Welcome to the blog tour for action-packed thriller, The Failsafe Query by Michael Jenkins! Read on for an excerpt and a chance to win a print copy of the book!
The Failsafe Query
Publication Date: July 2018
The Failsafe Query is a gripping thriller set in the contemporary world of modern British espionage.
Sean Richardson, a disgraced former intelligence agent, is tasked to lead a team to search for Alfie Chapman, an Intelligence officer on the cusp of exposing thousands of secrets to the media. This includes a long lost list of Russian moles embedded since the Cold War, one of whom remains a public favourite in the British parliamentary system.
The action moves with absorbing pace and intrigue across Central Asia and Europe as the puzzle begins to unfold through a deep hidden legacy.
Tense, fast paced, and insightful, The Failsafe Query twists and turns to a satisfyingly dramatic finale.
About the Author
I started climbing at 13, survived being lost in Snowdonia at 14, nearly drowned at 15, and then joined the Army at 16. Risk and adventure was built into my DNA and I feel very fortunate to have served the majority of my working career as an intelligence officer within Defence Intelligence, and as an explosive ordnance disposal officer and military surveyor within the Corps of Royal Engineers.
I feel privileged to have served for twenty-eight years in the British Army as a soldier and officer, working in Defence Intelligence and Counter-Terrorist Bomb Disposal operations, rising through the ranks to complete my service as a major. I served across the globe on numerous military operations as well as extensive travel and adventure on many major mountaineering and exploration expeditions that I led or was involved in.
I was awarded the Geographic Medal by the Royal Geographical Society for mountain exploration and served on the screening committee of the Mount Everest Foundation charity for many years. It was humbling after so many years of service when I was awarded the MBE for services to counter-terrorism in 2007
The Failsafe Query is my debut novel, and I hope you enjoy the follow up novel, The Kompromat Kill, and my third in an ongoing series, The Moscow Whisper. Each can be read as standalone novels.
Michael Jenkins: https://www.michaeljenkins.org/
Twitter Tags: @FailsafeQuery @RRBookTours1 #RRBookTours
Giveaway: Print Copy of The Failsafe Query (International)
This is a crucial scene that sets the backstory to the novel, and the duplicity that Sean, the main character, unravels later on in the book. Sean had very recently recruited General Yuri, a senior officer in the Uzbekistan Intelligence services. The scene take place on a train set amongst the magnificent vistas of the Uzbekistan deserts as they travel from Tashkent to Samarkand – two mystical cities on the great silk road. Sean is trying to find out who might be smuggling nuclear materials across the region.
Sean and General Yuri boarded the cranky old train bound for Bokhara via the great city of Samarkand – they were destined to spend twenty-four hours together in a small double-bunk compartment situated in the second-class carriages towards the front of the train.
Sean entered the compartment, placed his rucksack on the top bunk and sat at the small table next to the window. The carriage windows had an ancient set of curtains pulled back on an old wire hanging by its threads, and the musty smell of the compartment lingered deep in the nose. The table held two small Uzbek bowls for drinking green chai, and a blue, mosaic-patterned teapot.
It wasn’t long before the train had rolled out of Tashkent on its way to the historic Islamic cities of Samarkand and Bokhara. The wide landscape of the Karakum desert provided the mysterious backdrop for Sean to quiz Yuri on the criminal underworld activity of radiological smuggling that was happening across Central Asia.
Yuri didn’t stop talking.
‘There’s an extensive network of cross-border smuggling going on, Sean, radiological sources moving across the region, and I’ve been monitoring exactly how it works.’
‘Great. You’ve developed this operation well, and we’re pleased with your work Yuri.’
‘I’m glad it’s to your satisfaction,’ Yuri said, in his slightly strained, but very understandable, English.
‘We pay people here, Sean. They are poor and, in this country, we trade in whatever we can. It might be furs, sausages, illegal drugs, vodka or even special nuclear material. It’s our way of life and bargaining markets occur all across the land where buyers and sellers will come. The illicit trade in caesium and even uranium is managed by the Russian Mafia.’
Sean was fascinated at the extent of the knowledge Yuri had – what he had been relaying back to London for the last few months was chilling. He leant back into the sofa opposite the bunk beds, whilst Yuri sat cross-legged on a cushion near the table. Yuri continued.
‘The Mafia use normal traders, low-level workers and simple men to try and sell the stuff. You know, hustlers. Middlemen. If they sell, they give the largest cut back to the Mafia – they are shit-scared of them and know they will be hurt if they try to renege on any deal and run off with the items.’
‘So, who’s buying, Yuri? Where is it moving to? And who are the end buyers and where are they from?’ Sean asked the questions, remembering the classified intelligence he had read of 220 specific cases of smuggling of special nuclear material across Georgia, Turkey, the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
‘We only have a handful of deals that we’ve managed to uncover here but it moves across our territory into the Caucasus and Turkey and onwards to wherever the end buyer is. The stuff comes from our old refineries and metallurgy processing plants: some here, some in Kazakhstan. Everyone is corrupt and it’s easy for the Mafia to buy the stuff from security, the workers or even the police. Money speaks here. They then use the hustlers to move it across the deserts into Turkmenistan and then across to Georgia and Ossetia.’
Sean knew the hunting ground for the buyers was in the broken Russian states of Ossetia and Abkhazia and often over into the black-market bazaars of Turkey. It was in these countries that you could buy anything from dried fish to gold, drugs and even weapons-grade uranium.
A bit gritty Rachel with some swearing – is this OK?
This is a favourite scene of mine where Sean meets up with an old friend for the first time after many months of severe trauma. He had just finished searching the flat of the intelligence officer he had been tasked to find. But before he continues with that job, he wants his mate, one-eyed Damon, to carry out a specific job for him on an old enemy. It sets the scene for some future shenanigans involving one eyed Damon as part of a mission to help Sean. One eyed Damon is based upon a friend of mine and I’ve adapted his character. He was shot through the eye in Iraq.
Sean left Baker Street, heading south towards Oxford Circus. The sun blinded him as he strode purposefully, but at a slow pace. A distant siren, merged with the heavy traffic, accompanied the persistent noises in his mind. His heartbeat rose. His thoughts became intense as he reminded himself of the trauma that people had inflicted on him.
He had one more thing to tend to before he left London. And it involved a kill.
He turned right onto Crawford Street, then back on himself, and made numerous turns down the quiet Marylebone back streets. He headed back towards the Edgware Road and made a deliberate U-turn, browsing occasionally at some of the antiques in shop windows. Finally, he turned left onto Enford Street and walked quietly into the Thornbury Castle pub. He made his way to the bar and ordered a pint of Rebellion beer. He paused, turned his back to the bar and cast his eye around the few local punters before making his way to the far corner of the pub, which provided an excellent view of the entrance.
Exactly twelve minutes later, ‘One-Eyed’ Damon walked through the entrance. A beast of a man, just shy of six foot seven inches of sheer bulk, he made his way to the bar with a white stick. No words were exchanged as the bearded barman slipped a pint of pale ale across the bar and indicated with a glance that Sean was sat on the higher deck in the corner.
One-Eyed Damon was a Northern Ireland and Iraq war veteran. A surveillance and weapons expert who, even with only one eye left, was still at the top of his game and who had contacts in the city who could do anything that was needed. Pick a lock, Damon was the man. Provide a weapon or plant some bugs, Damon was the man. He shuffled up the small steps and crouched over his pint next to Sean.
‘Long time, mate,’ Sean said.
‘You’re looking old and angry,’ One-Eyed Damon replied, smirking widely as his false eye glistened and twinkled in the low light. He was wearing a Union Flag lens.
‘Fuck off mate, you know I’m never angry. Just badly mad,’ Sean retorted. ‘And you can wipe that smile off your face, at least until you’ve paid me back for keeping your arse out of jail all those years ago.’ Sean had provided a glowing reference at Damon’s court martial in Colchester after Damon had ‘accidentally’ beaten up an RAF officer for touching up a woman in a Southend bar.
One-Eyed Damon broke into laughter. ‘Great days those, mate – he deserved it and you did indeed save my arse. But I hear it’s you who’s been in jail getting your arse pounded this time, Sean.’
‘Very fucking funny,’ Sean said. ‘Anyway, what’s the SP?’
‘No one is on your tail,’ Damon said, lifting his head from his beer and looking cautiously around the bar. ‘I followed you from that swanky hotel, all the way to Baker Street and then on your very obvious counter-surveillance route around Marylebone. You really need to sharpen up on your skills you know, mate.’
‘My mojo is coming back – don’t you worry about that.’
‘What’s next then, Sean?’
‘A kill,’ Sean said. ‘A slow one, but a purposeful one that I need you to look at. I’m going to be busy for a while with a job. Are you happy to do some stuff for me?’
‘Yep. Normal fees please though.’
‘Not a problem.’ Sean pulled out a small business card. ‘I need you to find this man. Find out everything about him, where he’s living, his pattern of life, who he’s shagging, what he loves, the lot.’ One-Eyed Damon turned the card over. The name on the card was Frazer, with a telephone number and a company address.
‘I assume this is the guy that got you shafted then?’
‘You could say that. Be careful though. He’s running Albanian gangs in the city as well as major drug-running operations across the continent. He takes pleasure in hurting his friends too.’
‘Fine. A real bastard then, who needs sorting out. I’ll find out everything about his movements and people. I look forward to hearing your plan on the kill.’
Sean stayed silent, smiled and stood up ready to leave.
‘Go via Samantha,’ he said. ‘She’s the conduit for this job. And feel free to leave a marker for him – just so he knows.’
This is an introduction to the dangerous and sadistic antagonist, Natalie. She is a highly trained Russian agent and part of Directorate S of the SVR (Russian foreign intelligence service). She is one of a number of ‘sleeper’ intelligence agents placed into western European countries to gather covert intelligence without official cover. Natalie has a cover story (a legend) that gives her access to parliamentarians but has now been given a task by Moscow to chase Sean down and find out what he is up to. Her plan isn’t going well at this stage and she is fuming with her inept Russian agents from the GRU (The Russian Military Intelligence branch).
Natalie’s frustrations and impatience had now become insidious, but she had a new plan. Her powerful and influential resolve meant she knew she had Gregory where she wanted him and that he would do whatever she wanted.
‘I don’t care what your normal procedures are on these tasks, Gregory – it’s a fucking shambles and won’t work.’
She knew he wouldn’t disagree, and it was now time to get him to bend his operational rules.
‘You lot haven’t been able to maintain surveillance on the farm, you don’t know what’s happening there, who has been coming and going and you can’t follow more than one vehicle at a time – so we’re blind to what the fuck they are doing.’
Natalie stood and looked out of the window into the moonlit gardens. She clutched her black hair and put it in a ponytail, adjusting it using the reflection. She was incensed. She was right and always right, and no one would stand in her way of doing things the way she wanted them to be done – even if she didn’t have experience of hard-core surveillance operations. She poured herself a glass of vodka and took her Arcus 94C high-power pistol from her bag. She loved the feel of the Bulgarian weapon in her hand and it eased her tensions when she gripped the walnut handle firmly.
‘We don’t have the resources I need,’ Gregory said.
‘Bullshit. You’re responsible for this and, in the words of the British, you need to get a fucking grip of it.’
‘I need better men to get this done properly.’
‘Properly? I’ll give you fucking properly,’ she said, raising the weapon. Solid and beautiful, she stroked the smooth stainless-steel barrel, feeling an urge to fire the first of its thirteen-shot capacity right into Gregory’s head. Natalie turned and walked towards Gregory, releasing the safety catch. ‘I’m dealing with a bunch of fuckwits and you need to get sharp quickly.’
‘We are sharp, and I’m not convinced we can do anything more than what we are doing. We’re all well trained in this you know.’
Natalie began to fume. ‘You idiots haven’t given me anything so far, I’ve had to do it all myself. I really ought to pump a bullet into you right now and get someone in who can do a better job of this for me.’
‘We haven’t had anything to go on though.’
Natalie took one stride and smashed the weapon into Gregory’s head with a sharp backhand swipe. Her ring cut his cheek with a sharp slice, and blood began to pour down his face.
‘Don’t make me fucking angry ever again,’ she growled.
This is an insightful and tense scene that could fully jeopardise Sean’s mission. He meets with the Natalie to carefully seal a deal on getting his escape and making some money from it too. Natalie, the sadistic Russian intelligence agent, thinks she has won her prize as Sean agrees the deal in a hotel room in the south of France. If it all goes well, they can both go their separate ways to the dreams they both have. If it goes wrong, as it does, mayhem will occur in both the British and Russian intelligence agencies, whilst nervous men await their fate.
Sean arrived at Natalie’s room at exactly 7.25pm.
‘Time to get down to business I think, Natalie,’ Sean said cheerily as he walked through the door, acting chirpily.
‘Why? What’s happened?’ she inquired, holding the door open.
‘Well, it’s all good. I have the files for you. It’s time to see you transfer that money into my account if you don’t mind. The files are all on a Dropbox site that Alfie uploaded them to. I also want to discuss the conditions under which we operate from here.’
Natalie closed the door, simultaneously responding with a large smile. ‘Great, let’s have a celebratory drink and get down to business then.’
Natalie, looking elegant in a red dress and black heels, walked behind Sean as he strode purposefully to the round table next to the balcony.
He sat adjacent to her laptop, the smell of Natalie’s perfume permeating the air. Sean placed his phone next to the laptop and gently aimed his covert live-feed camera, hidden in his jacket button, towards the keyboard.
The live feed went directly to one of Samantha’s operators sitting at his desk in London. Sean visualised the activity of Samantha and her operators back in MI5, who were watching as Natalie typed in her login name and password on the keyboard. Sean’s phone, issued by GCHQ, had a very powerful Wi-Fi encryption scanner inside it, and it began to lock onto the wireless ports within Natalie’s laptop. The technology had been designed by GCHQ and started to retrieve data via cyber vulnerabilities and to break through the encrypted firewalls of the laptop’s Wi-Fi system, creating a data tunnel. It then retrieved a series of files and operating system codes which were immediately uploaded across an encrypted point-to-point link, allowing an operator in Cheltenham to grab the files. The operator would soon be able to mimic the Wi-Fi and 4G connections that Natalie would link to, and then breach the established data security software to retrieve all elements of the operating system held on her laptop. He would effectively have full command and control. Once he had confirmed he had control, Samantha authorised him to embed a small application – and he began retrieving the files he wanted.
Sean asked Natalie to transfer the funds, so he could then hand over the files. Natalie opened up an HSBC online account, one of many she used, and Sean captured the keystrokes she made on the keyboard via the covert camera. Samantha was immediately able to penetrate the account using the apps that had been placed on the computer as well as the typing her operator had picked up from Sean’s still photographs. Natalie then transferred fifty per cent of the funds to two of his accounts. Sean sat back and passed the logins to Natalie for the cloud account holding the data. Sean passed the envelope to her and, before long, she had gained access to the site and files.
Natalie was in. Sean could see her elation, and sense her thoughts. She was joyous that she had succeeded and was thinking about the effect it would have on her Moscow overlords. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at Sean. She then began trawling through all the files. Sean felt pleased.
‘Look at the one called QUERY,’ Sean said wryly. ‘Quite a revelation if you ask me.’ He then stood up and made his way to the drinks bar.
As Sean leant over to lift his glass in Natalie’s hotel room, all hell broke loose. He heard the boom of a thunderous explosion as the door was smashed open and saw the black outlines of very large men, who pounced on him, smashing him to the ground.
He heard the crack and thump of a double-tap gunshot as he saw Natalie stand and fire two shots into the second attacker, who kept coming straight for her despite bullets hitting his chest. The body armour repelled the nine-millimetre shots Natalie had fired and she was pounced on by a huge man, who punched her straight in the face before turning her onto her chest, and then thrusting her head into the carpet. Sean was bundled to the ground, his arms and shoulders pinned down, and a set of plastic tie-wrap handcuffs violently strapped around his wrists. He felt the pain of his nose breaking as he was brutalised into submission.
‘What the fuck?’ Sean screamed, before being kicked firmly in the ribs. They pulled him to his feet as the shock of capture registered once more with him.
‘Right: get these two out of here, do a check for weapons and make sure you search them thoroughly before you get them into the wagons,’ the leader shouted, whilst gesturing to his team to get a move on.
Sean was frogmarched outside the hotel. All he saw was blue and white police tape and flashing blue lights everywhere. The hotel had been quietly evacuated and he caught the eyes of a crowd of people watching from a distance behind a cordon manned by the gendarmerie.
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