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Authors: Jeffrey Archer

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Mightier Than the Sword

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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FOR

HARRY

 

My thanks for their invaluable advice and research to:

Simon Bainbridge, Alan Gard, Professor Ken Howard RA, Alison Prince, Catherine Richards, Mari Roberts, Dr. Nick Robins, and Susan Watt

And to Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
and
Young Stalin
, for his advice and scholarship

 

Beneath the rule of men entirely great

The pen is mightier than the sword

EDWARD BULWER-LYTTON,
1803–1873

 

PROLOGUE

OCTOBER 1964

Brendan didn’t knock on the cabin door, just turned the handle and slipped inside, looking back as he did so to be sure no one had seen him. He didn’t want to have to explain what a young man from cabin class was doing in an elderly peer’s room at that time of night. Not that anyone would have commented.

“Are we likely to be interrupted?” asked Brendan once he had closed the door.

“No one will disturb us before seven tomorrow morning, and by then there will be nothing left to disturb.”

“Good,” said Brendan. He dropped on his knees, unlocked the large trunk, pulled open its lid, and studied the complex piece of machinery that had taken him over a month to construct. He spent the next half hour checking that there were no loose wires, that every dial was at its correct setting, and that the clock started at the flick of a switch. Not until he was satisfied that everything was in perfect working order did he get back off his knees.

“It’s ready,” he said. “When do you want it activated?”

“Three a.m. And I’ll need thirty minutes to remove all this,” the elderly peer added, touching his double chin, “if I’m to have enough time to get to my other cabin.”

Brendan returned to the trunk and set the timer for three o’clock. “All you have to do is flick the switch just before you leave, and double-check that the second hand is moving, then you’ll have thirty minutes.”

“So what can go wrong?”

“If the lilies are still in Mrs. Clifton’s cabin, nothing. No one on this corridor, and probably no one on the deck below, can hope to survive. There’s six pounds of dynamite embedded in the soil beneath those flowers, far more than we need, but at least that way we can be sure of collecting our money.”

“Have you got my key?”

“Yes,” said Brendan. “Cabin 706. You’ll find your new passport and ticket under the pillow.”

“Anything else I ought to be worrying about?”

“No. Just make sure the second hand is moving before you leave.”

Doherty smiled. “See you back in Belfast.”

*   *   *

Harry unlocked the cabin door and stood aside to allow Emma to enter first.

She bent down to smell the lilies the Queen Mother had sent to celebrate the launch of MV
Buckingham.
“I’m exhausted,” she said, standing up. “I don’t know how the Queen Mother manages it day in and day out.”

“It’s what she does, and she’s good at it, but I bet she’d be exhausted if she tried a few days of being chairman of Barrington’s.”

“I’d still rather have my job than hers,” said Emma as she stepped out of her dress, and hung it up in the wardrobe before disappearing into the bathroom.

Harry read the card from HRH the Queen Mother once again. Such a personal message. Emma had already decided to put the vase in her office when they got back to Bristol, and to fill it with lilies every Monday morning. Harry smiled. And why not?

When Emma came out of the bathroom, Harry took her place and closed the door behind him. She slipped off her dressing gown and climbed into bed, far too tired even to consider reading a few pages of
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
, by a new author Harry had recommended. She switched off the light by the side of her bed and said, “Good night, darling,” even though she knew Harry couldn’t hear her.

By the time Harry came out of the bathroom, she was sound asleep. He tucked her in as if she were a child, kissed her on the forehead, and whispered, “Good night, my darling,” then climbed into his bed, amused by her gentle purr. He would never have dreamed of suggesting that she snored.

He lay awake, so proud of her. The launch of the new liner couldn’t have gone better. He turned on his side, assuming he’d drift off within moments but, although his eyes were leaden and he felt exhausted, he couldn’t get to sleep. Something wasn’t right.

*   *   *

Another man, now safely back in cabin class, was also wide awake. Although it was three in the morning and his job was done, he wasn’t trying to sleep. He was just about to go to work.

Always the same anxieties whenever you have to wait. Had you left any clues that would lead straight to you? Had you made any mistakes that would cause the operation to end in failure and make you a laughingstock back home? He wouldn’t relax until he was on a lifeboat and, better still, on another ship heading toward another port.

Five minutes and fourteen seconds …

He knew his compatriots, soldiers in the same cause, would be just as nervous as he was.

The waiting was always the worst part, out of your control, no longer anything you could do.

Four minutes and eleven seconds …

Worse than a football match when you’re one–nil up but you know the other side are stronger and well capable of scoring in injury time. He recalled his area commander’s instructions: when the alarm goes off, be sure you’re among the first on deck, and the first in the lifeboats, because by this time tomorrow, they’ll be searching for anyone under the age of thirty-five with an Irish accent, so keep your mouths shut, boys.

Three minutes and forty seconds … thirty-nine …

He stared at the cabin door and imagined the worst that could possibly happen. The bomb wouldn’t go off, the door would burst open, and a dozen police thugs, possibly more, would come charging in, batons flailing in every direction, not caring how many times they hit him. But all he could hear was the rhythmical pounding of the engine as the
Buckingham
continued its sedate passage across the Atlantic on its way to New York. A city it would never reach.

Two minutes and thirty-four seconds … thirty-three …

He began to imagine what it would be like once he was back on the Falls Road. Young lads in short trousers would look up in awe as he passed them on the street, their only ambition to be like him when they grew up. The hero who had blown up the
Buckingham
only a few weeks after it had been named by the Queen Mother. No mention of innocent lives lost; there are no innocent lives when you believe in a cause. In fact, he’d never meet any of the passengers in the cabins on the upper decks. He would read all about them in tomorrow’s papers, and if he’d done his job properly there would be no mention of his name.

One minute and twenty-two seconds … twenty-one …

What could possibly go wrong now? Would the device, constructed in an upstairs bedroom on the Dungannon estate, let him down at the last minute? Was he about to suffer the silence of failure?

Sixty seconds …

He began to whisper each number.

“Fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven, fifty-six…”

Had the drunken man slumped in the chair in the lounge been waiting for him all the time? Were they now on the way to his cabin?

“Forty-nine, forty-eight, forty-seven, forty-six…”

Had the lilies been replaced, thrown out, taken away? Perhaps Mrs. Clifton was allergic to pollen?

“Thirty-nine, thirty-eight, thirty-seven, thirty-six…”

Had they unlocked his lordship’s room and found the open trunk?

“Twenty-nine, twenty-eight, twenty-seven, twenty-six…”

Were they already searching the ship for the man who’d slipped out of the toilet in the first-class lounge?

“Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen…”

Had they … he clung to the edge of the bunk, closed his eyes, and began counting out loud.

“Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”

He stopped counting and opened his eyes. Nothing. Just the eerie silence that always follows failure. He bowed his head and prayed to a God he did not believe in, and immediately there followed an explosion of such ferocity that he was thrown against the cabin wall like a leaf in a storm. He staggered to his feet and smiled when he heard the screaming. He could only wonder how many passengers on the upper deck could possibly have survived.

BOOK: Mightier Than the Sword
13.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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