Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online

Authors: Stella Rimington

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

Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger (31 page)

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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Liz looked out of the window. She could see an enormous aircraft carrier moored in the dockyard; in the harbour itself two submarines and an assortment of grey battleships rocked gently as the tide came slowly in.

She changed into trousers and a sweater and went downstairs to find Seurat waiting for her in a comfortable lounge. ‘Good,’ he said smiling. ‘Let’s go and have a cup of coffee. We’ve got half an hour before we go into the briefing meeting. The teams are all here. Crack commandos from our ‘
berets verts
’, the Commandos Marine. They are good, Liz. If anyone can rescue your colleague alive, they will do it. Don’t worry.’

Liz smiled at him. ‘It was an immense relief to know that Dave is alive, and we’re very grateful for all you’ve done,’ she said. ‘I just hope we can get him out of there unhurt. But you know, I’m mystified about why he’s been brought here. What is Milraud up to? He must be the reason they’ve come here, but I can’t see why he’d travel all this way just to kill Dave – he could have had that done back in Northern Ireland. You know the man. What do you think he wants?’

Seurat shrugged. ‘Antoine will have no interest in harming your colleague. Quite the opposite – he will be desperate not to get involved in a murder. I can only think he got mixed up in this by mistake; if I’m right, he will be trying to find a way out for himself. Your colleague Miss Kinsolving,’ he hesitated over the pronunciation, ‘has let us know that she thinks that the American Seamus Piggott is also on the island, and that the armed guard our surveillance saw must be working for him.’

‘Yes. She picked up a trace of Piggott’s mobile phone from down here – it came through the Toulon transmitter.’ She shook her head with worry. ‘Milraud may not be the murdering type, but this man Piggott won’t hesitate to kill Dave. He’s been willing to kill before, and we know he’d like to murder a British intelligence officer. This guard of his is a Spanish hit man Piggott hired to come to work for him in Northern Ireland.’

‘Well, as they haven’t killed your colleague yet, Milraud may be stopping them,’ replied Seurat calmly.

‘But if he thinks we’re closing in …’ Liz said anxiously.

Seurat gave a long, regretful sigh. ‘Milraud will certainly know by now that we are nearby. It was probably a mistake going to see Annette, but I thought I might get something out of her,’ he said quietly, almost to himself. ‘Instead, it’s only alerted her husband that we’re after him.’

Liz looked at him, impressed that he could so easily admit he might have made a mistake. ‘He’d have known that in any case,’ she said. ‘And you did get something out of her. You learned that she had old family connections in this part of France.’

Seurat smiled. ‘It’s kind of you to say that, but I think we both know you’re being too generous.’

Looking at his watch, Seurat announced the time had come, and led Liz to an office upstairs where he introduced her to the base commander, a burly bearded figure called Hébert. Commandant Hébert held Liz’s hand and bowed in a disconcertingly formal way, then made a short speech of welcome in French, most of which Liz could understand. She replied briefly in English, and the formalities over, the three of them walked along a corridor to a conference room.

Here a group of about twenty men dressed in white T-shirts and navy-blue trousers were lounging on chairs talking. They stood up as Liz, Seurat and the commandant came into the room and sat down at a table facing their audience. Forty eyes were focused on Liz, with expressions ranging from lasciviousness to amusement.

Hébert clapped his hands and they sat down. Liz looked coolly back at the men whose job it was to free Dave Armstrong. They were unremarkable, except for one thing – they were all lean, fit, wiry, and agile-looking. In any kind of fight, the smart money would be on them.

The commandant spoke. His French rolled out in slow, sonorous sentences, and he reminded Liz of newsreel footage she’d seen of General de Gaulle addressing the nation at the end of the war. It was a dangerous task the men would embark on, Hébert announced, but he knew they would do their utmost to accomplish it on behalf of France and our good allies the British – here he introduced Liz as ‘our colleague from the English MI5,’ and every eye in the room turned to scrutinise her again. Their task, he continued, had the full authority of the minister, and the government at the highest level was aware of their mission. He knew they would conduct themselves as the professionals they had always shown themselves to be, and for which they were known – he turned in Liz’s direction – throughout the world.

This all seemed so impossibly French that Liz’s heart began to sink; she was relieved when he concluded his remarks and left the room, leaving the practicalities to Seurat. The commandos listened intently now. On the screen behind Seurat a map of the Ile de Porquerolles appeared.

‘You all know the purpose of this operation and you’ve had the chance to study the aerial photographs and the plan of the inside of the
fermette
. You should remember that the plan is several years old, but we don’t think any significant alterations have been made to the building in recent years.’

Seurat went on, showing photographs of the island and outlining the plan for the operation. Liz understood just enough of what he was saying not to need an interpreter. ‘You will be in three teams of six,’ Seurat said. ‘The first will land on the north side of the island at the harbour where the ferry arrives from the La Tour Fondue terminal on the mainland.’ He took a pointer and indicated the place on the map behind him. ‘The second team will stay out at sea, off the south coast of the island, facing the cliffs here,’ he said, moving the pointer down the map. ‘You will be ready to intercept anyone trying to escape from the south.’

Seurat paused, then looked at one of the commandos sitting in the front row, a man with startlingly blue eyes in a deeply tanned face. ‘The third team will lead the assault on the farmhouse, landing on the island’s south side, in the small cove where we believe the targets also landed. It is the single accessible place on that side. Commando Laval, you will be responsible for taking the farmhouse, and freeing the hostage.’

Laval nodded sombrely, and Seurat said, ‘As you know, we now believe that apart from the hostage there are three people in the house.’ Four photographs came up on the screen behind him. ‘One is a former colleague of mine.’ He pointed to a photograph of Milraud. ‘Our English visitor, Mademoiselle Carlyle, can tell you what she knows about the other two hostage takers – and of course the hostage himself. She will speak in English, but I’ll translate.’

Liz stood up, sensing some amusement on the part of her audience, presumably unused to having a woman address them right before a dangerous mission. She began with a short description of the situation in Northern Ireland, pointing to the picture of Piggott. ‘This man is American, of Irish descent. He was born James Purnell, but changed his name to Seamus Piggott when he moved to Northern Ireland. He is a former physicist and expert in missile technology, but in Ireland he has been running an organisation that deals in drugs, extortion, prostitution.’ She gestured at the image of the bespectacled man. ‘Don’t be fooled by his appearance. This man is highly intelligent and very dangerous. He will not hesitate to kill.’

The commandos were listening intently as Liz went on to describe Gonzales, the Spanish hit man, who she explained was probably responsible for the deaths of two members of Piggott’s organisation – the two bodies discovered on Piggott’s property in Northern Ireland.

She paused, glancing at the alert faces watching her. ‘It might be useful if I tell you how my colleague became a hostage.’ As she spoke and Seurat translated, describing the circumstances behind Dave’s capture at Milraud’s shop, she felt a certain scepticism, even hostility growing in the audience. Commando Laval raised a hand.

‘Yes?’ said Liz, but he addressed his question to Seurat.

‘From what I understand, this Englishman Dave must have behaved very recklessly in putting himself into this situation. How can we be assured that he is a genuine hostage? Could he not be a willing captive, perhaps cooperating with this Piggott and Milraud for some unknown reason? And we might find ourselves fighting all four of them?’

There was a murmur of assent in the room. Seurat looked at Liz. She had understood the question and was astonished at the suggestion. How could anyone think that of Dave Armstrong? Dave, who’d been her friend for years, whom she knew to be as honest as the day is long.

But of course these men didn’t know Dave, and after all, they were about to put their lives at risk to rescue him. It was true, too, that Dave had behaved recklessly.

‘Let me tell you about Dave Armstrong,’ she said. And as she talked, she tried to give a picture of the Dave she knew so well – recounting his enthusiasm for the job, his honesty and bravery, the key roles he’d played in operations when they had worked together in counter terrorism. Gradually, she sensed the mood of her audience changing.

‘It is the case,’ she said finally, ‘that on this occasion Dave Armstrong acted impetuously, even recklessly. He made the wrong decision. There were reasons, perhaps, for his misjudgement: an affair of the heart had gone wrong, which had upset him terribly. It was wrong – and uncharacteristic – for this most professional of men to let personal reasons interfere with his professional conduct. But I want you to know nonetheless that he is a brave and good man, and whatever he did was with the motive of serving his country and preventing harm to others. I assure you, you need not fear that he will be cooperating with his captors.’

She sat down, and to her surprise a small ripple of applause came from the commandos. ‘
Merci
, mademoiselle,’ said Laval. ‘That is both well said, and most reassuring.’

Another commando from the group around Laval raised his hand. He said to Seurat, ‘It can be chaotic in the confusion of an assault. If it turns out that there are more people in the house than we expect, will you be on hand to help identification?’

‘Yes,’ said Seurat. ‘Though only Milraud is known personally to me.’

Liz spoke up. ‘I can identify these targets, and of course the hostage, too.’

‘You are landing as well?’ asked the commando with unfeigned astonishment.

‘Naturally,’ said Liz simply. ‘But don’t worry – I won’t get in the way.’

The briefing concluded, Liz and Seurat withdrew, leaving the three teams to discuss the final details. As they went downstairs to the lounge Seurat said, ‘I have to say they were a little sceptical at first. But what you said about Dave changed all that. And they are most impressed that you’re coming with us. They had assumed you’d stay here or wait offshore in the frigate.’

‘I am sorry to shatter their preconceptions,’ she said a little tartly.

Seurat looked embarrassed, and she immediately regretted her sharpness. He said, ‘I’m afraid this type of Frenchman is rather … traditional … Is that the word?’

‘Yes, though unreconstructed would also do. But don’t worry,’ Liz said, and she was smiling now, ‘we have plenty of them on our side of La Manche as well.’

51

 

They were running out of food. There was nothing fresh left –no vegetables, no bread or milk, just a few tins. Milraud reckoned they could hold out for another day and then they’d have to get supplies from somewhere. The only source of food on the island lay on the shelves of the Casino mini-market in Porquerolles village three kilometres away.

 

That was where he had intended to get provisions, when he’d planned all this before they’d set off from County Down.
Planned
, he thought ironically. That was the trouble: nothing had been properly planned; it had all just been a panic reaction.

He supposed it might still be safe to send Gonzales over to the village, but it was a risk, and in more ways than one – Gonzales, with his strong Spanish accent and his tendency to pull a gun at the slightest provocation was hardly unnoticeable. There was also always the chance that, stupid Spaniard though he seemed, Gonzales might simply get on the ferry with a oneway ticket, and never come back. That is, if he managed to get away. Milraud guessed that Gonzales’s description would have been as widely circulated in France as his own – and Piggott’s.

As he thought of Seurat’s visit to Annette he became increasingly certain that time was running out. He was beginning to feel like an animal in a forest as a fire closed in from all sides. He had an intuitive sense that his former colleagues were circling ever closer, getting ready to move in for the kill.

Food was not the only problem. James – Milraud simply couldn’t get used to the new name ‘Seamus’ – was growing increasingly volatile. He seemed a man very near the end of his rope. The night before he had lost his temper when his laptop computer had frozen, and he’d hurled it across the room. God knows if it was still working. Piggott was showing more and more signs of impatience; the man couldn’t seem to sit still, and three or four times a day he walked down the cliffside path to check that the dinghy, buried beneath bushes, was still there.

More worrying still, he was ignoring Milraud’s advice not to use his mobile phone. Every few hours he enquired if there was any reply from the contacts Milraud said he had emailed with the offer to sell Dave. If something didn’t happen soon, Milraud feared he would snap, and that could mean very bad news for Willis in the cellar. And possibly for Milraud himself.

There was no sign of a response from the contacts because Milraud had not actually sent any emails. His original idea instead had been to convince James that Annette was to be the intermediary with the purchasers. Then somehow she would get Willis off the island and Milraud would find a way of following her, leaving James and the Spaniard to fend for themselves. He and Annette would then lie low until the situation calmed down.

That had been his plan, but for it to work he needed Annette’s calm brain to work out the details. And for that he needed to see her. But this was out of the question now, as the email he had received from Annette this morning made clear:
I think it best to postpone my visit for a while. Too crowded, even at this time of
year.
She was under surveillance and had been unable to shake it off.

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
13.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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