THE IMMORTALITY PLOT
a Mike Delaney thriller
Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong
It was dark and steamy in a slimy alley close to the waterfront. Nearby, the harbor district was ablaze with vibrant life. But in the deserted streets around the fish market, festering in the stench of rotting entrails, only a flickering glow illuminated the darkened wharves and stalls with patches of light and shade.
Mike Delaney gripped his model 10 Smith and Wesson .38 caliber special revolver close to his face. He tightened his knuckles and glanced behind to his left. He could just make out his partner Bob Messenger in the gloom close to a dripping fire escape. He altered the position of his gun hand a fraction and shuffled forward, staying in the shadows opposite the target doorway. Under a gap at the base of the door a yellowish light the color of bile seeped into the alley.
Delaney had not set this up. There were four U.S and British citizens high on the wanted lists of both countries inside the target building and they needed sensitive handling. That’s why the operational superintendent had requested the presence of Delaney and Messenger – unusual in a task force situation on the streets of Hong Kong.
The operation had been planned meticulously. Behind Messenger a small unit of armed officers awaited a signal. Another team under the command of a senior officer was moving in at the other end of the alleyway, blocking any escape. When the signal was given that team would go in first. Delaney could just see Messenger’s shadow shifting against the wooden planks of a storage shed.
A movement caught his attention. It was just a shape melding within the darkness above and to his right. There was a momentary glint of something.
Was it metal?
Delaney was on full alert, but now his instincts triggered an additional surge of adrenalin. He considered warning Messenger via their microphone link but knew it could give away their position. Support units were to maintain radio silence at all costs. So he hesitated. Normally he could feel the unseen presence of his fellow officers. But now, all he could sense were emptiness and isolation. The gloom surrounding him was engulfing. It was almost palpable. Delaney experienced a deep unease, a clammy sense of betrayal. But, he couldn’t be certain.
There was only one way to find out.
Delaney began to move silently across to the target doorway. There was a shuttered window next to a cracked and sun-blistered door. Delaney sidled towards it, his heart pounding, watchful and alert.
Yes. There was definite movement.
Delaney stared at the spot. All his experience told him something was wrong. Someone was positioned about ten feet up from the ground on a low roofed building. He was sure of it. But this wasn’t part of the operational plan. Nobody had been briefed to take up that position.
Delaney ordered himself to trust his instincts. As he moved out of the shadows he heard a whispered click and a glimmer of reflected light as from a scope. Messenger heard it too and was already moving into the open.
Delaney didn’t hesitate. He sprinted into the open alleyway aiming at the shape on the rooftop as Messenger started to crouch and run, swiveling to take aim.
The crack of the rifle shot echoed around the empty alley. There was no one behind the doorway or inside the building.
There was no drug deal.
There was no back up.
There was only Delaney and Messenger as sitting ducks. There was only the bullet speeding towards Mike Delaney. Messenger yelled and Delaney dived as the bullet found its target – but not the one the sniper had aimed at. Bob Messenger screamed once as the high velocity shell punched home and entered his lower back. He fell to the ground with a thud. Delaney cried out with anger and anguish and saw the assassin move, take shape, reflect light, and jump back over the other side of the building.
Delaney was torn between attending to his fallen colleague, a man who had become one of his few true friends, and his desire to exact immediate and terminal revenge. He knew what Messenger would do if the position was reversed when he saw the look in his eyes.
He chose the latter.
Delaney rammed the revolver into his waistband as he raced around the other side of the building towards the lights of Yen Chou Street. He couldn’t risk using a firearm in full public view. The chase took little more than five minutes. His target was running out of a narrow alleyway just ahead of him as Delaney vaulted a row of barrels and wooden planks. The assassin was fast but Delaney was faster.
As he ran, Delaney picked up a heavy cudgel-shaped piece of wood and hurled it at the moving target. It caught him between the shoulder blades and caused him to momentarily stumble and slow. He had wisely dropped the rifle.
With Delaney approaching at speed, the assailant decided to stand and fight.
It was a fatal mistake.
Delaney smoothly sidestepped a jabbed punch, crouched and struck with the heel of his palm deep into the solar plexus, a fraction later he stepped in with a shattering two-knuckle strike to the carotid artery. The assassin dropped instantly. Delaney stamped his heel into the man’s throat splintering his windpipe. It took him five seconds to die.
Delaney rolled the body onto its back. He had seen the man’s face before - in a coded, high security file at operational headquarters. Delaney walked a few yards to pick up the rifle. He held the Remington 280 official police issue weapon in his hands then swung it over his shoulder. This was no triad hit man. This was a trained police marksman.
As Delaney retraced his steps to tend to his colleague and friend he called base command for a clean-up squad. There was a crackle on the line and a series of rapid clicks. Delaney had played it by the book but inside he knew. It was a set-up and he wasn’t supposed to have emerged alive. The response team sirens were already screaming towards the scene.
And that’s when an iron web of deceit and lies tightened around Mike Delaney.
THREE YEARS LATER
San Rafael Mountains, California
His moving hands cast sharp shadows on the arid earth.
He was tall and graceful, powerfully built but surprisingly delicate, pushing and stretching his arms and body in an harmonious display of Tai Chi high in the crisp mountain air.
Mike Delaney was dressed in a loose fitting black silk suit. He was barefoot. His eyes were partially closed and his facial expression fathomless. The casual observer would never guess that his deep emotional pain and suffering had been suppressed just for these moments.
Behind him towered the San Rafael Mountains and in the distance the smoke from a controlled chaparral burn drifted slowly into a brilliant blue sky. In a clearing below lay the monastery and the long dirt track that led to its gates and then on for miles of wilderness to the coast.
He moved with fluid grace and power, his energy compressed into a ball in his solar plexus, able to explode in an instant to deadly effect. His focus was fixed on his shadow, etched with clearly defined contours on the outcrop before him.
Suddenly, he noticed the edge of another shadow merging with his. It was fragmentary. Fleeting. It almost blended, but not quite. There was no sound, no breath, not even a footfall, yet he knew something or someone was behind him. No animal could have been that silent. Delaney’s hearing had been trained to detect the smallest sound. He altered his balance imperceptibly, moving his weight onto the balls of his feet, 220 pounds of trained muscle condensing.
When he moved, it was with bewildering speed for such a big man yet not even a grain of dust rose from the earth as he turned, sank his weight, blocked and prepared to strike. What he saw as he spun caused him to hesitate. Such hesitation, he knew as soon as he paused, could cost him his life. Instead he relaxed and smiled at the elderly monk smiling up at him, his simple white robe plucked by a slight breeze. Delaney noticed the moving fabric, realizing it was this and not lack of skill that had alerted him to the play of shadows.
The little monk seemed to move yet appeared motionless. But it was an optical illusion. As Delaney raised his striking fist, the monk drifted out of range yet Delaney, for all his consummate skill, did not see his feet move.
“Brother Rama,” Delaney greeted him. “I still can’t see how you do that.”
“Can you hear the Earth breathe, Michael, or feel the universe expand?” smiled Rama. He paused for a moment. "I am personally very pleased you have come back to us, even for a short time."
“There was nowhere else I could think of going,” said Delaney.
“We did have hopes that you would join the brotherhood,” said Rama. “Don't forget, you spent two years here with us as a novitiate. Are you sure now, with all that has happened to you since then, that you wish to live in the outside world?”
“I’m certain, Brother Rama,” Delaney answered. “There are things I have to do. But you know I carry everything I have experienced here within me, don’t you?”
“Yes,” replied the little monk. “And that knowledge will never leave you.” Rama paused and looked steadily into Delaney’s eyes. “You know how sorry we all are for the pain you now feel. You know where to come if you ever need to talk, or cry.”
Delaney said nothing. He took a deep breath.
Rama continued. “Oh, there is a telephone call for you. We only have one telephone as you know and it seldom rings. It caused a good deal of excitement amongst the brothers, I can tell you. I explained to the caller that I would have to come and find you so he would have to hold on for a while.”
Rama trotted by Delaney’s side as they made their way back down from the rocky platform along a dusty path to the monastery. It had been constructed near the site of an old Chumash Indian settlement, a collection of simple buildings surrounding a courtyard. Water containment was by way of a series of connected wells and conduits laid out to exploit the seasonal rains. There were meditation and contemplation areas shaded from the sun and one or two battered vehicles to collect supplies - usually more than a day’s trip.
The order of The Brothers of Light existed to explore the true nature of consciousness, which it saw as being all-pervasive in that everything in the universe and in any other universe that may exist was all part of one, timeless, consciousness from which everything, including all creation, emanated. To become a fully-fledged monk an individual had to make a personal choice for life. But no one or nothing could stop a Brother leaving the monastery at any time.
The two years that Mike Delaney had spent here had been the most challenging and yet the most satisfying of his existence. It had been a momentous change in his life direction from his US army days with the exclusive and secretive G-Force and later with the Hong Kong Police elite. He believed at the time that he would have been unable to shake off the effects of the traumatic events he had experienced in Hong Kong without such a dramatic change. He realized after two years, however, that he was not cut out for monastic life, not in the long term, not forever.
The reason for this was simple. He had fallen in love and got married.
Delaney followed Brother Rama into the main building, its ancient stucco walls peeling. It was cool inside. Delaney noticed once again with bemusement and wonder how Brother Rama, also barefoot, could walk noiselessly ahead of him. They came to what passed as Brother Rama’s office, a shabby, untidy room, stacked with books and dusty papers, a yoga mat, a few handmade chairs and a large desk, piled with more papers and bric-a-brac. There was a little bowl of sweets perched close to an ancient black telephone with the receiver lying on its side. Brother Rama picked it up and spoke into it.
“Hello,” he paused. “Thank you for holding. Yes, he is here now. I will pass the telephone to him.”
He held the receiver out to Delaney, smiled and inclined his head, pressing his palms together before gliding out of the room. The door closed behind him with a creak.
Delaney put the receiver to his ear.
“Mike, is that you? About bloody time, my old mate. It’s Bob. Bob Messenger.”
Delaney brightened at the sound of the clipped English accent. Messenger had been his closest friend in the Hong Kong Police Force, to which they had both been seconded to provide specialist training. Messenger had been his operational partner and was an expert in IT systems, neural networks and covert electronic surveillance. In the intervening period between then and now, Messenger had created an Internet phenomenon, the Confess-Confess website. This was the first site of its kind dedicated to exposing crimes and injustice, scams and confessions, scandals and secrets. It had a global army of amateur sleuths and investigators and was continually battling against legal writs, threats and intimidation. And yet, it had captured the imagination of the public and was now used by officials, the media, law enforcement agencies and organized crime to leak both real information and misinformation. Bob Messenger himself had become one of the most potent voices and champions of freedom and truth.
“Bob, good to hear from you. You still in the U.K?”
‘You bet. We’re still in Oxford. But we’re opening offices all over the world. In a couple of days we’re launching our second U.S. office in Chicago.”
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to find me.”
“I guessed where you’d be when you weren’t at the house,” Messenger said quietly. “Remember, I called you as soon as I heard about Maria. The police have only issued a series of brief press releases up to now despite the media speculation. When you told me what had happened I just found it totally incredible. So, I’m one of few people right now who knows most of the details,” he paused. “Look, Mike, this is not just a social call, old friend. I need to see you.”
“It would be great to get together again. It’s been a long time. What’s the urgency?”
“We’ve had a disturbing post on the site. I haven’t made it public and I’m not going to yet.”
“It sounds mysterious.”
“It’s more than that, Mike. It’s grim. And it concerns you.”
Delaney remained silent for a long moment. Then he said.
“What do you mean?”
Messenger paused this time. “Mike, it’s about Maria.”
Delaney stiffened, suddenly deadly serious and intense. “Go on,” he said.
Messenger seemed to be struggling for words. “It’s probably a hoax or a weirdo crank. But there is something about it that makes my skin prickle.”
“Bob, get to the point.”
“It’s a confession, Mike. He claims to be the one who murdered Maria. The post includes an audio clip. I remember you mentioned the tape recording but this is the first time I’ve heard it. Mike, he knows details that you never told me about. It just might be genuine.”
Delaney said nothing for a long moment. He walked around the office. He was thinking hard. A well of emotion was bubbling under his usual iron self-control. Maria Montalban had been the most important thing in his life. She had changed his world beyond recognition. And she had been carrying their child when she met her untimely and gruesome death at the hands of a maniac, someone whom Delaney would passionately like to find.
“Who else knows about this?” he asked Messenger.
Laura was Bob Messenger’s loyal and long serving personal assistant. Delaney knew her and trusted her.
“What about the police?” he asked.
“No, not yet.”
“What’s your gut feel?”
“You’ve got to see this for yourself. Who knows? It could be a crank. It could be a cop with a grudge. It could be someone who’s uncovered a little information and is just making waves but the confession tape details have never been made public and this sick individual knows things that give me the impression that it just might be authentic. How else would he have the recording? And I think you were right. Whoever murdered Maria was not the same person that torched your house.”
“I know. I’ve salvaged everything I could from Maria’s office, which is what they were trying to destroy, and I’ve cleared the wreckage. I just haven’t been able to go back since the funeral.”
“I understand, my old friend. So, what do you think?”
“Okay, I’ll meet you in Chicago. And thanks for the call, Bob.”
Delaney scribbled down details of the time and the launch venue and replaced the receiver. However hard he tried, he could not prevent the here and now, with all its stabbing pain and heartache, from overwhelming the deeply meditative states he was able to reach. The wounds were still too raw; the memories too recent; the feeling of bereft loss almost impossible to bear. He would never be a saint or a sage that was for sure.
Only advanced human beings like Brother Rama could ever hope to achieve that state of mental and spiritual development beyond the confines of religion and science. But he had made himself a promise, if not a vow, that he would endeavor never again to take another human life. He deliberately blocked out the memories of those deaths he had already been responsible for. That was then. This is now. And they all were mostly, in crude terminology, bad guys; even though his conscience told him they had as much right to life as he did.
The ‘phone call from Bob Messenger had re-kindled the fire inside him. He knew that one day he would find Maria’s killer. He would track down the one who had murdered his wife. He would never give up. And when he did find him, there would be no agonizing over right and wrong, no anguished discussion or metaphysical musings. He knew he would be in for the battle of his life. And not just a physical battle with someone that had infected his soul with hate. When it came to it, and he was face-to-face with his wife’s killer, would he be able to keep his pledge?
Or would he take his revenge and enjoy every moment.