Chapter OneMELBOURNE DOCKS, AUSTRALIA – 18th JUNE 1966
The four ghosts stood, huddled in the darkness of the night, hidden behind the crates, boxes and containers that lined the dockside. Ghosts, while not an accurate description, fitted their profiles perfectly. They were men who knew how to conceal themselves in the night, they wore black Dockers coats and knitted caps, and for the past hour they had managed to successfully stay concealed from the regular workers who moved supplies and cargo onto the numerous container ships. All were armed with razor sharp commando knives and all were ready to use them to lethal effect in order to complete their mission. This job needed to be done quietly, if it was to be a successful extraction.
Their leader stood at the forefront, his team flanking him. Colonel Stephen Masterman, Head of the Redaction Unit for the British Secret Intelligence Service, lifted the binoculars to his eyes and peered at the container ship's landing ramp as he waited for his agent to appear. The man they were waiting for was a half Portuguese/half Chinese h****n pipeline smuggler by the name of Raymond Yu. Yu was a sub-lieutenant in the almost mythical Karasu-Tengu organisation and had been persuaded to sell out his employer for a one-time payment from the British. SIS wanted the 'Raven' – the man himself, the leader – Redacted. The Chief's orders were clear. “Make him talk, Stephen, use whatever damned method you wish, but get the location of the Raven himself,” the Chief had whispered at their final covert meeting in London.
Masterman had searched and gathered intelligence, and plotted and planned. But so far, his target had been elusive. Yu's leader had money, intelligence and resources and knew how to stay hidden while still being able to strike out at his enemies and kill them. So far, the Raven had assassinated four of Masterman's operatives from the Redaction unit.
First, Spence had been slaughtered in Istanbul, then Trench had disappeared off the face of the Earth in Macau, then Marlowe… then Burch. All had been aimed at penetrating and assassinating the head of the organisation, all had been killed. Now Redaction was severely depleted; the remaining two Redactors had been assigned to cover a mission in the Middle East and Masterman had been left with little option but to call in a 'favour' from his old wartime Special Forces Regiment. He wasn't expecting trouble with the extraction, but just as a precaution, he'd felt it was best to have a small number of good men backing him up. Not that they were the men he would have preferred to have by his side, but they were good, nonetheless. His ideal back-up man was no longer a player in the game. He'd removed himself from SIS several years before, when he'd retired himself from fighting the secret war. Masterman had learned the hard way with agents that things could go awry quickly, so he contented himself with the seconded soldiers from the military elite. They stood in silence for several moments more and then, in the distance, he became aware of something new happening – a car, its headlights dimmed, pulled up just short of the gangplank to the nearest container vessel. Three men got out of the maroon Ford Falcon. They were tough-looking Chinese, dressed in sombre black suits. The bodyguards.
Masterman waved an almost casual hand to his men and watched as they moved away, melting into the darkness. He imagined them creeping nearer, getting ready to launch from a concealed position to eliminate their 'dead-eye's', should Yu and his security team decide to cut up rough. Once the Special Forces team were in position, he turned his attention back to the car and saw the man he'd been waiting for exiting the vehicle. He was tall and well composed, and even in this half-light, Masterman could make out the man's half Asiatic features. Yu and his bodyguard team began to walk towards the agreed rendezvous point, just north of Pier 41. When they were twenty yards away, Masterman stepped out of the darkness and approached them.
“Sentinel?” asked Yu, sounding relieved.
Masterman nodded and held out a hand. “Please, this way, we have a vehicle waiting for you.”
The truck would take them along the harbour to a fast boat and from there, to a safe house down the coast where Yu could be de-briefed about the Raven. After that, he would be returned to his 'normal' life without anyone the wiser. He would be back at his office first thing in the morning and one hundred thousand US Dollars richer, thanks to British intelligence.
Yu turned, said something to his security team and began to step towards his new protector when the blast of automatic gunfire took out the two bodyguards to Yu's right hand side. Bullets pounded into their heads and the two men collapsed like rag-dolls. What followed was a hiatus of terror and confusion. Masterman was aware of his Special Forces team emerging from the shadows at speed, rushing to quickly move him to safety and provide body cover. Two of them died on the spot, before they were able to reach him. The men on the dockside were running and jumping to find any kind of cover, until they were able to ascertain where the sniper was located.
Masterman crouched down behind a crate, but was clearly able to see the scene before him. He heard the chatter of gunfire again and the last of Yu's bodyguard was taken in the back, sending him sprawling, dead, onto the cobbles. Masterman, ever the soldier, looked up and was able to see the muzzle flash from the sniper's position. He could just about make out the dark figure perched on top of a block of containers, the M-16 Assault rifle in the killer's hands was even now searching around for more targets. Masterman had spent enough time under fire in his career to recognise the maelstrom of a m******e and whoever the hidden sniper was, he was good. So far, all his shots had hit their targets with no misses. His priority now was to get his agent, Yu, out of the killing zone and to safety. He caught the eye of the remaining Special Forces soldier who was concealed behind a barricade and gave the hand signal for him to get to Yu and evacuate him. The soldier nodded, took a breath and was up and running. Almost immediately, Masterman was also on his feet and moving. Two targets! No sniper, no matter how good, could take out two targets simultaneously.
Masterman ran, but before he'd taken ten paces he heard the next volley of shots as they whizzed past him and he saw the soldier go down with a shot to the head. Masterman changed direction, frantically seeking cover from the sniper and jumped the last few feet until he was safe behind an abandoned stack of pallets. He searched around for an escape route… nothing… and then he remembered the car that Yu and his bodyguards had arrived in. If he could get Yu to make the mad dash to reach him behind the pallets – a little over twelve feet – then there was a chance that they could make it to the car and escape.
Masterman held out a hand, beckoning towards the man he'd been sent here to extract. “Come on, move, damn it! It's your only hope!”
Yu looked at him with fear. The men who had initially come to save him were now almost all dead and he had been compromised, betrayed, somehow! Masterman was aware of the shots getting closer, the rounds ripping the wood away from the pallets and then deflecting into the granite of the quayside. Yu closed his eyes for a moment and then, as if he had made a monumental decision, lifted himself to his feet and stood straight up, his tall frame elongated and his hands up in the air in surrender. He turned in the direction of the hidden sniper and called out. “I did not speak, I told them nothing! I would never betray the Karasu, I would—”
There was a cacophony of automatic fire and he was flung back onto the floor, his chest and face a mass of explosions as bullets ripped him apart. With his agent dead and his team massacred, Masterman ran for the escape option of the car. He almost made it, and if he'd been ten years younger, he probably would have. He was almost within touching distance of the driver's side when he heard a CLANK as a small metal object landed underneath the car. A grenade, he thought. The sniper was trying to flush out his hidden targets with grenades and—
The explosion decimated the car, sending shards of metal and debris outwards and Masterman experienced intense pain as metal from the vehicle tore open his back, the fire from the explosion scorched his face and the force of the blast lifted him, throwing him into the dark, cold water. Suddenly, his world was filled with blood, fear and blackness. He kicked out, pushing himself upwards, taking in a huge lungful of air when he reached the surface. He kicked again and swam away from the dockside shootout, putting distance between himself and the quay. Over to his left, he heard another explosion in the water. It was another grenade, but so far away, it had no chance of hitting him. The sniper must have lost his bearings, going for a lucky pot-shot rather than a targeted aim, he thought. It was in the last moments before his consciousness began to slip away when Masterman saw a dead man, a ghost; a man he knew had been dead for the past six months. He knew the man was dead, because Masterman himself had sent him on the mission he'd never returned from. The dead man stood high on the containers which had provided his sniper position, his rifle hefted one-handed as he began his descent. He took one more look around the area of devastation, perhaps to convince himself that there were no more survivors, and only then carried on climbing down the ladder.
“Trench… Trench… Trench,” Masterman mumbled, as if convincing himself he'd witnessed an illusion. But this was no illusion. A dead man had come back to life and almost killed him. Masterman stared in disbelief, even as the freezing cold water begin to move his injured body further away from the dockside, drifting out along the harbour wall. And then he thought on the situation no more, as darkness overtook him and he drifted further and further away.
* * *
ASHDOWN FOREST, ENGLAND – 19th JUNE 1966
The elderly spy was dragged through the woods by strong arms. His dressing gown had spilled open, and his bare feet were cut and blistered from having been pulled and pushed along the earthen floor, after his slippers were lost somewhere deep in the forest long ago.
He knew not what his captors looked like. They were hooded, resembling something from a nightmare, and only slits in the black balaclavas revealed their intense eyes. He knew they were strong, certainly; capable, definitely. They had, after all, killed his police bodyguards, who were a perpetual adornment at the front of his private residence in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Then they had killed his wife, as she lay beside him in bed. He'd watched as they covered her with a blanket and silently inserted a long slim blade through the woven material… once, twice… and then she'd stopped moving. He'd been beaten, manhandled down the stairs and out into the cold of the night. Then there had been the drive, pushed into the boot of an anonymous car and driven at speed to who-knew-where. Judging by his surroundings, and the distance they'd travelled in the vehicle, he guessed he was somewhere deep within the maze of Ashdown Forest. His old spy skills, at least, hadn't failed him completely.
He'd been lifted from the car like a sack of potatoes and pushed deep into the darkness of the night, hands manipulating him, pushing him closer to his fate. The woods grew steadily thicker, the night mists rising from the ground giving his surroundings an ethereal quality, until eventually, just as he thought he would pass out from fear and exhaustion, they'd entered a small clearing. The area was no more than eighteen feet wide, and lit by a small paraffin lamp. And there, waiting like a patient executioner, was the man who had ordered that the elderly spy be hauled from his bed in the dead of night and brought to this place of horror. He was slim, fit looking, and dressed in a dark suit. His short-cropped hair and hard scowl gave him the look of a man used to getting his own way. He was the Karasu.
“The Raven, I assume,” said the old man, weakly. His guards pushed him to the ground, so he was kneeling directly in front of his captor. The cold wet soil swiftly soaked through his thin pyjama trousers and he shivered.
When the Raven spoke, it was with a power and authority that belied his small frame. It was a voice which didn't shy away from issuing violent demands. “There has been much bloodshed in our underground war… but it is not unexpected. Our business takes a heavy toll in lives.”
“I understand that when you set out for revenge, you should dig two graves. Isn't that the proverb?” murmured the old man. He grimaced as the words filtered past his split lips.
The Raven ignored him, instead reaching behind his back to the scabbard which rested there. In one smooth and silent motion, he withdrew a gleaming, single-edged Ninjato sword. He held it up to carefully examine the blade's profile and then, satisfied, he lowered it to his side. “I have dug many graves, for many people. You dared to challenge me, dared to challenge my organisation. It is inevitable that I would destroy anything that stood in my way. You must surely have known that,” he said.
The old spy nodded, resigned to his inevitable fate. “It is my job, my responsibility, to stop mad men. You were just the latest in a long line.”
The Raven nodded, accepting the old man's final words. “And yet the Kyonshi will rise and grow, despite your attempts to destroy them. It is of no importance now. You have failed and the time has come for you to reap what you have sown.” In one superbly fluid motion, the Japanese man torqued his body around and let fly with the razor sharp assassins' sword. A trail of silver flashed against the blackness, a whistle of steel against air, and then the head of Sir Richard Crosby, the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service for the past twenty years, flew into the night.