Title: Not to besiege walled cities
Recipient: Wabbitseason
Author: Marcelo
Summary: It's a matter of layers.
Featured character: Tara Chace (Queen and Country)
Author's notes: Takes place around Q&C #5 (so Ed Kittering is still a rookie Minder).
E-mail: mrinesi@fibertel.com.ar
LJ name: __marcelo

The irregular chats in the park between Angela Cheng and Paul Crocker derived their value, as did their working relationship as a whole, from a delicate balance of paradoxes.

They made no attempt to hide them from their superiors and coworkers - thus they were more confidential than they would otherwise have been.

They brought no bodyguards or assistants with them, making the meetings relatively safe.

Each of them knew the other would have them killed without a second thought, if compelled by necessity. That was the foundation of their mutual trust.

Being the acting heads of powerful organizations brimming with lethally trained operatives, they went in person to each and every meeting.

It was what passed for common sense in their world.

It was Tara Chace who sat next to Cheng in the park bench, pulling out a carton of cigarettes and offering one to her. The head of the CIA in the United Kingdom took it silently and let Tara light it before speaking.

"Paul's hurt that bad, then?"

Tara shrugged as she lighted her own cigarette.

"The official report is that he got a minor wound in an arm and is just under observation at King's Cross."

"And the report I'll be reading in a couple of hours /anyway/ will say...?"

"A ruptured lung, lots of lost blood, that kind of thing. Doctors say it's fifty-fifty he'll live through it."


Tara said nothing, casually scanning the park.

"What have you found out about his shooter?" asked Cheng.

"Not much. It was a pro, obviously, and with information he shouldn't have had. The Director of Operations' home address isn't just something you fucking google for. Officially, the investigation is well under way."

"And unofficially?"

Tara threw her cigarette to the floor, ground it with the heel of her boot and turned toward Cheng.

"You arranged this meeting. Tell me you know something about who did this."

Cheng grimaced.

"The interesting thing is what I *don't* know, Miss Chace. As far as we can tell, there's nobody who would have benefited by Paul's death. This isn't the Cold War; we no longer kill each other's people just to show we can."

"Terrorists do."

"Don't be stupid," said Cheng as she rose from the park bench. "If you are a terrorist with that kind of intel, would you use it to kill somebody like Paul? His shooting didn't even appear in the newspapers, for God's sake."

* * * *

There are degrees of trust, even trust of the closest kind. Minders trusted each other with their lives implicitly to shield each other in the field from any danger, whether in the mission profile or not. More importantly, they relied on each other to get the mission done.

But even that level of trust isn't always enough, so neither Tom Wallace nor Tara Chace had invited Ed Kittering, the junior element of their elite group, to their impromptu meeting at Tara's apartment. Besides, Tara didn't want to give him any ideas - God knew he got enough ideas by himself.

"So we still know bugger-all," said Wallace.

Tara nodded and drank her beer.

"Cheng said the CIA has no idea who might have wanted to kill him."

"You trust her?"

"Like hell I do. But I don't see what they'd gain by it."

"And again we have the problem of motivation. Depending on how you look at it, either nobody wanted to kill Crocker..."

"...or just everybody who knows him."

They shared a tired smile.

"You know," said Wallace after a casual pause that didn't fool her at all, "there's another angle I've been thinking about. Anybody who's deep enough inside SIS to find out Crocker's address would probably know by now in what hospital they are keeping him, the number of guards, things like that. Whatever reason they have for trying to kill him, they're likely to make another attempt soon, aren't they? Of course, they'd also know if SIS posted extra security, like, say, us. As long as it were an official thing."

Tara groaned.

"You know I hate hospitals."

"In fact, I remarked that fact to C just a few hours ago. He told me that you needn't worry, as he has officially forbidden all agents from visiting Crocker at the hospital. 'Explicitly forbidden,' I think he said."

"Sodding bastard." Tara sighed as she rose from her chair. "I knew you had ulterior motives when you invited yourself over with beer."

"Don't whine. I couldn't be sure I wasn't being followed, so I had to put up a charade."

"We've been drinking for half an hour."

Wallace grinned. "I'm thorough when I charade. So sue me."

Tara snorted and went for her gun and the car keys.

* * * *

*The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him.*

    /Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings/

*The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided.*

    /Sun Tzu, The Art of War/

The strategy to kill Paul Crocker on his hospital bed was a time-tested one. A man in such a position will be protected by overlapping layers of security; the lone assassin that infiltrates such a security arrangement and kills in silence is as much of a myth as the high-stakes baccarat playing secret agent.

The professional approach is to bring a numerically superior force and silently attack, and replacing layer after layer of the defenses. When done right - and Crocker's prospective killers were among the best in their trade - the penultimate result is a lone, sick man surrounded by a dozen enemies posing as his security detail.

Even if an outside force were to chance upon the battlefield before the assasins had reached their target, they would have to engage each layer of replaced security, identify it as false and then surpass it... just to be met by another layer minutes later. Only a numerically superior force can win an offensive battle against a well-entrenched defense, and by the time such a force is assembled, the target will be long dead and his murderers gone.

It's very sound strategic theory. Save against Minders.

When Chace and Wallace saw that the outermost guard wasn't who they were expecting, they didn't challenge him, or call SIS for confirmation. They didn't discuss their strategy. They were Minders - unexpected violence was their strategy, and at that level they understood each other instinctively. They took out their guns, shot the fake guard on sight, and started running towards Crocker's room. The assassins had still to reach Crocker's door. As the Minders' shooting put everybody on alert, they found themselves trapped between the guards closer to Crocker and the Minders.

Ten assassins were alive at that point.

Three died on a futile rearguard action against the Minders, hoping to stall them but at the end gaining scant seconds for their cause.

Four were killed by the outmatched guards before their deaths.

Three reached Crocker's door.

Two were shot by the Minders just before crossing that doorway.

One entered the hospital room, his gun raised to kill the convalescent man.

A single shot was heard, and then Crocker's unmistakable voice.

"Did you two leave anybody alive?"

"Not really," said Tara as she entered the room, "but I think one of the guards left a wounded one somewhere."

Crocker half-snarled in satisfaction as he rose from his bed.

"Good. I'd hate to play bait and get nothing out of it. If there's a mole in SIS, I want to have his balls by tomorrow night."

Wallace, who had entered behind Chace, raised an eyebrow at his boss' sudden recovery.

"And you didn't tell us to be here to guard your arse because...?"

Crocker took a lighted cigarette from Chace and walked out of the room.

"Where the bloody hell else would you have been?," he said over his shoulder.

Tara and Tom looked and each other with matching sharp smiles.

It was what passed for common sense in their world.