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Dead Centre By Owen Jones Characters: 21462

Updated: 2018-02-10 19:01

Mrs. Angelica Smith was in her kitchen in Peckham, south-east London, doing the washing up, when she heard the flap of the letterbox bang shut. The post had already been delivered that morning, so she assumed that it was junk advertising. However, when she finished the breakfast things, she dried her hands on a tea towel and put the kettle on. Then she spooned some instant coffee into a mug and went to the front door to see which special offer she had been blessed with.

There was only one envelope in the wire basket that was used to catch incoming mail.

The typed envelope simply had 'Mrs. Angelica Smith' and 'Delivered by Hand' on the front of it. She assumed that it was a new advertising ploy trying to make it look more personal, but she was curious enough to open it anyway and it was a welcome distraction from the other worries that she had. It contained a single typed sheet and a sealed, folded envelope.

She heard the kettle switch itself off, so she put the letter and envelopes into the pocket in her apron and went into the kitchen, poured boiling water into her coffee mug and took it into the lounge, where she took out the letter and read it.

Dear Mrs. Smith, This letter has been hand-delivered to your door by one of our operatives. He will not reveal himself to you nor contact you again.

Do not worry, this is not a threat and no trouble will ensue. No-one is in any danger, but please sit down before you read the enclosed letter, because it will change your life.

A Well-Wisher.

She took a sip of coffee and smiled to herself, those people at Readers Digest would try anything to get you to open their mail. She felt the red envelope, there was a key in there, so they hadn't changed that much then, she thought. She opened it anyway to see how much money she was on the verge of winning this time. The letter had been written by hand.

My Dearest Angie, As you know, my dear, I have been ill with cancer, but what you do not know is that it is a particularly virulent form.

You think, my dearest, that I am in a clinic in Switzerland undergoing treatment, well, that was partly true, but I joined a special programme to help test a new drug.

If the drug didn't kill me, I only had a few weeks left anyway. I chose the drugs, and, since you are reading this letter, they didn't work.

My reward for trying the drugs is $500, 000. You will find jewellery with a re-sale value to this amount in a safety deposit box in your name at our bank in the high street. The key will open the box and the password to get you access to it is the name of our dog and the name of the budgie, followed by the result of subtracting your full date of birth from mine. Every other letter, starting with the second one is capitalised.

I apologise for not being able to let you in on the secret before, but please enjoy your future and be assured that I am waiting for you.

If you attempt to verify what I have told you, the government will deny all knowledge and the police, not knowing any better, may impound the jewellery pending an inquiry, which may last years. However, I assure you that the jewels were purchased legitimately and that the bills of sale that accompany them are genuine.

You may take them back to the shop where they were bought for verification by all means and if they honour their promise, you will even be able to get a refund for the next seven days.

Please do not grieve for me, my love, I would have been dead soon anyway and in this way I felt no pain, I assure you. You may check the details of my illness with our GP, if you like, of course.

I assure you once again that the jewels are above board, but you cannot go to the police or government. That is just the way they operate, everything else can be checked, but why bother?

One last thing, I had to sign my body over to research as a condition of the deal, so you will not get my remains or ever know where they are. I will be 'missing presumed dead'.

I suppose you had better tell the police that I have disappeared. The staff here have assured me that I will be buried with my wedding ring.

Your Ever-loving husband, Tony


Angelica held the letter to her breast and burst into tears. She didn't normally drink anything stronger than wine, but she went over to the cabinet, took out a bottle of Amaretto and poured a large amount into the remains of her coffee.

What a way to find out you've become a widow, she thought.

Bob flew back to Birmingham, Alabama, to tie up a few loose ends. He met Ron again, but in a different bar, one of Bob's own choice, the name of which he did not disclose until the last moment and even then he waited in a doorway across the street to make sure that Ron was not being followed either voluntarily or involuntarily. When he was sure that everything was safe, he went inside.

"OK, Ron, you've had a fortnight to think about it. Are you still up for it?"

"Yes, Jim, what happens now.

"First we get a jug of that beer, Trim Tab Rye Brown Ale, if they've got any, so that we are not disturbed and then we talk."

He called the waiter over and placed the order. When they had a full glass each, Bob started again.

"You are terminally ill, but not yet incapacitated, correct?"

"Correct. The level of pain is increasing, but I can still function and I have about two months left to live."

"Due to the nature of our business, I cannot tell you everything until I am sure that you are in. Do you understand?"

"Sort of…"

"OK, I work for a covert branch of NATO. I am British by nationality, but NATO is international in nature, as I am sure you already know."

Ron was nodding.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, my job is to recruit people for suicide missions. The people who work for my department as 'special agents' do not survive. Ever.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes, they all die, but in what cause?"

"I cannot tell you that and to be perfectly honest with you, I don't always know myself either. My job is to recruit.

"Now, not many people want this kind of dead end job, as I am sure you can imagine, but if you are terminally ill anyway…"

"Yes, I see your point, but why should I choose to die for you and not in bed at home or in hospital?"

"Three reasons spring to mind. First, you will leave your family well provided for; second, you will not die in pain, guaranteed, and third, you will be furthering the interests of your country and its allies."

"OK, how much does my family get and how do I know that I can trust you?"

"Two good questions. Your family will get at least $500, 000, but possibly more. It depends on the mission, not the result, because you will die and painlessly, but whether the government achieves its aims or not, your family will be paid.

"As to my credentials, I am afraid that you will have to take me on trust. If you try to validate my existence or that of the department that I represent, you will face a brick wall of silence both in your country and in mine. No-one will admit to my existence, and it has to remain so. One more thing, neither your body nor your effects will be available to your family for burial and you will not know the purpose of your mission, or not usually anyway.

"After your demise, we will deliver a letter to your wife, or whomever you choose, written by yourself, in which you can say anything you like."

"If I agree, when do I pass the point of no return and how is the money paid to my wife?"

"First the money. It will be paid as you like, but we advise against cash. Jewellery or bearer bonds are best. We will leave them in a security box in a bank of your choice along with full purchase documents. Nobody will be able to dispute that they legally belong to the recipient of your choice.

"The point of no return is when your exact mission is revealed to you, which is usually about three days before you have to complete it. Your part will be easy, not physically demanding, but it will result in your death and probably that of others too.

"Do you have a moral objection?"

"I'm not sure, I suppose it depends on who else dies."

"You have to say 'no', categorically, 'no', because these missions are covert and dangerous and there is always collateral damage. Make no mistake about it, innocent civilians will die, but hopefully not too many. It is something that the department builds into its strategy."

"I see. Will I die in America?"

"I cannot say, because I do not know.. You have not been allocated a mission yet and won't be until you have been on a basic training course."

"What does that involve? It's not as if I can run for miles or complete an assault course, you know?"

"The course is not one of those types, but you may be taught how to defend yourself, or how to put off those who may try to detain you. I cannot tell you anymore at this moment except to say that if you agree tonight, because I have to leave tomorrow morning, I will enter you into the programme and you will then receive brief instructions within about two weeks which you must follow to the letter.

"It will involve you being away for about two weeks, so you tell your family and employers what you like and you will be contacted when it is over. You will be dead within six weeks having suffered no pain and you will leave your family a considerable tax-free lump sum to boot."

"Let's have another jug and a whisky, Jim."

A few days later, Ron received a text message telling him to fly to Nevada, buy a car with SatNav and drive to a specific map reference. Ron said goodbye to his boss and colleagues and took two weeks holiday. He told his wife that he had to go away on a training course, but he allowed her to assume that it was to do with his job.

When he arrived at the heavily fortified compound, he was stopped and asked for his credentials. The only ones he had been given were 'Dead Centre', but as soon as he spoke them he was admitted and afforded every hospitality that was available.

Hospitality basically meant free board, free food, free drink and free women. 'Dead Centre' picked up the bill and was a very good customer.

It seemed to Ron that the camp had various training programmes. The one he was on was the least physically demanding and taught him how to use a pistol and a knife and how to disable an opponent by a simple chop to the Adam's Apple and how to distract him by spitting in his mouth when he was talking.

It also taught calming yoga breathing techniques, so that he could control any nervousness when he was on his mission.

Nobody's identity was revealed at the camp and there was no indoctrination, but Ron got the

impression that most of the guys were members of right-wing organisations and were there to learn combat techniques. It was not run by the government or NATO, as far as he could work out. 'Dead Centre' was only his password, as no-one else he had spoken to seemed to have heard of it.

Ron actually had a great time at the camp.

He fired thousand of rounds, slept with at least one different woman every day and ate like a lord. And why not? he thought, he would probably be dead within a month. He fantasised that he was like a Roman gladiator, who knew that his luck could not hold out for much longer.

He was preparing to die. He trusted Jim, although he did not believe that that was his real name, but he did believe that he worked for NATO like he had said he did and he was proud to be helping his country and its allies, like his grandfather had in the Second World War.

The way he saw it, he could either die in hospital pumped full of painkillers, watching the faces of his family and friends pitying him, or he could die like a man, provide well for his family, and help his country.

He could go out with a bang, he thought macabrely.

For a man like Ron, it was a no-brainer. He was fifty-nine years old and had done two years national service in Vietnam. He loved his country and had no qualms about laying down his life for it, like he had risked doing when he was nineteen, although this time he would be paid well for his sacrifice, or at least his wife would be and that was good enough.

What was the point in dying in hospital and helping no-one, when he could die a hero and help a lot of people?

Ron was in.

After another call from Genaro, Gareg was back at his villa.

"So, Genaro, what can I do for you? Changed your mind?"

"No, it is not that, my friend, I may have another job for you and I want to firm up the other job."

Genaro and Gareg went back a long way, but they were from completely different backgrounds. Genaro had been born into a wealthy, violent south European family, whereas Gareg had been born on a sheep farm near St. David's in West Wales.

Their paths had crossed because of their military careers. Gareg had joined the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and moved into the SAS and Genaro had done three years in the French regular army before joining the Foreign Legion until his father wanted him to join the family businesses.

Those businesses included dozens of legitimate shops and dealerships on the south coast in the vicinity of Marseille, but also a network of drug dealers in thousands of brothels and bars all over southern France.

They were also into more serious organised crime such as bank robberies, hijacks, insurance fraud, money laundering and kidnapping. It was this section of the business that Genaro was hoping to expand with Gareg's agency, 'Dead Centre'.

They had known each other for twenty-five years since their paths had crossed during a joint venture between the SAS and the Foreign Legion in Rwanda. It had not always been easy to keep in touch in those days, but since they had both 'retired' and the advent of mobile telecommunications and the Internet, they were now in regular contact.

Both men were aware of their abilities and those of the other and knew that they were evenly matched, very dangerous men. Neither was sure who would win if they ever found themselves on opposing sides. Although both men imagined the scenario from time to time, neither of them could see it happening in reality. They both had a deep like for each other which was born of respect, but knew also that if push came to shove they would kill the other, but only if they really had to.

After all, business was business.

"I need an operative, Gareg, one of your special kind, for a plan that I have in mind. We have never used your services before, although we have that other little matter to finalise… Still, I have no doubt about your ability to do what you promise. Do you have a second person for me?"

"What exactly does the second venture involve?"

"I have a folder for you with the details, as before, but let us just say for now that it will involve extreme disruption and the loss of the operative's life."

"I see. Yes, I'm sure that we can help you there."

"When, where and how much? I have tried to give you plenty of time, but I am restricted by events myself. It will take place in thirty days time in Germany. And money? How much are you charging, my friend?"

"Mmm, well, I am not in possession of all the facts, of course, but it is harder to get the equipment into Germany, they are so well organised, but, let's say $1.5 million at such short notice, Genaro."

"Your services are expensive, my friend, but I trust your reliability and that costs, so I agree. Perhaps I will get a discount on my third purchase for being such a good customer."


They clinked glasses and both knew that that was all that was needed to clinch the deal. Genaro handed Gareg the folder.

"So, this is a second operation? You have the first one set for an unspecified time, place and date, but in the near future and in this area and you are willing for the participant to stay with you in your home until the time is right and then you will have another operation in thirty days in Essen?"

"That is correct. Is there a problem?"

"No, not at all. We have the participants and we have the necessary equipment. In fact, the participants are undergoing training as we speak. When do you want the one participant to move in with you?"

"Let's not put it like that, Gareg. He can have one of the guest houses in the garden and a girl to keep him company. We shall try to make sure that his final days are as comfortable as possible."

"Yes, I am sure you will, Genaro, it is very generous of you and I am sure that he will appreciate it. So, when do you want him?"

"Anytime you like, as soon as you like. Will you tell him anything or do I have to brief him in any way."

"No, you don't need to do anything. You don't even need to tell him your real name, although when he leaves here it will only be to die, so he won't be able to tell anyone anyway. It is better, on the whole, if you keep your relationship simply on a personal level. I will introduce you to him as a friend who is willing to put him up until his mission comes up, as a personal favour to me. He doesn't even need to know that you are his ultimate employer."

"Good! That suits me fine. In that case, send him over or bring him over as soon as you like. And the other one?"

"We will have him in Essen at least two days beforehand, probably three, and at the rendezvous, an hour before the ETA of the subject as you requested in your excellently-detailed plans."

"Thank you. We aim to please."

"So do we. 'Dead Centre'! and they both laughed.

"I will go back tomorrow, Genaro, but I will return with your lodger in five days. Is that convenient?"

"Yes, Gareg, perfectly.

"George, " he turned to the butler, "tell the girls that they may join us now, tell the chef that he may serve dinner and let the entertainment commence."

"Yes, sir. I will attend to it at once."

"Bob, are you still in America?"

"Yes, sir."

"I am with a client now and he will need two participants. One ASAP and the other in sixteen days. Can we manage that?"

"Yes, Gareg, what are the locations?"

"Both in Europe, why? Will you have a problem with visas or passports?"

"No, that is not a problem. There are no problems. I will check on the participants and the equipment today and text you yay or nay, but I cannot foresee a problem. Everything is in place. If you had said four, it may have been different, but two is no problem at all."

"You will hear from me within the hour."

"Good man. Bye for now."

"Thanks for coming, Ron. I have just had a call from my section leader. If you want, we have a mission for you right away or you can leave it if you prefer."

"Where is it?"

"In Europe. France."

"I have a passport but no visa, is that likely to be a problem?"

"No, not if you don't have a criminal record."

"I'll get onto it tomorrow."

"Good, shout up some more beer and whisky, Ron, while I just let my superior have the news." He took out his mobile and sent a text – 'Everything in place'.

Bob and Ron flew back to the UK together two days later. Bob picked up his Range Rover from Heathrow car park and drove them to Cardiff, where he installed Ron in the 'Marriot' on the old Hays Market Place. He gave him £500 and drove on to Gareg's farm just outside St. David's in south-west Wales.

"The participant for Marseille is in the Marriot in Cardiff and the other is in his home in Manchester awaiting instructions. The equipment is ready; it just requires final assembly and shipping, of course."

"Well done. You had better make sure the equipment gets where it's going right away. We will need one package in Marseille in three days and one in Essen in ten days. The exact details are in here." He handed Bob an envelope. "Do you have people prepared to drive the packages over?"

"Yes, Gareg, that will not be difficult."

"Do we know anyone in Essen?"

"No, but that is not a problem. The driver will stay in a hotel with the package until we take delivery of it."

"Yes, that is perfectly satisfactory. You had better get onto that right away then. Send the one package to Genaro's."

"Yes, Gareg. I know the place. I wondered if he was involved when you said Marseille. Will you be taking the participant over yourself?"

"Yes, I'll drive over to Cardiff tomorrow and pick him up. We'll be in Marseille late afternoon. See if you can get the package there within forty-eight hours after that."

"Yes, Gareg. That should not be a problem."

"Good. When you have taken care of your end of things, come over and join us"

"Very good, sir, er, Gareg. Old habits, eh?"

Gareg left on the ninety-minute drive to Cardiff at seven a.m. the following morning, picked Ron up at reception, and drove to Heathrow Airport, 120 miles further down the M4 motorway. They boarded the early-afternoon flight to Marseille Provence airport and were picked up by one of Genaro's men in a limousine at five p.m. local time.

Ron had been suitably impressed when Gareg had picked him up in a Bentley, and the men had gotten on well, but when the chauffeur-driven, classic, drophead, convertible Rolls Royce Camargue took them along the coast to Genaro's villa, he had never imagined that such luxury existed. It was a long way from his job as a shipping clerk and his three-up, two-down in suburban Birmingham, Alabama.

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