Authors: Gerald Seymour
Tags: #Thriller; war; crime; espionage
"I heard it already," the driver muttered, through gritted teeth.
"Did you now?"
"And it was told better the last time."
"Was it now?"
And then the police siren exploded on them and the driver moaned and jammed on the brakes, but the police car was past them, blue lights twirling, and they sat still with the engine off for several minutes, saying nothing.
He had never seen the driver before. He had been given over the telephone the colour and make of the car, its registration number and what time it would pick him up by the taxi rank outside the underground station when he came off the last train of the night. He cuffed the shoulder of the driver to encourage him. The drivers weren't as good as they had been the year before, nor the couriers.
"So just watch the road."
The driver's accent was Dublin. Jon Jo Donnelly didn't rate these youngsters from down south. Given his choice, and he wasn't, he would have had boys from his own place, but they sent him drivers and couriers from the south now because they were the ones who weren't on the fingerprint files.
Jon Jo had the map spread across his knees, and he used a torch to track their route into the sprawl beyond Wimbledon. He was wearing pink plastic washing-up gloves. The last thing that he had done before he had identified the car had been to pull on the thin, clammy gloves. It was past one in the morning. He thought the driver was scared out of his mind. He gave the directions quietly and he tried to breathe his confidence back into the kid. They came to the road, the headlights caught the name of the road.
"Well done, that's great."
The driver did not reply.
The road was poorly lit, long stretches of blackness between the street lights. Along the avenue of mock-Tudor homes a very few still showed an upstairs light, and one only had a ground-floor light on. The suburb was asleep. He had walked down the road and round the right-hand bend just before the target's house, in the morning of the day before. He had walked fast and not slackened his speed when he had passed the house that concerned him. The house needed new guttering at the side above the garage, and he had noted the car parked by the front door, and he had seen the bright new burglar alarm box high above the windows on the first floor. There were no lights now in the house.
They drove down the avenue, and then did a figure of eight in the streets at the end. No cars passed them. They came back down the road again.
Two streets away there was a railway station with a sporadic service through the night from Waterloo. The driver parked there, away from the lights. It was the time of night that fathers and brothers and boyfriends would wait outside a station to pick up a girl to save her walking home. Jon Jo rehearsed the driver in his role and then he said,
"Ten minutes, could be fifteen, but you wait for me."
"Won't be me that's needing luck. You wait, you don't crash out unless there's sirens in my street, you hear me?"
The driver said, "Get the pig."
"You just have the car good and ready." Jon Jo switched off the car's interior light, checked that the car park was empty and slipped out through the door. He closed it quietly behind him. For a moment he saw the driver's face. So bloody young. He walked away from the car carrying a dark brown shopping bag, heavily weighted.
He hugged the shadows. The night was his friend, and had been ever since he could remember.
He was a little over six foot in height, broad and strong because all his life he had known physical labour. He was made more formidable by the quilted charcoal anorak that he wore and the black woollen cap that was pulled down to hide his hair line. Dark clothes, nothing that would catch the eye of a woman letting her cat out, a man taking his dog for a last walk, a taxi driver idling for a fare.
He crossed into the target's road. He was very calm. He knew that because of the even pattern of his breathing, and because there was no tightness in his legs.
The house was well-placed for him, almost exactly halfway between two street lights. A white Metro was parked in the driveway behind the low wrought-iron gates. The car was backed up against the green-painted garage doors. He moved silently along the pavement in his worn old trainer shoes. When he was beyond a street light's reach and still short of the target's house, he dropped to his knees and re tied his shoe's laces. He turned and his eyes swept the road behind him. No dogs, no cats, no taxis. He stood again and looked up the road. He was against a fence and the hedge above it. He stood very still.
He heard the door open.
He heard, "Go on, you little bugger, get on with it."
He heard the door pulled shut.
Jon Jo went forward. He moved fast now. He came to the wrought-iron gates and swung his leg and his bag over, steadied himself, then brought the other leg over, and came down, lightly, onto the tarmacadam driveway. He crouched, waiting. No sound. No light. He walked to the deeper shadow of the passageway between the house and the garage.
The target's car was a Volvo. It would be inside the garage. The Metro would be the wife's. It would make just as much pain to blow the wife away, very influential people British establishment wives, and if they lost one of their kind it might raise the panic scream a ratchet higher. But the target was the driver of the Volvo. Forty times harder to get at. And the Army Council would have the skin off his back if he took the easy road, the Metro.
He reckoned the target would have believed himself at threat and that precautions would be in place. The best location for an electronic beam inside the garage was across the doorway. That's where he thought they'd have recommended putting it. He used a short heavy screwdriver to prise open the small window to the garage set high in the passageway. The surveillance had said that the window was big enough for him. He took the shopping bag in his teeth, so that it half seemed to pull his jaw away and he heaved himself up onto the ridge, holding the window open with one hand, balancing himself, and reaching down inside for a hand-hold with the other. His anorak snagged on the window's fastener, and he believed that the noise he made would have raised half the road. His fingers found a spade handle. It took his weight. He eased himself over the ridge and down, and his foot caught the box of a lawn mower and upended it. He hung on to the window and he lowered himself inch by inch until his feet were firm on the ground. He listened to the silence of the night echoing in his ears.
There was little space for him to move between the lawn mower and the car. He knelt, with his back to the window and took from the plastic bag a box which had once held two litres of vanilla-flavoured soft-scoop ice cream. It was bound tight with adhesive tape, and under the tape across the lid were two circular magnets. With his torch in his teeth, he stripped open the box. His fingers, awkward in the plastic gloves, fiddled to clear the rubber tube that covered the contact pin. He set the clock, from a kitchen timer, for thirty minutes. He checked the wiring of the detonator, the clamps on the battery, the leads to the mercury tilt switch that lay across the mass of the explosive. He wound the tape back across the box.
There was the sharp sound of the magnets thudding onto the underbody of the car. He checked that he had dropped nothing.
In thirty minutes the hand of the clock from a kitchen timer would be stopped against the contact pin. The bomb of four pounds weight of Semtex explosive would be live. Detonation would follow immediately after the mercury tilt switch was jolted and the battery-powered circuit completed. He picked up all the tape and the box, which he crushed, and the plastic bag, and put them in his anorak pocket with the torch and the screwdriver. He set the lawn-mower box upright and rubbed the window catch clean - unthinking instinct, unnecessary because he wore the rubber gloves, care his life style - and then stood still beside the window, listening. When, for a minute, he had heard nothing, he climbed back out and eased the window to its closed position.
Jon Jo went back the way that he had come, in shadow. The car was as he had left it. He dropped down into the passenger seat. The driver looked at him, questioning, and Jon Jo nodded. The excitement would be later, at that moment he felt only the extremes of exhaustion.
They drove away.
He had never seen his target, not even a photograph. All he knew of him was his occupation and his address and the make of his car. The occupation was enough to make him a target.
The streets were dead. They went over Putney Bridge and through central London. He dozed, and hazily he heard the murmur of the driver's song. It was an Irish song of the heroes and the martyrs of the Organisation, a song that he might have heard in any of the bars that were on the mountainside that was his home. So long, near to a full year, since he had last been home. The car stopped beside the entrance to the mainline railway station.
He opened his door, then in play punched the shoulder of the driver.
"Thanks, you were fine."
The words gushed. "You're Jon Jo Donnelly, right? We all talk about you. You're feckin' brilliant. Without the likes of you, this war's over.
It's been my privilege to meet you, Mr Donnelly ..."
The words were strangled. He held the driver's throat in his hand.
"Don't ever speak my name again. Don't ever think of going careless with my name. You ever do that and I'll gut you."
He slammed the door and strode away into the shadows, stripping off the gloves. He left the station by the exit on the other side and walked eight blocks to find a rubbish sack to stuff his bag and the gloves in, then more slowly back to the station and onto the concourse to find a bench not yet taken by a dosser where he could stretch himself out until the time of the first train of the morning.
When he had come on duty he had immediately been aware of an atmosphere of minor crisis ebbing in and out of the Section Head's office. Had to be a crisis for Wilkins to have stayed on as late as nine, and his P.A. had been there, and Carthew and Foster. Behind the closed door there had been the clatter of glasses. Then it was all over, Carthew and Foster slipping away like ghosts in the night, the P.A. sliding an empty scotch bottle into her waste bin and leaving as if she'd stood up a date in a restaurant for a couple of hours. Wilkins had just said, as he was shrugging into an overcoat, that he would be at home if a "Priority"
came through. And that had been that. The crisis must have been contained, because no trace had spilled over into the Night Desk Officer's vigil.
Two faxes on the secure line from Belfast, neither of them remotely
"priority", a phone call from SO 13 at the Yard asking for a trace on a building worker from Limerick, the usual job of getting the Sit Rep ready for the Section Head's desk for when he came in at one minute to nine o'clock.
The first girl into the typing pool whispered something inaudible to the second girl, and she looked at him and giggled. The office area had begun to fill up. The kettle was on, the telephones had begun to ring.
It was a Friday morning.
The voices played around Bren. He filled his briefcase. Just the box for his sandwiches, his flask and the mug that he had washed up when he had shaved, and the envelope from Personnel with a flimsy on Security Service pensions. He heard all that was said, but he knew that he was an outsider.
The chatter had started.
The talk was of the weekend.
"You be careful down at Archie's. All he gets people down there for is two days of mucking out his bloody stables. It's slave labour. First thing you'll be given is a pitchfork, all the exercise you'll get is carting manure ..." "Sybil and I are going to Budapest. No, just for the weekend, out tonight, back at sparrow-fart on Monday morning. She says we'll get all the Christmas presents there for half of what Regent Street'd cost ..." "Yes, with Roddy, somewhere in Northants. It's his sister's twenty-first. I had to buy a new dress, four hundred bloody pounds. Some D.J. oick from the Beeb's doing the disco . . ." "No, really, we're camping. Fiona's into that sort of thing. Exmoor in November, Christ! I said I'd be sleeping in longjohns with the sleeping bag tied at my neck. She's a tough little vixen . . ."
Bren was going nowhere for the weekend. He was going nowhere because he had not been invited anywhere.
He was at the door. No one seemed to have noticed that he was leaving. Bren stood aside to make way for his Section Head.
"Just off then, Bren?"
Well, he was at the door with his raincoat on and his briefcase in his hand . . . "Just off, Mr Wilkins."
"You didn't call me."
"Nothing came through that was Priority."
"Thank the good Lord for that."
"I checked through the statistics, sir. It's the first week in the last ten that we haven't had either a shooting or a bombing, or even a failure.
Good morning, then, Mr Wilkins."
He looked back at his desk, to be certain that it was cleared, that all the sheets of paper that he had headed DONNELLY JJ had gone to the shredder. There would have been a small frown from Mr Wilkins if he had left any vestige of his night's work on the desk. It was what he wanted, what he prepared himself for, to be taken onto the team working on DONNELLY JJ. He had spent two and a half hours after three o'clock trying to extract from the computer database any pattern in the present campaign of attacks. It was about all that he had come up with, that there had not been a shooting or a bombing for seven days, the longest clear time in ten weeks.
"You at home over the weekend?"
"Yes, Mr Wilkins." There was a gym near his flat and if he left home over the weekend he would go there, pump weights; he would fight the heavy bag on Saturday for two hours and he would do a half-marathon on Sunday.
"Not escaping to the country?"
"No, Mr Wilkins."
"Thank you, Bren . . ."
Old men with nothing more in their lives to fear came out to walk behind the hearse to the parish church, and women who had slipped into their shopping coats against the cruel wind, and a few children with them. Not more than 150 souls took it upon themselves to accompany the family of Eddie Dignan, the informer, to the funeral Mass. Most of that tight community in the housing estate stayed indoors, or gathered at their front gates. He was the man who had betrayed his own. Eddie Dignan had taken the Crown's gold. His widow, and she was much liked by her neighbours, walked with her children around her, and those that knew her best said afterwards that her face showed more shame than grief. They walked behind the hearse, the widow of the tout, the children of the tout, the friends of the tout. A little tide of hard, pain-etched faces went slowly past the news cameras, and up the steps into the church.