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Death Mark

Chapter One

London Office

On the streets of London one Thursday morning in the middle of May, rays of sunlight shone down from a blue sky dotted with white drifting clouds. This autumn day illuminated the population of ten million bustling individuals, most of whom were busy working in the capital’s offices. Many were dreaming of the balmy delights they were hoping to enjoy on the fast approaching weekend when they would join the exodus of workers deserting the hubbub of city life for more tranquil settings. The journey home on a crowded train clickety-clacking along the rails would be the most pleasant journey of the week and would appear to be quicker, bringing the delight of a few days rest from the pressures of work.
Such dreams were far from the thoughts of Sir Joseph Sterling MBE. He sat behind an antique oak desk in his Victorian Whitehall office and reread the email his department had received from one of their contacts in Africa. Based in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he was a troubleshooter for the government on intelligence and security matters. Much of his work entailed him reading through a plethora of reports and emails from all over the globe, most of which were mundane and unexciting, but occasionally something of interest surfaced.
Part of his job was to keep an eye out for unsavoury characters who were bound for British soil. The email before him suggested that he should take an interest in a man who was thought to be Mr Ajani Bangoura, a fugitive who was on an international watch list. The email indicated that he was travelling under the alias of Mr Moussa Foufana and was about to step on to English shores.
Earlier in his career, Mr Joseph Sterling, as he then was, joined the Foreign Office as a diplomatic attaché when his service in the Royal Navy came to an end. His sharp and intelligent mind made him the ideal candidate for the often delicate job of liaising with security departments, both at home and abroad. A widower who was now past retirement age, he was awarded a knighthood for services to his country, though his government employers were reluctant to release him until they were able to find a suitable replacement, which until now they had failed to do.
Sir Joseph pressed the button on his outdated but to him still useful office intercom, which was promptly answered by his secretary in the adjoining office.
‘Miss Wilson, would you please request the file on an African national named Mr Ajani Bangoura, spelt B A N G O U R A, from the records office and have them send it over straight away.’
‘Yes, Sir Joseph,’ his long serving, slightly frumpy secretary answered, scribbling down the details on the pad she always kept ready by the side of her computer to fulfil her secretarial duties. Miss Wilson, who used her maiden name at the office, took pride in the efficiency of her work for Sir Joseph, dressed sensibly and kept meticulous records. She ensured that everything was locked safely away each night before she took the long train journey home from London Victoria Station to her husband in Horsham, West Sussex.
Barely twenty minutes had passed before Miss Wilson knocked on Sir Joseph’s door and delivered the requested file in a red folder, which indicated the person whose details it contained was listed as a dangerous individual.
‘Thank you, Miss Wilson. That will be all for the moment.’
She smiled and left the room. Much of Sir Joseph’s work was classified and although she had full security clearance as his secretary, she also knew he preferred to keep as much information confined within the walls of his office to lessen the likelihood of it becoming more public by either design or accident.
After reading through the file, Sir Joseph ran three fingers through his thick grey hair and again summoned his secretary. ‘Would you please get the chief security officer at Heathrow Airport on the line for me? I believe his name is Mr Steven Fuller.’
A few minutes later Sir Joseph’s telephone rang and he was connected through to the airport security man.
‘Mr Fuller?’
‘Yes, Sir Joseph, to what do I owe the pleasure of this telephone call?’
‘It has come to my attention there is a possibility that Mr Ajani Bangoura is visiting this country. I understand that he is on a flight to Heathrow from Nairobi, which is due to land at 17.05 this afternoon.’
Mr Fuller, an ex-RAF security officer now in his fifties, was a tall slim man with a pencil thin moustache. He dropped a pencil onto the pad where he had scribbled down a note of the details.
‘Let me take a look at what we have on him in the files,’ he said, tapping the name into his computer. ‘There’s not a lot here about him Sir Joseph, except to inform me that he was once a member of the rebel army in Africa fighting against government forces, but apparently claims to be an ordinary law-abiding citizen. Do you have any more information on him?’
‘Yes, I do. According to our records Bangoura was, and is still suspected to be, a top member of an African rebel force led by a self-professed General named Okeke. Bangoura is accused of murdering government troops and mercenaries in cold blood as well as his own people when they refuse to join the rebel army.’
‘He sounds nasty.’
‘My thoughts exactly. He was linked to the bombing of a government military camp and also to an explosion at a hotel in his native Kitsulana that was intended to kill the country’s elected prime minister on his visit there. He survived the attack, but many people died in the attempt including women and children. It was a dreadful business.’
‘Yes, I remember that. If this man is guilty of half of what you’ve told me then it’s unwise to let him into this country, whatever excuses he uses to gain entry.’
‘I agree, Mr Fuller. Do you have a photograph of him on your file?’
‘Yes. It may be a few years old, but I’m sure it’s clear enough for us to recognise the man.’
‘Good. I’m informed that he may be travelling under the assumed name of Mr Moussa Foufana. Our contact was uncertain about this, but it seems likely he is using an alias as he is wanted by his local authorities and would be arrested at the airport if his true identity was discovered.’
‘If Bangoura arrives here under any name, we’ll spot him. I’ll have two of my men detain him and I’ll have a chat with him before we put him on a plane back to Nairobi.’
‘Good. Try to find out what the purpose of his visit to this country is for, though if it’s something illegal like purchasing arms he is unlikely to divulge it. Please warn your men to be careful, from the information I have on him, it looks as if he’s a tricky customer.’
‘I will, Sir Joseph.’
‘Good. Thank you, Mr Fuller. Please let me know when that’s done and he’s safely on a flight home, so I can update his file.’
With his conversation over, Sir Joseph replaced the receiver. He removed his rimless glasses and placed them carefully down on the desktop blotting pad. He was a conscientious man, very precise and hated loose ends. He glanced out of the window at the bright summer day and asked his secretary to bring him his usual mid-morning cup of coffee and biscuits; plain chocolate digestives, his favourite.


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