Authors: Jack Higgins
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage
'What do you think will happen now?'
'Well, tomorrow is Thursday and there's a supply plane in. It will probably take us back with it to Aden.'
'Moscow next stop?'
There was no answer to that, of course, just as there was no answer to concrete walls, steel doors and bars. Villiers lay on one bed, Levin on the other.
The old Russian said, 'Life is a constant disappointment to me. When I visited England, they took me to Oxford. So beautiful.' He sighed. 'It was a fantasy of mine to return one day.'
'Dreaming spires,' Villiers observed. 'Yes, it's quite a place.'
'You know it then?'
'My wife was at university there. St Hugh's College. She went there after the Sorbonne. She's half-French.'
Levin raised himself on one elbow. 'You surprise me. If you'll forgive me saying so, you don't have the look of a married man.'
'I'm not,' Villiers told him. 'We got divorced a few months ago.'
'Don't be. As you said, life is a constant disappointment. We all want something different, that's the trouble with human beings, particularly men and women. In spite of what the feminists say, they are different.'
'You still love her, I think?'
'Oh, yes,' Villiers said. 'Loving is easy. It's the living together that's so damned hard.'
'So what was the problem?'
'To put it simply, my work. Borneo, the Oman, Ireland. I was even in Vietnam when we very definitely weren't sup-
posed to be. As she once told me, I'm truly good at only one thing, killing people, and there came a time when she couldn't take that any more.'
Levin lay back without a word and Tony Villiers stared up at the ceiling, head pillowed in his hands, thinking of things that would not go away as darkness fell.
He came awake with a start, aware of footsteps in the passageway outside, the murmur of voices. The light in the ceiling must have been turned on whilst he slept. They hadn't taken his Rolex from him and he glanced at it quickly, aware of Levin stirring on the other bed.
'What is it?' the old Russian asked.
'Nine-fifteen. Must be supper.'
Villiers got up and moved to the window. There was a half-moon in a sky alive with stars and the desert was luminous, starkly beautiful, the MIGz$s like black cutouts.God, he thought.There must be a way. He turned, his stomach tightening.
'What is it?' Levin whispered as the first bolt was drawn.
'I was just thinking,' Villiers said, 'that to make a run for it at some point, even if it means a bullet in the back, would be infinitely preferable to Moscow and the Lubianka.'
The door was flung open and the corporal stepped in, followed by an Arab holding a large wooden tray containing two bowls of stew, black bread and coffee. His head was down and yet there was something familiar about him.
'Come on, hurry up!' the corporal said in bad Arabic.
The Arab placed the tray on the small wooden table at the foot of Levin's bed and glanced up, and in the moment that Villiers and Levin realized that he was Salim bin al Kaman, the corporal turned to the door. Salim took a knife from his left sleeve, his hand went around the man's mouth, a knee up pulling him off balance, the knife slipped under his ribs. He eased the corporal down on the bed and wiped the knife on his uniform.
He smiled. 'I kept thinking about what you said, Villiers
Sahib. That your people in the Dhofar would pay a great deal to have you back.'
'So, you get paid twice - once by both sides. Sound business sense,' Villiers told him.
'Of course, but in any case, the Russians were not honest with me. I have my honour to think of.'
'What about the other guards?'
'Gone to supper. All this I discovered from friends in the kitchens. The one whose place I took has suffered a severe bump on the head on the way here, by arrangement, of course. But come, Hamid awaits on the edge of the base with camels.'
They went out. He bolted the door and they followed him along the passageway quickly and moved outside. The Fasari airbase was very quiet, everything still in the moonlight.
'Look at it,' Salim said. 'No one cares. Even the sentries are at supper. Peasants in uniform.' He reached behind a steel drum which stood against the wall and produced a bundle. 'Put these on and follow me.'
They were two woollen cloaks of the kind worn by the Bedouin at night in the intense cold of the desert, each with a pointed hood to pull up. They put them on and followed him across to the hangars.
'No fence around this place, no wall,' Villiers whispered.
The desert is the only wall they need,' Levin said.
Beyond the hangars, the sand dunes lifted on either side of what looked like the mouth of a ravine. Salim said, The Wadi al Hara. It empties into the plain a quarter of a mile from here where Hamid waits.'
Villiers said, 'Had it occurred to you that Kirov may well put two and two together and come up with Salim bin al Kaman?'
'But of course. My people are already half-way to the Dhofar border by now.'
'Good,' Villiers said. That's all I wanted to know. I'm going to show you something very interesting.'
He turned towards the Sandcruiser standing nearby and pulled himself over the side while Salim protested in a hoarse whisper. 'Villiers Sahib, this is madness.'
As Villiers dropped behind the driving wheel, the Rashid clambered up into the vehicle, followed by Levin. 'I've a dreadful feeling that all this is somehow my fault,' the old Russian said. 'We are, I presume, to see the SAS in action?'
'During the Second World War, the SAS under David Stirling destroyed more Luftwaffe planes on the ground in North Africa than the RAF and Yanks managed in aerial combat. I'll show you the technique,' Villiers told him.
'Possibly another version of that bullet in the back you were talking about.'
Villiers switched on and as the engine rumbled into life, said to Salim in Arabic, 'Can you manage the machine gun?'
Salim grabbed the handles of the Degtyarev. 'Allah, be merciful. There is fire in his brain. He is not as other men.'
'Is that in the Koran, too?' Villiers demanded, and the roaring of the no horsepower engine as he put his foot down hard drowned the Arab's reply.
The Sandcruiser thundered across the tarmac. Villiers swung hard and it spun round on its half tracks and smashed the tailplane of the first MIG, continuing right down the line as he increased speed. The tailplanes of the two helicopters were too high, so he concentrated on the cockpit areas at the front, the Sandcruiser's eight tons of armoured steel crumpling the perspex with ease.
He swung round in a wide loop and called to Salim. 'The helicopters. Try for the fuel tanks.'
There was the sound of an alarm klaxon from the main administration block now, voices crying in the night and shooting started. Salim raked the two helicopters with a continuous burst and the fuel tank on the one on the left exploded, a ball of fire mushrooming into the night, burning debris cascading everywhere. A moment later, the second helicopter exploded against the MIG next to it and that also started to burn.
'That's it!' Villiers said. 'They'll all go now. Let's get out of here.'
As he spun the wheel, Salim swung the machine gun, driving back the soldiers running towards them. Villiers was aware
of Kirov standing as the men went down on the other side of the tarmac, firing his pistol deliberately in a gallant, but futile gesture. And then they were climbing up the slope of the dunes, tracks churning sand and entering the mouth of thewadi. The dried bed of the old stream was rough with boulders here and there, but visibility in the moonlight was good. Villiers kept his foot down and drove fast.
He called to Levin. 'You okay?'
'I think so,' the old Russian told him. Til keep checking.'
Salim patted the Degtyarev machine gun. 'What a darling. Better than any woman. This, I keep, Villiers Sahib.'
'You've earned it,' Villiers told him. 'Now all we have to do is pick up Hamid and drive like hell for the border.'
'No helicopters to chase us,' Levin shouted.
Salim said, 'You deserve to be Rashid, Villiers Sahib. I have not enjoyed myself so much in many years.' He raised an arm. 'I have held them in the hollow of my hand and they are as dust.'
'The Koran again?' Villiers asked.
'No, my friend,' Salim bin al Kaman told him. 'It is from your own Bible this time. The Old Testament,' and he laughed out loud exultantly as they emerged from thewadi and started down to the plain below where Hamid waited.
Di5, THAT BRANCH of the British Secret Intelligence Service which concerns itself with counter-espionage and the activities of secret agents and subversion within the United Kingdom, does not officially exist, although its offices are to be found in a large white and red brick building not far from the Hilton Hotel in London. Di 5 can only carry out an investigation and has no powers of arrest. It is the officers of the Special Branch at Scotland Yard who handle that end of things.
But the growth of international terrorism and its effects in Britain, particularly because of the Irish problem, were more than even Scotland Yard could handle and in 1972., the Director General of Di5, with the support of 10 Downing Street, created a section known as Group Four with powers held directly from the Prime Minister of the day to co-ordinate the handling of all cases of terrorism and subversion.
After ten years, Brigadier Charles Ferguson was still in charge. A large, deceptively kindly-looking man, the Guards tie was the only hint of a military background. The crumpled grey suits he favoured, and half-moon reading glasses, combined with untidy grey hair to give him the look of some minor academic in a provincial university.
Although he had an office at the Directorate General, he preferred to work from his flat in Cavendish Square. His second daughter, Ellie, who was in interior design, had done the place over for him. The Adam fireplace was real and so was the fire. Ferguson was a fire person. The rest of the room was also Georgian and everything matched to perfection, including the heavy curtains.
The door opened and his manservant, an ex-Gurkhanaik named Kim, came in with a silver tray which he placed by the
fire. 'Ah, tea,' Ferguson said. 'Tell Captain Fox to join me.'
He poured tea into one of the china cups and picked upThe Times. The news from the Falklands was not bad. British forces had landed on Pebble Island and destroyed eleven Argentine aircraft plus an ammo dump. Two Sea Harriers had bombed merchant shipping in Falkland Sound.
The green baize door leading to the study opened and Fox came in. He was an elegant man in a blue flannel suit by Huntsman of Savile Row. He also wore a Guards tie, for he had once been an acting captain in the Blues and Royals until an unfortunate incident with a bomb in Belfast during his third tour of duty had deprived him of his left hand. He now wore a rather clever replica which, thanks to the miracle of the microchip, served him almost as well as the original. The neat leather glove made it difficult to tell the difference.
'Thank you, sir. I see they've got the Pebble Island story.'
'Yes, all very colourful and dashing,' Ferguson said as he filled a cup for him. 'But frankly, as no one knows better than you, we've got enough on our plate withojAiie Falklands. I mean, Ireland's not going to go away and tJj^Kre's the Pope's visit. Due on the twenty-eighth. That onr^give^is'Sleven days. And he makes such a target of himself. YouM think, he'd be more careful after the Rome attempt on his life.' '
'Not that kind of man, is he, sir?' Fox sipped some of his tea. 'On the other hand, the way^things are going,"^erh2ps he won't come at all. The South American connection is of primary importance to the Catholic Church and they see us as the villain of the piece iff this Falklands business. They don't want him to come and the speech he made in Rome yesterday seemed to hint that he wouldn't.'
Til be perfectly happy with that,' Ferguson said. 'It would relieve trie of the responsibility of making sure some madman or other doesn't try to shoot him while he's in England. On the other hand, several million British Catholics would be bitterly disappointed.'
'I understand the Archbishops of Liverpool and Glasgow
have flown off to the Vatican today to try to persuade him to change his mind,' Fox said.
'Yes, well let's hope they fail miserably.'
The bleeper sounded on the red telephone on Ferguson's desk, the phone reserved for top security rated traffic only.
'See what that is, Harry.'
Fox lifted the receiver. 'Fox here.' He listened for a moment then turned, face grave and held out the phone. 'Ulster, sir. Army headquarters Lisburn and it isn't good!'
It had started that morning just before seven o'clock outside the village of Kilgannon some ten miles from Londonderry. Patrick Leary had delivered the post in the area for fifteen years now and his Royal Mail van was a familiar sight.
His routine was always the same. He reported for work at headquarters in Londonderry at five-thirty promptly, picked up the mail for the first delivery of the day, already sorted by the night staff, filled up his petrol tank at the transport pumps then set off for Kilgannon. And always at half past six he would pull intcdfittrack in the trees beside Kilgannon Bridge to read the moSHgipaper, eat his breakfast sandwiches and have a cup"Si dprfee from his thermos flask. It was a routine which, unfortunately for Leary, had not gone unnoticed.
Cuchulain watched him for ten minutes, waiting patiently for Leary to finish his sandwiches. Then the man got out, as he always did, and walked a little way into the wood. There was a slight sound behind him of a twig cracking under a foot. As he turned in alarm, Cuchulain slipped out of the trees.
He presented a formidable figure and Leary was immediately terrified. Cuchulain wore a dark anorak and a blackbalaclava helmet which left only his eyes, nose and mouth exposed. He carried a PPK semi-automatic pistol in his left hand with a Carswell silencer screwed to the end of the barrel.
'Do as you're told and you'll live,' Cuchulain said. His voice was soft with a Southern Irish accent.
'Anything,' Leary croaked. 'I've got a family - please.'
'Take off your cap and the raincoat and lay them down.'
Leary did as he was told and Cuchulain held out his right hand so that Leary saw the large white capsule nestling in the centre of the glove. 'Now, swallow that like a good boy.'
'Would you poison me?' Leary was sweating now.
'You'll be out for approximately four hours, that's all,' Cuchulain reassured him. 'Better that way.' He raised the gun. 'Better than this.'
Leary took the capsule, hand shaking, and swallowed it down. His legs seemed to turn to rubber, there was an air of unreality to everything, then a hand was on his shoulder pushing him down. The grass was cool against his face, then there was only the darkness.