Read an Excerpt
1Copyright 2002 by Andy McNab
Sunday, 3 September 2000
I didn't know who we were going to kill -- just that he or she would be amongst the crowd munching canapés and sipping champagne on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament at 3 p.m., and that the Yes Man would identify the target by placing his hand on their left shoulder when he greeted them.
I'd done some weird stuff over the years, but this job was scaring me. In less than ninety minutes, I was going to be shitting on my own doorstep big-time. I only hoped the Firm knew what it was doing, because I wasn't too sure that I did.
As I looked down yet again at the clear plastic lunch-box on the desk in front of me, three torch bulbs sticking out of holes I'd burnt in the lid stared back up. None of them was illuminated; the three snipers were still not in position.
Everything about this job was wrong. We'd been given the wrong weapons. We were in the wrong place. And there just hadn't been enough time to plan and prepare.
I stared through the net curtains across the boat-filled river. The Houses of Parliament were some 350 metres away to my half left. The office I'd broken into was on the top floor of County Hall, the former Greater London Council building. Now redeveloped into offices, hotels and tourist attractions, it overlooked the Thames from the south side. I was feeling rather grand sitting behind a highly polished, dark wood desk, as I looked out at the killing ground.
Parliament's terrace spanned the whole of its river frontage. Two prefabricated pavilions with candy-striped roofs had been erected at the far left end, for use throughout the summer months. Part of the terrace, I'd learnt from theirwebsite, was for Members of the House of Lords, and part for the House of Commons. The public were not admitted unless they were with an MP or peer, so this was probably the nearest I was ever going to get.
The Department of Trade and Industry's guests today were a group of about thirty businessmen, plus staff and some family, from Central and South America. Maybe the DTI was trying to curry a bit of favour and sell them a power station or two. Who cared? All I knew was that one of them would be getting dropped somewhere between the vol-au-vents and the profiteroles.
Directly below me, and five storeys down, Albert Embankment was thronged with hot-dog vendors and stalls selling plastic policeman's helmets and postcards of Big Ben to people queuing for the London Eye, or just enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. A sightseeing boat packed with tourists passed under Westminster Bridge. I could hear a bored voice telling the story of Guy Fawkes over a crackly PA system.
It was holiday season and another news-starved week, so Mr Murdoch and his mates were going to be ever so pleased with what I was about to do: the biggest explosion in London this year, and right in the heart of Westminster. With the added bonus of a major shooting incident, it would probably take their ratings right off the scale. Unfortunately, good news for them was bad for me. SB (Special Branch) were going to be working their arses off to find out who'd pressed the button, and they were the best in the world at this sort of thing. They'd been formed to stop the IRA carrying out exactly the kind of stunt I was about to pull.
Three torch bulbs were still unlit. I wasn't flapping, just concerned.
At either end of the row of lights was a white, rectangular bell-push from a door chime set, glued in position with Evostik, the wires curling into the box. The one on the left was covered with the top from a can of shaving cream. It was the detonation pressel for the device that I'd set up as a diversion. The device was basically a black powder charge, designed to give off a big enough bang to grab London's attention but not to kill anyone. There would be some damage, there'd be the odd cut or bruise, but there shouldn't be any fatalities. The shaving cream top was there because I didn't want to detonate it by accident. The pressel on the right was exposed. This was the one that would initiate the shoot.
Next to the box I had a set of binos mounted on a mini-tripod and trained on the killing ground. I was going to need them to watch the Yes Man as he moved about the crowd and ID'd the target.
The lunch-box contained a big, green, square lithium battery, and a mess of wires and circuit boards. I'd never tried to make things look neat; I just wanted them to work. Two purple plastic-coated wire antennas stuck out of the rear of the box, trailed along the desk, over the window-sill I'd pushed it up against, then dangled down the outside wall. I had the window closed down on them to cut out as much noise as possible.
The loudest sound in the room was my breathing, which started to quicken as the witching hour got closer. It was only outdone by the occasional scream of delight from a tourist at ground level or a particularly loud PA system from the river.
All I could do was wait. I crossed my arms on the desk, rested my head on them, and stared at the bulbs that were now level with my eyes, willing them to start flashing.
I was shaken out of my trance as Big Ben struck two.
I knew the snipers wouldn't move into their fire positions until the last moment so that they didn't expose themselves longer than necessary, but I really wanted those lights to start flashing at me.
For about the millionth time in the past twenty minutes I pushed down on the uncovered pressel, resting the side of my head on my forearm to look inside the box, like a kid wondering what his mum had made him for lunch. A small bulb, nestled amongst the mass of wires, lit up with the current generated by my send pressel. I wished now that I'd burnt another hole in the lid for the bulb inside to join the others -- but at the time I couldn't be arsed. I released it and pressed again. The same thing happened. The device was working. But what about the other three that I'd built for the snipers? I'd just have to wait and see.