Forty-two

18.45

The central atrium of HMP Westmoor’s Central Wing was busy with prisoners enjoying the chance to socialize for an hour after supper before they were locked in their cells for the night, as Devereaux approached the table-tennis table, head down, flanked by two other lifers.

One of the lifers bumped shoulders with another prisoner, and as he turned round to remonstrate, the lifer slammed him bodily into the table-tennis table, knocking it on to its side. One of the other prisoners who’d been playing yelled something and Devereaux went for him, throwing a punch that sent him sprawling into another group of prisoners sitting at a table playing cards. They were up on their feet in an instant, charging into the fray as the aggression that always simmered beneath the surface in closed male environments suddenly erupted.

That was all it took. A single nudge, and within seconds more than a dozen prisoners were involved in a messy, swirling brawl, while three dozen more either tried to get out of the way or closed in to watch.

Such was the speed with which everything happened that the two closest prison officers were caught completely by surprise. For a few seconds they simply stared at the scene erupting in front of them. Then they blew their whistles in unison and moved to break things up.

Two things stopped them before they’d reached the melee. First, Devereaux — a man who scared the shit out of all but the hardest of the screws at the best of times — yanked one of the legs free from the table-tennis table and screamed an unintelligible but bloodcurdling battle cry. Then, waving the table leg above his head, he ran at the screws, a look of such intense fury beneath the skull tattoo that it looked as if his eyes were going to pop out of his head.

Second, Wahid Khan, a convicted drug dealer and gangland torturer with anger management issues, emerged from his cell on the first floor carrying a flaming mattress which, with a roar, he sent hurtling into the safety netting below. Afterwards he would state that he was simply caught up in the moment, but the fact that he’d managed to set fire to his bedding within seconds of the violence starting meant his claim was treated with scepticism during the subsequent investigation.

Most of the screws, unused to such a general challenge to their authority but recognizing the volatility of the situation, ran for their lives, an act that immediately sent the prisoners into a euphoric frenzy as they saw how easy it was to take charge. The TV was smashed, as was the table-tennis table, and chairs that had been screwed to the floor to prevent them being used in just such a disturbance were ripped from their fittings and flung at the two screws who were still in their midst, and who’d been joined by two more from the other end of the wing. But only four strong, they were hopelessly outnumbered by the prisoners and they too retreated rapidly, shouting into their radios, as the alarm sounded across the prison.

Fox saw all this from the door of his cell twenty yards down from Khan’s. The noise was incredible, as was the sense of animal excitement in the air. He watched as Khan stood on the walkway beating his chest and screaming abuse at the guards, the other prisoners, and the whole world in general. He was a big man, overweight, with a gut that hung over his waist like a jutting upper lip, but when he turned and ran at Fox, he moved with real pace.

‘Nazi bastard!’ he screamed, his voice unnaturally high as it echoed across the landing.

Which was when Fox saw the sharpened spoon he was clutching in his hand, its tip glinting in the strip lights.

As the four guards raced to the main door so they could seal off the wing, Fox raced away from Khan, hurtling down the metal steps two and three at a time, yelling at the guards for help.

One looked his way and slowed down, but only momentarily.

Fox could hear Khan coming down the steps behind him, yelling obscenities, his voice breathless and angry. But Fox had kept himself fit during his time inside, and his current injuries didn’t stop him from running fast. Even so, as he hit the ground floor and sprinted towards the guards, his face was a mask of pure fear.

Two more guards had appeared on the other side of the main door and were in the process of unlocking it. Fox knew that the policy in prison riots was to seal off the wing where the disturbance was occurring to prevent its spread to other areas of the prison, while reinforcements were brought in to bring it under control.

‘Help me, for Christ’s sake!’ shouted Fox, joining the four guards at the door.

Twenty yards behind them, the main bulk of the prisoners were advancing steadily like an unruly football crowd, several of them unleashing missiles in the direction of the door but making no effort to charge it, while from the side Khan was continuing to advance on Fox, the improvised knife in his hand now visible to all the guards.

‘Hurry the fuck up!’ screamed the most senior of them as the door was finally opened and they raced through. Fox went with them, and no one tried to stop him. They were all too keen to save their own skins.

It was only when the door had been thrown closed safely behind them that one of the guards grabbed Fox’s arm and slammed him against the wall, demanding to know where he thought he was going.

But by that point it didn’t matter.

The first stage of the op had been 100 per cent successful.

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