‘Adeola, I’m shocked that you should even think such a thing! The idea of it! And who told you?’
Adeola didn’t look amused. She was wearing a black trouser suit today and a grey silk shirt, with no jewellery apart from a three-stranded pearl necklace. She knew what a clown Denis O’Connell could be, and she had wanted to appear as grave as possible. There was nothing funny about Muslim terrorists using the mountains of Paraguay as a hideout and a training camp. Operatives from Al-Qaeda were there, as well as Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. German intelligence had called the area ‘a ticking time bomb’.
‘Denis,’ said Adeola, ‘I know that I’m not going to change your political affiliations, nor am I trying to. But I’m asking you not to pour more gasoline on to the fire.’
Denis O’Connell lifted his glass and swirled his wine around. ‘I’m not a man of violence, Adeola. But sometimes in this cockeyed world of ours, things can only be changed by standing up to those who oppress us.’
‘DOVE is prepared to make you a deal, Denis.’
‘A deal, is it? What manner of deal? Will they pay for the Israelis to pull out of Gaza, or the Yanks to pull out of Iraq? Will they give cash to the British government to surrender at last the occupied territories of Northern Ireland?’
‘No. But we will pay you twice what the Jihadis are paying you, and we will guarantee that Doody and O’Donovan are immune from prosecution. Just order them home, and nothing will be said.’
‘And what makes you think that I have the influence to do such a thing, even if I wanted to?’
‘If you haven’t, why did you agree to come here and talk to me?’
Denis O’Connell sipped his wine and patted his lips with a clean white handkerchief. ‘You know that I can never resist a beautiful woman, Adeola.’
‘Then don’t resist me now. Bring Doody and O’Donovan back from Paraguay, and help to make the world a safer place.’
‘My God, Adeola. I wish I had your idealism.’
They parted on the understanding that Denis O’Connell would talk to his friends in Dublin, and get back to Adeola when she returned to New York.
‘I’m hopeful that we may be able to do some business,’ he told her.
‘Well, you know what George Herbert said: “He that lives in hope danceth without music.”’
‘And you know what W.B. Yeats said: “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”’
He kissed her on both cheeks, and then he winked at her. As he stepped out of the front entrance of the hotel, Rick came up beside Adeola and asked, ‘Think you made any progress?’
‘I’m not too sure. He’s about the least trustworthy man I ever met.’
Rick checked his wristwatch. ‘We’d better think about hitting the bricks. We have to be at the airport by three.’
‘Sure. Did you bring my bags down?’
‘They’re all in the Range Rover.’
Charles appeared, holding up a large golf umbrella. ‘It’s just started to rain again. Are you ready?’
Adeola took his arm and together they hurried across the hotel driveway, with Rick following close behind. The rain was drifting in from the west, across the Kenmare estuary, a silvery-grey expanse of water with misty grey mountains on its southern side.
As she climbed into the shiny black Range Rover, Adeola turned and took a last look at the hotel. It was a huge Victorian building, in the Gothic style, with a tower, and had once been a favourite holiday haunt of George Bernard Shaw. For the first time in a long time, she wished that she could stay a few more days, and stop worrying about terrorism and petty wars and insurrection. The rain smelled so refreshing, and the estuary was so silent. There were chairs arranged on the patio overlooking the water, but all of them were empty.
Jimmy and Miko came out of the hotel and looked up at the rain. Their grey rented Mercedes was parked a hundred yards away, under the trees.
‘We’ll catch up with you, OK?’
Nesta was the last to get into the Range Rover, shaking her head. ‘I just washed my hair this morning, and now look at it!’
She turned to smile at Adeola, but as she did so the window next to her exploded and the left side of her head blew open, so that blood and brains were sprayed all over the luggage stowed in the back.
Rick shouted, ‘
’ and Charles slammed his foot on the gas. The Range Rover’s tyres slithered on the wet asphalt, and it catapulted forward into the empty chairs, scattering them in all directions.
There was a loud slamming noise, and then another, and another, as three high-powered bullets hit the Range Rover’s doors. Charles twisted around in his seat, engaged reverse gear, and hit the gas pedal again. The Range Rover sped backward, past the hotel entrance, and Charles yanked the handbrake so that it slewed around in a semicircle.
Just as he was spinning the steering wheel to turn them towards the hotel exit, however, the windshield shattered. Adeola saw it in slow motion, millions of fragments of glittering glass, tumbling over and over. Charles’s jaw was blasted away, and then another bullet hit him in the right ear. The Range Rover ran over the herbaceous border that surrounded the hotel lounge, and then collided with the wall.
Rick yelled, ‘Adeola! Open the door! Drop to the ground and roll under the vehicle!’
Adeola tugged at the door handle. As she did so, another shot thumped into the Range Rover’s bodywork, with such impact that the vehicle swayed. Although the Range Rover was jammed against the side of the building, Adeola managed to open the door wide enough to force her way out of it, one hand reaching down to the ground first, to support herself, and then her head and her shoulders.
She dropped into the wet herbaceous border, and wriggled herself underneath the Range Rover’s running board. She heard yet another shot, and another, and she heard Jimmy shouting, ‘Miko?
‘Rick?’ she called out. ‘Rick – where are you?’
She saw Rick’s feet as he jumped down from the Range Rover’s front seat and came running around to the back. He crouched down and said, ‘Come on – we have to get out of here!’ His left cheek was decorated with blood.
‘Are you hit?’ she asked him.
He touched his cheek with his fingertips. ‘No. This is Charlie’s. Come on, we have to go. If we stay here, they’ll come right over and shoot us at point-blank range.’
‘Just keep your wits about you. Stay close behind me. Stay low. And keep running.’
‘Save it. Come on, now. On three.’
She crawled out from under the Range Rover and crouched down next to him. It was raining harder now, but apart from the gurgling of the gutters and the drainpipes, the hotel and the grounds around it were strangely silent. Nobody was shouting. Nobody was coming out to see what had happened. There was no sign of Jimmy or Miko.
She could hear somebody’s cellphone warbling but that was all. It sounded like Nesta’s.
‘OK,’ said Rick. ‘
He took hold of her left arm and dragged her out from behind the Range Rover into the open. Crouching down low, they scurried along the front of the hotel towards the entrance.
‘Not inside!’ said Rick. ‘They’ll have somebody waiting for us!’
They hurried past the front door. As they did so, Adeola heard a flat, distinctive crack, and a chunk of stone flew across the driveway in front of her. There was another crack, and a privet hedge shivered, as if it were alive.
Rick pulled her across the tennis courts, their feet splashing in shallow puddles. Then they dived down a flight of wet stone steps, and into a series of ornamental gardens.
‘Keep running!’ he told her.
The gardens were overgrown with large, dripping trees. Adeola saw sundials and blind cherubs and unicorns with moss on their backs. She stumbled and lost one of her shoes but Rick wouldn’t let her stop to pick it up. She hopped for a few paces and then kicked the other one off.
Adeola didn’t say anything, didn’t ask questions. She knew that it was Rick’s job to protect her and her best chance for survival was to do what he told her.
They came running out of the gardens to the water’s edge. A plank causeway led along the side of the estuary, towards a cluster of small, dark, densely-wooded islands. They ran along it hand in hand, with Adeola’s bare feet slapping on the wet planks. They reached the first of the islands, where there was a small bathing hut and a wooden bench. Rick quickly looked around. ‘Bastard! He’s coming after us. He’s not going to give up, this guy.’
Adeola started to turn her head, too, but Rick wrenched her hand and pulled her past the bathing hut and into the woods. After a few yards, however, he stopped.
‘You go that way,’ he panted, pointing off to the right. ‘Keep on running, fast as you can.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I’ll be looking after you. I promise.’
‘Go, Adeola – I won’t let you down.’ He gave her the briefest kiss on the cheek and then he said, ‘
She started to run along the narrow, zigzag path that led between the trees. The path was stony and wet and tangled with roots, and Adeola’s ankles were lashed by stinging nettles, but she bounded along it like a hunted deer. She could hear herself gasping as she ran, almost as if somebody else were running beside her.
The path climbed steeply, and then descended again. She saw water gleaming through the trees ahead of her, and realized that she had reached the far side of the island. She came out beside a wide tributary of the main Kenmare river, over fifty yards wide. Its surface was circled with raindrops. On the opposite bank there was another island, with more woods.
She looked to her right, and saw that there was a narrow dam connecting the two islands, about a hundred yards upstream.
She was just about to start running again when an unfamiliar voice called out, ‘
She turned around. A man in khaki camouflage was walking briskly towards her. He was quite slightly built, with a shaven head and a neat black beard. He had a narrow, hawk-like face and close-set eyes. He was carrying a rifle with a very long barrel and telescopic sights.
‘Stop, please,’ he said. ‘There is no profit in your trying to run any further. I will catch you.’
Adeola stayed where she was, her heat drumming, her chest rising and falling.
‘You will kneel, and you will close your eyes,’ said the man.
‘Oh, you think so?’ said Adeola, her voice shaking. ‘You’ve just shot two of my friends, you bastard.’
kneel, and you
close your eyes,’ the man repeated.
‘And if I won’t?’
‘Then I will have to kill you standing up, with your eyes wide open. That is all. But it is better for you if you kneel, and close your eyes.’
‘Have you ever heard the expression “fuck you”?’
‘You should not die with an obscenity on your lips. You should die with a prayer for forgiveness for all of your transgressions.’
He came closer, and lifted his rifle. Adeola was surprised to see how young he was. Twenty-four, twenty-five, not much older than that.
‘Who are you?’ she asked him.
‘You do not need to know that. You are going to die anyway.’
‘What’s your name? At least you can tell me your name.’
‘You do not need to know my name.’
From the trees on the other side of the river, two or three crows flapped up, cawing harshly. Adeola thought of what Rick had assured her:
I’ll be looking after you. I
. She looked back at the young man with the rifle and she said, ‘All right, then, I’ll kneel and close my eyes, if it makes your job any easier.’
‘This is not personal hatred,’ said the young man. ‘I have no ill-feeling for you as a woman.’
‘That’s good to know. I’d hate to think you were going to kill me out of petty spite.’
‘Please,’ he said, gesturing with his rifle.
Adeola slowly knelt on the ground. It was soaking wet, peaty, and slippery with layers of half-decomposed leaves.
‘And, please, close your eyes.’
She closed her eyes, but then almost immediately opened them again.
‘I want to see your expression when you kill me,’ she said.
The young man looked disconcerted. It suddenly occurred to Adeola that he might have shot plenty of people at long distance, but never face to face.
‘You should close your eyes,’ he insisted.
‘No, I’m not going to. When I get to the other side, I want to find your ancestors, and I want to tell them exactly what you looked like, when you murdered an innocent woman.’
‘You should close your eyes!’ he shouted, and he actually stamped his foot.
He was so agitated that he didn’t hear Rick emerging from the bushes – or if he did, he didn’t realize what it was. That rustling of leaves, that crackling of roots; that could have been the rain, after all. But Adeola watched in fascination as Rick crept right up behind him, close enough to lay a hand on his shoulder, if he had wanted to.
There was a long moment when time seemed to stand still. Adeola felt that even the raindrops were suspended in mid-air. Only the crows continued to squabble, on the other side of the slow-moving river.
Rick whipped a garrotte around the would-be assassin’s neck, so fast that Adeola barely saw him do it, and twisted it, hard. The young man’s eyes bulged, and he dropped his rifle and reached up to his throat with both hands. But Rick had twisted the garrotte so fiercely that he wasn’t even able to exhale.
The young man kicked, and struggled, and clawed at his neck, but Rick stayed firm, never easing the pressure once. For over thirty seconds there was no sound except for the kicking of the young man’s heels amongst the leaves. But then his knees gave way, and his arms dropped to his sides. Rick was able to release the garrotte and let him fall sideways on to the ground. He gave an odd, petulant whine as his last breath was finally allowed to escape from his lungs.