The human brain is a marvellous thing and on my long lonely nights in countries that barely rate the title I had spent a lot of time pondering questions like how does the human brain remember things that it was taught years before ... and why can't we just do a brain dump now and again and start fresh?
Where does it store that information and why do we keep acting on that information long after the need to do so has passed?
Many years ago, during my transition from a foot slogger to something else I was taught to know what was going on around me ... and most importantly, what's going on behind me. Is someone getting ready to shoot me? Is someone about to knife me you? Is someone trying to follow me?
And there is simply no excuse for not knowing what's going on behind you when you're driving a car ... even if it's many years since you have had to rely on knowing what everyone behind you is doing ... because cars have rear view mirrors that can give you lots of information.
So it wasn't a premonition that made me spot the motorcycle in the rear-view mirror and it wasn't a stroke of luck. It was sheer repetition drilled into my head by some long-forgotten instructor who knew firsthand that your life often depends on knowing what is going on behind you.
I had spotted the motorcycle not long after turning onto the Barton Highway as we headed back into Canberra. I wasn't sure what it was that made me wary of the motorcycle three or four cars back but something rang some alarm bells. From the little I could see it seemed to be your average Rice Rocket with a driver and a passenger on board but what bothered me was that it was always three or four cars back.
When the traffic in the outside lane sped up it almost seemed to back off until a few cars from the lane I was in had slipped in front of it. When I slowed down just to see what it might do it slowed down too. When I suddenly darted up the cycle lane and changed back to the middle lane it sped up too and darted between the cars in both lanes.
At the Gundaroo roundabout I waited till the last possible moment and suddenly veered left down Gundaroo Drive. I was in the clear but the sound of screeching brakes and honking horns told me that the bike had tried to make the turn too with a little less success.
"This isn't the way home Steve," Angela sounded a little nervous but not alarmed.
"I know, I thought that there were two guys on a motorcycle following us."
"Following us? Don't be ..." she screamed as I put the pedal to the metal and hurled the Bug around a convenient roundabout and sent it hurtling back down Gundaroo Drive in the direction we had just come from.
"Oh, I see it!" she gasped. It seemed that they had succeeded in making the first turn and were now heading in the opposite direction to us.
"Yeah, hold on cause this is going to ..." my words were lost in the scream of the Porsche engine as I ripped it back into third and the honking horns of cars as I hit the Gundaroo roundabout at full speed and somehow found a gap between two cars that let me out into the outside lane of the Barton Highway with about 100 metres of clear space in front of us.
A quick glance over my left shoulder and I spotted the motorcycle racing down the cycle lane just finding enough room between the edge of the road and the cars to get by. He had turned on the same roundabout that we had used and followed us back onto the Barton Highway.
That was a shit, in about 150 metres I wanted to turn left ... oh well, hard left into the closing gap next to us, stamp on the brakes, shoot across to the edge of the lane as if I was going into the cycle lane, reef the steering wheel to the right and suddenly the motorcycle was hurtling past me, smashing through the wire fence of the Canberra Pony Club and cartwheeling through the paddock.
I caught a glimpse of the rider somersaulting through the grass while the passenger had disappeared.
"Holy shit!" Angela shouted, "what did you just do?"
I took a deep breath as we turned left onto the Federal Highway and slowed to a more sedate speed. "I just decided that I needed that bit of the road more than he did." I kept heading in the general direction of Angela's house and wasn't surprised to see police and emergency vehicles running under lights and sirens pass us as they headed in the opposite direction.
What did begin to bother me was the police van that passed us travelling in the same direction. I was expecting him to pull us over but he didn't even slow down as went by. Perhaps it was too soon for the police to know what type of vehicle they were looking for ... perhaps we might actually make it to Angela's place without being stopped.
But then did we really want to head for her house? Why were those two guys so obviously following us and who were they? I knew that I didn't have enough information to make any sort of decision but there was no guarantee that Angela's house would be a safe haven so what should I do?
Another motorcycle made the decision for me.
We had just turned right onto Northbourne Avenue and were heading into the older part of Canberra when I saw it in the rear-view mirror. Another Rice Rocket with two people on board and it was sitting back just like the other one had done.
We had just passed a service road to the left when I saw the bike start to accelerate so down went the pedal and away we went again.
"Another one?" her voice was shaking and mine wasn't much better when I told her to get as far down in her seat as she could. He was almost alongside us and I saw the curve of something the passenger had in their hands.
'AK-47' my brain screamed. I dragged the Bug to the left into a slip lane that suddenly appeared in front of me and then onto a broad 4-lane road with a median strip in the middle.
Back to the rear-view mirror and there was the bike about four car-lengths back. He had braked hard to make the turn but now he's accelerating. What's ahead? Right-hand turn across traffic 200 metres.
He's almost on us ... wait for it ... wait for it ... Angela's almost down in the footwell ... closer you bastard ... a little more ... NOW ... HARD RIGHT ...BANG ... HARD LEFT ... DOWN ON THE GAS.
I didn't want to hit him too hard ... I'd let the cars coming the other way take care of that ... SHIT ... I GOT HIM!
The bike hit the median strip ... became airborne with both riders still on ... and 25 tonnes of loaded stock truck took care of the rest.
I swung right into Challis Street then left into Cape Street and parked in the first available spot.
"Come on, "I said to Angela, "leave your phone in the car but bring your handbag with you and hurry!"
"Where are we going? Why do I have to leave my phone behind and why can't we just go to the police?" She wasn't in a rush to get out of the car but she needed to be.
I turned in my seat to face her, "Angela I know nothing about the sex industry or much about love for that matter but I KNOW about terrorism and assassination squads and this situation reeks of terrorism on a big scale and you were the target!
"Someone wants you dead and they're not afraid to try and take you out on a busy street. Those last guys were going to do a drive-by shooting and we were the targets. Those last two are never going to bother anyone ever again and the first two aren't going to be useful anytime soon but they could have another crew close by so we MUST get moving."
I opened my door and got out and she reluctantly began to move too.
Once she was out of the car she went to shut the door, "Your phone Angela -- leave it in the car!"
She went to protest but I cut her short, we really didn't have time to stand there and argue. "It can be used to track you. We don't know how sophisticated these guys are so we have to assume that they can.
"And before you ask about the police let me tell you that they are the last people we should go to. While they are still wondering what they're going to do with us someone could walk into the station and shoot everyone dead.
"Our best hope of staying alive is to run and wait for the good guys to find us ... and I know that they will find us because I used to work for them and they always look after their own. It might take them a little while but they will know why we're running and they know where we'll run to."
She looked at me and I knew that she didn't know whether to trust me and believe me or not but the sound of a motorcycle in the next street helped her make up her mind. She turned her phone off and threw it onto the passenger seat while I silently prayed that the "good guys" really were interested in us.
"Madson! When were you going to get round to telling about this attack?"
Madson groaned, the Old Man was standing in the doorway of his office glaring at him and he was clearly very unhappy. "Sir it only happened five minutes ago?"
"Bullshit Madson, pure fucking bullshit. It happened an hour ago and now two people are on the run with something that looks very much like a terrorist group after them and you only found out about it five minutes ago?"
Madson knew he was in trouble. Office folklore said that the Old Man never swore but if he did, and he was swearing at you, it was time to tender your resignation.
"So what do we know about it?"
"There were two incidents sir in the space of 10 minutes. In the first a hotted up black Volkswagen sedan that had been driven erratically in a south-easterly direction on the Barton Highway swerved across two lanes of traffic and sent a motorcycle that was traveling at high speed in the cycle lane off into a paddock belonging to the Canberra Pony Club. The rider is dead with a broken neck and the passenger is not expected to live.
"He's on life-support but he is showing all the signs of being brain-dead.
"They appear to be of Middle Eastern origin but they were not carrying any form of ID. The motorcycle was unregistered and matches the description of one of three bikes reported stolen from a Honda dealer's showroom three months ago.
"Several pistols and an AK-47 were found at the scene of the crash although no witnesses made any mention of seeing firearms until after the crash.
"Witnesses seem to think that the Volkswagen was driven by a male with a female passenger. No one got a rego number but the description of the vehicle seems to match that of the former agent who spent the night with the sex worker we've been watching.
"The second incident happened about 10 minutes later on Antill Street just east of the intersection of Northbourne Avenue. Witnesses reported seeing a black Volkswagen come round the corner from Northbourne Avenue at quite high speed but it slowed quickly and moved into the kerbside lane.
"They report that a high-powered motorcycle with two people on it then came round the corner off Northbourne Avenue and attempted to overtake the Volkswagen. It was almost alongside the Voklkswagen at which point the Volkswagen swerved and hit the motorcycle sending it and its occupants over the median strip and into the path of an oncoming truck.
"Both people from the motorcycle were killed instantly. They carried no form of identity and the motorcycle was unregistered but it matches the description of one of the other bikes that was stolen from the same Honda dealer.
"The Volkswagen did not stop and was last seen driving down Challis Street. Witnesses say that the occupants of the Volkswagen were a male and female.
"And an AK-47 was found lying on the road about 50 metres from the accident but no one seems to know for sure how it got there."
A junior staff member squeezed through the door of Madson's office and handed him a sheet of paper before quickly scurrying out before the Old Man could say anything.
"Sir, the Volkswagen has been found parked in a side street. There were two mobile phones on the on the floor and the police are fingerprinting the car now."
"So what happened Madson?" He hated being put on the spot like this but this time the possibilities were limited and he felt confident in answering the Old Man's question.
"Nazari accidentally left the case behind and he thinks she might have opened it and read something in there so he retrieves the case and then sends a couple of hit teams to take care of them but somehow our ex-agent spots the bikes and takes appropriate action to take both teams out.
"He's not sure who he is dealing with and is afraid that they might be tracked down via their phones so they both leave their phones behind and now they're on the run and could end up anywhere."
"Not anywhere Madson, mobilise a team and have them ready to leave by 5pm. They will be coming with me to Appledale, and call up our friends at Duntroon. Have them meet us at the army reserve barracks in Appledale no later than 1600 today with two sections.
"They can leave the other two sections on standby at Duntroon."
"Sir, is that wise? We still don't know when the attack is going to take place and pulling some of our friends out of Duntroon will weaken our response if an attack comes."
"Your concerns are noted Madson but I think our ex-agent has done us a favour and taken out enough of the enemies' men to make them move the date back. It was always unlikely that the attack would come before Parliament sits again and that's not happening till Tuesday and this little sideshow will be over by then."
"How can you be sure Sir?"
"Because I'm going to tell Nazari where our man and his girl have gone."
"What were you thinking you stupid man? Why did you not kill her when you were in her house?" Nazari cringed as the other man loomed over him. "Oh that's right, you were defiling yourself by having sex with her and now four of our brothers are dead and our plans are put back because of you."
The slap, and the back-hand blow that followed it caught Nazari by surprise and knocked him to the down. He whimpered as he lay on the floor looking up at Amari.
"You will go to this place called Appledale that our brothers in the café heard the fools talking about and you will find them and you will kill them.
"You may mobilise the brothers who live in those parts to assist you and if you fail make sure you are dead before my men find you."
Nazari didn't see the boot coming either but his screams as he lay writhing on the floor clutching his testicles could be heard up and down the corridor as Amari left the room.