Chapter 1 - Touchdown - 1 - Tuesday 7th June 2011
"This is not an exercise. I say again, not an exercise. Clear, Miller?"
"As crystal, sir…"
The bearded policeman in midnight blue uniform and chequered cap, semi-automatic rifle cradled in his arms, gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. What did they think he was – stupid? Getting on for ten on a Tuesday night, with South Terminal half-empty and just him and Kenny Hall sent to maintain surveillance on a lone target? Hardly likely to be one of their bloody simulations, now was it?
"Doesn't look like he's spotted you…"
Inclining his head, Miller spoke softly into the shoulder mike. "I don't think he's even checking, sir…"
Not for a moment did his eyes stray from the angular figure, bent slightly beneath the weight of the pack slung across his shoulder, who continued with the same rituals he had been performing ever since Miller arrived. He circled the deserted area in front of carousel number one at a leisurely pace. Every so often he stopped and crouched before launching himself into a swallow dive that propelled him across the floor on his stomach. After lying prone for a few seconds, he clambered to his feet and the sequence began again.
"How long do we reckon he's been in here now, sir?"
"Four, maybe five minutes before you and Hall turned up. So…call it twenty…"
"Couldn't have just got the wrong one, could he…?"
Beyond his line of vision, ground staff in Day-Glo jackets would be performing well-oiled routines; shepherding the public to a safe distance, erecting and manning barriers. Closer at hand, Kenny would be shifting position in a dance choreographed to keep himself, Miller, and their target at the points of an imaginary equilateral triangle, as prescribed by the training manual.
"What's he's doing now…?"
"Reading the out of order sign…?"
"Assuming he understands English, French, German or Spanish…"
"Hang on, sir…"
He had shrugged off the backpack, leaned it against the carousel and with one athletic stride mounted the gleaming metal surface. Easing himself down until he was sitting straight-backed, he folded his legs beneath him, guru-style. Without haste, he placed his hands on his thighs, palms upward, and allowed his eyes to close. Tall and wiry, he was wearing jeans and a faded, red checked shirt. Miller studied the contours of chest and lower body. From thirty odd yards, no sign of tell-tale bulges. Not that he expected any; nothing as crude as a body-belt could have evaded both metal detectors and pat-downs. They'd have checked the bloke's sandals, too: which just left the backpack…
"What do you make of that…?"
Miller sighed. "Search me, sir. Praying…?"
Praying. Last rites, or whatever it was they did. Maybe they had their own manual and the bloke was following instructions. If so, he'd skipped the bit about making bloody sure you didn't attract attention.
"Couldn't be more conspicuous if he was waving a flag, sir…"
"And playing a trombone…"
"That too, sir. Could be a decoy…"
"Don't worry your pretty head about that, Miller…"
"I'll try not to, sir…"
"No sign he might be, but if he is, it's our problem. Yours is dealing with him…"
"Didn't look round before he hopped up there. And if there's anything in that pack he's not bothered about keeping it handy…"
"Could have a remote…"
"We need his hands where we can see them…"
"Soon as I can, sir…" Miller sniffed. "What do you think – give him a couple of minutes? If he hasn't made a move by then, go in and have a word…?"
His suggestion was met by silence; he wondered how many they'd got crammed into the ops room.
"Fair enough. Hall will remain on your right flank. Take it nice and easy, okay. There's no rush…"
Miller pursed his lips. What did they think he was going to do – run at the bloke shouting and waving his gun? The target was rocking gently to and fro, chin held high. He had a long face, fair curly hair, gingery moustache and a beard trimmed tight along a fine jaw line. Miller put him somewhere between twenty-five and thirty.
Hall sounded bored, but then he invariably did; nothing ever seemed to faze old Kenny. That was what made him exactly the wingman you'd have picked when anything might happen.
"Right…" Miller muttered, to himself. "Let's do this thing…"
He advanced a dozen or so paces, forefinger nestling alongside the trigger guard. Minimal pressure on that trigger was all it took to launch 5.56mm rounds from the Heckler & Koch's stubby barrel at a velocity in excess of 3000mph. Halting in mid-stride he turned his head and listened.
"…Gátt Gátt Gátt
Goat Goat Goat
"Hear that, Kenny…?"
"Buggered if I know, sir. Singing is he…?"
"Chanting more like…" offered Hall.
"Could be. Something about 'goat'…?"
"Goat and God…"
A hurried discussion Miller did not quite catch was taking place in the ops room.
"I want you to close in and engage, Miller…"
"Both of us…?"
"Just you. Hall stays back…"
"Keep fanned out…"
Miller resumed his advance. The figure perched on the carousel had not altered position and his eyes remained closed.
Over the public address came a call for the three remaining passengers on Air Somalia flight 027 to Mogadishu to go immediately to gate 4B, where their flight was about to close. There would not be many people scanning the screens for that one; Miller recognised a coded message letting ground staff know a partial terminal evacuation was in progress. The singsong chanting continued.
"Ó-la-fur Ei-lí-fur Ó-la-fur Ei-lí-fur
Ó-la-fur Ei-lí-fur Ó-la-fur Ei-lí-fur
Treading lightly, Miller veered to his left to avoid positioning himself directly in front of their quarry.
"Good to go, sir…?"
"You know the form, I'll leave it to you…"
Miller's lips twitched; for exactly how long would they be able to resist interfering? "Thank you, sir."
The big policeman eased down onto his haunches. According to the manual this offered a smaller target and less menacing appearance. Had they asked him, Miller could have told them it also made it a damn sight harder to move quickly if you needed to. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.
"Hello…I'm speaking to the gentleman on the luggage carousel. Hello there…"
The man gave no sign of having heard.
He had his answer: all of ten seconds.
"Good idea, sir…"
"All right, Miller. In your own time…"
He cleared his throat. "I'm sure you can hear me. It's important you speak to me, sir. Right now, if you please…"
A tremor ran through the man's body, as if he had been struck by a blast of cold air; the chanting died away and Miller found himself looking into an unusual pair of eyes; one cornflower blue, the other a translucent green. As he ran his gaze over Miller's face, uniform and weapon the eyes grew wider and a frown furrowed his brow.
"Heill og sæll minn kæri…"
"Do you speak English…?"
His enquiry was delivered with a smile calculated to reassure without appearing overly friendly. The man glanced at Hall, giving Miller a glimpse of his profile. At his school, a nose like that would have earned the owner the nickname Beaky.
"English, sir. Do you speak it…understand it…?"
The man's frown turned into a hopeful smile. "You are…guardians of the portal?"
"Not exactly, sir. I'm Sgt Miller of the Sussex Police armed response unit. My colleague over there is…"
The man dismissed the introductions with a shake of the head. The smile seemed uncertain whether to stay or go. "Yes, yes. But you have been sent to look after me. You are Gog and Magog, yes…?"
Miller sucked his teeth; he had been called a lot worse. "Well, yes, we're here to look after you, in a manner of speaking…"
"The gun…" the man hurried on. "What use are guns if the dark forces try to stop me, if they wish to resist the light? Come here, sit…" he patted the metal strip at his side. "Tell your friend to come, too. Quickly…quickly. If you are not my guardians, we must invoke those who can…"
He might babble nonsense but at least it was in pretty decent English. Looking down the business end of a semi-automatic tended to make people twitchy enough; it didn't help if they couldn't understand a blind word you were saying.
"Please raise both hands above your head, and keep them there…"
"My hands…?" He glanced down, frowning as if he had not noticed them before.
"That's correct. Above your head. Nice and high, please…"
With a bemused look, he did as Miller asked. His shirtsleeves were rolled to the elbow and he wore no watch.
"Thank you, sir. I'm not sure who you think I am, but I need you to give me some information…"
"What did they say about me…?"
"The ones who sent you…"
"Well, not a lot, sir. I don't think they know much. That's why they…"
The man shook his head. "Do not know – or did not tell you…? Think, Mr Miller. If they did not know I was coming, you would not be here, would you…?"
"We need an ID, Miller. Get his name…"
"Ah, well…" Miller gave a rueful grin, "I don't get told everything. They just said to have a word with you, sir…"
Even to Miller the words had an implausible ring; judging by the thoughtful nod they earned, however, the man on the carousel found reassurance in them.
"Sometimes it is the same for me. They do not always explain…"
"Let's start with your name, sir…"
The man closed his eyes and took a breath, before answering in solemn, reverential tones. "Ólafur Bárðarson…"
"O-laf-ur Bard-arson…" Miller repeated. "Did I get that right…?"
"A name of such strength and beauty, no? As you speak it, can you not feel its power, Mr Miller?" His eyes locked onto the policeman's with a disconcerting intensity.