1 - A Deadly Cargo
Mehmet steered his 38 Tonnes of lorry off of the M40 and towards the town. The name of the town was vaguely familiar to him, but he had no interest in it. He would be there for less than an hour and then continue to his ultimate destination.
Looking at the piece of paper with the sketch map on it he prepared to navigate the roundabout ahead of him. He had been told that the handover point was no more than a mile from the motorway and already he could see the roofs of the warehouses rising above the trees.
The gates stood open and a large sign on the side of the building proclaimed it to be To Let. The road around the warehouse took him to the rear, out of sight of anyone passing along the service road. They had chosen well, just as they had in France.
A plain coloured van, devoid of markings, showed him where he was expected to stop. Switching off the engine and applying the parking brake Mehmet climbed stiffly from the cab to meet his contact.
“Have you got a light?” The man asked, putting a cigarette between his lips. Mehmet fished in his pocket for his plastic lighter.
“What brand do you smoke?” Mehmet asked, going through the ritual as instructed. His English wasn’t good and he’d had to memorise the words parrot fashion.
“I prefer Rothmans, but these are Dunhill. What do you smoke?”
“I only smoke Samsun, they’re a Turkish Brand.”
“Keys.” With the bone fides of both parties established the man stuck out his hand. Mehmet handed them over. The man passed Mehmet an envelope, which the lorry driver stuffed into the bib pocket of his dungarees. He would check the contents when he was alone, so as not to cause offence. “Now take a walk.” The man commanded.
When given that instruction in France Mehmet had considered it a bit rude, but this time he was ready for it. He wandered off to the distant corner of the building and walked round it. A blank wall extended away from him, with a narrow gap between it and the perimeter fence. A thick hawthorn hedge grew on the outside of the fence providing concealment from the neighbouring buildings. Mehmet took the opportunity to empty his bladder, after which he leant against the wall and lit a cigarette before taking the envelope from his pocket and counting the thick wad of Euro notes. His instructions were clear, given to him in his native Turkish so there could be no ambiguity. “Wait until you hear the sound of a vehicle horn, two long blasts and one short. Then you may return to your truck. Have no fear, your cargo will be intact and will match the manifest exactly.”
At the back of Mehmet’s lorry three men were unloading the rearmost stack of cardboard shipping cartons. They weren’t heavy but lifting them down from the rear of the trailer was difficult. They were meant to be handled by fork lift truck, so didn’t have any hand holds. With the second row of boxes visible they had only one more to lift backwards and to the side before they had access to the one they were looking for.
To the naked eye it looked just like its neighbours, but the difference was apparent to the men who were trying to move it. It was considerably heavier and had to be half dragged and half lifted to the rear lip of the trailer’s floor.
The man on the ground backed the van up to the rear of the lorry and positioned it so that the box could be lowered directly from the trailer into the van. One man remained in the trailer while the other dropped into the van to provide more muscle at the lower level.
With some cursing and a lot of conflicting instructions the load was finally transferred, and the van visibly sank on its suspension. All three of the men then manoeuvred it into the centre of the load space so that the van would be evenly balanced.
It didn’t take long to replace the containers into the back of the lorry, along with the extra box that the men had brought with them, delivered from France by a different route.
The leader secured the back of the lorry and dropped the keys on the driver’s seat of the cab, before taking his place behind the wheel of the van and giving the pre-arranged signal. He put the van in gear and drove from the warehouse yard without looking back.
Mehmet returned to his vehicle and checked it over, opening the back of the trailer to make sure that the cargo had been left secure. Climbing back into his cab he placed the envelope into his rucksack alongside its twin, the first instalment that he had been given in France. He had no idea what had been put in his lorry and cared even less. He was a Turkish driver working for a Bulgarian haulage company driving a lorry with Czech number plates. Why should he care what these people got up to? He was just happy to take the money and return to his family.
He had another four hours of driving before he could deliver the lorry’s cargo, then he had to cross the Pennines to pick up his return load. Only then could he start the long journey home to enjoy the fruits of his labour. He waited in the yard, drinking coffee from a flask, until his statutory forty five minute rest break had elapsed, then continued his journey.
2 - Deep Cover
Youssef was lucky and found a parking space right outside the front door of the house. It was identical to the others in the street, a typical Edwardian ‘two up, two down’ terraced house. The only difference apparent to the casual observer was the fresh paint on the window frames and door.
He walked the short distance along the path to the front door and used his bright, freshly cut key to let himself in. A casual observer might have noted how stiffly he moved, his heavy limp, as though suffering the effects of injuries to his legs and body. They might also have seen a livid scar that was partially concealed by his hair.
The house smelt of fresh paint. It was decorated in neutral colours, both the walls and the carpets. Cheap paint and cheap floor coverings that could be bought at any of the discount warehouses. The furniture was equally cheap, but Youssef was unconcerned. He had seen all of that the previous week when the estate agent had shown him the house. He had signed the rental agreement and handed over the cash deposit barely an hour later.
Unslinging his laptop bag from his shoulder and placing it on the floor, Youssef lifted one end of the settee. He used his foot to push the bag under the settee and then lowered it to the ground. He made a quick check to make sure that it wouldn’t be visible to anyone entering the room. Satisfied with the arrangement he returned to the van to start unloading the rest of his possessions. He had hoped they would fit in his car, but try as he might he always found some object sticking into him that would prevent him from driving safely, so he had bitten the bullet and hired the van. It would mean a lengthy round trip to return the van and collect his car the next day, but that couldn’t be helped.
He had barely unlocked the back door of the van when Youssef found that he had company.
“What you doin’ bro?” Asked a voice, its strong East Midlands accent grating on Youssef’s Southern ear.
Youssef straightened up and turned to face his inquisitor. He quickly took in the baseball cap and hoody above saggy jeans and gleaming brand name trainers. The youth had a wispy beard which barely masked the acne spots on his chin. The only obvious difference between him and his partner were their different choices of colour scheme.
“I’m just moving in.” Youssef pointed towards the open front door of the house.
“What you movin’ ‘ere for? Its shit round ‘ere.”
“I’ve got a new job, and it’s too far to travel to work each day from where I live.”
“Where you workin’ man? Maybe you could get us a job.”
“I don’t know about that. Let me get started and maybe I can ask around. I’m going to be working at the Royal Mail sorting office.”
Deciding there was nothing to be gained from his line of questioning the youth changed the subject. “You don’t wanna’ leave your van open, bro. There’s criminals round ‘ere. They’ll ‘ave it empty before you even know it, innit.”
The threat was barely concealed “Thanks for the advice. Tell you what, would you like to earn yourself some money?”
“Doin’ wat?” Asked the other lad, who up until then had remained silent.
“One of you keep an eye on the van while the other helps me unload. You can take it in turns.”
“A tenner each.” Offered Youssef. He knew they would ask for more but it gave him the opportunity to let them think themselves the victors in the exchange. It wouldn’t hurt for them to think he was a bit of a pushover.
“Thirty.” The first one demanded.
“Fifteen.” Countered Youssef.
“Twenty.” The youth said with an air of finality.
Youssef agreed. He had been prepared to go to twenty five. The lads each held out a hand.
“Cash up front!”
Youssef took out his wallet and selected two ten pound notes. He laid one in each outstretched palm. “Half now, half when you’re finished.”
“OK.” The chief negotiator agreed. “I’m Naim and he’s Ali. What do you want taking in first.”
Youssef swung open the back doors of the van to reveal a carefully stacked array of cardboard boxes, suitcases and carrier bags. “My name is Kamal, by the way. Just pick a box or a bag and take it inside. Stack it all in the front room.” He didn’t want the two boys having the opportunity to go through any of the contents in the privacy of an upstairs room. They may be trustworthy, but after such a brief acquaintance he wasn’t going to take any chances.
With the help of the two youths the van was soon emptied and the contents heaped into the middle of the living room floor. After locking the van ‘Kamal’ handed over the balance of their wages and the two lads sauntered along the road towards the corner after giving only the briefest of farewells. Youssef wondered how long it would be before his neighbours heard about his arrival, not that it mattered if they did.
Returning to the house Youssef shut the front door and slid home the dead bolt before entering the living room. He went to check the window. It was a sash style with a simple locking mechanism preventing the lower section from being raised or the upper section being lowered. The lock had been slid open, scoring the fresh paintwork. Youssef allowed himself a small smile and slid the lock back into place. In one of his boxes were a few basic tools and an assortment of screws and nails. After he unpacked he would make sure the catch couldn’t be undone from the outside with the blade of a knife. It was common problem with such windows.
He walked through to the kitchen and tried the back door. He wasn’t surprised to find it was unlocked. Ali had made a bit of thing about wanting a drink of water. Youssef crossed the tiny yard to the rear gate. The bolt on the inside was also undone. He slid it into place. It was mounted too high up and could easily be reached from the outside, but that didn’t concern him. A padlock would solve that problem. The gate was a deterrent, not a barrier. The kitchen door was supposed to be the barrier, so Youssef turned the key in the lock and slid the dead bolts home at the top and bottom. He allowed himself another smile. You had to give them full marks for trying.
Unpacking didn’t take long. He would tidy up later and put his stuff away in drawers and cupboards, but for the moment it was enough to get the right stuff into the right rooms. He had important things to do before getting into the fine detail of setting up his new home.
On his previous visit Youssef had distracted the estate agent just long enough to conceal a small device in the tiny airing cupboard at the top of the stairs. It was the size of a computer memory stick but served an entirely different purpose. He retrieved the device before extricating his laptop from under the settee. It had turned out that concealing it had been a sensible precaution. He doubted it would have still have been there if it had been left in plain sight.
Youssef took a WiFi router from one of the cardboard boxes and plugged it into the telephone socket. The estate agent had assured him that the house was fully set up for broadband. Youssef was about to find out if he had been telling the truth.
The exterior of the router looked just like any other. Had an expert opened it up and taken a look inside he might have been surprised by what he found.
The laptop came to life at Youssef’s touch and he put in the necessary passwords to overcome the built in encryption. Had Ali and Naim succeeded in making off with it they would have found themselves with a useless piece of junk, as far as any buyer was concerned. But the right person might have been very interested in the laptop. There was no such thing as unbreakable encryption if you had the time, the determination and the resources available to crack it.
Taking the small device Youssef plugged into one of the laptop’s USB ports and downloaded the files that had been created over the previous week. It had recorded every WiFi, Bluetooth and mobile phone signal in the local area to provide a baseline for the background electronic activity in the neighbourhood. Some very clever people would now use that information to track down telephone numbers and IP addresses to build a picture of the technology in the neighbourhood and the people using it. If there were any sudden changes to the profile it might suggest that Youssef’s home was under surveillance. The information would also be used to try to hack into e-mail accounts, voicemail boxes and to monitor internet use. But that was for later.
* * *
Here endeth the free sample. If you would like to carry on reading or find out more about this book then please click on the "Books" tab at the top of this page or use this link: http://robertcubitt.com/index.html
For those of you who like a bargain, I have two special offers for you. This weekend (18th/19th July) my book The Inconvenience Store is FREE to download from Amazon. Go to the "Books" tab or use the link, then use the "Look Inside" link to take you straight to the Amazon page where you can obtain it. Next weekend the predecessor to this new book, The Warriors: The Girl I Left Behind Me, is on special offer at only 99p, from Friday 24th July to Sunday 26th July only. Find out who Youssef is and more in that earlier book. Again, click on the "Books" tab at the top of the page or the use the link above.
Next week, my blog really will be about the possibility of a dirty bomb being planted in London.