This extract from my novel No Remorse was set in Saint-Denis in Paris. Not by accident. The area has been known as a font of extremism for years, which is why I set the chapter there.
My sympathies and respect go with the people of Paris who didn’t deserve to die at the hands of those miserable excuses for human beings. And for the too many others before and after. There’s only one solution for these types of perpetrators of violence through intolerance, and that’s at the end of my chapter.
It was almost two in the morning when they arrived at Jog’s assembly point, set up inside an old abandoned warehouse not far from where Emil, The Frenchman, was keeping his girls. There were four others already there, dressed in gear similar to that worn by the French Police RAID team—helmets, body armor, and black coveralls with POLICE emblazoned on the back—swarming around a Peugeot Boxer van, choosing their weapons. Most looked in their late forties or early fifties, but only one had a spreading bulge that suggested he enjoyed his beer and croissants. Then again, he moved as well as the others. A second van contained all manner of equipment they might need for the planned incursion. Nearby, a Caterpillar bulldozer was sitting on a trailer parked next to a bus.
A full-size headshot of The Frenchman, Emil Bladelescu, was taped to a wall and Mac studied it to memorize the face. Next to it was a Google Earth enlargement of the target premises, a three-story whitewashed brick building with metal bars welded across its shuttered windows. The building was surrounded by a corrugated metal fence eight feet high, with two strands of barbed wire above it. One fence bordered the banks of the Saint-Denis Canal. A possible escape route for those inside.
Even though he knew Jog was good, Mac was astounded at the level of preparation. “Jesus, you knew I was serious, didn’t you,” he said as he looked around and smiled.
“I know Sophia is special to you, so this is more than just any mission. I only hope we find them in time. But I think Scotty has a sound plan.” Jog took him over to meet the team. Gaston and Jean-Claude were ex-DGSE Commandos, Marcel was a retired Foreign Legionnaire, and Yanis was one of Jog’s former colleagues from Beirut.
“This is your operation, Scotty,” Mac said, pulling on black coveralls, body armor and a utility belt. At the weapons van, he swapped the Walther for a Glock, which was more familiar, and loaded up a Benelli shotgun. “So, guys, how many are we up against?”
“From what we know, there are seven or eight,” Yanis said, clipping a magazine onto a Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle. “Schmidt’s watching the premises as we speak.”
“All right,” Scotty said, moving over to the map on the wall. “Let’s go over the plan and synchronize watches. We move at 0345 hours.”
Clouds hid the moon. Schmidt had smashed the nearby streetlights. Marcel maneuvered the bulldozer alongside the canal and without pausing crashed through the rear gate. Mac hurled himself off before Marcel stopped the machine and sprinted across the yard to open the gate. Jog drove the van into the courtyard and the others piled out.
Strangely, there was nobody in the courtyard to defend the place. Emil’s men must feel very secure, or maybe they’d left. Or maybe they were busy with the women.
Mac raced back to the entrance of the building and fired the silenced pistol to shatter the lock. Yanis and Gaston smashed the door in with the rammer and he rolled a flash-bang inside. They stood back, blocking their ears and closing their eyes, as it exploded with the brilliance of a flare and a boom that would render anyone temporarily senseless.
Scotty led them inside and they split into two groups to sweep from the ground floor up. That way Emil and his men would be trapped. The plan was to secure the building first, then worry about the girls. They didn’t want chaos with panicked women running around getting shot. Their main objective was to take The Frenchman alive.
Mac crept left with Gaston and Yanis towards what smelled like the kitchen. He signaled stop while they listened. Nothing. He moved slowly into the room where burning gas on the stovetop made a low hiss. Food simmered in a large pot. Someone had been here moments before.
“They’re not far away,” Mac whispered, glancing in the pot. French onion soup.
“Gaston, watch our backs,” Mac said as they passed into a dining room with seating for about thirty people. The skin of his back started to prickle. He glanced left and right. Someone was close.
“Hola!” came a shout from behind as a door cracked open.
Mac twisted around, bringing up the shotgun, but as he did a second door burst open behind him.
“Back!” Gaston shouted.
Mac fired three times, hoping Gaston had the other guy covered. Too late. Bullets thumped into his back, propelling him forward. He sensed a blinding flash, followed by a velvety blackness and thousands of flashing stars.
Mac wasn’t sure how much time had passed. Seconds, maybe, or a couple of minutes. Where was he? What was that shooting? He became aware of someone kneeling beside him, calling from a distance.
“Mac? Mac? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he heard himself reply from what seemed like miles away. His head hurt like crazy, and his back. He sat up. “Where are they?”
“Both dead, mon ami,” Gaston said, leaning over him. “The body armor stopped their rounds or you would be also. Are you able to continue?”
He took several tentative breaths and stood up, ignoring the painful bruising in his back. “Let’s go.”
A burst of automatic fire came from somewhere else in the building, followed by a series of single shots and shotgun blasts. A brief silence. Then more shooting.
“Let’s take it slow.” He pressed the transmit button on the handheld. “Two reds down here. You guys okay?”
“Four reds down,” Scotty replied. “No sign of Emil. Going up to level one. You guys take two.”
They crept up the stairs to level two. It had a long corridor with doors off both sides, like a hotel. The doors were bolted on the outside and they ignored the panicky female voices behind them. Mac sprinted along the corridor, checking each door while the other two covered him. All were locked, making it unlikely there was anyone waiting inside to ambush them.
At the end of the corridor was a locked door under the stairs. Mac spotted wear on the carpet that showed a lot of foot traffic. While Gaston and Yanis kept guard, he fired the Benelli and the lock shattered. He pushed open the door. Inside was a spacious office with a solid, carved oak desk covered in papers and a notebook computer. A sizeable safe was built into the wall and there were two filing cabinets and an extensive bar.
“We’ve found The Frenchman’s office, Scotty,” he said on the radio.
He began to search the room when Yanis hissed like an irate football fan. He jabbed his finger towards the rear of the office, where a section of wall had begun to open. A small hatchway, about half the size of a normal door. It would have been almost impossible to detect if someone hadn’t been opening it.
Mac crouched behind a filing cabinet as the others took cover behind the desk. After a moment, the snub-nosed barrel of a submachine gun appeared, followed by the head and shoulders of a man. Not Emil.
“Just get the computer, leave everything else,” came a voice from behind the man.
Mac fired the Benelli. The top of the man’s head splattered the far wall and the body dropped, preventing the hatchway from being closed. There was return fire, then the body was dragged back inside and the hatch pulled shut. He fired again at the hatch but the pellets had no effect.
“Damn it!” He turned to the other men. “Who’s got the Semtex?”
“In the equipment van,” yelled Yanis.
“Yanis, keep an eye on the hatch. Don’t let them get that computer. Gaston, guard the door. Wait here until the others arrive before you release any of the girls. I’ll try and stop them leaving.”
As he leapt down the stairs, he radioed Scotty to tell him what he was doing. He raced out the smashed rear gate and glanced around. If there was a tunnel it would most likely exit onto the banks of the canal. There seemed to be three possible places where an exit door could be disguised: a pile of rusting oil drums, a derelict graffiti-sprayed hut, and a pile of old car bodies. He darted behind the drums. After a few minutes, two men with pistols emerged from among the car bodies, checking the surroundings before scurrying along the bank towards him.
“Police! Arretez!” he yelled, firing the shotgun into the ground in front of them. The two men stopped dead and thrust their hands into the air, still holding their pistols.
“This is a mistake,” said one of the men, his eyes darting around. The Frenchman!
“Drop your weapons, Emil,” he said. “You and I are going to have a little chat about some kidnapped girls.”
The man with Emil placed his weapon on the ground, but Emil fired twice and took off along the canal. Without a second thought, Mac blasted the other man in the chest and sprinted after Emil.
The bank of the canal was thick with long reedy grass and slippery with stinking slime, and Emil had a head start. Mac needed one hand free in case he slipped. He took out his pistol and threw the shotgun in the water, not wanting to risk it being found later. Emil was visible ahead through the reeds, and Mac steadied himself. Fired. Not to kill. He needed Emil alive. Emil kept running.
Two shots thudded into the ground, missing him by inches. He reacted instantly, rolling down the muddy bank. Coming back up onto his knees, he let off three low shots towards the source of the firing. There came a grunt from up ahead. Mac crept forward through the thick reeds a few feet from the mucky water. Suddenly, just a few yards ahead, Emil jumped up and ran towards the road. Turning back he fired at Mac but tripped and went down. Mac raced forward and pounced, shoving the barrel of the Glock against Emil’s shoulder joint as they wrestled. Fired point-blank.
He dragged Emil bleeding and groaning back to the building where he used plastic ties to cuff him to one of the steel ovens. Schmidt and Jog guarded him and two other of his men while Mac ran back upstairs to help free the girls. He wanted to be on hand if Sophia and Danni were among them.
As Scotty opened a door, the stench rocked him. Six sweaty bodies lay on two double mattresses, crammed into a tiny space with a hand basin and filthy toilet. Used needles littered one corner. Two of the girls were unconscious and the other two were barely able to communicate. He spotted a waif-like figure shivering under a pile of clothes, whether from the cold or from heroin withdrawal, he couldn’t tell. He got out of her in broken French that her name was Stela, and the girls sharing the room were friends from Bucharest. They’d been promised work as housemaids or nannies, and that they could enroll as students. But once they arrived, she said, they had been injected with heroin and forced to work in Emil’s bar to pay for their habit.
In all, they rescued twenty-eight young women and girls, but Sophia and Danni were not among them. They helped the girls onto the bus and Jog drove them to his farm a couple hours east of Paris. Jog and Claudette would see that they were fed, rested and cleaned up before being sent home. The other men on the team packed up the van and the bulldozer and were soon gone.
It was nearly dawn. They needed to move fast, before the area started waking for the working day. In the kitchen, Mac made a big deal of sharpening a knife. Emil was bound naked on a gas cooktop, watched by four of his men who were plastic-cuffed to an overhead utensil rail. Emil knew what a blade could do, but he might have learned something new that night. Mac didn’t take long to get the answers he was looking for.
Afterwards, they left Emil and his men tied up in the kitchen.
“This is almost too good for those bastards,” Scotty said, as he unrolled the detonator wires across the street, where they crouched behind a wall well out of harm’s way.
It was Scotty’s operation, so Mac let him do the honors. Scotty lifted the safety cover of the switch and depressed the lever. A series of muffled explosions came from inside the building. Then it collapsed, clouds of dust and smoke billowing out.
“Perhaps a little too much plastic.” Scotty winked at him.
Mac could hear sirens wailing in the distance. “Time to leave, I think.”
They drove away, leaving behind a smoldering pile of rubble in the twilight of dawn.
Emil had given them just one name. Adnan Ziad.