Authors: Stella Rimington
Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir
‘Patrick? That’s a fine Irish name. Have you got another one to go with it?’
‘Not one you need to know.’
‘Okay.’ Dave sounded confident, thought Liz in the Control Room. ‘You said you needed to talk to me.’
‘No – you need me to talk to you.’
‘Well,’ said Dave, ‘I’m certainly interested in hearing what you have to say. And why you want to say it to me.’
‘That’s my affair,’ said ‘Patrick’. He sounded surly, and Liz wondered just what his motivation was. He clearly wasn’t acting out of any affection for the security services.
This was confirmed a second later, when Patrick announced, ‘I am not here to betray the cause I served for twenty-five years. I’m here because someone else is doing the betraying, and I want it stopped. All that’s different now is that you people and I have the same interests –
‘I’m listening,’ said Dave. Then he added, ‘Do you mind if I take notes?’
‘I certainly do,’ said Patrick sharply.
Liz smiled at the classic ruse for distracting the agent from wondering whether he was being recorded.
‘That’s fine. I have a good memory,’ said Dave easily. ‘Ready when you are.’
Patrick sighed and took a deep breath. ‘When the Provisional Army Council decided to sign the Belfast Agreement and go along the political route, not all of their followers went with them. Some wanted to continue the struggle just as before. You will be familiar with the groups I’m talking about. The splinter groups.’
‘Continuity IRA. The Real IRA,’ said Dave.
Patrick must have nodded, and he went on: ‘For others the problem isn’t that simple. The fact is, things have changed – to pretend they haven’t is just plain daft. Now the leaders are wearing suits and taking jobs as government ministers and drinking coffee out of china cups in Stormont, we can’t carry on the war like we did.’ He added venomously, ‘Not that most of us don’t want to. But we’ve sworn loyalty to the leadership. And whatever we think, we’re loyal buggers, and the leadership’s come down hard on splinter groups. So we’ve had to find something else to do.’ He added with a suggestion of embarrassment, ‘There was also the problem of earning a crust.’
Dave said, ‘I’ve often wondered how people have managed.’
‘It’s been bloody hard,’ said Patrick harshly. ‘While the bigwigs ponce about in Downing Street and Stormont, the rest of us poor sods have been left out in the cold. You’ve heard the expression ‘jobs for the boys’? Well there have only been jobs for the top boys. It’s a disgrace.’
Dave stayed silent, and Patrick continued. ‘As I said, when Adams and McGuinness got into bed with you lot, the problem was how to stay loyal to the Movement while not getting left out. There weren’t many options, and when you saw an opportunity you had to grab it quickly.’ Suddenly he dropped the third person. ‘So I did.’
‘Tell me about the opportunity.’
‘A new company in Belfast needed some technical assistance. It was a consultancy,’ he added, ‘and I guess you’d say I became their consultant.’
‘Consultant in what?’ asked Dave slowly.
‘Technical aspects of security,’ said Patrick a little grandly. Listening in the Control Room, Liz reckoned he’d prepared this answer before. ‘Several of the employees of the firm were old colleagues of mine.’
‘Where is this company?’
‘Right in the centre of Belfast– just off Castle Street.’
That’s about the first concrete information he’s offered, thought Liz, wondering again why she found him familiar. And Castle Street also rang a bell. You had to admire Dave’s handling of this man: the good agent runner never hurried the agent and took care never to prick the balloon of his ego. Dave was doing well on both counts.
Just then another audio channel broke in. ‘Control, this is Air Three. We have a white builder’s van just off Queen’s Parade on Southwell Road. It’s double-parked and been there for some time. But on our last pass a guy was unloading bags from the back.’
‘These bags – can you describe them, Air Three?’ asked Purvis tensely.
‘Look to be canvas, long – probably three or four feet. Something like sports bags for cricket kit.’
Cricket kit in January? wondered Liz. It didn’t seem likely. She studied her laptop – the van was only a few hundred feet from Dave’s car. ‘I don’t like the sound of this,’ said Liz softly, and Purvis nodded.
‘Do you want us to take another look?’ asked Air Three.
Purvis turned his head, and Liz shook hers. It was too risky; even in Northern Ireland people noticed a helicopter if it hovered too obviously.
‘Negative,’ said Purvis. ‘We’ll deal with it.’
Purvis switched to another channel, while Liz tried to focus again on Dave’s conversation. He was saying to Patrick, ‘And are you happy working there?’
‘I was at first, especially as I was told that the firm’s profits were going to help the Cause. It was a legit business but also a holding action, if you see what I mean, until the time came when the peace process fell apart and the struggle began again.’
His agenda’s clear at any rate, thought Liz, wondering how many former Provos shared his views. One hundred, as Binding had suggested? Maybe more? The thought was depressing, and frightening – former terrorists waiting like crows for the fragile peace to crack so they could come in and finish the job, starting the whole futile spiral of violence all over again. Was the man unloading a van one of them?
She listened tensely as Purvis gave instructions: ‘Corner of Southwell Road and Queen’s Parade, a white van parked and unloading. Can you check what’s being moved? Go easy; this might be hostile.’
On one of the monitors they had a distant overhead view from the helicopter of Southwell Road. It was clear enough for them to see two police cars shooting up it at speed, their lights flashing but no sirens audible over any of the channels. Good, thought Liz – Dave and the informant couldn’t see the police cars from where they sat, and they wouldn’t hear them either.
The two police cars stopped suddenly, one at each end of the double-parked van, so that it couldn’t move. But then the picture disappeared, and Liz could no longer see either the van or the police cars. The helicopter must have turned away, and the monitor’s screen showed only blue sky, then the dull pea-green expanse of the Lough.
Dave was asking, ‘Can you tell me about your technical work?’
‘No!’ The man called Patrick was almost shouting. ‘I’ll tell you what you need to know.’ There was an edge to his voice now.
‘Fair enough,’ said Dave steadily.
‘The business turned out to have a retail side I hadn’t been told about.’
‘What are they selling?’
they selling is more like it. They flog stolen lottery tickets, stolen booze, and foreign women.’
‘Any guns?’ asked Dave quietly.
There was silence in the car; for a moment, standing in the Control Room, Liz worried that the audio connection had been lost. She wondered what was happening with the builder’s van.
Then Patrick said, not answering Dave’s question, ‘Worst of all, they sell drugs.’ He snorted with contempt. ‘We never touched drugs. It was a punishable offence to have anything to do with them. They could destroy our communities.’
‘So this consultancy is really just a front for criminal activity of all kinds.’
‘Looks like it.’
Suddenly there was the crackle of the police radio. ‘Control, we’ve stopped and searched. Nothing to worry about. It’s bags of curtain rods – the van driver owns a decorating shop down the road in Ballyholme.’
Whew, thought Liz, and noticed Purvis was smiling. He turned up the volume on Dave’s conversation.
‘Why are you talking to me?’ asked Dave, sounding more assertive now. Liz reckoned he was probably thinking what she was – that this wasn’t a matter for MI5, but for the new Northern Ireland Police Service. It sounded like a well-organised racket – a menace to be sure, but straightforwardly criminal, and no concern of theirs.
Patrick seemed to bristle. ‘If you’re not interested, just say so, and I’ll be on my way.’
Dave ignored him. ‘You know as well as I do that this sort of stuff is a matter for the police. So why did you want to tell me about it?’
Patrick must have decided he had been opaque for too long. He said, ‘The company I’m talking about is called Fraternal Holdings.’
Bingo, thought Liz. Things were starting to fall into place – and now she knew why this man was familiar. He had been the old man in the Astra, the one who left the Fraternal offices in a rage. He was getting his own back now, it seemed.
‘The boss isn’t Irish, but he calls himself a Republican. He says we’ve all been let down by Adams and McGuinness. What he really wants to do is kill policemen – and he wants to kill one of your lot, too. He says that will demonstrate that the war goes on.’
?’ exclaimed Dave, unable to contain his surprise.
‘That’s what I’m telling you,’ said Patrick, and Liz could imagine him sitting there with his arms folded, smugly certain that he had justified this rendezvous.
‘Let me get this straight,’ said Dave. ‘You’re telling me you’ve gone to work for a boss who claims to share your nationalist ideals, only to discover he’s running rackets of every conceivable sort all over Belfast. And now you’re saying he wants to kill policemen and an MI5 officer. I don’t get it.’
‘What’s there to get? If you don’t believe me, say the word and I’ll be off.’ Liz heard him shake the door handle.
‘Hold your horses. I’m just surprised. You would be too in my position.’
‘Not very likely,’ said the old man, giving a caustic laugh.
‘I need to know more. You can appreciate that. This man isn’t exactly the only guy in Northern Ireland who’d still like to kill a policeman, or shoot a British Intelligence officer. Wanting is one thing; doing it’s another. Has he made any plans?
‘If you’re asking if this is just some fancy he’s got, you’re wrong. This guy is serious. He’s got plans all right.’
‘Do you know what they are?’ asked Dave sharply.
‘Not the detail. But I know he’s called in external help for the job.’
Liz recalled the man she’d seen at the farmhouse; Fergus had identified him as a Spanish hit man. But Patrick said emphatically, ‘France – there’s a Frenchman visiting while we’re sitting here talking.’
‘Have you got a name?’
There was a pause. Then, ‘His name’s Milraw or Milroe, something like that. He’s supposed to be a dealer in old weapons – antiques. He’s got a shop here that’s legit. But I think you’ll find he sells modern weapons as well.’
‘And he would supply weapons to your boss?’
‘He’s not here to sell him a blunderbuss.’
‘Is there anything else you can tell me?’
‘Isn’t that enough?’
‘It’s a start, and I’m grateful. But there’s something I still don’t understand – why you are here. I know, I know, that’s your affair. But at least tell me, is there something personal about your reasons?’
‘Well, I wouldn’t have thought you’d give two hoots if a cop got shot or someone like me got topped. So what’s this to you?’
And then for the first time Patrick let his taciturn front drop. ‘What’s it to me?’ His voice rose. ‘I’ll tell you. I haven’t given my life and worked my guts out for thirty years to have some little American prick come over and tell me what to do.’
‘This guy’s American?’
‘Boston-Irish. University fella, clever, but just as bad as the rest of them. You know what I mean: all those brave guys sitting on barstools in Boston, throwing in a dollar or two when the NORAID bucket went round, acting tough but doing sweet Fall. Piggott’s just as bad – only instead of getting sloshed in Jerry Kelly’s Shamrock Saloon, or whatever phoney name they call it, he was sitting behind a computer in the university dreaming up the perfect missile. Only it never worked as far as I know. While we were literally
‘Did you say Piggott?’ Dave gave stress to the surname – for her benefit, Liz realised, in case the audio had not been clear enough.
‘Why? Do you know the man?’ asked Patrick suspiciously.
‘Never heard of him. Is he related to the jockey?’ He gave a small laugh.
Patrick didn’t join him. He was quiet for a minute, possibly subdued; he must regret losing his cool like that, thought Liz. He had been so unwilling to talk about his reasons for contacting Dave, the representative of his arch-enemy, yet then he’d blown it. He was nursing a grudge. That was clear now. What Piggott had done to him was anyone’s guess, but Liz didn’t believe it was just his American citizenship that had provoked the Irishman’s rage, and set him off on a quest for revenge.
Dave said, ‘This is extremely helpful, Patrick. But it would be even more helpful if you could find out more and we could meet again. It wouldn’t have to be so elaborate next time; we could meet in Belfast if that suited you.’
‘No.’ Patrick’s voice was unequivocal. Liz heard him open the car door. ‘If I need you again, I know how to get to you. You’ve had all you’re going to get from me, and that should be enough for you to put Piggott away. No amnesty is going to save his arse. And if you can’t catch him, and one of you gets blown away …’ His voice suddenly assumed a gross caricature of an Irish voice. ‘Well faith and goodness, wouldn’t that be a terrible shame?’
Jimmy Fergus was an easy-going man, famously affable, a lover of women, pubs, and convivial company. His sunny front to the world masked his professional seriousness; it was his intense commitment to the RUC that had been responsible for the breakdown of his first three marriages. Determined not to let this happen to his fourth, he was now working only part-time for the newly formed Northern Ireland Police Service.
Fortunately Moira, his bride of just over a year, had understood from the beginning how attached he was to police work, and it was she who had encouraged him to defer retirement. Not for her a life in Ibiza or some other stultifying resort, where former policemen sat pickling themselves in sun and booze, stirring only to walk each day as far as the newsagent to pick up the
. Jimmy had thought he might take over the family farm in Antrim, but when Moira asked him if he really wanted to spend his days milking cows, he realised that the prospect was more fantasy than ambition.