Authors: Gerald Seymour
Tags: #Thriller; war; crime; espionage
The smack of the shoulder stock being wrenched back and locking.
The target recognised the sound, turned to run, cannoned into the wheelbarrow, was enmeshed for a long instant in its handles and in the spill of the loose leaves. The rifle was at Jon Jo's shoulder . . .
Lt-Col. Peter Beck, author of the letter, commanding officer of a Light Infantry battalion, had most vigorously, during his last tour, defended the action of his soldiers after they had shot dead two teenagers, a boy aged eighteen and a girl aged sixteen, who had crashed a roadblock. He had said then, and had been quoted on the front page of the
that the kids were not "joyriders", but "car thieves, no more than common criminals who endanger the lives of civilians and soldiers alike". He'd be a popular hit, because there had been more than a thousand following those kids' coffins to Milltown cemetery.
The target was running into the fog smoke from his bonfire. Jon Jo cocked the rifle. Twenty paces, going on twenty-five. The target stumbled in his fear, was trying to weave, trying to remember everything he had once known as commonplace . . .
Jon Jo squeezed the trigger. An assault rifle on semi-automatic.
There was the battering at his padded shoulder. Over the foresight and V sight the target was wavering, falling, crawling. He heard nothing. He saw the bullets puff stone shrapnel from the wall of the house, saw them punch into the target.
The rooks fled from the upper branches of the beech trees.
The target was down, deadly still, almost within reach of the back door of the house.
Jon Jo Donnelly ran, up the lane, dismantling the rifle, slowed to a walk at the end of the lane, towards the waiting car
She went in the ambulance with her husband.
It had been quick and that was luck. The retired surgeon being there had been luckier. He had recognised the blast of a high velocity rifle at the top of the village, and run as best he could towards the source of the sound. The surgeon and the ambulance man worked on the body below them to retain life.
She seemed not to hear the siren. She knew that she had left her front door unlocked and her back door wide open and that there was a pot of tea on the kitchen table. She spoke quietly, and it was as if she did not expect the two men bent over her husband to listen to her.
"He knew he was at risk, but what could we do about it? You can't just expect the government to nanny us with bodyguards. There's scores of people in the country much more in danger than we were, they can't all have an armed policeman sitting by the front door. We talked it through, we took sensible precautions like locking the garage when the car was in their, and then we just had to get on with our lives. Thats all you can do, isn't it?"
"Mrs Beck, would you tuck that blanket securely round his feet and hold them still? Thank you." The gentle growled instructions of a man whose attention was elsewhere.
"He's such a lovely man. It's just not possible to believe that anyone could hate him enough to do this to him . . ."
"Shut up, Cecily, and listen . . ." The faint, bubbled voice from the stretcher.
She leaned forward. They had scissored through the old pullover and cut his shirt back. There were huge holes in his chest. The voice
from the blood mess of his jaw and mouth.
". . . Big man, above average. Saw him, twice. Afternoon, second time when he aimed. Blue anorak, red shoulder...’’
dark hair, short cut, curly. Abnormally pale face. Deep eyes,far down.
She had left her handbag behind She had no pen or paper. The ambulance man had a syringe poised. They already had the drips in, blood plasma and saline. She pulled a biro from the slot on the ambulance man's shoulder.
". . . A.K.47, sure of that . . ."
The syringe was bedded against her husband's upper arm. He was so horribly white and his breathing was sporadic, forced as if by great effort. He said nothing more.
She wrote down all that he had said on the back of her hand.
At the hospital a nurse caught her, prevented her from going all the way through into the Casualty's X-ray unit. She was sat on a chair.
She was brought tea, steaming hot and with sugar, and when a policeman came to her, she was able to dictate from her hand the description of her husband's attacker and the weapon he had used.
Bren locked the door behind him.
Cathy looked up at him. She stood square on the balls of her feet. Her hair was a mess. She blocked his way to the stairs.
"We'll just get this over first."
She had come to his room for him when she had said she would, to the minute.
"You were just dreadful this afternoon, and it will not happen again."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You walk out of here. You traipse round town. Against my advice, you go wandering off out of the city centre and you end up beside Unity Flats. You're not in bloody Bognor you know, this is Belfast. 'I am a civil servant, I cannot give you my name and address . . .' How pompous can you get? That soldier was only a boy doing his job, you don't have to speak to him like you're Christ Almighty at a Public School. You come back here and again you take no precautions at all.
You go on behaving like that and you're going to be a serious bloody liability."
It hurt him, but he said it. "It won't happen again."
"I had you followed. I wanted to see if you were worth working with.
Today's report says you are a disaster."
"It will not happen again."
She stared up at him, weighing whether he was worth the effort.
The Commander shook the sleep from his head.
"That's a hell of a good description."
The voice on the telephone was calm. "There's not a great deal, really, but all four specifics, height, hair, eyes and pallor, they're all Donnelly."
"Is my car moving?"
"Be with you in fifteen minutes."
"But it's Jon Jo Donnelly?"
"What we've got. It all matches him."
The Commander put the telephone down. He said the name again. Jon Jo Donnelly . . . and again . . . Jon Jo Donnelly . . . He liked to sleep on a Sunday afternoon, it was the one time in the week when he hoped to crash out of the world of Jon Jo Donnelly. He put on a tie and his suit and he came downstairs to tell his wife to think of something, any bloody excuse to put off the people who were due in an hour for drinks. Sundays were when he made the effort, bloody futile, to keep his work out of his home.
He waited in the hall for his car.
His wife heard what he said, a muttered voice. "Stretching yourself, Jon Jo, old love, pushing it too hard, too fast. Getting careless, old love, and careless is going to finish yo u . . . "
The steam had misted over the window. Hot tap on. Jon Jo stripped beside the bath. Last, he peeled from his right shoulder the elastoplast that held the foam rubber padding in position. He felt the water, winced. He looked down into the paper bag, the sort that half a hundredweight of potatoes were sold in. There was a newspaper in there and fire-lighter cubes. He turned the hot tap off.
He stuffed all of his clothes down into the
paperbag:Shoes,socks,trousers,underwear, shirt, jersey, anorak where the hell was his woollen cap? Christ, and he hadn’t worn his woollen cap. How could he have forgotten to wear his woollen cap?...
Last into the bag was the shoulder pad to take the battering of the assault rifle against the shoulder when he fired on semiautomatic. Two years back, a good man had been taken, and clean, but he'd a bruise, rainbow-coloured, on his shoulder and the bloody police had called in a medic who'd sworn on oath that the bruise had been four days old, and four days old had matched with a strike. His pale skin was unmarked where the padding had been. He tapped at the bathroom door. He heard the footsteps on the staircase. He passed the paper bag out through the door. He climbed into the bath, and forced himself down into the scalding heat of the water. Jon Jo scrubbed his body and his hair with the soap, every inch of his body, again and again, and again his hair. He removed from his skin and his scalp all trace of the gases that would have blown back from the Kalashnikov when he had fired, the fine film that could be found by a forensic scientist. By the time he pushed himself up out of the bath, had the towel draped round him, he could see the glow of the fire through the misted window. The fire burned in the back yard and destroyed all the clothes he had been wearing. In the morning, before it was light, he would leave the Hackney address and drive to the woodland between Crowthorne and Bagshot. He would bury the assault rifle. He would bring the car back to Paddington station. The young man from Cork or his wife would collect the car. He would take the train again to the Devon coast.
In his room he started to dress, then looked at his watch and switched on the radio beside his bed. The news bulletin had started. ". . . is still undergoing surgery. A hospital spokesman, in the last few minutes, described Colonel Beck's condition as 'critical but stable' . . ." He no longer listened. His fist smashed onto the pillow. Fifteen shots, maybe more, how had the bastard lived? His eyes were pressed shut, tight. The frustration swarmed in him.
"You will always find me frank to the point of being brutal, Bren. I think it's right, in this theatre of operations, that every man and woman who works for me knows exactly what I am thinking. It may not be quite the same in London ..." Hobbes paced in front of the gas fire. He wore carpet slippers and no tie and a primrose cardigan that was unbuttoned. It was still the weekend. The house was in a village beyond Bangor, was less than a hundred yards from the County Down seashore.
Bren could hear the waves on the rocks. Cathy had kicked off her shoes and was stretched out on the settee. She'd let Hobbes make the mugs of coffee.
". . . So you won't mind if I say that I am astonished that they sent you. I asked for specific people and they chickened out on me. You are what I have been sent and I have to make do with you - put another way, Cathy has to learn to live with it. Don't yawn, there's a darling woman. The people I asked for have been brought up to the training standards that I require, and you aren't at that standard . . . Very fast, you have to learn what is required of you. You follow me?"
He had heard, vaguely, Hobbes' name spoken in the office at Curzon Street way back, when he was working to Mid-East Desk, Lebanon.
Only odd snippets and as a new boy he had not wanted it thought that he clung to names mentioned in conversations that were not directed at him. Crisis, Iraq, the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.
There had been a flurry of occasions when Hobbes' name had been used by older members of the desk, but it had been more than two years back and he had not heard the name since. The man was his boss and Cathy's boss. He had seen from the time that he had been welcomed curtly into the house that she recognised his seniority. They had talked for twenty minutes, seemed that long, before his attention had moved to Bren.
They had worked at a large-scale Ordnance Survey and shuffled aerial photographs, and twice he had gone to another room to bring back surveillance pictures of men. She gave his rank deference because each time she made a statement she cocked her head at him and queried with her eyebrows as to whether she had carried him with her argument.
When it was their business they were both quiet, close, as if unwilling to waste words, as if their minds were locked together in respect. All different now, and Bren didn't know why she had to play bored and frivolous, and he had to act the big man with a message to communicate.
Bren sat straight. He cradled the coffee in his hands. "Yes."
Hobbes said, "Tomorrow we'll sort out where you're to live, it's best to be off military premises. We'll establish a cover occupation for you, it's usually Department of Environment, Car, personal weapon, sort all that out in the morning You've a very great deal to learn in a very short time, that will also start tomorrow . . . About the only thing you've got going for you is that you didn't, I'm told, wriggle when you were propositioned ..."
"I'm looking forward to the work."
"Please don't interrupt."
He was a small man, not yet middle aged, wilth a deep voice. There was a chill in that voice. He didn't think this man had ever laughed in his life.
"We'll go over some fundamentals, our ground rules. You work for me, you operate to Cathy. Not one scrap ol your information goes to the police or to the military without that 1 approve it, that Cathy authorises it. We run our own show here, we have our own Source Unit. The war as fought by the police and the army is a quite separate war, perfectly distant. I am not in the business of short-term results. No medals here for you, Bren, no herograms, no Chief Constable's commendations and no Mentioned in Dispatches. We go our own way, as far as is physically possible and safe . . ."
The coffee mug was cold in his hand. He saw that Cathy stared up at the ceiling, following a fly's flight path.
"That's clear," Bren said.
"Whether you're up to this job is your business. I'm told from London that you are difficult, awkward, obstinate, that you've got some sort of problem that most obviously manifests itself by the ridiculous name you call yourself by. That's all to the good. I like people to be difficult, obstinate and awkward. If you ever get to be half as obnoxious and bloody-minded as our sweet Miss Parker then you'll do very well.."
There was nothing he could say, and nothing that he was expected to say.
"You'll work with Cathy," Hobbes said briskly. It was as if the preamble were finished. "You will do exactly as she tells you, and within a few weeks you will understand the wisdom of that . . .
We call this man our ‘Song Bird’. His code name is Song Bird because that is the call-sign he uses each time he rings through to us for a meeting. He has to use that code name. It keeps in his mind, very clearly, that he belongs to us. He's in our cage and he sings for us. He believes, and we have encouraged the belief, that if he stops singing, tries to leave the cage, then we will blow him out to his friends. They would most certainly kill him, and hurt him a little bit in the process.