Read Harry's Game Online

Authors: Gerald Seymour

Tags: #Political Thriller; Crime; war; espionage, #IRA, #Minister, #cabinet

Harry's Game

BOOK: Harry's Game
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Harry's Game

By Gerald Seymour

BOOK CLUB ASSOCIATES: LONDON
ONE

The man was panting slightly, not from the exertion of pushing his way through the shapeless, ungiving mass of the crowd but from the frustration of the delay.

He drove himself at the knot of people that had formed a defensive wall round the Underground ticket machine, reaching out through their bodies with his money for the slot, only to be swept back as the crowd formed its own queue out of the rabble. It took

him

fifteen seconds more than two minutes to insert his ten‐pence piece and draw out a ticket, but that was still quick set against the endless, shuffling line approaching the ticket kiosk.

He moved on to the next piece of gadgetry, the automatic barrier. He inserted his ticket into the machine, which reacted and bent upwards to admit him. There was space around him now.

His stride lengthened. Bottled up amongst the mass on the far side of the barrier, with the clock moving, he'd felt the constriction, his inability to get away.

Now, in the open at last, he cannoned off an elderly man, deep in his paper, making him stumble. As he tried to sidestep his way out of the collision he knocked into a girl loaded for the laundrette, hitting her hard with his left elbow. She looked startled, half focusing on him, half concentrating on holding her balance, her arms out of action clinging to the plastic bag pressed into her breasts. He saw the look of surprise fill her face, watched her as she waited for the explanation, the mumbled apology and helping hand‐‐the usual etiquette of Oxford Circus Station, top hall, at 8.45 in the morning.

He froze the words in his mouth, the discipline of his briefing winning through. They'd told him not to speak on route to the target. Act dumb, rude, anything, but don't open your big mouth, they'd said. It had been drilled into him‐‐not to let anyone hear the hard, nasal accent of West Belfast.

As the man sped from the fracas, leaving the elderly man to grope amongst a mass of shoes for his paper, the girl to regain her feet with

1

the help of a clutch of hands, he could sense the eyes of the witnesses boring into him; it was enough of an incident to be remembered. The briefing had said "Don't speak'... but while the crowd acknowledged people's need to hurry it demanded at the least some slight apology for breaking the etiquette of the rush hour. The failure to conform was noted by the half‐dozen or so close enough to examine the man, who now ran away towards the tunnel and the escalator leading to the Victoria Line. They'd had at least three seconds to see his face, to take in his clothes and, above all, to note the fear and tension in his face as their stares built up round him.

When he reached the escalator he swerved left to the walking side of the moving stairs and ducked down behind the moving line, past the stationary paper‐readers and the bikini-advertisement watchers. Here the eyes were away from him, on the financial pages, the sports pics, or the hoardings floating tantalizingly by.

He was aware of his stupidity in the hall area, conscious that he'd antagonized people who would recognize him, and he felt the slight trembling again in his hands and feet that he'd noticed several times since he'd come across the water. With his right hand, awkwardly and across his body, he gripped the rubber escalator rail to steady himself. His fingers tightened on the hard rubber, holding until he reached the bottom and skipped clear of the sieve where the stair drove its way under the floor. The movement and the push of a young man behind him made the man stumble a little, and with his right hand he reached out for the shoulder of a woman in front of him. She smiled warmly and openly at him as he found his feet again, and a little hesitantly he smiled back, and was away. Better that time, he thought, no tension, no incident, no recognition. Cool it, sunshine. Take it easy. He walked through, carried forward by the crowd on to the platform. They'd timed the frequency of the trains; at worst he'd wait less than a minute.

His left arm, pressed against his chest, disappeared into the gap between the buttons of his raincoat. His left hand held tightly on to the barrel of the Klashnikov automatic rifle he'd strapped to his body before leaving the North London boarding house two hours and twenty minutes earlier. In that time the hand had never left the cold metal and the skin under his thumb was numb from the indentation of the master sight. The barrel and weapon mechanism were little more than twenty inches long, with the shoulder stock of tubular steel folded back alongside it. The magazine was in his hip pocket. The train blurted its way out of the darkened tunnel, braked,

and the doors slid back. As he wormed his way into a seat and the doors closed, he edged his weight off the magazine, and the thirty live rounds inside it.

It was 8.51 by the cheap watch on his wrist, just visible if he moved the gun towards the coat buttonholes. Five minutes maximum to Victoria, three minutes from the Underground platform to the street, and, taking it gently, seven minutes from there to his target. 9.06 on location. The train pulled abruptly into Green Park Station, waited little more than forty‐five 2

seconds as a trickle of passengers got off, a few moments more to let others on, and the doors, to the shout of the big West Indian guard, were closing.

9.06 on location meant that he had two minutes in hand, perhaps three at the most, primarily to assemble the gun and pick his firing position. It was a close schedule now, and he began again to feel the trembling that had dogged him since Rosslare and the ferry, and that he had first felt acutely at Fishguard as he walked with the Klashnikov past the cold eyes of the Special Branch section watching the ferry passengers coming over from Ireland. He'd gone right by them then, waving furiously to a non‐existent relative in the middle distance beyond the check‐point and suddenly realizing that he was through and on his way. At his briefing they'd told him the worst part before the shooting would be at Fishguard. He'd seen when he was at the back of the queue how they watched the men coming through, watched hard and expressionless, taking them apart. But no one from his ferry, that he'd seen at any rate, had been stopped. At the briefing they had explained that in his favour was his lack of form, never fingerprinted, never photographed, that he was an unknown face, that if he kept his nerve he'd get away with it and make it out as well. No sympathizers" homes in London were being used, no contact with anyone, keep it tight as an Orangeman's drum, one said. They'd all laughed.

The train jolted to a halt, the carriage emptied. Victoria. He pulled himself up with his right hand on the pole support by the door, and stepped out on to the platform. Instinctively he began to hurry, then checked himself, slowed and headed for the neon "Way Out" sign.

By the start of the nine o'clock news something approaching order was returning to the Minister's home. Three children already on their way to school, two more still wrestling with overcoats, scarves, hockey sticks and satchels. The au pair in the hall with them. The Minister's Afghan tangled round their legs.

The Minister was alone at the long refectory table in the breakfast room, newspapers spread out where the children's cereal bowls had been. First he gutted the editorial columns, then on through the parliamentary reports, and finally to the front page news. He read quickly, with little outward sign of annoyance or pleasure. It was said that only his closest parliamentary colleagues, and that meant about four in the Cabinet, could spot his moods at a time like this.

But the selection of papers offered him little more than the trivial interest in the fortunes of his colleagues. Since his eighteen months as second man in Belfast, and the attendant publicity, his promotion to Social Services Overlord and a place in the Cabinet had taken him back out of the public eye and reduced his exposure. His major speeches in the House were fully reported, but his monolithic department ticked along, barely feeling his touch at the helm. This morning he wasn't mentioned, and his department figured only in the continuing story of a grandmother in the North‐East who had been taken to hospital penniless and suffering from malnutrition and then told local officials that she'd never drawn her pension, and believed people should look after themselves anyway. Lunatic, stupid woman, he muttered.

The news was mostly foreign, South Africa and the mine strike, Middle East cease‐fire violations, Kremlin reshuffle. "In Belfast'‐‐ suddenly he was concentrating‐‐'a city centre pub 3

was destroyed by a car bomb. Two masked men had warned the customers to leave, but the

bomb went off before the area could be fully evacuated. Three men were taken to hospital suffering from shock, but a spokesman said no one was seriously hurt." Belfast was pretty far down these days, he reflected. Just time left to see what football manager was leaving where, and then the weather, and it would be five‐past. He shuffled his papers together and reached for his briefcase under the table; the car would be at the door in three minutes. 'Moving off, sweetheart," he called, and made for the hall.

The Afghan was now sitting quietly on the doormat, the children ready, as the Minister put on his heavy, dark‐blue overcoat, paused and contemplated the scarf on the hook, decided against it, gave his wife's offered cheek a kiss and opened the door into Belgrave Square. The Afghan and au pair led the way down the steps to the pavement, then the children and after a moment the Minister and his wife. To his right he saw the black Austin Princess turning out of Halldn Street, seventy‐five yards away, to pick him up. The children, dog and au pair walked left towards Chapel Street, and across

10

the road a short, dark‐haired man who had been leaning against the square's fence stiffened and moved forward.

The Minister's huge voice bellowed after his children: "Have a nice day, darlings, and don't do any damage with those sticks." He was still smiling at the over‐the‐shoulder grimace from the elder girl down the street, when he saw the rifle come from under the coat of the man across the street and move to his shoulder. He was out on the pavement now and some yards away

from the house as he turned and looked for the sanctuary of the door in front of which his wife was standing, intent on her children.

He had started to shout a warning to her when the man fired his first shot. For the Minister the street exploded in noise, as he felt the sledge‐hammer blow of the 7.62 mm. shell crashing into his chest, searing into the soft flesh on its way through a splintered rib cage, puncturing the tissue of his lungs, gouging muscle and bone from his backbone, and bursting out through his clothes, before, a shapeless mass of lead, it buried itself in the white facade of the house. The force of that first shot spun and felled the Minister, causing the second shot to miss and stray into the hallway, fracturing a mirror beside the lounge door. As the man aimed for his third shot‐‐'Keep steady, aim," they'd told him, "don't blaze, and for Christ's sake be quick'‐‐he heard the screaming. The Minister's wife was crawling down the steps to where her husband writhed in his attempt to get away from the pain. The man fired two more shots. This time there were no misses, and he watched with detached fascination as the back of the sleek, groomed head disintegrated. It was the last chance he had to see the target before the woman who had been screaming flung herself over it, swamping it from his view. He looked to his left and saw the big car stranded, its engine racing in the middle of the road. To the right on the 4

pavement he saw the children, immobile like statues, with the dog straining at its leash to escape the noise.

Automatically the man flicked the safety catch to "on', deflated the catch at the top of the stock, bent the shoulder rest back alongside the barrel and dropped the weapon into the sheath they'd built to be strapped under his coat. Then he ran, jumping out of the way of a woman as he went. He turned into Chapel Street, sprinting now. Right next into Grosvenor Place. Must get across the road, get a line of traffic between you and them, he told himself.

Alongside him was the high, spiked wall of Buckingham Palace. People saw him coming and moved out of his path. He clutched his unbuttoned coat tight to

11

his body. The rifle was awkward now, with the curved magazine digging into his ribs. As he was running he was vulnerable, he knew that. His mind didn't tell him that no one had cause to stop him, but focused almost exclusively on the road, the traffic, and at what moment he would see a hole in the river of buses and cabs and lorries. Get across Buckingham Palace Road and then into the safety and anonymity of the tube station at Victoria. Hard out of breath he stumbled into the station. He took a ten‐pence piece from his pocket. Relaxed now, he could take his place in the queue. He pushed the coins into the automatic machine. Remember, they'd said, the law will expect a car; you're better on the tube. They'd given him a route, Victoria to Oxford Circus on the Victoria Line, the Circus to Netting Hill Gate on the Central Line, then the District Line to Edgware Road, then Bakerloo to Watford. He was on a train and moving and his watch showed 9.12.

BOOK: Harry's Game
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