Free chapter from the final novel in The Lochran Trilogy, "The Alpha Wolves", which is now available from Amazon

Chapter 3 Flight of the Raven

 

New Year’s Eve 1965, Canadian air space

 

‘A coded message from New York, Mistress,’ said Keitel, handing the woman a note.

The woman was sitting down, with her long legs were resting on the backrest of the seat in front. She said nothing as she snatched the note, before waving her bodyguard away to his seat in the cockpit.

The Learjet 23 continued its ascent having taken off from Toronto thirty minutes earlier, carrying one passenger, its owner. The woman, who was dressed in black, apart from a white, linen blouse with a high, unyielding, starched collar, began to type the message into the cypher on the seat beside her. Minutes later, it began to print:

‘Lochran Ryan located . . . Alpha Wolves engaged . . .’

Involuntarily, she lifted her painted fingernails to run them across her thickly glossed lips as she read the following, final two words.

Adrestia Brooks lifted her head and turned to the window. The final words of the last sentence brought back memories from three years earlier, when she had first negotiated the curtains of rain sweeping across Whitehall.

30th November 1963, London

The young woman, six foot in height, with black hair bordered by a schoolgirl fringe, wore a dowdy beige raincoat over her drab cream buttoned-up blouse and overly-long black skirt as she skipped to avoid the shower’s desperate embrace. She hoisted a large umbrella, as her flat, matt-black Woolworth’s shoes raced through the puddles along her path from the Embankment to Whitehall Gardens Building, or as it was better known, the Ministry of Defence.

Once again, she found the exertion of dodging the city’s red buses, or any sudden movement, painful as her innocent, unthreatening look was reliant on wearing a corset to flattened her curves.

Having reached the corner just before the Ministry of Defence, she examined her recently issued identity card, tapped furiously by raindrops as if to draw attention to its lies. Her pass stated that she was an employee of the Metropolitan Police, which was true, but every other detail was a fabrication. Her date of birth stated 1943, making her two years younger than her real age. The name on the card was Jane Brück, rather than Adrestia Brooks. These errors would have been compounded, if it stated her position as it was written in her contract, ‘a specialist knowledge of international criminal organisations’.

When she applied for the post three months earlier, she was confident her deception would not be discovered as her colleagues would not listen to a woman on such matters, let alone one so young.

The head of the interview panel, Commander Daniel Macleod, was the only one she viewed as a threat, for she assessed that only he would call on her services. Later, she would learn it was his idea to create such a position, as international criminal organisations were becoming increasingly prevalent in the capital. The Tong had taken control of the protection rackets in Soho’s Gerrard Street, or as it was commonly known, Chinatown – Macleod’s first beat, when he joined the Metropolitan Police thirty-one years earlier.

Adrestia had done her research on the panel prior to the interview. Macleod had a teenage daughter. In the weeks leading up to the interview, she shadowed and began to adopt Janet's image and mannerisms.

On the day of the interview, the chair of the panel directed his questions in an avuncular manner as the candidate was strikingly like his daughter. Adrestia knew she had the job before it was official, as the Commander admonished another member of the panel when he asked, ‘Why should we offer such a position to a bit of skirt?’

Once she secured the post, she quickly befriended Janet and within weeks became her flatmate – the previous one had been pushed under an underground train by a person or persons unknown.

Having adopted Janet's appearance, Adrestia added the traits of naivety and gullibility to continue to nurture patriarchal feelings towards her in her new employer. This would provide her with time to develop her knowledge of her specialist field of which she could cover the broad questions posed by the interview panel, but no more. However, over the next two years her intimate knowledge of the crime bosses and their networks would surpass that of the best of accredited experts in the field of criminology.

The young woman had applied for the position, following a comment from her father. This was after his arrest, and later release, for the murder of Millicent Regan, the head of a notorious East London criminal family: ‘If only I had someone in Scotland Yard who could get me close to Macleod, then can I kill him too.’

It was only once she had secured the position that she realised her father’s lack of ambition. Now she had access to the secrets and files of the most famous enforcement institution and neighbouring government departments, the murder of the Commander of New Scotland Yard was the last outcome she desired. Despite her father’s initial protestations, rather than setting her father on his quarry, she convinced him that by keeping the compliant Macleod alive they could discover who released her father from the asylum, and why – though she secretly held far grander ambitions.

Her first act in her new post was to make a formal request to the Ministry of Defence to examine their files, on the pretext that many international criminal organisations originated from the military. Again, it was a lie, but as the authorised specialist in the field of international crime, no one was in a position to argue.

A month later, an official letter from the Ministry granting her access to the archives landed in her in-tray. She fought hard to suppress her excitement from her colleagues sitting at their desks on the other side of the glass partition.

 

At the corner of the Ministry of Defence building, she lowered her umbrella and placed it in her satchel to ensure she was thoroughly soaked. It was bound to secure a sympathetic, rather than an inquisitive response from those managing the building’s records department.

Minutes later, she was led into the basement of the building and confronted by Mrs Granger, the severe-looking, middle-aged manager of the archives. The young woman introduced herself, holding out a trembling wet hand. ‘You poor girl, please call me Gladys,’ said the woman, who hurried off to secure the ‘poor girl’ a towel to dry her hair.

Now alone, Adrestia walked purposefully along the various aisles and shelves of ledgers filed in date order. When she found the section she was after, she ran her severely clipped fingernails along the walls of box files. Having selected several ledgers marked The Alpha Wolves covering the years 1933 to 1939, she set to work. Moments later Gladys returned, still breathing deeply as she was not used to doing things in haste. She placed a towel, a mug of steaming tea and a generous assortment of custard creams and chocolate digestives on the desk beside the ‘poor girl’.

 

For the next six months, Adrestia meticulously went through each file, slipping anything signed by Major Klaus Krak, infamously known by his enemies - he had no friends - as Cerberus, into her satchel. Over those months, her giddiness at analysing every paper from the Alpha Wolves files was unabated, with most days stretching into the night.

First thing each Monday morning she checked Commander Macleod’s diary and if he were attending an evening function, she would leave the archives earlier than usual and return to New Scotland Yard. If Macleod were to return to his office to collect his overcoat or to sign a document, he would find the young woman, who was known throughout the building as Plain Jane – a name she coined having let slip on many an occasion that this was her nickname at school – working studiously at her desk. On these occasions he would open the door to her office to say goodnight and shake his head and sigh, ‘Poor Jane. You work far too hard. You should get out and let your hair down.’

On her last visit to the Ministry of Defence building, her long, thin fingers trembled as she lifted the leaves from the last file marked September 1939. She inhaled, expecting it to contain details of the final hours of the person she worshipped, Cerberus. The file held pages of train logs from Berlin’s Anhalter Bahnhof train station, once the route to the East. The station was in the American sector. However, it was the British who commandeered the files before the city was effectively divided between them after the war and the other two occupying powers the French and the Soviets. One narrow folder recorded the arrivals and departures of Cerberus’ death train for that month. A telegram fell from between the logs. Like a serpent, Adrestia snatched it before it reached the floor. She knew what it was, as her teeth drew blood from her naked lips. It was, indeed, the final communiqué from Cerberus’ train before Sean Ryan delivered it at full speed into the heart of Himmler’s Fortress. The great man, and his legion of Alpha Wolves, were all killed, while the whore, Lenka Habermann, and several worthless families, mostly Jewish, lived.

The sentence in her hand began ‘. . . death count high . . .’ but ended with two fateful words.

New Year’s Eve 1965, United States airspace

The woman, with carefully drawn black eyeliner and brutally swept-back lacquered hair, as black as the furious clouds battering her plane, sat still and in silence. She continued to stare at nothing out of the portal, as lightning attacked neighbouring clouds and the wind ferociously rocked the jet while rain battered the windows as if seeking refuge.

Adrestia Brooks lifted her fingers and began to stroke the end of her sharp nose, as she recalled the telegram she discovered on her final visit to the Ministry of Defence. She had slipped it beside the other mementoes in her leather satchel. She opened her Coco Chanel crocodile skin handbag and lifted out the black leather folder. Resting it on her thighs, she undid the gold silk ribbon, which once, supposedly, had secured Cerberus’ collection of personally adapted instruments of torture.

She withdrew the final telegram sent from Cerberus’ train. It ended with the same words as the message Keitel had handed her:

‘. . . Fierce resistance . . .’