Mark O'Neill

Spy thriller author, creative entrepreneur, daydreamer

The first chapter of Ground Zero – FREE!

male soldier

Below is the first chapter of the new Department 89 novel, Ground Zero. The book will be out on June 1st. To encourage you to pre-order, I am giving you the first chapter for free!

It was almost two o’clock in the morning when the Lufthansa plane emerged from the dusk and landed at Berlin’s Brandenburg airport. The rain lashed off the runway, creating a shimmering effect, as the plane wheels slowly came down and came to a comfortable bump on the ground.

The pilot was just in time. They had been running on fumes for quite some time now, and it had been doubtful whether or not they would have had the capability to reach Berlin. But the hijackers, who had identified themselves as ISIS to the control tower, had pointed a gun at the co-pilot’s head and killed him instantly when the pilot had protested. That settled the argument immediately. They were going to Berlin whether there was enough fuel or not. A bullet tended to settle all arguments.

Now, as the plane dials were urgently warning of empty fuel tanks, the plane was taxiing towards an evacuated terminal. An evacuated terminal now being used by a covert military operations unit, with direct orders from the German chancellor to retake the plane.

Department 89 was going into action once again.


In the darkened control tower, Major Sophie Decker stood with the head of air traffic control, Walter Schulder. Both were watching the plane approach the terminal. Schulder was chewing his nails and looked intensely nervous, even more so when he saw how calm and collected Decker was.

“How can you be so calm during all of this?” demanded Schulder.

“Practice,” said Decker, “and this isn’t my first rodeo.”

“I can believe that,” muttered Schulder. “So fine, the chancellery was very clear on this. The police and the airport are to step back and let your department take charge. What’s the plan?”

“Go onto the plane, kill the hijackers, rescue the hostages, and be home in time for tea and biscuits.”

“That’s your plan?” said Schulder, incredulously.

Decker turned and looked at him. “You’ve got a better one?”

“Negotiation?”

Decker smirked. “That’s cute. I should write that one down.”

A burst of static and an Arab-sounding voice started over the radio.

“Send fuel and a co-pilot! Do it now or we will start killing hostages!”

Decker sighed deeply, took out her radio, and hailed her team, who were waiting, heavily armed, in the terminal.

“Let’s get ready to rumble.”

“Rumble on,” said the voice of Schmitz at the other end.

Decker looked at Schulder. “Give them the fuel but go slowly. Very slowly.”


Heads turned as Captain Wolfgang Schmitz, dressed to the nines in a smart Lufthansa pilot uniform, made his way out of the terminal and down towards the plane.

Schmitz was in his element. When he was growing up, one of his phases was telling everyone he wanted to be an airline pilot. That was shortly after wanting to be an astronaut and before deciding to be an actor. Even though he was only acting the part, he was finally dressed in the pilot uniform. He was living the dream. He wondered for a moment if they would let him keep the uniform afterwards.

Walking briskly down the gangway, he saw that the plane door was firmly closed. After waiting a moment and getting no response, he knocked on the door, feeling a bit ridiculous. A nervous pair of eyes looked out of the plane window door. Then a frightened stewardess was pushed towards the door and ordered to open it.

The pressurised door hissed open, and Schmitz came face-to-face with the stewardess and the gunman standing behind her, his gun pressed into her side.

“Morning all,” said Schmitz, lifting his cap, “welcome to Germany.”

“Inside! Now!” shouted the man. He was drenched in sweat, and his stress levels were sky-high.

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” said Schmitz, stepping into a contained space smelling of sweat and stress. He turned and peered into the passenger seating area, where countless pairs of scared and pleading eyes looked back at him.

“Anybody hurt?” asked Schmitz, “I’m required to ask.”

The hijacker grinned. “The co-pilot has a headache. Apart from that, no.”

Schmitz breathed deeply and nodded. “Guess I’ll go to the cockpit then.”

“Not so fast,” said another of the hijackers, who appeared out of the darkness of the cabin, “first, we will search you for weapons.”

“I’m not carrying any weapons,” protested Schmitz, “I’m a pilot.”

“For the sake of the passengers, I hope you are telling the truth on both counts,” said the hijacker, who had several gold filled teeth, “otherwise it will suddenly become extremely unpleasant here for you and for them.”

Schmitz was suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown against the plane’s wall.

“Hey, hey easy,” yelled Schmitz, “normally I demand dinner and a movie before any rough stuff.”

As the hijacker roughly searched Schmitz, they failed to notice three things. 

A transmitter disguised as a button, sewn onto Schmitz’s jacket, broadcasting audio live back to the tower. 

Second, a tiny flesh-coloured earpiece inside Schmitz’s right ear so Decker and the others could talk to him.

Third, as the gangway was disengaged and pulled away, a sniper sight trained on the hijacker searching Schmitz. 


Lieutenant Max Amsel steadied his breathing and guided the sight around, looking for a clean shot. He didn’t have one yet, but he was determined to be ready when he did.

There was a beep in his ear.

“Amsel?” said Decker, “Do you have a shot?”

“Negative. Schmitz is too close. And the other one is hugging the stewardess. I think there might be a third one in there skulking around. I can’t risk anything right now.”

“Get ready. The rest of us are about to hit the runway.”

“I was born ready,” said Amsel, “I’ll tell you when I have a shot.”


When the hijackers were convinced that Schmitz was not carrying a weapon, he was escorted by one of them to the cockpit. He was met by the pilot Peter Metz, who looked dishevelled, exhausted, and frightened.

“You’re the new co-pilot?”

“Yeah,” said Schmitz, looking at the window where the previous co-pilot’s blood was congealing, “where’s my predecessor?”

The pilot looked as if he was about to cry. “Bastards pulled him out of here. I don’t know where Robert’s body is.”

Schmitz sat down in the co-pilot’s chair. “Just do what you’re told, and this will all soon be over.”

Metz looked hard at Schmitz. “You’re not a pilot, are you?”

Schmitz made a show of examining the cockpit controls. “In a minute, an alarm is going to go off. I want you to switch it off immediately before our friends back there hear it.”

“Alarm?” said Metz, looking panicked, “what’s going to happen?”

“You’ll be going home,” said Schmitz, “that’s all you need to know right now. How many hijackers are there?”

“I think three, but I can’t swear to it,” said Metz tearfully.

“Three little piggies in the plane,” murmured Schmitz into his jacket transmitter.

A burst of static in his ear indicated that Decker had received the message loud and clear.


The fuel truck was trundling along the runway towards the plane, and behind it, several Department 89 operatives were crouching down and running, using the fuel truck as a shield. They were dressed in black combat gear, heavily armed, and their faces covered with a black balaclava with the eyes cut out.

The plane’s windows were all covered, so nobody saw the truck approach, which also meant nobody saw three black-clad soldiers veer away suddenly from the truck, dive to the ground, and roll under the plane’s fuselage.

Major Decker was personally leading the mission, along with Sergeant Penelope Brinkmann. A new member of the team, Corporal Michael Anders, brought in to replace the recently killed Sabine Graf, made up the third. They were directly under the baggage hold, and Decker had the key which all baggage handlers used to open and close the door.

“Get ready, Schmitz,” she whispered into the transmitter, “the door is opening in three, two, one….now.”

She turned the key, and the door swung open.


An alarm went off in the cockpit.

“Turn it off!” said Schmitz, “now!”

Panicking, Metz fumbled with the controls and therefore didn’t get the alarm switched off for a full six seconds. This meant that the hijacker outside the cabin door heard it and rushed into the cabin.

“What was that noise?” he demanded.

“The sound of the fuel tanks being filled up,” said Schmitz smoothly, “soon we’ll be off flying to wherever it is you want to go.”

The hijacker was not convinced. “I think you’re lying. I think we need to check the plane….”

Schmitz moved like lightning. He wrapped his arm around the hijacker’s head into a vicious headlock, pulled him down between the cockpit seats, and expertly snapped the man’s neck. He slumped to the floor silently.

Metz looked stunned. “You’ve killed us all now.”

Schmitz ignored him. “One little piggy down,” he said into his earpiece.


Decker hauled herself silently into the baggage hold, followed by Brinkmann, and Anders brought up the rear. Since everything was in darkness, they all had night-vision gear which made everything glow a ghostly green.

As they stepped carefully over bags and suitcases, they headed for the entry point from the baggage hold into the aircraft — a panel in the hold’s roof which came out through the floor at the back of the plane. Decker just hoped that the curtains were drawn and no hostiles were guarding the back of the aircraft. Otherwise, their element of surprise was going to be blown almost immediately.

Following the directions of a baggage handler who had been questioned at length, Decker arrived at a panel on the roof. It glowed faintly in the dark, and once again, Decker had the key to open it.

Entering the key, she turned and looked at Brinkmann and Anders. With her fingers, she counted down from three to zero. The other two nodded, and Decker slowly and silently lifted the panel a crack in the aircraft’s floor.

Peering out, she saw a pair of feet — and the business end of a machine gun. The man had his back to her, so he was oblivious to the panel rising. When it was raised high enough, Decker quietly stood on Brinkmann’s hands, reached up, grabbed the man by the scruff of the neck, and with one hand on his mouth, pulled him down into the baggage hold.

The man struggled furiously, but Brinkmann had her knife ready, which she put to good use. Moments later, the man was dead, and Brinkmann was wiping the blade on the dead man’s shirt.

Decker put a finger to her lips and once again stood on Brinkmann’s hands and looked out. Remarkably, the scuffle had not caught the attention of the other hijackers. Everything remained peaceful, except for the occasional sob of a passenger coming from the cabin.

Placing her gun on the cabin floor, Decker heaved herself up quietly and then offered a hand to Brinkmann, who was hauled through the gap effortlessly. Anders was bigger and heavier, so he was left to pull himself up, which he did easily. Decker tapped her earpiece transmitter three times which caused a burst of static in Schmitz’s ear, to tell him they were inside the aircraft. Then, checking their weapons, all three prepared to move forward.

That was when fate intervened.

Moving the curtain aside, they came face to face with a disbelieving stunned hijacker. Decker didn’t hesitate. She moved forward, rammed the barrel of her gun into the man’s belly, and fired, causing pandemonium inside the cabin as the passengers screamed.

“Get down! Everybody down!” shouted Decker.

She then saw two hijackers advancing towards her. Given she had just killed one and Schmitz had taken one down, that meant there were four hijackers, not three.

All three operatives spread out in a line, their guns raised. The passengers were crouched down behind their seats in terror, wide-eyed at the black-clad soldiers. With a nod from Decker, they opened fire at the lead advancing hijacker whose chest exploded in a sea of red and a hail of bullets.

The second hijacker grabbed the stewardess and pressed a gun to her head.

“I want to negotiate!” he screamed, “I want to…..”

A single gunshot flying through the open aeroplane door from Amsel’s sniper rifle clipped the hijacker in the ear, ripping it to shreds. A second shot, this time from behind, blew off the back of his head and soaked his hostage with blood and brain matter. With a shocked vacant look on his face, his grip on the stewardess slackened, and he slowly fell to the floor. The waitress, who was momentarily stunned, snapped out of her shock, and started screaming.

Wolfgang Schmitz was standing where the hijacker had been, holding a small silver revolver which he had smuggled down his underpants in his groin area, an area he knew the Muslim hijackers would never search. The fourth thing they had missed while searching him. The barrel was smoking.

“We never negotiate, asshole,” he said.

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