Opening Chapter of Ghost of a Chance (A Double-OO universe story)
One - Cairo 1956
Sebastian Ives’ nightmare was always the same. The dream was always a harbinger, some sixth sense that a threat was looming somewhere out of the shadows. His Manipuri pony, Ayesha fleeing through the verdant groves of Bengal, whinnying and bucking from the bullet graze over her left eye. Her chestnut eyes are rolling with fear, wrenched from the tidy comfort of the stable. Then his father, sweating out a bottle of whiskey, appears in his Colonel’s regimental uniform with a gleaming service revolver. Several drunken shots, leaves the pinto mare in bleeding distress. Only the village elder, appearing from a hut with a carbine older than himself, euthanises the hapless, thrashing animal. The pony’s dying scream tears around Ives’ subconscious like a thundering freight train.
Ives threw himself from the bug-ridden bed and walked to the shower. It sprayed water in intermittent bursts allowing a brief sensation of coolness on the skin. Reaching for his travel kit, he stropped his onyx-handled razor methodically. Through the open window, the first calls of the muezzin’s prayers drifted out over the slums and buildings of Egypt’s capital. Ives shaved quickly, working the honed blade along his square chin and its off-set cleft. The face staring back through the cracked mirror looked slightly older than twenty-three years. But that was because sleep had been a fitful few hours. Towelling quickly and giving his thick mane of hair a flick of the comb, Ives dressed quickly into a khaki shirt, loose fitting shorts like a Sikh’s kacheras, thick socks and battered, solid combat boots. He shrugged on a leather flyer’s jacket and checked the breech of his Browning 9mm. He took his travel kit, spare ammunition clips and heavy comb at pants and folded them into a small duffel bag. Glancing one more around the room, he shut the door quietly.
The corridor to the small hotel was dark, one flickering lightbulb indicated some level of electrical power was pulsing through the city. He tapped on the door opposite. It opened silently and the creased tanned face of Hoare, stared back,
“Five minutes, in the dining room, Chaiwallah,” he said
Nicknames only – Hoare was ‘Paddy’, the leader. Ives because of his black hair and colonial gait ‘Chaiwallah’ and the next door down, Wiffen, - ‘Toon’, the Geordie sergeant. He was Ives’ next port of call. The short blocky, sergeant held the door open with a meaty tattooed arm,
“Dining room,” said Ives
“Shakin’ the divil by d’tail,”
“Isn’t he always,”
The door closed and the clump of heavy boots rumbled around the corridor.
The hotel offered little by way of breakfast, a few re-heated stale flat breads compensated by strong, sweet coffee. The proprietor of the hotel, a short man in a night-shirt and propped up with a walking stick bowed out and shut the dining room behind him.
Hoare had a city-grid map of Cairo and photographs pinned to the notice board in no time. He was lean and in his late thirties. He produced a silver hip flask and poured its contents into the three mugs,
“The one lesson I learned in the desert was that like Rommel’s Afrika Korps, both are equally unforgiving. Drink up, the booze will help your circulation in the midday heat,” he tapped the map with a long, finely pointed pencil, “2nd Para are holding this area here. There’ll be a Westland landing there at 11:00 hrs giving us very little time.”
He traced the pencil from the consular safe house to the landing zone.
Ives tried to visualise the route.
“What’s the operation?” he asked
Hoare and Wiffen stared at him.
“We’re an escort service for a young lady and a strongbox, Chaiwallah,” said Hoare, his rolling Irish cadences hung in the air.
He let the sentence hang,
“Any other questions?”
Ives and Wiffen shook their heads.
“Let’s get cracking, then, best not leave a lady waiting.”
He folded and tossed the map to Ives,
“Think you can get us there, Chaiwallah?”
“No problem, sir,” replied Ives.
The Mercedes 120w was a powerful car. Ives felt its sheer naked power throbbing through the steering wheel. At his home in Kensington, London, he had a Bentley R-Type in his garage; a similar mighty machine. Wiffen sat in the passenger seat, Hoare perched uneasily on the plush back seat. Ives navigated the early morning roads smoothly and pulled up to the address. It was an old style French colonial house; ornate Rocco-style pillars framed by a linear façade fronted by a well-manicured lawn. The sun was beginning its burning orbit above the city and a long finger of sunlight cast a red beam across the doorway. Hoare and Wiffen walked up the gravel drive. Two Thompson machine guns hung from their sides. Ives angled the rear-view mirror around taking in the street. No doubt, the Egyptian secret police, the Ismalia, wouldn’t be far behind.
He checked his Rolex Tudor Gold, a gift from his mother before she died; it was 6.30am.
Ives kept the Mercedes rumbling on a low gear.
He glanced back at the house.
The girl who stepped out was breath-taking. She had the lithe insouciance of a model. A thick bolt of blonde hair had been plaited and fell across a pristine white blouse. A broad summer hat shadowed her features. Her neat slacks and sensible pumps didn’t diminish her height, but suggested she was three-quarters leg. As Hoare and Wiffen wrestled the huge metal-plated strong box into the boot, the girl slipped into the back seat, tossing the hat aside. She pulled on a pair of stylish sunglasses.
A delicately gloved hand appeared at his shoulder. Ives shook it awkwardly
“They call me, Chaiwallah,” he replied.
“You and your code-names - in this day and age,” she said.
Ives got the impression, Ms Barnes had done this before. Her voice was light and cultured, but he thought she could deliver a hearty shout.
The boot clunked shut and Hoare and Wiffen jumped in.
Ives hit the accelerator and the Mercedes took off at speed.
Negotiating the plush colonial suburbs, Ives soon connected with the bustling free-for-all of a dense ancient metropolis coming to life. Carts, horses and donkeys competed with buses, cars, bicycles and motor-bikes for any available space. There seemed to be no left or right-hand lane, only a gap which was dashed at by all at a merciless speed. He stamped the vehicles brake pads until they sparked,
“Two Packards have been on my tail for the past three minutes, sir,” he said.
Parting through the throngs like knives in his rear-view mirror were two tan-coloured Packard Cavaliers,
“That’s the bloody Ismalia, can you lose them?” said Hoare, craning his neck.
The car offered little movement for the Thomsons. Ives pulled his Browning from its shoulder holster and dropped it between his legs. He tossed the guns two magazines from his leather jacket at Wiffen’s feet.
“Give it a go, sir,” he said.
The Mercedes began its desperate dash toward the rendezvous. It cleared through three junctions at high-speed before the back window shattered. Glass went everywhere and Hoare returned fire. The next bullet shattered the rear-view mirror. Ives heard it whistling past his ear. He hit the brake, locked the steering wheel to the left and put all his strength into the handbrake. Like a capsizing motor boat, the Mercedes spun 180 degrees and Ives floored the accelerator.
“hang on,” he shouted.
He hit the first Packard head-on. The Ismalia’s startled expressions ended when the two men crashed through the windscreen. Their car pitched upwards spilling them onto the street and Ives slammed into reverse. Somehow the rush-hour commuters weaved around the chaos as Ives straightened the Mercedes up.
One down, one to go, he thought
Hoare, Wiffen and Barnes clung onto whatever was available.
The second Packard was more dogged. Hoare cleared the back-window glass and the pops from the Thomson barking returning fire filled the car. They cleared the city limits and a long stretch of road appeared. Wiffen was practically hanging out of the passenger door shooting. He gave a sudden cry and slumped out over the door. Blood splashed inwards onto the Mercedes’ ceiling. Ives felt Wiffen’s dead weight dragging the Mercedes to the left. In the one good wing mirror, the Packard was accelerating alongside.
“Miss Barnes, can you take the wheel?”
With gasping stretches, Samantha Barnes clambered over and Ives pushed up against Wiffen’s body. The Packard was alongside. One Ismalia, all mirror sunglasses and beige suit took aim at Samantha’s profile. Using Wiffen as a shield, Ives propped the Browning across the dead man’s back and fired point blank. The mirrored glasses disintegrated and the Packard veered wildly off onto the scrub.
The airfield appeared on the horizon. Ives reloaded as Hoare spotted the Packard swinging back in from behind and angling toward Barnes’ side. Another burst from his Thomson was met by loud bangs and cracks. Hoare slumped across the back-seat, his nose and mandible just bloodied meat. His eyes were wide open as if caught by surprise.
Ives and Barnes exchanged a glance. She stamped on the accelerator. From the back-passenger window, the beige Packard’s nose appeared. A burst of machine gun fire riddled the roof. Glass shattered and thuds of bullets hitting the side panels shook the Mercedes.
Ives emptied another magazine in return fire. The needle on the Mercedes was at 120kph.
“Take this,” said Barnes.
She tossed a silver necklace over. It was silver cross.
“My family live in Cambridge, Chaiwallah,”
“There’s the helicopter,” said Ives.
A huge Westland Whirlwind clattered overhead toward the sand-bagged clearing. It hovered over the rendezvous like a fat bug. The Packard was now alongside. Ives fired across Barnes’ face until the clip ran empty.
“I’m out,” he said.
Samantha Barnes tugged the steering wheel colliding with the Packard. The Ismalia driver gradually forced her back onto the road. She set her jaw tight and put everything into pushing back.
Ives stared at the landing zone. Soldiers were setting up a machine gun nest. Ives pulled up the handbrake. The Mercedes skewed wildly, then slowed and the Packard drove into concentrated withering machine gun fire. It idled slowly into a small gulley. Two more bursts from the nest and the car ignited.
The Mercedes came to a halt and Ives pushed Wiffen through the window. He hit the sand like a cement sack. Reaching back, Ives checked Hoare’s pulse - he was dead. Ives sprinted around and opened the driver door. It was when he unbuckled Samantha he saw her wound. She was spewing blood for her side.
“Damn, Chaiwallah, damn…”
She fell into his arms.
Sebastian Ives dashed towards the running troopers with Samantha Barnes cradled in his arms. The helicopter began to increase its rotations. Two soldiers dashed past him and opened the boot. By the time Ives had Barnes inside the army perimeter, the strong box had been loaded onto the helicopter.
“Best get aboard, son,” said the officer. His face was blackened by the desert.
“Hoare and Wiffen?” asked Ives
“Have to leave them, son.”
The troopers were mounting the Westland and a medic had Samantha Barnes stretched out in the sun. Her complexion was as white as her shirt. Her side wound, a bloody stigmata.
“Sorry, son. She’s gone,” he said
They loaded her gently aboard and within minutes the Whirlwind was airborne.
In less than an hour, the Westland was high over the Red Sea. The Captain of 2nd Para looked at his watch and nodded. Two troopers man-handled the strongbox to the open doorway. The cold ocean swirled far below. They brought over Samantha Barnes and fastened her legs to the box with strong ropes.
“Wait, no!” said Ives
“She knew the risks, this is the deal,” said the Captain.
If he was upset, it didn’t show in his hooded eye lids and sagging crow’s feet. Like the rest of his men, he was covered in a layer of dust.
The strong box was nudged over, then pitched over the side. It fell towards to ocean with a fluttering angel strapped to it. Samantha Barnes’ long blonde plait hung suspended in the Arabian skies.
Ives opened his bloodied, oiled hand. Her silver cross shone like a tear-drop. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the vibrating airframe. The soldier’s heads were all bowed in prayer.
“Mission accomplished, son,” said the Captain,
“I hope it was worth it,” replied Ives
“Where will we drop you off?”
“Anywhere is ok, Captain,” replied Ives.
A small ripple below marked Samantha Barnes’ resting place,
“She never had a ghost of a chance,” said Ives
“None of us have, son.”
The Westland clattered toward the aircraft carrier that appeared on the horizon below. The ocean closed over the weighted strong-box and it plummeted into the dark depths with Samantha Barnes in tow.