Authors: Chris Ryan
Working for a shadowy government agency, special agent Zak Darke goes undercover to infiltrate a dangerous gang of fifteen-year-old gun dealers.
But while the gang members may be young, they aren’t so easily fooled. Has Agent 21 made his last mistake?
Some authors just write about it. Chris Ryan has been there, done it and lived to tell the tale. A special ebook story, part of the thrilling, action-packed Agent 21 series.
A short story
Wire (n.) – a hidden microphone, as on a person’s body or in a building.
‘Nice shoes, blood.’
Zak Darke looks at them. Nike. Loose laces. Fluorescent red stripes. Brand new. Then he looks up at the boy who has just complimented them. A head taller than Zak. Close-cropped hair with jagged razor marks on the right-hand side. Baggy, low-slung trousers and a loose jumper that could easily cover up anything bulky at his waist. A chunky gold bracelet on his wrist and a roll-up cigarette behind his left ear.
‘Are you Scott?’ Zak asks.
‘You want to sell ’em, blood?’ The boy removes a wad of cash from his back pocket.
Twenty-pound notes. Perhaps fifty of them. Used. Untraceable. ‘I’ll give you fifty . . .’
‘Are you Scott?’ Zak repeats, a bit more forcefully.
The boy inclines his head, shrugs and puts the money back in his pocket. ‘Depends who’s asking, blood,’ he says. ‘Depends whose asking.’
48 hours previously . . .
‘Scott Farrow,’ said Raf. ‘Age seventeen. He’s spent eighteen months in a young offenders’ institute. Worst place for him. That’s where he met up with Morton Henderson and Holden Palmer. They think of themselves as some sort of gang—’
some sort of gang, sweetie,’ Gabs interrupted.
‘Do you want to do this?’ Raf demanded.
‘Of course I don’t,’ Gabs said. She smiled endearingly. ‘Not when you’re doing such a good job.’
They were often like this, Raf and Gabs. Gently bickering, like an old married couple.
Zak called them his Guardian Angels. In fact they were a cross between his parents and his best friends. Ever since he’d been plucked from his boring, lonely life to become a part of this mysterious, unclassified government agency, and undergone the intense training that had turned him from ordinary Zak Darke into Agent 21, he’d spent more time with these twenty-something agents than with anybody else. He was now an active agent himself, sent on operations where a teenager was of more use than an adult. He was also well used to Raf’s serious face and brusque, surly nature, and to Gabs’s white-blonde hair and flippant comments. It wouldn’t do to underestimate them, though. Both Raf and Gabs were deadly weapons.
And so too, when he thought about it, was Zak.
‘Notice the razor marks on the right-hand side of their scalps,’ Raf continued. He had laid out three colour photographs, taken with a telephoto lens, each showing a different young man. They all had a distinctive lightning-bolt shape shaved into the side of their head.
‘Nice,’ Zak said.
‘Not really,’ Raf replied. ‘A kid of fifteen tried to copy them. He shaved the same symbol into his hair. Scott and his crew took it as an insult. This is what they did to him.’
A fourth photograph. It was impossible to say if it showed someone of fifteen or fifty. The boy’s face was beaten to a pulp. Thick, bloody lips. A clearly broken nose. Eyes so swollen and puffed up they couldn’t open.
‘They’re that sort of gang, sweetie,’ Gabs had said in a quiet voice. ‘Just so you know.’
‘Depends who’s asking.’
‘My name’s Harry.’ The lie slips easily off Zak’s tongue.
‘Oh yeah?’ Scott says. ‘Prince Harry? Harry Potter?’
‘Well, here’s an idea, Harry Gold. Why don’t you take your flash trainers off my turf, before I decide to help myself to them anyway?’
Zak doesn’t move, and immediately he senses Scott tensing up. There is violence in the air.
‘You’ll make contact outside the school gates of Redhill Secondary School in North Acton.’
‘Why?’ Zak asked. ‘I mean, I just get the feeling this Scott bloke isn’t the sort to turn up regularly for school.’
‘Not for lessons,’ Raf agreed. ‘But he and his crew have another reason for hanging around schools in the area.’
‘Haven’t you been watching the news, sweetie?’ Gabs asked.
Zak shook his head. He was up at six every morning for physical training and lessons in tradecraft. By the time evening came, he was always ready to collapse into bed. His Guardian Angels worked him hard.
‘There’s been a spate of gun crime in northwest London,’ Raf explained. ‘Three dead, several injured. The victims and the gunmen have all been between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. In the UK it’s hard enough to get your hands on a weapon even when you’re of age, and these teenagers have been handling more than air pistols.’
‘Such as?’ Zak asked.
‘Browning Hi-Power, Colt .45, even an Uzi on one occasion.’ These were all heavy-duty weapons. ‘Designer guns, if you get my drift.’
I get your drift.
‘So this Scott guy and his crew . . . They’re the one doing the killings, right?’
‘Wrong, sweetie,’ said Gabs. ‘They’re the ones supplying the guns. And that’s where you come in.’
The pavement in front of Redhill Secondary School is not crowded. It is 09.08 hrs. Lessons started eight minutes ago. A few stragglers are still wandering in, satchels slung over their shoulders. None of them come within ten metres of Zak and Scott. They do glance over, however. It’s clear from the look on their faces that they know not to get involved.
There are two exceptions. On either side of the iron gates two other boys have appeared. Zak hadn’t noticed them before, but now they tread dangerously in his direction. He recognizes them immediately from his briefing. Or rather, he recognizes the razor marks on the side of their heads. Morton Henderson and Holden Palmer. Morton has bad acne. Holden is a giant. Neither looks like the type you want to mess with.
Within thirty seconds they have surrounded Zak. ‘Nice shoes,’ Morton says. Other than that, they don’t speak. They don’t need to. Their very presence is statement enough.
‘Like I say,’ Scott repeats. ‘Off my turf. Now.’
‘The thing about guys like this,’ Gabs explains, ‘is they’re greedy. Once they’ve experienced the thrill of making easy money for hardly any work, they can’t get enough of it. Same goes for criminals the world over. It’s their fatal flaw. They just can’t say no.’
‘So you want me to try and buy a gun off him, right?’
Raf flashed a grin at Gabs.
‘Do you know,’ she said, ‘I really think he might be even brighter than he looks.’
‘He’d have to be,’ Raf replied. The trace of a smile crossed his face. He winked at Zak.
‘I’m looking for some hardware,’ Zak says. ‘I heard you might be able to help me with that.’
Scott stares at him. A long, level gaze. Twenty seconds pass. ‘There’s a B&Q down the road, blood,’ he says finally. ‘Nice big one too. Get yourself down there. Hardware coming out of their ears.’
‘Not the kind of hardware I’m talking about,’ says Zak.
Scott sniffs. ‘Don’t know what you mean. We don’t know what he means, do we, boys?’
Morton and Holden shake their heads, but say nothing.
‘Fine.’ Zak shrugs. It’s his turn now to pull out a wad of notes. He flicks it ostentatiously against the palm of his free hand. ‘I’ll be going, then,’ he says.
He turns, but Scott’s two stooges block his way. One of them holds out his hand, as if to say:
Give me the money.
Zak stops. He looks at the money, then back at Scott. ‘You could take it from me,’ he says. ‘But just think. After that, you’ll never see me again. Play your cards right and I become a repeat customer. You’ll earn all this and more.’ He shrugs once more. ‘Up to you,’ he says.
Scott might be just seventeen, but the look he gives Zak is full of experience. He is clearly weighing up the situation. Can he trust his new customer? He looks around. The stragglers have all made it into the school gates. The main road in front of the school is fairly busy, but there are no pedestrians to observe them.
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a police car passes. Zak hurriedly hides the wad of notes under his jacket. Out of the corner of his eye he sees a uniformed policewoman in the front passenger seat. She has white-blonde hair.
And then the police car is gone. Zak’s apparent nervousness in front of the law seems to have done the trick.
Scott nods at him, then raises the hem of his jumper, just a few centimetres. Zak sees the grey metal of a handgun tucked into his jeans. ‘Just so’s you know, blood,’ he says.
Zak nods back.
Scott looks over at his boys. ‘Bring round the car,’ he instructs.
Morton, the kid with acne, does as he’s told.
‘If he swallows the bait,’ said Raf, ‘he won’t make the sale there and then. Not on the street. Too dangerous. He’ll take you somewhere else. Be ready for that. And be prepared that he might not want you to see where you’re going.’
‘And a word of warning, sweetie: it’s not likely to be very nice. Don’t expect the Ritz.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Zak. ‘I don’t really like cucumber sandwiches anyway.’
A minute later, the car arrives. It is a white Range Rover with blacked-out windows. It throbs with muffled dance music as it pulls up by the kerb. Holden grabs Zak’s arm and guides him over to the rear door. He opens it and pushes Zak inside. Then he climbs in himself. Scott takes the front seat. The car pulls out into the traffic.
Conversation is out of the question. The music is ten times louder inside the Range Rover than out of it. It pounds through Zak’s body, making him physically pulse with the beat. His mouth is dry. Every time Scott looks at him in the rear-view mirror, Zak feels a chill and remembers the picture of the beaten-up boy his Guardian Angels showed him.
The car stops after just five minutes. They are in a side street somewhere north of the Uxbridge Road. Scott looks over his shoulder. He has removed the weapon from his waist. Browning Hi-Power. A round from that at close range wouldn’t just go through Zak. It would go through the seat as well.
Scott looks at Morton. ‘Do it, blood,’ he says.
Zak’s brain whirls. Do what? Morton reaches inside his jacket, and Zak tenses up, prepared to fight. What Morton pulls out is not a gun, however, but a narrow length of old material. He wraps it round Zak’s head and ties it much tighter than it needs to be, so the material digs uncomfortably into Zak’s eyes. The car starts up again.
Now that he is blind, his other senses are stronger. The pounding music travels through him. He is acutely aware of the movements of the car: a U-turn, two lefts, a right, a roundabout. He tries to keep these directions in his mind, but after twenty minutes of trying to remember them, there’s nothing he can do to stop them slipping away. He needs to hold onto them, but can’t. He’s lost.
They drive for forty-five minutes in all. By the time they stop, Zak’s shirt is damp with sweat, but he’s also shivering. He recognizes the symptoms of fear.
, he tells himself. If you know you’re scared, you can deal with it. Isn’t that what his Guardian Angels are always telling him?