Authors: Gerald Seymour
Tags: #Thriller; war; crime; espionage
There was no complaint from Ernest Wilkins, just a personal sadness. It was so hard to find the right sort of man to send across. He had thought this man ideal, and the sadness came from the knowledge that he had been wrong. He listened.
"You can understand this, Mr Wilkins. It's not what I'm supposed to say . . . I
what happened to him."
Wilkins understood well enough, and if he had appeared distracted it was probably because he was trying to imagine Brennard in this experienced man's place. It was a hell of a job to fill. He paid close attention, but he said nothing.
"Most of the time, in the early days, he was so scared that he used to shake when I met him. He was more scared of us than he was of his own, and more frightened of going back inside than anything. He loved those kids. That's what it came down to. I think he'd have topped himself if he'd gone back inside. The money was just gravy, it was the threat of going back inside that held him to us. And then he'd begun to get quite good. It wasn't high-grade stuff because he was only a bottle washer, a volunteer, but he knew what was going on and he drove a bit for them, moving stuff. That's when it starts to get really bloody, when he has something to tell you. It's my fault, you see, I put the report in to Task Co-ordinating Group. Parker wasn't there. God knows where Parker was. So I gave the report to bloody Hobbes, and Hobbes chucked it onto the T.C.G. table. They were going to do a hit. Eddie knew the guns were being moved, but he didn't know the target. It wasn't discussed properly, it was all too fast. They were moving the rifles the next evening, and a V.C.P. was set up. The police wanted arrests. It must have been something said by one of the detectives who questioned them at Gough R.U.C. Somebody slipped up, because as soon as they saw a solicitor the word was back into the system that it hadn't just been an accident. The tout hunt started. The Q.M. knew they were moving the firepower, and Eddie knew because he'd collected them from the cache, and the two guys in the car. It all pointed to Eddie
. . . You know what Hobbes said? Sorry, but he's such a prick, that man.
He said Eddie was nothing more than a terrorist, and not worth crying over."
Late Saturday afternoon. The street lights on. Curzon Street deserted.
He watched from the upper window of Leconfield House as Faber came out of the main entrance and walked away to find a bus or an underground train.
He shrugged into his anorak. So difficult, Ernest Wilkins thought, to find men who were not degraded and disgusted by the Belfast work.
He came out of his office, closed the door and locked it, and walked past Brennard's clean, cleared desk. So extraordinarily difficult to find men who could cope with the Belfast work, and not be scarred.
He was out to whist that evening and should hurry himself if he was not to miss the first rubber.
". . . What I was told to say was that there's a powerful anger here about it. There's people talking on the radio about being ashamed to be Irish. Army Council, Chief of Staff, nobody likes that."
The woman was making the call because the man who would otherwise have made it believed himself to be under close surveillance. They were uncertain in the Organisation as to the capability of the telephone engineers working for Five to trace calls made from pay phones.
There was a queue waiting to use the box. She had turned her back on them so that she could not see their impatience.
" . . . And I was told to say that next time round they're expecting you to be double certain that it's the target, not his wife and not his kids. They said to tell you they're going to put an apology into
They said you should know that they don't
having to do t h a t . . . "
She didn't know the face or the name of the man, and he had said nothing beyond the codeword.
" . . . They also said that what you done up to this last one was just brilliant . . . Oh, and the new money's coming through, and they said like can you spend it a bit slower. It's difficult to come by. That's all that I was to tell you."
She put the telephone down and the handle of the receiver glistened.
She felt the sweat in her palm. She was nothing in the Organisation but her brother was in his twelfth year of a life sentence and she was happy to be used. She was sweating because she had had to allow the telephone to ring out at the far end for a full two minutes before it was picked up, before the codeword was given her, and then she had to repeat the message that they had given her. As far as she was concerned, any man who had worked on the mainland was a hero. She thought it quite wrong that he should be slagged for what he had done.
She walked away up the Andersonstown Road of West Belfast.
His enemy were the retired and the elderly who walked on the esplanade with their lap dogs that were wrapped against the sea weather with little monogrammed coats, and the teenagers who smashed what they could not steal, and the fishermen off the trawlers who were waiting for the doors of the bars to open, and the driver who took the empty bus from Torquay to Brixham, and the man who stood beside the heaps of his Sunday newspapers that were covered against the spray by plastic sheeting. They were all his enemy. He had chosen this out-of-season resort town, and it was the only place he felt safe.
Never truly safe, God knows,
and among his enemies he would never be content. And on Sunday always more alone, more keenly missing his Kevin and his Attracta. In far too long he had had no word from his Attracta, not heard her voice.
He felt such an ache of homesickness, of longing to be with his boy and his Attracta, it was a physical pain.
The newspaper seller was smiling at him, friendly. He pointed to the papers that he wanted and he searched out the exact change from his pocket. He spoke as rarely as was possible, and never engaged in conversation with anyone he didn't know. He could change his face and his hair and his clothes, his accent he could not alter. The newspaper seller, his enemy, wished him a good morning and thanked him, and made a remark about the weather brightening from the west. He read the headline of the paper on top, and saw the photograph of the destroyed Volvo. Under it was a quote from a retired Secretary of State, one of the worst of the bastards: "These terrorists are addicted to the adventure and thrill of killing."
His fingers were clasped tight. They knew nothing of him, the pensioners and the yob kids and the bus driver and the newspaper seller, and they would lap up the shit that he was "addicted to the adventure and thrill of killing". They knew nothing . . . And they didn't know much in Dublin and Belfast, the bastards who had a bit of a girl speak to him on the phone like he was a wee brat who had messed his pants on the first day at school and a complaint had been made by the nuns to his Ma, and he a man on their business hunted by every policeman in their enemy's country, by all the detectives of the Anti-Terrorist Branch and the Special Branch, and by the faceless bastards of M.I.5. That was close to pleasure, the knowledge that they all hunted him, and failed. He would never be complacent, no. But if he were not complacent and never careless then he believed himself impregnable.
But the shits in Dublin, they were something else. So, the kids had got blown away . . . What was the big deal? Legitimate tactic of war to spread fear in the enemy. Let them show him the army officer, the civil servant who hadn't cringed over his morning paper, or the wife or mother of an army officer or civil servant who wouldn't have been shaken rigid by what the zombies in Dublin and Belfast were going to issue an apology for . . . Jesus!
A lone figure, wreathed in the mist of the sea fog, wet from the spray of the climbing waves that broke on the sea wall, walking back to the room that he rented behind the open-air swimming pool that was drained for the winter. It was a terrace of old houses. The Bed and Breakfast and the Vacancies signs rocked in the wind. God, and he missed his Attracta ... He let himself in. As he closed the door she came out of the kitchen at the back of the hall. She was small, she would have been blown away with a slap. She was his landlady.
"Oh, Mr Robinson, I'm so glad you're back. Would you do me a favour? It's the back door, brand new this summer, and I suppose it's warped. I'd be ever so grateful ..."
"I'll get my tools," Jon Jo said.
"You're very kind. And there's something I'd like to say to you. This business in the papers, about the Irish, about the bombs and things. I just wanted to say how sorry I feel for all of you good and decent Irish people. I don't lump you ail together. I have a great respect for all of you hard-working Irish people who are prepared to come over here to find work so that you can keep your families, a very sincere respect. To me, they are the real Irish and not these awful guerrilla creatures. I just wanted you to know that."
"I'll bring my tools down."
Everybody on the mountain had a brother, cousin, friend, neighbour, who was skilled as a brickie or a sparky or a chippy or a painter/decorator. There was never money involved. A brother, cousin, friend, neighbour, did the work that was his trade, and the work was paid for in kind. Mossie Nugent was a painter/ decorator. He had repapered and repainted the two big bedrooms and the living room of the farmhouse, and he hoped that by Christmas he would have little Kevin's room done. In the freezer, in the garage beside the bungalow, he had the greater part of a quarter of a beef bullock from Attracta Donnelly's stock, and each week Siobhan was given free-range eggs. It was the way of the community.
Siobhan had her eggs, and if she didn't like him going down, most Sunday afternoons this past year, to the Donnelly farm, then she could go feck herself.
She was a great girl, Attracta Donnelly and pretty still, and going short because her man was across the water. Up his ladder, scraping off wallpaper, he listened to her quiet song as she washed the plates and saucepans from her lunch.
"An outlawed man in a land forlorn, He
scorned to turn and fly, But he kept the
cause of freedom safe Up on the mountain
He had thought her a great girl since the afternoon that he had finished the first room, her bedroom, and she had climbed the step ladder, stood above him, and stretched up to rehang the curtains. Ankles, knees and the back of her thighs and her blouse riding up the small of her back.
And he had known Jon Jo Donnelly all his life. Jon Jo had been better at school. Jon Jo had been in the gaelic team, always on the bus for away games when Mossie had been left in his day on the substitute side-line, won more praise from the Father. Jon Jo had been big in the Organisation since he had left school and taken on the farm because of his father's arthritis when Mossie was in the Kesh and serving two and a half years for possession of firearms, won more praise from the big men than ever Mossie had had. And Jon Jo had Attracta, who was a great girl, and Mossie had Siobhan who was a hard bitch.
"It's your decision, of course, Bren."
"You are under absolutely no pressure to accept." "No, Mr Wilkins."
"It's really a rather good career opportunity for you." "I see."
"It's the sort of place a young officer gets noticed." "I appreciate that."
"Every older man in Five, who's on a plateau, wishes to God that he could roll back the years and do a real job like this one."
"You'd be on secondment from us to the Belfast end. Hobbes runs things over there . . . Day to day you'd be working with Parker ..."
"I don't know Parker."
"You'd be directly involved with our Source Unit, which means that you'd be running informers, the Provisionals that we pay for information. It requires very considerable commitment. And, I repeat myself, you'd be noticed, Bren."
"I've no experience ..."
"We'll take care of that, and Parker will show you the ropes."
Bren wondered who was Parker. There were men who worked in the next office, who he passed several times a day in the corridor and he did not know their names, nor what they did. Perhaps if he were invited for the weekend in the country he would have known who was Parker.
"If you think I h a v e . . . "
"No doubts whatsoever. And let me tell you: there are far too many people in this department who exaggerate the danger of working over there. Oh yes, listen to half the old stagers in this office, and you'd have the impression that you only have to put your nose out of the front door over there to get it blown off. That's r u b b i s h . . . A sensible officer, one who keeps his wits about him, will not only enjoy himself in Ulster but will certainly do his career no harm at all. But let me answer your question. I am quite certain you have the qualities to make a very good fist of Northern Ireland operations."
"I'll do my best."
Wilkins smiled and shook Bren's hand. He said that he would phone Hobbes that morning. He suggested that Bren should take forty-eight hours off, get his affairs in order, do something about his flat. He said that he would arrange a fast refresher course with Training Section, his P . A . would give Bren directions. He should report on Wednesday morning.
"Good, that's it then."
"Thank you very much, Mr Wilkins, for thinking of me."
Mrs Ferguson heard the crunch of the car's tyres on the drive. She was upstairs, in the east wing of the house and making up a bed in one of the single rooms. Now that four lorry loads of fresh gravel stone had been spread out over the length of the drive, hiding most of the weeds and grass, she always heard a new arrival's approach. She busied herself down the narrow corridor that linked the east wing to the main landing and called sharply for George, to warn him. George was in the library, painting the skirting boards. She heard his grunt of acknowledgement, echoed from far below. She wore a new dress and a new apron, and they had been new sheets and pillow cases that she had put on the bed, and George, even in the overalls he wore for painting, was smarter, as any of the visitors who had met him as little as a year before would have agreed. The house itself was much altered because Century House, Six, had agreed with extreme reluctance to share the facility with Curzon Street, Five, and the men who held the purse strings had made the decision and forced it through in the teeth of opposition from the Secret Intelligence Service. M.I.6 alone could no longer afford the upkeep of the building so M.I.5, the Security Service, was now a half partner in the running of the house. There was new gravel on the drive, new paint and wallpaper in the common rooms, a new oil-fired Aga in the kitchen, new sheets on the beds . . . But Mrs Ferguson, the housekeeper, remained. George, too, had survived the cyclone, handyman and gardener. The Rottweiler, older and ever more temperamental, still needed to be shut away behind the stout kitchen door when a newcomer arrived.