The sun sets across Lower Marsh Street SE1 in the London Borough of Lambeth, situated behind Waterloo Station. The dirty old River Thames is fast flowing and angry a few hundred metres behind, reflecting the fury of pedestrians, cyclists and taxis trying to get into and out of a station that is long overdue a re-fit.
The layout and design looks tired and outdated, impractical and dangerous for the volume of people trying to use it. The mish-mash of shared cycle and pathways lead to endless accidents and arguments as everyone demands their own right of way. The hired Santander bike stands (about thirty) are situated by the main entrance as a final obstacle to the free-flowing ease of movement. Looking back towards the river, the shiny chrome redevelopment of the Royal Festival Hall and its surrounding bars and restaurants jar against the random brickwork and fencing of a station that has outgrown its capacity.
I am convinced this is why Julie chose Waterloo to meet her contact. To find and follow anyone in amongst this commuter chaos requires experience in tracking and monitoring. I am convinced this is why the Agency chose a Pro like me to find and expose her.
Her daily commute from Balham into Victoria takes her to the office in Petty France. Except, once a week on a Friday night she walks over Westminster Bridge and on to Waterloo. Victoria Station is busier and yet she has picked this route because it is one train line away from her usual journey and somehow she feels safer. The CCTV footage from the Underground Stations didn’t take make me long to find her; my twenty-seven years of service in the Special Forces were hardly required at all. She is a rooky and easy to follow and the view I have of her now from the third floor apartment window means I will get the job done quickly. This means I will get paid quickly.
It is 5.37pm on Friday evening and she has chosen to meet her contact again on the far side of the station, away from the River and the embankment and all the activity that goes with it. Lower Marsh Street has a rundown urban feel to it, with its small shops with half-open metal-grill shutters, private B&Bs, restaurants and launderettes. Greggs situated on the corner of Launcelot Street completes the landscape. At the north end where it meets with Bayliss Road and The Millennium Green, stands La Cubana restaurant. With its large Cuban flag overhanging the entrance and bunting between lampposts, it brings some relief and a relaxed party feel to this part of the ’hood. The enormous mural painting in yellow on the side of the brickwork of the end house overlooks the large wooden pergola with its outside seating area. It shows a Cuban dancer with welcoming arms saying ‘Join the Party’. With my Canon 300mm Zoom Lens setup on the tripod, I can see the paintwork is a little chipped and in need of some repair. But this decadence ensures it fits perfectly with the vibe and buildings that surround it.
There is a large paved area to the front of the restaurant, with a cluster of metal benches and chairs and pink painted oil drums with flowers that need their deadheads removing. I have tracked the two rookies to this meeting place for the last four weeks now. The noise from the traffic, pedestrians, Cuban music and the cover of the plants seems to convince my subjects that they are working undercover. I smile as I consider the thought process of Julie choosing a different bench each time they meet. As if being a whole four feet away this time, is going to confuse me! Please, don’t insult my ability! You need to do much, much better than this!
The station behind me will finally give up and close at 2am as the party in front of me in La Cubana, is just beginning; but for now I am busy and watching and if all goes to plan, this should be over in a few minutes. The view from the apartment in Lower Marsh Street, is perfectly situated with the evening sun behind me. This beams the exact amount of sunlight onto the two operatives and casts my building in a shadow, or at least makes it difficult for them to look up. Even without the net curtains, they could not see me with this dark background. Besides, these two rookies don’t suspect a thing. Why would they?
I watch them through my telescopic lens. I feel like I need to tell you about my gear. I am not a techie, just an experienced pro, so I am always thorough and value my weapon. For tonights assignment, my travel cases contain two Canon EOS 5D DSLRs, each with the same LS-EF 30-300mm Zoom lens, each rigged on a tripod pointing to the same spot on the street. I have a remote cabled digital trigger that fires the shutter on both cameras so, if one fails, I have the footage from the backup camera.
Like I said, if you want the job doing properly, you call a Pro like me. I am not arrogant, just professional, but fuck you for thinking it. I have never failed on a job yet, so yeh, fuck you anyway.
The two targets meet once a week every Friday evening, when the station is at its busiest. On the one hand I am impressed by their choosing a busy central London train station and yet disappointed as it seems a little cliché; a little too predictable to be certain of not being discovered. I suspect they got the idea from watching spy movies – It all feels a little too ‘Jason Bourne’.
If there were such a thing as a Spy’s handbook of top ten places to meet without being noticed, it would surely recommend either Liverpool Street, Victoria, Waterloo or one of the other central London Stations. But the professional operatives, the ones that are really good, those that take me a few days to find, will double-bluff and choose an obvious location, often hiding in plain sight. They are cunning and more discreet in their appearance and manner, blending into the background.
But I see them.
Those are the ones to watch and the ones to catch ‘in the act.’ The nasty ones who will arrange for the poisoning of diplomats on British soil and think they can get away with it. That is, until I get the tip-off from the Agency. On those occasions, for those customers, I bring my larger travel cases, the ones that contain my other heavier equipment.
‘Good choice my friends…’ I muse to myself, ‘But not good enough. I am on to you now and your life will soon be one big regret…’ I mutter under my breath causing the lens to steam a little. I close one eye and sharpen the focus on both zooms remotely. Whurrrr. I press the trigger. Click.
Brexit is the new Cold War and these amateurs playing games before me, don’t know what a huge Political earthquake they are about to unleash.
‘Silly fuckers’ I whisper disparagingly and press the trigger again. Click. Click.
But I have the upper hand. I can do what I do best and spy on these targets who are clueless, at least for now. This is the most productive time for me, as they will be confident and sloppy and make basic mistakes. It is when their sort get spooked or have a whiff of suspicion that they are being watched, it makes my job a little harder. Only a touch harder mind you, I am still too good for these clowns. I allow myself a wry smile, content in my ability.
Blissfully unaware, the field operatives – Julie and Terry – well that is their silly code names at least – come together and sit on the bench without shaking hands on the south-west side of the station. Click. Click. Whurr. ZZzoom. Click. Click.
Julie, British, a Senior Civil Servant (Grade 6) with eleven years service history working at the Ministry of Justice but now involved with ‘RED FEET’, Labour’s underground political movement to bring about ‘Real Socialism to the streets of Britain’. Their objective – to make Jeremy Corbyn the next Prime Minister by any means necessary. The organisation has dubious links into shady and violent groups that Momentum who officially work with the Labour Party, could not possibly be affiliated with. They are similar in their methods as Sinn Fein were to the IRA – a smiling public face of an organization that has a dark shadow of persuasion and influence lurking behind it.
Terry on the European side – he is working for the EU Commission but not officially and would certainly not be being paid for by them as that would be too close for comfort. Terry works for ‘BLOCK’ and has been tasked with obtaining as much information from the British Government as he can, to weaken their hand in the Brexit negotiations. Over the next two years, it will be worth billions of pounds in subsidy payments to the former Soviet Eastern ‘Block’ countries. Their objective is simply to bleed the West dry for as long as possible. Britain represents a huge amount of cash-flow so they want to ‘Block’ Britain from leaving to maintain the income of the former Soviet Union ‘Block’ countries.
‘Clever…. I like the name’ I chunter and allow myself a slight nod in recognition of their comrades.
The British Government is trying to negotiate their way out of paying any more to the EU, so if their position can be undermined in any way, then Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Poland will continue to benefit. Julie doesn’t realize the gravity and full implications of what she is doing; leaking information from the British Government to have it used back against them in negotiations with a view to keeping borders, trade deals and subsidies ongoing; paying for information that might lead to the collapse of the current political administration. Reckless. Dangerous. Disgraceful.
‘Shame on you Julie. I bet your mum would be very proud….’ I take a slurp of my tea, balanced on one of my many metal photography travel cases. Click. Click. Click.
Julie had received three £50k inducements for the last three weeks work direct into her bank account on Monday, in arrears, once she had delivered the classified ‘TOP SECRET’ documents to Terry on the preceding Friday evening. But so far, she has made several basic mistakes.
1. She used her own personal bank account.
2. She left a digital trail of the TOP SECRET folders on her laptop.
3. She smartened her appearance once the cash started rolling in. Her Burberry light summer coat and designer handbag were improved on, but buying the brand new car in cash, was just plain stupid. Even the car salesmen raised an eyebrow when she paid in full with her debit card. It was too tempting not to upgrade everything, even getting a chic haircut at Vidal Sassoon’s in Seven Dials. I can see the change in her appearance from my vantage point fifty metres away and three floors up above La Barca Italian restaurant. She should have resisted the urge to buy these things so quickly; she should have at least taken the time to remove the price stickers from the soles of her shoes. These things are just not affordable on a Civil Servants’ salary. These mistakes will cost her more than her job; possibly, ultimately, her life.
Julie hands the USB memory stick to Terry. Click. Click. Click. I have the shot – bingo! All too easy!
She stands, turns left and walks away from the benches heading north-east back towards the busy station. She disappears without turning back. I look out over Waterloo sunset and take a cheeky landscape photo. My work tonight is done and everything in my life seems just fine.
Everything in Julie’s life is not fine. Her life is about to be torn apart. She is technically committing treason, an offence against the State. It is likely she will lose her job, her house, her family and friends and end up living alone and in disgrace. She may end up working as a prostitute in some tacky rundown hell-hole in central London. Or, it could end up being worse. I have seen it all before.
I scroll through the preview display screen of the photos on my camera with a clear conscience and select the ones that I will send to the Agency; the ones that will destroy her life forever. There are about twenty. The usual action shots that I need to send to prove the case beyond doubt – meet, greet, faces, sit, talk, handover, nod, walk away without turning back etc.
Oh dear, poor Julie with her new convertible Mercedes SL with black leather interior and AMG sports trim steering wheel. It really is a terrible shame. Nah, fuck it; and fuck her trying to fuck up the whole fucking Brexit process!
Any more and I might even start to feel sorry for the Government being brought down by these buffoons.
Terry stays a minute or two longer, looking manly, suave, sophisticated in a dark green jacket and tan loafers. He lights a cigarette (a Marlboro Light from a paper packet), stands, exhales a lung full and walks away to the right back down Lower Marsh Street. The only thing missing from his outfit is a trilby, no perhaps a Papakha, no maybe too hot today and too obvious. There is something in his manner and walk, his posture that intrigues me. Ex-Forces like me, perhaps? Am I that good, I can tell someone’s past just by looking at the way they stand and walk? Jeez, I knew I was good, but hell not that good.
The comrades’ journey takes him back through the Leake Street Tunnel with all its graffiti and broken glass. All the lazy skateboard tossers are long gone by now as their day jobs are over and they head off to the South Bank where the street lights mean the skating continues through the night. I had taken the same route myself, only twenty-four hours earlier as I had not been that way before. I needed to learn the route and the timings and note them down in my laptop. I now have a complete profile of both ‘customers’. I am very thorough and precise in my work. A spreadsheet with this weeks’ date and times of their meetings along with twenty, no nineteen, photos should be enough to take them down.
I will get paid once I submit the photos of tonight’s events. As an old habit from my days in the Special Forces, I cross-check the tasks that have been completed.
I have the Shots of the ‘TOP SECRET’ information being handed over. Tick.
I have the Shots of the two operatives in the act of committing the above offence. Clothes, faces and journey details. They have been well and truly clocked. Tick.
No-one in the rented apartment has seen me coming in or going out. Tick.
Once inside, there are no visible signs of me having ever been here. Once I remove my kit and place the mountain of post back on the doormat. My overshoes are uncomfortably hot as I feel my feet cannot breathe, but it is vital I keep them on.
Now comes the boring part. This is the worst time; the job is complete but I have to wait for the cover of darkness before I can leave the apartment. I have done it many times before and know the routine but it is still boring and tedious. I will not switch on my phone, or do anything that could track my location to this point, so instead I pack away my kit methodically, pick out my paperback novel from the heavy duty zipped side pocket of the holdall and sit down to read. I have a few hours to wait before I can send the information. This time is a killer as the value of the content of my camera and laptop is depreciating whilst I sit here and read. But I must never compromise the routine for fear of being discovered, however tempting it is to try and finish the job early.
The Agency employs me for precision planning and that does not include walking out through the apartment block, saying ‘Good Evening’ pleasantly to everyone in the street. The fire escape for the small flats above La Barca, comes down to the side of the building next to the Fast Food ‘Chicken Valley’ shopfront. This means I will avoid going though the lobby or worse, the main part of the restaurant. With all my kit, four bags in total with telescopic tripod, I look exactly like who I am. One phone call from the landlord to the Police and my income would dry up overnight. So I sit and I wait it out.
It was easy enough for the Agency to find a house where the inhabitants are away. Either on holiday or separated or dead. Frankly I don’t care which one it is. Match the location with the Social Media profile of all those people living near by, within the same postcode and find me a vantage point and I will deliver the goods every time. The Agency will only find the flat, it is for me to sort any ‘local’ issues. I am on my own once I have the ‘Job Spec’. There is no comeback on them; that is the risk and it is not negotiable.
It occurs to me that the flats are always furnished and lived-in. Each family is oblivious when they return from their holiday or whatever tedious energy sapping family event they have been to. These absentees are in fact doing their country a favour; very patriotic of them to let me inside. Very decent, very British of them. In fact if they knew, they would……
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK. Suddenly, a knock at the door. Shit!!
I am instantly alerted from my book and quietly jump to my feet. This was not part of the plan but I am impressed by my own agility. Still got it big fella. Agile body, nimble feet, nice; there’s life in the old dog yet.
No………shit………..this is business……..concentrate.
What now? Answer and expose my face to someone local or ignore the knocking and risk the situation escalating?
A second knock at the door. I need to keep away from the letter box in case they open it and look inside. I creep to the second bedroom off the main hallway and finish buttoning up my black jumpsuit, just as I hear a key being pushed into the Yale lock of the front door.
The door opens as I sense a change in the airflow. Double shit!!
I may have to take someone down on the job after all. This is not what I had planned. That leads me to a whole series of other issues. I have not planned for a crime scene. Fucking hell, this is going to ruin my weekend, and the blood will ruin my clothes and the carpet, and could delay me submitting the information on my case.
‘Hello. Is anyone there?’ says the voice from the hallway. I can’t quite detect the age in the tone of the voice to determine who I am dealing with. Male, definitely male, but no idea of size or weight. This is quickly turning very bad.
The post on the doormat has been moved too, moved by me, so this person now knows there is someone inside. I silently remove the combat knife from its sheath on the inside of my vest, and as my training kicks in, I make a cold decision.
A ruthless calm descends over my body and I silently step into the hallway.