Authors: Scott Mariani
Falconer was silent for a long time. The blood pool was spreading wider on the floor. The front of his shirt and his trousers were saturated and slick with it.
Finally he breathed, ‘Lennox told you everything, didn’t he?’
Ben nodded. ‘Yes, he did. He told me every last detail of what you all did that night.’
Ben related it all back to Falconer as Jaco Lennox had told it to him, leaving out the heaving sighs, the drunken sobbing and the long, vacant pauses that had punctuated his account. Lennox might have been half shot away from booze and sleeplessness, but the facts had all been there, sharp, clear, forever branded into his memory from seven years of torment.
The black Mercedes with its three passengers had left from a rear exit of the Paris Ritz Hotel at twenty minutes after midnight on August 31st, 1997. Its driver, who had been under surveillance by Increment operatives the whole evening, was known to have consumed only a very modest quantity of alcohol that night and was certainly not drunk. That was of no importance to the Increment. The fix was in.
As Lennox had confirmed, the car had been a last-minute replacement from the one originally intended. The reason for the switch had been in order for covert agents to carry out enough subtle sabotage to the brakes for them to fail at speed. In order to ensure that the driver would keep his foot down, the Mercedes was pursued by Increment operatives on motorcycles, posing as paparazzi. One of the motorcycle pillion passengers was in constant radio contact with the driver of a white Fiat Uno that was already hovering on standby close to the entrance to the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel, not far away. The Fiat’s driver wasn’t alone. Andanson’s backseat passenger was another Increment operative, Jaco Lennox.
The Mercedes sped across the Place de la Concorde, then along the river embankment, and at twenty-three minutes past midnight entered the short underpass from which it would never emerge in one piece.
As the larger car approached the mouth of the tunnel, the pursuing motorcycles slackened off their speed and fell back, as prearranged. The white Fiat accelerated into position with the Mercedes coming up fast behind it. Just as the driver of the Mercedes went to overtake, the Fiat suddenly swerved into its path and a blinding white flash of light exploded from its rear window.
Directed-energy weapons known as dazzlers had first been designed for military use, as a so-called ‘non-lethal option’ with multiple potential applications. They did exactly what their name implied, which was to emit a high-energy flash of light at the precise wavelength most able to cause temporary blindness and disorientation to the target. Versions capable of causing instant permanent blindness had been developed also, and despite being banned by a UN protocol, were still sometimes used. The model issued to Jaco Lennox for Operation Solitaire was a STEALTH optical distraction device with a range of up to a thousand metres, effective even through tinted glass.
From less than a car’s length away, it was devastating.
The driver of the Mercedes never stood a chance. Blinded and panicked, his natural instinct was to stamp down hard on the brake; perhaps if it hadn’t been for the sabotage done to the braking system beforehand, the car might have been able to scrub off enough speed to prevent such a dreadful crash.
But the Mercedes failed to slow. It glanced off the rear of the Fiat, which skidded harmlessly to one side and accelerated away as the Mercedes spun wildly out of control. Fractions of a second later, it came to a sickening, crunching halt against one of the tunnel’s reinforced concrete roof support pillars.
The rest of the story was history. The operation was a resounding success. The white Fiat and its two occupants would somehow be erased from the official version of events.
‘I couldn’t believe it to begin with,’ Ben said. ‘But now you’ve given me the final proof that I needed, and I know that what Lennox told me was the truth. She was an assassination target for the Increment. The other two who died that night were just collateral damage.’
With all the cards on the table, Falconer knew there was no longer any point in pretending.
‘For God’s sake, man. What choice did we have? Don’t you think, if there had been any other way, we would have jumped at the chance? It’s not as if she wasn’t warned. MI6 told her over and over again to stop meddling in things she didn’t understand. She just wouldn’t listen.’
Ben looked at him. ‘Is that a yes? I confess? We did it?’
Blood bubbled from between Falconer’s teeth and his voice was raspy and thick. ‘The woman was a threat. Have you any idea how much it cost the country in loss of revenues when the landmines were banned, thanks to that interfering pea-brained bitch and her little band of do-gooders?’
‘And you’re still manufacturing them every day,’ Ben said. ‘Behind phony company fronts in countries that never signed up to the treaty.’
‘For Christ’s sake, get real. You’re a soldier, Hope. You’re not a businessman. If we didn’t make them, someone else would. It’s supply and demand. There’s a market. It gets catered to. That’s all that matters in the real world.’
‘I’m not sure if you even remember what the real world is any more,’ Ben said. ‘Have you ever seen an African child with both legs blown off at the hip from stepping on a mine? Or blinded with half their face missing, or disembowelled and trying to pack their guts back inside their ripped-open body? I have.’
‘Who gives a shit?’ Falconer spat, blood splotting down his chin. ‘In any case, the landmines were just the beginning. That airhead wasn’t going to stop until she’d brought the whole damned UK arms industry to its knees. Your “People’s Princess” was nothing more than a liability, pure and simple.’
‘I don’t care about your politics,’ Ben said. ‘I don’t care who she was. I don’t care about her family name or her connections or her money, or what she did or didn’t do to make herself a target. I only care about one thing: that you murdered an innocent woman. You’re a piece of filth and I’m ashamed that I ever stood up to be counted with you.’
‘Who the hell are you to judge, anyway? You never took an innocent life in the line of duty?’
‘Some things I did, I’m not proud of,’ Ben said. ‘Other things, I wouldn’t have done at all. You were right never to ask me to join your little hit squad, Liam. Because if I’d had any idea what you were up to behind the scenes, it would be you they’d have had to scrape off the wall. What you did was wrong. It was beyond wrong.’
‘Oh, spare me the sanctimonious bullshit,’ Falconer sneered. ‘That’s the privilege of a nobody, who never took responsibility for his actions or made any real decisions. In the big boys’ game, doing the right thing is a virtue we can’t afford.’
‘Who said I was virtuous?’ Ben said.
He reached down. Unsnapped the retaining catch of the tactical holster that was double-strapped to his right thigh. He closed his fingers around the rubber-gripped butt of the nine-millimetre pistol and drew it out. The Browning Hi-Power was stock military issue. The exact same model he’d carried with the SAS. Probably the same model that was still issued to the men from the Increment.
It seemed fitting, somehow.
The Browning was already cocked and locked, with a round in the chamber and thirteen more in the magazine. He wasn’t going to need the extra thirteen. He clicked off the safety. Then he pointed the pistol at Falconer.
‘You wouldn’t bloody dare,’ Falconer said. ‘Not like this.’
‘Didn’t you teach us that who dares, wins?’
Ben aimed the Browning at Falconer’s head. With the fat tubular silencer attached, the sights were obscured. But that didn’t matter at this range. He curled his finger around the trigger. He’d polished and honed the internal mechanism until it had a light, crisp pull of just under four pounds. He had three and a half pounds on it when he paused.
‘You were my mentor, Liam,’ he said. ‘I loved you like a father. What happened to you?’
A nerve in Falconer’s face started twitching. ‘Do you want money? I have over a million pounds cash in the safe upstairs. It’s yours if you let me live. You walk away. We say no more about this. Nobody will ever know it was you.’
‘Don’t do it, Ben. Please. I’m begging you. Show me mercy.’
‘Mercy,’ Ben repeated. ‘If she had begged you for it, would you have shown her any?’
‘You’ll never get away with it. They’ll hunt you down like a dog.’
‘They’ll try,’ Ben said. ‘But they’ll fail. I was never here. There won’t be a trace for anyone to follow. You taught me well.’
‘Don’t kid yourself. You’re a dead man. You might as well put that gun to your own head.’
‘I’m not the one who has it coming,’ Ben said.
‘We all have it coming,’ Falconer said.
‘You first,’ Ben said. He brought the gun closer to Falconer’s forehead.
Falconer’s eyes blazed up at him with anger. ‘I’m a senior member of the British establishment,’ he hissed.
‘Then all the more reason,’ Ben said. And pulled the trigger.
The silenced pistol’s report echoed through the cellar. Blood flew up the wall behind Falconer’s head. His body lurched, gave a heave, then keeled over sideways and lay still.
Ben put the pistol back in its holster and turned away from the dead man.
When he stepped outside a few minutes later, the night sky had clouded and snow had started to fall thickly. He looked at his watch and saw it was two minutes after twelve.
Christmas morning, 2004.
The glen was in complete silence, just the soft patter of the spiralling snowflakes layering themselves on the frozen ground. Ben pulled the hem of his hat down tight, zipped his jacket collar up to his chin and started off on the long walk back.
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