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Authors: Stephen Leather

Soft Target

Soft Target
Stephen Leather
Hodder Stoughton (2004)
Rating:
★★★☆☆
Review

Leather is in the top rank of thriller writers. --
Jack Higgins

About the Author

Stephen Leather is one of the UK's most successful thriller writers. Before becoming a novelist he was a journalist for more than ten years on newspapers such as The Times, the Daily Mail and the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Before that, he was employed as a biochemist for ICI, shoveled limestone in a quarry, worked as a baker, a petrol pump attendant, a barman, and worked for the Inland Revenue. He began writing full time in 1992. His bestsellers have been translated into more than ten languages. He has also written for television shows such as London's Burning, The Knock and the BBC's Murder in Mind series and two of his books, The Stretch and The Bombmaker, were filmed for TV. You can find out more from his website, www.stephenleather.com.

Soft Target
Soft Target

Soft Target

I am indebted to Terry O'Connor for his help and advice on the workings of the Metropolitan Police's SO 19 Firearms Unit. Mick Joyce, Peter Mardle and Alistair dimming of the British Transport Police were generous with their time and expertise while explaining how the London Underground would deal with a terrorist incident. Any errors of fact are mine and not theirs.

Denis O'Donoghue, Barbara Schmeling and Matt Richards helped me get the manuscript into shape, and I was fortunate once again to have the benefits of Hazel Orme's editing skills.

Producing a novel can be a long, arduous process, and having an editor of the calibre of Carolyn Mays makes the journey a more pleasant one. I'll always be grateful for her input and support.

The heroin had come a long way. It had started its journey as opium in Afghanistan, carried on the backs of donkeys to Jalalabad where it sold for a hundred US dollars a kilo. Sealed in polythene and wrapped in burlap sacking, it was carried over the border into Pakistan, under the eye of former Taliban fighters, and from there to Uzbekistan, where Chinese technicians converted it into heroin.

Bribes were paid to Customs officers, and it was dispatched by rail in a consignment of flour to Poland.

There, it was transferred to hidden compartments in a containerload of tinned plums and driven to Germany.

Customs officials in the European Union were harder to bribe than those in the former Soviet Union, but the truck crossed without hindrance. A German truck driver took the container to France, where a Turk drove it on to a crossChannel ferry. He had a British passport and was a regular on the ferry. Customs at Dover didn't give him a second glance.

Three hours later the heroin was being driven on the M2 towards London and had increased in wholesale value to 30,000 pounds a kilo.There were two hundred kilos in the container,

six million pounds' worth. Once it had been cut, the street value would be around fifteen million.

Twice when the truck drove under footbridges across the motorway it was monitored by spotters, men with mobile phones who checked that it wasn't being followed. Both were satisfied that it was not and phoned ahead to say that everything was as it should be.

As the Turk drove into Central London he was shadowed by two high-powered motorcycles. Once they were certain that the truck still wasn't being followed he was told where to make his delivery. He went to a warehouse in North London where the plums were unloaded, to be sold on to a legitimate supermarket chain. Four Turkish Cypriots unbolted a metal plate that ran the width of the rear of the container.

Behind the plate, steel trays were packed with the white plastic parcels of brown powder, each the size of a small loaf of bread. They checked the purity and weight of the heroin,

and sent the driver on his way.

The consignment was divided into four. The Turks took the lion's share and, for a week or so, the street price of heroin fell by ten per cent in North London. Forty kilos were sold to a group of former IRA activists who took it on the ferry to Belfast where they were arrested by the Northern Irish police. Another thirty kilos ended up on the streets of Liverpool. The dealers usually used milk powder to bulk out the drug but the heroin arrived on a Sunday and their local shop was shut. They substituted quinine but the dealer who did the mixing used too much and twenty-seven heroin addicts ended up in hospital. Three died.

The Turks sold ten kilos to a Yardie gang in Harlesden.

They didn't like doing business with the Jamaicans, but the Yardies were keen to buy for cash. Customs had seized one of their deliveries in the suitcases of a mother of three at Heathrow Airport. Twelve kilos. She had been unlucky: she didn't fit the profile of a mule but an officer had seen her fumbling nervously for her mobile phone as she pushed her trolley through the green channel. The heroin hadn't even been well hidden - the false compartments in the bottom of her oversized suitcases were discovered within minutes. The woman had broken down in tears and told the officer that a gang in Kingston had threatened to castrate her two sons if she didn't do as they wanted, and had promised her a thousand dollars if she did. The investigators told her she'd get a lighter sentence if she gave evidence against the gang,

but she cried all the harder.

The handover between the Turks and the Yardies took place on a petrol-station forecourt in Wood Lane. A Turkish godfather owned it, so the CCTV cameras were switched off and the Turks had three heavies with submachine pistols hidden in the toilets in case the Yardies tried to take the drugs for free.

The Yardies, too, were armed but they brought three hundred thousand pounds with them, mainly in fifty-pound notes. The Turks counted the bundles of money and examined three closely. Satisfied, they handed over the drugs. The Yardies had brought a chemical kit and tested two packages,

then pronounced themselves satisfied. The deal was done.

The Yardies piled into a BMW and drove into the night with their heroin.

'I hate the Yardies,' said one of the Turks, as he watched the BMW disappear into the distance. 'You can't trust them.

Give me the Bangladeshis every time.' He lit a small cigar and drew the smoke deep into his lungs. 'You know where you are with a Bangladeshi.'

'I hate the Turks,' said Delroy Moran. He was sitting in the front passenger seat of the 7 Series BMW. Gangly, with shoulder-length dreadlocks, he'd flown into London six months earlier to escape a murder investigation in Jamaica.

He was wearing a tight T-shirt, and a gold medallion featuring a cannabis plant dangled round his neck. The deal he'd just done was his biggest to date and the adrenaline was still flooding through his veins. He planned to cut the heroin with milk powder and sell it in Harlesden at seventy pounds a gram. Seventy thousand a kilo.

'Yeah, well, they hate us,' said Chas Eaton, the driver. He didn't have a licence or insurance but he did have three convictions for dangerous driving, under different names,

and had once run over and killed a thirteen-year-old girl at a zebra crossing in South London. He had left the scene,

abandoned and torched the car, and hadn't suffered a moment's guilt. 'But money's money, innit?'

'I'm just saying, given the chance they'd rob us blind.You've gotta count your fingers every time you shake their hands,

know what I mean?'

The two heavies sat in the back of the BMW. Their knees were wide apart but still pressed against the front seats.

'Starvin" Marvin Dexter and Lewis 'Jacko' Jackson. Both were London born and bred of Jamaican parents, and when they weren't riding shotgun for Delroy Moran they were in either the gym or the boxing ring.The duffel bags were stuffed under their legs and they were holding their guns down.

There were enough drugs in the car to ensure that they would go down for a double-digit prison sentence so they had no intention of going quietly if they were stopped by the police.

Eaton brought the BMW to a halt in front of a row of shops: a hardware store, an 'everything for a pound' shop,

a cut-price supermarket, a minicab company, a betting shop,

an off-licence - everything that was necessary for inner-city life. There were two storeys of flats above them. The entrance to Moran's apartment was between the betting shop and the off-licence, both now closed for the night. Three young women were huddled in front of the minicab office. Dyed blondes, short skirts, cheap jewellery. If Moran hadn't been working he'd have gone over and asked if they wanted to party. One of the blondes, who couldn't have been more than sixteen, smiled at him hopefully through the windscreen but he ignored her. 'It's gonna rain, innit?' he said. 'Put the car away, yeah?' There was a line of lock-up garages behind the shops and he rented two. He twisted in his seat and nodded at Dexter and Jackson. 'Swift, yeah?'

Dexter and Jackson opened the rear doors, heaved themselves out of the car and shouldered the duffel bags, their guns inside their jackets.

Moran hurried to the front door, jabbed at an intercom on the wall to warn the two men inside the apartment that they were on the way up, and opened the door. A small CCTV camera was pointing down at the doorway and Moran flashed it a grin, then stepped aside to let Dexter and Jackson head up the stairs. The intercom was still buzzing, then went silent, and the door closed before Moran could follow the others. He cursed the two men upstairs. Probably spaced out of their skulls. He stabbed at it again and heard a sleepy voice: 'Yeah?'

'We're on the way up, everything okay?'

'Yeah.'

Moran glared up the CCTV camera. 'If they've been at the crack I'm gonna do for them, innit,' said Moran. He followed Dexter and Jackson inside, then closed the front door. It had been reinforced with a metal sheet and the doorframe was lined with strips of metal. It would take the police minutes with their ram even to dent it. Moran exhaled. He was home and dry. Three hundred thousand pounds they'd paid the Turks. Cut and on the street, the heroin was worth almost three-quarters of a million. Easy money.

Chas Eaton drove the BMW slowly down the road, turned left, then left again down the alley that ran behind the shops.

The lock-up garages were brick-built with corrugated metal roofs and most had wooden doors, but Moran's two had metal shutters, heavy-duty padlocks and alarms. They kept the BMW in one of the garages and four stolen high-powered motorcycles in the other.

Eaton stopped and climbed out of the car. From where he was standing he could see the rear of the apartments above the shops. Most of the windows that overlooked the alley were bathrooms and several times Eaton had glimpsed naked flesh while he parked the car at night. The light in Moran's bathroom was off but Eaton frowned when he saw that the window was half open and a ladder was propped under it against the wall. He cursed. There'd be hell to pay if the flat had been burgled. If there had been a break-in, it wouldn't have been a local. Delroy Moran was feared for miles around.

As Eaton headed for the door he fished the padlock key from his trouser pocket. He heard a muffled footstep behind him and started to turn. 'Say goodnight, Sooty,' said a voice,

and something hard crashed into the back of Eaton's head.

He was unconscious before he hit the ground.

Moran headed up the stairs, after Dexter and Jackson, to a second door, also reinforced with metal. Above it was a second CCTV camera. The door opened and the two men carried the bags inside. Jackson stopped on the threshold. Moran pushed him in the small of the back but he seemed reluctant to move. When Moran peered over his shoulder, he saw why.

A man wearing a rubber Alien mask with teardrop-shaped black eyes was standing in the middle of the room, holding a large automatic in both hands. Dexter was kneeling on the floor, the duffel bag still on his shoulder. 'Inside!' hissed Alien.

Moran reached for the Glock tucked into the back of his trousers but a second masked man appeared at the side of the gunman, wearing a Frankenstein mask and holding a Magnum revolver. He was wearing a dark blue anorak with the hood up over the mask, black leather gloves, dark blue jeans and black boots. Frankenstein waved his weapon. 'Touch that gun and you'll be one sorry nigger,' he shouted. 'Now get inside.'

The man in the Alien mask grabbed Jackson's coat collar,

pulled him into the room and forced him to his knees.

Moran moved his hand away from the butt of the Glock.

'You don't know who you're fucking with,' he said.

'Delroy Moran, drug-dealing scumbag, molester of underage girls and murderer of a taxi-driver in Kingston,'

said the Alien. 'I know exactly who I'm dealing with, and nothing would make me happier than to put a bullet in your sorry excuse for a face. Now, take three steps forward and get down on your knees.' He was wearing identical clothing to Frankenstein.

'This is fucked-up, man,' said Moran.

'Yeah, life's a bitch,' said Frankenstein.

'Fire that motherfucker and the cops'll be over you like a rash,' snarled Moran.

'Oh, right, Delroy. The cops rush over to Harlesden every time they hear a gun go off, do they? And just how are they gonna get through the two steel doors?' He gestured with the Magnum. 'I'll keep it simple, you being educationally challenged and all. In. Now.'

Moran swore and stepped into the room.

Frankenstein kicked the door shut. 'Knees. Down. Now,'

he said.

Moran dropped to his knees, his eyes never leaving the gunman's face. 'You are dead meat,' he said.

'Sticks and stones, Delroy.'

Frankenstein grabbed the duffel bag from Dexter and ripped open the top. He examined the contents. 'Heroin,' he 7 said to Alien, then took Jackson's duffel bag and checked it.

'Ten kilos, I'd say.'

'Heading for the big time, hey, Delroy?' said Alien. 'Now,

everyone put their hands behind their heads, fingers interlinked,

nice and slowly.'

The three Yardies did as they were told. Frankenstein took the Glock from Moran and tucked it into his belt.

'Nice gun, the Glock,' said Frankenstein. 'Never jams. But me, I prefer the good old Colt. Can't go wrong with a Colt,

that's what I always say.'

'You've got the gear, man,' said Moran. 'Do I have to listen to a lecture on guns?'

Alien took a step towards Moran and pointed his gun at the man's face. 'You're a very funny nigger, Delroy. But it's the cash we want, not your drugs.'

'There's no money. And the racial slurs are wearing thin,'

said Moran.

Alien whipped his gun across Moran's face. Blood spurted and Moran's head spun to the left. He saw the two men he'd left to guard his flat, lying face down with strips of tape across their mouths, their hands bound behind them with plastic strips.

Frankenstein stepped in front of Moran. 'When did you get the safe?' he asked.

Moran's eyes flicked to the left, to the door that led into the main bedroom. 'Three days ago.'

'Open it.'

'It's empty.'

'So open it and show me.'

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