“When did you know you were lost?” he asked.
I looked down at my trembling hands, thinking of what best to say.
“When I rounded the peninsula I guess, and saw the empty beach. I had expected the camp site to be there. I must have got off the bus at the wrong stop.”
“There are no camp sites around here, it’s private land, owned by the MOD.”
“But there were no signs!”
“You climbed a barbed wire fence. Most people would know not to do that.”
His sarcasm made me wary, that and the gun which he had not lowered during our exchange. I could see his jeep, parked up beyond the dunes with his colleague standing alongside. The sunlight glinted off the binoculars that were trained on us. I wondered if there were more of them.
“Do you want me to go back the way I came?”
“And get lost again? I don’t think so.” He spoke into his lapel, “Bring the jeep down, we’ll take her in.”
I watched as his colleague climbed into his vehicle and heard the engine sputter to life.
“Where are you going to take me? My mother always told me not to get in a car with strangers.”
My weak attempt at humour fell flat, the gun emphasising the brevity of my situation. He slid into the seat alongside me, resting it on his legs, still pointing in my direction.
I tried to work out where we were going, but the track through the dunes twisted and turned. I saw no landmarks save an old pillbox a few hundred yards from the lane we eventually joined. This wound its way to a grass covered hanger, doors sliding open as we approached. The jeep was driven in and I saw men, maybe a dozen of them, walking towards us. As the engine cut I heard the clang of the door closing behind.
“Put your jacket on your rucksack and take off your boots.”
I did as they asked, what choice did I have? A tall man ran a handheld device over my body, not touching but getting too close for comfort. Clicks intensified as they found my phone and my knife. Both were removed.
I was escorted to a metal staircase by four of the men, including my escorts from the beach. At the top was a windowless room containing a table with chairs either side.
Still only my captor had spoken, his voice clipped and precise. I did as I was told although the men stayed standing, waiting.
When the explosion happened I hit the deck, rolling over and over towards the door which they had not thought to lock. Two shots missed me, a third grazed my shoulder before I could reach the handrail and flip over, dropping to the ground and rolling behind the crates I had noticed as we passed. The remnants of my bag were still smoking, blood and body parts scattered nearby.
The second explosion took out the door at the far end of the hanger, diverting the attention of all except my captor. I watched him fall as our marksman did his job, taking them out one by one from behind the requisitioned armoured truck.
We left no survivors, in and out in less than thirty minutes with only one casualty, a new recruit who I had never fully trusted anyway. Len would be suspicious but I could live with that. He wasn’t the first own goal I had scored.
We left as we had arrived, the bus taking me further along the coast before dropping me near the path I would take to the train station. I noticed the ache in my shoulder as the adrenaline subsided. I would be stiff tomorrow but could walk that off.
It took me two days to get home via the circuitous route we had agreed. I ran a hot bath as I unwrapped a phone from my collection and linked it in to the network. Debrief was to be in Turkey, next job in Beijing.
As I sank down into the bubbles and heat I pondered the order to take out one of our own highly trained cells. I guessed they must have completed the never officially acknowledged maximum number of missions before becoming a liability. That was my future, but only if I survived. I smiled at the thought of the postcards I received from dead colleagues.