This is an extract from the book, The Good Muslim, the explosive new thriller by SAS veteran Alex Anderson.
In the distance, a faint speck of yellow light in an isolated farmstead pricked the gloom, signalling that a household was stirring to meet its day. His companions lined along the ditch all noticed it at the same time. Two men on his left pointed then began a conversation, shouting above the wind, in that bizarre mix of English and profanity. Even in ideal conditions he could barely understand them.
A few days earlier, disgorged by the churning, filthy trawler and still homesick for Tripoli, he had found himself entrusted to these rough but not unkind people. One moment he was treated as an exotic guest, the next as an encumbrance, all the while subjected to a constant barrage of friendly insults.
One of the two stepped in close and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Ok, Darky, mate? We’re not often this lucky with the fucking weather…should see it when it’s bad.’ The other man’s face showed laughter and he fumbled inside his jacket pocket, extracting a bottle. He waved the others into a tight circle, each man huddled in, bringing his weapon.
‘The fucker’s up and about.’ He jerked a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the light. ‘Remember what he is, lads, he’s a fucking tout. Let’s do him in and get the hell away.’ Just like in the films, he watched this man take the cork out with his teeth and hold the bottle up in salute before taking a long pull. The bottle made its way around the five men, reaching him last. The men watched, nodding encouragement. One yelled, ‘Sláinte, Darky! Put some lead in your pencil.’
The glass rattled his chattering teeth as he tipped and swallowed, eyes closed, rain beating off his uplifted face. Instant liquid fire tore at his throat, convulsing him. Then his eyes goggled as the breath left him, and even the wind could not drown out the explosion of laughter from his companions. The man reached out to claim the bottle back. ‘Masks on, lads!’ he shouted. ‘Into your positions, safety catches off.’
After a minute, a tingling warmth kindled in his gut. A surge of confidence started to build and he found himself working blood back into his frozen fingers by taking one hand at a time off the Kalashnikov and stuffing it into his trouser pocket, pushing it to his crotch for warmth. He found that by doing this with a strict count of a minute per hand he was beating the cold. And by rolling his shoulders vigorously inside the oversize jacket he found he could generate warmth around his chest. Maybe, he was not sure, the wind was dropping and had lost some of its bite. The man next to him called over, ‘Ease up on the rain dance, Tonto, or we’ll all fucking drown.’
Headlights from the farm hit the scudding clouds and drew a sharp whistle from the lookout furthest along the tree line. Each man hefted his weapon, getting ready.
‘He’s leaving. Just one car,’ the lookout called.
‘You sure?’ the man with the bottle called.
‘For fuck’s sake, take a look yourself.’
He was extraordinarily alert now, no sense of cold. He thumbed at the safety lever of the Kalashnikov, clacking it up then down again: no problem with his fingers, but his mouth had gone bone dry.
‘At the junction…turning our way.’
Twin beams, juddering over rough ground, turned the raindrops into a shower of crystal as the car eased off the rough farm track and onto the main road.
The wool of his balaclava was itchy and he realised he was sweating. The eye and mouth holes allowed some fresh air and he licked his lips, wanting a long drink of cool water. His gut was churning now and he wondered if this was fear.
‘He’s past the marker. Three hundred yards and coming on fast,’ the lookout shouted.
‘Drop the fucker!’ the leader yelled. The man at the extreme right of the line pulled a cord and a length of telegraph pole, hidden vertically in the tree line, began to move. It spun a little, as if in slow motion, then pitched forward across the narrow road, catching in the stunted tree opposite and stopping a foot above the tarmac.
Even as the car slewed to a shrieking halt, bullets were slamming into it. Cracking blasts stabbed his eardrums and long muzzle flashes seared his eyes. Spent cases from a Kalashnikov on his left hit him on the cheek and temple. He felt his own weapon bucking, its butt hammering his shoulder. The car rocked with the impact of strikes, its windshield puckering with rosettes and the side windows showering glass from exiting bullets.
Then he became aware of screaming, maybe from inside the vehicle, certainly from his companions. ‘Stop! Enough! For fuck’s sake, stop!’ The man with the bottle earlier was now on the road, steam rising off his weapon as he stalked warily towards the car. The storm had quietened and they all watched as he craned his head at the results of the ambush. Abruptly, he jerked back, lowered his weapon and stood upright. They heard him pleading, ‘Jesus, Jesus! Aah, no, Jesus! Please not this.’
One of the others strode in to look, and then turned away without a word. The wind and rain had paused, silenced by the shock. All five men, now gathered at the vehicle, could see a man sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning back, hands down, blood spattered over his torso and the top half of his skull scooped off above the right ear. A mess of tissue, bone, cartilage and flesh sat like a topping above the victim’s nose. Moving spasmodically in the passenger’s seat was another figure, a young adult, his jacket and jeans sprayed with blood. He was still alive but badly hurt and his blood-soaked right hand dabbed, from a school satchel on his lap, towards the men, pleading, then jerked back to his face.
‘For the love of Christ,’ someone said. ‘The wee lad…one of you…put him out of it.’
‘You fucking do it,’ someone else said.
‘I’m out, no ammo.’
‘He’ll talk if he lives.’
The man with the bottle said, ‘We stay here a second longer, he won’t need to.’
Another voice said, ‘Darky, step up, mate. Welcome to the struggle for freedom…now finish the fucking job.’