Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online

Authors: Stella Rimington

Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir

Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger (20 page)

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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‘We’re not going to the office then?’ Dermot ventured tentatively.

Piggott said, ‘No. I need your help at the house. Something’s come up.’

They drove in silence, punctuated by the frequent calls Piggott made on his mobile phone. He spoke elliptically, giving terse orders, and Dermot gathered he was going on a trip somewhere. But he knew better than to ask.

Once out of Belfast they made good time, and in less than an hour they were through the gate, passing the National Trust gatehouse where the lights were on, and driving up the private lane. Instead of stopping on the gravel at the front of the house Malone drove into the low brick garage in the yard behind. When they’d all got out, Piggott carefully closed the double garage door. He doesn’t want the car to be seen, thought Dermot. Why?

The mystery deepened when instead of all going downstairs to the private office, Piggott left them in the big sitting room on the ground floor and went downstairs by himself.

Dermot sat down in one of the soft chintz armchairs, and looked around at the plush curtains and antique furniture. He felt ill at ease, like a messenger treated by mistake as a guest. Malone had stayed standing near the door, as if he were guarding someone. Then it occurred to Dermot that Malone might be guarding
him
, and his nervousness increased.

Footsteps sounded from the back of the house, and Piggott reappeared, followed by another man. It was Milraud, and Dermot looked away.

‘Here’s my friend Antoine. Are you surprised to see him?’ asked Piggott.

Dermot’s heart begin to race.
Stay calm, boyo
, he told himself, but it was easier said than done, and he felt anxiety move through his limbs in waves. ‘We’ve never met,’ he said at last, and looked directly at the man. ‘But I heard you were around.’

‘Really,’ said Piggott coldly. ‘You know, I had a letter in the post a few days ago and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who’d sent it. It was warning me about Antoine here – said he might not be my friend after all. The odd thing was that the letter wasn’t signed. I found that a bit cowardly. If someone has something to say, why not say it? I don’t like poison pen letters. What do you think, Dermot?’

‘I don’t know anything about that, boss,’ said Dermot, trying to look respectful and baffled at the same time.

‘Fortunately, Antoine here and I go way back – we’ve done business together for over ten years, and in as many countries. If he was going to betray me, he would have done it long ago. God knows we’ve each had the chance. But even so, after a letter like that you can’t help but feel a tiny bit of doubt.’

Piggott looked at the Frenchman, who was sitting calmly in a wing chair in the corner, and for a moment Dermot’s hopes rose. But then Piggott turned his grey eyes back onto Dermot, and his icy gaze extinguished this brief flicker of optimism.

There was a noise from the back of the house, then more footsteps. The Spaniard, Gonzales, loomed in the doorway, and Dermot’s agitation increased dramatically. He’d been set up, he could see that now. Piggott’s cordial call had been a ruse to bring him down here. But how had Piggott discovered he’d sent the letter? He couldn’t have any proof that it was him. There couldn’t have been a leak from British intelligence, not that he’d put it past them to hang him out to dry if it suited their purposes. But he’d never told that MI5 man his name. Dermot was building a case in his head for his own survival, and persuading himself that he might after all see Belfast again. Then he saw the Spaniard nod quickly at Piggott.

‘He’s out then?’ Piggott asked.

‘Like a baby,’ said Gonzales.

‘Let’s keep him that way,’ said Piggott. He turned to Dermot, and said, ‘We’ve had a visitor staying. Name of Simon Willis. Ring any bells?’

Dermot shook his head. Too fast, he told himself; he should have looked like he was thinking about it.

But Piggott didn’t seem to notice, saying, ‘Not very talkative at first, but it’s remarkable what modern pharmaceuticals can do.’

While Dermot digested this, Piggott went on, ‘He wasn’t meant to be here – some signals got crossed – but he’s already been useful. While I was figuring out what to do with him, we had a little chat. Funnily enough, your name came up in our conversation.’

Dermot tried not to show fear; he told himself again that MI5 didn’t know his name. ‘Why was that?’ he managed to ask.

‘Because I brought it up.’ Piggott watched his reactions, then added, ‘Along with a lot of others. I was trying to understand why this Willis guy had made an approach to Antoine just after someone had tried to stitch him up. Not a coincidence, I think you’ll agree. So someone in the organisation must have talked to Willis.’

‘I don’t know the man, I’m telling you.’ In spite of himself, his voice was rising in panic.

Piggott nodded, but it was not reassuring. ‘It’s only fair to say he didn’t seem to react to your name – or anyone else’s for that matter.’

Thank God, thought Dermot. Piggott added, ‘Then we tried showing him some photographs. And I have to say, yours was the only one he reacted to. What do you make of that?’

Jolted, Dermot exclaimed, ‘For the love of God, Mr Piggott, I don’t know the man you’re talking about, and I don’t know anyone from MI5. You say someone’s been trying to stitch up Milraud here. Well, it looks as though someone has stitched
me
up, good and proper.’

There was silence in the room. Dermot sensed Piggott was considering his appeal. After all, what evidence did he really have to go on? A drugged member of British intelligence nodding at a photograph? You couldn’t kill a man for that. Could you?

Piggott suddenly said, ‘How did you know Antoine was in Belfast?’

‘The boys were talking about it.’

‘I see,’ said Piggott neutrally, and he sat down in another of the chintz chairs, directly across from Dermot. ‘
Loose talk risks lives
, they used to say. I would have thought you knew the truth of that expression.’

‘I do, boss. It wasn’t me who was doing the talking.’ He felt his mouth drying, and he wanted to wet his lips with his tongue, only that would betray his nerves. It seemed important to look calm.

‘I suppose it was “the boys” then. Which one in particular?’ asked Piggott. He dipped his chin a notch, and Malone moved into the room.

‘I think it was Sean McCarthy,’ said Dermot carefully, picking the first name he could think of.

‘You sure?’

He paused. He had nothing against young Sean: he was feckless, but then so were all these young kids Piggott had brought in. It didn’t seem right to land McCarthy in it, but what else could he do? With luck, Sean would get away with a good kicking, he told himself.

He nodded emphatically. ‘That’s right, Mr Piggott. I remember it clear as a bell. It was the day before yesterday – I saw him at Paddy O’Brien’s saloon. Why, he even bought me a drink – that’s rare enough not to forget.’ He tried to smile at his weak joke.

Piggott seemed to understand; you could tell the man’s mind was churning over the news of who had been talking. He said, ‘I tell you what, Dermot. Why don’t you go with these two –’ and he jabbed a long finger at Malone and Gonzales – ‘and walk down to the cove. There are some cases on the speedboat that need unloading. Put them on the pier, and Antoine and I will bring the cars down in a little while so you can load them up. I’ve got some calls to make first.’ And with a wave of his hand, he dismissed them.

Outside it was dark. In the cold, fresh air, Dermot breathed an enormous sigh of relief. He felt a little bad about Sean McCarthy, but his regret was dwarfed by his exhilaration at getting away with it himself.

‘This way,’ said Malone, and they crossed the small square of lawn that slanted downwards towards the beach. A line of low lights marked the narrow path to the cove. It led through a small copse of trees – alder, a few birches, some scrubby young oak that had managed to survive exposure to so much harsh salt air. Dermot found himself sandwiched between his companions. They were halfway through the copse when he saw the low mound at the edge of a tiny clearing on one side of the path. The earth had been freshly turned, piled not much more than twelve inches high, yellow from the sand in the soil. Malone just ahead of him stopped, and Dermot almost bumped into him.

‘What’s that?’ Dermot asked, pointing to the low mound.

Malone turned around to face him, and his head was so close that Dermot could feel his breath when he spoke. ‘You said back there that you’d been speaking to Sean McCarthy the day before yesterday. But you couldn’t have been.’

‘Perhaps I got that wrong,’ he said, as weakness began to flow through his limbs. He sensed that behind him Gonzales had taken a step back.

‘You did, Dermot. And it wasn’t a wise mistake to make.’

Behind him Gonzales gave a harsh laugh. ‘Cheer up,
señor
. Soon you can talk to Sean McCarthy for as long as you like.’ Dermot looked again at the mound, and realised it was a grave.

His eyes turned to Malone beseechingly, but Malone wouldn’t catch his eye.

There was a metallic noise behind him; Dermot knew it was Gonzales clearing the chamber of an automatic.

Malone said, ‘Sorry, Dermot.’

32

 

By nine-thirty the next morning Binding had changed his tune. His dismissive cool of the night before had gone and he seemed to be operating in a kind of frenzied overdrive, constantly on the phone, making increasingly tense calls.

 

By eleven, when there was still no sign of Dave, he strode into Liz’s office, his face a map of panic, his suit of thick grey pinstripes making him look heavy and sombre.

‘I’ve spoken to DG. He’s very concerned. As am I,’ he added, conveniently wiping the slate clean of the previous evening’s conversation. ‘I’m going to ask DG to send an investigative team over asap,’ he announced.

Liz nodded. She was glad to see that Binding was taking the situation seriously but was alarmed by how far he’d now swung the other way. What she would give for the calm command of Charles Wetherby …

‘I wonder if it might be better to wait a little for that?’ Liz kept her own voice mild, knowing how much Binding disliked dissent – he could go ballistic at the slightest demurral.

‘Don’t you realise time is of the essence? We need all the help we can get. DG will be informing the home secretary shortly.’

That was more than Liz could take. ‘If you remember,’ she replied icily, ‘I wanted to inform the police last night. It was you who told me I was overreacting and should wait. In my opinion an investigative team getting involved now would just complicate things. There’s nothing they can do at the moment that we can’t – except get in our way. Even twenty-four hours should make things a bit clearer.’

Binding had gone red in the face, but Liz could see he was considering what she’d said. Whatever his faults – and to Liz they were legion – he was good at seeing where his best interests lay. He knew he needed to get this right. He said slowly, ‘We can’t be sure Dave’s absence has anything to do with this Frenchman Milraud, can we?’

‘Are you saying you think Dave’s gone AWOL?’ she asked, worried that he was going to flip-flop all over again.

‘I don’t know what to think. A4 went to his flat – no sign that he’s been there since yesterday morning.’

‘We should check at Milraud’s shop,’ said Liz, looking at her watch impatiently. ‘Our source at the airport is looking to see if he caught his flight to France yesterday, but we need to confirm that Dave did actually meet the man.’

‘The CCTV in the area will show if he went to the shop.’

‘There’s no camera on the street where Milraud has his place. We’ve got someone going through all the CCTV in the area, but that’s going to take some time.’ She stood up to go, already thinking of what she’d say at the Milraud shop.

But Binding had other ideas. ‘Send someone else,’ he said sharply. ‘I need you close by. Things are getting tense.’ You mean
you
are, thought Liz.

33

 

It was the smell that made him stop. Every three days or so, Constable Frederick Hughes drove along this lane as part of his shift. He was used to a variety of pungent odours as he passed the farms, from pigs’ slurry to freshly cut hay and the woody smoke of smouldering piles of leaves. But not in midwinter. And anyway, this smoke was acrid. Whatever was being burned, it certainly wasn’t leaves.

 

He pulled over just past Docherty’s farm, once a notorious haven for IRA men on the run, heading for the border. A decade ago he would not have been patrolling here at all. What patrolling there was in South Armagh in those days was done by the military in helicopters or armoured cars.

But that was the past. Now he and his colleagues were far more likely to be hurt in a car accident than in an assassination attempt. Though maybe things were getting bad again – just days before, someone had tried to kill a half-retired officer outside his house in Belfast. No one knew yet who’d done it, or why. Perhaps it was some longstanding grudge, an ex-con avenging himself on the officer who’d brought him down. Hughes certainly hoped it was that. He liked the new comparative calm, the fact he didn’t feel the need to keep his holster unbuttoned when he drove out on patrol.

He rolled his window down, and as cold air filled the inside of the car, he sat sniffing like a gun dog. There – he smelled it again. He got out of the car.

The smell was stronger still outside. Turning round, he felt the wind sting his cheeks and he shivered slightly. It was blowing from the north-east, across the unploughed dun-coloured fields. So he got back into his car and drove towards the source of the smell, taking the first right turn he came to, along an old track he didn’t recognise. He drove slowly on, half-excited by the pursuit, half-scared of what might be around the next corner.

The track climbed gradually around Davitt’s Hill, the highest point in this small stretch of valley. From here you could almost see the border with the Republic, the safety line for so many fleeing the law in the North. Once across the border the Provos had a habit of disappearing into thin air. It wasn’t the Garda’s fault. They’d never had any more use for the IRA than the RUC had. But unless you built an Irish equivalent of the Berlin Wall along every foot of the 220-mile border, you had a refuge route for terrorists that was virtually impossible to police.

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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