One Man, Two Missions

The train ride from London to York was tedious, but necessary, and proved worthwhile—Harjit confirmed he had a tail. He boarded the train and walked through one carriage before selecting a seat in the next.

A grey-haired woman was seated alone in a group of four seats. She glanced up but said nothing when Harjit removed a ‘Reserved’ ticket from the other window seat and sat down.

Although with his black hair and full beard, he would be assumed to be Asian, Harjit was born and bred in Yorkshire, England. He was returning from a short but intensive training course in a remote area of West Pakistan. He had flown back to London via Berlin and Amsterdam. The stop-overs were brief, but were necessary for security, although they added six hours to the journey.

The twenty-eight-year-old stroked his beard and pondered what to do about the man and woman who were shadowing him. They boarded separate carriages on the train. Harjit had been trained to spot surveillance, and though the pair tailing him were good, he was better—counter-surveillance depended on a keen eye for detail and a good memory. Harjit was blessed with both.

“Excuse me,” Harjit said to the smartly-dressed, grey-haired woman sitting opposite.

“Yes, dear?” She looked up from her e-Reader.

“Would you mind keeping an eye on my bag while I go and grab a coffee?”

“Of course—put it on the rack up there beside my case?”

“My bag has tiny padlocks fitted, but, you know, I don’t like leaving it.”

“Don’t worry—I’ll keep an eye on it for you.”

“Would you like tea or coffee—the mobile buffet might take a while to reach us?”

“I’d love a cup of tea if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He winked and set off. Before he reached the end of Coach C, Harjit glanced at the young Asian woman he’d first noted when boarding the plane at Karachi. He didn’t see her on the connecting flights at Berlin or Amsterdam, but by some miracle, she was on this northbound train from London.

Harjit was halfway along Coach D when he used the train’s motion to fake a stumble. It allowed him to check out a man in his forties that he’d seen in Karachi and again in Amsterdam. Strangely, like the woman, this was another person who had come from the same start point but had disappeared on one leg of the journey—now dressed differently for this part.

 Eight minutes after leaving his seat, Harjit was back in Coach C and setting down two paper cups on the table. “There you go. I brought milk, sugar and sweeteners—not sure if you were a healthy eater.”

The grey-haired woman laughed. “I’m delighted that you considered such a thing—thank you.” She put down her e-Reader and lifted her bag to fetch her purse. “How much—”

“No need, really.” Harjit held up a hand. “Please—it’s my treat. You watched my luggage.”

“Were you in London for business or pleasure?” The woman poured milk and sugar into her tea and used the wooden stick supplied to stir.

“I was down there to see family. I have a brother who is thinking of starting a business, and he wanted me to give him a second opinion on a couple of properties. My family background is in retail, so my experience comes in handy.” He paused to sip his coffee. “What about you?”

“I’ve just spent a delightful but tiring week visiting my grandchildren—three of them.”

“I can imagine.” He laughed naturally. “Talking of family, my brother has never seen Edinburgh, so I’ve agreed to meet him there, and I’ll show him around.”

“That will be a great visit for you both—is there anything, in particular, he’d like to see?”

“Yes, he’s fanatical about heritage, and is particularly interested in the Scottish Crown Jewels displayed in Edinburgh Castle.”

“You’ll be eager to squeeze in a visit to something so special.”

“Yes, I’ve planned it for this coming weekend—Saturday.”

“I hope it all goes well for you.”

“I’m a bit concerned about the visit actually.”

“Oh, dear—why is that?” The handsome older woman was genuinely interested.

“You know sometimes you can have a rehearsal at something, well this time it will be a live visit if you know what I mean?”

The woman nodded. “I believe I do.” She reached out and touched his hand. “Try not to worry—I’m sure if you take your time, things will work out well.”

“You’ve made me feel better about it already—thank you.”

The pair chatted for a while and then Harjit nodded for his companion to continue with her reading, suggesting he didn’t want to take her attention from what she was reading.

*

The train stopped at Peterborough, Northampton, and York. It was at Northampton that the young Asian woman got up to leave the train. She made a performance of getting her bag down from the rack and then when she was off the train, she walked past the window and glanced at Harjit as she passed with a crowd of other passengers.

“One down, and one to go,” Harjit murmured, but he kept his senses on high alert.

At York station, it was busy as ever, and when the passengers disgorged from the train, they lined up and fed their tickets into the automatic turnstile readers. Harjit used the opportunity to ensure he was behind a few other people. He looked over other’s shoulders as if in irritation at the delay, so he was able to look around at the other lines of passengers. Two turnstiles to the left, he saw the man in his forties, and one turnstile to the right was the Asian woman.

Yes, she’d left the train at Northampton, but must have walked along the outside of the carriage and got back onboard. A neat trick if it works, which in this case—it didn’t.

Before he reached the entrance and exit area of the station, Harjit paused and slipped ear-buds into his ears. He lifted a slim device from a jacket pocket and nodded absently as he made a selection. The young man set off slowly to leave the station and paused outside to look left and right.

As he set off again, he murmured and continued to nod as if singing along to something. “Tall Asian man, pale colouring, forties, bearded and wearing dark suit. Squinting left eye.” He stopped at a pedestrian crossing. “Asian woman, five-eight, thirties, bright floral headscarf, regularly flexes fingers of the left hand.” Harjit put away the phone and continued nodding and moving his lips as he walked. There was no sound coming from the device in his pocket.

Harjit boarded a bus for Leeds and continued to pretend he was listening to music for the entire journey, mainly for the benefit of the young woman who had taken up the chase again and was seated toward the back of the bus.

*

Two days after arriving back in Leeds, Harjit spent a morning going to specific stores in town, picking up a variety of components to assist with the task for which he’d been trained. A set of batteries here, and some electrical cable there and nobody would realise how important the items would be when everything was connected. The crucial piece of the puzzle for Harjit’s special project would be delivered to his door as a pizza—simple, but effective.

Harjit had noted on his shopping trip in Leeds town centre that the man and woman who’d been on his tail on his return journey were still in evidence, but working as a team—one might be spotted, but never both at once. A third person had joined the Harjit Singh fan club—a white guy in his thirties with dark hair, designer stubble, and a penchant for baseball caps. He was actually pretty good at shadowing.

On Saturday, the third morning after arriving back in the UK, Harjit got up early, enjoyed breakfast as usual and laid out the components of his special personal luggage for the day.

“Batteries—check, positive and negative cables—check, detonator—check, explosives—check, control switching, remote cable and trigger—check, nondescript backpack—check.”

Harjit was aware that many operatives were killed through forgetfulness or general carelessness, but he worked rapidly without the need for an instruction sheet. When satisfied that all was prepared, he checked the time, fixed himself a coffee and stared out of the window. He looked out along the street where he’d lived for the past six months—apart from his course abroad.

In full view, Harjit could see the local mosque and the most recent graffiti stood out along the side of one wall. Two people were busy scrubbing to remove the anti-Islamic slogan. The graffiti artists were persistent, renewing their efforts regularly.

Between the mosque and where Harjit lived, a dark blue van was parked. It didn’t look in particularly good condition, but neither did the unoccupied house it was parked outside. As Harjit looked at the van and then the house, he grinned. Whatever rodents were running around in the empty house had a nicotine dependency, and they enjoyed a smoke away at the back of an empty upstairs room.

Harjit lifted his padded jacket and pulled it on. He fitted a black woolly cap over his dark hair and turned to gaze at the innocent-looking black backpack. “For the will of Allah.” He was reaching for the bag when there was a knock at the door.

The bag was slipped into a cupboard under the kitchen sink before Harjit answered the door.

A tall, dark-skinned man with a hooked nose and a beard stood there. “Hello, it’s Harjit, isn’t it?”

“I was about to go out.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“It’s supposed to be one, but it’s the other.”

“I’ve been sent to check your luggage.”

Harjit stepped back and closed the door behind his visitor. He watched as the man went straight to the kitchen and opened the cupboard—precisely as the briefing had said.

The man opened the bag and slipped one hand inside as he quickly inspected the contents. He closed the bag and placed it on the kitchen table. “Remain brave, brother.” He embraced Harjit, opened the door and left without another word.

*

Harjit used a bus to get to York, and then caught the train to Edinburgh. He had been on the train twenty minutes when a passenger walked along the aisle and glanced at him. The white man with the dark hair, and designer stubble.

At Newcastle Central, Harjit lifted his bag from the luggage rack and got off the train, joining the mass of passengers heading to the turnstiles. When he’d become absorbed in the crowd, Harjit bent down, removed his hat and donned a pair of glasses. He remained stooped in the crowd and moved left, before standing upright to walk rapidly back towards the platform.

A woman in railway uniform nearby looked left and right along the train, raised her arm, and blew on her whistle. There would be a few seconds delay before the doors closed.

Harjit raced the last few paces and jumped back onto the train he’d just left, boarding the second from last carriage. The automatic door narrowly missed trapping his foot. Harjit stood near the door and watched a tall Asian man looking at each window of the train as it passed. The man pulled out his mobile phone. It was the person who’d turned up at Harjit’s flat earlier to check the device, and now he didn’t look happy.

Five minutes after leaving Newcastle, Harjit was sitting in a different seat, in another carriage, with a coffee. He thought for a while of his parents, both of whom had died in bombings. Allah might want his followers to join him, but surely there were too many innocent parties joining the faithful? This was always at the forefront of Harjit’s mind.

*

Edinburgh Waverley was busy as expected, so when Harjit left the train and fitted his backpack, he joined the crowd and headed for the Princes Street exit.

“Not long now, mate.” Harjit murmured as he ascended the stairs into the bright daylight where thousands of people wandered the city centre. “Probably more than half are foreign tourists,” Harjit shook his head. He stopped at a pedestrian crossing and looked around. Yes, sure enough, the man with stubble and a penchant for baseball caps was a few yards away, studying a map. At least he’d reversed his lightweight jacket—he’d made an effort.

Harjit wandered along Princes Street and went into three random stores to walk around for a while. By the time he reached the exit of the third store, he had confirmed that the young woman with the twitching fingers was on his case again. She was standing at a bus stop outside the store, studying the timetable.

“Time for the endgame,” Harjit whispered as he walked along Princes Street. He watched one of the new trams go past on its way to the airport, and then he crossed and set off for the Royal Mile. It was a steep climb up The Mound, and then for good measure, Harjit made three random turns before reaching the famous street which led to the castle. The young man had almost completed the task set for him.

At the junction with the Royal Mile, Harjit was compelled to step off the pavement to get around a group of Japanese tourists, all aiming phones and cameras at anything and everything around them. Harjit turned right and ambled up the incline toward the famous castle, high over the city.

Harjit paused to look in a window full of souvenirs. “I don’t know about you, Allah, but I’ll be bloody happy when this is over.” He used a spinning stand full of postcards as a means to look back the way he’d come.

The young Asian woman had made up ground and was walking fast, the fingers of her left hand flexing rapidly—probably a stress-related issue, but a habit nevertheless. When it looked like she might walk into Harjit, she opted to look in a store window—at kilts for men. Strange.

Harjit walked across the massive carpark and parade ground to look out over the city before he ventured to the front of the castle and the entrance.

Inside the main walls, there were individuals and groups of people all around the place, most taking pictures, but many others studying the map of the castle grounds. When Harjit was in the central area, he pulled out his phone and started taking random pictures.

A middle-aged man in a sleeveless safari jacket stopped nearby. “Excuse me—would you take a picture of me, please?”

“Sure.” Harjit nodded as he put away his phone and accepted the other man’s phone. He held the phone up and focussed on the man. “Is St Margaret’s the small chapel in here?”

“Yes, it’s five minutes’ walk that way—thank you.” The man looked at the picture on his phone and then walked away, nodding and smiling.

Harjit headed towards the main building which housed the Scottish Honours and Scottish Crown Jewels. As he approached the entrance, there was a scuffle, and he turned to see a woman being bundled away by four armed police officers.

Harjit stepped inside the entrance, took several deep breaths, and then left and walked around to St Margaret’s, the tiny church within the castle grounds. Half a dozen tourists were sitting or kneeling in the handful of pews. He went to an empty pew on the right, removed his backpack, placed it on the seat beside him and sat back.

Two minutes later the man wearing the sleeveless safari jacket moved into the pew behind Harjit and knelt down facing the altar. “Are you okay, Harry?”

“Yes, Sir. How many did you get?”

“Seven—are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, but there’s still danger there’s another guy. I shook off a big bloke at one of the railway stations, but he’s managed to get here somehow—he’s tall, got a long, hooked nose and a beard.”

“What was it about him that rung alarm bells for you?”

“He came to my house this morning, supposedly to check that I’d set the device up properly. I saw him tinkering with it. He added a bloody remote, so if I bottled it, he’d need to be within one hundred metres to trigger the bomb.”

“One of our other operatives on the train saw you shake that bastard off at Newcastle. It seems the bearded Asian guy didn’t wait for another train—he left Newcastle on the back of a bloody motorbike. We picked up the rider after they split up in Edinburgh, right outside the castle grounds.”

“What about the tall guy—he can still trigger this thing—”

“Don’t worry, mate—I think he’s been dealt with by one of our most experienced people.” He nodded towards a smartly-dressed, grey-haired woman who had just lit a candle and sat in one of the front pews. The woman placed her large floral shopping bag on the seat beside her. There was no sign of the hypodermic needle which could be extended from the front edge when the bag was bumped against a body.

The deadly contents of the concealed syringe were dissolving into the bloodstream of a delirious and confused Asian man. He had a hooked nose, a beard and was now lying at the gates of Edinburgh Castle frothing at the mouth. 

Harjit nodded as he glanced at the new arrival in the church. “Mary is a class act.” He sighed. “You’ll still have to get Bomb Disposal to deal with the device—it’s live, remember.”

“It’s all in hand. You’ll be arrested for show when you step outside, so use the phrase ‘live bag’ to remind them when the uniform guys take it from you. Debrief will be at the Golden Thistle Hotel in two hours, and the beers are on me.”

“Did I pass selection, Sir?”

“Too bloody right you did, Harry. You’re on the team now, mate, and I hope this also brings some closure for the deaths of your parents.”

“They were my inspiration over the past six months—I always had two missions.”

The end

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