The Eagle's Covenant: first chapter (19 pages)

CHAPTER ONE

 

Breggie de Kok turned the Uzi machine pistol on to its side, clipped a magazine in place and cocked the weapon. She slipped her finger through the trigger guard and curled the other hand around the short stock of the barrel. Then she raised it slowly, caressed the cold steel and aimed the barrel at Joseph Schneider’s head. Her finger tightened around the trigger, squeezing it carefully. She moved the gun forward slowly until the snub nose was pressed gently against Schneider’s temple. He didn’t move but lay there motionless, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm as he breathed in and out slowly.

Breggie could feel her heart beating strongly deep in her chest. So strongly that she could feel it through her fingertips. She held this state of balance between her mind and the blunt hook of the trigger for several seconds. Then she relaxed and breathed out, released the trigger and moved the gun away. Picking up a ski mask she felt a delicious tremor course through her body. Breggie de Kok had now brought herself to a high state of adrenalin powered tension and was ready to kill.

“One of these days Breggie, my darling, you will make a mistake and forget the safety catch. Someone will die.”

This laconic appraisal of Breggie de Kok’s mind warping gamble came from the relaxed figure of Joseph Schneider. He lay close to her, stretched out on his back, his blond hair curling over the fingers of his free hand which he had cupped behind his neck. Across his waist was a Kalashnikov AKS 74, folding stock, assault rifle, cocked and locked.

Breggie leaned forward and placed a hand on his leg and squeezed it gently.

“You never flinched, my darling, so you must have known the safety catch would be on,” she said softly, feeling his strong thigh muscle. “And let’s not forget; we all have to die some time, Joseph my sweet.”

She took her hand away and leaned back against the trunk of a small tree. “And today might be that time.”

Breggie de Kok had come a long way from her birthplace and middle class upbringing in South Africa. She had been born in Johannesburg, the daughter of a high school teacher and a consultant engineer. And she was white. This conferred on her the riches and privileges that wrapped the white tribe in a sanitised barrier and separated them from the grinding poverty of the townships populated by those who had also had a claim on the right to be called South African; but they just happened to be black.

Breggie de Kok’s formative years had been idyllic. Her parents doted on her and she had no brothers or sisters to claim their share of attention. She had it all: a life of comfort, luxury, servants and virtually anything she wanted.

As a child she developed an eager and natural interest in animals, including all beleaguered and endangered species. As she grew older, Breggie wrote letters to other animal welfare support groups and bombarded government ministers with complaints about the treatment of such animals by the black people of South Africa. She overlooked the centuries of African culture and the native relationship with the animals. What Breggie didn’t understand then, and her parents did nothing to disabuse her of the idea, was that she was evolving into a racist, blaming everything on the black people. It seemed perfectly natural to her that blacks belonged where they were and were responsible for almost all the crime and cruelty that undermined the potential in South Africa.

Breggie took up many causes on her path to University, pinning her colours to the mast with youthful enthusiasm at first, but which eventually became adult determination. Some of the groups that Breggie joined often became involved in activities that could only be described as being just inside the law, but she found she enjoyed the action and adrenalin rush, particularly when those activities involved physical confrontation.

Breggie entered the University of Witwatersrand and majored in Politics and Economics. She gained her degree, indulged her aggressive opinions and threw herself at life.

In the ensuing four years, Breggie attached herself to the cause of the Whites and fought against the ANC, the African National Congress, believing that she would continue the perceived struggle and become a major, political figurehead. Such was her hatred of the black people, Breggie was more than just a willing volunteer and agitator, and went on many active ‘missions’ against them. But in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, Breggie realised that world politics and powerful politicians had rendered her cause useless, so she left her homeland and went to England.

It wasn’t long before she found her spiritual home and became involved in all manner of protests and demonstrations where she knew she would meet others of her persuasion. She attached herself to a growing animal rights group and found herself at her happiest when she was attacking animal centres, so called vivisectionists and anyone who the group considered a legitimate target.

But Breggie found her real calling when she killed her first, innocent victim; a doctor who unfortunately was at the scene of an attack one night when Breggie’s group raided a Beagle farm. He was gunned down and died of his injuries. It was Breggie who had shot him. The group were appalled at the dramatic and unseen turn of events, but such was Breggie’s strength and dominance within the group, there were others who rallied to her, elevating her to the role of leader.

Breggie revelled in her new role within the group, but her place as the most zealous among them brought its own dangers and the police finally arrested her. In court she could not be charged with the doctor’s murder, nor be held responsible for his death, but she was sentenced to a year in prison and deportation back to South Africa.

When she returned to South Africa, Breggie stayed long enough to see her parents but within a week she turned up in Germany. South Africa was no longer the place where she wanted to be. With her blonde hair, good looks and fine figure, she was a magnet for all kinds of people. But it was her chequered past that attracted the most ruthless, and it wasn’t long before Breggie was bound up in another cause.

She looked once more at Joseph and pouted her lips. She was happy, this was where she belonged. This was her strength. Soon it would begin.

*

Immense wealth sat comfortably on the shoulders of Manfred Schiller like the well cut, expensive jacket he was wearing; wealth that had been accumulated by a high intellect, courage, shrewd investments, hard work, plotting, cheating and scrupulous planning. Wealth that reached stratospheric proportions as he looked down on other billionaires from the lofty plateau of his rightful place as the world’s richest man. Wealth that came from armaments, oil, communications, aerospace, commerce and banking. Schiller’s wealth was the kind that beckoned Presidents and Monarchs. It was wealth where others bent the knee and touched the forelock.

If a man’s wealth was a measure of his power, then Manfred Schiller was the most powerful individual in the world, and that power meant that although he was now eighty five years of age, no man, King, President or commoner dared keep Herr Schiller waiting.

On this occasion however, he was quite happy to wait. And, strangely for someone who was quite used to dealing with the most powerful people in the world, he was as nervous as a kitten.

Manfred Schiller had been waiting in the gleaming lobby of the Schiller Memorial Hospital’s private wing for over thirty minutes now. He remained on his feet, refusing the offer of a chair. He was a tall, elegant man without the stoop that often accompanies old age. His hair, thin and white was swept straight back over his head. His features were sharp and chiselled, with a strong, aquiline nose. The good looks of his youth had long disappeared, but he was still a handsome man, and he could remain standing with even the youngest.

 The private annexe to the Memorial hospital, built with Schiller’s money, had been named in honour of Schiller’s only son, Hans, known as Hansi, who had been killed in a flying accident six months earlier. Outside the annexe, beyond the glass doors, which were engraved with the Schiller crest of a Golden Eagle, a large crowd of paparazzi and well-wishers had gathered and were waiting patiently with other members of Schiller’s security staff.

All out-patient appointments to the private annex had been cancelled that day to allow complete privacy and security for Schiller’s group. Visitors to patients who were already in the private wards had been told to report to the reception desk in the main hospital complex, and from there they would be escorted through the main hospital to the private wing. The complete privacy afforded to this man by the hospital was unprecedented but not altogether unexpected.

The reason for the gathering of the paparazzi and changed arrangements for private clients of the hospital, the security for the obvious trappings of serious power in the hands of one man, and for his willingness to wait patiently in the lobby was a one week old, infant boy: Manfred Schiller’s grandson.

*

Breggie de Kok loved telling Joseph that it was time to die. It was one of her silly expressions she used when everything had been planned down to the last detail and there was little chance of any of them dying for their cause. As was the case with all terrorists, their cowardly acts ensured almost certain survival for themselves. There were some risks but the dice was always loaded in their favour. And as was often the case, there were some serious backers financing the group.

Breggie and Joseph were concealed in a slightly elevated position among a copse of pine trees just a metre or so above the road. They were wearing camouflage fatigues, which meant they were practically invisible to any casual observer; certainly to anyone who would not expect them to be there. They had a clear sight of the private road that climbed up the hillside and through the trees to the residence of Manfred Schiller. To their right, about twenty metres or so from them was their American comrade in arms, Karl Trucco.

Trucco was sitting with his back to the road, leaning against a tree. He was quite still, but his mind was working methodically, carefully. He knew what he had to do; what was expected of him. They had rehearsed it all so very carefully so that nothing would go wrong and it would all be over in less than a sixty seconds.

He let his hand fall to his side until it touched the cold metal of his weapon. Like Schneider, he had an AKS-74 rifle with him, but his was fitted with a Zeiss scope. It had been zeroed at a range of 50 metres. Karl was a crack shot. He needed to be because nothing would happen until he had taken out the lead driver.

*

Manfred Schiller wasn’t alone in the hospital lobby. With him was a small group of people: the Director of the hospital, Klaus Beidecke who was the foremost gynaecologist in the country, Doctor Schumann and Schiller’s private secretary, Michael Strauss. The young receptionist, closeted behind her desk could almost feel the power emanating from the wealthiest man in the entire world and whose presence at the hospital ranked even more importantly than a visit from the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

 Doctor Schumann and Herr Beidecke were talking quietly together, their conversation almost a deferential hush. Strauss, on the other hand looked quite relaxed while he made monosyllabic comments to Schiller. Occasionally the old man would acknowledge him with a faint smile or a nod of the head, but always his eyes were glued to the internal glass doors at the far end of the lobby, looking for movement.

“Here they come,” Strauss said to him suddenly, tipping his head to one side. He could see the group through the glass doors. Schiller’s eyesight was not particularly good, so he was not aware of them until the doors slid open almost without a sound.

He stepped forward as his daughter-in-law Joanna, Hansi Schiller’s beautiful young widow, accompanied by her obstetrician and her personal nurse appeared at the doors. Joanna was carrying her week old baby son; the reason for Schiller’s agreeable acquiescence to be kept waiting. Something he was not used to but quite happy about. Also with Joanna were the baby’s nanny, Helga and other members of the hospital nursing staff.

Schiller held his hands forward. A warm, parental countenance softened the features of his face as he walked across the lobby to the small group. Joanna was beaming, her eyes not leaving the infant for more than a few seconds. She looked up at Schiller and the expression on her face was the same as any proud mother who was leaving the maternity ward with her brand new baby boy.

Beside Joanna, Helga beamed. She was the young, eighteen year old family friend who had agreed to defer her University place to spend a year as Nanny to the baby. She had been a great comfort to Joanna since the tragic death of her husband, and was almost like a young sister to her.

Schiller smiled at Joanna. “I am so proud of you.” He kissed her gently on the cheek which she proffered, and then he looked at the baby.

 “He’s lovely.” A small, almost wistful trace of sadness clouded his features for a moment. “I wish Hansi could have been here to see him. He would have been so proud.”

The reference to his dead son tempered that moment with a deep sense of loss for them both, but it was immediately replaced with their happiness that here at last was Hansi’s infant son.

Schiller turned to the obstetrician and shook him warmly by the hand, thanking him for everything his staff had done. Then he thanked each attendant nurse and finally put his arm protectively around Joanna’s shoulder.

“Let us take our baby home,” he said warmly.

Outside the hospital, waiting in the sunshine of a warm day, the newsmen held their cameras ready. An immediate bustle of activity started among the Mercedes cars as though there was more to be done than simply open the doors. Schiller had that effect on people. Flashlights began shattering the morning brightness as they bounced off the walls and reflected back in a flickering display from the glass doors and nearby windows. Schiller appeared on the steps with Joanna beside him, his face a picture that would undoubtedly fill the front pages of all the world’s leading magazines. Here at last was the new heir to Manfred Schiller’s immense fortune and almost limitless power.

Voices called out from the phalanx of pressmen.

“Frau Schiller, how is the baby?”

“Herr Schiller, Does he look like you?”

It was a continuum of the usual banal, sycophantic questions one hears from the unfortunate hacks whose task it often is to spend hours waiting for someone without the benefit of being granted a personal interview. And even if they had, it was of little doubt that the sycophancy would continue. How else would anyone dare interview such a man as Manfred Schiller? How else could they?

The great man allowed them a few minutes of posing, a theatrical but genuine show of thanks to the hospital staff, a wave of the hand and he finally escorted Joanna and her baby to the waiting limousine.

A police car moved out at the head of the convoy as soon as the other cars started to move. Two Mercedes saloons were riding one in front and one behind Schiller’s limousine. The convoy swept out of the hospital gates, following the police car and on to the main road. There were no obstructions and no traffic to bar its way as the cavalcade moved swiftly, given its freedom by the flashing blue light on the green and white police car.

Inside the quiet, air conditioned luxury of the limousine, Schiller took Joanna by the hand and smiled for what seemed to be the thousandth time at her. He lifted her hand and kissed the back of it gently. Because it was a sunny day, the air conditioning worked noiselessly to keep the interior of the car at a comfortable temperature.

“We are a family again, meine liebchen.” He said nothing else but just continued to look at her. Many times he had wished he was not an old man. Joanna was so beautiful. Her hair was the colour of obsidian blackness which shone and glittered with each movement of her head. Her eyes were the clearest blue he had ever seen, and she had an Aryan quality about her which belied her Englishness yet somehow strengthened it. No angular features to dull the quality of her face or the smoothness of her porcelain like skin. Her high cheekbones proclaimed the calibre of her breeding, which was so important to German sensibilities.

Joanna was well aware of Schiller’s feelings and quietly thanked him for never imposing himself upon her, particularly now that she was alone. It would not have surprised her if people suspected, or indeed believed, that she was no more than an uneducated bimbo who would soon find herself a sugar daddy in Manfred Schiller to sustain her luxurious lifestyle once the grieving for her dead husband had come to an end.

To her Schiller was the kindest man she had known after her own father who was dead now, and she was quite happy to remain part of his family for as long as he wished.

“Thank you Manfred.” She responded by squeezing his hand. “You are such a treasure to me. We will always be your family. Nothing will ever stop that, ever.”

*

The fourth man in the terrorist team was Conor Lenihan. Conor had been born in Catholic Belfast and brought up in the sectarian ways of his peers. He was streetwise at a very early age, and had learned quickly how to stone the men of the security forces and bait the Protestants of the ‘other side’. Conor had also been fortunate enough to spend many weekends on his uncle’s farm in County Fermanagh along the shores of Lough Erne.

It was there that Conor had learned the skills of the hunter. His uncle had taught him how to stalk game, how to set traps. He had shown the young boy how to bivouac at night and live off the land. He became an expert with a shotgun and rifle. Handling a pistol was as easy to Conor as handling a pen.

But these skills were not being imparted to Conor to improve his life among the dangerous streets of the city. Conor’s uncle was a recruiting officer for the IRA and the boy’s tenacity, fearlessness and obvious qualities among his peers had been noticed by the local IRA commander.

Conor, like many of his friends, had always nursed an ambition to serve the Finian masters in whatever capacity they wished. And it was a massive disappointment to him when he learned that his remit was to join the hated British Army. Much to Conor’s surprise, however, he took to the life like a duck to water and it wasn’t long before he was nursing the ambition to join the British Army’s Special Air Service, otherwise known as the ‘Regiment’.

Conor served the army well and his IRA chiefs, and when his career in the army came to an end, Conor was sent to County Kerry in Ireland where he helped train IRA recruits. Conor’s time in the Parachute Regiment and with the SAS had been peppered with excitement and adrenalin charged moments of tension which had honed him into a refined, fighting machine; the complete soldier. But the change from that lifestyle to one of almost total boredom had taken the edge of Conor’s skills and had almost cost him his life.

It was a mixture of luck and instinct that helped Conor to escape when an SAS hit team turned up at Conor’s farm in County Kerry posing as tourists. Where Conor would normally have been working out in the fields or around the farm at that time of day, he had gone into the farmhouse for a few minutes. He saw the two men from the window talking to his uncle. That had been the lucky bit. The instinct kicked in for some unknown reason and he felt suspicious. For all he knew they could have been a loyalist hit squad.

He slipped out of the farmhouse and tailed the two strangers using the techniques he had learned in the SAS. Within twenty four hours he knew they were SAS, and there was no reason for them to be there, which meant that his cover had been blown. Somehow the British had discovered that he had been a ‘sleeper’ while in the Army, so there was no other reason for the soldiers to turn up at the farmhouse than to kill him.

Twenty four hours later his IRA masters had spirited him away to a safe house in Germany and released him from his obligation to the cause. Conor Lenihan was now a free agent.

*

The drive from the hospital to Schiller’s residence was about twenty miles through some of the loveliest countryside in the Eifels Mountains, west of Koblenz. The convoy followed the green and white police car, trailed by a posse of pressmen and paparazzi, towards the foothills overlooking the Mosel’s route to the Luxembourg border. The towering beauty of this place was never lost on Schiller and he would often spend time there whenever he could.

Schiller’s home was set high in the hills of the Eifels. Access to it was by a single road which cut its way through a forest of pine trees. The area around the house, with its commanding views across the valleys and peaks had been cleared of trees for reasons of security. It was bounded by a double fence, the inner of which was electrified. It was monitored by security cameras and patrolled at night by guards with dogs. Another fence had been constructed lower down the slope. This was a standard chain link fence, not electrified, and was there to determine the boundary of Schiller’s property. On both sides of the mountain this fence was about six miles in length. It was never patrolled and only checked as part of a standard maintenance programme.

The police car drove past the gates leading to the access road and stopped. Immediately the lead Mercedes turned in towards the gates and was greeted by a security man. The convoy came to a halt. The pressmen and paparazzi automatically pulled into the side of the road and leapt from their cars to continue blazing away with their flashlights and TV cameras.

The driver in the leading Mercedes lowered the window. “What the fuck’s going on?” he wanted to know.

The guard was unmoved. He came round to the open window and placed one hand on the roof of the car and the other on the car door. He glanced inside at the occupants.

“Herr Schiller’s instructions, said there should be extra security.” He nodded in the direction of Schiller’s limousine. “Make sure them paparazzi bastards don’t get in.” 

As he spoke he placed his thumb at a point immediately below the driver’s shoulder. He rolled it against the paintwork, unseen to the people in the car. It was quite an unobtrusive movement, but when he pulled his hand away it left a white mark where his thumb had been.

At that precise moment the driver in the police car rolled his window down. He had in his hand a small transmitter about the size of a mobile phone. He put his arm out of the open window and held it aloft. He made a pretence of waving and let the clutch up. As the car moved away he pressed a transmit button on the transmitter. Then he pulled his arm in and rolled the window up. He smiled at his companion.

“Frei geld,” he said and laughed. ‘Easy money’.

*

Karl Trucco saw the red light flicker on and off. The small receiver was propped up against his back pack. The sound had been turned down to a minimum level, but he was just able to hear the intermittent bleep and the sharp, vibrating pulses. He suddenly felt nervous and his breath seemed to catch in his chest. It was no more than he expected. He got up and went through the trees to where Breggie and Joseph were concealed.

“They are coming.” It was simply stated. Nothing more was required. He turned and immediately went back to his own patch, his own killing field.

Breggie got up and put the Uzi around her shoulders so that it was carried across her chest. Joseph picked up his bag and kissed her swiftly on the cheek. He could literally feel the tension in her body. He kissed her again and then jogged up the road to a position about twenty metres further on from Karl.

The three of them were ready. There was no need to let Conor know the convoy was on its way. He knew exactly what he had to do.

*

Schiller was surprised to see a security guard at the gates. These were normally manned by a gatekeeper whose job it was to receive all deliveries of incoming goods, mail and unwanted callers. Anything the gatekeeper was unable to deal with could be handled by the security office established at the entrance to his residence.

He saw the security guard talking to the driver of the lead Mercedes and stiffened. Joanna thought nothing of it but was immediately aware of Schiller’s sudden curiosity. He touched the button on the small control panel set into the door and lowered the window. The guard walked up to the limousine and saluted.

“Sorry for the little delay, Herr Schiller.” He stooped and looked in through the open window. “The boss decided it would be better if we had someone here to keep the paparazzi out.”

Before Schiller could respond the guard had stood up and was redirecting his attention to the last Mercedes. Schiller grunted and leaned back in his seat. The window closed noiselessly and the car moved on.

The men in the third car had watched all this with interest and curiosity. The guard walked over to them as their driver lowered his window. He went through the same drill, explaining the reason for the extra security. He waved them through. None of the occupants of the three cars had ever seen the man before.

When the cars had disappeared from view, he then closed the gates and slipped a padlock through them from the inside. He paused momentarily, staring absently at the assembled pressmen, and then went back inside the small gatehouse.

*

Trucco lifted the rifle and pulled the stock close into his cheek. Nothing obscured his vision as he looked through the scope and sighted the crossed hairs on the trunk of a tree immediately across the road from him. He then swung the rifle to his right and waited.

Joseph dropped into position behind a tree on the edge of the tree line. He opened his bag and emptied out its contents; several magazines of 5.45 mm. hollow point bullets and two hand grenades. He was beginning to sweat and had to wipe his hands down the front of his combat vest. Joseph would not have the opportunity to pick his target as carefully as Trucco would. He had to wait for the car to come to rest.

Breggie held the Uzi tightly, as though she was afraid she might drop it. She could feel her heart beating in her chest. She was almost salivating and could feel wetness in her loins.

Conor heard the sound of the cars climbing the hill. He held a limpet bomb in his hand. In the waist band of his trousers he had stuffed a Browning 9mm automatic pistol and around his chest was a Heckler and Koch 9 mm MP5 submachine-gun.

Trucco saw the leading Mercedes briefly through the trees. There was very little sound, much of it being absorbed by the forest. Suddenly a vibrant noise shattered the calm; the machine-like rattle of a woodpecker scything through the wood. Trucco closed his eyes and swore softly beneath his breath. His finger had tightened perceptibly on the trigger. Had it not been for the fact that the sound of the woodpecker had been attendant on them since early morning, he would probably have mistaken it for gunfire.

The car appeared, moving effortlessly up the slope. He brought the rifle up to his cheek and peered through the telescopic sight. The crossed hairs danced momentarily on the car, coming to rest on the white mark left imprinted on the driver’s door. The mark had been placed immediately below the driver’s shoulder. Trucco raised the sights until they were bearing on a point about eight inches above the mark. Although he couldn’t see the driver through the darkened windows, he could visualise exactly where his head and shoulders were. It was as though the man’s outline was etched on the glass.

Conor watched the first car go by. He was crouched, out of sight, a few metres off the road. The second car came into view, gliding smoothly towards him. He tensed and increased his grip on the limpet bomb.

Joseph had positioned himself on a curve just above the point where Trucco was hiding. They knew that once the car had been hit, it would not make the bend and would probably run into the trees. It was Joseph’s task to ensure no-one came out of that car with guns blazing.

Trucco moved the gun-sight, following the mark with extreme accuracy. As the car reached the point in the road almost opposite him, he raised the crossed hairs and squeezed the trigger. Through the magnified image in the telescopic sight he saw the driver’s window crystallise for a moment and then cave in as the hollow tipped bullet shattered the driver’s skull.

Immediately the car slowed as the dead man’s foot slipped from the accelerator. The bodyguards in the back seat knew immediately what had happened and were opening their doors before the car had come to rest. The first one out of the car died in a hail of bullets from Joseph’s gun. The second man took a bullet in the chest from Trucco. He was flung backwards by the impact and was thrown from the car like a discarded cloth.

Schiller’s driver reacted instantly. His training took control of his movements and he jammed the brakes on, intending to slam the car into reverse. It was almost his last thought as Breggie shattered the tinted window with a long burst from the Uzi. Above the cacophony of sound in the car was the sudden, frightened cry of a baby and the terrified, witless scream from Joanna.

Conor kept his mind on the third car. As it passed him he raced from his hiding place and whacked the limpet bomb on the side panel of the rear door. He threw himself backwards and rolled away from the car. In just a few seconds he heard the dull crump as the car ballooned under the inward explosion of the bomb.

The wheels on the car collapsed outwards and two of its doors blew out. Conor was on his feet instantly. He ran to the car and pushed his Heckler and Koch machine gun into the space once occupied by three live humans. He emptied the magazine, spraying it round the car to ensure there was absolutely no chance of anyone surviving.

In less than a minute, all three cars had been immobilised and all the occupants except Schiller, Joanna and the infant were dead. It was bloody carnage. An execution skilfully carried out and one from which none of the intended victims could possibly survive.

Breggie opened the door of the limousine and beckoned Schiller to get out. He looked terrified. His skin had lost its colour and he seemed to have aged tenfold. The flesh on his skull was like parchment, and the horror in his face was as deep and dark as the most frightening of all his nightmares. He couldn’t move his body. He was rigid with fear. Except his hands; they shook violently as he held them up in an ineffectual attempt to protect himself. Breggie reached in and pulled him bodily from the car.

Joanna had stopped screaming. She was intelligent enough to know that these beasts were not about to kill her. For the moment she was safe. Her mind filled itself with all kinds of eventualities; of what might become of her, of them. But although she wasn’t screaming, she was terrified out of her mind. She clung to her baby both to protect the infant and to garner some ridiculous comfort from the baby’s touch. The baby was still crying. Its little hands were working the air and sobs racked its tiny frame. Joanna tried to calm the infant, holding it close to her, kissing the wetness of the baby’s tears.

“Get out!”

Breggie’s command to Joanna was screamed at her. There was urgency in the woman’s voice that scared Joanna even more. She hesitated at first but knew resistance was futile. She climbed out of the car, still clutching the baby.

Schiller found his voice at last and started to protest. “What is the meaning of this outrage?” It was pathetically weak and died on his lips. He couldn’t comprehend it all. He was a man used to absolute power and control. Nobody dared challenge him. To do so would have been futile. Yet here were people who had put themselves above his power. They had challenged it with awesome swiftness and terrifying results. He tried to voice his protest again but there was such an aura of evil menace around the figure that stood before them that he could not find the courage. He felt useless and ashamed, and cursed the frailness that old age had brought to his body.

Breggie ignored him and spoke directly to Joanna.

“Give me the baby.”

Joanna couldn’t respond. Her maternal instincts were as powerful in her as any mother. The demand from Breggie did not register.

“I said give me the baby!” Breggie held her hand out. In her other hand was the Uzi which was pointing at the ground. She felt relaxed and in control of herself. She knew, however, that time was not on their side. Soon the security guards at the top of the hill would realise something was wrong. They might assume one of the cars had broken down, but whatever they thought, someone would be coming down that road to investigate. If they had been able to hear the gunfire, much of which would have been cloaked by the trees, they would be bringing an army down with them.

“No.” Joanna pulled the baby closer as if that simple act was sufficient to make the woman change her mind.

Suddenly Schiller found his voice. “Go away. Please. I will pay you anything you like. Anything.”

Breggie ignored him and kept her eyes on Joanna. “You will give the baby to me. Now!”

“No!” Joanna screamed at her. “I will not. You have no right.”

Breggie swung her fist at Joanna’s unprotected jaw. The blow was so swift and unexpected that Joanna was unable to avoid it. Breggie’s fist crashed into her jaw and sent her flying. The baby fell from her arms but before it hit the ground, Breggie scooped the infant up and clutched it to her camouflage jacket. Then she turned quickly and ran into the forest.

Joanna lay on the ground, not moving. Schiller looked on in horror as the masked figure of Breggie de Kok and his grandson disappeared. He glanced down at Joanna. More in hope than anything else, he looked up the road towards the silent Mercedes. It had rolled to a stop, its bonnet hard up against a tree. Down the road the other car was like a collapsed ball. He knew his men were all dead. The ferocity and speed of the attack left him in no doubt. He bent down and knelt beside Joanna. He took her hand and massaged it gently. He felt hopeless. All around him was death and silence.

All but the stark, vibrant sound of a woodpecker.