Stella by Colin Galbraith
“Baccara?” said Randolph. “Can I see the spec please, sir?”
Burke handed over a light brown loose-leaf folder with the operation title printed on the centre of the cover, beneath blood-red words: ‘No Eyes’.
He paused. “Should I be seeing this?”
Burke spoke with fierce authority. “This is about as sensitive a mission as you can get, Lowe. Speed read it before you leave this room then give it back to me to be destroyed.”
Randolph opened the folder with a shiver of caution. He had only ever heard of a case file being labelled 'No Eyes' on one other occasion - and that was when the plot to assassinate Hitler was first put to the table.
On the first sheet of paper was the profile of a young woman. She had no confirmed name but had been given the alias, Stella. The paper gave her estimated height and weight: medium and medium; her features: defined and blonde; her general appearance: tidy and classy. All these observations were noted down in neat, anonymous handwriting. The file also included details of her last known whereabouts, some of her regular hangouts, and a picture of her sitting in a coffee shop somewhere in Eastern Europe. Her hair was blonde and wavy, and she was dressed in jeans and casual blouse with fashionable shades covering her eyes. She looked more like an A-class Hollywood actress than an MI5 target.
Randolph turned the page and read the section on her most recent movements and known acquaintances. She was wanted for questioning by several governments around the world, mostly on suspicion of being involved with assassination or plots to assassinate. There was no paper trail behind her, and no electronic, banking, or credit transactions traceable. She had been known to spend time with various government ministers and important businessmen from countries across three continents, but nobody could identify her formally. Needless to say, there were no witnesses to any of her crimes, her whole existence seemingly based on hearsay.
“She's an assassin?” Randolph asked, surprised that someone with such striking beauty stood accused of being a cold-blooded killer.
“We believe so, yes. One of the best, too. She's been able to get to high ranking government officials and VIPs without leaving so much as a single hair follicle.”
“Why are we interested in her?”
“We believe she’s been meeting with some ‘friends’ of ours in Northern Ireland,” said Burke, fingering quotation marks around the word ‘friends’ as he spoke. “We think there's a developing conspiracy to try and get to a member of the Royal family.”
Randolph looked at her picture. “Her? Kill a Royal?”
“She’s good Randolph. Don’t underestimate her. It might not be her that attempts it, but she’s got the capability and the contacts to form a team. It could be an error in the intelligence but we doubt it, and anyway, we can’t take the risk. She’s taken out some big players so far—or at least we think it was her. So she must be located, placed under surveillance, and then eliminated if the Intel proves positive.”
“Who am I working with?”
“You're on your own. This is strictly a clandestine operation.”
“Don't I get a team?”
“You’ll have full comms support at all times and a transparent budget. As far as anyone is concerned you’re on an STO—Standard Training Op. That’s as far as it goes. If you mess it up, you're on your own.”
“Is anyone else looking for her?”
“If you mean other governments, then yes, they have been. Nobody can get to her, though. She’s a modern day chameleon.”
“So why me?”
Burke sighed. “You’re the best we’ve got, Lowe, as much as it pains me to say it. You’re fifty one, have the body of a thirty eight year old, and you’ve got more experience than most of our team put together. There’s nobody else I want working on this one.”
“Yes, sir. And thank you, sir,” said Randolph, a little taken back by the compliment, but not in any way fooled.
The folder contained little else of interest to Randolph so he handed it back. Burke pressed open a small metal bin by the side of his desk, dropped the folder inside and closed it. There was a rushing sound, like that of a small concentrated blast of wind, then silence, and the scent of charred paper. “Be careful with this one, Randolph. You may be our best, but we don't quite know how good she is yet.”
“When do I start?”
“Ten minutes ago. Your comms team is assembled in the Thames Room. Go and meet them and get saddled up. Then get yourself straight to Heathrow; there's a plane leaving for Athens in two hours and I want you on it.”
“Where's she staying?”
“The Grand Bretagne. She checked in last night.”