Money Money Money

In the not-so-distant future, an employee of one of the world's leading electronics firms learns a terrible truth- and finds himself the subject of a terrifying manhunt.

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5. Wealth

Calvin Stark watched John Stockwell leave his office and sighed with deep relief. There was something altogether too dispassionate about Stockwell- he gave Stark the creeps.

His relief though, was short-lived. It was nearly midnight, he was utterly exhausted and yet, thanks to events taking a turn for the unexpected, had a horrible mess to sort out.

There was only one other person in the company who could have organised something like this- one man who might have had the gall to order a hit without telling Stark first. Slipping his mobile from his pocket, Stark dialed up a number.

****

Max Wealth's house phone bleeped insistently, and bleary-eyed, he staggered out of bed. He snatched at the phone on the bed-side table, knocking his desk-lamp to the floor as he did, and cursed as it landed on his foot. Angrily he stabbed the answer button, without even checking to see who was phoning.

"Whoever this is had better have a damn good reason for calling at this hour!" He shouted.

"Oh I have a reason, and you are not going to like it." Came the heated voice of Calvin Stark from the other end. "Tell me why you went over my head and ordered a hit on Derek Barnaby."

Wealth's blood went ice cold, but he knew he had to keep his composure. Stark was not a man to show weakness to.

"I did what I had to- he was too dangerous to leave alive."

Well, it might interest you to know that your assassin failed. Now Derek is going to be pissed and coming for us, and I don't trust Stockwell to help us. Thanks to your fuck-up, I have to take drastic action." Wealth dreaded to think what Stark's heated voice meant.

"What are you going to do?" Asked Wealth hesitantly as he slipped on his dressing gown. He started to head down the stairs of his plush bachelor pad in central London, with all the trappings of the rich, heading for his large, custom-fitted American-style kitchen. He needed a drink.

"We have other contacts, and we can trace Derek as easily as Stockwell can. He's expressed doubts as to whether Derek needs to die, but now, thanks to your cock-up, we have no choice. I will find him, and have him dealt with. Try not to screw anything else up, or you'll be next." Stark abruptly hung up.

Max set the phone down on the kitchen table, poured himself a large whiskey, and proceeded to drink.

****

Computers were never things Derek had particularly liked. A lot of people used them to store music and pictures- he preferred to put photos in an album and music on tapes and CDs. Over the years he'd gathered many photos of his wife and himself, and carefully placed them in beautiful, leather-bound albums. He'd been forced to leave those behind, and could never go back to them.

Sitting at the terminal now, all he could do was think of her, his Angela, mocking him for the way he struggled with their laptop. He'd always found that funny- she was no better than he was!

Sarah and James had patiently listened to him recount everything he knew of Zero Communications. They'd googled the official company site, their official records- and Sarah had logged onto the MI5 database to carry out some deeper searches- penetrating servers and facilities held all over the country.

There wasn't a lot from the official records to go on. The company had been established by the government in 1964 to take advantage of private sector investment into all sorts of communication technology. They'd been quietly developing the nation's phone lines and radio gear, helping to produce equipment used by civil services and military forces. As the years went by, they'd expanded, becoming involved with big businesses, and working on the backbone of Britain's growing mobile phone network. Their involvement today was considerable yet quiet. Everything from the new 4G networks to basic home phone equipment had some form of influence from Zero Communications.

When Sarah scratched the surface, there wasn't a great deal more to find. The CEO was a man called Calvin Stark- now in his late fifties- who had spent the past twenty-five years running the company. He kept a tight hold of company finances, and the Board (which was supposed to have the final say) answered to him, such was the strength of his personality. Stark was said to be brash, arrogant and ruthless- he was not afraid to sack people on the spot if he felt they were failing him, and he was quite happy to push to the very boundraries of the law to crush his rivals and gain any advantage. MI5 watched him closely, for his company held several important military contracts and he had access to a great deal of sensitive information. Little was known about his personal life- Stark kept his cards very close to his chest.

His Chief Executive was a man who went by the name of Max Wealth. Sarah had revealed that Wealth was in his mid-thirties, and had a similar ruthless streak to Stark, that had sometimes led to heated arguments between the two men. Despite this, Wealth was still there, for his energy and passion had secured many lucrative deals. Like Stark, Wealth enjoyed power and control. Unlike Stark, Wealth had been more into the public high life, attending several big parties held by the rich and powerful, and even hosting a few himself. He looked after himself, keeping his body in trim, and was regarded as one of Britain's most eligible bachelors (having several million pounds in the bank didn't hurt either).

Sarah and James had cross-referenced several names, terms and items of technology in a bid to discover anything that might have linked Zero Communications to the assassination attempt and John Stockwell- but so far, they had nothing.

"Well... it's getting late." James yawned. "We've all had a... a long day. Derek, I know sleep is the last thing you want right now..." James stood up and stretched. "But we all need to come at this fresh."

Derek looked reluctant, but nodded. He too stood, but Sarah was dilligently typing away.

"Sarah, you too." Said James.

"I know, I know..." Sarah didn't look up from the computer screen. "I just want to check something..." The computer beeped. Sarah smiled. "I think I have something."

Whatever fatigue had been creeping into the bones of the older men vanished.

"What is it?" Asked Derek urgently. He and James crowded around the computer.

"Peter Fowler, the mysterious agent who defected. I traced his bank records and found something- several payments from various companies and... groups, made to an account in that name, over many years. The payments vary from as little as £5,000, up to £1 million. It seems to me that he was taking money to perform jobs, and since this is an alias, they were jobs people wanted to keep quiet."

"So he was taking money on the side, nothing new for a renegade." Replied Derek.

"True." Said Sarah, just a touch tartly. "But, the last payment was from an interesting source. A private payment of £1 million from a Lex Watham, made two days ago." James and Derek both gave her a funny look. "Lex Watham is an anagram, of Max Wealth."

Derek's eyes went wide. James patted Sarah on the back.

"There's our link. A payment from one false identity to another, only I suspect our friend Mr Wealth used an anagram of his own name out of arrogance rather than common sense." Said James.

"There's more." Sarah's voice took  on a more serious tone. "When someone does this sort of hack, it leaves traces, which I've carefully removed- but I noticed someone else has recently been looking into these accounts- I can't tell you who, as the security clearance on the codes used are way above my pay grade- but if I had to hazard a guess..." She trailed off, letting things hang in the air for a moment.

"Stockwell." Said Derek bluntly. "Stockwell is investigating this as well."

****

Though it was the middle of the night, Calvin Stark was still at his desk. His laptop was up and running, connected to the company network- and the world beyond. His mobile phone was connected up to the laptop, for he needed the advanced technology to pursue his agenda- and he couldn't let anyone trace him- at least, not yet.

"I will ensure your safe and free passage to any place on earth, along with £10 million, once you have completed this task. Report to me as soon as you have finished." Stark sent his message, and a few miles away, a helicopter took off, and headed off into the black sky.

****

"What is Stockwell's involvement in all this?" Mused James. "He must realise we'd link him to what happened tonight, especially since he revealed himself to Derek."

"He's a senior agent- experienced and clever. He wouldn't have revealed himself without a reason." Replied Sarah.

"What's our next move?" Asked Derek.

"Well..." James scratched his chin. "We should perhaps get in touch with Zero Communications- ask to have a word with Mr Stark or Mr Wealth. I imagine Mr Wealth especially could answer a few questions."

"Amen to that." Said Derek. "Do we have an address?"

Sarah smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant smile. "Yup."

****

There was no question that there was immense risk in the move. The helicopter had found its prey, located within an unmarked military base in the middle of Essex. That had been the easy part- at least one person had a mobile phone and it was all too easy to use the hidden technology within it to find anyone, anywhere. Now came the hard part.

The helicopter was an Agusta Westland AH Mk 1 Apache, a British-built gunship. The co-pilot was arming the weapons, which included an M230 chain gun, Hellfire missiles, and high-explosive CRV7 rockets. The problem was that the target was inside one of the buildings and the tracking technology, whilst accurate to thirty metres, was facing interference from the base's various communications gear. Attacking an army base was risky, but then, his employer was a man who was apparently playing the long game.

"We have a lock. The main building is the most likely place for the target. What should I use?" Asked the co-pilot.

"Hmm, the CRVs. They'll penetrate deep and do a lot of damage."

"Got it."

****

James was grabbing his coat off the back of his chair when the world turned upside down.

The first thing he noticed was the boom- a powerful boom sound that hit him almost as hard as a brick. Seconds later, the whole room shook and the lights went out, only illumination was still present in the shape of the fire that burned where pieces of wall had been blown out. He found himself on the floor, and moments later noticed the pain.

His left leg was mangled- shards of metal and wood had ripped across it, as well as his left thigh, and across his torso. Blood was seeping through his clothes, and his head was throbbing.

Training kicked in. He tested his fingers and toes. They all still worked, though testing them only served to amplify the pain in his left leg.

The outer wall to the building was gone- a charred, smoking hole was in its place. James looked around but couldn't see Derek or Sarah. He could hear the screams though- the terrible screams of the wounded and the dying as further explosions rocked the base.

****

"Firing chain gun."

The pilot took grim satisfaction as the mighty chain gun started up, chewing up bricks, mortar, cars, rucks and people. A couple of trucks actually exploded as their petrol tanks went up, and for good measure another rocket smashed into another one of the buildings. Soldiers were beginning to take up defensive positions and return fire, but their rifles were not effective against a moving armoured target at that distance. It was all too easy.

****

"Derek! Sarah!" James screamed at the top of his lungs but there was no answer. He limped his way toward the door, and soldiers pushed past him as they tried to take cover and fight back.

"What the fuck is going on?!" He asked one of them.

"A helicopter is attacking the base!" One of them answered as they ran past. One carried a Stinger missile launcher. Or at least he did- until bullets came smashing through the wall and cut him to pieces.

James dropped to the floor, his training once again kicking in. Bullets whizzed over his head and pieces of concrete fell upon him. He looked to the door- and wondered how he could survive...

TO BE CONTINUED...

 

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