Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online
Authors: Stella Rimington
Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir
‘We’ve found the van your attackers used. It was burned out in South Armagh, about five miles east of Moy.’
Fergus nodded. ‘Provo country. Can’t say I’m surprised. There are plenty of people in this world who would like to shoot me – including an ex-wife or two – but only the Republican renegades would actually go and do it nowadays.’ He sighed. ‘It’s depressing when you think that ninety-nine point nine per cent of the population is keen to have peace, and yet we can’t stop a few lunatics from jeopardising everything. I just hope everyone can keep their heads, not start blaming each other or using it as an excuse to step up the violence again. Once that starts, there’s no stopping it; it’s like the Israelis and the Palestinians.’
‘So far it’s been condemned by both sides equally.’
‘Any progress finding the villains?’
‘We’re getting there,’ she said with a confidence she didn’t entirely feel. ‘There were the remains of a gun in the van – they probably thought it would be unrecognisable after being burned. But it’s a .25.’
‘Like the slug in my chest. Pretty unusual these days.’
‘Exactly. We think we know who one of the guys was – he worked part-time for a laundry service; that’s where they got the van. His name’s Sean McCarthy, and he’s disappeared.’
Jimmy Fergus scratched his cheek thoughtfully. ‘That name rings a dim bell but I can’t put a face to it.’
‘Actually I was hoping that if you felt up to it, you could give us a description of them both.’
‘I’ll try, but I only got a good look at one of them – that was the driver. He was young, maybe twenty, light short hair, skinny, about six feet tall.’
‘That can’t be McCarthy – the laundry owner said he was short and dark-haired.’
‘Sounds like the guy with the gun. I got a quick look at him and he fits that description, but I couldn’t tell you much more than that. He took me by surprise. I was looking at the driver.’
‘Hopefully if we find McCarthy we’ll find the other guy.’
He looked at Liz. ‘But they’re just small fry, aren’t they? This was well-planned; I don’t think two youngsters could have done it all by themselves. Who do you think was behind it?’
‘Your colleagues think it’s the Real IRA. But McCarthy’s never been associated with them. I’m wondering if it may have something to do with our mysterious Mr Piggott.’ And she told Fergus what they’d learned about Piggott, and about Milraud and his recent visit. She didn’t mention Dave’s disappearance, Jimmy was starting to look tired and she didn’t want to give him anything more to worry about.
He pointed a finger down at his chest, where the bullet hole lay buried under a blanket of bandage. ‘I’m glad this happened before Milraud and Piggott finished their business.’
‘What do you mean?’
He managed a wan smile. ‘Piggott would have been buying better firepower from Milraud, I bet. Big powerful weapons and accurate too. Compared to them the little pistol that put me here was a pea shooter. And it jammed the first time he pulled the trigger.’
He was silent for a moment, and Liz wondered if he was thinking of his narrow escape. It must have seemed extraordinary, having lived through years when every day brought the promise of death, to get shot in the middle of what was supposed to be an era of peace.
‘The funny thing is,’ Jimmy Fergus mused, ‘those two guys didn’t even bother to hide their faces.’
Liz said nothing. ‘What is it?’ asked Fergus, disconcerted by the look on her face.
‘I think they weren’t expecting you to be able to provide a description.’
Fergus gave a satisfied grunt. ‘In that case, they really were amateurs.’
‘Or else you’re tough as old boots, Jimmy Fergus. I’d say it was a bit of both.’
The winter mistral was blowing strongly at Marseilles airport as Martin Seurat waited with Isabelle for her colleague to bring the car round from the car park. Isabelle was shivering beneath her raincoat. She had left behind her customary scruffy garb of oversized fisherman’s sweater and jeans and was dressed smartly in a short skirt and cashmere cardigan.
Seurat had decided at the last minute to join Isabelle on her visit to Toulon, though strictly speaking he should have left it to her – this kind of domestic investigation was not the business of his service. But he had been stirred into action by the intriguing phone call from Liz Carlyle. This was the first firm lead in a long time that might put Milraud away. But if he was honest with himself, he’d also taken the trouble to come down to Provence because he had been so taken by his lunch with the British woman. She’d struck him as straightforward, clever and amusing, but with a sort of modesty too. It was an unusual combination of qualities and he found it, and her, very attractive. He hoped he would see her again.
Martin Seurat had been an intelligence officer a good long time and he had recently had to admit to himself that the adrenalin was beginning to run thin. He’d been wondering if it was time to leave his service and look for some other career that might put the spark back into his life. Not that he had any idea what that might be. But today, standing in a cold wind on a Saturday morning, he realised with some surprise that he felt excited. He was excited at the prospect of catching up with his old colleague, Antoine Milraud. He wondered if he had changed. He’d always sailed close to the wind but it looked as if this time he’d gone right over the line and got himself involved in kidnapping or murder – at present it didn’t seem clear what it was – and of a British intelligence officer too. This was so out of character that Seurat was convinced there was more to it than met the eye. And it was the prospect of finding out what that was, as well as working closely with Liz Carlyle, that was stirring him into life again.
For fifty kilometres or so the motorway to Toulon cut along the side of the coastal hills, white outcrops of rock pushing their way through the thick vegetation of pines and eucalyptus. From time to time the Mediterranean came into view, sparkling blue, dotted with white crested waves stirred up by the fierce mistral. Within the hour they were driving into Toulon, past the big iron gates of the Naval Headquarters and the Prefecture Maritime and along the rue de la République to the big car park on the quayside, busy with shoppers, attracted in by the Saturday market.
Leaving their driver with the car, they crossed the rue de la République and strolled through the Place Louis Blanc with its tall blue and grey shuttered eighteenth-century houses, into the market which was still in full swing. The avenue of plane trees that would shelter the market from the sun in summer was without leaves and the canvas canopies covering the piles of vegetables and brown bowls of North African delicacies were blowing in the wind.
As she paused to sample an olive, Isabelle said, ‘Do you think it’s likely Milraud has come back here?’
‘It’s possible. Though our British colleague said she thought it unlikely.’
‘Ah. The charming Mademoiselle Carlyle?’ she said, with the faintest hint of amusement.
‘Yes. The officer from MI5 you sent to see me. It’s she who wants to know Milraud’s whereabouts.’
‘Ah,’ said Isabelle. ‘You explained the MI5 urgency, but I hadn’t realised it was the same officer. They’re sure Milraud is linked to their missing colleague?’
‘She sent a message yesterday saying that it looked that way. Something unexpected must have happened. Milraud has done a lot of bad things in recent years, but he is always careful. It makes no sense for him to get involved in this.’
‘There’s a woman in charge at his shop – I had a local officer look into it. Her name is Claire Dipeau. We should find her there now, but I doubt she’ll tell us anything.’
Seurat shrugged. ‘I expect you’re right. But we’re sure to learn something. It’s worth taking the trouble.’
‘To show the British we’re trying to help?’ Isabelle could not suppress her cynicism.
‘It’s not just that. I’m sure you’d agree we’d all be quite keen to put Milraud away. It may be that MI5 are doing us a favour, rather than the other way around.’
Isabelle picked an almond from a plate on a stall and said thoughtfully, ‘I find it surprising that Milraud would choose this town for his base.’
‘Why? Not exotic enough?’
‘The file says he grew up in Brittany, so it’s not as if he had roots here. And yes, not exotic enough. From your description of the man, he sounds more Saint-Tropez than Toulon.’
‘It’s pleasant enough here,’ said Seurat. ‘Maybe he finds it a convenient port for his business. Not as heavily policed as Marseilles, close to North Africa. It has its advantages. But I don’t expect him to show up here any time soon – not if he’s involved in the disappearance of this MI5 man.’
‘So let’s call on Madame Dipeau before she closes for lunch. If we turn down here we’ll come into the top end of the rue d’Alger, where the shop is.’
At the shop, Seurat held open the heavy oak door for Isabelle and followed her into the long dark room. Behind a counter at the far end a white-haired woman in a black jacket and long skirt was polishing a beautifully chased metal scabbard with a cloth.
Madame Dipeau, thought Seurat. She looks very respectable. Clever of him – no one would suspect that a woman of mature years, formidable demeanour and decorous dress would be colluding in anything shady.
The woman looked up and nodded politely, then greeted them in the strong nasal tones of the region. ‘
Bonjour m’sieurdame. En vacances
‘No. We were hoping to see Monsieur Milraud.’
The woman shook her head sadly, as she put the cloth and scabbard down on the counter’s glass top. ‘
. Monsieur is away.’
Seurat said, ‘Really? When we spoke on the phone he mentioned a trip to Ireland, but he said he would be back by now.’
She replied quickly, ‘He called to say he would be away longer than planned.’ Her expression made clear that this was a matter of indifference to her.
‘Was he still in Ireland when you spoke to him?’
‘I don’t know where he was, monsieur. I did not enquire.’ Madame Dipeau spoke sharply, making it clear she didn’t question her employer about his whereabouts, and that by implication neither should Seurat.
‘Possibly Madame Milraud would know where we can find her husband,’ suggested Isabelle. The woman gave an elegant shrug and did not reply. ‘Do you have an address and perhaps we could call on her?’
‘I am not authorised to give out personal information, madame,’ she replied coldly.
‘Even if we are old friends of the Milrauds?’
Madame Dipeau raised both hands palms upwards to show that she remained unable to help.
There was a pause. ‘You’re right – we’re not old friends,’ said Isabelle, speaking brusquely now, fishing in her bag and producing a warrant card. ‘Nor new ones, either. But I suggest you give us the home address of Monsieur Milraud right away. Otherwise, in ten minutes I will have the
here. Not to mention an inspector of taxes, who will wish to inspect every item in your inventory, go through all your records, see every invoice, check every bill that’s been paid. I am sure when Monsieur Milraud eventually returns to find such a thorough investigation, he will be pleased that he’s left his business in such safe hands.
C’est compris, madame
The woman looked long and hard at Isabelle. She said nothing but reaching for a pad from behind the counter wrote down an address and pointedly handed it to Seurat.
‘Bandol,’ he said with a charming smile, reading the address. ‘Antoine has certainly come up in the world.
Merci beaucoup, madame
.’ Isabelle had reached the door but he paused and, pointing at the scabbard lying on the counter, said, ‘That looks as if it belonged to one of Napoleon’s marshals.’
Madame Dipeau was unamused. ‘It belonged to Napoleon himself, monsieur,’ she said tartly.
As they walked back to the car Isabelle said, ‘She’ll be on the phone by now to Madame Milraud. What’s the next move?’
She didn’t need to ask – this was technically her turf; she dealt with the French mainland, not Seurat. Perhaps if it had been Milraud himself they were going to see, she might have asserted that position, taken the initiative. But she seemed to have guessed that Seurat had some sort of an issue with Madame Milraud and decided that if he wanted to handle the interview himself, she wouldn’t stand in his way.
So Seurat said, ‘If it’s okay with you, I’ll go on my own. But you’re right. That woman in the shop will be phoning around. To both the Milrauds probably – I’ll bet she knows where he is. Now that we’ve put the cat among the pigeons I think we need phone interception on the shop and on the Milraud house. Could you organise that while I go and talk to Annette?’
She nodded. ‘I’ll take the car back to Marseilles and start putting things in motion. You can take a taxi and we’ll meet up again in Marseilles. Here’s the address of our office there.’
He slid out of the back seat and walked across to a taxi rank opposite. He was glad she had taken it that way. From what he knew of Annette Milraud, he was quite sure that woman to woman would not have been the right approach.
The taxi turned off the Toulon-Marseilles motorway and began to coast down the winding side-road to Bandol. Bandol. What did he know about Bandol? Seurat asked himself. Some sort of resort where people used to come for golfing holidays, and didn’t anymore? Wine! That was it. Quite a well-known wine; pretty pricey too – not a wine he drank himself.
A big rocky outcrop loomed up in front, with a number of large villas set among the trees around its top. You could see the Mediterranean now – and now you couldn’t, as the road slithered round another bend and under a viaduct. They climbed steeply and eventually came to a halt at the gates of a big villa facing east towards Toulon. Seurat got out and rang the bell at the tall black security gates. A camera zoomed round to observe him as he gave his name to a disembodied voice. A pause, then the gate opened and the taxi drove in, up a steep drive bordered with carefully pruned conifers and flowering acacias. The two slowly-turning watersprays, the gardener working on a flower bed, the neatness of the scene – everything suggested that Milraud had done very well for himself since leaving the service, and that he was concerned to take care of his property and of himself as well.