Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online
Authors: Stella Rimington
Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir
‘How’s our coverage of their activities? Have we any decent sources?’ asked Liz, moving the conversation on to her own area of responsibility.
‘Reasonable. As always it could be better,’ said Binding. ‘I gather you’ve met some of the agent runners just now. I’ve had Dave Armstrong acting in charge of the team. But Dave is an action man. He prefers to be out running his own cases.’
What does he think I’ve done for most of my career? thought Liz. But he obviously thinks the light shines out of Dave’s eyes. Not that she’d disagree with that. ‘I’ve worked with Dave before,’ she responded. ‘He’s good. I’ll certainly need his input until I get up to speed.’
Binding looked at his watch with undisguised impatience. ‘Well then, why don’t you get your feet under the desk, get settled in at the flat, talk to Dave? Then in a day or two, we’ll meet up again and you can give me your first impressions.’
And you’ll let me know where they are wrong, thought Liz. Different posting, different place, different clothes. Same Michael Binding.
‘I’m going out,’ Dermot O’Reilly shouted as he left the house. This was as far as he kept his wife posted on his whereabouts, a habitual secrecy that had originated during the Troubles, when it was safer not to let her know what he was up to.
She’d had a good idea, nonetheless, and when the knock on the door had come that day in 1975 and five RUC men had taken him away, she wasn’t very surprised. ‘Cheer up,’ she’d said on her first visit to the H-Blocks at The Maze. ‘Think of it as a holiday from me.’
The ‘holiday’ had lasted two years and had been especially hard on Cath. He knew he was a gruff man to live with, and he had never liked to show emotion, but he was devoted to his wife in his way, and understood how long-suffering she was. Especially since after he’d been freed he’d waited less than forty-eight hours before resuming the activities that got him interned in the first place.
He’d been the munitions officer of Company B of the Belfast Brigade, with weaponry stored in half a dozen safe houses and hidden caches under the floor of barns and sheds. He remembered with a half-smile now the weird farrago of firearms they’d had to rely on in the early days of the conflict – before Colonel Gaddafi of Libya had sent them ships full of the latest of everything and cash to go with them. The Irish Americans had been a steady source of revenue too. Did all those drinkers in the bars in Boston really believe that when they dropped their cash into the collecting buckets, it was going to go to widows and orphans of the struggle? Seamus Piggott would know all about that, since the boss of The Fraternity was from Boston.
Dermot didn’t like Piggott. He didn’t trust him. What was an American doing carrying on the struggle? What was he hoping to get out of it? But Dermot had joined The Fraternity when he was approached, because of all the breakaway groups it seemed the best resourced, the most professional.
At first he had been chief targeting officer. The plan was to kill a cop in the new PSNI – to show them that though they might have renamed themselves, to true Republicans like him they were still the enemy. Piggott had got hold of a list of addresses and Dermot had spent some cold, damp days on surveillance, watching policemen and their families coming and going, planning the best way to attack.
Wherever Piggott had got the list from, and he certainly wasn’t revealing that to Dermot, it seemed to be an old one. Some of the houses Dermot had watched had no apparent police connection, so he assumed that they’d changed hands. In others the inhabitants were middle-aged or obviously retired. He guessed that the list had come from the RUC, before it was turned into the PSNI, and that what he was targeting was not current front-line police. When he’d mentioned that to Piggott, he didn’t seem to care. ‘They’re all bastards, and bastards don’t retire in my book,’ was his response.
Dermot was too old nowadays to lie up in ditches, with his binoculars trained on houses and garages, so he was glad when Piggott acquired a couple of surveillance vans in which he could sit in comparative warmth, parked up, with his camera trained through a slit in the side. The vans were repainted frequently so they didn’t get noticed.
He walked under the bypass and into Andersonstown. Ahead of him he saw Paddy O’Brien’s bar on the corner. It had tried to tart itself up for a while, in recognition of the new affluence of the city, for a brief time even offering a gastro pub menu. But the overt hostility of its hardcore clientele had discouraged middle-class customers. Within six months the place had reverted to what its habitués insisted it should always be – a man’s saloon.
The barman was already pulling a pint of Murphy’s before Dermot was through the door. When the thick brown stout was halfway up the pint glass, the barman paused to let the foam settle, then filled it to the top. With a wooden paddle he cut off the towering creamy head and placed the pint on the bar.
Dermot grunted thanks and looked around the pub. He liked coming here, finding a comforting, almost nostalgic pleasure in the place. It was an informal meeting place for many of the former Provisional IRA volunteers he had served with, especially those who were down on their luck. A few were in here already, crouched over the paper and a pint they’d nurse through lunchtime. I’ll be like that soon, he thought with an intense bitterness. He wasn’t going to work today, not after his last conversation with Piggott.
Above the bar there was a framed black-and-white photograph of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, with a one-word caption underneath:
: the word turned to ashes in Dermot’s mouth. Once it had been the maxim of his professional life – loyalty to the cause, to the organisation, to his superiors in the hierarchy. It was a principle he’d carried over to The Fraternity, squashing his doubts about Piggott; helped, he had to admit, by the fact that the money was so good. A state pension didn’t get you far – barely drinking money – and in their new roles as Establishment politicians, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness didn’t seem interested in establishing a fund for the foot soldiers who had got them where they were.
Dermot had never had money before, and he realised how easily he had got used to a comfortable life: the satellite dish on the roof bringing him all the Sky sport anyone could watch, and Cath her beloved films; the holidays on the Costa Brava each February, getting away from the grey, dank cold. And the prospect of retirement to that small cottage in Donegal he and Cath had often dreamed about. Two more years with The Fraternity and he would have been free and clear. Only now he’d been pushed aside.
Piggott had been clinical. ‘I need a younger man in charge of operations. You’ll be running security from now on.’
Security in the old days was a big, important job, when British intelligence was everywhere and intense precautions had been necessary to keep the Provisional IRA from being totally infiltrated. Now it just seemed to mean making sure Piggott’s car and driver showed up on time, or locking the office’s desks so the cleaning ladies couldn’t snoop around. It was a dogsbody job, and Dermot was sure it was going to involve dogsbody pay. He’d be as badly paid and treated as Malone, who was nothing but a thug.
Piggott hadn’t even had the courtesy to tell him by whom he was being replaced. Or to cushion the blow by praising his work. There had been no feeling in Piggott’s voice, no concern whether this change would sit well with Dermot.
The barman was suddenly there again, though Dermot had barely touched his pint. He looked up at him from his bar stool, his disgruntlement showing on his face.
‘Sorry to hear about Aidan Murphy,’ the barman said, polishing a glass with a tea towel.
‘How do you mean?’
‘Oh,’ said the barman, putting the clean glass on a shelf above the bar. ‘I thought you’d have known. Being as you work together and all.’
Dermot pushed his pint away, and it sloshed sloppily on the mahogany top of the bar. He said angrily, ‘Why don’t you spit it out, seeing as you know so much and I don’t?’
The barman raised an apologetic hand. ‘Sorry, Dermot. His hand got all smashed up. He said he’d had an accident …’
Dermot stared at the barman. ‘What are you saying? If it wasn’t an accident, what was it?’
The barman shrugged, as if to say ‘you tell me’. ‘All I know is that they—’ he caught himself – ‘is that his hand was broken half to smithereens. He won’t ever have full use of it again.’ The barman sighed loudly. ‘And him so young.’
And he went down the bar to check on another customer, while Dermot took in what had been said. He reached for his pint glass, and drained half the contents, medicinally rather than for pleasure. Christ, he thought, what had they done to the kid? All right, he had a big mouth, and he should learn to keep it shut – but not this way. He didn’t need teaching a lesson.
It’s Piggott, he thought.
He doesn’t give a shit
, he realised, with an anger he hadn’t felt for years. Well, we’ll see about that, he told himself.
The flat was on the first floor of a red brick house just a quarter of a mile from the university, on a quiet side street which stopped in a dead end against the black iron fence of a small park.
On the ground floor a door led to another flat, but Liz went straight on up the stairs and let herself in through her own front door.
She put her bags down and did a quick recce of her new quarters. Two bedrooms – room for her mother to visit, she thought – a large living room, simply but comfortably furnished, with a kitchen and a small breakfast alcove. Perfect – nothing too large to keep tidy; nothing so small to feel cramped. Someone had even come in and put tea and coffee on the kitchen top, and fresh milk in the fridge.
The bigger bedroom had a pleasant view of the park, where children were playing on swings and slides. She started to unpack and was just finishing when she heard a faint creaking from the door to the flat. Then a step, and another step.
Liz tensed, listening. She must not have closed the door properly. Looking around, she saw there was no phone in the bedroom – that would have to change. She took a deep breath and went out of the room and into the hall, wondering whom she was going to encounter.
A little girl with a mop of brown curls and big brown eyes was standing there, staring at Liz. She wore pyjamas decorated with colourful lollipops.
‘Hello,’ said Liz with relief. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Daisy,’ she said, and with great formality extended a hand.
Liz shook hands, suppressing a smile. ‘Pleased to meet you, Daisy. I’m Liz.’
Daisy nodded sagely, then suddenly declared, ‘I’m not precocious, you know.’
Liz regarded the girl with amusement. ‘I’m sure you’re not,’ she said.
‘One of my teachers at school told my mother I was. They didn’t think I’d hear,’ she said, a little guiltily.
‘Never mind,’ said Liz. ‘It’s not a bad thing. Do you live downstairs?’ she asked, gesturing with her head towards the floor.
‘Yes,’ said Daisy. ‘Are you going to live here now?’
‘I am. We’ll be neighbours.’
A woman appeared in the doorway, white-haired, too old to be this girl’s mother. She looked at Liz with a worried frown. ‘I’m sorry, miss,’ the woman said, with an accent that marked her out as local. ‘She was just being curious. Come along, Daisy. I’ve got your supper ready.’
But Daisy didn’t move. Looking at Liz she said, ‘Are you the lady Mummy knows?’
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ said Liz, wondering who her mother was.
A voice came from the hallway. ‘Don’t be so sure about that.’ It was a woman’s voice, followed by a laugh that could only belong to one person.
‘Judith,’ cried Liz, as a tall, elegant woman came into the hall. ‘I had no idea you were living here.’
Judith Spratt had worked with Liz in counter terrorism. She was a desk officer, widely respected within the service for her acumen and relentless pursuit of leads. She had always been admirably unflappable, and Liz and she had become good friends before losing track of each other – Liz had been moved to counter espionage, and Judith had gone on extended leave after marital problems. Liz had heard vaguely that Judith had come back, but she hadn’t seen her in Thames House – and now she knew why.
‘I’ve been here over a year,’ said Judith, as if amazed herself. ‘Time flies when …’ she paused, then grinned. ‘When you’re as busy as I am.’
By now the white-haired woman had a firm grip on Daisy’s hand, and with a nod to Judith marched the little girl out of the flat. Liz and Judith went into the kitchen, where Liz turned the kettle on.
‘And of course that’s Daisy,’ said Liz, remembering the tiny child in London who would clamber out of bed to interrupt her mother’s dinner parties. ‘My she’s grown,’ she added. ‘How old is she now? Five? Six?’ Going on twenty, thought Liz.
‘Almost six. I found her a good school.’ Judith’s expression darkened. ‘I’m divorced from Ravi now, you know.’
Liz was not surprised. Judith’s husband had been involved in a prominent City fraud case; cleared by the Fraud Squad, he had almost immediately found himself charged with a credit card scam. Charming but volatile, he had left Judith at the height of the scandal, which had added humiliation to her shame, and made her loyalty to her husband in his travails seem pointless.
‘Where is Ravi now?’ Liz asked gently.
Judith shrugged, in a display of indifference that Liz sensed was not altogether sincere. ‘He got a suspended sentence, but after that he couldn’t work in the City again. He went back to India for a while; God knows where he is now. The way he fought me for custody of Daisy you’d think he’d be in touch, but I haven’t heard a monkey’s.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She had always admired Judith’s ability to juggle career, marriage, and a child. It had been a big shock when things had fallen apart for her friend, and Liz had been taken aback to find such a paragon of self-assurance so upset and unsure of herself. Yet from the look of her now, Judith had picked herself up and built a new life.