Death Of An Important Man...
Death Of An Important Man…
The last hour of daylight had seen Trakka turn left off the road linking Amesbury and Salisbury, onto a country lane signposted to Porton. For its first mile, the lane ran alongside the perimeter fence of the massive Ministry of Defence Airfield at Boscombe Down.
At first, he had not believed what he was seeing. Only a fence separated the airfield from the road, and it couldn't keep out a badger. The animal would claw through the two-inch mesh chicken wire in less than a minute.
Ordinary galvanised wire netting, Trakka had thought, no match for even the cheapest wire cutters. But he wouldn't need any tools. The chicken wire was only eight feet tall. Above that were three strands of ordinary barbed wire. Ordinary barbed wire - not even razor wire. What were they playing at?
The wires were spaced six inches from the top of the netting and the same distance apart, adding a further foot and a half to the height of the fence. All three strands were attached to an extension of the four by four-inch section concrete posts, but angled outwards to make it more difficult to climb over.
But not that difficult, he had thought.
The posts were themselves spaced at twenty-foot intervals. Trakka had not seen any signs of alarm wire or any form of optical sensors. Cutting the fence, leaving visual evidence, would not be necessary, but climbing it would. A simple way would be to use three or four butcher’s meat hooks, with one end straightened out slightly to form a step. The other hooked end could be hung from the wire netting. That way, climbing the fence wouldn't be much harder that going up a ladder.
Almost unbelievably, the good Ministry of Defence had made a climbing aid unnecessary. Every hundred yards they had fixed two notices to the fence. The smaller, eighteen inches by twelve - prohibited the use of video or photographic equipment. Trakka had foreseen that - the reason he'd dumped his disposable camera, brought only as a prop. It would have only begged questions if he had encountered any security guards near the airfield.
The larger, twenty-four by eighteen, notice boards, warned any unauthorised person from venturing onto MOD property. They had impressed Trakka, not as deterrents - but as superb hand and footholds to climb the wire netting fence on which they were attached.
Thank you, MOD, he'd thought, thank you for making it all so easy.
The only notice he had taken seriously was an occasional one warning of guard dogs on patrol. Now he hoped they were only a bluff.
Every eight hundred yards along the fence was a substantially built metal gate. They were obviously intended to allow emergency services to exit the base easily if an aeroplane crashed beyond the perimeter fence. Trakka had found they were secured only by a lightweight release device, presumably meant to be broken through when rammed by a fire engine or an ambulance. They were almost as easy to climb as the fence itself, especially if a climbing aid such as the modified meat hooks were used.
Although Trakka knew, from his Ordnance Survey map, that the distance around the base perimeter was nine miles, he had decided to survey only a two-mile section anti-clockwise from Stockport Farm. For the first half of this stretch, a little used byway to allow public vehicular access - ran alongside the perimeter fence of the airfield, separated by a tall leafy hedge.
It gets even better, he had thought, noting the cover the thick hedge could provide. The south end of this leafy byway joined the Salisbury road just beyond the end of the main runway. The beginning of the two-mile long landing strip ran uphill for about eight hundred yards and couldn't be seen from any of the airfield buildings, most of which are nearly two miles distant.
Aligned with the runway was one of the emergency gates leading out to the main road, and offering yet more concealment to an intruder - a small earth mound covering the instrument landing system equipment bunker, placed in a direct line between the runway threshold and the gate.
This would be a good place to enter the base. With the visual shelter afforded by the ILS bunker, the highly accurate electronic equipment it contained would surely guarantee no electronic detector beams would be in use in its proximity. Nothing could be allowed to interfere with the accurate radio beams used to guide aircraft down to ground level on automatic landings.
Nowhere had he seen any observation post, floodlights, or signs of a patrol. The only clue to the presence of guards was a cinder vehicle track, just inside the fence. The problem would be not how to enter the base, but which method to choose.
Trakka still felt uneasy about dogs.
At that time, the Avon valley was lost in shadow and only some high feathery cirrus still reflected the departed sun. He crossed the lane and found an old oak at the edge of a large field. Making himself as comfortable as he could - he settled for a long night of watching the airfield, with only an occasional snack and a sip from his water bottle for comfort.
An hour before dawn it had begun to rain, as the canopy of a cold front brought the promise of a grey morning to the Wessex skies. He had become cramped and cold, despite his waterproof trousers, thick socks and storm proof jacket. Night had provided the information he'd dreaded. There had been an active patrol with dogs. Their first trip around the cinder track inside the perimeter fence was shortly after midnight, with a second at nearly three thirty. They had driven slowly and had not stopped. Trakka had heard the dogs, as they called out from inside the Land Rover.
Dawn had passed by nearly an hour, revealing a dull wet landscape bathed in a fine curtain of intermittent drizzle. Already he heard the occasional vehicle along the A345, but so far the lane, twenty-five yards away, had been quiet.
The time had come to descend from the tree, but he'd detected a slight movement on the horizon, near where the runway's broad swath cut shining wet over the top of the down, nearly half a mile distant. It had been hardly more than a speck, indistinct, now lost, but his experienced hunter's eye had seen it. A rabbit maybe? Perhaps a brown hare? He'd already seen several rabbits eating grass alongside the fence. After re-focussing his binoculars he began a systematic scan of the far ground. At first, he could see nothing, but after several minutes searching he'd again noticed something moving.
It had been a fox- so far off, that he had not been able to tell whether it was a dog or a vixen. The animal had not been aware of Trakka's presence as it slowly quartered its territory, mostly sniffing and rooting, sometimes raising its head to smell the wind and look around.
Probably after voles, the man had thought. But he was lucky. They obviously could not eliminate all the vermin within the base. It had given him an idea. Again, he examined the security fencing - but this time at ground level looking for disturbance or irregularity in the turf.
After forty minutes he had found enough, a total of three holes under the wire fence, places where foxes had dug their way into the airfield. One of them was almost opposite a small copse sixty yards inside the base. A round crater, about fifty feet across, filled with quite mature trees.
It stood approximately seven hundred yards from the southwest end of the main runway, beside the minor road linking the A345 with the village of Porton. Nearby was a tall brick pedestal topped by a radar scanner, but the building seemed designed to be unmanned. The fire station, he'd judged was only eight hundred yards further into the base. Just over the near horizon formed by the upward slope.
* * *
It was a very subdued Trakka, arriving at the spot where the southwest threshold of Boscombe's main runway borders the A345 road.
Here a byway begins, a lane, which runs for one mile alongside the airfield's security fence, until it reaches the village of Stockport. The border between the fence and the heavily rutted track varies between ten and fifteen yards in width, mostly rough grass and weeds, but with frequent thick clumps of mature hawthorn.
On his earlier surveillance visit, he had earmarked one of these thickets in which to hide the Kawasaki Enduro motorcycle. Before he did so, he rode half a mile down the side road leading to Porton and stopped to untie the tightly wrapped plastic covered package that had been strapped to the rear carrier frame of the Kwacka.
Carefully unwrapping it with gloved hands, he recoiled from the stench. The fox, the one he'd shot in Norfolk, was now well unfrozen and ripening. His preparation earlier in the day - running a wheel of the Ford Transit van over the animal's body - squeezing out the intestines to look like a typical road kill, had not helped make the thing more fragrant.
Now he handled it with care, not wanting to contaminate any part of his clothes or his body, with the exception of the gloves.
Checking his location, he threw the vixen's body over the eight-foot high fence onto the airfield. It only weighed about eight pounds. That was why he had been pleased to shoot a vixen. A dog fox would have been considerably heavier. He removed his gloves, carefully wrapped them inside the plastic he'd brought the fox in - and then rode into Amesbury to dispose of them in the rubbish bin outside the fish and chip shop.
A few minutes later he was back beside the airfield, shrouding the Kwacka with plastic camouflage netting, the sort pigeon shooters use to build hides - to tone down the bright lime green paint scheme - before concealing the machine inside the hawthorn thicket.
Only fifty yards from the emergency gate in the fence.
Just off the end of the main runway.
It was by now quite dark but he was sure he had not been observed. The occasional vehicle had passed along the A345 but the bushes along the side of the lane had shielded him from their headlights.
Trakka climbed the security fence without difficulty, using as hand holds and steps the warning signboards so thoughtfully fixed to the wire netting. Nearing the top he swung his backpack over on a strong cord and carefully lowered it down the other side. His rifle, in a heavily padded fishing rod holdall, followed the same way.
The only problem was the overhanging triple strands of barbed wire. He wrapped his heavy leather motor cycling jacket around the barbs, and with considerable physical effort swung himself up and outwards, using one of the brackets supporting the wire for leverage.
He was in…
Lying on the cinder track just inside the fence he panted with the effort. The night was devoid of alien sounds. No alarms, flashing lights or sirens, just a distant owl calling to its mate, and the short bark of a fox somewhere down the lane towards Stockport. The airfield itself was silent.
From where he had entered Trakka could not see any of the buildings - the crest of the down, over which the big runway gleamed faintly in the moonlight, hid them.
If his intrusion had triggered any alarms, they would probably be showing on a control panel two miles away, amongst the sprawling town-like complex of brightly lit MOD buildings. It was no use worrying now; all his surveillance had indicated a total lack of sophisticated security devices.
Gathering up his jacket, pack and gun, Trakka carefully walked to the section of fence over which he had thrown the fox. Nearing the spot he finally found the animal by its smell. At its freshest a fox stinks - one already ripe, but aided by having its guts squashed by the wheels of a van, soon become very offensive.
Before handling the carcass Trakka pulled on a fresh pair of gloves.
He spent about an hour dragging the vixen's carcass in a hunting pattern inside the southern periphery of the airfield. He passed the small copse near the Porton road three times - finally dragging the animal to the place where the fence had been undermined by a digging fox.
With a two handed throw, grunting with the effort, he chucked the vixen high and long - over the fence to land in the middle of the narrow road. With its guts hanging out it should, he thought, look a typical road victim. By breakfast, it would probably be run over yet again, making it even more convincing.
Four hundred yards further, by the fence, Trakka picked up a large stone with his right hand and carefully removed the glove from that hand - pulling it inside out until the stone was enclosed by the glove. Carefully he threw it as far as he could - well into the field on the other side of the Porton road. He repeated the procedure with the glove on his left hand. Now he should be free of the fox's scent.
He settled for the night, about fifteen feet above the ground, in a leafy ash. He knew he would not sleep, so there was little chance of him falling out of the tree.
* * *
Rubbing his eyes, he saw the vehicle a little further than half a mile away heading towards him. Strange that long straight fence? Now conscious of where he really was, he dragged his cloak of camouflage netting around him and rearranged his limbs into a more comfortable position.
Then the Land Rover stopped.
A pair of large German Shepherd dogs both barking excitedly, followed two security guards. The flippant thought occurred to Trakka, that the guards should be in better control of the dogs. They seemed ecstatic, straining at their leashes, pulling their handlers off balance.
'What are they after?'
'Don't know, must have smelled something.'
The animals towed the two men in a ziz-zag pattern towards the clump of trees concealing Trakka. He tried to control his nerves - reminding himself that he had planned for this.
'Must be a bloody strong scent,' the guard was desperately trying to restrain the powerful animal.
'At this rate we're going to be late for breakfast,' complained the other one.
Trakka was relieved by this small insight into their priorities.
With the dogs howling their enthusiasm, the group passed within twenty-five yards of Trakka's tree, in an excited rush towards the fence over the fox tunnel.
'Look...' one of the guards pointed to the Porton road, '.... dead fox.'
'There's a tunnel here, under the wire. The bloody thing must have been getting in through it.'
'The best fox is a dead fox,' joked the other man, 'looks like a car's squashed the bloody thing. Let's get these dogs back into the Land Rover.'
'Then we can eat.'
* * *
The big airfield basked in a few silent sunlit minutes of anticipation.
The only airborne sound - a singing skylark climbing high above a patch of coarse grass, parched and browning. The thunder surely would soon come - and it did - seemingly trailing seconds to the rear of the nine jets in very close formation smoking low and fast out of the south east sky, from behind the spectators - apparently only a few feet above the skeletal grand stand made from scaffolding.
The gleaming Hawk jets, bright red, apart from the white speed stripes and blue rudder - almost touching in the shape they call Tornado, rocketed into a high-G pull up, soaring almost vertically exploding their red, white and blue smoke trails over the watching crowd below. Amongst the thunder of the nine Rolls Royce Turbomecca Ardour engines roaring at full military power - unseen by the thousand upturned faces, Trakka climbed up into the unattended high cab of the big fire appliance, always called a crash wagon on airfields -that awaited ready - started the engine, then inched forward towards the cluster of marquees a mile away that lined the centre of the airfield.
Big Vixen - Go, transmitted Squadron Leader Carlton - Red Leader, five thousand feet above Boscombe Down, his eight team members moving stick, rudder and throttle to execute the subtle but complex formation changes. A push here, a pull there - the occasional stab at the airbrake button mounted on the power lever - whilst levelling and turning back towards the airfield to keep the planes well within the sight of those watching below.
As the formation team mimicked the shape of the old Royal Navy fighter plane, the Sea Vixen, Trakka put the heavy vehicle into low first. He was using the lowest ratios that could be selected on the gearbox. He then engaged the clutch to move only at walking pace - as the Arrows roared low and fast from left to right only fifty feet above the two-mile long runway. They now trailed a broad swathe of snow-white smoke, easily drowning the quiet murmur of the crash wagon's eight-cylinder diesel engine.
Inside the sleek red jet, its right wing tip overlapping the left aileron of the leader - bouncing in turbulence only inches away - Flight Lieutenant Mills, Red Three, sweated freely under his coveted one-piece flying suit - its colour matching that of the aircraft. It was his first season with the elite Arrows, the most sought after posting in the Royal Air Force.
Only the best pilots have a chance of selection but he was finding it hard work. His breathing was heavy inside the grey oxygen mask and the white bone dome helmet seemed to weigh a ton every time the G came on.
Now as Squadron Leader Carlton led them into yet another high-G pull up reaching for the sun washed blue above, Mills grunted violently as the special corset around his waist inflated tightly temporarily restricting his blood supply to counteract the unnatural forces on his body.
Slowly Trakka edged north across the tight coarse downland grass, gradually narrowing the five hundred yards between the airfield fire station and the display area. No one noticed him in the huge new Eagle Six foam vehicle; they were all too busy watching the best jet formation team in the world tearing through the sky above them.
Even if he had been spotted who would query yet another familiar bright yellow MOD crash wagon, crossing the big airfield during an important private air display?
But Trakka sweated with fear, tension and the thick uniform jacket he'd borrowed from the solitary duty fireman manning the office, now securely tied and gagged after Trakka, approaching stealthily from behind, had knocked him out cold.
With yet another curving pull up the Arrows subtly changed into Concorde - the nine Hawks forming the shape of the supersonic airliner. Even the ground seemed to shake with the thunder of the jets going into full power as they punched towards the cumulous cloud now blossoming high above the airfield. Still the crowd watched, fascinated at this private show.
Trakka found the spot he needed - parking the big vehicle a few yards behind another fire appliance. Leaving the engine ticking over almost inaudibly he judged his distance to the raised platform outside the central marquee - about one hundred and sixty yards - as the distinctively angular face of the Secretary of State for Defence showed clearly through the binoculars.
Difficult - but achievable.
Trakka scanned the faces in the crowd and in the other vehicles. Everybody seemed to be absorbed in watching the Red Arrows as they pulled into a thirty-degree climb for a formation roll.
Climbing roll - left - go, barked Red Leader over the aircraft radio. The lead aircraft had the simple task - just a straightforward aileron roll. For the other eight it was more difficult - a barrel roll around the leader's axis - at the same time keeping in a tight, dangerous formation.
Red Three, Mills, concentrated on his leader’s plane fixing left wing tip and the wing trailing edge where it joined the fuselage as his reference points. It wasn't easy - they moved position continuously - the effect of turbulence and slipstream, but as long as he kept within limits it would be safe and from the ground it would appear faultless. To his left another pilot was formating equally close to him.
Mill's mouth was dry - at times like this, it appeared a stupid way of earning a living but after every display he craved for more. The most fun, he thought, a man could have with his clothes on. His palms remained dry inside the white kid flying gloves as the sky and the earth separated by the haze of a distant horizon - framed by wings, tail fins and other glimpsed portions of aircraft - leisurely rotated around him.
In the crash wagon, Trakka's mouth was also dry - but he was better situated to do something about it. He took a good swig from the bottle of coke he'd brought with him. Now he sat on the middle of the three seats across the driver's cab, his discarded jacket folded over the open window - a makeshift rest.
On his lap the rifle rested, loaded and ready.
Loop - go, nine control sticks were eased back and nine throttle levers pushed forward into full power, as having rolled level the team followed Red Leader into a loop. At the top, still inverted, the formation changed smoothly into the Flanker, the shape of and a tribute to the famous Russian Sukhoi SU-27 jet fighter aircraft.
Trakka watched, trying to control the escalating tension inside him. A few days before he'd studied a video tape shot the previous summer showing the Red Arrows performing at the Farnborough Air Display.
He was waiting for one of their most spectacular manoeuvres but he had no guarantee they would fly it today. He knew they often varied their routine. He tried a relaxation exercise - but it had little effect.
Sliding into the relatively simple shape known as Leader's Benefit, two aircraft, Red Six and Red Seven, flying at the stem of the formation blipped their air brakes to slip back slightly - then as Red Leader pulled them up into yet another loop - Red Six rolled ninety degrees left and Seven, ninety right, both turning on red smoke.
They were now Singleton One and Singleton Two, a display within the display.
Both singletons paused - counting one banana, two banana, a two second delay, enough to flatten the top of the loops they were performing at right angles to the crowd. It had the effect of drawing the outline of a great red heart in the sky. At the low point, the planes looked as if they would collide as their paths crossed and they cancelled smoke - completing the heart shape.
At the same time, the remaining seven planes streaked downwards penetrating the centre of the red heart with plumes of thick white smoke. Trakka squinted through the telescopic sight.
But the moment had passed…
Shit... he cursed silently, trying for deeper concentration.
Passing through the centre of the heart the Arrows had split into a spectacular bursting manoeuvre.
Trakka's mind did not seem to be working properly as he struggled to recall what had come next on the videotape. He knew it was important - an opportunity - but he couldn't remember the details. As each of the seven planes from the main formation curved towards to south to re-form, Singleton One completed a one hundred and eighty degree turn and was running in from the south west - very low and very fast, trailing red smoke.
He aimed to fly just to the right of the runway centre line.
At the same time, Singleton Two, with blue smoke on, was equally low and fast running in from the opposite direction.
Apparently on a collision course…
It looked hairy enough to the spectators below - but it seemed ten times as dangerous, as - just before it seemed they would collide - both aircraft pulled into a tight barrel roll.
Now, in the one second available to think - it looked as if the collision would be at the top of the roll.
As a thousand gasps were drowned by the roar of the low flying jets.
Trakka shot the Secretary of State for Defence.
By the time the spectators had realised the two Hawk jets had missed each other, Trakka had slipped the box shaped crash wagon into gear and was tuning onto the runway, heading south west.
But he should have been even quicker.
It had been an easy shot - over one hundred and sixty yards the trajectory from the high velocity point two four three was practically negligible.
Easy for an old hunter.
Even the usual tension was missing - the dry throat and pounding heart. Only he had become temporarily deaf from the roar of the Arrows and the percussion from the shot in the comfortable cab of the crash wagon.
Apart from that it had just seemed like target practice…
Until the bullet hit the man's chest and he died.
He's dead - I've killed him, panicked Trakka.
He knew it from the way the minister dropped - and from the collapse of the anonymous woman seated behind him, as pieces of the shattered bullet entered her body amid a shower of the man's blood.
This can't be happening, thought Trakka, this is bad.
He could tell when a man, or any other warm-blooded creature, was fatally shot. He had enough experience. The Defence Minister was supposed to be wearing the world's newest and best bulletproof clothing.
Trakka had been conned - set up.
Now he had unwittingly murdered a senior member of the government - and badly wounded another spectator.
Trakka had been hired to shoot a man who would not be seriously injured - all to publicise the Gossatex material that Bellingham’s company made.
Now his priority was to escape.
As the main formation of Red Arrows roared back from the south he was accelerating the big crash wagon southwest along the main runway.
* * *
Boscombe Tower - Police One requests start clearance, crackled the radio. The brightly yellow painted Wiltshire Police helicopter was desperate to take off.
Trakka was sweating, passing forty miles per hour in the Eagle Six crash wagon…
The civilian pilot of the surveillance helicopter had received his order over the police frequency - directly from the Chief Constable - who was attending the air display - but he could still not take off without the airfield controller's permission.
Not with nine fast jets displaying immediately above him.
Police One - understand you want to start engines in the middle of the Arrows display? Boscombe's remotely located control tower had obviously not yet caught up with the events on the ground.
Boscombe from Police One - we have a major emergency - we must take off
. Police One - stand by, ordered the senior controller - as his assistant took a call on the internal phone system. Inside the big Messerschmitt Bolkow 105 helicopter, the pilot and two observers were tense with impatience and excitement.
The big steering wheel vibrated through Trakka's damp palms, despite the smoothness of the tarmac beneath his speeding vehicle.
Behind the huge tinted windows at the top of the control tower, the junior controller nodded affirmation to his boss - the head of base security had been on the line.
Roger - Police One - clear to start engines - stand by for take-off clearance
. Thank God for that, thought the pilot, as he commenced his start-up sequence. They never had this problem at their home base at police headquarters in Devizes.
As the ex-military pilot, now a civilian, checked off the items in his abbreviated, on task checklist - the two observers, both serving police officers were readying their specialised equipment.
Several police cars also moved towards the huge runway.
The chopper crew switched to standby the thermal image equipment and the auto-tracking video camera - both suspended under the fuselage in the infrared pod - its gyro-stabiliser rapidly running up to full speed. Next, they checked their private radio frequencies and the position shown on their GPS, satellite-positioning system.
All was well with their equipment.
Trakka was doing forty-eight and still accelerating along the rubber-streaked tarmac.
For some inexplicable reason the police cars were sounding their screeching sirens and had turned on their blue flashing lights.
But Trakka had a good start…
The civilian pilot of the police chopper was performing on the dozens of switches like a hyperactive concert pianist.
Red Leader - clear the area - I say again - clear the area - transmitted Boscombe's senior air traffic controller to Squadron Leader Carlton.
Trakka still had his right foot flat on the floor of the crash wagon.
Where's the bandit?
Red One's question was asked in his usual laconic laid-back style. He obviously thought a stray intruder, probably a light aircraft, had appeared on the controller's radar screen.
An unauthorised infringement of the display area - a regular, irritating occurrence at air shows.
Trakka could now see blue flashing beacons in his rear view mirror. He was accelerating as hard as he could. But as his hearing gradually returned the only sound he could hear besides his own engine noise was the roar of nine jets above him.
Above - the Red Arrows banked steeply, still in immaculate formation.
At ground level, the air reeked with the kerosene stench of jet fuel.
The helicopter pilot held his finger on the auto start button for number one engine. He hadn't needed to go through the complete long-winded sequence of pre-flight checks. The machine had already been at readiness - its vital systems already warmed up.
Across the runway - amongst the spectators - there seemed confusion and panic.
If things had been calmer an observant person might have noticed that the roof of the largest marquee was becoming slightly stained blue - particles of dye drifting down from one of the Hawks coloured smoke trails.
A new sound added to the confusion - the ascending whine of an Allison turboshaft running up.
Negative bandit, I say again negative bandit - we have a ground emergency - we're launching a chopper. There is no conflicting traffic.
Repeat - no conflicting traffic.
Red One had not heard the chopper call, requesting its start clearance. They were operating on a different radio frequency.
Trakka was going through fifty-three miles per hour and the heavy ten-wheel foam tender was starting to labour.
Roger Boscombe - clearing northwest and passing four zero for join-up - QSY London Mil. Oh, and good luck, transmitted Red One.
Nine gleaming red Hawks smoked upwards and away - changing into their transit formation as they did so.
The chopper pilot was firing-up engine number two.
Along the runway the police cars were accelerating - catching up with the crash wagon.
From the chopper came the combined song of its twin turboshaft engines, both turning and burning.
Inside the slowly accelerating fire-fighting vehicle, Trakka was cursing its lack of speed but the end of the runway was in sight. Behind him, he could now see half a dozen police cars following him.
He knew they'd be faster…
Now the Bolkow's rotors were slowly rumbling into life.
The Red Arrows were already reduced to dots disappearing high over the hazy sleeping mass of Salisbury Plain.
Now, rumbling becoming a steady throb, the chopper's rotor blades were still short of the speed at which they developed lift.
The maximum speed the crash wagon achieved was seventy-three. There was only four hundred yards of runway left.
Trakka eased off and started to slow down. He was now nearly a mile away from the grandstands and marquees.
The leading police Rover was closing, now only seven hundred yards behind him.
Further back - in the middle of the huge airfield - the chopper still wasn't quite ready for take off.
It was only fifty-four seconds since it had been given start-up clearance. The civilian pilot had been trained to be airborne in two minutes. His two observers, both serving police officers, were becoming increasingly agitated.
But the pilot was doing well.
* * *
Trakka had slowed the Eagle Six crash wagon to only thirty miles per hour when he hit and split the big double gate after swerving right - off the south-western threshold of Boscombe'smain runway.
His aim was good enough - the twin metal gates burst apart - exactly as they'd been designed to do. Meant as an emergency exit, held shut by a weak-link shackle - they were intended to be easily burst by emergency vehicles rushing to a crash beyond the airfield perimeter.
But the police cars had almost caught up with him.
Almost panicking he slammed the gears into reverse - then backed the big truck into the gateway - manoeuvring it to block the exit. Before leaving the vehicle, he removed the starter key and put it into his pocket. Carefully he placed his rucksack on the driver's seat. Poking out of one top corner of the khaki bag was a nine inch antenna, a rubber coated radio - the sort used on hand held radios.
He hoped his pursuers might think it could contain a bomb. One that could be remotely detonated by a radio signal from Trakka. It looked convincing.
It should slow them even more.
Seeing the obstruction, one of the chasing police cars spun under emergency braking - allowing two others to hit it like a comedy sequence in a film.
The last of the police vehicles - a Land Rover Discovery - disgorged four men armed with Heckler and Koch sub machine pistols.
Struggling to remain cool and calm - Trakka triggered several rounds from his rifle, into the air above their heads. The panicky policemen threw themselves to the ground for protection behind their crashed vehicles.
Just over a mile away the police helicopter had just become airborne. The Bolkow 105 was forty flying seconds away allowing it time to accelerate.
Trakka sprinted, stumbling in haste, the short distance along the lane, towards where his Kawasaki off-road motorcycle was hidden amongst the hawthorn bushes.
His heart pounded with fear and exertion - as he cursed himself for not being in better physical condition.
Three of the police officers were trying to force a gap between the emergency gates and the crash wagon blocking them, whilst others sought further orders over the radio. The four armed officers paralleled Trakka's race along the lane, but from inside the perimeter fence.
They were hoping to get a shot at him, but the thick hawthorn fringe obstructed them.
The police chopper was approaching full speed…
Trakka slung the rifle diagonally across his back - then kick-started the bike.
It didn't fire…
The helicopter was now only twenty five seconds away.
Again, Trakka's boot stabbed down on the kick-start pedal.
And again, it didn't fire.
One of the police officers stopped - crouched and aimed.
The hawthorn deflected the bullet.
But not by much…
With an erratic growl the Kwacka elected to fire at the third attempt, a dense cloud of blue smoke erupting from the exhaust pipe as the lumpy two stroke engine burned off the initial over rich fuel mixture.
One police officer had got through the gate.
He flung himself aside as Trakka accelerated the bright yellow bike at him - heading for the Porton road. Crossing the narrow tarmac he accelerated into the field opposite - through the un-gated gap he'd memorised earlier.
The spinning rear wheel threw up a fountain of loose soil into the air behind the bike as the heavily treaded tyres became clogged with dirt and lost adhesion - then gripped again until the front wheel pawed high into the air as Trakka fought to control the lively machine.
Again, he overdid the power and the rear wheel skidded out to the left. Instinctively he partially closed the throttle and steered slightly left into the skid. The bike came under his control like a well-trained horse.
Passing fifty miles per hour, the off-roader left the ground as it hit a small hillock. More by reflex than conscious thought he tweaked the front wheel straight to prevent the machine skewing sideways on landing. Luckily, he remembered to keep on plenty of power to match wheel and ground speed as they regained contact.
Too much power - the Kwacka over revved - its madly racing rear wheel spinning much too fast on touchdown. Again, he corrected the resulting tail slide.
As fast as he dared, Trakka headed for a large copse to the southeast towards Gomeldon. Now he had to concentrate - try to remember what he had learned about off-road biking techniques.
He struggled with his seating position - weight back and upright for traction or setting the machine up for a leap over an obstacle. Then he had to change - leaning into the jockey position weight forward for directional stability and better control. He wished he had spent more time practising.
He was re-learning fast.
Several times, he had almost dropped it, in the biker's jargon. Usually it was when leaping the machine over a ditch or a wire fence. He always got the take-off right, careful to seek an upward slope or hummock from which to launch the bike. The difficult bit was remembering throttle control - easing off to stop over-revving when airborne - then increasing power before the rear tyre met the ground.
To perfectly match wheel speed with ground speed.
Often his weight distribution would be wrong - too far to the rear and the Kwacka would try to do a backwards loop - shift his weight too much to the fore and the front wheel would hit first, using up all the generosity of the thirteen inch suspension travel.
And all the time he was scanning the horizon and sky…
Inside the helicopter, the observers desperately searched for anything that could be the escaping assassin - knowing once their thermal imaging equipment was locked onto him he could not evade them.
But they were always just a few seconds too slow.
© Peter Hunter
To find out more about Trakka's fate - read Peter Hunter's Time Of The Spider on Kindle…