Authors: Gerald Seymour
Tags: #Thriller; war; crime; espionage
The men who came now to the house were
Mrs Ferguson would have said a little less refined than the men from Century - they had even made a formal complaint about her cooking -
but since she was not yet ready to retire she kept her peace. The dog had heard the car and the pounding behind the kitchen door billowed up the wide staircase. She looked down from an upstairs window as the car came to a stop beside Mr Ronnie's Sierra. And that was another thing that she disliked about the Five people, they never gave her their full names, so they were Mr Ronnie and Mr Frederick and Mr Ernest . .
. Well, that was just childish.
She was agreeably surprised. A pleasant-looking fellow, well built and as tall as her late husband when he was that age. Neat dark hair with a clean parting. A grey suit and a sensible mackintosh for the time of year. She had been told his name. In the old days she would just have had a call from nice Mr Carter and all the arrangements would have been made on the telephone, now her instructions came ahead by the facsimile machine. It was all laid out who would be arriving and when, how long they would be staying, which room they should have, what meals would be needed. It was a Mr Gary who walked now to the front door, but she had been notified that he was to be called Mr Bren.
They were in the sitting room. The paint was new and the settees were old. They sat either side of the freshly-lit fire. Ronnie stopped in mid-sentence. A big and elderly man, a little bowed at the shoulders, shuffled in with a fresh bucket of coal, tipped it into the scuttle, wheezed, and backed out. Not a word. The door closed heavily behind him. Bren smiled, and there was a soundless curse from Ronnie.
Ronnie said, "I'll get this bloody place sorted out if it's the last thing I do . . . They're used to Six's pansies. I'll get a bloody grenade up their arses . . . Where was I? . . ."
Bren didn't reply, it was his style not to speak when he didn't know of anything useful to say. He had thought Mrs Ferguson like any of the other grandmothers who lived in his parents' road. He had heard the dog, its whine behind the kitchen door, and then the clatter of its paws.
He had met George, who had said, straight off, that he should always knock before coming into the kitchen and that he shouldn't walk round the grounds after dark unless he knew for certain the dog was shut away.
" . . . Yes, right, now that our gracious coal man has called . . . Over there is the nastiest and most dirty little low-intensity war that you will ever have the misfortune to blunder into. You make one mistake and you'll get your informer shot. If you're cleverer and you make one
mistake then it'll be you that goes into the box. You're being sent - I say
'sent' because if you volunteered then you're addled in the brain - after a small mistake was made and an informer was taken by the opposition.
He was missing for a week. He was tortured, we assume he told them everything he knew about his handler, he was then shot and dumped.
The handler was most likely compromised and we've pulled him out. A great deal of effort and time blown away by one small mistake."
He had been born in November 1963, and on the day that his mother had come out of hospital the President of the United States of America had been assassinated. He had been brought up in a small street of houses in Bristol near the factories at Filton that were now occupied by British Aerospace. They were Aerospace people, his father and mother.
His father drove a minibus, eight hours a day, five days a week, round the works complex, while his mother did the same hours and the same days in the canteen kitchens. They understood so little of their son, an only child, as to make contact points minimal. So little understanding, so few contact points, but throughout all of his schooling they had tried so hard to help and encourage him with his books. They were barely a part of his life now.
"Why me?" Bren said.
"God knows. Presumably, better qualified people are not in position."
"I'm not complaining."
"Well, don't damn well sound like it . . . and don't, please, since time is short, interrupt me again . . .
"Informers are our eyes and our ears. Without the informer I doubt we'd still be in there kicking. We know that, and so do they. That's how important it is. But informers don't grow on trees. Take some figures . .
. We approach a hundred men, men we have some leverage on, we work very hard on them, pull all the strings and still we might only get five who turn our way. Work on the five and we might, if we are bloody lucky, get two who are halfway useful. Work on those two, and we might just get one who in time will be close to the centre of operations. That is a valuable commodity."
He'd hogged those books, and done the Scouts and the C.C.F., and he'd gained the necessaries from his examinations. Gary Bren- nard had won admission to the University of Surrey at Guildford. There were boys from Esher and Haywards Heath and Went- worth, and girls from Horsham and Cheam and Virginia Water. He met money. For a 'Gary'
there was no access into money. Money marked out the kids who were going far because they had the launch pad of connection and opportunity. Within three weeks of starting his first term, Modern History as his major, he had let it be known to anyone who cared to speak to him that his name was 'Bren'. 'Gary' was buried, a terraced house in Filton went down the drain, a father who worked as a minibus driver for British Aerospace and a mother who loaded the dish-washer in the canteen were off-limits. He joined the Conservative Club, worked bloody, bloody hard, and went home less and less frequently.
He was further distanced from his parents, saw them more rarely, didn't know how to cope with it, took no pride in the estrangement.
" . . . A dead informer is bugger all use to us. Your job is to keep him alive. It is very hard to think of the circumstances that make it worth sacrificing a tout in place . . . The very suspicion of a live one causes a high degree of chaos and demoralisation. The Provisionals are paranoid about what they call touts. When they have a tout hunt underway - always undertaken by a special unit of the worst killers -
then everything else is dropped. It's an obsession with them. The worm eats into the terrorist who's been arrested. He cannot get it out of his head that he's rotting in prison because of the man he thought was his brother in arms. The volunteer who's going to the cache to collect his weapon or his bomb, the guy who's heading for the home of a U.D.R.
part-timer or a policeman, he doesn't know whether he's going to get malleted by the Special Forces. Betrayal from within really hurts them.
It's about the only thing that d o e s . . . "
He had never been quite sure how he had been recruited. His tutorial lecturer had had something to do with it. A remark by Bren, over a cup of coffee, about the Civil Service, something more about the Home Office, a vague aside about wanting work that was worthwhile. He'd sat the Civil Service exam, and a letter had just appeared through the post at the Hall of Residence, an invitation to an interview. Stressed the Scouts and the Combined Cadet Force and the Conservative Club, emphasised the desire to serve in areas that could benefit his country . .
. Quite incredibly easy. Afterwards, he'd reckoned they must have just agreed a programme for livening up the intake, getting more graduates in and less officers from Army Intelligence who wanted a civilian life.
" . . . Sometimes when you move on the ground you will be alone, sometimes you will be with a colleague. There will be long periods when you will be beyond the reach of a Quick Reaction Force. If you get into trouble it'll be up to you alone to get out of it. Now, just in case we've any nonsense in our little heads about Queensberry Rules, cast your memory back to the two corporals who drove into the funeral procession in Andersonstown. They were kicked, beaten, stripped, pistol whipped and shot. That's what they'll do to you if you are ever unlucky enough, or daft enough, to offer them the chance. But remember, the Provisionals will want you dead, the army won't give a toss for you, and the police would like nothing better than to see you fall flat on your face . . . And all the time you have one thing above all else in your mind: your informer is gold dust. Well, are you up to it?"
Bren felt pounding excitement. "I don't see why not."
"I've painted it black because that's the way it is."
Five minutes before eleven o'clock in the morning, the first morning.
Ronnie went to the cabinet, unlocked it with a key from his pocket, muttered that if the drinks weren't locked away then the old beggar in the house would have cleared them, poured a good glass with no water offered, handed it to Bren.
"I've scared you, but unless you're frightened over there and learn that sense of survival, then you won't win. You'll catch on, just listen to what Parker tells you."
He made his way quietly down the stairs. He liked to be able to come and go without his landlady knowing. Had to be bloody quiet . . . Jon Jo had his fingers on the handle.
"Off back to London?" She was at the kitchen door.
"Time to be getting back to work."
"When'll you be back?"
"Depends on what I find. Dockland's still got a bit. Might be a week, let's hope it's two or three."
"I'll air the bed and change the sheets . . . oh, and the door's so much better."
"Bye then, Missus."
He let himself out.
While he was away she would change the sheets and have a thorough search through everything that was his. She was that sort of woman.
But she would find nothing. He had built the place when she was out shopping. His plans, his maps, his lists were under the carpet and under the old wood flooring, in the box that he had made. Unless she pulled the carpet back and took a heavy jemmy and dug about a bit under the floor, she'd find nothing.
He carried his overnight bag and his carpentry tools. The plan and the map and the name on the list he kept in his mind.
The second morning, not yet eight o'clock, and he thought he might just get to do some serious dying. It was the sight of the other man that kept him on his feet.
An hour earlier, at breakfast alone and in his track suit that Ronnie had told him the previous night to dress in, Mrs Ferguson had made the introduction. The housekeeper had called him
Terry. The man was a sadist, a torturer, and a Physical Training Instructor, a bumptious little bastard with apple-red cheeks and not a hair on the scalp of his head, and a Geordie. He was at least fifteen years older than Bren, and he looked as if he might just enjoy inflicting pain.
Bren sagged against the back of a garden seat. P.T.I. Terry was on the grass beside the bench, rolling on the crisp frost, making a better job of dying. He wouldn't have done this to him if the silly little man hadn't pushed his luck.
He had been allowed to eat three pieces of toast, drink two cups of tea on top of his orange juice. Nobody had told him that he would settle his breakfast down with a four-mile run over rough country.
His lungs heaved. He heard P.T.I. Terry's groan, and the apple red of the man's cheeks had gone to grey white. Bren wasn't one for team games, but he ran twenty, twenty-five miles every week and he worked out with weights every day and often twice a day at weekends. He didn't talk about it in the office so it wasn't on his file. P.T.I. Terry would not have known that Bren was fit, and Bren would not have broken the little bastard if it hadn't been for the exchange after breakfast, clearly and deliberately for him to hear, between P.T.I. Terry and Mister Ronnie.
"Doesn't look much, does he, Mr Ronnie? What I'd call pathetic ..."
"Young people don't look after themselves these days."
"I'll loosen him up, take him over the four-mile circuit, then you can have him for the rest of the morning, if there's anything left of him.
Your modern young, Mr R o n n i e . . . I suppose they think there's always a helicopter warmed on stand-by. I don't suppose you told him what happens when the Provies start chasing him over the hills. Strong young lads, used to the outdoor life, running after our little friend with the old A.K. ready to zap him if he doesn't keep running."
Ronnie had grinned, "I'd like to know what he's made of . . ."
Bren had let P.T.I. Terry set the pace, just sat on his shoulder whenever he tried to turn on the heat, and he'd known when P.T.I. Terry turned for home halfway, that the man was labouring, so he went past him and listened to the wheezing into the back of his neck. Bren had turned and smiled, "It's time they pensioned you o f f . . . " He upped the pace, and turned again when the gates of the house were in sight. "That's what I'd call pathetic, P.T.I. Terry." He lifted his speed again, all the way up the drive, and let the little man catch him, and then called for press-ups, squat thrusts, knee bends. "Unless, of course, you would prefer to go and lie d o w n . . . "
Ronnie poked his finger into Bren's chest, "Very clever, very pretty.
Tells me more about you than a dozen sheets of paper."
"Just that I don't like being taken for a prat."
P.T.I. Terry was retching behind him.
Ronnie said, "That's alright, sonny. Parker'll sort you out."
With a grey mist picture, the image intensifier followed the car up the hill from the bungalow. It was a clear night, bright stars, little moon, the best night for the image intensifier. The words that logged the movement were whispered into the Dictaphone. There was an owl up somewhere, in one of the few trees that had survived the sweep of the winter gales. There was a vixen, coughing a call to a dog fox. The car powered away along the road that already glistened with the first trace of evening frost. The car was gone beyond the range of the camera.
They had an Ordnance Survey map, 1:25,000, and a plan of the fields that had been hand-drawn on a sheet of paper. Mossie had the operational plan. It was for the O.C. to approve or reject it.
They met in a small farmhouse, one of the few remaining older buildings on the plateau at the top of Altmore mountain. It was the usual way. The front door had been left unlocked, and the television played noisily in the kitchen. The front room was theirs, with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits left on a tray.