Prologue Sample

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Dusk was falling. The grey clouded sky swallowed the last of the day’s dying sun. Heavy clouds lumbered lethargically westward throwing the world into a deeper, darker dusk than was normal for this time of year. The heavier blanket of dark cast by the clouds suited the group of men gathered around an idling JCB Mini Digger at the top of the quiet suburban street.

Tall houses littered either side of the narrow cobbled street looking out onto the weathered road below. As a one-way road it had no need for width and the single lane road was penned in either side by intricately paved sidewalks from top to bottom. As a feature the street had a quirky and aged feel to it. Surrounded by the normal appearance of suburbia the street carried an essence of history and grandeur with the cobbled road and paved pavements. The road had been closed for essential maintenance for a week which had offered the group of men the cover they required.

The idling engine of the JCB emitted a constant low grumble as five men stood huddled together at its open side doors, each of them periodically looked around up and down the street. The street was relatively short and set on an incline which became gradually steeper towards the top end. It was near the top of the incline, about five metres from the mouth of a narrow junction that the group waited patiently.

Scars of recent road works snaked their way along the length of the road from the lower part up to the idling JCB. A thin line of the aged cobbles down the centre of the road looked cleaner. It was clear they had been recently re-laid allowing the piping under the road to be maintained and replaced. With the closure of the road to general traffic fewer people had been using the still open pavements to ascend the steep hill. Instead they had been favouring longer and ultimately less steep routes around the area. As they waited, a lonely elderly woman meandered slowly up the nearside pavement towards them.

‘We’ll get going once she’s gone.’ One of the team commented and all five pairs of eyes watched impatiently as the woman struggled slowly up towards them.

All of them were dressed in fluorescent vests and hardhats to accompany the rumbling machinery. Three of the men had been attending to the recently excavated hole in the roadway since lunchtime, whilst the other two had only recently arrived. By the clothing underneath their fluorescent safety gear it was easy to see which two were the new arrivals.

The three men who had been attending the site all wore faded denim jeans pitted with dirt and holes along the outside of the legs. The knees of their jeans were threadbare and looked on the edge of tearing. Dirt clung to their exposed skin and the smallest of the trio had a face of dust-flecked stubble that gave it a grey appearance when it was normally a dark brown, almost black. None of the men wore t-shirts underneath the fluorescent vest jackets and all had well tanned arms on show.

‘What time have we got?’ One of the grubbier workmen grumbled.

The tallest of the three was clearly the oldest, his sunken eyes were accompanied by wrinkles in the corners and heavy bags underneath. His face, whilst tanned, was weathered from years of exposure to the elements and his clean shaven face was pockmarked and uneven. The two shorter, younger men, came up to the older man’s shoulders but between them both carried more muscle and width. Both had short shaven hair and bore Cyrillic tattoos on both arms, neither of them could speak good English and so the older man spoke on their behalf.

‘Half-past eight, we’re good for at least another fifteen minutes to get you in.’ He said after checking the time on a battered mobile phone in his pocket.

The two recent additions to the work team both wore clean black combat trousers, pockets adorned the legs on either side. All were packed with various pieces of kit jammed into them. Underneath they vest jackets both men wore form-fitting thermal roll necked jerseys adding to their dark silhouettes. Both were dressed identically and after a basic check of themselves the two of them gave a quick check over of the other in preparation.

In appearance they were very different from the three burly workmen. The first stood slightly over six feet tall and had a head of short mousey hair, the second stood slightly shorter and had a head of shoulder length brown hair tied back in a ponytail. The taller was Jack James and his “partner in crime” and long time friend was Karl Amis. The two had known each other for eleven years and gone into freelance business when they left the Marines, that had been four years ago.

Both were in their early thirties, Jack having just turned thirty and Karl was thirty-three. They both carried a trimmed not overly muscular physique, fit and trained as their military training had instilled in them. Their demeanour and actions betrayed their hope of an everyday man appearance, it was obvious that both came from a military background. Their clothes were neat, pockets zipped, equipment organised and their checks over themselves were purposeful and methodical.

‘Just remember,’ began the English-speaking workman. ‘You’re being paid well for this job, we expect results and will cover you until dawn as agreed.’

‘You’re boss knows better than anyone we’re reliable, he wanted the best and he’s paying for it.’ Jack quickly retorted.

‘We know he’s paying for it.’ Lingering on the word, making it obvious he disagreed with his boss’ decision to use these men.

‘Hey, we’re here as the professionals, you got a problem with that scuttle off and see your boss.’ Jack snapped. ‘That said I suppose if you were actually able to do this job then there would be no need for us.’

‘As it is, we are here so maybe you should spend more time concentrating on your own performance than trying to start a pissing contest.’ Karl added shortly, ending the conversation.

The conversation stopped, the English speaking workman was glad as the old woman finally made it level with them. If it were possible her pace became even slower as she fought with her ageing legs to ascend the final part of the daunting incline.

Jack and Karl had finally completed their checks and were satisfied they were kitted, prepared and ready. Both of them slipped on personalised Assaulter Headsets and microphones then went through a basic signals check.

The elderly woman had now stopped outside a weathered wooden door at the final house before the mouth of the junction, slowly fished out a set of jangling keys and let herself into the house. Once the peeling painted wooden front door was closed the street was once again empty save for the rumble of the engine and five men it was time to begin.

Stepping in front of the rumbling digger the taller workman, who had now decided he definitely didn’t like the two “outsiders”, bent down and lifted up a heavy sheet of metal. The sheet had covered a deep hole going down below the road surface.

‘All yours!’ He snapped as he held up the metal sheet.

Discarding the hardhats and fluorescent vests Jack and Karl dropped down and were quickly swallowed into the deep darkness below.

The hole was deeper than it appeared, they used their bodies to descend down the roughly cut walls of the hole. Jagged and uneven ledges allowed an even paced decent as the hole above them grew smaller. After about thirty feet the two of them dropped into a damp sewage tunnel below that would be their way. Leading them under the street and beneath the row of houses into the secure industrial compound that sat on the next street along from where they had entered under their guise as workmen.

The only light that filled the black tunnel came from a pair of shoulder mounted torches that the two of them wore. Small LED bulbs fought to bathe the tunnel with enough workable light to allow them to proceed unhindered. Counting silently to twenty they allowed their eyes to adjust to the artificial glow from the torches. Ahead of them the darkness was held back at the limit of the torch beams, after their count they began a steady paced journey deeper beneath the street and houses.

Water splashed beneath their boots as they quickly tabbed along the length of the sewer. Echoes of their splashing boots did not carry far into the tunnel, the bricks swallowed and dampened any sounds. An arched roof to the tunnel made both of them stoop their shoulders which soon gave way to a dull neck pain. The ceiling and walls were slick with water and algae. In itself the smell in the tunnel was harsh against their nostrils but both man had been in worse surroundings and shallow breathing helped to mask out the worst of the smell. Both had planned ahead and smeared a thin layer of Vicks Vapo-Rub across their top lip to mask the stale stench.

Neither spoke as they tracked along the tunnel, they had memorised the layout and knew how many passages to pass on either side before they had to turn off. This would be comfortably beyond the perimeter fence that surrounded the office and industrial unit high above them that was to be their eventual destination. Silently they counted down the tunnels on either side as the water level around their feet varied with the uneven floor beneath the surface of the water.

It was obvious that the tunnel systems had not been used in a long time. A thick layer of pungent smelling scum covered the lower walls and marked where the water levels along the floor had grown and receded over the years. Along one wall a number of moulding cables stretched along the tunnel in both directions. The cable offered the occasional bayonet fixing for a light bulb. Inside each fixture though was filled with moisture and mildew rendering them inoperable.

Thankfully the plan had been relatively simple in identifying the sewage tunnels. It was an unknown maze of tunnels and crawlspaces that fed underneath most major streets, buildings and roads giving those who knew about them an almost untraceable route to and from anywhere. For the most part the tunnels had been sealed when they had been decommissioned, luckily in this case the tunnel they were in was long enough to provide them access to where they needed.

Having counted the right number of passages they came to a stop at the mouth of a low tunnel on their right. This tunnel was much lower than the one they stood in now and without hesitation Jack dropped to his hand and knees and crawled his way into the narrow mouth of the second tunnel, followed closely by Karl. The tunnel was only waist height and closed in tightly around them, luckily neither suffered claustrophobia as the tightness of the tunnel was enough to fill a mind with fear.

Crawling along the tunnel the floor level was now lower than the main tunnel and five inches of stagnant cold water splashed over their hands and soaked thorough the black fabric of their combat trousers. It was not unexpected but the depth of the water was higher than when they had surveyed the route three days earlier. The extra water was attributed to the sporadic summer rain that had fallen in heavy showers earlier that day. It proved no issue as the two of them finally emerged into a much larger open space at the end of the tunnel.

‘We should be behind the perimeter fence.’ Jack said as he pointed up towards a rusted ladder that climbed the far wall and up to surface level.

‘`You first then Jack.’ Was Karl’s grinning reply.

Jack ascended the rungs of the wall mounted ladder with ease and found himself pressing a shoulder against the cold steel of the cover that blocked his access to the surface. With a heave he managed to dislodge the cover and peer cautiously out at his new, dark surroundings.

The sun had managed to set, their journey had taken them less than an hour but had been long enough for the sun to dip beyond the horizon and the heavy clouds to absorb the moonlight that would have bathed the world below in a moonlight shine. The clouds now offered them perfect cover.

The compound was only lit along the fence line which sat almost fifty metres off behind him. In the centre of the fenced compound a substantial office block stood as a black ominous and foreboding box against the night sky. From the roof a bladed glass structure towered skywards. Off in the distance low-roofed industrial units hummed with the sound of working machinery however the gentle breeze in the air carried away the muffled sounds. Aside from the buildings there was no sign of movement or activity anywhere around him. Taking the time to use his peripheral vision to scan for any movement he finally felt that they were clear to continue their infiltration.

All around him the night air whispered around him, a gentle breeze rolled across his exposed cheeks chilling his damp skin. Clouds covered the blanket of stars and the waning moon which would have betrayed his position. Calming his breath, biding his time he waited until he was completely sure that he was secure in his precarious perched position.

‘We’re clear.’ Jack whispered into his microphone as he scanned around from the manhole and pushed the cover aside onto the tarmac behind him. ‘Did you get that?’

Jack heard a light splash in the water beneath him and a strange scraping sound somewhere off to his right. He instinctively tapped the earpiece of his Assaulter Headset and then checked the connection to his shoulder-mounted Sepura handset.

There came no reply over his headset, he was satisfied that it had been working when they had completed their comms check before entering the tunnel. After a quick fault check he ventured a look down to the watery opening below. Instead of seeing the accompanying torchlight below from his partner’s torch there was only pitch darkness, no sign of Karl anywhere below him.

A sound, closer this time.

Something out of place.

A light footfall above him on the tarmac.

Quickly he turned his attention back to the surface above him in time to see a silhouetted figure tower above him. Whoever it was, had appeared from nowhere in silence until they were on top of him. Before he could react the silhouette kicked out its Magnum combat boot into Jack’s right temple.

Consciousness quickly swam away from him as his brain shut down in response to the vicious blow, he fought to keep hold of his senses.

Vision faded, swallowed by an array of stars in his vision. He felt a hand grab his shoulder harness as he was hoisted roughly from the manhole. The last thing his brain could process as it shut down was one sentence growled by the figure that had ambushed him.

‘We’ve got him, we’ll bring him straight up for you.’

His body went limp and finally silence and darkness swallowed him completely.

(C) Copyright GMS written as Tobey Alexander