Franchot inside. The house was empty. The operation was underway.

 

Chapter 24

 

Stepping into the icy night, Derek moved along the road and into the drive of the vehicle. He winced. The crunch of the gravel surface below his feet harassed the hushed tones of the countryside. Given the need to keep quiet and maintain a low profile that evening, the noise from under his shoes felt about as subtle as firing a 21 gun-salute in a library. He hurried over to the window and the heavenly damp verge, which absorbed all the sounds of his footsteps. Scrambling inside the open window, Franchot helped him up. The room was dark. Having learnt from Derek’s experience in the Chinese hotel room, tonight’s operation had a strict protocol that under no circumstances should any lights be turned on inside Elena Cadena’s hideout. It was not a mistake that Derek intended on making twice.

Adjusting to the internal darkness, Derek surveyed the bare room he had entered. The front-room was plain to say the least. A rusting fireplace was joined by a decaying sofa on the floor. A painting of a Napoleonic war ship hung crooked on the wall, as though the ship itself had been thrown sideways by an enormous wave. No other items filled the vacant space. Franchot indicated for Derek to follow him through to the next room. Here, the pair joined Steele, who was rooting through a large wooden chest. Its contents did not look promising. It housed no documents, only rodents. The outline of a fleeing mouse fused with the dark, as it escaped from a large whole in the back of the chest. Briefly it squealed, voicing its irritation before all was silent and still once more. Derek glanced at Steele. She whispered,  

“Upstairs. Let’s go.”

The three of them moved to the wooden staircase. Steele’s tall, slender figure led the way. The small outline of the gun gripped tightly in her right-hand reminded them this was not a friendly guided-tour. Derek hoped Steele and Franchot’s sweep of the house had been thorough. He did not fancy any unexpected surprises in the upstairs of the house.

Navigating the sharp climb of the wooden stairs, the trio reached the landing of the upper-floor. There were three bedrooms to investigate. Steele indicated that Franchot should take the largest room to the rear of the building. She and Derek would search the remaining two bedrooms. Splitting into their allocated groups, they moved out. The first room that Steele and Derek entered looked as equally unpromising as the main room downstairs. In the corner, an iron bed housed a crumbling mattress, covered by a single sheet. A broken mirror, old and scorched with the wounds of a fire had no reflections to offer in the darkness of the night. Despite its unappealing appearance, Steele invested the time in checking under the sheet of the bed. She was greeted by half a dozen insects crawling from beneath it, scampering their escape out of the bed frame. Her hasty retreat from the room suggested that despite being a Secret Agent, Steele was not a fan of things with many legs that moved in the night…

Following her out of the room, Derek moved into the adjacent bedroom. In the room next to them, the faint sounds of Franchot conducting his own search were just audible. A quiet groan of disgust made it clear that, like Steele, he too had come across an unpleasant discovery. Given his macho build and alpha-male attitude, Derek did not want to imagine what creepy-crawly could have evoked such a reaction. It was becoming increasingly clear that good housekeeping was not Elena Cadena’s forte.

The third bedroom seemed more promising. On the far wall, a bookcase from floor to ceiling contained numerous leather-bound books, each with a layer of dust to rival the thickness of the books themselves. To the left of the room was a double-bed, which looked far more hospitable than the one they had just come across. To the right, a large desk took up the corner of the room. Noticing the pile of objects on the bed-side table, Derek guessed this must be the room Elena Cadena or one of her team had been living in. His suspicions were confirmed by the lip-gloss on the table. With his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could just read the product information. Honey Lemon. Exactly the same as the one Elena Cadena had in her hotel-room in China. The dark blue make-up bag was also identical. It was then that Derek noticed the small key amongst the random assortment of items that Elena Cadena had left scattered on that table. It was exactly the right shape and fit for the draws of the maple desk which sat promisingly in the corner.  

Derek indicated in the direction of the key, highlighting to Steele what he was trying to communicate. He dared not speak in the silence of that house and with his heart still pounding he could not have mustered any words even if he had tried. Deciphering the message, Steele nodded. Arms crossed, she watched as Derek picked up the key and, fingers trembling moved it towards the lock. Now Derek could not get it to open. He desperately fumbled with the key, trying to twist it in every direction. After a further fifteen seconds, Steele sighed and took the key from Derek. With embarrassing ease, Steele unlocked the drawer first-time. Reluctantly, Derek offered a thumbs-up, the night concealing his annoyance that Agent Steele had made it look so easy.

Unlocked, the drawers were available to search. Derek pulled on the upper drawer. It would not budge. Refusing to be defeated by a piece of furniture rapidly turning into his arch nemesis, Derek yanked the drawer with all his might. This time it flew open and nearly left the desk itself, a few single sheets of paper flying out and across the room. Derek was about to start searching them, when Steele gripped his arm, indicating he should first open the bottom drawer before searching the paper documents from the top. The lower section of the desk was a larger, firmer storage space. Gripping the upper lip of the drawer, Derek pulled it open, the heavy wood sliding firmly outwards with a satisfying, low-pitch growl. The drawer was completely empty, except for an old, broken looking blue folder with a spine in need of urgent repair. The search party had found what they came for

Derek’s initial reaction was disbelief. Surely Cadena would have gone to greater lengths to have hidden a document she had almost killed to protect? Yet, here before him was the exact folder he had encountered in that fateful Chinese hotel room. Steele simply stared at the document, waiting for Derek to verify the find. Opening the first page of the document, Derek noted the weight and thickness of the folder. They were exactly the same as the one he had previously encountered. Two simple words stood out. Despite the darkness, their importance made them feel like glowing neon signs. In the black of the night “Project Acquisition” lit up the room. Steele raised an eyebrow. Derek nodded to confirm. It had been a successful acquisition of their own.

Reaching into her light back-pack, Steele moved to retrieve her camera. This was a specially adapted model, built for sensitivity in extreme low-light. Attached to a miniature tripod, the pair would quickly photograph the document in the darkness, avoiding unwanted attraction in the form of lights or camera flashes. The pair would then depart, leaving the room and the house as they had found it, concealing their tracks. Derek stared at the blue folder in front of him. Finally, it seemed they would get to the bottom of the mysteries that had shadowed him since his victory at the Monza Grand Prix. His heart raced, this time with excitement, his nerves temporarily cast aside.

The brief interval of Derek’s nerves was indeed brief. Just as he was attempting to work out how long it would take to photograph what was roughly a 60 page document, the house suddenly erupted into thundering footsteps. Derek and Steele immediately glanced upwards. Franchot had bolted, hurtling down the stairs. The hinges of the front door screeched with surprise as the door opened and slammed behind them. Steele was about to radio through to Voltz, but froze, her hand still fixed to her earpiece. Derek did not need to ask what had caused the alarm. Facing the window, Steele’s face was lit-up by a pair of headlights. Approaching from the direction of the cliff, a 4x4 Range Rover was rapidly making its way towards the house; the vehicle getting alarmingly closer with every second that passed.

“We are leaving. Take the folder”. Steele said the sentence with a calmness that suggested they were getting away from a party, rather than a potentially dangerous confrontation.  

“But they will know we were…”

“If you want to die Mr. Osborne we will stay. As I am responsible for your safety, this is not an option.”

Without a second glance, the pair ran from the bedroom and virtually threw themselves down the stairs, bursting out of the door and into the driveway. As the pair appeared into the night, so the two black Mercedes vehicles driven by Voltz and Woolf emerged from the road into the driveway. Both performed perfect 180-degree handbrake turns in the forecourt of the house, so the cars faced in the direction of escape. Woolf jumped out from the Mercedes to join Franchot, who had run into the garden of the house, gun drawn. As Derek dashed towards the vehicle he suddenly felt the weight of another body push him down onto the ground.

It was just as well that Steele had knocked him off balance. Suddenly the road erupted into pandemonium, a blaze of gunfire permanently destroying the silence of the night. Bullets seem to whizz and smash at random, bouncing from the side of the house and into the hedges beyond. Crawling across the gravel floor, the blue folder under one arm, Derek clambered into the drivers’ seat of the vacant Mercedes, Steele jumping into the rear of Voltz’s car. Keeping low in the seat, Derek could just make out Franchot in the garden of the house, releasing what appeared to be grenades into the road. He ducked and sprinted back in the direction of the cars, Woolf offering covering fire from the grass bank at the edge of the road. The 4x4 had rounded the corner now and was no more than 600 meters away, heading directly up the road towards the house at a menacing pace.

The grenades laid by Franchot exploded. A wall of impenetrable mist rapidly billowed up into the road. Franchot pounded the grass as he flew towards the waiting Mercedes. The determined look on his face was suddenly replaced by a grimace of agony as a throng of bullets burst through the mist. A single shot caught him below his left-shoulder, passing cleanly through the front of Franchot’s torso. Somehow, defying human pain he continued his run, throwing himself into the front seat next to Voltz. Immediately behind him Woolf abandoned his position at the grass bank and continued on to join Derek in the other Mercedes. With a panicked expression, he stared at Derek, who had occupied the driver’s seat. Derek had already put the car in first gear and was about to pull away. For the first-time Derek could remember, Woolf spoke, his voice grave and serious.

“Mr. Osborne, I cannot let…”

“Shutup and fasten you seatbelt.”

Woolf returned to his silence. The instructions from Control specified that under no circumstances should Scott Gibson

A)    be referred to his real-name or anything other than Derek Osborne lest the communication be overheard

B)    Take any action of excessive risk that might end in Scott Gibson’s fatality

Silently, Woolf had decided part B was open to interpretation. If anyone was going to drive them out of here alive, few were better placed to do it than disguised racing-star Scott Gibson.       

 


 

For the full text, for more info on Operation Chequered Flag or any of my other novels, please feel free to contact me at markrichardsonnovels@outlook.com

Operation Chequered Flag text Copyright Mark Richardson 2014