Richard looked around the room at the men on front of him. He knew all of them by name and reputation, but he had never before laid eyes upon any of them apart from his commanding officer, Colonel Chambers, the man who had been speaking and was now staring at him intently, clearly awaiting some kind of response.
“Colonel, I am in absolutely no doubt that I made at least two fatal strikes on the subject and that my third strike was also a grievous wound at the very least. The first was a clean penetration of the throat, bisecting the entire vascular bundle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid artery and jugular vein. That wound alone should have killed the subject in forty to ninety seconds at the absolute outside. The second wound was, at least as far as I could tell, an on-target strike to the heart and the blade easily penetrated that organ based on the power and angle of attack. The third strike was to the abdomen, a deep, downward thrust designed to perforate the small intestine. I would have been striking for the liver, but the target made a sudden move despite his injuries that left me no clear angle. The entire attack lasted a little over two seconds and the subject fell immediately to the ground. I observed his inability to speak, due to the severed trachea, and an amount of bleeding in the following ten seconds that led me to be convinced that the subject would shortly be dead. I was about to deal with the witness when I was surprised by other civilians on the street and so I elected to flee, reasonably convinced that I could not be identified, but that I was unlikely to be able to make my escape if I did not move before the bystanders reached me. My last look at the subject confirmed my previous conclusions, the subject was unconscious and lying in a pool of blood consistent with the loss of two to three pints of blood in what amounted to around twenty seconds. As far as I was concerned he was a corpse.”
The various other men at the table were nodding and making notes; there was a low hum of comments made to one another at a volume designed to ensure that Richard could not hear what they were saying. The Colonel spoke once more;
“Major Redus, your account is compelling and consistent, to the point that it feels like the truth rather than a crafted account. I think that we can assume that there is more than meets the eye with Mr. Foster and while this may mean that we cancel or perhaps merely postpone the action that you were tasked with it does not mean that you are finished with it. I realise that your main area of operations is in wet work, but I assume that you are up to date on surveillance, legend and data gathering as well?”
“Yes Colonel, in fact my previous assignment was all dry work.”
“Very well, in that case I want you to pick up the trail wherever you can and start unravelling Mr. Caine Foster until we know who and what we are dealing with. I am afraid that central surveillance has been unable to keep up with the subject because he rented a car, presumably assuming that we would have lo-jacked his personal vehicle, and unfortunately he has used a rental firm that we have not, as yet, compromised. As such he might be anywhere. We do know where the girl, Andrea Richardson, has gone. She has been using public transport and her credit card, so either she and Foster have assumed that she is not a target or she is bait. I suggest that you report to Lieutenant Colonel Braythorne in Surveillance for a full briefing on our current level of coverage on Richardson and Foster and then see if you can’t get into her life. We know that she has a return flight to the US in seven days from now, so you don’t have long. Still if you can earn her trust you may be able to gain access to her phone and thereby email etc. and with any luck get some clues from Foster about his location, assuming that they are still in contact. Of course if she’s bait, well…”
The Colonel tailed off and cracked a rather wicked smile that Richard mirrored back to him, after all the unspoken thought was clear and while he was clear on his duty he was also clear that it needed to appear that he took pleasure in it. He did not take pleasure in killing, but despite the fact that the Praetorians were supposed to be the sin eaters of all the Soldiers of Christ, and as such should revel in their bloody ways, so as to draw all of the sin onto themselves he found it hard to glory in something that he simply saw as necessary.
“Anyway, if there is nothing further, you should be on your way Major, much to do!”
Richard was almost out of his chair when one of the other men around the table spoke;
“Major, may I offer you one word of warning?”
The voice was coming from Brigadier General Lawrence Cummings, perhaps the most famous Praetorian of all time, and something of a hero to Richard. He snapped to attention and replied,
“Yes, Sir, I would be honoured.”
The grizzled old man leaned into the light and fixed Richard with a stern look, cleared his throat and then prodding the table with his index finger in the cadence of his delivery;
“Next time you are bothered about being caught, try to remember that you can always kill yourself in custody, so finish the job at hand and embrace the fate that God has in store for you.”
As the words slammed into him, making him experience them as the verbal beating that he had no doubt they were intended to be, he felt a chill advancing down his spine, as if an icy, dead hand were lightly brushing down his back and it took every ounce of self-control to keep his eyes on the General and not turn and flee. He managed to stammer out,
“Yes, Sir. Of course, Sir.”
before the General burst into fits of laughter and waved him away. Colonel Chambers put his hand discretely on Richard’s forearm and said quietly;
“Off you go, I will see you before you leave, come to my office after Braythorne has brought you up to speed and you’ve drawn your kit for the op.”
Richard nodded, saluted the committee and left the room.
“Bloody Hell St. John, did you really need to do that to the poor boy?”
The voice was coming from the corner of the room, from a high-backed chair that was facing away from the table and as such the occupant had been hidden from Major Richard Redus. The chair moved slightly and a tall, thin man of indeterminate middle-age stepped out of the shadows and walked towards the committee table.
“I’m sorry, Hugh, I did not realise that we were molly coddling the Praetorians these days? Besides, I think that he took it rather well!”
At this they all fell into laughter once more, an easy, genuine laughter between comrades and equals that went on for quite some time. Eventually Hugh, General Hugh Petherbridge, head of the military wing of The Soldiers of Christ outside the United States, brought them all to order and sat down at the table;
“The real question here, gentlemen, is what are we dealing with in the shape of Caine Foster?”
The air was cold on Nicholas’s face when he stepped down out of the van. He loved to be out in the countryside at night; he particularly liked being out at the fishing lake. His father had bought the plot when he was a boy, and all of his good memories of his father were being there with him, building the cabin, learning how to fish, taking his first drink. His mother had not wanted Nicholas to go out there with him, but once the divorce had become final and his father was granted weekend custody there was little that she could do to stop it. All he had needed to do was report back that they had stayed in and watched videos at his father’s flat and she was none the wiser. The moon was high, and as he looked out over the water his eyes adjusted to the moonlight. A big full moon like that one was almost as good as daylight once his eyes had adjusted. He could see clear across the water to the other cabins, none of them had any lights on, but then even if there had been anyone else around they were not likely to be awake at three in the morning. The quiet was loud to him, not in an oppressive way, not in a way that was uncomfortable to him. Far from it he welcomed it, he felt as though it was wrapped around him like a blanket, protecting him from harm. Out there by the lake, in the cold and dark before the dawn he was closer to God than he was at any other time. He could feel his presence, like a steadying hand upon his shoulder, calming his soul and reassuring him that he was there by Nicholas’s side. The boat was in good shape. Even though he had not been up for a few weeks the cover had kept the rain off, so there was no need to bale out before loading Mrs Foster’s body in. It was easy to get her out of the van and into the boat, but that was mostly because there was no one here to worry about, he did not need to hide the fact the he was moving a body, but then that was why he brought them here, that and the feeling that he was bringing them to be with God.
It only took a few minutes to row out to the spot where he had given each of them to the lake for safe keeping. The sense of peace and wellbeing he felt only increased the closer he got to the place where his angels were waiting for him beneath the water. It was deep out in the middle, deep enough that no one could see them, but he knew that they were there, standing in the depths waiting for him to come and see them. When he got to the place, he could tell by the sight lines he had on one of the cabins and two distinctive trees, he eased the weighted end of the bag over the side of the boat, slipping her plastic encased body into the water feet first. He watched her disappear into the inky depths and then he sat down in the middle of the boat and prayed that God would take her soul, that he had made shiny and new and spirit her up to Heaven to be with his other angels.