Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong
In exactly ten minutes and fifteen seconds his life could end. And his memory of existence might last a few moments or stretch to infinity. He had no way of knowing. No one does.
Nor did he know that in exactly six hundred and fifteen seconds he was going to confront bitter betrayal or sudden death. He had no inkling that these were the options. No idea how the cards would fall.
It was dark and steamy in a slimy alley close to the waterfront. Nearby, the harbor district was ablaze with vibrant life. But in the deserted streets around the fish market, festering in the stench of rotting entrails, only a flickering glow illuminated the darkened wharves and stalls with patches of light and shade.
Mike Delaney gripped his model 10 Smith and Wesson .38 caliber special revolver close to his face. He tightened his knuckles and glanced behind to his left. He could just make out his partner Bob Messenger in the gloom close to a dripping fire escape. He altered the position of his gun hand a fraction and shuffled forward, staying in the shadows opposite the target doorway. Under a gap at the base of the door a yellowish light the color of bile seeped into the alley.
Inside the building, a secretive triad group was doing business with a team of non-Chinese freelance criminals that had come together just for this deal: drugs in return for people. A consignment of pure cocaine traded for human lives – lives that had no hope, no future except the slavery of the streets and the pimp bars around the world.
Delaney had not set this up. There were four U.S and British citizens high on the wanted lists of both countries inside the target building and they needed sensitive handling. That’s why the operational superintendent had requested the presence of Delaney and Messenger – unusual in a task force situation on the streets of Hong Kong.
The operation had been planned meticulously. The agreed plan was that behind Messenger a small unit of armed officers awaited a signal. Another team under the command of a senior officer was moving in at the other end of the alleyway, blocking any escape. When the signal was given that team would go in first. Delaney could just see Messenger’s shadow shifting against the wooden planks of a storage shed.
A movement caught his attention. It was just a shape melding within the darkness above and to his right. There was a momentary glint of something.
Was it metal?
Delaney was on full alert, but now his instincts triggered an additional surge of adrenalin. He considered warning Messenger via their microphone link but knew it could give away their position. Support units were to maintain radio silence at all costs. So he hesitated. Normally he could feel the unseen presence of his fellow officers. But now, all he could sense were emptiness and isolation. The gloom surrounding him was engulfing. It was almost palpable. Delaney experienced a deep unease, a clammy sense of betrayal. But, he couldn’t be certain.
There was only one way to find out.
Delaney began to move silently across to the target doorway. There was a shuttered window next to a cracked and sun-blistered door. Delaney sidled towards it, his heart pounding, watchful and alert.
Yes. There was definite movement.
Delaney stared at the spot. All his experience told him something was wrong. Someone was positioned about ten feet up from the ground on a low roofed building. He was sure of it. But this wasn’t part of the operational plan. Nobody had been briefed to take up that position.
Delaney ordered himself to trust his instincts. As he moved out of the shadows he heard a whispered click and a glimmer of reflected light as from a scope. Messenger heard it too and was already moving into the open.
Delaney didn’t hesitate. He sprinted into the open alleyway aiming at the shape on the rooftop as Messenger started to crouch and run, swivelling to take aim.
The crack of the rifle shot echoed around the empty alley. There was no one behind the doorway or inside the building.
There was no drug deal.
There was no back up.
There was only Delaney and Messenger as sitting ducks. There was only the bullet speeding towards Mike Delaney. Messenger yelled and Delaney dived as the bullet found its target – but not the one the sniper had intended. Bob Messenger screamed once as the high velocity shell punched home and entered his lower back. He fell to the ground with a thud. Delaney cried out with anger and anguish and saw the assassin move, take shape, reflect light, and jump back over the other side of the building.
Delaney was torn between attending to his fallen colleague, a man who had become one of his few true friends, and his desire to exact immediate and terminal revenge. When he saw the look in Messenger’s eyes he knew what his friend would do if their positions were reversed.
He chose the latter.
Delaney rammed the revolver into his waistband as he raced around the other side of the building towards the lights of Yen Chou Street. He couldn’t risk using a firearm in full public view. The chase took little more than five minutes. His target was running out of a narrow alleyway just ahead of him as Delaney vaulted a row of barrels and wooden planks. The assassin was fast but Delaney was faster.
As he ran, Delaney picked up a heavy cudgel-shaped piece of wood and hurled it at the moving target. It caught him between the shoulder blades and caused him to momentarily stumble and slow. He had wisely dropped the rifle.
With Delaney approaching at speed, the assailant decided to stand and fight.
It was a fatal mistake.
Delaney smoothly sidestepped a jabbed punch, crouched and struck with the heel of his palm deep into the solar plexus; a fraction later he stepped in with a shattering two-knuckle strike to the carotid artery. The assassin dropped instantly. Delaney stamped his heel into the man’s throat splintering his windpipe. It took him five seconds to die.
Delaney rolled the body onto its back. He had seen the man’s face before - in a coded, high security file at operational headquarters. Delaney walked a few yards to pick up the rifle. He held the Remington 280 official police issue weapon in his hands then swung it over his shoulder. This was no triad hit man. This was a trained police marksman.
As Delaney retraced his steps to tend to his colleague and friend he called base command for a clean-up squad. There was a crackle on the line and a series of rapid clicks. Delaney had played it by the book but inside he knew. It was a set-up and he wasn’t supposed to have emerged alive. The response team sirens were already screaming towards the scene.
And that’s when an iron web of deceit and lies tightened around Mike Delaney.