the Savage Day - Simon Vaughn 02 (v5)

BOOK: the Savage Day - Simon Vaughn 02 (v5)
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THE SAVAGE DAY

Jack Higgins

Open Road Integrated Media
New York

And this one for young Sean Patterson

Between two groups of men that want to make inconsistent kinds of worlds I see no remedy except force ... It seems to me that every society rests on the death of men.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

1
Execution Day

They were getting ready to shoot somebody in the inner courtyard, which meant it was Monday because Monday was execution day.

Although my own cell was on the other side of the building, I recognized the signs: a disturbance from those cells in the vicinity from which some prisoners could actually witness the whole proceeding, and then the drums rolling. The commandant liked that.

There was silence, a shouted command, a volley of rifle fire. After a while, the drums started again, a steady beat accompanying the cortege as the dead man was wheeled away, for the commandant liked to preserve the niceties, even on Skarthos, one of the most unlovely places I have visited in my life. A bare rock in the Aegean with an old Turkish fort on top of it containing three thousand political detainees, four hundred troops to guard them and me.

I'd had a month of it, which was exactly four weeks too long and the situation wasn't improved by the knowledge that some of the others had spent up to two years there without any kind of trial. A prisoner told me on exercise one day that the name of the place was derived from some classical Greek root meaning barren, which didn't surprise me in the slightest.

Through the bars of my cell you could see the mainland, a smudge on the horizon in the heat haze. Occasionally there was a ship, but too far away to be interesting, for the Greek Navy ensured that most craft gave the place a wide berth. If I craned my head to the left when I peered out there was rock, thorn bushes to the right. Otherwise there was nothing and nothing to do except lie on the straw mattress on the floor, which was exactly what I was doing on that May morning when everything changed.

There was the grate of the key in the lock quite unexpectedly as the midday meal wasn't served for another three hours, then the door opened and one of the sergeants moved in.

He stirred me with his foot. 'Better get up, my friend. Someone to see you.'

Hope springing eternal, I scrambled to my feet as my visitor was ushered in. He was about fifty or so at a guess, medium height, good shoulders, a snow-white moustache, beautifully clipped and trimmed, very blue eyes. He wore a panama, lightweight cream suit, an Academy tie and carried a cane.

He was, or had been, a high ranking officer in the army, I was never more certain of anything in my life. After all, it takes an old soldier to know one.

I almost brought my heels together and he smiled broadly. 'At ease, Major. At ease.'

He looked about the cell with some distaste, poked at the bucket in the corner with his cane and grimaced. 'You really have got yourself into one hell of a bloody mess, haven't you?'

'Are you from the British Embassy in Athens?' I asked.

He pulled the only stool forward, dusted it and sat down. 'They can't do a thing for you in Athens, Vaughan. You're going to rot here till the colonels decide to try you. I've spoken to the people concerned. In their opinion, you'll get fifteen years if you're lucky. Possibly twenty.'

'Thanks very much,' I said. 'Most comforting.'

He took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and threw them across. 'What do you expect? Guns for the rebels, midnight landings on lonely beaches.' He shook his head. 'What are you, anyway? The last of the romantics?'

'I'd love to think so,' I said. 'But as it happens, there would have been five thousand pounds waiting for me in Nicosia if I'd pulled it off.'

He nodded. 'So I understand.'

I leaned against the wall by the window and looked him over. 'Who are you, anyway?'

'Name's Ferguson,' he said. 'Brigadier Harry Ferguson, Royal Corps of Transport.'

Which I doubted, or at least the Corps of Transport bit, for with all due deference to that essential and important branch of the British Army, he just didn't look the type.

'Simon Vaughan,' I said. 'Of course, you'll know that.'

'That's true,' he said. 'But then I probably know you better than you know yourself.'

I couldn't let that one pass. 'Try me.'

'Fair enough.' He clasped both hands over the knob of his cane. 'Fine record at the Academy, second lieutenant in Korea with the Duke's. You earned a good MC on the Hook, then got knocked off on patrol and spent just over a year in a Chinese prison camp.'

'Very good.'

'According to your file, you successfully withstood the usual brainwashing techniques to which all prisoners were subjected. It was noted, however, that it had left you with a slight tendency to the use of Marxist dialectic in argument.'

'Well, as the old master put it,' I said, 'life
is
the actions of men in pursuit of their ends. You can't deny that.'

'I liked that book you wrote for the War House after Korea,' he said. '
A New Concept of Revolutionary Warfare.
Aroused a lot of talk at the time. Of course the way you kept quoting from Mao Tse Tung worried a lot of people, but you were right.'

'I nearly always am,' I said. 'It's rather depressing. So few other people seem to realize the fact.'

He carried straight on as if I hadn't spoken. 'That book got you a transfer to Military Intelligence, where you specialized in handling subversives, revolutionary movements generally and so on. The Communists in Malaya, six months chasing Mau Mau in Kenya, then Cyprus and the EOKA. The DSO at the end of that little lot, plus a bullet in the back that nearly finished things.'

'Pitcher to the well,' I said. 'You know how it is.'

'And then Borneo and the row with the Indonesians. You commanded a company of native irregulars there and enjoyed great success.'

'Naturally,' I said. 'Because we fought the guerrillas on exactly their own terms. The only way.'

'Quite right, and now the climax of the tragedy. March 1963, to be precise. The area around Kota Baru was rotten with Communist terrorists. The powers that be told you to go in and clear them out once and for all.'

'And no one can say I failed to do that,' I said with some bitterness.

'What was it the papers called you. The Beast of Selengar? A man who ordered the shooting of many prisoners, who interrogated and tortured captives in custody. I suppose it was your medals that saved you and that year in prison camp must have been useful. The psychiatrists managed to do a lot with that. At least you weren't cashiered.'

'Previous gallant conduct,' I said. 'Must remember his father. Do what we can.'

'And since then, what have we? A mercenary in Trucial Oman and the Yemen. Three months doing the same thing in the Sudan and lucky to get out with your life. Since 1966, you've worked as an agent for several arms dealers, mostly legitimate. Thwaite and Simpson, Franz Baumann, Mackenzie Brown and Julius Meyer amongst others.'

'Nothing wrong with that. The British Government makes several hundred million pounds a year out of the manufacture and sale of arms.'

'Only they don't try to run them into someone else's country by night to give aid and succour to the enemies of the official government.'

'Come off it,' I said. 'That's exactly what they've been doing for years.'

He laughed and slapped his knee with one hand. 'Damn it all, Vaughan, but I like you. I really do.'

'What, the Beast of Selengar?'

'Good God, boy, do you think I was born yesterday? I know what happened out there. What really happened. You were told to clear the last terrorist out of Kota Baru and you did just that. A little ruthlessly perhaps, but you did it. Your superiors heaved a sigh of relief, then threw you to the wolves.'

'Leaving me with the satisfaction of knowing that I did my duty.'

He smiled. 'I can see we're going to get along just fine. Did I tell you I knew your father?'

'I'm sure you did,' I said. 'But just now I'd much rather know what in the hell you're after, Brigadier.'

'I want you to come and work for me. In exchange, I'll get you out of here. The slate wiped clean.'

'Just like that?'

'Quite reasonable people to deal with, the Greeks, if one knows how.'

'And what would I have to do in return?'

'Oh, that's simple,' he said. 'I'd like you to take on the IRA in Northern Ireland for us.'

Which was the kind of remark calculated to take the wind out of anyone's sails and I stared at him incredulously.

'You've got to be joking.'

'I can't think of anyone better qualified. Look at it this way. You spent years in Intelligence working against urban guerrillas, Marxists, anarchists, revolutionaries of every sort, the whole bagshoot. You know how their minds work. You're perfectly at home fighting the kind of war where the battlefield is back alleys and rooftops. You're tough, resourceful and quite ruthless, which you'll need to be if you're to survive five minutes with this lot, believe me.'

'Nothing like making it sound attractive.'

'And then, you do have one or two special qualifications, you must admit that. You speak Irish, I understand, thanks to your mother, which is more than most Irishmen do. And then there was that uncle of yours. The one who commanded a flying column for the IRA in the old days.'

'Michael Fitzgerald,' I said. 'The School-master of Stradballa.'

He raised his eyebrows at that one. 'My God, but they do like their legends, don't they? On the other hand, the fact that you're a half-and-half must surely be some advantage.'

'You mean it might help me to understand what goes on in those rather simple peasant minds?'

He wasn't in the least put out. 'I must say I'm damned if I can sometimes.'

'Which is exactly why they've been trying to kick us out for the past seven hundred years.'

He raised his eyebrows at that and there was a touch of frost in his voice. 'An interesting remark, Vaughan. One which certainly makes me wonder exactly where you stand on this question.'

'I don't take sides,' I said. 'Not any more. Just tell me what you expect. If I can justify it to myself, I'll take it on.'

'And if you can't, you'll sit here for another fifteen years?' He shook his head. 'Oh, I doubt that, Major. I doubt that very much indeed.'

And there was the rub, for I did myself. I took another of his cigarettes and said wearily, 'All right, Brigadier, what's it all about?'

'The Army is at war with the IRA, it's as simple as that.'

'Or as complicated.'

'Exactly. When we first moved troops in during '69 it was to protect a Catholic minority who had certain just grievances, one must admit that.'

'And since then?'

The worst kind of escalation. Palestine, Aden, Cyprus. Exactly the same only worse. Increasing violence, planned assassinations, the kind of mad bombing incidents that usually harm innocent civilians more than the Army.'

'The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize,' I said. 'The only way a small country can take on an empire and win. That was one of Michael Collins's favourite sayings.'

'I'm not surprised. To make things even more difficult at the moment, the IRA itself is split down the middle. One half call themselves official and seem to have swung rather to the left politically.'

'How far?'

'As far as you like. The other lot, the pure nationalists, Provisionals, Provos, Bradyites, call them what you like, are the ones who are supposed to be responsible for all the physical action.'

'And aren't they?'

'Not at all. The official IRA is just as much in favour of violence when it suits them. And then there are the splinter groups. Fanatical fringe elements who want to shoot everyone in sight. The worst of that little lot is a group called the Sons of Erin led by a man called Frank Barry.'

'And what about the other side?' I asked. 'The Ulster Volunteer Force?'

'Don't even mention them,' he said feelingly. 'If they ever decide to take a hand, it will be civil war and the kind of bloodbath that would be simply too hideous to contemplate. No, the immediate task is to defeat terrorism. That's the Army's job. It's up to the politicians to sort things out afterwards.'

'And what am I supposed to be able to achieve that the whole of Military Intelligence can't?'

'Everything or nothing. It all depends. The IRA needs money if it's to be in a position to buy arms on anything like a large enough scale. They got their hands on some in rather a big way about five weeks ago.'

'What happened?'

'The night mail boat from Belfast to Glasgow was hijacked by half-a-dozen men.'

'Who were they? Provos?'

'No, they were led by a man we've been after for years. A real old-timer. Must be sixty if he's a day. Michael Cork. The Small Man, they call him. Another of those Irish jokes as he's reputed to be over six feet in height.'

'Reputed?'

'Except for a two-year sentence when he was seventeen or eighteen, he hasn't been in custody since. He did spend a considerable period in America, but the simple truth is we haven't the slightest idea what he looks like.'

'So what happened on the mail boat?'

BOOK: the Savage Day - Simon Vaughn 02 (v5)
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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