Authors: Stella Rimington
Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir
She had explored the city centre extensively, and found that she liked Belfast. There were still plenty of signs of the sectarian divide that had caused the Troubles in the first place – IRA graffiti splashed in paint across a building she drove by each morning, for example – but they seemed like memories of the past rather than evidence of imminent hostilities.
But she thought again about her surroundings after a meeting with Michael Binding. The chief constable was concerned about an increase in activity by breakaway Republican groups. There were signs that policemen, current and retired, were being targeted for assassination. And threats were being made against contractors working for the police, and even against social workers. Binding had said, ‘Ministers are very concerned that all this activity might upset the political balance. It’s been hard enough to get it all in place. If one of these groups succeeds in killing a target, it could endanger the entire peace process.’
He looked worried for the first time. ‘We don’t want to make too many waves, but potential targets are being advised to increase their personal security. And we all of us need to be careful too.’ He looked out of the window as he went on: ‘Make sure that if you take a car from the pool you keep it parked at the garage of your flat, or here in the car park – don’t leave it on the street. The mechanics change the number plates regularly, but we can’t take any chances. And if you detect any sign of surveillance, please report it to A4 and me immediately.’
He turned his head and looked again at Liz with a thin smile. ‘But of course I don’t need to tell you any of this, with all your counter terrorism experience.’
Then why did you? thought Liz, trying her best to smile back.
Binding seemed to remember something, for he said suddenly, ‘By the way, I’ve heard from A4 about that car you drove in from the airport. The wheel was damaged, but they think that’s because you drove on it – the tyre was completely shot.’
‘But what caused the blowout?’
Binding raised both hands in a ‘who knows?’ gesture. ‘It could have been anything. A nail on the road, broken glass, even the way you were driving, I suppose. There wasn’t enough of the tyre left to tell.’
Liz bristled at the suggestion that her driving had caused the blowout. It seemed a gratuitous insult. And how could Binding sound so certain it had just been an accident? But she resisted the urge to challenge him, knowing it would just confirm his view that women were hysterical.
Dave poked his head round Liz’s office door. ‘I’m going to see an old RUC Special Branch contact this afternoon. Maybe he can cast some light on things. I’m taking the photographs from the camera to show him.’
‘Where are you meeting him?’
‘At his house. He didn’t want to come here. I’m getting the feeling that this place is behind enemy lines, which is a bit spooky.’
‘What’s his name?’
‘Jimmy Fergus. He’s retired from full-time work, but he’s still winding up some of the old RUC cases. He’s supposed to be a mine of information.’ Dave sounded sceptical.
‘I know him. He was a big help when I was on that mole case a few years ago. I’d like to come, too.’
Fergus lived in a comfortable suburb on the north side of the city. As they drove there Dave asked, ‘How’s it going with Binding?’
Liz shot him a look, but Dave kept his eyes on the road straight ahead of him. Eventually she caught him looking sideways at her, and they both laughed.
Liz said, ‘He seems to think I screwed up that pool car. Apparently my inferior driving skills caused a blowout.’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Dave.
‘He didn’t think so. Then he gave me a lecture on security – he seemed obsessed with where I parked my car.’
‘Well,’ said Dave, ‘Binding’s got a point, even if it kills me to say it. Don’t underestimate the danger. Oh I know, on the surface it’s all sweetness and light, but just twenty years ago any IRA man in Ulster would have given their eye teeth to kill either of us.’
He turned now onto a quiet tree-lined road, with detached red brick houses set back behind high hedges and no parked cars by the kerb. Only a van delivering laundry disturbed the peace.
He’s lost weight but he’s hardly aged at all, thought Liz, as her old acquaintance opened the front door. She was surprised to find him still working for the police service. When they had last met he had talked happily about taking over his father’s farm in Antrim. But since then he’d married again – wife number four if Liz remembered right – so maybe he needed the salary.
‘Liz,’ he said beaming, and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. She introduced Dave, who sat silently, shifting in his chair as they talked of old times. Eventually, bored with a conversation in which he had no part, Dave opened his briefcase and laid out the photographs on the coffee table.
‘I know three of them,’ said Jimmy Fergus, leaning back in his comfortable chair and surveying the enlarged prints now strewn on the table. He scratched a finger against his pockmarked cheek. He was a big man, whose suits never quite fitted his powerful frame, and whose tie always slid an informal inch down his shirt front. But the ruffled sloppiness of his appearance was misleading; Liz knew he was an excellent policeman, with an intuitive feel for a case and a nose for what people were really like. These qualities had seen him steadily promoted over the years. During the worst years of the Troubles, when dozens of policemen had been murdered, they had also helped keep him alive.
‘This guy,’ he said, pointing at the photograph of the driver of the car that had passed the gatehouse several times, ‘is Terry Malone. Long-time Provo volunteer. Enforcer type. Nothing sophisticated.’ Fergus gave a short laugh. ‘Got a Vauxhall now, has he? He’s come up in the world. He used to drive an old banger that was always breaking down on the Falls Road.’
He paused to contemplate the photographs again. ‘These other two are called Mickey Kinsella and John O’Sullivan. Small-time villains basically, not as heavy as Malone. This fourth guy. Don’t know him – looks Spanish? What do you think?’
‘Maybe he’s Black Irish,’ said Dave facetiously.
Fergus ignored him. ‘Come to think of it, we had a tip off that someone had come here from the Costa del Sol. A hit man named Gonzales. Terry Malone was never an angel, but this guy’s reported to be seriously hard.’
‘Who’s he working for then?’ asked Dave. He seemed a bit prickly with Jimmy Fergus, while Jimmy was as easygoing in his rumpled way as Liz remembered.
‘That’s what nobody seems to know. And we’d like to find out – you don’t bring in somebody all the way from Spain unless he’s got a role to play. Where were these pictures taken?’
Liz explained, telling him about the tip-off from Phil Robinson and their reconnaissance of the farmhouse.
Dave broke in, ‘We’ve checked who owns the farmhouse. A company – Fraternal Holdings. It’s a private enterprise, Belfast based, with offices just off Castle Street.’
‘Never heard of it,’ said Fergus. ‘What’s it do?’
Dave shrugged. ‘Hard to say. They describe themselves as consultants.’
Fergus snorted. ‘Who doesn’t these days? Every retired copper I know says he’s a “private security consultant”. It usually means they work the door at the local disco.’
‘This is different,’ Dave said testily. ‘I drove past the offices – they’ve got an entire floor in a new building. The rents are high in that area, so there has to be some kind of business going on.’
‘Who runs the business?’
‘The managing director is one Seamus Piggott.’
‘Ring any bells?’ asked Liz.
Fergus thought, then shook his head. ‘Can’t say it does. It sounds familiar, but I think that’s just because my old man worshipped the jockey Lester Piggott.’
Liz reached for one of the photographs and pushed it towards Jimmy. It was of an Audi that had passed the gatehouse, with the man named Malone at the wheel. Sitting beside him was a thin man in a suit. Liz said, ‘I’m pretty sure the man in the passenger seat is the same man who confronted us when we were looking at the farmhouse. He didn’t act like a thug, more like an irate owner, with muscle behind him.’
Fergus peered carefully at the still. ‘I don’t recognise the guy. I don’t know the name either.’ He sounded puzzled, and when he looked at Liz, he seemed uncharacteristically unsettled.
‘What is it, Jimmy?’ she asked.
‘How can I say this? I thought I knew all the players, but I don’t know anything about this guy. And that worries me. If a foreign hit man’s involved, there must be something going on, and normally I would expect to have picked up at least a hint of it. But I haven’t.’ He gave a modest smile. ‘Sorry. Maybe I’m getting past my sell-by date.’
‘Well, it’s not your responsibility anymore,’ said Liz. And it was true. Any case with even the faintest whiff of sectarian politics had been transferred to MI5.
‘Do you mind that?’ asked Dave.
‘Good God no,’ said Fergus. ‘It would have been a nightmare. If the new justice minister turns out to be an ex-IRA man, how could you go to him and say you’ve learned an old comrade of his is planning to blow up a policeman? It would never have worked.’ He shook his head at the thought. ‘I’m happy for you guys to take charge of that; it makes life far simpler.’
‘Fair enough,’ said Liz, then turned back to the business in hand. ‘What if this mystery man Piggott isn’t local? If he’s the same character we met, he didn’t sound any sort of Irish.’
Fergus shrugged. ‘Could be from the mainland. First or second generation Irish there.’
Dave said, ‘We’ve done some basic checking. Couldn’t find anyone of that name in our files, and Dublin hasn’t got anybody either. They’ve got some Seamus Piggotts, but none of them fit.’
‘What about the States?’ Liz asked. ‘That might account for his strange accent.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Dave protested. ‘How do we know we’re looking for Seamus Piggott anyway? Or that he’s the guy in the picture, or the same guy we saw the other day?’
There was silence in the room, and Liz realised both men were looking at her.
She said, ‘We don’t know, Dave. But what else do we have? Three small-time crooks and a Spanish hood. That doesn’t explain a swanky set of offices in downtown Belfast, or a suspiciously expensive-looking farmhouse whose owner is paranoid about outsiders. There’s something going on, and I’ll feel much better once we know who Seamus Piggott is.’
Antoine Milraud stepped out of the tall double doors of his apricot-pink villa set high up above the little Provençal town of Bandol. He stood at the point where the drive, having wound upwards through the garden from the security gates, ended on a tarmac apron broad enough for a car to turn round. He was waiting for his driver, who was late, and he was annoyed. Milraud liked to be in control but there were some things he couldn’t do for himself. He needed the chauffeur; it wasn’t only driving that he required from him.
From where he stood Milraud could see over the tops of the umbrella pines towards the harbour where large white motor launches and yachts were moored alongside the art deco casino. Everything was dead at this time of the year, no tourists and very few residents around, and he liked it that way. If he turned to his left, he could look across the pine-clad hills towards the naval base at Toulon, and on a very clear day he might see the tall superstructure of a large warship. But today he could see no further than the first headland, for the clouds sat low on the hills, threatening rain. The mimosa flowers that covered the trees along his drive were being tossed by a January mistral, and as Milraud looked down at the road snaking into the village from the Marseilles/Toulon motorway he felt the sharp edge to the air. His car and driver should have been visible but there was still no sign of them. Shivering a little, he turned and went back into the house, firmly closing the doors behind him.
Milraud did not often think about his past. There had been too many episodes he would prefer to forget. After eleven years in Paris with his former bosses, chronic mutual fatigue had set in. The salary had been negligible, the suburb that was all he had been able to afford had not matched his self-image, and when his employers had accused him of overreacting, of using hammers to crack nuts, it had become increasingly obvious that his prospects for promotion were nil. He had managed to extricate himself from his post most advantageously, and the eight years since he had left had been good ones for Milraud.
He had his shop in Toulon, another in London’s Camden Market, and a third in Belfast. They did well: antique furniture had lost some of its cachet in the last few years, but the growing demand for antique weapons, swords, pistols, cannons, all Milraud’s speciality, had more than compensated for that downturn. All his shops brought in good profits, enough to justify employing a manager for each one, and now there was a catalogue business as well, which had gone online two years before and was thriving. His profits would have satisfied any dealer in the antiques trade, but Milraud wanted more: to pay his chauffeur’s salary and maintain the Mercedes limousine he was paid to drive; to keep up the villa in Bandol as well as to employ the staff who ran the place, and to pay for the designer clothes and jewellery that his wife (still asleep upstairs) loved to flaunt in the restaurants and clubs she patronised in Marseilles and Toulon, as well as on her trips to Paris and London.
So although his antique business was successful, his three shops and the catalogue did not underwrite his current lifestyle; nor were they the reason that his driver carried a 9 mm automatic pistol under his dark-blue uniform suit.
His second business, for which his antique shops provided cover, was not one in which you made many friends, so he took extensive precautions to protect himself – electric gates to his property, razor wire on top of its perimeter wall, a state-of-the art movement-sensor alarm and cameras, and a driver who doubled as a bodyguard. Yet to date the greatest danger he’d had to face had been flying through a sandstorm in a prop plane to the desert redoubt of a customer in the Emirates.