Provo

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Provo


   GORDON STEVENS

   Provo


   This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

   HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd.

   1 London Bridge Street

   London SE1 9GF

   

   First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 1993

   Copyright © Gordon Stevens 1993

   Gordon Stevens asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

   All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks

   HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication

   Source ISBN: 9780006476320

   Ebook Edition © AUGUST 2016 ISBN: 9780008219376

   Version: 2016-08-31

   To Dave

CONTENTS

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   The Angel of Death stood in the graveyard and the priest waited at the door.

   The Sunday afternoon was quiet, the faintest breeze stirring the foliage of the trees and rustling the hem of his cassock, the faded red brick of the Church of St Mary and St Phillip lost amidst the colours of summer.

   It was two o’clock exactly.

   The woman was in her late twenties or early thirties, dark-haired and tall, smartly dressed despite the heat. He saw her through the trees – as if she had suddenly appeared from nowhere. She smiled at him as she always did and went inside. In all the times they had met in such a way, the priest suddenly thought, the woman had never once spoken to him.

   The church was cool, the image of the Virgin looking down and the candles on the right of the altar. The woman knelt, took one from the black metal box and held the wick against one of those flickering in front of her.

   The wax ran down the candle and burned her fingers. Her face was still, as if she had not noticed the pain or was accustomed to it.

   ‘Remember, o most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who asked your help was left unanswered . . .’

   The Memorare to her father, mother and her brother, and the plea for the salvation of their souls. Even now she remembered the day she had been taken from them, the days they had been taken from her. Even now the details of their deaths burned into her mind as the wax burned into her flesh.

   There was no one else in the church. The woman placed the candle on the stand and stood up, the priest watching from the doorway. She folded a £20 note into the poor box and passed him, smiling her thanks as she did so, then she walked quickly through the churchyard. The priest closed and locked the doors and walked down the steps, along the path and paused under the headstone. The statue was of marble, the expression on the face was serene and the wings were folded. The Angel of Death to some, he reflected, the Saviour and Redeemer to others.

   In life as in death, he supposed.

   The afternoon was warm and the sweat trickled down the back of his collar. By the time he reached the gate the visitor had disappeared.

   The car was parked half a mile away. Instinctively she checked the street – for the woman with the pram whom everyone else would accept as commonplace, for the motor-cycle which no one else would notice, for the car or van with the two people in the front seat – then drove the eight miles to the house where she had been raised. The tea was laid – Sunday linen and china, cucumber sandwiches and fruit cake. The French windows to the garden were open and the children were playing croquet on the lawn.

   She kissed her father and her mother on the cheek and sat by her brother.

   In the end, McKendrick knew, it would all depend on the man called Reardon: whether he followed the pattern of the past weeks, whether his wife was at home when they called, whether his son and daughter had gone out to play.

   He woke at five, the sound of the pipes and the drums rattling through his mind and the details of the next eighteen hours weaving their apparently separate journeys through his brain. For thirty minutes he lay still, staring at the ceiling, the pipes and drums still haunting him and the Walther on his right side, beneath the sheet where he had placed it five hours before, even in what he considered a safe house, his hand resting on it all night and his fingers wrapped around it.

   Belfast, 12 July.

   The day the Orangemen marched with their rolled umbrellas and their bowler hats and banners. The day the Protestants stirred their blood to the beat of the drums and the echo of the bugles in commemoration of William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne 300 years before. The day the Brits and the RUC kept the Catholics at bay so that the Ulstermen could claim the Six Counties as their own.

   The sun touched the window. He rolled off the bed, washed, shaved and dressed, and went to the rear door, not waking the family in the bedrooms at the front. Even though it was not yet twenty minutes to six, McKendrick waited till he saw Rorke in the alleyway at the rear, and even then he did not leave the house. Rorke was 23, thinner than McKendrick, with longer hair, and had been his minder for the past two years. He checked quickly and efficiently, then nodded. McKendrick left the house and walked behind him to the Granada parked at the end. The car was silver-grey and inconspicuous, registered to a baker in Springfield who was not on the security checklist. The driver was smoking and the engine idling. McKendrick slipped into the back seat, Rorke beside him, and the car pulled away.

   It was still quiet, the first warmth seeping into the morning and the first security forces on the streets, the first surveillance helicopter chattering across the sky. When the patrols were out everything was normal, McKendrick knew. It was only when there were no patrols, no eyes in the sky, that you began to worry. It was then that they were clearing an area for the shoot-to-kill bastards from E4A or 14th Int or the SAS.

   They turned into Beechwood Street. The houses were terraced with small gardens in front, the majority consisting of a square of grass surrounded by flowers but some of them paved. Most of the cars were second-hand and the curtains of the bedrooms were still drawn. In front of them the street curved slightly to the left, then straightened just before the point where Reardon lived. It was eight minutes past six, twelve minutes to wait. McKendrick tucked lower into the rear seat and wound down the window. The driver moved slowly along Beechwood Street, turned left at the end and stopped twenty yards from the junction so that they could see the van which came to pick up Tommy Reardon but would not be noticed themselves.

   The planning had been immaculate, of course, the policy objective approved by the Army Council in Dublin and the military details agreed by the Northern Command. Knowledge of it had been restricted to those who would take part, and even then each section had been briefed only on the part it would play, unaware not only of the overall plan, but even unaware that an overall plan existed. Each of the North Belfast companies would be involved in the riots and bombings that day, each action soaking up more of the security forces, the timings and locations precise and vital, until the moment came when McKendrick and his people would take over. And seventy men coiled like springs in the Crum – the bleak and God-forsaken prison on the Crumlin Road. Seventy battle-hardened Provisional IRA men – bombers, gunmen and activists – with the explosives they would use to break their way to the main gate already smuggled in and only the gate between them and freedom. And all on Orange Day, all depending on the little bastard called Tommy Reardon. In the still of the morning – perhaps in the years of hatred captured and swirling in his mind – McKendrick heard the faintest sound of the pipes and the drums.

   It was twenty minutes past six.

   The Transit came down the road in front of them. The workmen were packed inside it and the vehicle had been sprayed blue, covering the name of the building company which had once been printed on its sides. Rorke left the Granada and walked casually to the junction, cigarette in hand. Sixty yards away Reardon left the house, climbed into the Transit, and the vehicle pulled away, the exhaust rattling and a thin line of blue smoke drifting from it.

   Even though McKendrick had been baptized into the faith, it was of no concern to him that Reardon and his wife were also Catholic, or that their son and daughter were of the age where they would make their first Holy Communion. Reardon was a digger driver and the company for whom he worked did the occasional job for what might loosely be called the security forces. Both had been warned. Reardon was therefore a legitimate means to an even more legitimate end.

   Rorke turned the corner, ground the cigarette on the pavement, and climbed into the car. McKendrick sat up and looked across at him. The minder nodded and the driver pulled away.

   *

   The site was surrounded by six-foot-high chain fencing and illuminated at night by spotlights. The Transit bumped across the ruts at the entrance and stopped by the Portacabin at the side of the agent’s office. Reardon left his bag in the hut and collected the keys to the digger. The cab door was padlocked. He knelt down and examined the axle and undercarriage, his fingers searching delicately in the places where a bomb might have been concealed. The routine was as automatic as changing the Transit route to and from work each day when the job was outside Belfast. Only when he was satisfied did he unlock the door, climb in, wedge the photograph of his wife and children in the corner of the windscreen, and start the engine.

   Tommy Reardon was 32 years old. He and Marie had married when he was twenty and she was nineteen. Their children were eight and seven, and there was a possibility – not yet confirmed – of a third. Reardon had left school at fifteen and served his apprenticeship at Harland and Wolff, losing his job when the yard cut back on its labour force. A year later he had begun work at the De Lorean car plant, leaving when it closed. After his second term of unemployment he had found work with the building firm of Ellis and Knight. Ten months later he had received his first threat. Six months ago an uncle in England had secured him a job at the Ford plant in Eastleigh, near Southampton. Two weeks before he was due to leave, the company had announced major cutbacks and voluntary redundancies for 500 of its existing workforce.

   The morning was hot and the site busy. At eleven he stopped for ten minutes, pouring himself a coffee from the flask Marie had made that morning. At one he sat in the Portacabin with the other men from the Transit.

   ‘So how’s the Pope today?’ The man who asked was a Protestant.

   ‘Still blessing the world.’ Reardon opened his sandwiches. ‘Where’s the umbrella? Thought you’d be carrying one.’

   The conversation was quiet but cutting, each directing his words not at the symbols of the other’s religion but at the bigotry of his own.

   The Protestant looked back at him. ‘Typical Taig.’ He sniffed and looked out the window. ‘No point carrying an umbrella unless it’s raining, is there?’

   The marching began just before nine, the surveillance helicopters in the sky above the Catholic areas of the city, the VCPs – vehicle checkpoints – suddenly and swiftly in place for fifteen minutes, then switched to another area of the Catholic heartland, and the army and RUC patrols sweeping the Catholic areas on the so-called census patrols, knocking on doors and checking on the whereabouts of males listed on the census reports, checking if known or suspected IRA activists or sympathizers were on the move. At one in the afternoon the first incident occurred – an apparently random attack on a security vehicle by a group of Catholic youths. Half an hour later a second incident took place, seemingly unrelated but provoking a Protestant reaction and sucking in police and army manpower; forty minutes later a third. By three in the afternoon the security problem was escalating, the incidents building suddenly and brutally into running battles, with police and army units intended to be held in reserve suddenly committed, and men not due to be on duty until the evening called in and placed on stand-by. At four the first petrol bomb was thrown, the crowd retreating quickly and orderly and the troops following, apparently beating them back but moving into the killing zone where the Provo snipers were waiting. At 4.20 the first soldier was shot by a gunman positioned at the Divis flats, ten minutes later a second, this time fatally. At 4.40 the Belfast Telegraph received the first bomb warning of the day. Half an hour later, with just enough time to clear the area, a five-pound bomb exploded in the city centre.

   *

   Tommy Reardon parked the digger, switched off the engine, padlocked the cab, returned the keys to the site office and walked to the Transit. It was six o’clock. The other men climbed in and the van pulled out of the gates.

   At least it wasn’t dark, at least they weren’t in the country. Particularly after the first threats, and especially in the drives back from some of the sites twenty or thirty miles outside Belfast, he had prayed as they approached vehicles parked by the roadside in case they contained a bomb, or scoured the road ahead for signs of land mines and the countryside on either side from which the bombers would activate them. Had felt the panic every time a vehicle pulled in front of them in case it stopped and the men in the balaclavas leapt out and held them up, asked their names and religions, picked out the Catholics or the Protestants and took them to the ditch at the roadside. UFF or IRA, it didn’t matter. All bastards.

   The Transit turned into Beechwood Street and stopped outside his house. Reardon climbed out, shut the door, banged on the side, and watched as it trundled down the road, the exhaust rattling and the smoke hanging in the air. The street was quiet, a cluster of children playing ball and two women disappearing into a house twenty yards away. He smiled at them, walked up the path, unlocked the Yale and went inside. The smell of cooking and the sound of laughter came from the kitchen, at the rear. He dropped his bag on the hall floor, closed and locked the door, hung up his coat, kissed Marie and the kids and went upstairs. By the time he had washed and changed the supper was on the table.

   The front door bell rang.

   ‘I’ll get it.’ The boy pushed back his chair and ran into the hall. One of his son’s friends, Reardon assumed. ‘You can play after supper.’ The boy stretched up and unlocked the door, his mother just behind him.

   Rorke was wearing a donkey jacket and what appeared to be a woollen cap. ‘Is Tommy in?’ Even in the shadows of the hallway he sensed the way she tightened and smelt the fear which gripped her. ‘He left his wallet in the motor, must have dropped out. I thought he might need it tonight.’ He reached in his pocket.

   The donkey jacket was the same as all the men wore. Marie relaxed, stood back. ‘Come in, we’re just eating.’

   The Sierra at the top of the street edged forward.

   Rorke stepped inside, pulled the balaclava over his face, and spun the woman round, his left hand clamped tight over her mouth to prevent her screaming and his right hand taking the Smith and Wesson from inside the jacket. The Sierra stopped outside the house, the two men stepped nonchalantly out and walked casually up the path and into the house, pulling the hoods over their heads and taking the AK47, with its folding stock, and the Czech CZ automatic pistol from their coats the moment they were inside.

   ‘Who is it?’ Reardon leaned across and saw the figures, realized. Tried to work out whether he could get through the back door before they shot him. Whether he could at least get his daughter out.

   This happens to other people, not us, the thought screamed through Marie’s head. She grabbed the boy and held him tight as Rorke pushed them into the sitting-room. Behind him one gunman bundled Reardon and his daughter into the room and the second closed and locked the. front door, then the kitchen door at the back.

   ‘Switch on the telly and close the curtains.’

   Marie tried to stop trembling, to do as Rorke instructed. Then she stood in the middle of the floor, between the gunmen and her husband, the children clutching her skirt and the prayer running through her mind. They hadn’t shot him yet. Please, sweet Mary, Mother of God, may they have made a mistake. Please may they not have come for her husband after all.

   ‘Time to pay, Tommy.’

   The children came out of the first shock and began to sob.

   ‘Not here. Not in front of them.’ Reardon moved slightly so that he was separated from his family, so that if they shot him they wouldn’t hit his wife and children.

   ‘You think we’re going to stiff you?’ There was amusement in Rorke’s voice. ‘You think I’m going to put the muzzle of this against your head or down your throat and blow your brains out?’ His background had drained any mercy from him and his years with McKendrick had given his violence an edge, the beginning of a mirror image of the older man. ‘No, Tommy boy. We just want to borrow you for a few hours, do a wee job for us.’

   Both Reardon and his wife understood.

   ‘Get on your working coat and boots. Don’t want you driving through Belfast with your best clothes on, do we?’

   Rorke followed Reardon upstairs. When they came down again Marie and the children were on the sofa, one of the gunmen in the armchair opposite them and the other by the door.

   ‘Behave yourself and he comes back.’ Rorke looked at the woman, then at Reardon. ‘You do as we want and we don’t touch her or the kids.’

   The children were too frightened to cry.

   ‘Nice and quiet, Tommy boy. Walk to the car and get in the back.’

   He looked again at the woman. ‘Don’t worry, missus. You’ll have him back by eleven.’ If the bastard police and army could find enough of him to even fill a paper bag. No point in not giving them hope, though. Tell them the truth and one of them might try something; pretend to give them a chance and they’d do exactly as you said, even though they both knew what was going to happen. He pulled off the balaclava and the two of them walked down the path. Behind them one of the gunmen closed and locked the door. The driver of the Sierra glanced up at them and a second man opened the rear door. Reardon and Rorke climbed in and the car pulled away.

   Seven o’clock, Rorke checked his watch. In five minutes the RUC would receive its third genuine bomb warning of the day, at eight its fourth. Everything on time and going to plan. The police and army already over-extended, the evening’s bombs creating fresh diversions, the timing and location of each incident apparently random but carefully plotted to draw the security forces away from the route to the prison. And the lads waiting on the inside of the Crum for Tommy Reardon to drive his digger filled with high explosive into the front gate and blow it to kingdom come. Everything on schedule. Everything as McKendrick had foreseen.

   ‘Now, Tommy boy. Where’s that digger of yours?’

   The gap in the curtains was less than two inches wide, and the curtains themselves had not moved. Perhaps it was because she was still in mourning that she kept them that way, she sometimes told herself. Perhaps because it prevented the sunlight from damaging the furniture. Perhaps because it enabled her to see what was happening without being seen herself. There were others in the street who kept a similar watch, she knew, but they reported to the Provisionals. Beechwood Street, after all, was in Ballymurphy, part of the Catholic heartland.

   Moira Sheehan was 66 years old and widowed for the last two. She was thin, with white hair, and walked with a slight stoop. Her fingers were bent and slightly arthritic. Moira Sheehan was also a Republican. In 1980 she had voted for the hunger striker Eamon McCann, officer commanding the Provisionals in Long Kesh, when – midway through his fast and in an attempt to gain publicity for it – he had stood for the British parliament. And six weeks later she had been one of the hundred thousand who had marched behind his coffin when his pitiful remains had been laid to rest in the Republican plot at Milltown cemetery. Even now she supported the Cause, gave money to it: even now she voted for Sinn Fein. But sometimes she wondered. About the men of violence and how they sometimes went about their business.

   That morning Marie Reardon had told her the news about the baby, made her promise to keep it a secret until Marie had told her husband.

   The Reardons had lived next door for the past nine years. During that time Moira Sheehan had grown close to them, had effectively become the grandmother to their children. Had shared both their dreams and their fears. Had sat with Marie one winter night when Tommy was working outside Belfast and the Transit had broken down, the night he had not returned home till midnight and they had feared the worst.

   Now she watched as the Sierra drove out of Beechwood Street and turned left at the end. It was too soon for Tommy to be going out, she thought, there had barely been time for him to have his tea. And there had been something wrong. With the way the first man had gone in to the house, the way the others followed as soon as he stepped inside, the way Tommy had left with one of them.

   Perhaps, in her heart of hearts, she already knew. Perhaps, in the deepest recesses of her soul, she knew what was going to happen to Tommy Reardon. She went to the kitchen, made herself a cup of tea, then resumed her position at the curtains and waited for Marie to come out with the children, waited to talk with them as she did every evening.

   The bomb warning was exactly on time, giving a recognized codeword and location, and allowing thirty minutes for the area to be cleared. The next genuine warning came fifty-five minutes later. Between the two there had been a constant stream of hoax calls via newspaper offices and radio and television stations, plus the normal emergency calls received every hour of every day.

   It was sheer, bloody unadulterated luck, Halloran would reflect later, that he had offered to work overtime that evening, that for the first time in his life he was in the right place at the right time. That, above all, it was he who happened to be standing next to the constable when the call came in and was almost discarded in the cold and calculated chaos between the reports of bomb warnings from the journalists and switchboards receiving them.

   ‘What is it?’

   Halloran had been in the RUC for eighteen years, twelve of them as a sergeant, and – according to those close to him – would have made inspector, probably higher, if he had not voiced his opposition to certain aspects of Northern Ireland policing in the eighties quite so forcefully.

   ‘Woman reports something funny with her next-door neighbours. No reply but she knows they’re at home.’

   ‘How?’

   ‘Telly’s on, she can hear it, and the curtains are drawn.’ A burglary or a domestic, his shrug and the tone of his voice suggested, something CID could deal with in the morning.

   ‘What else?’

   ‘The kids aren’t playing in the street as normal.’

   ‘Who’s at home?’ It was instinct.

   ‘The wife and kids. The husband left with someone else twenty minutes ago.’

   Something the other man had missed, Halloran began to think, something the other man’s lack of years had not picked up.

   ‘Give me the name and number. I’ll speak to her.’

   The Transit had dropped Tommy from work as usual, Moira Sheehan told him. Half an hour later he had left with the other man. Marie hadn’t brought the children out to play as she normally did. When she had knocked on the front door there was no reply and the back door was locked.

   ‘But you’re certain they’re in?’

   ‘Like I said, I can hear the television.’

   ‘And the curtains are drawn?’ The evening was still light – no need to draw the curtains.

   ‘Yes.’

   ‘What about at the back?’

   ‘No, but the kitchen’s empty.’

   Halloran knew when not to ask a question.

   ‘Funny though. The dinner’s still on the table.’

   ‘You said Tommy left with another man. Did he come home with Tommy?’

   ‘No, he and the others came just after.’

   The alarm bells began to ring.

   ‘How many others?’

   ‘Three of them altogether. Then there were the men in the car.’

   Three in, one out with Tommy. Two still inside with Tommy’s wife and children. ‘What’s Tommy do for a living?’

   There was a commotion around him, another series of bomb calls being reported.

   ‘He drives a digger.’

   ‘Who for?’

   ‘Ellis and Knight.’

   Oh, Christ. Halloran knew what was happening. Oh Jesus bloody Christ.

   The building site was deserted, the gate secured by a padlock. Rorke snapped through the chain with a set of bolt-cutters, pulled back the gate, and the Sierra drove through and parked behind the huts and Portacabins. Two minutes later a Transit, sprayed the same colour as those used by Ellis and Knight, drove in, a Cavalier close behind it.

   There were three men in the Sierra, Reardon counted automatically, plus two in the Transit and four in the Cavalier, all armed with pistols or submachine guns.

   ‘Keys?’

   Behind them a gunman closed the gates and hung the padlock and chain in place.

   ‘In the agent’s office.’

   Access was easy: a crowbar against the door, the lock holding but the wood around it splintering, then giving way. The office was neat and organized, a filing cabinet in one corner and a desk against the far wall, the site plans and charts stacked neatly on it. Beside the cabinet was a line of hooks with keys hanging from them.

   ‘Which one?’ Rorke was always behind him.

   If he did what they said, Reardon thought, then at least Marie and the kids might live. His stomach churned with fear and he fought to stop his hands shaking. He took the keys and stepped outside. The digger was parked forty yards away, in the open. Rorke followed him across the site. Instinctively Reardon bent down to examine the underside of the vehicle for bombs.

   ‘I don’t think we need bother about that tonight, Tommy.’

   He unlocked the cab, started the motor, and drove the digger to the side of the Transit.

   ‘How’s the fuel tank?’ Rorke’s attention to detail was as meticulous as McKendrick’s planning.

   ‘Half-full.’

   ‘Check it,’ Rorke ordered.

   The back doors of the Transit were open. Two of the gunmen placed a plank against the rim of the floor, rolled out a forty-gallon drum, two hundred pounds of Semtex packed inside, then manhandled it into the bucket at the front of the digger. It was almost dusk.

   ‘Time to go, Tommy boy.’ Rorke pulled a canvas sheet over the barrel. ‘The Crum and no stopping. Remember Marie and the kids.’ He saw the look on Reardon’s face. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to jump dear.’ No point telling him the truth, no point telling Reardon that the IRA man in the first of the two escort vehicles would detonate the explosives the moment the digger rammed the gate.

   The surveillance helicopter hovered in the sky and the army patrols swung into Beechwood Street and the terraces on either side, the Green Jackets piling out and knocking on the doors, beginning the census checks – the patrols leapfrogging house to house, the RUC policemen accompanying them.

   ‘Dermot Wilson is registered here.’ It was the second lieutenant’s first Northern Ireland tour. ‘Is he in? Where is he? What’s he doing tonight?’

   The woman slammed the door in his face.

   ‘Michael Sullivan.’ It was the officer with the second patrol. ‘Does he still live here? Is he in Belfast? When did you last see him?’

   It was no more nor less than the families in the street expected: the Brits putting on the pressure on Orange Day, the bastards letting them know who was boss. Piss off, Sullivan’s wife began to say. The patrol pushed past her and into the hallway, searching the rooms, downstairs, upstairs. Sullivan was different, Sullivan was on the security computer as a known Provo. His wife was shouting and his children screaming. The patrol hurried past them and out of the house.

   The men in the patrol knew each other, had trained with each other, become accustomed to patrolling the streets together. Except for the two men who had joined them half an hour before and who had sat silently with them as the armoured personnel carrier swung into Beechwood Street.

   The first patrol was already pushing its way in to the next doorway, the second lieutenant still questioning the family in the hallway and the rest of the patrol searching the rooms upstairs and downstairs, running down the stairs and pushing past, out into the street and to the next address on the list. The soldiers moving quickly and confusingly.

   Six soldiers into number 47, only four out. Two – the two who had joined them thirty minutes before – through the trapdoor on the upstairs landing and into the roof space.

   The patrols were still ten houses away from Tommy Reardon’s. Abruptly the soldiers climbed back into the vehicles and the convoy screamed away as quickly and apparently as predictably as it had arrived.

   The woman who left the slightly battered Opel by the shops three corners from Beechwood Street was in her late twenties, five feet six inches tall, with brown hair – Irish hair her mother called it – and thin attractive features. She spent the next fifteen minutes observing both the alleyway which ran behind Reardon’s house, and the street itself. By the time she returned to the car it was positioned at the top of Beechwood Street.

   Cathy Nolan had been born in Northern Ireland. Her family religion was Protestant, though she herself had slipped into something bordering atheism. For four years she had served in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, the last two of them in Germany, where she had volunteered for what was described – officially, at least – as an adventure training course, but which was a front set up by the talent-spotters and run by an SAS officer from the NATO Long Range School near Lake Constance. At the end of the course she had been taken aside and the suggestion made that she might like to consider Special Duties. Three months later she had been given a new name and sent on the ten-week SAS course at Pontrilas for women undercover agents. At the end of that period, and with yet another identity, she had begun work with the 14th Intelligence Corps in Northern Ireland, based in Lisburn. For the past month she had been seconded to E4A, the RUC undercover surveillance department. The coat she wore was from Next, green but slightly faded, all the pockets with zips which she herself had added so that nothing would fall from them, and the 9mm automatic pistol she wore in the waist holster beneath the jacket was a Browning Hi-Power.

   ‘All quiet?’ Brady sat in the driver’s seat. He was slightly older, fair hair and lean face.

   The microphone in the car was voice-activated, the aerial concealed, and the two of them wore earpieces. Brady also wore a Browning Hi-Power in a waist holster on his left side, a Heckler and Koch MP5K lay on the floor between the driver’s seat and the door, covered by a folded newspaper, and the two-man back-up car was three streets away.

   ‘So far.’

   Someone was being greedy – she had first felt the unease midway through the briefing, felt it again now. The SAS were dealing with the gunmen inside the house, plus the Provo team escorting Tommy Reardon and his digger. Assuming they found him in time. E4A were assigned to tailing any IRA men who might show during the operation. The two operations fine and logical, except they were being run together. And that was the problem. Either the SAS should be inside the house, or E4A should be waiting outside. Not both. Bloody typical, she thought. Different bosses playing out the same game. Herself and Brady in the middle.

   Noel Ellis had been notified thirty minutes before and had telephoned RUC headquarters to confirm. The Special Branch man showed his identification and came straight to the point.

   ‘An employee of yours, Tommy Reardon. We need to know where he’s working.’

   Ellis and a schoolfriend, Billy Knight, had formed the building firm twenty years before. Ellis was a Catholic and Knight a Protestant. When the other man had died two years ago Ellis had deemed it fit not to change the name of the firm.

   ‘Why?’ He poured himself a Black Bush and offered the policeman one. ‘He’s a good worker, took him on myself. Not the sort to get mixed up with the wrong people. Not in trouble, is he?’

   The SB man declined the drink. ‘What site’s he working on?’

   ‘Short Street, by the docks. I wouldn’t normally know, but I was there this afternoon.’

   ‘And he’d leave his digger there?’

   Ellis began to understand. ‘Yes.’

   ‘Can I use the phone?’

   The roof space was dark and dusty. Haslam and Phillips moved carefully, picking out the rafters in the beams of the streamlight torches and transferring their weight slowly and exactly, making no noise and counting the number of houses over which they passed. Each carried a Browning Hi-Power, with spare magazines in pouches on their belts. Each wore a remote earpiece, the microphones of their Mitre radios concealed and an induction loop passing through their clothing to the hand pressure switch by their wrists. Any messages they sent would be via the car parked three streets away, the car on remote and the message relayed to control, the net they were using dedicated to the operation and verbal signals kept to a minimum in case the IRA intercepted them or the people in the houses heard them. After eighteen minutes they came to the trapdoor above the upstairs landing of Tommy Reardon’s house. Haslam clicked the switch three times – the signal to the man on listening watch that they were in position – and waited.

   In ten minutes he would die, Reardon knew. His palms were wet with sweat, and the fear drummed through his head and churned in his stomach. He followed the Sierra out of the docks area, under the motorway flyover and up Brougham Street. The route was as carefully planned as the pick-up: the building site was less than a mile and a quarter from the Crum, and where possible the route wound its way through back streets – all Catholic – with the houses on either side protecting the convoy from the eye in the sky. Only at three points would the digger be exposed, and the last of those was on the hundred-yard run-up to the prison itself.

   The convoy filtered left along North Queen Street, the sound of the digger engine drowning the whine of the surveillance helicopter hovering high in the sky half a mile away above the Falls, then turned third right into Spamount Street. The terraced houses on each side were red brick and spotlessly clean, yet in the streets to the right many of the houses were boarded up and painted with INLA slogans.

   McKendrick’s Granada was waiting on the corner of Lepper Street. As the convoy approached he slid into the passenger seat. Rorke left the Sierra, joined him, and the convoy slipped past, along Lepper Street, the Republican slogans daubed on the walls and the sides of the tower blocks to Reardon’s left. Five minutes to go, he knew, perhaps six or seven if he managed to slow down. He turned right into Churchill Street and tried to control the trembling.

   ‘Any problems?’ McKendrick sat back as Rorke spun the Granada round and headed for Beechwood Street. One last check before they cleared the area, he decided.

   ‘Should there be?’

   The Gazelle was half a mile from the convoy, the surveillance at an oblique angle to avoid detection. ‘Red Nine, Yellow.’ Communication from the helicopter was kept to a minimum, call signs omitted and codenames for locations pre-set.

   The message was relayed to the two Macrolan Land-Rovers: Red Nine the code for the location where the digger had been spotted – and from this the suggestion that the Crum was the probable target – and Yellow the code for the fact that vehicles were following the digger. And that was the problem, the SAS commander in charge of the ambush knew. Because the explosives which Tommy Reardon was carrying were probably on a remote firing system – possibly others, but certainly a remote device as insurance in case the others failed or Reardon decided to make a run for it. So to save Reardon they would have to take out the command vehicle. But there was no guarantee that the vehicles in front of or behind Tommy Reardon’s digger were part of the IRA operation.

   McKendrick and Rorke saw it even before they passed the car. Two people sitting doing nothing at this time of night. Either the front car for an undercover operation, in which case it wasn’t connected with Tommy Reardon and there would be a back-up three hundred yards away, or itself the back-up car, in which case the operation might concern Reardon.

   Rorke drove past, ignoring the next turning left which led to Beechwood Street. Only when he was a hundred yards on did he turn left, then left again, and accelerate up the road which crossed Beechwood Street twenty yards from the top and which ran parallel to the one on which the back-up vehicle was parked. Fifteen yards from the junction with Beechwood Street he stopped, then he and McKendrick left the vehicle and strolled casually round the corner.

   The car was parked twenty yards away, the man and woman in the front seat and facing away from them. So what the hell was going on? McKendrick tried to work it out. Was the stake-out on Reardon’s house, or was it just coincidence that the undercover car happened to be parked seventy yards from where Reardon’s wife and children were being held? If the subject was Reardon, then what did the bastards know about the operation? But the fact that there was a car meant that even if the security forces suspected that something was up with Reardon, they didn’t know what. Because if they did know they wouldn’t have revealed that knowledge by putting an undercover car so close to the house.

   He nodded at Rorke and thumbed the safety off the Walther.

   They’d been in position too long, both Brady and Nolan knew, shouldn’t be sitting in the vehicle like this. Should have left it and be standing on the street, lost in a doorway. Shouldn’t be here in the first place. Except orders were orders.

   ‘Oh shit.’ He slipped the car into gear, released the handbrake, and held the car on the foot brake. ‘McKendrick’s behind us.’ He warned Nolan, the message passed to control via the vehicle’s voice-activated microphone. ‘Rorke’s with him.’

   Back-up in now, Nolan knew control was ordering. Except that was what control was not doing. Because if control ordered the back-up car in then it would confirm that they were a forward stake-out, but if control didn’t send the back-up in then she and Brady were in trouble. Therefore she and Brady had to react to protect themselves, but the moment they reacted they would blow the operation to rescue Tommy Reardon’s wife and family.

   Haslam heard the clicks on his earpiece. He eased up one edge of the trapdoor, Phillips covering him. Haslam opened the trap a fraction more. The only light came from below and the only sound was that of a television. He dropped through the hole and on to the landing, Phillips still covering him, took the Browning from the holster and covered the stairs as Phillips dropped from the roof space.

   Two of the doors off the landing were closed and the third ajar. Haslam slid through the open door, clearing it quickly, and swept the room with the torch, holding it in his left hand and away from his body, the Browning in his right. It was a child’s bedroom, bunk beds against one wall, a handful of toys on the floor, and empty. They cleared the other rooms, left the landing, moved down the stairs, and checked that the kitchen at the rear was empty. The door of the lounge was closed, from inside they heard the canned laughter from the television.

   Rorke reached the front of the car as McKendrick drew level with the driver’s door. The window was open. In one movement he stopped, bent and levelled the Walther at the man in the driver’s seat.

   ‘Wrong time, wrong place.’

   Brady looked round and appeared to freeze, face suddenly white.

   Rorke stepped in front of the car, the CZ pointed at the windscreen.

   She and Brady had talked it through, so that each knew what the other would do and say, so that their movements would co-ordinate, so that one would create a diversion while the other went for his gun, so that the driver could reach the back-up weapon. But Brady’s hands were on the steering wheel so that he couldn’t go for his gun, and if she went for the Browning in her own waist holster they would see. Which left the MP5K on the floor by the driver’s seat. But to get to it she would have to move across Brady’s body. And to do that she would need a cover.

   ‘Fuck you. You’re setting me up, you bastard.’ She directed her fear and anger at the driver. ‘Not me.’ She turned to McKendrick. ‘I’m not with him. I’m nothing to do with this.’

   She turned and tried to leave the car. Out of the passenger door or over the driver. Appeared to panic.

   ‘So what’re you doing if you’re not with him?’ McKendrick enjoyed the moment.

   ‘What the fuck do you think I’m doing with him?’ He picked me up in Amelia Street ten minutes ago: the implication and language were clear. Not if you’re in the front seat with him: she saw the expression in McKendrick’s eyes. Not if you’ve still got your pants on and your legs together.

   ‘Not here.’ McKendrick enjoyed the agony of the target before the kill. I know you. He tried to remember the driver’s face.

   ‘Ten quid. You must be joking.’

   Finish it now and get out, part of McKendrick’s brain told him. Enjoy it ten more seconds. ‘Better give a condemned man his last wish, then.’

   She couldn’t, Nolan suddenly knew. She needed the gun but couldn’t do what she had to do to get to it.

   ‘Fuck off.’

   McKendrick swung the Walther at Nolan. ‘Do it.’

   She wouldn’t be able to. She leaned forward and slightly down, and undid Brady’s trousers. The back-up had better come in carefully: too slow and they’d be too late, too fast and the bastards would see. And even if she could reach the MP5K it would only be with her left hand and the gun was pointing forward, for the driver to use, so she wouldn’t be able to use it.

   McKendrick chuckled, saw the way she glanced up at him before she reached inside the driver’s trousers. The penis was limp. Slow everything down, don’t do it yet, give the boys in the house a chance. She touched it. She couldn’t, she knew again. No point in even trying, she knew.

   ‘Do it,’ McKendrick repeated.

   She couldn’t reach the MP5K, but she could reach Brady’s Browning. She lowered her head on Brady’s lap. A coffee after, she told herself. Large and Irish. Plenty of Black Bush. She let go with her right hand and held it only with her left. Slow down, she told herself, give the back-up and the SAS a chance. ‘Do it,’ McKendrick ordered her again. Nolan’s mouth circled the head and her fingers felt for the Browning in the holster on the left side of his body.

   He had already delayed too long, McKendrick told himself. He should have come in, done the job, got out fast. Five more seconds, he told himself.

   What the hell was wrong? Nolan thought. Where the hell was the back-up? Her fingers were round the Browning and her thumb slipped the safety off. He’s playing with you, she knew, had already given you thirty seconds more of life than he should have done. So why was she still delaying? Why didn’t she do it?

   Door hinges on left, Haslam rehearsed the movement in his mind: he goes left, Phillips right. It was thirty seconds to nine. He held the Browning Hi-Power in his right hand, the door handle in his left.

   The television was in the right corner under the window. Marie Reardon pulled the children closer to her on the sofa, an arm over their shoulders and a hand half-covering their faces. One of the gunmen was in the armchair to her left, the pistol always pointing at her, and the other was on her right, what she thought was a Kalashnikov on his lap and also pointing at her. The gunman with the pistol stood up and switched television channels for the BBC news. At nine o’clock it will be all over, she suddenly realized, at nine o’clock Tommy will be dead. The programme ended and the door opened.

   Gunman to left by television, pistol in hand, Haslam saw. He stepped left and cleared the space for Phillips to enter, crouched instinctively, the Browning already levelled at the gunman’s chest. Squeezed the trigger. Phillips stepped behind him, swept right. Gunman in armchair, Kalashnikov across lap. The Browning was already on target. He double-tapped the trigger.

   Marie jerked the children tighter to her and tried to turn, tried to protect them, put herself between them and the gunmen. Was too shocked to even begin to understand.

   Haslam was still shooting, the man with the pistol was on the floor, the pistol still in his hand. Haslam squeezed the trigger twice more, saw the hand fall open. He dropped on to one knee, pulled out the mag, even though it still contained four rounds, took the spare from the magazine pouch on his belt and slid it in, the Browning on the gunman again. He edged forward, kicked the gun away, made sure the man was dead. To his right Phillips cleared the Kalashnikov.

   ‘Friendly forces no casualties. Send QRF.’

   Marie was in shock, shuddering with fright. She felt the hand on her shoulder and knew they were going to kill her, tried not to look round, looked round anyway. ‘How many men are there, Marie?’ The voice was English, a blur of sounds just as the events of the past thirty seconds had been a blur of colours and images. Leave the children, she tried to plead, for God’s sake spare the children. Her brain was confused and her head was spinning. Phillips slapped her face. ‘How many gunmen were there, Marie?’

   For one second, perhaps less, the blow cleared her mind. ‘Two.’ The mist closed in again.

   ‘Friendly forces no casualties.’ Haslam repeated the message. ‘Send QRF.’

   The penis was harder, her mouth still around it. For Christ’s sake do it, Nolan told herself. The shots from the house echoed up the street. She sensed rather than saw the moment, McKendrick’s eyes flicking off her and down the road, Rorke glancing momentarily behind him.

   She straightened, gun in hand, aimed at McKendrick. Shot twice then spun left, shot Rorke through the windscreen, missed, perhaps one shot on target, she wasn’t sure. Brady slid his right foot off the brake and on to the accelerator, left off the clutch. Rorke moved, too slow and the wrong way. Finger pressing the trigger but the movement slightly altering his aim. The Opel slammed forward, into him, knocking him back and down. McKendrick was tumbling backwards, Walther discharging. Brady’s foot was hard on the floor, Rorke on the ground in front. McKendrick was framed against the window behind the driver. Nolan turned, aimed behind Brady, fired at McKendrick through the window, the glass shattered. The Opel hurtled forward, over Rorke, and down Beechwood Street, the car bumping, not running smoothly. Nolan still facing back and checking, seeing McKendrick fall and looking for Rorke, Brady still accelerating and the engine screaming. They were twenty yards away, thirty. Something wrong with the car, she thought, something slowing it down. Rorke still underneath, she realized, Brady still accelerating to clear the area. The car freed itself of Rorke’s body, the rear right wheel spinning on bone and flesh, then the torso flew out like a red rag.

   The Land-Rovers of the Quick Reaction Force screeched to a stop outside Reardon’s house and the soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters ran inside. Haslam and Phillips put on the caps the first officer gave them, left the house, climbed into the first vehicle, and the driver accelerated away.

   The two Macrolan Land-Rovers screeched to a halt and slid across the road, slightly apart, the first blocking the left lane and the second the right, so that vehicles passing between them would have to drive through a chicane. Routine VCP – vehicle checkpoint – the watchers knew; in fifteen minutes the soldiers jumping out of the vehicles would jump back in and the Land-Rovers would scream away as quickly and suddenly as they had come. The soldiers were fanning out, the man with the GPMG – general purpose machine gun – taking a position behind a low wall thirty yards from the road block.

   He had two hundred yards left to live, Tommy Reardon knew. Slow down and delay it. Accelerate and get it over with. Dear Mary, Mother of God, may it be quick and painless and may Marie and the kids be all right. He was wet with fear and shaking with nerves, his throat dry and tight and his bowels churning. They were almost at the end of the Antrim Road. The convoy turned right into Annesley Street and snaked through the alleyway behind the houses. Thirty yards up the back street turned a right angle to the left. To his right Reardon saw the glass and metal side of the Mater Infirmorum Hospital, the junction with the Crumlin Road twenty yards in front of him, and the prison itself a hundred yards away on the other side of the hospital. The command Sierra accelerated away from him, up the Crumlin Road, and the Cavalier fell back slightly. He came to the junction and turned right.

   VCP, the Sierra driver suddenly saw, just where they didn’t want it. Everyone in the car was armed, the front passenger carrying a Kalashnikov across his lap under a coat, and the rear with the remote firing device beside him. He was beginning to slow, still trying to decide what to do. Everything normal, he told himself, everything routine. Land-Rovers in standard position for a vehicle check, soldiers in position. Something wrong, it was a flicker in his mind, something about the soldiers. Not moving like ordinary squaddies, not the same age as ordinary squaddies, all slightly older, late twenties or early thirties. He swung the car left and swore a warning, the front passenger whipping the coat off the AK.

   The night exploded. Gunfire in front of him, concentrated on the Sierra which had just passed him. Tommy Reardon jerked, foot stabbing the accelerator momentarily and the digger speeding up, then slowing slightly. The gunfire was deafening, unending. Sheets of sound pouring from the machine gun on the right of the road. The Criminal Court was on his left and the prison was on his right. He turned and glanced back. The Cavalier was still moving, the unseen men on either side of the road firing into it. He was confused, still terrified. Did not know what to do. Realized he was still moving and jammed his foot on the brake. The Cavalier bumped into the rear of the digger. A car he hadn’t seen before pulled in front of him, the men getting out even as it slowed, as he himself stopped. His foot was still locked on the brake, his body frozen with fear and the gunfire still crashing into the Sierra in front of him. A second car slammed to a halt, more men racing out, all armed, faces blackened. One of them pulled the cab door open and jerked him out, others surrounding and protecting them. A third car screamed to a stop, and the bomb disposal expert ran for the barrel of explosive, more men covering him.

   ‘It’s all right, Tommy.’ He heard the voice as he was bundled out of the digger and towards the first car. ‘Marie and the kids are fine.’ He was pushed into the back seat, men clambering in around him and on top of him. ‘What did you say?’ He was still confused, still frightened. ‘Marie and the kids are okay. It’s over.’ The car accelerated away, men outside slamming the doors shut and the heavy duty rounds of the GPMG still battering the car with the remote firing device.

   * * *

   The water was piping hot. Doherty lathered the foam round his chin and jowls, and wet the razor under the tap. It was beginning to show, he told himself: the sinking of the eyes and the hollowing of the cheeks. He remembered the afternoon after the doctor had warned him of the possibility, the way it had passed, the last sun setting on the water at Kilmore, and the mountains fading into purple. Eighteen months, then he would face his Maker. He wiped the steam from the mirror and drew a swathe across the foam on the left side of his face.

   So what will you say to him? He dipped the razor under the hot water tap and drew it round his chin, then down his throat. What will he say to you? Will the Holy Mary still smile her smile at you? And what will those you’ve left behind say? What sort of footnote will you have in the history of the struggle? It would be a small one, he was aware; perhaps even anonymous. Even in death it would not be possible to afford him the recognition he had so diligently avoided in life. For the past eight years Eamon Doherty, professor and family man, pillar of the community and the church, had been Chief of Staff of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA. For almost ten years before that he had served as a planner and tactician, and for the years before that in whatever role the movement required.

   Bloody fiasco in Belfast, the anger broke his thoughts. Two dead at the house in Beechwood Street. McKendrick and Rorke butchered in the street. Eight shot to pieces on the Crumlin Road and seventy still trussed up inside the prison there. And all on Orange Day. The Prods chuckling all the way to the bank and the Brits laughing all the way back to London.

   He wiped his face and dressed.

   So who would begin the moves this morning? he wondered. Who would press for a major investigation into the identity of the member who had leaked the operation to spring the men from the Crum? Who would pick up on the McKendrick farce and turn it to his advantage?

   Conlan or Quin, he knew; in the end it would come down to one of these. Both were respected in the Movement, both were playing for their places closer to the top of the pecking order. Both politicos, sharp tongues and sharper brains. Conlan tall, slender build. Quin bigger, using his bulk to disguise the speed at which his mind moved.

   In a way the Movement was at yet another crossroads. There had always been discussion—often dissent – between the Republicans and the Socialists, even after the Movement had appeared to wither in the fifties and sixties. And in the seventies the Official IRA, the Stickies, had lost ground to the new heads and fiery demands of the Provisionals. Yet within the Provos there had also been disagreement – about the role of violence and the desirability of combining the gun with the vote. Now the new crossroads, Conlan and Quin already laying out their qualifications for the leadership, for the job of Chief of Staff. He finished dressing and left the house.

   The Army Council met at eleven, seven men made up from representatives of the Southern Command, the Northern Command – the so-called war zone – and GHQ. The room in which the meeting took place had been electronically swept beforehand. For two hours they discussed the implications of the changes in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and how they would affect the financing of the Movement and the flow of arms, ammunition and explosives to it.

   Conlan and Quin know, Doherty thought once; both have looked in my eyes and seen the shadow of the Maker lurking there.

   For the next hour they discussed the quartermaster’s reports on the arms and explosives situation, the fact that although Libya had now said it would stop supplying the IRA, the statement made little difference given the volume already shipped to Ireland and stored there.

   So how would he like to be remembered? The Bringer of Peace – if there could ever be such a person in that small corner of the world they called Ireland – or the Harbinger of War? What single action would mark the end of his stewardship of the Movement? And who would give it to him, who would give him what he now craved for more than peace or war?

   They moved to the next item: the aborted attempt to free the men from Crumlin Road jail, the deaths which had accompanied it, and the political capital made by both the Protestants and the English. Who’s going to move first, Doherty wondered, Conlan or Quin? The senior officer from the Northern Command briefed them on the background to the operation, the planning which had prefaced it, then the events of the day and evening.

   ‘So what went wrong?’ It was Quin.

   The officer commanding the North Belfast Brigade shrugged.

   ‘There was a leak?’

   The man shrugged again. ‘Possibly.’

   ‘And what action has been taken to trace it?’

   ‘A board of enquiry has been set up. The security section has already begun its investigations.’

   The council was about to be split, they all understood, to be torn apart by the implications of the Orange Day fiasco.

   ‘Who knew about the operation? Who knew enough to direct the security forces to Beechwood Street and to the Crum? Who knew about Tommy Reardon?’

   The only people who knew the overall military details were the planners on the Northern Command. Therefore the leak must have come from one of them or their staff. With the implications for the Movement which followed from this.

   ‘Gentlemen.’ Conlan’s voice was quiet, calming. Laying the groundwork for his move. That was the difference between the two men, Doherty understood. Quin would make his move, upfront and immediate. Conlan would lay the ground then withdraw, come back for the kill later. A come-on, just as the bombers sometimes left a small device by the roadside or in a car, but the main device in a second car or where they knew the security forces would wait while the Bomb Disposal dealt with the first. ‘There may or may not be a leak. If there is we must find it. If there isn’t, we mustn’t let the British con us into thinking there was and wrecking the Movement with a witch-hunt.’

   The trap now, the execution later, Doherty knew for certain.

   ‘I would only like to say one other thing. We all approved the operation.’ Therefore we must all share the guilt – it was unspoken, but clearly meant and equally clearly understood. ‘And that decision was a correct one. The political and military value of the operation had it come off would have been incalculable.’ He turned to the officer commanding the North Belfast Brigade. ‘Now perhaps you could tell us of any progress on the part of the security section.’

   ‘So where was the leak in the organization?’ Quin returned to his original theme. ‘How does it affect future operations? What about operations on the mainland?’

   What are you playing at? Doherty glanced at Conlan. Where are you taking us? He saw the way the other man was looking at him. You know, he thought again. You know what the doctor has told me to expect, you know the question growing in my mind.

   ‘So what do we do?’ The discussion continued for another forty minutes before Doherty gave Conlan and Quin their chance. Quin would move first, he supposed; Conlan would allow that, then checkmate him.

   ‘A spectacular.’ Instead it was Conlan, speaking first and more forcefully, though his voice was still quiet. ‘One the bastards will remember for ever.’ Conlan rarely swore, they all knew.

   ‘Why?’

   ‘For the morale of the Movement after Orange Day.’

   A come-on, Doherty remembered, waiting for the moment.

   ‘How?’ Quin walked into the trap. ‘We’ve already agreed that until we know otherwise we must assume that the units in the North and the ASUs on the mainland and in Europe might be compromised.’

   Conlan paused. ‘There’s a sleeper.’

   They would all remember the moment and the silence which hung round it.

   ‘Where?’

   ‘On the other side of the water.’

   ‘Who?’

   Conlan shook his head.

   ‘Details?’

   He shook his head again. Some disciplines in life were easy to maintain, others more difficult. Yet none compared with the discipline which he imposed upon himself when he thought about the individual they were now discussing.

   ‘Who recruited him?’ It was Quin.

   ‘I did.’

   ‘How long’s he been in place?’

   ‘Five, six years.’ The answer was necessarily vague. ‘Perhaps more, perhaps less.’

   ‘But he’s done nothing in that time?’ Quin looked for the way out.

   ‘A few jobs for the French and Germans, a couple for the Libyans and Palestinians. Occasionally for us as well, though it was always camouflaged, made to look as if it was somebody else’s job.’

   Doherty sensed the excitement round the table.

   ‘So why haven’t you told us about Sleeper?’

   It was ironic, Doherty thought later, that it was Quin who gave the man his codename. Who stopped referring to him as simply a sleeper. Who provided the name which would immortalize him.

   Conlan shrugged, did not reply.

   ‘So what do we do?’ Doherty moved them round the impasse, asked the question again.

   ‘A spectacular.’ Conlan repeated his previous answer. ‘Something no one will ever forget.’

   He’s giving me my epitaph, Doherty thought, and in doing so he’s staking his claim for my place when I go. But he’s doing more than that. He’s planning ahead, setting up an agenda for five, ten years’ time. He’s giving us what we have always lacked in the past. He’s giving us the power. Not just the gun or the bomb, something much more.

   Perhaps it was then that he began to see. The last option, he began to think, the one they had occasionally considered but always rejected.

   ‘Where?’

   ‘The mainland.’

   ‘Where exactly on the mainland?’

   ‘London.’

   Doherty tasted the excitement, smelt it, savoured it, eating into the fibres of his body and the marrow of his bones. There had always been four options for campaigns on the mainland: the first three – the soft option, the military option and the political option – they had planned for, sent the teams to the mainland for. Had hit the soft targets; then the military, a barracks or a recruiting office; had gone against the politicians, even mortared Downing Street. But the fourth option was different. The fourth option was untouchable. And now Conlan was about to propose it.

   ‘Who?’

   Even now Conlan could remember the street where he had been born and in which he had been brought up. Could remember the excitement which rippled through it when the pedlar came selling, the bright colours of the ribbons and the glint in the boxes on the wooden tray. Could remember what they called the pedlar, even though it was a woman.

   ‘Codename PinMan.’

   ‘And who is PinMan?’

   Doherty sensed the moment the others realized.

   ‘The British royal family.’

   The evening was warm, the first dusk lost in the lights of London, the dome of St Paul’s behind and the Thames in front.

   Major R.E.F. Fairfax – Marlborough, Sandhurst, the First Battalion the Grenadier Guards – stood straight-backed at the window in the officers’ quarters of the Waterloo Barracks of the Tower of London and looked across the wasteland which was the City of London at this time of night. He was dressed in full uniform, his bearskin – white plume on the left-hand side – and sword on the stand in the small hallway.

   Roderick Edward Fenwick Fairfax was 32 years old, six feet two inches tall, with a broken nose that was still slightly bent. His mother hunted with the Beaufort and his father had preceded him at Marlborough.

   His guests had arrived an hour before. At twenty minutes to ten he telephoned the Spur Guard Room and asked the corporal to collect the party.

   The quarters, up four flights of iron stairs, were functional rather than comfortable: a lounge, kitchen and bathroom, plus a small hallway off the main corridor. The six visitors gathered round the table in the lounge were formally dressed, the men in evening suits and the ladies in long dresses, and the champagne and food had come from Fortnum and Mason. Two of his guests that evening – the Japanese banker and the American corporate lawyer – were unknown to Roddy Fairfax. Sometimes a friend would ask him to arrange such an evening, the other guests usually from overseas and always business contacts. Occasionally, if the contacts were sufficiently important and it was the First Battalion which was mounting the Guard, Fairfax himself would take charge, even though it was normally the responsibility of a more junior rank.

   The doorbell on the ground floor at the west end of the barracks rang. The guests left the officers’ quarters, made their way down the stairs, then followed the orderly – dressed in civilian clothes – across Broad Walk and joined the tiny knot of people standing in front of Traitor’s Gate.

   It was ten minutes to ten. The Tower was still, the silence broken by the crash of the escort taking its position beneath the Bloody Tower. In the shadows along Water Lane, the cobbled street running inside the outer wall, they saw the first pinprick of light as the Chief Warder left the Byward Tower, the light growing brighter as he walked at the ‘sedate pace’ required by history. In his left hand he carried a lantern, the candle burning brightly, and in his right a ring of keys. At the Bloody Tower he turned left, handed the lantern to the man at the right rear of the escort, and fell in between the two leading soldiers. Then the warder and the escort marched back through the gate, wheeled right and disappeared in the dusk.

   On the level stonework midway down the two sets of steps forming Broad Stairs the Guard took their position, the blood red of their tunics bright even against the dark. It was five minutes to ten, almost four and a half minutes. Fairfax checked his watch and waited. It was the done thing to cut it fine – no earlier than five minutes to ten, no later than two and a half – but God help any officer of the Guard who miscalculated. He stepped from the shadows and fell in in front of them, standing at ease, then standing easy, hands on sword, the tip resting on the ground in front of him. In the stillness he heard the commands as the Chief Warder locked the Middle and Byward Tower Gates and sealed the Tower for the night, then the crash of boots on cobbles as the warder and escort returned, and the challenge from the sentry at number three post.

   ‘Halt. Who comes there?’

   ‘The keys.’

   ‘Whose keys?’

   ‘Queen Elizabeth’s keys.’

   ‘Pass, Queen Elizabeth’s keys, and all’s well.’

   On Broad Stairs Fairfax brought the Guard to attention.

   The escort and the warder swung under the Bloody Tower and marched up the gradual incline; fifteen yards from the bottom of the steps the escort to the keys stamped to a halt. The timing was perfect, the sound of the boots on the cobbles lingering as the clock on Waterloo Barracks began to strike the four quarters.

   The last quarter ended. It was ten seconds before the hour. The Chief Warder stepped forward and raised his bonnet. ‘God preserve Queen Elizabeth.’ His voice echoed back through history.

   ‘Amen.’ The voices of Fairfax and the Guard joined his.

   It was ten o’clock precisely. At the moment the barracks clock began to sound the hour the first note of the Last Post lifted like a ghost. The last chime echoed through the stillness and the last bugle note lingered in the dark.

   By the time Fairfax dismissed the Guard and returned to his quarters the champagne had been poured.

   ‘Incredible ceremony. The timing was so precise, as if it was to a stop watch.’ It was the Japanese banker.

   ‘We’ve had a few centuries to practise.’ The line always went down well.

   ‘When you were giving orders you used the word “hype”, not “arms”.’ It was the American. ‘ “Slope hype, present hype.” ’

   ‘From the French,’ Fairfax’s nod indicated his appreciation that the lawyer had noticed. ‘The Grenadiers took it after they’d destroyed the French Imperial Guard at Waterloo.’

   The conversation drifted over the history of the ceremony and on to the world economic situation and the possibility that certain countries might be climbing out of recession.

   ‘Trouble is, of course, that when the upturn comes we won’t be in a position to take advantage of it.’ The guest had been with Fairfax at Marlborough and was now a senior analyst in a leading merchant bank.

   ‘For example?’ They had drifted slightly from the main conversation and were standing together looking out the window.

   ‘Company called New World Electronics. Best research department in the country, but their order books are low because everyone’s scared to invest at the moment.’ And therefore the shares are at rock bottom, if anyone was reckless enough to buy.

   So ... Fairfax did not need to ask.

   ‘By tomorrow evening Britain will no longer have a company which is a world leader in its field.’ The accountant raised his glass. ‘Thanks for tonight. I think our Japanese friend really enjoyed himself.’

   At ten minutes to midnight Fairfax escorted his guests to the West Gate, shook hands with each of them, and watched as the gate was unlocked and they made their way to the limousines waiting on Tower Hill. At eight the following morning he telephoned his stockbroker, checked the price of shares in New World Electronics, and instructed him to buy five thousand.

   At 11.30, when the Guard was dismounted, he was driven to Wellington Barracks near St James’s Park, then returned to his flat in Onslow Square, two hundred yards from both South Kensington underground station and Christie’s auction rooms, where he had bought most of his furniture.

   There were six items of mail. Four were personal letters, the fifth contained statements for his various accounts at Coutts Bank in Kensington High Street, and the sixth was from the Swiss Investment Bank on Stockerstrasse, in Zurich’s commercial quarter.

   He skimmed the correspondence, showered and changed into civilian clothes, collected the Porsche – 944 Series 2 Cabriolet, Guards red – from the residents’ parking area and drove to the San Lorenzo. The luncheon party was at a table towards the rear of the restaurant: one other man and two women. The head waiter was hovering, the manager was looking pleased but anxious, and the personal bodyguard was positioned at a table nearby.

   Fairfax bowed slightly.

   He had known her for five years, yet even now he would address her by her first name only if she so indicated, and then only in private.

   ‘Hello, Roddy.’ The Princess of Wales looked up at him. ‘Family jewels still there?’ There was a laugh on the face and a tease in the eyes.

   ‘Last time I looked, Ma’am.’

   The City of London was still quiet. It was not quite seven in the morning, the summer heat already settling between the concrete and glass fascias of the office blocks and the sky a brilliant blue. An inbound Boeing 747 passed overhead, the sun glinting on it, a white police Granada cruised slowly north along Old Broad Street and a dustcart trundled south.

   Gerard Gray turned into the head offices of Barclays International, showed his ID to the security guards in the foyer and took the fast lift to his office. By 7.15 he had read the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, circling in red items he would follow up on later, by 7.40 he had speed-read the news and financial sections of the other quality dailies, including the New York Times, the European edition of the Herald Tribune and the Irish Times, as well as the city pages of the tabloids. By eight, when the next members of the department arrived, he had spoken to Tokyo and the Middle East.

   Gray was in his early thirties, tall and well-dressed, with a first-class honours degree in economics from the LSE. Eighteen months previously he had been appointed Departmental Director, a promotion marking him for the fast stream. He lived in an apartment in one of the new blocks overlooking the Thames in the Wapping area of the old London Docklands, walking to and from the office each morning and evening. Despite his apparent acceptance of the life-style of a City executive he drank little; each morning before work he ran the Docklands section of the London marathon, and he played squash regularly. There was little trace of his Irish origins about him, the slightest hint of an accent creeping into his voice only when he chose, and he explained the scar which ran down his left shoulder by saying that he had been involved in a motor accident.

   The morning was busy: at nine he held his first meeting with the management consultancy team brought in from Price Waterhouse to advise on information access to clients associated with the oil-producing areas, at one he met them for lunch in the executive dining suite. The only new member of the team, to whom he had been introduced that morning, was a systems analyst, Philipa Walker. He guessed she was in her late twenties or early thirties. She was tall, dark-haired, slim and attractive, and dressed to match her position: lightweight dark blue pinstriped jacket with padded shoulders and matching skirt. When she talked it was in the fluent and efficient jargon he associated with the Price Waterhouse team; when she had nothing to contribute she listened carefully.

   At four, when Gray checked the pound and the FT index, the only movement – and then only a minor flutter – seemed to have been in the electronics and research sector where a company named New World Electronics had been taken over at a rock-bottom price by one of the Japanese giants which dominated the field. In the three hours since the announcement the value of its shares had quadrupled. Not that it would affect the world, Gray thought, most people probably wouldn’t notice. Somebody might have made a killing, though.

   He left the City, walked quickly to his flat, changed, collected the BMW from the parking bay below the block and cleared London before the main rush hour reduced traffic on the A12 to a standstill. By 5.45 he had passed Brentwood, just before 6.15 he pulled into the yard of the farm lost in the flatlands of the Essex countryside midway between Chelmsford and Colchester.

   The farmer was standing at the kitchen door; the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, he still had his boots on and his cloth cap was pushed to the back of his head. He shook Gray’s hand and led him inside.

   ‘Too nice an evening for London. Thought I’d get some practice in.’ Gray accepted the mug of tea which the man’s wife poured. ‘Sorry not to let you know.’

   ‘No problem. Danny’ll pull for you.’

   Fifteen minutes later Gray and the farmer’s son walked through the farmyard to the clay pigeon shoot in the field behind the house.

   ‘How fast?’

   ‘Fast as you can.’

   He waited. ‘Pull.’

   The clays spun into the air.

   Not bad, he thought as they walked back to the house. At least he wasn’t rusty. The drive back to London was relaxed. It would have been a good evening for a river trip down the Thames, he suddenly thought, a good evening to have invited Philipa Walker to dinner.

   The following morning he was at his desk at seven; at ten he met the Price Waterhouse team. The day before Walker had been dressed like a city woman, almost severe, with her hair drawn back. Today, he noted, she wore a dress – casual though expensive – and her hair was looser, hanging round her shoulders. The agenda was tightly scheduled – Price Waterhouse, after all, was costing him a great deal of money—each of the management team leaving when his area of expertise had been covered. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps the way he structured the meeting, that the last item concerned computers and the last member of the team consulted was the woman called Walker. The discussion ended, he thanked her and gathered his papers together.

   ‘I was wondering if you’d like a drink after work.’ The invitation was either formal or informal, whichever way she chose to take it.

   ‘Perhaps. Could be we’ll still be working.’

   Win some, lose some, Gray thought.

   ‘Where?’ She smiled as he held the door open for her. ‘Just in case.’

   ‘Gordon’s Wine Bar in Villiers Street. A hundred yards up on the right from Embankment tube station.’

   ‘What time?’

   He shrugged. ‘Five-fifteen, five-thirty.’

   When he left at five the traffic was too busy to bother with a cab. He walked to Tower Hill and caught the underground to the Embankment. Villiers Street, sloping up towards the Strand and Trafalgar Square, was hectic, newspaper stands and flower stalls along the pavement and commuters rushing into the station itself. The first building on the right was dilapidated, a sandwich bar next to it, a lamp hanging from the corner and the name above the door. He went in, then down the stairs into the cellar. It was an odd place for a drink after the sanitized cleanliness of the City bank, he had thought the first time he had come, almost as if he was descending into the bowels of a London which no longer existed. Fifteen stairs, he had counted them the second time he had come, either out of historic interest or because of his fascination with detail.

   The room below was built round a central column of brick and wood, the varnish peeling off the wall panelling and the anaglypta paper above it faded and yellow, and covered with old newspaper front pages and photographs. The bar was to the left, a portrait of Winston Churchill on the right. Already it was getting busy. He bought a bottle of Pol Roger, asked for two glasses, and went to the room to the left of the bar. The area was more like a vault than a room, the walls and ceiling curved in a half-circle and the centre of the ceiling less than six feet high. The bricks were grimy, and the only illumination came from candles on the ramshackle tables. The chairs were rickety and the wax ran down the sides of the candles.

   He chose one of the three tables still empty, sat facing the entrance to the first room and poured himself a glass. Ten minutes later he saw Philipa Walker looking through the crowd and the half-light.

   ‘Glad you could make it.’ He stood up and held the chair for her.

   ‘Amazing place.’ She took the glass he poured for her, then left her briefcase under the table and walked round, easing between the people and looking at the newspaper pages framed on the walls.

   The Daily Mirror of Friday, 21 November 1947: ‘A Day of Smiles – The wedding of Princess Elizabeth.’

   The London Evening News of Wednesday, 6 February 1952. The photograph of George VI was in the centre of the page, the headline above: ‘The King dies in his sleep at Sandringham.’

   The Daily Mail of Wednesday, 3 June 1953: ‘The journey to the abbey begins.’ The main photograph was of the coronation procession beginning its journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, three smaller photographs to the left. The first was of two small children looking through a window, a nanny behind them, the second was of the girl, the third of the boy. Prince Charles watching his mother.

   She pushed her way back to the table and sat down. ‘This place is incredible. I never even knew it existed.’

   He smiled and refilled her glass.

   At 6.30 they left the bar, walked to Charing Cross pier, and caught a ferry to Greenwich, eating at a French restaurant close to the river.

   Philipa Walker had a Bachelor’s degree in modern languages from the University of Sussex and a Master’s in business systems, analysis and design from City University – the information came easily as they discussed jobs and backgrounds. She had worked with a number of companies, specializing in fourth-generation computer languages before setting up her own consultancy. Her father was a retired solicitor, both her parents were still alive and living in Orpington. She had a brother, also a solicitor, who was married with two children.

   At ten they left Greenwich and caught the ferry back to Charing Cross.

   ‘Last drink?’

   She shook her head. ‘I still have some work to do.’

   They climbed the steps.

   ‘I was wondering what you were doing this weekend.’

   ‘What are you suggesting?’

   ‘There’s a house party at Hamble. Dinner on Saturday evening, sail over to the Isle of Wight on Sunday.’ He supposed he knew what she was thinking. ‘No pressure, plenty of single bedrooms.’

   She waved down a cab. I’ll think about it. It was in the way she turned, the way she looked back at him as she gave the cab driver her address.

   Dublin was warm. Conlan crossed the Liffy and turned along Bachelors Walk. Each evening, when possible, he strolled in the city centre, took a drink in one of the pubs in the spider’s web of back streets and alleyways round Custom House and the Quays. Establish a pattern, have an identifiable and predictable routine which the Special Branch tails would come to believe was normal, so that only if he did something outside that pattern would they become suspicious. Then build into it the tiny things – the contacts and the back doors out – which they would not notice.

   If, of course, the SB knew about him. Even now he was uncertain whether his role in the Movement and his membership of the Army Council were known to the authorities, but he knew he could not assume otherwise. The surveillance on him so that the authorities could pick him up when they wanted, but also to protect him if London changed the rules and sent the SAS over the border to lift him or, in the euphemism he knew they used, to ‘negotiate’ him.

   The lounge of Bachelors Inn was quiet and the floor freshly washed, so that it smelt of cold. Conlan confirmed there were no tails either in front or behind, ordered a Guinness and took it to the table in the corner. The bar was almost empty, a couple sitting against the opposite wall and the priest by himself, though there was nothing about his clothing or general appearance to indicate his calling.

   Conlan pulled the ashtray in front of him, took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, shook the last cigarette from the packet and lit it, dropped the empty packet in to the ashtray, then settled back and enjoyed his drink.

   The meeting with Sleeper would be the last until the job was done. If the Army Council finally agreed, he was aware. If he continued to enjoy Doherty’s support. And if Quin did not succeed in screwing him.

   He downed the Guinness and went to the bar. As he did so the couple stood and began to walk out, past his table. For one moment Conlan froze, thought he had been wrong, thought that neither he nor the priest had spotted the tail. Behind him, he was aware, McGinty had taken a packet of cigarettes from his pocket, and would stretch across and take the ashtray from Conlan’s table if the couple showed any interest in it. The couple thanked the barman and left.

   Conlan asked for another Guinness, returned to the table and reflected on the irony that it had been Quin who had given Sleeper his name, on the historical quirk which had given Sleeper his cover. Even the smallest mistake on either of their parts, even the most inadvertent slip of the tongue on his own, and the essential cover which Sleeper enjoyed would be destroyed.

   It was all part of the game. The Brits and the Provisionals playing their game against each other, himself and Quin playing their game within the Army Council, and the Brits presumably playing their own internal games even though they were supposed to be on the same side. Everyone making their own rules and everyone applying their own assumptions and prejudices to the rules they assumed the other side would be making.

   Put a team into London and the Brits automatically looked for them in traditional Irish areas such as Kilburn and Camden Town. Put in an active service unit, an ASU, and the Brits automatically assumed they would be working-class, with manners and covers to match and a safe house in the East End. Put in a shooter and the Brits would automatically look for an Irish accent.

   Put in a sleeper, however, English university degree, impeccable qualifications and matching accent, and the cover of an expensive apartment and a job in the City ...

   He savoured the last of the drink, then thanked the barman and left.

   After ten minutes the priest lit a cigarette – the last in the packet – then leaned across and took the ashtray from the table at which Conlan had been sitting. There had been no ashtray on his table – apparently by chance – and the cigarette he now smoked was the same type as the packet in the ashtray. As he drank he played with the packet; when he stood to leave the packet in the ashtray was his, and Conlan’s – with its instructions to the priest and the coded message to Sleeper, to be placed in the personal column of the Irish Times — was in his pocket.

   Two mornings later Liam Conlan packed the fishing rods and gear into the estate car, taking his time in case he was under surveillance, waved goodbye to his family, and drove the four and a half hours to the cabin set fifty yards back from the shore of Lough Corrib, in the west of Ireland. He had been a fisherman since boyhood, and the trips to Kilmore were as established a part of his routine as the strolls along O’Connell Street and the drinks round Custom House or the Quays. By one o’clock he was sitting, seemingly contented, the rod in his hand, the peak of his cap pulled down and the collar of his windcheater turned up, so that his face could barely be seen. At seven he returned to the cabin; thirty minutes later the smell of cooking and the sound of singing drifted from its door and across the lough. At ten, the dusk gone and the half-moon shining, the priest who had taken his place walked to the lough, the peak of Conlan’s cap pulled down over his face, the collar of Conlan’s windcheater turned up, and his hands stuffed into the pockets of Conlan’s trousers. By the time he returned to the cabin Conlan was half-way to the location eighty miles away, the priest’s car running smoothly and his own still parked by the side of the cabin at Kilmore. In the old days, he supposed, it would have been a fishing boat, snuggled against a quay, the lights dimmed and the men hurrying in the dark. Tomorrow morning it would be a private airstrip and a Cessna 208A, Pratt and Whitney single turboprop engine and 1100-mile range.

   Gerard Gray woke at five, ran his circuit of Docklands, showered, had a light breakfast, and was at work by seven as usual. The first newspaper he read was the FT and the fourth was the Irish Times. At 9.30 he rang the internal extension used by the Price Waterhouse team and asked for Philipa Walker.

   ‘I’m sorry. Something’s come up and I can’t make the weekend party we talked about.’

   ‘It’s all right, I couldn’t have come anyway.’

   ‘Another time, perhaps.’

   ‘Perhaps.’

   The following morning – Saturday – Gray slept late, rising at seven, and running two Docklands circuits. By nine he was back at the flat. The day was hot and the sky a brilliant blue. He showered, skimmed the newspapers, including the personal columns, and left the flat.

   Roddy Fairfax left Onslow Square at nine, taking the M4 west towards Bristol, the route already busy with holiday traffic. At junction 17 he left the motorway at the Cirencester exit, bypassed Malmesbury, then swung on to the Tetbury road. At 11.30 precisely he stopped the 944 at the gates which marked the beginning of the driveway to Highgrove. A police Land-Rover and two men, neither apparently armed though he assumed both were, were at the gates.

   ‘Yes, sir.’ The policeman bent over the car, the second standing back.

   ‘Fairfax, I’m expected.’ He showed his army ID card and knew they had already checked the registration number of the Porsche.

   ‘Thank you, sir.’ The policeman stood back and waved him through.

   The driveway was short, curving right to the house, a number of other cars already parked. He just had time to pull the bag from the boot when his host appeared, the two boys beside him.

   Initially at least, the Prince had always considered Fairfax one of his wife’s circle, and her friends were not necessarily those he would choose for himself, just as his friends were not those she would choose. Fairfax was different, however. He was good company, talked not just about the London scene, or whatever the word was nowadays, but about other matters, politics and pollution. In the long and difficult months before the couple had separated Fairfax had refused to take sides, arguing forcefully and honestly with both of them. Even now, perhaps especially now, he remained friendly and loyal to both. And Fairfax was a soldier. Three tours in Northern Ireland, two of them at times when things weren’t too pretty.

   ‘Good to see you, Roddy.’ Charles came down the steps and shook his hand. ‘Glad you could make it for the weekend.’

   An hour earlier, Gerard Gray had stopped outside the flats in Maida Vale. It was correct that there were single beds at the river party at Hamble, but there were also double ones, plus king size, and a water bed if you organized yourself properly. And if Philipa Walker was not sure about it, then he was better with someone who was.

   Philipa Walker had woken on the first ring of the alarm at five. By 7.30 she was at Dover’s Western Docks. She bought a return ticket to Ostend, paying cash, and caught the 0810 jetfoil, arriving at 1050 local time, taking the 1101 train to Antwerp, changing at Ghent. For the next hour she surveyed the restaurant tucked inconspicuously in the corner of the Handschoenmarkt, below the western façade of the cathedral. Only when she was satisfied that no surveillance was in place did she go in.

   The restaurant was still full and the waiters busy. As she entered Liam Conlan rose to greet her.

   The first and last cover, he thought, the single item he had driven deep into his subconscious as the foundation for the rest of his subterfuge. The one discipline above all others which he had fought to impose upon himself: in his discussions with Doherty, in his briefings with the Army Council, even in his sleep.

   That he should always refer to Sleeper as him.

   The target codenamed PinMan, Conlan had said, a member of the British royal family. The operation within the next twelve months. She should aim to wrap up her preliminary research as soon as possible, and communicate her decisions through the system of codes and dead letter drops already in use. The Army Council knew of the operation, but had not yet given its final approval. He had been forced to inform the Council of the existence of Sleeper, Conlan had also told her, but had given no details.

   Walker’s flat, on the third floor of a Victorian terrace close to Primrose Hill in north London, was that of a successful and independent professional woman. It consisted of two bedrooms, a large split-level lounge with a marble fireplace and bay windows opening on to a balcony, a smaller room off it which she used as an office, plus a kitchen and bathroom. She had bought it when the property market was still rising and redesigned it herself. Except for the study the flat bordered on the luxurious without being ostentatious: the furniture, decorations and lighting were modern; yet the hard edges were softened by the small personal touches she had added – a wall-hanging from Turkey, an icon from Russia, an Impressionist-style painting she had commissioned from an art student after seeing his work on the boarded-up window of a shop unit standing empty in a new shopping precinct. The study, by contrast, was cold and clinical – a world of computers and computer logic, shelves of manuals and software, the black ash desk facing the window but the sunlight from outside cut off by a blind, and the lighting efficient and functional.

   In many ways Philipa Walker’s two lives were similarly organized. Just as there was no indication of the austerity of the study in the rest of the flat, so there was no indication in her everyday life of the second into which she occasionally disappeared. Her day-to-day existence was also divided and equally organized: she had professional colleagues and personal friends, the two rarely coinciding. Her affairs were seldom casual ones, almost always lasting more than six months; the most recent had ended two months before. It was a life-style Conlan had encouraged. Build a cover, he had told her the day she had committed herself, establish yourself so that no one will ever suspect. Continue the life to which her own background automatically pointed and she would be so immune she would be untouchable. Establish a career that allowed her to take time off, so that no one would even notice when she slipped from what had become her cover into the sub-world to which he had introduced her.

   In the strictest definition, Walker was not a sleeper. A sleeper is an agent recruited from or infiltrated into an organization and required to remain inoperative until activated. Walker’s role was neither of these, yet in a less traditional sense her background provided everything a sleeper could require: layer upon layer of cover built up over the years – in her case a background provided by the very establishment she now opposed.

   She locked the flat and walked to the top of Primrose Hill. In the distance, glistening white, were the modern tower blocks of the City; in the middle ground Oxford Street; just below the hill, less than three hundred yards away, was London Zoo. Sometimes she would lie awake and pick up the faintest smells, reminders of those places her official passport said she had not visited. Sometimes – even at two or three in the morning – she would leave the flat and sit on the top of the hill, draw in the night air for a taste of those places. Occasionally, just occasionally, they would waft across the hill and drift through the window of the flat when she was making love. Then the images would come back to her: then she would slip into an almost subconscious memory of the places where she had executed the profession to which Conlan had led her. Not those where she had been trained. Rather, those where she put her craft into practice.

   She returned to the flat, percolated coffee, poured herself a cup, and took it back into the study. It was 3.30 in the afternoon, the first children passing below the flat on their way home from school. The windows of the lounge were open and she could hear them laughing. It had been this time in the afternoon – the thought was not quite subconscious. Autumn going into winter, though, the smells of a new season and the first hint of cold ...

   ... she was fourteen, tall and thin yet becoming attractive, even in school uniform. She had forgotten a hockey boot – had thought she had packed both – and run home to pick it up. The day before she had brought home her school report, the evening before she had sat in the warmth of the sitting-room, the fire blazing in the grate, while her father read carefully through it in the manner she called his solicitor’s style, her mother opposite her dwelling on every nod of his head. Grade 1 in every subject, it was no more than she had expected, had worked hard for. An outstanding student, the head teacher had written; we confidently expect superb examination results and university entrance.

   The house was quiet, the grandfather clock ticking in the hall. Her mother and her aunt were having tea together as they did every Wednesday. Quintessentially English, Walker would think in the years to come, when the hate was fired and burning in her. Quintessentially bloody bourgeoisie. She wouldn’t disturb them, she thought, if she did she would have to explain, then she might be late for the practice. She ran quietly up the stairs, found the boot, and began to come down again.

   The sitting-room door was slightly open. Her mother was showing her aunt her school report – she could tell by the conversation.

   ‘She’s done very well.’

   ‘Very well indeed.’ There was something in her mother’s voice which took her by surprise. ‘Considering.’

   She stopped unseen on the stairs and wondered what her mother meant.

   Even though she thought the house was empty her mother crossed the room and closed the door.

   Considering what, the girl thought that night. She had everything, her parents were well-off though perhaps slightly old-fashioned, neither she nor her brother had ever wanted for anything. They lived in a large house in the Home Counties, had been educated privately from the age of four, and always been encouraged to study. Considering what? she was still thinking when she woke the following morning . . .

   . . . the coffee was cold and the study was quiet around her.

   Each of the jobs she had done for Conlan, or for others through Conlan, had begun differently. Some – the longterm jobs – had started this way: the months of detailed and often fruitless research. Others had been more immediate: a dead letter drop where the weapon was waiting for her, the target details, a back-up supplying the way in and out. Always, however, Conlan had insisted on two fundamentals: that no one ever knew her identity, and that everyone assumed she was a man. As if he always had the spectacular in mind, she could not help thinking again, as if he always had her in mind for it. That was why he had not used her for two years, had allowed her to disappear into the shadows.

   The afternoon drifted into evening. She left the flat and took the underground to the West End. It was eleven in the evening, the night still warm. The lights of Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus were flashing behind her, the taxis filled with theatre-leavers and the streets busy. She left Trafalgar Square and walked through Admiralty Arch and into the Mall. The night was suddenly darker and colder and the pavements empty, only an occasional cab passing her. Six hundred yards in front of her she saw the lights of Buckingham Palace.

   She would need access to the royal schedule, and one way to that was through the Wednesday List – the diary of engagements for each member of the royal family circulated by Buckingham Palace to the Newspaper Publishers Association and through the NPA to interested publications. The list, containing the skeleton of engagements for up to a year ahead and updated on a monthly and weekly basis, was sent out every Wednesday, hence its name. The PinMan operation, however, would require not just the official timetable of formal appointments where the target would be high profile and carrying massive protection, but – and more importantly – the details of the more informal and therefore probably more personal events, even though PinMan would still be accompanied by a bodyguard.

   Buckingham Palace or the NPA? She was walking quickly, thinking quickly, weighing the options. If she accessed the computer system in the press office at the Palace she might also get inside the personal offices, get information not on the Wednesday List; if she made do with the NPA she might get less material but the risks were fewer. The computer security at the Palace would be more difficult to penetrate, yet in a way that did not concern her. What did, however, was the probability that at the Palace the system would, or should, pick it up immediately. And that might warn the security services.

   A police car slid past her – the dark maroon of the Diplomatic Protection Group. She reached the Victoria Monument and stood looking up at the Palace, the standard fluttering from the flag pole. Queen’s in – she remembered the day she had stood here with her mother, the way her mother had pointed out the flag to her, she in her best school uniform and her brother in his school blazer.

   The NPA, she decided, keep the Palace as a last resort.

   She turned down Buckingham Gate and into Petty France, the Passport Office on the right and the Home Office on the left; then she cut through to the Houses of Parliament and took the underground back to Chalk Farm.

   The following day she began the process of building up a computerized file on PinMan. In doing so she was governed by one simple fact of life: that despite the system of passwords and other security measures which an individual or a company might build into a system, there was no such thing as computer security.

   If the police or security services ever suspected her, the first thing they would do would be to search the flat. And the first thing they would do when they saw the computer would be to call in a specialist. By using a tape streamer, DOS operating system boot disk and a programmer’s toolkit, an expert would first of all bypass the security and password system normally assigned to the C drive, access the hard disk and X-copy all information stored on it, even remnants of items which she had ordered to be deleted but which might not have been completely overwritten by the computer.

   If she replaced the standard BIOS chips with chips carrying security passwords, they could replace those she had installed or circumvent them totally by taking the top off the computer, removing the hard disk, copying it, then replacing it. And if she had encrypted the material on the hard disk they would know she was hiding something and send it to the codebreakers at GCHQ.

   For these reasons she would place no PinMan information on the hard disk. She would destroy all irrelevant material immediately, encrypt the material she wanted, using a standard software package, and place it on a floppy disk which she would in turn place in a bank deposit box hired under a false name.

   The office was cool. She switched on the PC and checked the list of dial-up numbers she had acquired during her years in the City. Most were of banking, financial or related institutions, though four were of newspapers and the twenty-seventh was that of the Newspaper Publishers Association. She plugged the modem connection to the telephone socket, called up the communication software and keyed in the NPA number. The computer system at the NPA answered and she logged in. Eight minutes later she accessed the computer file based on the Wednesday List. On the pale amber of the screen were the outline schedules of every member of the royal family for the next twelve months, with the first six months of that period already highly detailed. She transferred the material from the NPA machine to her own and copied it on to a disk. Then she exited the NPA system, made herself a coffee, printed out the material and studied it.

   The material was as she had suspected – useful but only as a starting point. Nowhere in it were the seemingly minor details, the unofficial functions or personal timetables, which she would need for the PinMan operation.

   She burned the print-out and placed the floppy in the wall safe. The next morning she deposited it in a security box at a bank in the City, then returned to the flat, wrote out a list of publishers, and made the first telephone call. Two days later she entered the details of all books written about the royal family over the previous five years on the PinMan file, again placing the floppy in the bank deposit box.

   Three of the books were out of print, two could be purchased over the counter, and five could be ordered, though the waiting time was up to five weeks. The following morning she went to the British Library, on the ground floor of the British Museum in Great Russell Street, and obtained a reader’s pass in the name of Sampson, her application authenticated by a letter on University College headed notepaper which she herself had printed and on which she had written details of a fictitious PhD thesis. For the next ten days, in the vast domed reading room of the British Library, she worked her way through the books she had listed from the publishers’ catalogues.

   The following week she spent five days at the Press Association in Fleet Street, tucked into a corner in the newspaper cuttings library, again using the name Sampson and paying cash. On the first morning she asked for files on environmental pollution, with special reference to interest in the subject shown by the Prince of Wales; at the end of the morning she moved on to royal cuttings in general, taking the relevant folders from the filing cabinets herself and returning them once she had finished, so that there was no record of herself or which files she had consulted. The following week she spent four days in the British Newspaper Library at Colindale in north London.

   The photograph was in the diary column of the Daily Mail.

   Perhaps it was because she was concentrating on the content of the various reports, perhaps because the report in question was about a lunch party and therefore of little consequence, perhaps because the cutting at the Press Association library was slightly torn or the microfiche machine at Colindale was slightly out of focus, that she did not register it. It was only three evenings later that the feeling began to seep into her that sometime, somewhere, over the past days and weeks, she had missed something. Not something important, not something she could have used. And that was what annoyed her. Because not only could she not remember what she had seen or where she had seen it, but she did not even know why she should have noticed it or why it was surfacing from somewhere in her subconscious.

   For the two weeks after that she concentrated on European and American magazines and newspapers specializing in scandal stories about the royal family. In each case the stories were more sensational, and less likely to be corroborated, than in the British newspapers, and the photographs were more intimate, or at least more intrusive.

   September had slipped into October, and soon October would give way to November. Somewhere in the mass of information she had gathered together was the key to PinMan, she was aware; somewhere among what seemed like an industry in itself was the one person who could give her that key. Except that already she was running out of time.

   Something she had seen in one of the photographs at the Press Association or at Colindale – perhaps she had been aware of the unease before, perhaps she had pushed it aside. Now it crept up on her again, only caught her because something deep in her psychology allowed it to. Not something about PinMan. Something about herself.

   It was nine o’clock. She went into the lounge and switched on the television.

   The Sun received the tip-off shortly before seven. Something important had happened in the life of the Princess of Wales, the source said; the previous evening she had toasted the news with close friends at one of her favourite restaurants.

   ‘What news?’ the deputy editor asked.

   ‘The source wasn’t sure.’

   ‘How reliable’s the source?’

   On the fringe but reliable in the past, the reporter who had taken the call informed him. Offering the story on an exclusive basis but needing an answer fast. Or she would take it to another newspaper, the implication was clear.

   ‘You’ve talked to the Palace?’

   ‘They’re making no comment.’

   They wouldn’t, unless you asked something specific, the deputy editor understood, and even then they normally didn’t comment anyway. The story was weak – in a way it wasn’t a story. Except that it might be, and someone else might have it. The editor was in Australia and the paper’s royal-watcher was on holiday somewhere in the Far East. Buy the woman up and close the source, he thought, except that if she knew, then someone else probably did as well. And if another paper knew, they’d be running it that night.

   ‘How much is she asking?’

   ‘Five hundred.’

   Go with it and she was right, and all he’d get was a pat on the back. Not go with it and somebody else had it, and his feet wouldn’t touch the ground.

   ‘Offer her one, the rest on results.’

   ‘She’ll take two-fifty.’

   ‘Done. Guaranteed exclusive. How’re you writing it?’

   ‘I’m not sure.’

   ‘Write it as a question. Expectations of major changes, speculation amongst close friends, etc. Pull in an astrologer, get him to confirm it in her stars. Last night’s celebration in the third paragraph.’

   That way he and the paper were covered. If there was a story. A bomb up every other paper’s backside if there wasn’t. And the classic spoiler if there was and someone else had it. And royal stories still moved copies, he could imagine the panic when the second edition came out, the rumours that would start in the other newsrooms even before that.

   He rolled up his sleeves and telephoned the lawyer and picture editor in that order.

   The story – or the first hint of it – broke at twenty minutes to nine. An hour earlier Patrick Saunders had returned to the flat which he used during the week. Saunders was 44 years old, fit for his age and occupation, married with two teenage girls, a country house in Wiltshire and a town flat in Barnsbury. He had joined the Daily Mirror seventeen years before, and was now what the newspaper liked to call the king of the royal-watchers.

   The Cellnet, he noted as the telephone rang; the office getting hold of him in a hurry, not knowing where he was or having the time to find out.

   ‘Yes.’

   ‘Pat.’ Only the news editor was allowed to call him Pat, and then only when he was in a hurry and the pressure was on. ‘Big one breaking. A cab will collect you in two minutes.’

   ‘What is it?’

   ‘The Sun’s> carrying an exclusive on Di. We’ve just had the tip.’

   Saunders’s first reaction was shock and his second was a combination of disbelief and anger. So what was it, why didn’t he know? Why hadn’t his source given him the story first? His third, which over-ruled the others, was of self-preservation.

   ‘You’re sure?’

   ‘We haven’t seen it yet, but they’re putting on extra copies.’

   ‘You don’t know what it is?’

   ‘No.’

   ‘On my way.’

   He left the flat and ran down the stairs. The minicab was waiting. For Christ’s sake be there, he thought. He sat in the back seat, balanced his notebook on his lap and dialled the number on the Cellnet. The contact answered immediately.

   ‘Patrick here. Bit of a panic on.’ There was no time for pleasantries. ‘The Sun’s carrying a big story on Di.’

   The contact began to laugh. ‘Red faces all round, eh?’

   Bastard, thought Saunders.

   ‘Wrong Di, old man. One of the Princess’s buddies, sort of lady-in-waiting, if you like. Just announced she’s pregnant for the first time.’

   ‘What about the Princess of Wales?’

   ‘She’s agreed to be godmother.’

   You’re sure? Saunders almost blurted. Head on the block time, he knew. Of course I’m sure, he knew the contact would reply. ‘Phone number?’

   ‘She’s ex-D.’

   All of them were ex-directory, Saunders thought.

   ‘Doesn’t matter, though. She’s not there.’

   Stop pissing me about, Saunders glanced up as the minicab passed the Angel.

   ‘She’s with her parents.’ The contact gave him the number. ‘Old man’s in Who’s Who, that’s where you got it, yah?’

   ‘Yah.’ Saunders clipped the cassette recorder on to the Cellnet and dialled the number the source had given him. The woman who answered sounded in her fifties, her voice pure Roedean.

   ‘Mrs Wickham. This is Patrick Saunders.’ He did not say he was from the Mirror. Some people would pay to get their names in the gossip columns of the Mail or Express; the same people, however, might consider the Mirror slightly the wrong colour and class. ‘I wrote a small piece about Diana’s marriage and wanted to congratulate her on the good news.’

   Hope to Christ she is married, he thought.

   ‘How nice. Would you like to speak to her?’

   ‘If it’s not too much trouble.’

   Saunders heard the scuffle as the daughter picked up the telephone.

   ‘Diana. Patrick Saunders from the Mirror. Sorry to trouble you, but you know what Fleet Street’s like when a pretty girl has a baby.’

   She knew the score, he guessed. Especially if she was a member of Princess Di’s set. The woman laughed and he knew he’d won. For two minutes they talked about what she wanted, boy or girl, as well as details of her and her husband.

   ‘Just a word of warning.’ He slipped it in quietly, almost casually. ‘I know you’re a close friend of a certain other Di. Some people think it’s the Princess who’s got some big news coming.’

   ‘How silly.’ It was almost a laugh.

   ‘But she knows?’

   ‘Of course, we had a celebration last night.’

   ‘Champagne?’

   ‘Of course.’

   ‘Any chance of Di being godmother?’

   The woman laughed again.

   They talked until the minicab stopped outside the Mirror building. Saunders thanked her, made a note to send her a large bouquet of flowers in the morning, entered the telephone number into the computer notebook, ran inside and took the lift to the newsroom. Just in time for the second edition, he thought.

   The editor, night editor, news editor and lawyer were looking at the television screen, the Nine O’Clock News just starting.

   ‘Photo of Diana Simpson, daughter of Brigadier and Mrs Wickham,’ he told the pictures editor. ‘Make it a happy one. Second picture of her with the Princess of Wales.’

   He switched on the computer. The editor and news editor were behind him, the editor sweating slightly and the deputy fiddling with his braces. He ignored them and swore at the system to power up.

   BBC running the story, the news editor shouted to him. The Palace are making no comment. Just what he wanted, he thought: everyone carrying the story and the silence from the Palace only fuelling the bonfire. His fingers were already on the keyboard.

   

   The Princess of Wales is to become a godmother.

   If it’s a boy he will be called Michael James. If it’s a girl she will be called Elizabeth Althea. And last night Kensington Palace was celebrating the good news.

   Behind him Saunders felt the editor punch the air with a mixture of triumph and relief.

   The evening was dark and cold, threatening rain. Walker told the cab driver to drop her by Chancery Lane, then walked briskly along Holborn. She was wearing what some might call her City clothes and carried a briefcase. The building which housed the Mirror Group of Newspapers was on the corner of Holborn Circus, the concrete and glass dominating the area, the main reception in front and the garage and works entrance in New Fetter Lane behind. In the daytime the lorries bringing the rolls of paper crowded the street, in the evenings the delivery vans lined the pavement waiting for the first edition.

   There were two other features of New Fetter Lane which concerned Philipa Walker that evening. The first was the faded brick building, five hundred yards from the Mirror, which housed the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. The second was the White Hart public house opposite the rear entrance to the Mirror and known to its journalists as the Stab (short for The Stab in the Back).

   The White Hart was quiet, the slack period after the City stockbrokers and money men left and before the journalists arrived. She ordered a gin and tonic, settled in a corner with a copy of The Times, and waited. It was the third time she had been there; on the previous two occasions the intermediary she had chosen had not come in. A first group of reporters arrived, then a second, the woman among them. She was smartly dressed though older than her photograph. After fifteen minutes the woman rose, asked the men she was with what they wanted to drink, and went to the bar. Walker finished her gin and tonic and followed her.

   ‘Anything in tomorrow?’ She stood next to the woman. Anything in tomorrow’s paper, she meant.

   The journalist turned.

   ‘Helen Kennedy, aren’t you?’ It was both an explanation and the beginning of an introduction. ‘Recognized you from your photograph.’

   The woman laughed. ‘Who are you with?’

   ‘Which paper, you mean? I’m not.’ She asked the second barman for a gin and tonic. ‘Systems analyst consultant. Doing a job at Customs and Excise. Funny bunch, the Investigations lot.’

   The journalist picked up the possibility of a contact. ‘You by yourself ?’

   Walker nodded.

   ‘Why don’t you join us?’

   An hour later Walker accepted Kennedy’s invitation to join her for dinner at Joe Allen’s, off Covent Garden. A table had already been booked, Kennedy explained, some other colleagues were already there. When they arrived the restaurant was crowded and the target was standing by the bar.

   There were twenty-three names of journalists, magazine writers and authors on the list she had compiled, each of them a possible way in to PinMan. Four nights before, however, only one of them had got it right.

   ‘Patrick Saunders, Philipa Walker.’

   Access Saunders and she might access Saunders’s sources. Access Saunders’s sources and she might access the private worlds of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Access those worlds and she accessed PinMan.

   ‘Should I bow or curtsey?’ Walker’s question was tongue-in-cheek and slightly challenging.

   Saunders smiled as she knew he would. ‘Bucks Fizz?’

   ‘Why not?’

   * * *

   Belfast was quiet.

   Nolan turned the unmarked car along Springfield Avenue – RPG Avenue as the locals nicknamed it. The Browning was in her waist holster and the MP5K was on the floor to the right of the driver’s seat.

   Work since the operation at Beechwood Street had been routine and on a downward spiral. Partly because after Beechwood Street everything seemed an anticlimax; mainly because she was winding down to the end of her Belfast tour. Not just her Belfast tour. Her last tour. She had already bent the rules, or persuaded others to bend them for her, so that she could stay on. Now London had decreed otherwise, had said that today was her last undercover day in Northern Ireland. Two weeks’ leave, then they would pull her out.

   There was something about the operation on Beechwood Street – occasionally the unease seeped through the block she had put on it, occasionally she found herself back there with McKendrick by the driver’s door and Rorke in front. Mostly at night, when she was alone and trying to sleep, but occasionally even when she was working, when she was in the undercover car, particularly when they were ordered into the Ballymurphy area. Now it crept up on her again, black and cold, like a fog on the moors on a summer’s day. One moment the sky was blue and warm, then the faintest strand of mist and the almost imperceptible finger of cold. Then it was upon you, engulfing and entrapping you.

   She turned the car south and fought off the feeling.

   ‘There’s a rumour you’re leaving as well.’ She glanced across at Brady. Only once had they talked about what she had had to do in the car in Beechwood Street, and that was to invent a story which would explain how she was able to reach his Browning. Then they had agreed never to mention it again. And Brady had told no one. Because at the end of the day there were a lot of things more important than a laugh between the boys, and at the top of that list was the fact that she had saved their lives.

   ‘Possibly.’ Brady had been with the RUC for nine years, the last three in E4A.

   ‘Someone said Special Branch.’

   Brady laughed.

   ‘When?’

   ‘Couple of months.’

   It was six in the evening, the end of the shift. If they were pulling her out perhaps they should have done so after Beechwood Street when she was on a high, she thought. Now she was leaving as if the Belfast tour hadn’t been part of her, or she part of it. There was no elation at what she had done, no relief that she was getting off the tightrope, just the immense and overwhelming feeling of anticlimax. Tomorrow she would slip away on leave. When she returned she would have her last talk with the CO, be told where she would be posted. And nobody would even notice.

   ‘Fancy a drink?’ It was Brady.

   They turned into the barracks at Lisburn.

   ‘Thanks.’

   They parked the car and went to the team room. The corridor was empty and the room deserted. Hell of a way to go, she thought as she signed off. They left the block and went to the mess, Brady slightly in front of her, knowing what she was feeling. There would be a couple of people at the bar, he knew she assumed, they’d spend half an hour sipping beer, then she’d slip away by herself, nowhere to go and no one to go with. He opened the door and allowed her to go first. The room was full, the teams waiting for her – the men and women who would remain on the edge, the men and women who’d provided the back-up for her and for whom she had provided back-up.

   ‘Bastard,’ she whispered to Brady, and began to laugh.

   The following morning Nolan collected the hire car and drove to the town where she had been born and where she had grown up. It was her first visit since the start of her Northern Ireland tour. That night she told her parents that she was on leave from Europe; the next day she drove to the west coast, on the other side of the border, where she had spent the occasional holiday as a girl.

   The beach curved in an arc round the bay, the water was cold and the sand a glistening white. The October sun was warm – an Indian summer, she remembered her parents had called it. She took off her shoes and walked along the edge of the water, thought about why they were pulling her out of Northern Ireland and what she would do now.

   It was obvious why they were pulling her, she told herself. Women were normally only allowed one tour, perhaps two. Yet the guys were allowed back – she felt the resentment rising. The guys were allowed back for tour after tour . . .

   She wouldn’t be able to do it, she knew. McKendrick was framed in the driver’s window and Rorke was standing in front. Brady’s hands were on the steering wheel so he couldn’t reach his gun, and if she went for hers they would see. The only chance was the MP5K by the driver’s door, but to get to it she would need a cover. She couldn’t, she knew again . . .

   . . . the strand was so deep in her subconscious that she was not fully aware of it, was only aware of the defence mechanism it threw at her. It was as if she was running a security check on the computer, keying in the request, the computer flashing back that the information she wanted was blocked . . .

    . . . a coffee after, she told herself. Large and Irish. Plenty of Black Bush . . .

   . . . the tide washed in front of her. Twenty yards away a boy and girl played on a log which had rolled across the Atlantic, the seaweed hanging from it and the shells crusted round it.

   So what now? Promotion probably. Germany again. Nice little desk job. And sheer absolute unadulterated bloody boredom. Perhaps she should resign, the thought came suddenly and unexpectedly. Cash in everything, get on a plane, and see where she ended up.

   The office was empty, the boys out on a job, Nolan supposed. It was five minutes before the meeting. She cleared the few items from her locker and walked along the corridor. The colonel was sitting behind his desk, the paperwork in front of him and the blow-ups of street maps covering the walls. He was in his early forties and big built, his civilian suit slightly crumpled, the jacket hanging behind the door.

   ‘Good leave?’ He waved his hand for her to sit down.

   ‘Fine.’

   ‘Your next posting.’ He spoke quickly, his voice matter-of-fact.

   Germany, she knew. Time to call it a day.

   ‘Two-week refresher at Hereford, then The Fort.’

   SAS at Hereford, MI5 at The Fort.

   Somebody up there loved her, she could not believe it, wondered who. The relief was spinning through her head. And after The Fort, who knew what or where? No desk job, though.

   But somebody up there also hated her, had it in for her. Because at Hereford the bastards would see. At Hereford they would find their way into her soul and chisel it open till it was a gaping chasm. At Hereford they would take her to the brink and make her walk over.

   ‘Thank you, sir.’

   The Hereford refresher began ten days later, eight men and two women from a range of backgrounds and regiments. On the third day of the second week the observation exercise began – five days in dug-outs on the Brecons, the exercise for real, as if it were Northern Ireland. Not just Northern Ireland. As if it were South Armagh.

   The rain was cold and biting, driven by the wind. The two of them – Nolan and a corporal from Signals – were crammed together in the OP, the observation post, living off sandwiches and self-heating cans of soup. The cold had set in half-way through the first night, and the rain had begun seeping through the roof on the second day. They had worked as a team, two hours on, two off; one of them keeping the arms cache under constant surveillance while the other tried to sleep, the floor of the OP running with water and churning into mud. No complaints, though – if this was Northern Ireland they wouldn’t complain, couldn’t complain. If this was Northern Ireland and they were staked out in a roof space in the Falls or a field in South Armagh they would keep going, look after each other and watch their backs. And if you were training to go back into Northern Ireland, to do the job they would do, there was only one way to train for it.

   It was two in the morning, the rain sheeting from the north, so that even with the image intensifier Nolan could barely see the target.

   ‘ENDEX.’ She heard the radio signal. Not just the end of the exercise, the end of the refresher. ‘RV zero two three zero.’ Thirty minutes to get to the rendezvous point, plenty of time if it was light and good weather. They were both moving quickly, the bergans packed. They left the OP and headed across country. 0215: half a mile to go and fifteen minutes to do it. Not so easy at night and in these conditions. They waded the stream, the rain driving down on them, and pulled themselves up the mud on the other side. 0220: ten minutes to the RV. Almost there. Hope to Christ they’d got the map reference right. 0225: they came to the road, checked they were in the correct position and sank back into the ditch which ran alongside it. 0229: they heard the three clicks on the radio, the pick-up on the way. The signaller clicked back, told the pick-up that they were in position. They checked left and right: nothing on the road, the rain still pouring down. They heard the next series of clicks and clicked back, knew the truck was closing on them, and scrambled out of the ditch. Everything about the exercise was still for real, even the drop and pick-up. Especially the drop and pick-up. In Northern Ireland the bastards would be listening for the noise of the engine, would be waiting to hear the change in noise if it stopped. That was why they had almost killed themselves five days ago, rolling out of the side doors with the car still on the move.

   The van came from the right, headlamps dimmed and moving slowly, not stopping, the sound of the engine constant, the back doors held open by bungees and the bulbs of the brake lights removed. The van passed them and they began to run, the van not slowing. Bags in back, scramble in after them, Nolan pulling the signaller in or the signaller pulling Nolan, neither of them was sure. They were in, jerking the doors shut and settling down. There were two sleeping bags on the floor; they crawled into them and tried to warm themselves. Hereford in forty minutes, she thought, a hot shower and a mug of tea. Four hours’ kip then the finish of the course and the train to The Fort. She snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag. Bloody well made it, the realization drifted through her head as sleep came on her, her mind and body relaxing. The van was swaying slightly. She ignored the movement, put her arm under her head and fell asleep.

   The van crashed to a halt. Nolan was thrown forward with the impact, body and mind trying to tear themselves from sleep. She was still tucked deep in the sleeping bag, enjoying the warmth. She heard the shots and the clang as the back doors opened, heard the voices. Kalashnikov, she suddenly realized. Out, the men were yelling, dragging her and the signaller from the sleeping bags. Her mind was still spinning, still trying to wake. Irish accents: she jerked awake and saw them. Four, five. Black balaclavas with eyeholes cut in them. She was pulled outside and saw the cars, the lorry pulled across the road in front of the pick-up truck, the rain still streaming down and the night still dark. She glanced to the left and saw the driver, half-kneeling, half-crouching on the ground, trying to fight back. Heard the shots and saw the moment his body jerked then crumpled to a heap. She and the signaller were being separated, one to each car, the men holding them, others frisking them, roughly rather than efficiently. The engines of the cars were running; she was pushed in the boot of one of them and it pulled away.

   SAS, part of the bloody exercise? Or IRA? The fear pounded through her. A Provo kidnap squad. The car was being driven fast, sliding round corners in the wet and the mud of the Brecons, Nolan being thrown from side to side. How would the Provos know? They were going downhill, the road surface suddenly changing. She tried to brace herself and look at her watch. The road surface changed again and she knew they were on a larger road, knew they were trying to clear the area before Hereford realized what had happened. Calm it, she told herself, work it out. There was no way the Provos could know, no way anyone could know other than the course instructors. Part of the course, she told herself, let you think you’d finished, let you relax, and then they hit you, put you through the wringer. The car lurched right, across some broken ground, and slammed to a halt. The boot was opened and a hood was pulled over her head. Out, she was told, heard the accents again. South Armagh. All part of the exercise, she struggled to tell herself. She was bundled across the ground, tripping once, and into the boot of another car. The boot slammed shut and the car pulled away. What the hell was happening? She made herself calm down, told herself to get her hands in front of her body, pull the hood off her head. But keep the hood handy so she could put it on when the car stops again, try to see their faces but don’t let them know. Don’t let them see that you’re thinking. The car slowed and stopped. Not a sudden halt. Traffic lights. She pulled the hood back and checked the time: 0430, two hours after the pick-up; the rendezvous point was only forty minutes from Hereford, so she had been in one boot or the other for at least an hour and thirty minutes. The road was changing again, motorway or dual carriageway. Was rougher again. She checked her watch, her head thumping and her body aching. 0700: she’d been in the car another two and a half hours. The car slowed, turned right, and bumped across what she thought was a field. Then it stopped for thirty seconds, the engine ticking over, and pulled forward. She barely had time to drag the hood down before the boot opened and she was manhandled out. The hands were holding her and the hood was pulled off.

   She was in a barn, bales around the walls. The men round her wore balaclavas, eyes looking at her through the holes. Still part of the exercise, she tried to tell herself, still part of the Hereford refresher. Kalashnikovs. Anybody could have AKs, but two of the men were wearing Spanish Star and Czech CZ. SAS would carry Browning Hi-Powers.

   The interrogation began.

   You were in the front car at Beechwood Street. Who were you with? RUC or Army? How did they know about Beechwood Street? How did they know about McKendrick and Rorke? She was against the wall. The gunman asking the questions was short, not much more than five feet, thick Irish accent that even she could barely understand. How did they know about Tommy Reardon and the attack on the Crum?

   The SAS know this, she told herself. This could all be part of the course. These men don’t have to be Provos, they could be SAS.

   The gunman moved quickly, as if he understood what she was thinking, hitting her across the face, all the power of his body behind it. She reeled over. One of the others pushed her back up and the interrogator hit her again, her head jerking back with the force. He hit her again, in the stomach, doubled her up, the air pushed violently out of her lungs. She was pulled across the floor, someone grabbing her hair. She was pushed down, almost kneeling, her head thrust forward and her face into the water. Her lungs were already screaming for air and her head was spinning. She tried not to breathe, knew she was going to. Her head was wrenched up and she opened her mouth, was pulling in the air when her head was pushed forward again, mouth and nose below the water and the rim of the bucket or the trough – whatever it was – cutting across her windpipe. She was struggling, trying to fight back. Her head was pulled up again, pushed down again.

   Who told you about Beechwood Street? How’d you know about Reardon? Who told you what site he was working on? Who’s the source in the Provos? How high up is he? What’s his name? If you don’t know then who would?

   She was against the wall, had no idea how long she had been questioned. Abruptly the interrogator nodded and she was thrown into a corner, bales on three sides and straw on the floor. The interrogator and three others left, leaving two guards. She half-turned, tried to look at her watch. Part of the exercise, she still tried to tell herself, these men aren’t Provos, these men are really SAS. It was 1700 hours, five in the afternoon. She should have left Hereford at twelve, was due at The Fort at eight the following morning. Her face was bruised and bleeding and there was a pain down her right side as if her ribs were broken.

   The interrogator came back in, balaclava still on, and the questions began again.

   Who was she with? Army or RUC? Military Intelligence or Special Branch? If she was sitting in a stake-out car then she would be E4A. Which meant she was RUC. Or on secondment to E4A from Military Intelligence. So who was the leak in the Provos? Where was the leak in the Provos? Where did the order come from to stake out Reardon’s house in Beechwood Street? What time did it come? Who told her what about it?

   He hit her again; face, body. Especially her body. Especially where they’d already broken her ribs.

   It was night, morning again. She’d had two hours’ sleep, nothing to eat or drink. At least she was dry, she told herself. The men pulled her up and led her outside. Make a break for it, she told herself, try to run. It was dark, therefore still night, felt as if the dawn was about to break. No way she would make it, the men all round her. The gunmen pushed her against a concrete wall and turned the hose on her, the water cold and the jet strong. She’d been against the wall five minutes, probably ten, was wet through and shivering. The gunmen took her back inside and the interrogation continued.

   Who was she working with at Lisburn? Who else was on the squad? Who was the driver in the surveillance car?

   It was midday. Past the time she was due to start at The Fort. It was as if the interrogator knew. Not knew the details as much as sensed that she had suddenly weakened. These men can’t be SAS, she tried to fight back the thought, these men really are Provos. They threw her into the corner, left two men to guard her, and went outside.

   She curled up and tried to sleep, tried to escape from the fear in her mind and the suffering in her body. Her hands were still tied behind her back. She bent her knees and pulled her hands forward. Two of them, she knew, no way she would get away with it. She curled up again and felt the piece of wood under her body. Not quite under her body, in the straw to the side. She moved slightly, ignored it. Tried to sleep. Felt for it beneath the straw. Not a piece of wood, the realization crept upon her, more like a handle. She turned slightly, made sure the guards weren’t looking at her, and felt along it. Eighteen inches, then she came to the end, felt the ragged wood as if the handle had been broken. One of the guards turned and looked at her, did not notice that she had moved her hands in front of her body, looked away again. She felt the other way, felt the metal. The two prongs of the pitchfork. Her hands closed round it and she knew what she had to do. She began to turn, to check the guards. The interrogator came back in and the beating began again.

   Who was handling the informant? Was the handler Special Branch or MI5? Who was the informant who told them about Beechwood Street? Was he being run from Lisburn? What about the FRU, was he working for them? Where did the orders come from? Someone must have said something, someone from SB or MI5 or the FRU must have let a name slip.

   It was late afternoon, going into evening. They tossed her in the corner again, left her with one guard. The pangs racked her body and she wanted to die. Do it, she told herself, now while there’s just one of them. But they could still be SAS, the thought held her back, it could still be part of the Hereford refresher. The bastards seeing how far they could push her before she cracked.

   The interrogator returned and the questioning continued. Why were you in Beechwood Street? Who told you? What time did the orders come in? Who was the leak? Next time they pushed her in the corner, she told herself. But suppose they weren’t Provos, suppose they had fixed it for her to arrive late at The Fort. Suppose they were SAS. She couldn’t kill one if he was SAS, if he really was a Brit. The interrogator hit her again, the questions spinning through her head and confusing her. Kill them or don’t kill them, the other question was like a vortex in her mind. Who the hell are they, what are they? Up to her, she told herself, whether she could do it or not. If she got the chance again. Should have done it before. The interrogation ended and she was pushed into the corner, two guards remaining. No chance to do it now, she told herself.

   So what is it? she asked herself. What was she afraid of, why had she delayed before?

   She was back in the stake-out car, McKendrick at the driver’s window and Rorke in front, Brady’s trouser zip undone and the Browning in his waist holster. She couldn’t do it, she was thinking, was slowing down, telling herself she was stalling to give the SAS boys in Tommy Reardon’s house a chance. She was in the car after, on patrol in the days and weeks that followed, was lying awake at night or walking along the beach on the west coast. The knowledge was deep in her subconscious, unavailable to her; the security block she had imposed upon it protecting her.

   Beechwood Street, she made herself admit; she shouldn’t have hesitated. Even now, even with the Provo guards ten yards from her, it was impossible to come to terms with. She had told herself she was delaying to give the men in the house a chance, but all the time she didn’t want to do it.

   Didn’t want to do what, she asked herself.

   She had to go down on Brady to get to the back-up gun, she knew the answer she had been giving herself. And ever since she had told herself that that was the thing she had been afraid to do.

   But . . . she took herself on, pushed herself to the brink. But that had not been what she was afraid of. The sex wasn’t relevant, wasn’t even sex. It wasn’t even a penis. It was just a way of getting to the gun. All the time it wasn’t the sex that she had been afraid of, that she had known she couldn’t do. All the time what she had been afraid of was actually killing someone.

   One of the guards had left, the other sitting eating the supper they had brought for him, sitting with his back to her. The rope round her wrists had worked loose and she slid her hands from it. Do it, she told herself, do it now. These men aren’t SAS, these men are Provisional IRA. If you don’t talk soon they’ll kill you. So kill them first.

   There was no point. Even if she dealt with one gunman there were four, perhaps five more. Even if she got outside they would hunt her down. What you’re saying is an excuse, she told herself. Nobody likes killing, but sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s you or them. The gunman’s back was still towards her, the man seated on a bale and crouched over the plate. She picked up the pitchfork and rose, stepped towards him. No noise, not even a rustling of the straw. She was four feet from him. Three feet. Two. His back was still towards her. Him or her. Him not her. She began to bring the pitchfork down.

   ‘ENDEX.’

   She heard the voice and froze. English. End exercise, the words pounded through her brain. The Provo gunmen stepped forward from the shadows; no balaclavas over their faces. Phillips turned round and looked at her.

   Put her through it, Haslam had told him. String her out and see what happens. Take her down to hell and see if she comes back. Go down with her if you have to. Not for himself, not because it was Haslam who’d run the course in Germany where the talent-spotters had first picked her up, who’d drunk and talked with her and the others in the evenings, who’d taken her aside at the end and suggested that she might like to volunteer for Special Duties. But for her. Because at the end of the day she was worth it. And he couldn’t do it because she would recognize him; then she would realize and throw up her defences; then she wouldn’t admit what she needed to admit to herself. Then she would be lost for ever.

   Unofficial of course, nothing to go on the record.

   You . . . Nolan almost said to the man she had been about to kill . . . You were one of the men in the house on Beechwood Street.

   Philipa Walker left the flat and took the Northern Line to the Newspaper Library at Colindale. Something about a photograph, she had been aware. At least one photograph, possibly two. Not something about PinMan, something about herself.

   There were those who might have preferred to shrug off such a feeling, to let it slip away as if it had never existed. She herself did not subscribe to such a philosophy. If an item or detail existed she should face up to it even though she might not wish to. Control it, control herself, rather than allow things or events to control her.

   The first photograph was in the diary column of the Mail – she remembered the type around it and the position on the page. The second, following the same logic, was in the Sunday Times.

   She ordered the Mail for the years 1988 to 1990 – it was only possible to order three volumes at any one time – and settled down to wait in the microfiche section at the rear. The boxes of film were delivered to her ten minutes later. She inserted the ’88 cassette in the viewer and began her search. An hour and a half later she handed the boxes back and ordered the Mail for the three years beginning 1991. The photograph was in the Mail of April 1992. She recognized the page immediately – the headline and the layout triggering the subconscious layers of her memory. The picture spanned the middle two columns – the group at the restaurant table, the woman in the centre and the vague faces behind. When Walker had first seen it, it had been at the Press Association library and all the faces had been clearly defined. On microfiche, however, she could barely make out the faces of the two men behind the women. She noted the date of the newspaper, handed the cassettes back, and booked the Sunday Times beginning 1991.

   The woman seemed asleep, the reading-room porter thought. He gave her the boxes of microfiche and was startled by the way she suddenly appeared to wake. Almost like an animal.

   The story had been written before the separation of the Prince and Princess of Wales. It was trailed on the front page of the main section of the newspaper and dealt with in full in the News Review. Its theme was the distinct sets of friends enjoyed by the couple and the way in which this represented a crossroads in their life together. Again, however, the faces in the photographs which accompanied the article were indistinct. She read through the piece once, then went to the pay phone on the landing outside the reading room, telephoned the Daily Mail and Sunday Times, and confirmed that back copies of the relevant dates of each were available. Then she collected her coat and bag, walked to the tube station, and caught the Northern Line to Chalk Farm.

   That evening she dined with Patrick Saunders at the White Tower restaurant in Percy Street. The relationship was developing as she had anticipated, indeed planned. In the almost twisted manner of the hunt, she even enjoyed it, enjoyed his company but also enjoyed the razor edge which came with the knowledge of why she was seeing him. As long as he was the key, as long as his source into the royal family was the one she needed. As long as she herself could access that source without Saunders or the source knowing.

   At eleven next morning she collected the back copy of the Mail, then went to a café two hundred yards away, ordered a cappuccino, and turned to the photograph on the diary page, ignoring the faces of the women at the table and concentrating on the taller of the two men standing behind them.

   An hour later she collected the copy of the Sunday Times, returned to St Katharine’s Dock, and ordered a Bloody Mary in the Thames Bar of the Tower Hotel. In the main, the article said, the Di and Charles camps were not compatible; the Prince thought his wife’s friends too frivolous, and the Princess considered her husband’s circle too serious, even boring. Only one person was welcomed in both camps. Major R.E.F. Fairfax of the Grenadier Guards, known to the royal couple as Roddy. Originally it had been the Princess of Wales who had welcomed Fairfax into her inner circle, the newspaper said. Charles, however, also thought highly of him, partly because he was a military man and had seen service in Northern Ireland, and had personally invited him to the royal home at Highgrove.

   Of course Fairfax was a military man. Walker looked again at the photographs in the two papers and the name in the Sunday Times, felt the ice spreading. Of course the bastard had seen service in Northern Ireland.

   Haslam had left Belfast ten days before, spending two days at Hereford and a further two checking airport security at Heathrow. He spent the night in London, left at 5.30 and liaised with the other men who would take part in the exercise at seven. At eight the three took the ferry to the island, enjoyed an hour-long breakfast, then caught the 10.30 return ferry as instructed.

   The watchers from Five were waiting. Men and women. Fat ones, thin ones. Some looking fit as hell and others as if they could barely make it to the bar to get another drink. Double-sided coats, different colours each side to confuse the targets, wigs, bags, all the works. Spot them a mile off if you were expecting them and knew what you were looking for. Never see them in a month of Sundays if you didn’t.

   The latest graduates from the Firm’s school at The Fort, SAS men playing the suspects they would tail in the end-of-course close-surveillance exercise.

   He stepped off the ferry and turned up Lime Street.

   ‘Charlie One Five. Green One.’ The first tail picked him up, the streets already coded. Dead letter drops and pickups, contact with another suspect – it was all in the day’s exercise.

   Haslam reached the top of the street and turned left.

   ‘Charlie One Five. Green Four.’ The first tail dropped back.

   ‘Charlie One Six. Green Five.’ The second picked Haslam up from the other side of the road. Surveillance teams in front and behind. Vehicles on stand-by.

   ‘One Six. Green Three.’ The bus stop was seventy yards ahead and the tail thirty yards behind. Haslam glanced back and saw the bus; as it passed him he slowed and allowed it to stop at the stop, then sprinted for it as it pulled away.

   ‘Charlie One Two. Blue Two.’ The woman who had been waiting at the stop took the third seat in, downstairs, and watched as he went up the stairs to the top deck. ‘Blue Three.’ . . . Silver Street. ‘Blue Four.’ . . . Rodney Street. ‘Blue Five.’ She called the stops as the bus passed them. One car staying behind, the others moving ahead, dropping tails where the target might leave the bus.

   This was their patch, Nolan thought; they’d practised on it and knew the streets backwards. Christ help them if the target decided to go AWOL, took the train to Bournemouth and got off at Southampton, left them spread like confetti over the south of England. She slid from the car and looked in the window of the tobacconist next to the bus stop.

   ‘Charlie One Three. Green Ten to Green Eleven.’ . . . The suspect on foot in Vesta Road going towards Queens Road.

   ‘Charlie Two One.’ The next tail in position. ‘Affirmative.’ The tail slid in behind Haslam.

   Bramshaw Road then Pembury Street, the railway line across the top and the footbridge to Marshall Place – the area map was imprinted on her mind. Cul de sacs at Bolsover Street and Duncan Road.

   Haslam turned into the newsagents and waited for the tail to follow him in. ‘Box of matches.’ He paid, then browsed along the magazine shelves as the tail asked for a packet of cigarettes. It was time to start playing games, time to give them a run for their money. He left the shop and turned first right. The street was seventy yards long, turnings to the right and left at the top.

   ‘Charlie Two Three. Green Eight.’

   The tail was thirty yards behind and afraid to go too close. Haslam slowed and made the tail drop even further back, so that when he reached the corner the man was almost forty yards behind him. He turned the corner and ran. Thirty yards, left; another forty, right. Left again and over the railway footbridge. The tail rounded the corner. ‘Green Eight.’ He looked right, left. Didn’t know what to do or say.

   Nolan heard, knew what the bastard had done. The pavement was lined with stalls. She pushed through them and slid into the back-up car. ‘Marshall Place, quick, he’s gone over the footbridge.’

   The car accelerated, went through the lights on amber, and skidded across the level crossing at Fore Street as the barrier came down.

   ‘One Three. Blue Two towards Black Four.’ Haslam was fifty yards in front, walking away from them. The car pulled into a side street; she left it and followed him. ‘One Three. Black Ten.’ She turned right after him and realized. Bolsover Street, a cul-de-sac. He’s going to sideline me, the thought screamed through her head, the bastard’s going to eyeball me. Standard anti-surveillance if a target thought he was being shadowed – one of several. Turn, walk back past the shadow, stare him in the face. Let him know that you know. Put him out of the game.

   Haslam turned and she saw his face for the first time. Understood.

   Long time since Germany – he didn’t need to say it. Long time since the adventure training course and the talk about Special Duties.

   You – she was still walking towards him. You were the second man in the house on Beechwood Street. You were the one who pulled the strings and got me off the desk assignment and into the Firm. You were the bastard who arranged the little session at Hereford. You waited till it was me behind you before you turned in here.

   Haslam was twenty yards from her, on the outside of the pavement, eyes straight ahead. They were ten yards apart, five. Both staring straight ahead. Good girl, the instructor whispered to himself, don’t let him phase you. Just keep walking. Haslam was three yards from her, face set, Nolan still staring straight ahead.

   As she passed him she winked.

   The Army Council met at ten. Outside there was sleet in the wind; inside the air was mixed with cigarette smoke and the aroma of fresh coffee. Doherty was looking older, Conlan thought, the first cobweb of dark and wrinkled skin beneath his eyes and the eyes themselves darting as he had never seen them before. The evening before the doctor had confirmed what the Chief of Staff already assumed.

   For the major part of the morning they discussed general issues – the escalating rounds of shootings and bombings, the income from the various fund-raising activities operated by the Movement and the laundering of that money through front companies on the British mainland. It was only as they approached midday that Doherty moved them to the item they had all anticipated.

   ‘Sleeper and PinMan.’

   Doherty had organized it well, Conlan thought, had guided the previous discussions so that the Council was already predisposed to agree to the PinMan project. Had added his weight only when necessary, and then merely to divert the tide of opinion in the direction he wished. Doherty was dying: he had suspected before but now he knew for certain, now he understood. Doherty wanted PinMan and what PinMan would give them as much as he himself did.

   Doherty indicated that Conlan should brief the meeting. So what would Quin do, he wondered, how would Quin seek to counter Conlan?

   ‘Sleeper has been activated, and is engaged upon preliminary research. I anticipate the project will take another three to six months.’ He spoke for another two minutes only, deliberately vague about timings and other details, withholding as much as he could and knowing the direction the discussion would take when he had finished.

   ‘Do we know which member of the royal family will be the target?’ Quin stared at him through the cigarette smoke.

   ‘Not yet.’ Conlan wondered why he considered it necessary to lie.

   ‘Assassination or kidnapping?’ It was Quin again.

   For the next two hours they discussed the range of alternatives and the various options within each, including the short-, medium- and long-term implications of whatever decision they reached. If assassination, what would be the effect on world opinion, including the Movement’s supporters in the United States? How would the Catholic population in Northern Ireland react? What would be the response in the Republic? If kidnapping, what demands? Would the British try to hush it up? Would the Council let them? The discussion circled back on itself. What was the long-term aim, how would the various reactions further that aim?

   Doherty had discussed it with Conlan the night before, Quin suddenly realized. Doherty knew who the target was and how it was to be done. Doherty dying – he looked into the man’s eyes and knew for certain. Doherty on his way out and Conlan about to give him his footnote in history.

   ‘I suggest we vote.’

   Quin knows, Conlan suddenly realized: that he and Doherty had done the deal, that he enjoyed Doherty’s full support.

   The vote was unanimous. Outside it was already dark.

   The following morning Conlan activated those he had already placed on stand-by.

   McGuire, from Belfast. In his mid-thirties, lean and thin-faced, short dark curly hair. Married with two children. A good operator, one of the best.

   McGinty, whose priest’s collar and gentle manner gave him the perfect cover. Who loved fishing and who so matched Conlan in age and build that from a distance he could pass for him. Especially when he was wrapped in oilskins, woollen cap or dark glasses against the glare of the sun or the bite of the wind on the shores of Lough Corrib.

   Plus the foot soldiers, the expendables. Clarke and Milligan, Black and Lynch. Hoolihan and Lynan.

   But not Logan. Not yet. Logan was to come.

   The morning was bright but cold, the white of the first snow lying on Divis Hill to the south-west of the city. When McGuire returned to the house his wife was in the kitchen.

   ‘I’ll be away a few days.’

   Eileen McGuire was small, with bright eyes that hid her fear. She bit her lip and nodded.

   ‘Don’t worry. No problems this time.’

   At least he was honest, she thought, at least he didn’t say that every time he went away. He went upstairs to the bedroom at the front of the house. One day they would get him, the fear was always coiled in her. One day a shoot-to-kill unit from the RUC or the SAS would lie in wait for him and gun him down like a dog. One day the UFF would find out about him and slaughter him in his own front room. And in the meantime she would tell the children he was going away to work, a building site in Derry or wherever, and that he would soon be home again. She followed him upstairs and watched him pack the handful of clothes. When he finished she. put the small bag into the large plastic laundry bag she used for shopping, went to the Sportsman’s, dropped his bag in the back room, then returned to the house and carried on cooking.

   At seven McGuire left the house and walked the three hundred yards to the bar. If he was under observation – from undercover motor vehicles, informants, OPs concealed in the roof spaces of surrounding houses, or high-altitude surveillance helicopters – there was nothing to suggest that he was doing anything other than going for a drink.

   The Sportsman’s was busy. After thirty minutes he muttered his excuses and went to the toilets at the rear, collected his bag and stepped into the alleyway behind. The car was waiting.

   The shooting took place shortly after five the following day, outside a betting shop at the top of the Crumlin Road, on the edge of the Catholic Ardoyne area and close to the Protestant Shankill. The victim was a 32-year-old Sinn Fein politician whom the UFF alleged was a member of the Provisional IRA. The planning for the shooting which followed it took place the following evening and was led by the officer commanding the North Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA. The first part of the discussion was strategic – whether or not a shooting of a UFF activist was not only necessary but politically and militarily sound at that point in time; whether the UFF reaction to the execution of a member of its ranks would be counterproductive. The second part, which followed once the decision had been made, was tactical. The target would be a man known to be a planning officer for the UFF. The location and timing would be confirmed by the intelligence officer, the details to be supplied to the team assigned to the killing, and the weapon would be an AK47 supplied from one of the Provisionals’ arms dumps in Myrtle Field Park, a middle-class street in a non-sectarian area of the city. The execution, as the Provisionals would describe it in the communiqué they would release later, would take place from a car stolen from the city centre. The driver would pick up the man carrying the gun fifteen minutes before the hit and the gunman himself ten minutes before. The gunman would leave the car as soon as they were clear of the area and in a neighbourhood considered safe; the man carrying the weapon immediately after, and the driver would abandon and torch the vehicle as soon as he could after that.

   They came to those who would carry out the shooting, the gunman first.

   ‘Clarke or Milligan.’ The intelligence officer’s suggestion was straightforward and logical.

   ‘Out of circulation.’ The OC – officer commanding – had not been told why.

   ‘Black.’

   The Bossman shook his head. Something happening, he had assumed when he had been informed by the Northern Command; something big if it required his three most experienced gunmen.

   ‘Lynch.’

   ‘Out of town.’

   ‘Hoolihan?’

   ‘Out as well.’

   Five of the most experienced IRA gunmen in North Belfast suddenly out of circulation.

   ‘Lynan?’ The intelligence officer knew the answer before he suggested the name.

   The OC shook his head.

   Six out of six. ‘Who then?’ Douglas, he knew, except that Douglas was young and still slightly brash, and the officer commanding would only use him if the rest of the team were older and more experienced.

   ‘Frank.’ Frank Hanrahan had been one of the best, but was now in his late thirties. He had begun his Provo career as a teenager, done his time in Long Kesh without complaint; he had been on the Blanket then the Dirty Protest and – though he had denied it at the time, though he had volunteered for active service immediately he had been released – the years of confinement and hardship had taken their toll. He had married young, his boy and girl were now in their mid-teens, the boy coming up seventeen, but still Frank did the occasional job. Only when no one else was available, however, and only when they wanted an older hand to rein in the recklessness of the youngsters.

   ‘Freddie’s picking up the gun, Mickey’s driving.’ Both were young and both would be good. If they survived that long. But send them out with the gunman called Douglas and they would either wipe out half the Shankill or crash the car on the way.

   Frank Hanrahan, they agreed.

   Lisburn was quiet. Nolan sat back in the chair and looked again at the reports from the various agents which it was part of her job to analyse. She had returned to Northern Ireland four weeks before. When former colleagues recognized her she said simply that she was on a secure task, and no further questions were asked.

   Perhaps something was running, perhaps not.

   Clarke on the move. On the gallop, as the Provos called it. The information from E4A, the RUC undercover surveillance division.

   Milligan on the move. From an informant in the FRU, the Forward Reconnaissance Unit, the wing of Military Intelligence dealing with agents and informants in the Catholic and Protestant paramilitary organizations.

   She punched the names into the computer, checked on the background of each, and read through the reports for the third time. Nothing concrete yet, but something to keep her eye on. She left Lisburn and took one of the five alternative routes she had established to the flat she had rented in Malone Park in the south of the city.

   Relatively speaking – everything in Northern Ireland was relative – the area was secure, not plagued by the violence suffered by the communities in and around the city centre. Most of her neighbours were young and professional class. Despite this she maintained a strict personal security. Each time she drove into the street she checked for the obvious signs of surveillance; each morning, when she went to the garage at the rear of the house where she had a first-floor flat, she checked the car for bombs before she started it, even though she had fitted the garage with special locks and an electronic door. Even when she went out to dinner in what was considered a secure area, with friends or colleagues, she timed the interval between ordering a meal and its being served in case someone on the staff was a Provo or UFF informant and had recognized her, had delayed the meal while a hitman was summoned.

   Her cover story matched what appeared to be her life-style. She had lived in England for eight years, married, but was now divorced and living off the settlement paid by her former husband while she looked for a job. In case either side – PIRA, the UDA or the various organizations springing from them – had sources in the estate agent’s office from which she had rented the flat, every month a cheque was paid into a bank account she had established. And in case the same organizations had a source in the bank, the money was paid from another account set up in England by a man alleged to be her former husband. In the flat itself, in case she was burgled, she kept solicitors’ letters referring to the case, as well as the divorce papers themselves.

   She hung up her coat, placed the Browning in the bedroom, and went to the kitchen. It was a strange life, she would have admitted; most people would not understand it. But in the end you were who you were. Even at the beginning . . .

   . . . she was nine, almost ten; long legs and awkward body. It was spring, going on summer, the children playing at the foot of the hill above the town. The game was hide and seek, the children divided into teams. She was on the catcher team, hunting through the trees and undergrowth for those hiding from them. The wood was quiet. She paused, not moving, not even shifting balance, totally alert, listening for the slightest rustle which would tell her where her quarry was hiding.

   The teams changed, the hunters becoming the hunted. Some of the children hid in pairs, but she was different, preferred to be alone, to take her chance alone.

   The tree was covered with foliage. There was barely enough time to pull herself up and conceal herself before she saw the searchers below. The blood thudded through her head and she did not dare breathe. She knew the boys were looking for her, knew they knew she was close by them, looking at them. For five minutes she looked down on them, willed them not to look up, willed them to look for her somewhere else.

   They moved off and she knew she had won, tasted the triumph and waited for them to come back, waited for the excitement of the moment again. The thudding eased and she was aware of the other sensation, though she would not have been able to express it, perhaps not even to identify it. Not just the emptiness of suddenly being out of the game. Something else. The emptiness of no longer being on the edge, no longer being in danger …

   The following day she checked the reports for fresh information on Clarke and Milligan. The two were still on the move, one in Belfast and one in Londonderry. Plus a third gunman – Black, Alex – the intelligence on Black’s movements from an SAS observation post.

   Hanrahan reached the pick-up point thirty seconds early. The evening was dark and it was drizzling slightly. He waited, hunched against the weather, then the car stopped, the back door opened, he stepped in and the car pulled away. The men in the front seat were in their late teens, he guessed, certainly not in their twenties. The way they had all begun, what he himself had been like so many lifetimes ago.

   ‘Which side?’

   ‘Left.’

   Hanrahan’s mac was wet; he took it off and placed it on the seat. The man in the front passenger seat turned and handed him the gloves. Hanrahan pulled them on then took the Kalashnikov. The others were jumpy, he sensed, almost too keen, would go ahead with the job even if the Prods were waiting for them. It was already two minutes to seven. The car turned into Tennent Street. He checked the gun and wound down the window. The takeaway was fifty yards away.

   ‘There he is.’

   The driver pulled in to the pavement. Slightly too fast, Hanrahan thought, might have given the target some warning. He pressed the trigger and the car screeched away.

   Farringdon was informed at eight the following morning; at 8.30 he included the information in his first meeting of the day with Cutler. Cutler had been Dol, Director of Intelligence, Northern Ireland – the most senior MI5 position in Belfast – for the past three years; for the past eighteen months Farringdon had been his deputy.

   The previous evening a man with links to the UFF had been gunned down in the Shankill, responsibility being claimed by the Provisional IRA. Cutler’s briefing was to the point. The normal sort of job – the shrug said it – except that the driver of the vehicle used for the killing hadn’t dumped it quickly enough. An RUC undercover car had spotted the vehicle, recorded as having been stolen earlier, and had arrested the driver for taking and driving away. At first it was thought that he had stolen the vehicle for a joy-ride; only later had it been tied in with the shooting. The driver’s name was Flynn. During his interrogation he had admitted involvement in the shooting, but had denied knowing the identities of the others. Under pressure, however, he had given a description of the hitman which matched that of a Frank Hanrahan, a known Provisional IRA gunman with a prison record. Because of the possibility of Flynn being turned and acting as an informant, RUC Special Branch had been informed and had taken over the case, and had in its turn informed MI5.

   ‘When are they picking up Hanrahan?’

   ‘Now.’

   ‘Any possibility of turning him?’

   ‘Probably not.’

   ‘Who are you assigning to the case?’

   ‘Nolan.’

   Nolan was relatively new, but she had come to him with a background unsurpassed by many of her more senior colleagues.

   ‘Fine. Keep me informed.’

   The interview room at Castlereagh was bleak and featureless, the desk and chairs of grey metal. Nolan sat patiently and watched the interrogation. Hanrahan against Brady – who had been with her in the forward surveillance car in Beechwood Street – and a Special Branch inspector named McKiver.

   We all know why we’re here, Frank. So what were you doing on the evening in question? How can you account for your movements? What were you doing between five in the afternoon and ten that evening – the hours were deliberately vague and loose, an attempt to draw Hanrahan in, make him admit something, anything, that they could check out. What clothes were you wearing, Frank? Same clothes that forensic are looking at now? You know about forensics, of course, what they’ll be looking for? Fibre matches between your clothes and the car, traces of lead on your coat where you fired the gun.

   Hanrahan was looking at his interrogators, absorbing their questions but saying nothing, not even acknowledging their presence.

   They would get nowhere, Nolan knew: Hanrahan had done his time before and would do his time again. Not the breathtaking cold of the nights during the Blanket Protest, when the IRA prisoners had refused to wear uniforms; not the cells smothered with human excrement as they had been during the Dirty Protest which followed. Fifteen years, even twenty, cut by half in line with official policy, but a long time anyway.

   Be careful with the questions, the interrogators knew. When Hanrahan was sent to Crumlin Road he would be debriefed by the IRA security section within the prison. Then the Provos’ intelligence people would try to establish what the Brits or the RUC already knew from the questions his interrogators had asked him.

   You won’t make it this time, Frank. The two SB men were facing him, the use of his first name sometimes friendly, more often threatening and hostile. You remember what it was like when you were young, Frank, just imagine what it’ll be like this time. So why do it, Frank, you hadn’t done a job for a long time, why now?

   Clarke, Milligan and Black still on the move – Nolan had checked that morning. Plus two more overnight – Lynch and Hoolihan.

   Hanrahan’s face was as grey and expressionless as the walls of the cell, eyes staring straight ahead, the thin scar which Flynn had described and which had pointed them to Hanrahan down the corner of his left eye. Somebody grassed, she read it in his face, somebody turned stag and when they find out who the boys will take him for his cup of tea.

   The first day of the interview ended and Hanrahan was returned to the cell.

   The overnight reports on the Provisional gunmen came through an hour before the interrogation of Hanrahan resumed the following morning. The five gunmen still on the move, now joined by a sixth – Lynan. Foot soldiers, Nolan knew, expendables like Hanrahan.

   The interview recommenced at eight. Overnight they had assessed the possibility of Hanrahan cracking, had also looked at the possibility of Hanrahan turning, of Hanrahan becoming a CT – converted terrorist. Had gone through the files for the single piece of intelligence which might provide the key – gambling debts or affairs with other women were favourites; once it had been found that a Provo shooter had been having an affair with the wife of an RUC man.

   You know the results of the forensics, Frank. You know we can put you in the car and that we have witnesses to say that that was the car used for the murder on Tennent Street. You know that we can prove that you fired a gun that evening. So be fair on yourself, Frank, have a think about it.

   Hanrahan still had not said a word. Would not say a word, the interrogators knew. At eight that evening they finished the second day. The following morning they would formally charge him and the following afternoon, unless he said something worth listening to – unless he said anything at all – they would give up on him as they had known they would from the beginning, and Hanrahan would be detained at Crumlin Road jail. And two months after he would appear before a single judge sitting in a so-called Diplock Court – no jury because of the threat of intimidation – and be sent down for the required period.

   That evening they scanned the Hanrahan file for what Nolan assumed would be the last time, that evening she returned to the flat in Malone Park and thought about the man who had still said nothing, about the details on his file. At six the following morning – two hours before Hanrahan’s last interview was due to begin – she returned to Lisburn; at seven she made the request, at 7.45 she ran through the updates on the Provo gunmen still on the move in the North.

   Clarke and Milligan. Black and Lynch. Hoolihan and Lynan. Plus a seventh.

   McGuire. Not seen for four days.

   She knew who and what he was but checked on the computer anyway.

   McGuire, Kevin. Born 11.4.59. Married, two children. The details flickered on to the screen. Not a bomber or gunman, one of the men who ran the bombers and the gunmen. What the intelligence services would call an LO, a liaison officer.

   She ran the reports together, logged a synopsis, and requested immediate reports on McGuire once he was sighted. Logical, she thought. The troops on the move and the handler out of sight. Almost too logical.

   She left the office and went to the interrogation centre at Castlereagh. Brady and McKiver were eating breakfast in the canteen; she collected a coffee and joined them.

   ‘No problems about me asking a couple of questions today?’

   McKiver was the problem, she and Brady had agreed: McKiver didn’t even think MI5 should have been informed. The last day, they understood, therefore nothing would happen. Therefore she could join in.

   ‘Fine.’

   They went to the interrogation room, McKiver and Brady taking their usual positions along one side of the desk, the prisoner opposite them.

   The forensics, Frank. Confirmation that the car was the murder vehicle and that you were in it. Ballistics suggest that the weapon has also been used in three other killings. The chances of them being put down to you, Frank. Might not carry in court, of course, but could affect the sentence.

   Hanrahan sat impassive and said nothing, not even a flicker in the eyes. No response when they offered him coffee or a cigarette. At 10.30 they broke for five minutes. And when they returned Hanrahan would sit in the same position and not move until they led him out after charging him. There was a feeling of inevitability about the way they left the room, the knowledge that they had been through it before.

   The documents she had requested had arrived. They probably wouldn’t work, but it was worth giving it a try. She wouldn’t mention it to McKiver though; despite his appearance and manner he was a good operator, knew when he was winning and when he was losing. And as long as he stood even the faintest chance he’d hang in. But the moment he knew he’d lost he saw no point in carrying on.

   They returned to the interrogation room.

   The evening in question, Frank. What time did they pick you up? Where did you leave the car after the job? What did you do after? Who told you about the job, gave you the instructions? Who decided it should be you, Frank, who gave you that pair to babysit?

   There was no response, no reply or change in the facial expression.

   ‘You were inside with Slattery, of course.’ It was the first time Nolan had spoken. Fergal Slattery, gunman and bomber. So what the hell did Slattery have to do with it, thought McKiver. Slattery had decided to call it a day, of course, get out while he could, but what bearing did it have on Hanrahan?

   ‘You know what Slattery said, of course, don’t you, Frank?’

   So what the fuck should I know about what Fergal said, they read it in his face, in his eyes. Read something for the first time.

   ‘He said that his children were nearing the age when they would be caught up in it, and that he didn’t want them to go through what he’d gone through.’

   The curtain drew again across Hanrahan’s face.

   ‘Good kids, Frank. How old are they now?’

   She’s blown it, Brady saw the look in McKiver’s eyes as he glanced at Nolan. We had him going, were about to turn him. Now she’s threatened his kids. Okay, so they weren’t about to turn him, weren’t about to make him even say a dickie bird. But kids were out of it. No way they threatened anyone’s kids, not even someone like Hanrahan’s.

   ‘Good school reports, Frank. Boy did well at GCSE, A levels in a couple of years. The girl also expected to do well.’ She put the copies of the reports on the desk. ‘Pity they’re going to end up like you, though. Because you know what’s going to happen when you go down, don’t you, Frank? The boy will end up like that pillock who was supposed to get rid of the motor. Be with you in the Crum by the time he’s twenty. If he’s lucky.’ She leaned forward and moved the reports slightly. ‘Same with the girl. End up pushing a pram for the rest of her life with the kids strung along behind and somebody like you for her husband.’

   Know what I mean, Frank? Know what I’m talking about? ‘Pity really.’ As if there was an alternative. It was in her voice, in the way she leaned forward again and began to take the reports away then left them on the table. She sat back and the interrogation continued.

   So what about the day in question, Frank? Where were you that afternoon? Go for a drink at dinner time? Where’d you go, what did you have? There were no answers, no movement in the body or the face. What about after, Frank? Did you go straight home? Or to a bar? Tell the lads the job was done?

   ‘What’s on offer?’ Hanrahan stared past the two men at Nolan. No other words, no change in the face or the eyes. Just the three words.

   ‘Good A-level results for the boy. You’ll have to kick his arse, of course, make sure he doesn’t let up.’ I can fix the grades, but not that much, not so much it would make everyone suspicious. ‘Place at a good university.’ She looked straight at him. ‘On the mainland. Not Dublin, not Trinity. You wouldn’t want him becoming a thinking man’s Provo, would you, Frank?’

   Hanrahan smiled, Brady suddenly thought, Hanrahan the hard man actually fucking laughed.

   ‘Same for the girl.’

   Hanrahan’s head and eyes dropped as quickly as they had risen and the interview continued.

   So what about the gun, Frank? What about the fact that three other jobs have been done with it? Who did you see after? Suppose you had a Black Bush, celebrate like? Them telling you what a good job you’d done?

   ‘What do you want?’ It was only the second phrase Hanrahan had spoken since his arrest.

   ‘You in the sweenies.’

   She had balls, McKiver made himself admit. Nobody got anyone in what the Provos nicknamed the sweenies. The security section was the unit of the Provisional IRA which dealt with those suspected of being agents or informants for the Brits or the RUC. Get somebody in there and you struck gold.

   Somebody else might have picked up on Nolan’s suggestion, Brady thought; somebody else might have reinforced her offer about the kids. Somebody else might have blown it. Instead McKiver sat still and impassive, as if he and Brady were no longer there, nobody speaking – neither them nor Nolan nor Hanrahan. Five minutes, ten, gone fifteen. McKiver didn’t even dare look at his watch. Probably twenty-five, almost half an hour. Nobody come in, dear God, nobody knock on the door and blow it.

   ‘How?’ Hanrahan had looked up again. How will you get me off the charge? How will you swing the forensics? How will you do it in a way that guarantees I don’t get my brains blown out by my own people?

   ‘You’re charged, put in the Crum, appear before the court. With the evidence against you, you don’t stand a chance. Except we’ll change something. Everyone will know you’re guilty but you’ll get off on a technicality.’

   ‘Guaranteed?’

   ‘Guaranteed. You don’t do anything for us until you’ve walked.’

   Hanrahan wrapped himself inside himself again, head sunk into his chest and shoulders rounded. Not the way he had sat earlier, however, not the stance of prolonged and stubborn resistance. Everyone came to the end of the road sometime, he thought. Everyone came to the point where they looked back and saw what little they’d had, and how much more they wanted for their kids. Where they realized that all this stinking fucking cesspit was about was giving your kids a better start than you had.

   ‘A good job afterwards.’ He looked again at Nolan. ‘The girl as well.’

   ‘Agreed.’

   The village of Rathmeen was tucked inconspicuously into the rolling hills some ten miles south of Lough Neagh, the border with the Republic twenty miles to the south as the crow flies, and the main A3 road between Craigavon and Armagh four miles to the west. The country road which wound down from the hills and ran through it served as its main street, most of the shops clustered round the small square in the centre and the houses running in terraces away from it.

   Father Donal McGinty left shortly before eleven, driving south then picking up the A28 to Newry. The morning was cold and crisp, fresh snow in the fields. Half an hour later he drove through the town and began the climb up the hill to the border at the top. The first checkpoint was half-way up, the soldiers and police armed and wearing flak jackets, the machine gunner positioned in the sangar to his left and the Land-Rovers parked in the middle, armed patrols moving up the pavements behind him and a surveillance helicopter hovering in the sky to his right. The line of cars edged forward; he handed his driving licence to the RUC policeman, waited as the man scanned the details and waved him through. Ten minutes later, in the toilet of the Carrickdale Hotel, nine miles north of Dundalk, he took off the dark suit, ecclesiastical collar and black shirt, and replaced them with a sweater and sports jacket.

   When he reached Dublin it was a little after two. He parked near the post office, put on an overcoat, and walked down O’Connell Street. The Joyce Bar at Madigan’s was almost empty, only three people left from lunchtime. He asked for roast beef and Guinness and sat with his back to the wall opposite the bar from where he could see both the stairs at the rear and the door at the front. Conlan entered ten minutes later, bought a drink and sat at a table to his right. McGinty waited ten minutes, then rose and went to the toilets on the left of the stairs. As he came out, exactly two minutes later, Conlan went in. The envelope was switched as they passed.

   McGinty finished his drink and returned to the car. The envelope which Conlan had passed to him contained a sheet of instructions and a second envelope. McGinty read the instructions, walked to the office of the Irish Times on D’Olier Street and placed an advertisement in the paper for the day after next, paying cash.

   The afternoon was growing dark. He left Dublin and began the drive north, changing back into the priest’s collar and black shirt and suit in a lay-by near Dundalk and reaching Rathmeen in the early evening.

   Three mornings later McGinty drove to Aldergrove and caught the 1030 shuttle to London Heathrow. He was wearing his cloth of office. The flight was on time and because there was no computer file on him he passed through the security and immigration checks at both ends without being stopped.

   In Belfast the morning had been cold but dry, at Heathrow it was beginning to drizzle. He ignored the signs to the cab ranks and walked briskly to the underground, choosing a seat next to a door. It was late morning, the stations busier as the train approached central London. The train reached Piccadilly, the platform crowded, people getting on and off. He sat still and waited. The doors began to close. Without warning he rose from his seat and squeezed between them, glanced left and right to check if anyone had jumped off the train after him. On the wall next to the exit was an underground map. He appeared to study it, waiting until the platform was almost empty, then walked briskly up the stairs marked no entry, turning sideways against the people coming the other way. At the top the hallway opened out, escalators leading up. He hurried past the busker playing Dvořák, checked if anyone had followed him, and took another escalator down. At the bottom he turned right again, along a second passageway marked NO ENTRY, and on to the Bakerloo Line platform. A train was leaving, the platform emptying. He ignored the exit signs and took an iron spiral stairway at the end of the platform to the labyrinth of interconnecting passageways at the bottom. Only when he was sure he was not being followed did he rejoin the Piccadilly Line, leave it at Finsbury Park in north London, and take the 106 bus to Stoke Newington.

   Abney Park cemetery was on the right, entered through a set of large wrought iron gates. Opposite was a line of shops, two of the windows boarded up, and a café on the corner, flats above them and street stalls along the wide pavement outside. The pavements were wet, the coloured lights glowing on the stalls. McGinty left the bus, crossed the road, and went through the gates.

   A straight gravel drive led from them to a dark red brick church 150 yards away. The first section of graves was well tended, the grass cut and the gravel of the drive free from weeds. Fifty yards in, however, it changed abruptly, as if he were crossing a border. The graves – with the occasional exception – were badly kept, weeds and grass growing round and over them. The church itself was drab, almost dirty, grime on its brickwork and the heavy wooden doors padlocked. Beyond it the cemetery degenerated into a jungle. The traffic hummed in the background and the water dripped from a broken gutter. McGinty confirmed he was alone, counted eight bricks to the right from the corner, three up, removed the loose brick, placed the envelope in the space behind, replaced the brick and left.

   Walker wiped the condensation from the café window and confirmed that no one had gone into the cemetery after him and no one had followed as he left. She was wearing denims, sweater and a donkey jacket, her hair tucked under a woollen hat. She bought another cup of tea and waited. After half an hour she left the café, turned left down Stoke Newington High Street and right along Stoke Newington Church Street. A hundred and fifty yards along she turned right into Fleetwood Street, a cul de sac with the southern side wall of Abney Park cemetery at the bottom. It was empty. She checked again that she was not being followed, climbed the wall, dropped on to a path which was overgrown, the brambles reaching across it, and made her way to the church at the centre.

   Eight bricks from the corner, third up – the drop was one of five she used. She removed the envelope, zipped it into an inside pocket, replaced the brick, and walked quickly through the trees and shrubs growing between and in some cases through the graves, to the northern side of the cemetery. The undergrowth was thick and the headstones ran up to the wall. She climbed on one, checked that the small crescent of houses on the other side was deserted, and dropped over. Only when she had returned to the flat near Primrose Hill did she open the envelope and decode the instructions inside, burning them when she had read them.

   Her meeting with Saunders was at eight. She telephoned Iberia, the Spanish national airline, and booked a flight to Seville for the following morning, leaving the return open.

   Saunders’s day had been straightforward, no big stories and no scares that another paper had something he had missed. By five he had finished what he considered a minor item on the separation of the Duke and Duchess of York but which would still make the front page, copied it on to a floppy disk, entered the names and home telephone numbers of two new contacts into the computer notebook, and left the building.

   He returned to the flat, copied the article and the contacts on to the relevant files on the PC in the spare bedroom which also doubled as his study – the bed a fold-up and the bookshelves filled with reference books – booked a minicab, then showered and changed. Forty minutes later the telephone rang and the minicab controller informed him that the car was waiting. He put the computer notebook and Cellnet in his pocket, locked the flat and was driven to Joe Allen’s.

   Philipa Walker arrived ten minutes later.

   Sometime, he assumed, she would agree to go to bed with him. Meanwhile she was good company – intelligent and attractive.

   Sometime, she assumed, he would let slip the remark that would give her the way in. And if he didn’t, or if he wasn’t the key she wanted, then she would have to look elsewhere. Meanwhile he was good company. Except that she was already three months into the schedule Conlan had given her.

   ‘So what are you doing this weekend?’

   ‘Wiltshire.’ Wife, the girls and the ponies. ‘How about you?’

   ‘I’m away.’

   ‘Skiing?’ He had seen the snow reports.

   ‘Spain. Way down south for the sun.’

   ‘All right for some people.’

   ‘The advantage of working for oneself.’

   ‘Send me a postcard.’

   By the time she returned to Primrose Hill it was 11.30. Twelve hours later she left the flat and took a cab to Heathrow . . .

   *

    . . .it was the middle of the spring term, her first year at university. That summer she and the students with whom she shared a flat had decided to drive across Europe to Greece. The previous afternoon, therefore, she had collected the passport application form from the post office.

   She’s done all right. Considering.

   It was five years since she had stood on the stairs of the house in Orpington and heard her mother’s voice, yet still the words haunted her. Not every hour of every day, not even every day of every week, yet always hanging in the recesses of her mind, sometimes conscious though most times not.

   Birth certificate and two photographs – she checked the requirements for a full passport then went downstairs. The telephone was in the hall. She sat on the bottom stair, dialled directory enquiries and asked for the Orpington office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The line was engaged. She waited two minutes then tried again. The woman who answered the enquiries number was friendly and helpful.

   There were two types of birth certificate, both sufficient for a passport application. The short certificate gave merely the details of her name, date of birth and the registration district in which she had been born, and would cost £2.50. The full certificate would be a copy of her original birth certificate and would cost £5.50. She could come in person, or send a postal application stating full name, place and date of birth, plus a stamped, addressed envelope and a cheque for the relevant amount.

   ‘How long will it take by post?’

   ‘A week, perhaps ten days. No more.’

   Post, she decided; there was no hurry and it would be simpler. She thanked the woman, returned to her room and wrote the letter.

   Name: Philipa Charlotte Louise Walker. The names came from the two sides of the family.

   Date of birth: 12.3.61. Each year, for as far back as she

   could remember, her parents bad always given her a party.

   Place of birth: Orpington.

   She would have the full certificate rather than the short one, she also decided, even though it cost more. The document wasn’t just a piece of paper, it was part of her life. She wrote out the cheque and posted the application that evening.

   The stamped, addressed envelope which she included came back nine days later. It was lying on the hall floor when she and the others returned to the flat in the early evening. She slit the envelope open, already smiling. Her name, her date of birth. Her, officially recognized as a person for the first time. The thought was innocent and enjoyable.

   There was no birth certificate. Instead was her cheque and a standard letter.

   

   Dear Miss Walker

   I refer to your recent application for a birth certificate. I have made a search of our records for the relevant district and period but I regret that I am unable to trace an entry.

   The letter was signed by the Deputy Superintendent Registrar. Typed below the signature was a note suggesting she applied – in writing or personally – to the General Register Office, St Catherine’s House, Kingsway, London WC2 . . .

   . . . the late afternoon sun was low and the land was patch-worked brown and yellow, only the occasional green. The 727 banked to port and she saw Seville: the heart of the old city with the newer part sprawling out from it; the Guadalquivir snaking its way south-west towards the Atlantic. Twenty minutes later Philipa Walker cleared immigration and customs, collected a hire car and picked up the N4 motorway south, then switched to the toll road.

   The temperature was still a pleasant 65°. A little over an hour later she cut right towards Cadiz Bay. The city was opposite her, across the causeway, the off-white concrete of the modern city at the neck of the peninsula and the honeycomb streets of the old quarter at the tip. She skirted Puerto de Santa Maria and took the road to Rota. Three kilometres on she turned left into the housing development called Las Redes, its streets named after the oceans of the world, only the line of sand dunes between it and the Atlantic.

   The house on Mar Timor was two hundred metres from the sea, protected by a whitewashed wall. She entered the security code, drove into the garage, locked the door behind her, then tapped the security code of the front door and went inside. The house was cool and well-furnished, and the safe was concealed beneath the flagstones of the small courtyard round which the house was built.

   She had not been operational for two years. She was still sharp, her basic talents and instincts still intact, but it was logical both that Conlan should recommend a refresher and that he would arrange it this way.

   That evening she ate in a fish restaurant close to the river in Puerto de Santa Maria, the streets cobbled and the smell from the sherry bodegas hanging in the warm night air. The next morning she placed her passport and personal documents in a deposit box in the Banco de Andalucía in the town centre, then spent three hours exploring the maze of streets and alleyways of old Cadiz; that afternoon she drove south to Tarifa, passing an hour in a cafe on the long, windswept beach to the north and two hours in the fortified part of the old town. That evening she filled out the postcards which had been placed in the floor safe.

   Cadiz. Amazing streets and houses. Can imagine Drake coming in with all guns blazing. To her parents.

   Tarifa. Windy City, and I can see why. Great sailboarding if I wasn’t too old. Southernmost point in Europe, you can almost smell Africa. To her brother and his family.

   Tangiers. Couldn’t resist a day trip. Soukh amazing. Another world. To Patrick Saunders.

   The cards would be posted over the next few days, confirming her holiday in Spain, the mileage on the hired car would show she had travelled a total of 500 kilometres, and her passport would be stamped to confirm the trip to Morocco.

   At six the next morning she rose and showered, then dyed her hair blonde – including her pubic hair. At seven she left the house, picked up a bus into Puerto de Santa Maria, took the slow train to Seville and the AVE to Madrid. The Prado was ten minutes from the city’s Atocha railway station, and the Mercedes was parked on schedule by the Goya entrance, the driver waiting. Walker recce’d the area for thirty minutes then closed on the car. Forty-eight minutes after she had arrived in Madrid, and under the identity of Katerina Maher, cover for an unnamed member of the German Red Army Faction, she approached the driver, gave the code, received the reply, and began the next stage of her journey to the training ground in North Africa.

   The only thing she would not know, and Conlan could not have allowed for, was that on the day the postcard to Patrick Saunders was posted in Tangiers, whilst the main ferry service from the Spanish port of Algeciras sailed on schedule, the ferry from Tarifa, on the windswept northern promontory of the Straits of Gibraltar, was cancelled because of an engineering problem.

   * * *

   The sky was lead grey, Dublin waiting for the snow it had so far escaped. Quin parked at the side of the Post Office and waited for one of the telephone booths to become free.

   It was not that he opposed Conlan’s plan, the royal family was as legitimate a target as anything else British. Nor was it the first time one of them had been a target: Mountbatten had been blown up in his boat off Mullagh-more in 1979. And if a successful action against one of them was undertaken in central London, then the British and Protestant reaction against the Catholic population of Northern Ireland would be fearsome. That, in the long term, would serve the Cause far more than all the violence which had dominated the country for the past decades.

   It was Conlan he opposed, just as Conlan opposed him.

   Doherty was dying, and once Doherty went there would be a new Chief of Staff. If Conlan’s plan succeeded then the chances were that he would take Doherty’s place. And if that happened, then Quin was finished.

   It was as simple as that.

   Almost.

   If Conlan’s plan failed to give Doherty his place in history, then Doherty might even switch his support. Then his position would be up for grabs. Then it might well be he, Quin, who was in and Conlan who was out.

   He stepped out of the car and into the telephone kiosk. There were three numbers from the time before, he had committed them to memory then, not dared write them down, and even now he still remembered them. The chances were that one at least would have been changed, two and he would be unlucky. Three disconnected and the Devil himself would be against him.

   Nothing in life was ever straightforward, he supposed, yet in a way life repeated itself, the same pattern appearing time and time again. The conflict between the Provisionals and the Brits; the conflict in the Provisionals’ camp and, he assumed, among the British as well. Yet sometimes, not often and not for long, the sides changed, allies became enemies and enemies became allies.

   He lifted the receiver, inserted the phone card and dialled the Belfast code and the first number, cursed as he heard the unavailable tone. He dialled the second and heard the same tone. Even the Devil on the side of Conlan. He dialled the third and heard the ringing tone.

   ‘Yes.’ The voice was neutral.

   ‘Is Jacobson there?’

   Jacobson would not be there. Jacobson had been on the way up last time, would have moved on years ago.

   ‘Who wants him?’ There was no detail of the establishment he was calling and no confirmation that Jacobson existed. The same as last time, Quin thought, the alliance as unholy as they came, but something in it for both of them.

   All games were dangerous, but that on which he was about to embark was more dangerous than most.

   ‘Tell him Joseph wants to speak to him.’ The biblical reference had amused them both. ‘I’ll phone tomorrow for a number.’

   The telephone message from the man calling himself Joseph was logged at 3.56 PM, at 4.04 the codenames Jacobson and Joseph were run against the MI5 computer at Lisburn. Both files were blocked. At 4.18 it was passed to Farringdon and from Farringdon to Cutler. On the Dol’s instructions the names were run again through the computer and the files – if any files existed, other than as simple acknowledgements that the codewords had once been used – were confirmed as blocked. At 5.18 PM, one hour and twenty-two minutes after Quin had made the telephone call, his message was passed to London.

   In all except one detail, what had happened in MI5’s offices in Belfast was now repeated in Gower Street. The two words Jacobson and Joseph were computer-run, and both files – again if they existed as more than codenames – were found to be blocked, with the single additional point of information that any reference or enquiry concerning the two should be made to T Department. At 5.53 the duty officer in T was informed and ordered a check to be run against the department’s own computer system. The files were again blocked, with the instruction to refer any enquiry to the DDG.

   Michaelmass was informed at 6.17.

   John Petherington Michaelmass (Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford) was 53 years old, tall, dark hair with the first traces of silver. After Oxford he had spent two years in the States, then returned to Britain to work with ICI. Three years later he had been loaned to the security services to assist in an enquiry in an area in which he was considered a specialist, and had remained. Like all intelligence chiefs he had the ability not only to absorb a considerable quantity of information, but to identify the strands or themes which might run through it. He was married with two children, a daughter who had graduated the previous July, and a son now in his final year. He lived in Kensington, with a country house in Buckinghamshire, both afforded by family money on his and his wife’s side rather than his Security Service salary.

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