Энди МакНаб. День независимости(engl)

     Liberation Day by Andy McNab

     Also by Andy McNab Non-fiction
     BRAVO TWO ZERO IMMEDIATE ACTION
     Fiction
     REMOTE CONTROL
     CRISIS FOUR
     FIREWALL
     LAST LIGHT
     LIBERATION DAY
     ANDY McNAB

     LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO SYDNEY AUCKLAND
     TRANS WORLD PUBLISHERS
     61-63 Uxbridge Road, London w5 5SA
     a division of The Random House Group Ltd
     RANDOM HOUSE AUSTRALIA PTY LTD 20 Alfred  Street,  Milsons Point, New
South Wales 2061, Australia
     RANDOM  HOUSE  NEW ZEALAND 18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10,  New
Zealand
     RANDOM HOUSE SOUTH AFRICA (PTY) LTD Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown
2193, South Africa
     Published 2002 by Bantam Press a division of Transworld Publishers
     Copyright Andy McNab 2002
     The right of Andy McNab to be identified as the author of this work has
been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs
and Patents Act 1988
     All  of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
     A catalogue record for this book is available  from the British Library
ISBNs 0593 046188 (cased)
     All  rights reserved. No part  of  this publication may  be reproduced,
stored  in a retrieval system, or transmitted  in any form or  by any means,
electronic,  mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without  the
prior permission of the publishers.
     Typeset in ll/13#pt Palatino by Falcon Oast Graphic Art Ltd Printed  in
Great Britain by Mackays plc, Chatham, Kent
     Dedicated to all victims of terrorism
     LIBERATION DAY
     One.
     TUESDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2001, 23:16 hrs
     The submarine had broken surface ten minutes earlier, and  its deck was
still  slippery beneath my feet. Dull red  torchlight glistened on the black
steel  a few  metres  ahead of me as  five  of the  boat's  crew  feverishly
prepared  the Zodiac inflatable. As  soon  as  they'd finished  it  would be
carrying me and  my two team members across five kilometres of Mediterranean
and on to the North African coast.
     One of the  crew  broke  away and  said something to Lotfi, who'd  been
standing next to me by the  hatch. I didn't understand that much Arabic, but
Lotfi translated. They are finished, Nick we are ready to float off."
     The three of us moved forward, swapped places with the submariners, and
stepped over the  sides of the Zodiac on to the anti-slip decking. Lotfi was
the cox and took position to the right of the Yamaha 75 outboard. We bunched
up near him,  each side of the engine. We wore black bobble hats and gloves,
and a 'dry bag'  -  a  GoreTex suit over  our clothes with rubber wrists and
neck to protect  us from  the  cold water. Our kit had been stowed in  large
zip-lock  waterproof  bags  and  lashed  to  the  deck  along with  the fuel
bladders.
     I looked behind  me. The crew had already disappeared and the hatch was
closed. We'd been warned by the captain that he wasn't going to hang around,
not when we were inside the territorial waters of  one  of the most ruthless
regimes  on earth.  And he  was willing  to  take even  fewer  risks on  the
pick-up, especially if things had gone to  rat shit while we were ashore. No
way did he want the Algerians capturing his boat and crew. The Egyptian navy
couldn't  afford  to lose so much  as a  rowing-boat  from their desperately
dilapidated fleet,  and  he didn't want  his  crew  to  lose their  eyes  or
bollocks, or any of the other bits the Algerians liked to remove from people
who had pissed them off.
     "Brace for float-off." Lotfi had done this before.
     I could  already feel  the  submarine moving beneath us.  We were  soon
surrounded  by bubbles as it  blew its tanks. Lotfi slotted the Yamaha  into
place and fired  it up to get us under way. But the  sea was heaving tonight
with  a big swell,  and no  sooner had our hull made contact  with the water
than a wave lifted the bow and exposed it to the wind. The Zodiac started to
rear up. The two of  us threw our weight forward  and  the bow  slapped down
again, but with such  momentum that I lost my balance and fell on to my arse
on the side of the boat, which bounced me backwards.  Before I knew what was
happening, I'd been thrown over the side.
     The only part of me  uncovered was my face, but the cold took my breath
away  as I  downed  a  good  throatful  of salt  water.  This  might  be the
Mediterranean, but it felt like the North Atlantic.
     As I came to the surface and bobbed in the swell, I discovered  that my
dry bag had a leak in the neck seal. Sea-water seeped into my cheap pullover
and cotton trousers.
     "You OK, Nick?" The shout came from Lotfi.
     "Couldn't be better," I grunted, breathing hard as the other two hauled
me back aboard.
     "Got a leak in the bag."
     There was  a mumble of Arabic between the two of them,  and a schoolboy
snigger or two. Fair one: I would have found it funny too.
     I shivered as I  wrung out my bobble  hat and gloves, but even wet wool
keeps its heat-retaining qualities and  I knew I was going  to need all  the
help I could get on this part of the trip.
     Lotfi  fought to  keep the boat upright  as his mate and I leant on the
front  or bow,  as  Lotfi was constantly  reminding me -to keep  it down. He
finally got the craft under control  and we were soon ploughing  through the
crests, my eyes  stinging as the salt spray hit  my  face with the  force of
pebble dash. As waves  lifted us and the outboard screamed in protest as the
propeller left  the water,  I  could see lights on the coast  and could just
make out  the  glow of  Oran, Algeria's  second  largest city.  But we  were
steering clear of its busy port, where the  Spanish ferries to'd  and fro'd;
we were heading  about ten Ks east, to make landfall at a  point between the
city and a place called Cap Ferrat. One look at the  map during the briefing
in  Alexandria  had  made it clear the French  had left their mark  here big
time. The coastline was peppered with Cap this, Plage that, Port the other.
     Cap Ferrat itself was easy to recognize.  Its lighthouse  flashed every
few seconds in  the darkness to the  left of  the  glow from  Oran.  We were
heading  for  a  small spit  of land that housed some  of  the  intermittent
clusters  of light we were  starting to  make out quite well now  as we  got
closer to the coastline.
     As the bow crashed through the water I moved to the rear of the boat to
minimize the  effects  of the spray and wind, pissed off that I  was wet and
cold  before I'd even  started  this job.  Lotfi  was the  other side of the
outboard. I looked across as he checked his GPS and adjusted the throttle to
keep us on the right bearing.
     The brine burned my  eyes, but this was a whole lot better than the sub
we'd just left. It  had been built in  the 1960s and  the air con was losing
its grip. After  being cooped up in diesel fumes for three days, waiting for
the  right moment to make this hit, I'd been gagging to  be out in the fresh
air, even air this fresh.  I comforted myself with the thought that the next
time I  inhaled diesel  I'd  be  chugging  along  ninety  metres  below  the
Mediterranean, back to Alexandria, drinking steaming cups of sweet black tea
and celebrating the end of my very last job.
     The lights got closer and the coastline took on a bit more shape. Lotfi
didn't need the GPS any  more  and it went into  the rubber bow bag. We were
maybe four hundred metres off the shore and I  could start to  make out  the
target area. The higher,  rocky  ground was flooded with  light,  and in the
blackness below  it,  I could just about make  out the  cliff, and the beach
Lotfi had assured us was good enough to land on.
     We moved forward more  slowly now, the engine just ticking over to keep
the  noise down. When  we were about a hundred metres from the  beach, Lotfi
cut the fuel and tilted the outboard  until it  locked horizontal once more.
The boat lost  momentum and  began  to wallow  in the  swell.  He'd  already
started to connect one of the  full  fuel bladders in  preparation  for  our
exfiltration. We couldn't afford to mince about if  the shit hit the fan and
we had to do a runner.
     His teeth flashed white as he gave us a huge grin.
     "Now we paddle."
     It was obvious from the way they constantly  took the piss  out of each
other  that  Lotfi  and  the one  whose  name  I  still  couldn't  pronounce
Hubba-Hubba, something like that had worked together before.
     Hubba-Hubba  was  still at the  bow and dug his wooden  paddle into the
swell.  We  closed  in  on  the beach.  The  sky  was  perfectly  clear  and
star-filled, and suddenly  there wasn't  a breath  of wind. All I could hear
was the gentle slap of the paddles pushing through the water, joined now and
again  by the scrape of  boots on the wooden flooring as one or  other of us
shifted position. At least the paddling had got me warm.
     Lotfi never stopped  checking ahead, to make sure we were going  to hit
the beach  exactly  where he wanted, and the Arabic for 'right'  I did know:
"II al yameen, yameen."
     The two of them were Egyptian, and that  was  about as much as I wanted
to know  not that  it had  turned out that way. Like  me, they were deniable
operators; in fact, everyone and everything about this job was deniable.  If
we  were compromised,  the US would deny  the Egyptians were  false flagging
this job for them,  and I guessed that was just the price Egypt  had  to pay
for being the second biggest recipient of US  aid apart from Israel, to  the
tune of about  two billion dollars a  year. There's no such thing  as a free
falafel.
     Egypt, in its turn, would deny these two, and as for me,  they probably
didn't even know I was there. I didn't care; I had no cover documents, so if
I was captured I was going to get stitched  up regardless. The  only bits of
paper I'd been  issued with were four  thousand US dollar bills in tens  and
fifties, with which to try to buy my way out of the  country if I got in the
shit, and keep if they weren't needed. It  was  much better than working for
the Brits.
     We  kept  paddling towards the clusters  of light. The wetness  down my
back and under my arms was now warm, but still uncomfortable. I looked up at
the other two and  we nodded mutual encouragement.  They were both good lads
and both  had the same haircut shiny,  jet black short-back-and-sides with a
left-hand parting and very neat moustaches.  I was hoping they  were winners
who just looked like losers.  No one would give them  a second  look in  the
street.  They were  both in their  mid-thirties, not tall,  not small,  both
clear-skinned  and married, with enough  kids  between them to  start  up  a
football team.
     "Four-four-two," Lotfi had smiled.
     "I will  supply the back four and goalkeeper, Hubba-Hubba the  midfield
and  two strikers." I'd  discovered he was a Man United fan,  and knew  more
than I did about the Premier League, which  wasn't difficult. The only thing
I knew about football was that, like Lotfi, more than seventy-five  per cent
of Man United's fans didn't even  live in the UK, and most of the rest lived
in Surrey.
     They hadn't been supposed to talk about anything except  the job during
the planning and  preparation phase, in  a  deserted mining  camp just a few
hours outside Alexandria, but they couldn't help themselves. We'd sit around
the fire after carrying  out yet another rehearsal of the attack, and they'd
gob off  about  their time in Europe  or when they'd gone  on holiday to the
States.
     Lotfi  had  shown  himself to  be  a  highly skilled  and  professional
operator as well as a devout Muslim, so  I was pleased that this job had got
the OK  before Ramadan and  also that it was happening in advance of  one of
the  worst storms  ever predicted  in this  part  of the  world,  which  the
meteorologists had forecast was going to hit  Algeria within the next twelve
hours. Lotfi had always  been confident we'd be able to get in-country ahead
of the weather and before he stopped work for Ramadan, for the simple reason
that God was with us. He prayed enough, giving God  sit reps several times a
day.
     We weren't going  to  leave it all to Him, though.  Hubba-Hubba  wore a
necklace that he  said was  warding off the evil eye, whatever that was when
it was  at home. It  was  a small, blue-beaded  hand  with a blue eye in the
centre of the palm,  which  hung  around his  neck  on a length  of cord.  I
guessed it used to be a badge, because it still had a small safety-pin stuck
on the back. As far as the  boys were concerned, I  had a four-man team with
me tonight. I just wished the other two were more help with the paddling.
     The   job  itself  was   quite   simple.  We  were   here  to  kill   a
forty-eight-year-old Algerian citizen, Adel Kader Zeralda,  father of  eight
and owner of a chain of Spar-type supermarkets and a domestic  fuel company,
all based in  and around Oran. We  were heading for his holiday home, where,
so the int said, he did all his  business entertaining. It  seemed he stayed
here  quite  a lot while  his wife  looked  after  the family  in  Oran;  he
obviously took his corporate hospitality very seriously indeed.
     The  satellite  photographs  we'd  been  looking  at  showed  a  rather
unattractive place, mainly because the house was right beside his fuel depot
and the  parking  lot  for his delivery trucks. The building was irregularly
shaped,  like the house  that Jack built, with bits and  pieces sticking out
all  over the place and  surrounded by a high  wall to keep prying eyes from
seeing the amount of East European whores he  got  shipped in for  a  bit of
Arabian delight.
     Why he  needed to  die, and anyone  else in the  house  had to  be kept
alive, I really didn't have a  clue. George hadn't told  me  before  I  left
Boston, and I doubted  I would  ever find out. Besides, I'd fucked up enough
in my time to know when just to get the game-plan in place, do the job,  and
not ask  too  many  questions. It was a reasonable  bet that with  over  350
Algerian al-Qaeda  extremists operating  around the globe Zeralda  was up to
his neck in it, but I wasn't going to lie awake worrying about that. Algeria
had been caught up in a virtual civil war with Islamic fundamentalist groups
for more than  a decade now, and over a hundred thousand lives had been lost
which seemed strange to me, considering Algeria was an Islamic country.
     Maybe  Zeralda  posed  some  other threat to  the  West'sinterests. Who
cared?  All I  cared  about was keeping focused  totally on the job, so with
luck  I'd get out  alive and back  to the States to  pick up my citizenship.
George had rigged  it for me; all I had to do in exchange was this one  job.
Kill  Zeralda, and  I  was finished with this line of work  for good. I'd be
back on the submarine by first light, a freshly minted  US  citizen, heading
home to Boston and a glittering future.
     It felt quite strange going into a friendly country undercover, but  at
this  very moment,  the president of Algeria was  in Washington DC, and  Mr.
Bush  didn't  want to spoil his trip. Given the  seven-hour time difference,
Bouteflika and his wife were probably  getting ready  for a night out on the
Tex Mex with  Mr. and  Mrs. B. He  was in the States because he  wanted  the
Americans to see Algeria as their North African ally in this new war against
terrorism. But I was sure that political support wasn't the only item on the
agenda.  Algeria  also   wanted  to  be  seen  as  an  important  source  of
hydrocarbons  to the West. Not just oil, but gas: they had vast reserves  of
it.
     Only fifty or so metres to  go now, and the depot  was plainly  visible
above us, bathed  in yellow light  from  the  fenceline,where  arc lights on
poles blazed into the compound. We knew from Lotfi's recce that the two huge
tanks  to the  left  of the  compound were  full  of kerosene 28, a domestic
heating fuel.
     On  the other  side of the  compound, still within the  fence line  and
about thirty metres from the tanks, was a line of maybe a dozen tankers, all
likely to be fully laden, ready for delivery in the morning. Along the spit,
to the right of  the compound  as I looked at  it, were  the outer walls  of
Zeralda's holiday house, silhouetted by the light of the depot.
     Two.
     The  view of the target area slowly disappeared as we  neared the beach
and moved into shadow.  Sand rasped  against  rubber as  we  hit bottom. The
three of us jumped out, each grabbing a  rope handle and dragging the Zodiac
up the beach. Water sloshed about inside my dry bag and trainers.
     When  Lotfi signalled that we were far enough  from  the  waterline, we
pulled and pushed  the  boat  so that it faced in the right direction for  a
quick getaway,  then started to unlash our  kit using the ambient light from
the high ground.
     A car zoomed along the road  above us, about two hundred metres away on
the  far side of the peninsula.  I  checked the  traser  on  my left  wrist;
instead  of luminous paint, it used a  gas  that was  constantly  giving off
enough  light  to  see  the  watch  face.  It  was twenty-four  minutes past
midnight; the driver could afford to put his foot down on a deserted stretch
of coast.
     I  unzipped my bergen  from the  protective rubber bag in which it  had
been cocooned and pulled it out on to the sand. The backpacks were cheap and
nasty counterfeit Berghaus jobs, made in Indonesia and flogged to Lotfi in a
Cairo bazaar, but they gave us vital extra protection: if their contents got
wet we'd be out of business.
     The other two did the same to theirs, and we knelt in  the shadows each
checking our own kit.  In my  case this meant making sure that the fuse wire
and  homemade OBIs hadn't  been  damaged, or  worse still  waterlogged.  The
oil-burning  incendiaries were  basically four  one-foot  square  Tupperware
boxes with a soft steel liner, into the bottom of which I'd drilled a number
of holes.  Each device contained a  mix of sodium chlorate,  iron powder and
asbestos, which would have been hard to find in Europe, these  days, but was
available in Egypt by the shed  load The ingredients were mixed together  in
two-pound lots and pressed into the Tupperware.
     All four OBIs were going to be linked together in a long daisy chain by
one-metre lengths of  fuse wire.  Light enough to  float on top of oil, they
would  burn fiercely until,  cumulatively,  they generated  enough  heat  to
ignite the fuel. How long that would take depended on  the fuel. With petrol
it would be almost instantaneous the  fuse wire would  do the trick. But the
combustion  point  of heavier fuels can be very high. Even  diesel's boiling
point  is higher than that of  water,  so it takes a lot  of heat to get  it
sparked up.
     But first  we had to  get to the fuel. All fuel tanks are designed with
outer perimeter bungs', walls  or dykes whose height and thickness depend on
the amount of fuel that will have to be contained in the event of a rupture.
The ones that we were going to breach were surrounded by a double-thick wall
of concrete building blocks, just over a metre in height and about four away
from the tanks.
     Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba had been  rehearsing their  tasks  so often they
would have  been able  to do them blindfolded -which, in  fact,  we had done
some  of   the  time  during  rehearsals.  Training  blindfolded  gives  you
confidence if you have to carry out a job in the dark, such as dealing  with
a  weapon  stoppage, but it also makes  you quicker  and more effective even
when you can see.
     The attack theory was simple. Lotfi was going to start by cutting out a
section  of  the  wall,  three blocks wide and two down,  facing towards the
target  house.  Hubba-Hubba had turned  out  to  be  quite  an  expert  with
explosives.  He would place his two frame  charges, one on each tank, on the
side facing the sea and opposite where I was going to lay out and prepare my
four OBIs.
     As the frame charges cut a two-foot square hole in each tank,  the fuel
would spew out and be contained in the bung. The ignited OBIs would float on
top of the spillage, burning in sequence  along  the daisy chain, so that we
had constant heat and constant flame, which would eventually ignite the lake
of fuel beneath them. We knew that the kerosene fuel oil  rising in the bung
would spark up when the second of the four OBIs ignited, which should happen
as the fuel level reached just less than half-way up the bung  wall. But  we
wanted to do more than just ignite the fuel within the bung:  we wanted fire
everywhere.
     The burning fuel would disgorge through the cut-out section in the wall
and  out on to  the ground  like  lava  from a volcano.  The  ground sloped,
towards the target house. As soon as Lotfi had shown me the sketch maps from
his  recce, I'd seen that we could cut  the house off  from the road  with a
barrier  of flame.  I hoped  I  was right; two  hundred policemen  lived  in
barracks  just  three kilometres  along the road to  Oran, and if they  were
called to the scene we didn't want to become their new best mates.
     Just  as importantly, we could make what  happened tonight look  like a
local job  an attack from  one  of the  many fundamentalist groups that  had
waged war  on each other here for  years. That was why we'd had to make sure
the equipment was homemade, why all our weapons were of Russian manufacture,
and our  clothing of local origin. The traser  might not be regular  Islamic
fundamentalist issue,  but  if anyone got close enough  to me to  notice  my
watch, then I really was in the  shit, so what did it  matter? In  less than
two hours from now, Zeralda  would be dead, and the finger of blame would be
pointing at  Algeria's very own Islamic extremists,  who  were still  making
this  the  world's most  dangerous  holiday venue.  They didn't like  anyone
unless he was one of their own.  We hoped that our attack would be blamed on
the GIA, the Armed Islamic Group. They were probably the cruel lest and most
screwed-up  bunch  I'd ever  come across. These guys  had been  trained  and
battle-hardened in  places like Afghanistan,  where they'd  fought with  the
mujahadeen against the Russians. After that, they'd fought in Chechnya,  and
then in Bosnia and anywhere else they felt Muslims were getting fucked over.
Now they were back  in Algeria and this time it was personal. They wanted an
Islamic state with the Qur'an as its constitution, and they wanted it today.
In  the eyes  of these people, even OBL  (Osama Bin Laden  ) was a  wimp. In
1994, in  a grim  precursor  of attacks  to come, GIA hijacked an Air France
plane in Algiers, intending  to crash it in the  middle of Paris.  It  would
have worked if it hadn't been for French anti-terrorist forces attacking the
plane as it refuelled, killing them all.
     Unlike me, all the  equipment in my bergen was dry. I peeled off my dry
bag,  and  immediately  felt  colder as  the  air  started to attack  my wet
clothes. Too  bad, there  was nothing I could do about it. I checked chamber
on  my  Russian  Makharov  pistol,  pulling  back the  top slide just a  few
millimetres and making sure, for maybe the fourth and last time on this job,
that the round was just exposed as  it sat in the chamber ready to be fired.
I glanced to the side  to see  the other  two doing the same. I let  the top
slide  return until  it was home tight  before  applying safe with my thumb,
then  thrust the pistol into  the internal holster that  I'd tucked into the
front of my trousers.
     Lotfi was in a good mood.
     "Your gun wet too?"
     I nodded  slowly  at his joke  and whispered  back, as I  shouldered my
bergen, "Pistol, it's a pistol or weapon. Never, ever a gun."
     He smiled back and didn't reply. He didn't have to: he'd known it would
get me ticking.
     I made my final check: my two mags  were still  correctly placed in the
double mag  holder on my left hip. They were facing up in the thick bands of
black elastic that held them onto  my belt, with the rounds facing forwards.
That way I would pull down on a mag to release it  and they would be  facing
the right way to slam into the pistol.
     Everyone was  now poised to go, but  Lotfi still checked" Ready like  a
teacher at  the  airport  on  a  school  trip,  making everyone  show  their
passports for  the tenth time.  We all nodded, and he  led the way up to the
high ground. I fell in just behind him.
     Lotfi was the  one taking us on target because he was the  only one who
had been ashore and carried out a CTR [close target recce].  Besides, he was
the one in charge: I  was here as  the  guest European, soon to be American,
terrorist.
     There  was  a  gentle rise of  about  forty  metres from the tip of the
peninsula where we'd  landed to the  target area. We zigzagged over sand and
rock. It was good to get moving so I could warm up a little.
     We stopped just before the flat ground and sat and waited for a vehicle
to make its way along the road. Lotfi checked it out. No one said it, but we
were  all worried about  the police being  stationed  so close, and whether,
because  of the terrorist  situation here, they  constantly patrolled  their
immediate area  for security. I was still happy to stop and catch my breath.
My nose was starting to run a little.
     Lotfi  dropped  down  below  the  ledge  and  whispered  in  Arabic  to
Hubba-Hubba before coming to me: "Just a car, no police yet."
     The wet T-shirt under my pullover was a bit warmer now, but it was just
as uncomfortable. So what? It wouldn't be long  before it was black  tea and
diesel fumes again, and,  for  about  the first time  in my life, I'd be pro
actively planning a future.
     I pulled back my pullover sleeve and glanced down  at my traser. 00:58.
I  thought  of  Mr. and  Mrs. B. Just like the  Bouteflikas,  they  too were
probably having  a wash and  brush-up while  they talked about what on earth
they  were going  to talk  about over the  Tex Mex. Probably something like,
"Oh, I hear you have lots of gasoline in your  country? We wouldn'tmind some
of that,  instead of you giving it to the Italians  to fill  up their Fiats.
And, oh, by  the way, there'll be one Algerian fewer for you to govern  when
you get back. But don't worry, he was a bad 'un."
     As  the sound  of the vehicle faded  in the  direction of  Oran, we all
raised our heads slowly above the lip to scan the rock and sandy ground. The
constant noise of crickets, or whatever they called them here,  rattled into
the night.
     The  fuel compound  was an  oasis  of yellow light and bright enough to
make  me squint until my eyes adjusted. It was just under two hundred metres
to my half-left. From my perspective the tanks  were  sitting side  by side,
surrounded by the bung. To the right of them was the not-so-neat row of fuel
trucks.
     The perimeter of  the compound was guarded by a  three-metre high chain
link  fence, sagging in places where the trucks had backed  into it over the
years.
     In the far corner of the compound, by the gate that faced the road, was
the security hut. It was no  more than a large garden shed. The security was
for fire watch just as much as for stopping the trucks and fuel disappearing
during  the night; the  depot had no automatic fire system in the event of a
leak or explosion. Lotfi told  us there was  a  solitary guy sitting inside,
and if the whole  thing sparked up it would presumably be his job to get  on
the phone.
     That was  good for  us, because it meant we didn't  have to  spend time
neutralizing any fire-fighting apparatus  or alarms.  What was  bad was  the
police  barracks. A complete fuck-up  on our side was only a  phone call and
three Ks away. If we got  caught it would  be serious  shit.  Algeria wasn't
exactly known for upholding human rights, no one would be coming to help us,
no matter  what we  said,  and terrorists were routinely whipped to death in
this neck of the woods.
     Three.
     The target house  was to the right of us, and closer than the compound.
The wall  that surrounded it was a large, square, high-sided construction of
rendered brick, painted a colour that had once been cream. It was built very
much in the  Muslim tradition of architecture  for  privacy.  The main  door
faced  the  fuel  tanks, and  we knew from the satellite that  it was rarely
used. I couldn't  even see  it from  where I was, because the lights in  the
compound  weren't  strong  enough. From the shots Lotfi had taken during the
CTR, I knew it consisted of a set of large, dark, wooden double doors rising
to an apex, studded and decorated with wrought iron.  The pictures  had also
shown a  modern shutter-type garage door  at the  side,  facing away from us
towards the road. A dirt track connected it with the main drag.
     Inside the high protection was a long, low  building. It wasn't exactly
palatial,  but  showed that the fuel and tea bag business paid Zeralda  well
enough for him to have his own little playpen.
     Double  doors from quite a lot of the rooms  opened  on to a  series of
tiled courtyards decorated with plants and fountains, but what the satellite
photographs  hadn't been able  to show  us was  which room was  which.  That
didn't really matter, though.  The house  wasn't that big and it was  all on
one floor, so it shouldn't take us  long to find where Zeralda was doing his
entertaining.
     The metal led road  flanked the far side  of these two areas and formed
the base of the triangular peninsula.
     Lotfi  moved back  down  into  the  dead ground and started to scramble
along in the darkness to  his left,  just below the lip. As we followed, two
cars raced  along the  road, blowing their horns at  each other  in rhythmic
blasts  before  eventually  disappearing  into  the  darkness. I'd read that
eighty per cent of men under the age of thirty  were jobless in this country
and inflation was in high double figures. How anybody could afford fast cars
was beyond me. I could only just about afford my motorbike.
     We got level with the tanks and moved up to the lip of the high ground.
Hubba-Hubba  took off  his bergen  and  fished out  the wire cutters  and  a
two-foot square of red velvet curtain material, while we put on and adjusted
the black and white check she mags that would hide our faces when we hit the
hut. I  wouldn't be taking part directly because  of my skin colour and blue
eyes. I  would only come  into the  equation when  the other two had located
Zeralda. It wouldn't matter that he saw me.
     When Hubba-Hubba got his bergen back on and  his shemag around his head
we checked each other again as Lotfi drew his pistol and did his school-trip
routine, with a nod to each of us as we copied.
     Breaking  the operation down into stages,  so that people knew  exactly
what to do and when to do it, made things easier for me. These were good men
but I  couldn't trust  my life with people I didn't know very well and whose
skills, beyond the specifics of this operation, I wasn't sure about.
     Following Lotfi,  with  me now  at the rear, we moved towards the fence
line It was  pointless running or trying to  avoid being in the open for the
thirty or so metres: it was just flat ground and  the  light in the compound
hadn't hit us directly yet as the arc lights were  facing into the compound,
not out. We would get into that light spill before long, and soon after that
we'd be attacking the hut, so fuck it, it didn't really matter. There was no
other way of crossing the open ground anyway.
     There came a point where, bent  over as we tried instinctively  to make
ourselves smaller, we  caught the full  glare of the four arc lights  set on
high steel  posts at each corner of the compound.  A  mass  of  small flying
things had been drawn to the pools of light and buzzed around them.
     I could hear the rustle  of my trousers as my wet legs rubbed together.
I  kept my mouth open  to cut down on  the sound of my  breathing. It wasn't
going to compromise us,  but doing everything  possible  to keep noise to  a
minimum  and make  this job  work made me feel better. The only other sounds
were of their trainers moving over the rocky ground, and the rhythmic scrape
of the nylon berg ens over the chirp of the invisible crickets. My face soon
became wet and cold as I breathed against the shemag.
     We got  to the fence line behind the shed. There were no windows facing
us, just sunbaked wooden cladding no more than a metre away.
     I could hear someone inside, shouting grumpily in French.
     "Oui, oui, d'accord."  At  the same time there was a blast of  monotone
Arabic from a TV set.
     Lotfi held the red velvet  over the bottom of the fence and Hubba-Hubba
got to  work with  his cutters.  He cut the  wire through the velvet, moving
upwards  in a vertical line.  Lotfi re-positioned the  velvet each time, the
two  men working like clockwork  toys, not looking remotely concerned  about
the  world around them. That was  my job, to watch  and listen to the sounds
coming  from the  shed  in  case its  occupant  was alerted by the smothered
'ping' each time a strand of chain-link gave way.
     The telephone  line  snaked  into the compound from one of the concrete
posts that  followed the road, which looked like a slab of liquorice running
left  and right. There was a sign, in both Arabic and English, to be careful
of the bend. I knew that if I went to  the right I would hit  Oran about ten
kilometres away, and if  I went left I would pass Cap Ferrat  and eventually
hit Algiers, the capital, about four hundred Ks to the east.
     Hubba-Hubba  and  Lotfi  finished  cutting  the vertical  line  as  the
one-sided conversation continued  inside the shed, then carefully pulled the
two sides apart  to create a triangle.  I eased my way slowly through, so my
bergen wouldn't snag. I got my fingers through Lotfi's side  of the fence to
keep it in position and he followed suit, taking hold  of Hubba-Hubba's side
while he packed the cutting kit. When  he was through  as well, we eased the
fence back into place.
     We put our berg ens on the ground behind the shed, to the accompaniment
of the monotonous Arabic TV voice,  and the  old guy still  gob  bing off in
French.
     It flashed through my mind that  I had no idea  what had been happening
in Afghanistan this past week. Were the US still bombing? Had troops gone in
and dug  the Taliban out  of their caves? Having been so totally focused  on
the job in the mining camp and then stuck in the  submarine, I didn't have a
clue if OBL was dead or alive.
     We used the light to make final adjustments to each other's she mags
     Everyone  carefully  checked  chamber  for  the last  time.  They  were
becoming like me,  paranoid that they were going  to pull a trigger one  day
and  just get a dead man's  click because the  top  slide  hadn't picked the
round up due to the mag not being fully home.
     Lotfi was hunched down and bouncing on the  balls of his feet.  He just
wanted to get on with it and hated the wait. Hubba-Hubba looked as if he was
at the starting blocks and unconsciously went to bite his thumbnail, only to
be prevented by the shemag. There was nothing we could do but wait until the
old guy had finished his call; we weren't going to burst in half-way through
a conversation. I listened to  the French  waffle, the TV,  the buzz of  the
mozzie things around the lights, and our breathing through the cotton of the
she  mags There  wasn't even  the  hint  of  a breeze to  jumble the  noises
together.
     Less than a minute later, the guard stopped talking and the  phone went
down with an  old style ring of a bell. Lotfi bounced up to full height  and
checked  Hubba-Hubba was backing him. He looked down at me and we nodded  in
time before they disappeared around the corner without  a  word. I followed,
but  stayed out  of  the  way  as  Lotfi pulled  open  the door  and the  TV
commentator was momentarily  interrupted by a single shouted instruction and
the sort of strangulated pleas you make to two weapon-pointing Arabs in  she
mags  I  saw a  sixty-something bloke,  in baggy, well-worn trousers  and  a
tattered brown  check jacket,  drop a cigarette  from between his  thumb and
forefinger before falling to his knees and starting to beg for his life. His
eyes were as big as saucers, his hands upturned to the sky in the  hope that
Allah would sort this whole thing out.
     Hubba-Hubba stuck the muzzle of  his  Makharov into the skin at the top
of  the old boy's balding head and walked around him using the  weapon as  a
pivot stick. He reached for the phone and ripped it from its socket. It fell
to  the floor with one final ring,  the noise blending with  the  scrape  of
plastic-soled shoes on the raised wooden floor as they dragged him over to a
folding wooden chair.
     I could see that he had been watching Al Jazeera, the news network. The
TV  was  black  and  white,  and  the  coat-hanger  antenna  wasn't  exactly
state-of-the-art, but I could still make out the hazy nightscope pictures of
Kandahar  getting  the good news  from the US  Air  Force as tracer streamed
uselessly into the air.
     The  old boy was getting hysterical now, and there  were lots of shouts
and pistols  aimed  his way. I  guessed they were  telling him, "Don't move,
camel-breath," or  whatever, but in  any event it wasn't long before he  was
wrapped up so well in gaffer tape he could have been a Christmas present.
     The  two of  them walked out and closed the  door  behind  them and  we
retrieved the berg ens Things  were looking good. Train hard, fight easy had
always been  shoved down my neck, even  as an infantry recruit in the 1970s,
and it was certainly true tonight. The other half of the mantra, Train easy,
fight hard and die', I pushed to the back of my head.
     We crossed the hard crust of sand that had been splashed with fuel over
the years, and compressed by  boots and tyres, heading for the tanks no more
than fifty metres away. The trucks were to my left, dirty minging old things
with rust streaks  down the  sides of their tanks from years of spillage. If
the sand and dust now stuck to them was washed off, they would probably fall
apart.
     I clambered over the  bung, feeling safe enough to pull  off the shemag
as the other two got on with their  tasks. After I'd extracted the four OBIs
I  checked at the bottom of my bergen for  the nine-inch butcher's knife and
pair  of thick black rubber  gloves that came up to my elbows. They were the
sort  that  vets use when  they stick  their arm up  the  rear end  of large
animals. I knew they were there, but always liked to check such things. Next
out was the thirty-metre spool of safety  fuse, looking a bit like a reel of
green washing line. All the kit we  were using was in metric measures, but I
had been taught imperial.  It had been a nightmare explaining  things to the
boys during rehearsals.
     Lotfi  and his mate,  God, started to play  stone masons  on  the bung,
taking a  hammer and chisel to  the elevation that faced  the target  house,
which was hidden in darkness, no more than two hundred metres away. This was
a problem because of the noise Lotfi was making. But,  fuck it, there was no
other way. He just had to take his time. But at  least once  the first block
was  out, it would be a lot easier  to attack the mortar. It would have been
quicker and safer, noise-wise, to  blow a hole in the wall at  the same time
as the tanks were  cut,  but I couldn't have been sure that the right amount
of  wall had been destroyed,  allowing the fuel to  gush  out  before it was
ignited.
     I laid the four OBIs in a straight line on the floor as Hubba-Hubba and
his  mate, the  evil eye protector, assembled and checked the frame  charges
from his bergen. These were very basic gizmos, eight two-foot-long strips of
plastic explosive, two inches wide, an inch thick, taped on to eight lengths
of  wood.  He was  making sure the PE had connected by  rolling  more in his
hands  before  pushing it into  the joints as he taped the  wood together to
make the two  square frame charges. He had pushed two dodgy-looking  Russian
flash  detonators  into the  PEon  the opposing sides of each  charge,  then
covered  them with yet more  PE. Both charges had then been wrapped in  even
more  tape until  they  looked  like something  from  kids'  TV. It  was bad
practice  using the dets like that, but this was  a low tech job  and  these
sorts of details counted. If  the charges didn't detonate we'd have to leave
them, and  if they looked sophisticated and exotic it would arouse suspicion
that maybe the job hadn't been down to GIA.
     Just  to make sure they'd jump to the wrong conclusion, I'd made  up  a
PIRA [Provisional  IRA] timer unit to detonate them. They were  dead simple,
using a Parkway timer, a device  about the size of a 50p  piece that  worked
very  much like a kitchen egg-timer. They were  manufactured as key rings to
remind  you of when your meter was about to expire. The  energy source was a
spring,  and  the  timers were  reliable  even in  freezing  or wet  weather
conditions.
     I watched as Hubba-Hubba disappeared to  the side of  the  tanks facing
the sea with his squares of wood and  left me to  sort out the OBIs. I heard
the clunk  as the  first frame charge went on to the tank, held  in place by
magnets. He was placing them just  above the first weld marks. Steel storage
tanks are  maybe half an inch thick  at the  bottom, due  to  the  amount of
pressure they  have  to  withstand from  the weight of fuel.  There  is less
pressure above the first  weld, so the  steel can be thinner,  maybe about a
quarter of an inch on these  old  tanks.  The  frame charges  might  not  be
technically  perfect,  but  they'd have no  problem cutting through  at that
level, as long as they had good contact with the steel.
     I heard the magnets  clank into position  on  the  second. He was doing
everything at  a  walk, just  as  we had  rehearsed. This wasn't  so that we
didn't make a noise and get compromised, but because  I didn't want  him  to
run and maybe fall and destroy the charges. We'd only made two, and I had no
great wish  to end this job hanging upside down in an Algerian cell while my
head was on the receiving end of a malicious lump of four-by-two.
     I laid the green safety fuse alongside the OBIs that I'd  placed in the
sand a metre apart. The safety fuse between each  OBI would burn for about a
minute and a half, just like when Clint Eastwood lit sticks of dynamite with
his cigar. A  minute  and  a half was just a  guide, as it could be  plus or
minus nine  seconds or  even quicker if  the core was broken  and  the flame
jumped  the gaps instead of burning  its way along the  fuse.  That  was the
reason why I hadn't connected the fuse in advance, but kept it rolled up: if
there was a break in the powder it could  be too big a  gap for the flame to
jump, and we'd have no detonation.
     Once an OBI was ignited by the  fuse it  would burn for about two and a
half  minutes.  That meant that as soon as  the  first one sparked  up there
would be  about  another minute  and thirty before  the  next one did. Which
meant two  of them burning together for a  minute, and by the time the first
had burnt out, the third would be ignited, and so on to the fourth. I needed
the  sort of heat generated by  two of these things burning at  once to make
sure the fuel ignited.
     I opened the Tupperware lids of the OBIs  and fed  the safety fuse over
the exposed mixture in each of the boxes. They were now ready to party.
     Hubba-Hubba was looking over his shoulder as he moved slowly  backwards
towards  me, unreeling another spool of  fuse  wire as he went. This was now
connected to one of the frame charges via two detonators. It wasn't the same
kind of  fuse I'd  been using. This was 'fuse instantaneous', which goes off
with the sound of a gunshot because the  burn  is so  fast. There's a little
ridge  that  runs  along  the plastic  coating so at night  you  can  always
distinguish it from the straightforward ClintEastwood stuff. He cut the fuse
from his spool without a word, and went  back to do the same with the second
charge.
     The PIRA timer unit would initiate the fuse instantaneous, which  would
burn at warp speed to a four-way connector, a three inch by three inch green
plastic box with a hole in each side. I didn't know what the small  worn-out
aluminium  plate  stuck  to its base called it in Russian, but  that was the
name I knew it by. All this box did was allow three other lengths of fuse to
be  ignited from the one Hubba-Hubba's two lengths  of fuse instantaneous to
the two charges, and my safety fuse for the OBIs.
     Hubba-Hubba was now unreeling the fuse  instantaneous  from the  second
charge back  towards  me as I  took the safety fuse and cut it from the reel
six inches back from the first OBI, making sure the  cut was straight so the
maximum amount of powder was exposed to ignite it in the four-way connector.
I then  pushed the end of it into one of  the rubber recesses,  giving  it a
half-turn so  that the teeth inside gripped the plastic coating. Hubba-Hubba
placed the two fuses instantaneous next to me and went to help Lotfi.
     I cut his two  lengths of fuse in the same way before feeding the lines
into the connector as the sound of Lotfi's rubber mallet  hitting his chisel
filled the  air  and  the navigation lights of an airliner miles  up floated
silently over us.
     I checked the three lines that were, so far, in the connector to ensure
the three  lines into it were  secure before  cutting a metre length of  the
ridged fuse instantaneous and placing it in the last free hole. This was the
length  that  went  to  the  timer unit, a  three-inch-thick, postcard-sized
wooden box.
     Then, as  I lay  on my stomach and started  to prepare, a vehicle drove
along the road from the direction of Oran.
     The noise got  louder as it came round to  the base of the peninsula. I
could tell by the engine note  and the sound of the tyres that it  wasn't on
the road any more, it was going cross-country.
     Shit, police. I heard a torrent of Arabic whispers from the other two a
few metres away. I got their attention.
     "Lotfi, Lotfi! Take a look."
     He got  on to his knees, then  slowly raised his head.  Instinctively I
checked that my Makharov was still in place.
     I  got up  and looked over their heads. The vehicle was a civilian 4x4,
heading  for the house.  The headlights were on full beam and bounced up and
down on the garage  doors set in  the compound wall. As it got closer to the
building the driver sounded the horn.
     Shit, what was  happening? My  information was  that  no one  would  be
moving in or out of the house tonight. George had said that when we hit this
place Zeralda would definitely be in there. He'd assured me the intelligence
was good quality.
     The wagon stopped and I  could  just about  hear  some  rhythmic guitar
music forcing  its way out of  the open windows.  Was the int wrong? Had the
target just arrived,  instead of coming in yesterday? Was this another group
of mates come to join in the fun?  Or was it just a fresh batch of Czechs or
Romanians with bottle-blonde  hair  being ferried  in for  the next session?
Whatever, I wanted to be in  the house  for no more than half  an  hour, not
caught up directing a cast of thousands.
     I watched as the garage shutter rattled open. I couldn't tell if it had
been  operated  electronically  or  manually. Then the  vehicle  disappeared
inside and the shutter closed.
     We got back to business. With the timer unit in my hand and  the bergen
on my back, I climbed over the bung, feeling more than a little relieved.
     The other two  were still attacking the wall and  Hubba-Hubba seemed to
lose  patience, kicking  it with the  flat  of his foot to free  a  stubborn
block.
     I  opened the  top of  the  timer  unit  and gave it  one  more  check.
Basically it consisted of a fifteen-metre length of double-stranded electric
flex coming out of a hole drilled in its side. Attached to the other end was
a flash  det,  a small  aluminium cylinder about  the size of  a third  of a
cigarette, that fitted over the fuse instantaneous. To keep it in  one piece
in  transit,  I had rolled up the  flex and put an elastic  band  around it.
Inside the box there was a twelve-volt battery beside the Parkway timer, the
small rectangular  type  with the positive and negative terminals on top and
next to each other. Both items were glued to the bottom of the box.
     Soldered flat on to the  timer unit was a  small panel  pin, protruding
like a minute hand beyond the dial of the Parkway. It was no more  than half
an  inch  long,  and  had  been  roughened  with emery cloth to make  a good
electrical contact. Also  soldered on to  it was one  of the two  strands of
flex that came  into the  box. Another panel pin, which had also been  emery
clothed, was  sticking out  from the bottom of the box, between the  Parkway
timer and  the battery at the 0 on the Parkway  dial. That, too, had a small
length of wire soldered  on to  it, leading to the negative terminal  of the
battery. The other strand of flex was soldered directly to the positive.
     The Parkway  wasn't set, so I'd pushed a  wedge of rubber  eraser  down
over the vertical pin to stop the two making contact. If they did,  it would
complete the circuit and initiate the flash det.
     I  lay there  for another  ten  minutes  or so  until the other two had
finished. It would have been a bit quicker  if I'd gone and  helped, but you
never,  ever lose  control of the  initiation device  until  you're ready to
leave the area. I wanted to know that every second we were by the tanks, the
eraser was still  covering that panel  pin. The faint  sound  of  Al Jazeera
floated through the air. I could feel the wetness of my clothes cold against
my skin now that I'd stopped moving.
     It was time  to connect the flash  det and the timer to  the  device. I
held up my hand and showed the boys the wooden box. They knew what was about
to happen, and got up and left for the cut in the fence line I knelt down by
the fuse instantaneous  to fit the flash det, checking the eraser  was still
in place before feeding  the fuse into the small aluminium tube. I made sure
the fuse  end  couldn't  get any further inside, so it would  initiate  then
taped the whole lot in place. There was a crimping tool that would have done
the job much better, but it had to look low-tech.
     I then  unwound  the wire from the elastic as I climbed  back  over the
bung. This was very bad drills. I had connected the initiation device to the
charges and was climbing about: if I dropped it, I'd turn the whole job into
a gang fuck as the  charges took out  the tanks as well  as me. But fuck it,
this was the only way to do it tonight as far as I was concerned.
     I lay as flat as  I could in the sand, even forcing my heels down, with
the  extended wires  running over  the  bung, before removing the top of the
box.
     To  arm  the  device,  I turned the Parkway  dial to 30. Then I gave it
another one or two minutes for luck, all very high-tech stuff.
     I let go of the dial and could hear the ticking as  the spring began to
unwind. I had tested this unit over  and  over again and, give  or take five
seconds, it was  always on  time over the half-hour. The  panel pin that was
attached flat to the dial had maybe an  inch and  a  half  to travel  before
connecting with its vertical twin.
     All  that remained was  for me to take off the rubber wedge and replace
the wooden lid on the timer unit so no  dirt could find its  way between the
two pins. I joined the others.  All being well, fragments of  the timer unit
would confirm that tonight's devastation  was the work  of  an  old and bold
ex-muj who'd  been up to no good. It would just underline what the  security
guy told them.
     As we  went past the hut the door was open and an Al Jazeera newscaster
was  taking us through more  fuzzy black  and white  pictures of the night's
events in Afghanistan.  We  made  our way to  the cut in the  fence line and
Lotfi pointed  to his shemag as a  signal for  me  to cover up. I tucked the
cotton around my mouth and saw the  security guy,  still bound up with tape,
now lying  in  the sand  below  the lip.  He had  shit  his  baggy  trousers
big-time,  but he'd live  through the night. Hubba-Hubba knelt down and gave
him a few highlights in rapid Arabic from the GIA party political broadcast,
then at  Lotfi's nod we all left him praying noisily to himself through  the
gaffer tape and ran directly towards the house.
     Lotfi pulled out the alloy  caving ladder from his bergen and  unrolled
it in the sand. Hubba-Hubba moved round to the other side of the wall facing
the road to check the garage door. Why climb the wall if there was an easier
way through?
     I gave the heavy  wrought-iron door handle a  twist. It turned, but the
door wouldn't budge. Hubba-Hubba came back shaking  his  head. We were going
to need the caving  ladder after  all. Made from two lengths of steel  cable
with alloy tube rungs in between, the whole thing was about nine inches wide
and fifteen feet long,  designed  for cavers to get up and down potholes, or
whatever they do down there.
     Lotfi brought  out the two poles we'd  picked up at the hardware store,
the telescopic  jobs you  can stick a squeegee on if you  want to clean high
windows. Like  all the  other kit except for the timing unit, this should be
coming back with us; but if anything got left behind, it couldn't have a B&Q
label on it.
     He  taped them  together to make one long pole,  just slightly  shorter
than  the wall itself.  Lotfi used it to lift  the large steel hook that was
attached  to one end of the  wire ladder,  and eased it  over the top of the
wall.
     I  checked  chamber  on my Makharov  yet again, and the others  copied.
Then, after a shemag check, we were ready to go. I stepped closer.
     "Remember, if we have a drama no head shots." I'd been boring these two
senseless for days about  this,  but  it  was imperative  we didn't  fuck up
Zeralda's head. I  didn't know  why, but I was starting to  make an educated
-well, sort of guess.
     I checked  traser: with luck, just  over twenty-two minutes left before
the tanks became infernos. I tapped Hubba-Hubba on the shoulder.
     "OK, mate?"
     He  started  to climb, with me steadying  the  waving ladder under him.
Caving ladders aren't climbed conventionally; you twist them through  ninety
degrees  so that they run between  your  legs and you use  your heels on the
rungs, not your toes. Back at the mining camp, watching  these two trying to
get up and down  had been like  a  scene in a slapstick comedy. Now, with so
much practice, they glided up and down like chimpanzees.
     Hubba-Hubba disappeared over the  top  of the  wall and I heard a faint
grunt  as he  landed the  other side. Then came  the slow metallic creak  of
bolts being  gently  prised open, while Lotfi  retrieved  and rolled  up the
ladder before stashing it back in his bergen along with the poles.
     The door opened and I moved through into a small  courtyard, hearing at
once the  gentle trickle of one of the ornamental  fountains. I couldn't see
it, but knew from the sat photos that it was in front of me somewhere.
     Lotfi  followed close  behind  me. It  was  very  dark in here, with no
lights on at  all this side of the  house.  The  building's irregular  shape
meant that light from another part of  the  building could easily be hidden.
If we  hadn't seen  the car turn up, we wouldn't have known there was anyone
at home.
     I  felt leaves against my shemag  as  I  stood  by  the  compound wall,
looking and  listening  as my face became wet with  condensation  once more.
Hubba-Hubba closed the door behind us, bolting it shut so that if we screwed
the  job up and Zeralda was able to  do a runner, it  would take a while for
him to escape.
     Once they had got their berg ens back on, I was going to lead. I wanted
to  be  in control  of  my own destiny  inside  this cage.  Pulling  out  my
Makharov,  I followed the building around to the right. I still couldn't see
anything, but  I knew from the sat  pictures that the floor of the courtyard
was paved with large tiles in bold blue North African patterns.
     We left the soothing sound of the fountain behind and rounded a corner,
past  a  set  of french windows behind closed  wooden  shutters. Maybe  four
metres  in  front of me,  light spilled from a second set of  doors on to  a
wrought-iron garden set,  wit ha mosaic  pattern  on  the circular  table. I
stopped to  try  to  control my  breathing,  and  heard  faint, intermittent
laughter ahead.
     I eased off my bergen and  left it on  the ground, then got down on  my
knees  and put out my  hand to make sure the others  were  going  to hold it
right there.
     I crawled to within a couple of feet  of  the french windows, and could
suddenly hear guitars and cymbals. I smiled when I recognized Pink Floyd.
     I  lay  down and  craned my neck until I could  see  what was happening
beyond the glass. As soon as I'd done it, I wished I hadn't. The whole  room
was a haze of cigarette smoke. Zeralda was  naked and covered in either  oil
or sweat,  I  couldn't make  out  which, and his  fat,  grey-haired body and
almost  woman-sized  breasts  were wobbling  about as he  wrestled on a  big
circular bed. In the blue corner was a very frightened boy who couldn't have
been any more than about fourteen, with a crew-cut and ripped T-shirt.
     In all there were three boys in  the room,  all in  different states of
undress,  and  another adult, younger than Zeralda,  in his thirties  maybe,
with greased-back hair, still clothed in jeans and white shirt but with bare
feet. He seemed to  be a spectator for now, sitting in  a chair, smiling and
smoking as he watched the one-sided bout. The other boys looked as scared as
their friend, starting to realize what they'd let themselves in for.
     I moved my head away to have  a think  about what I'd just seen. It had
never  crossed our  minds that Zeralda's  fun and games involved boys;  we'd
been told it was women.
     When I was far enough from the window  I stood and walked back  to  the
others. Our heads closed in and I quickly checked traser: eleven-ish minutes
to go before the device went off. Before that happened we needed to be in on
target  and for  Zeralda to  be  dead.  That way, we'd  have  contained  the
situation  before there was any  sort of  follow-up by the  fire brigade or,
even worse, the two hundred policemen.
     The nylon of their berg ens rustled gently as they moved inn for  me to
whisper.
     "He's in there with another man and three young boys."
     Hubba-Hubba raised his shovel-like hands in disbelief.
     "Boys? No women? Just boys? Young boys?"
     "Yep."
     There was a collective Arabic mutter of disapproval. Hubba-Hubba  could
only just about control his breathing.
     "I will do it, let me kill him."
     Four.
     Lotfi wasn't going to let that happen. TSfo, we have our tasks."
     Hubba-Hubba was still in a state of disgust.
     "How many?"
     "For definite, two  men, three boys. That's all I've seen." Lotfi had a
change of heart. Then I will kill the other one." Hubba-Hubba agreed.  I was
starting to worry.
     "No, only the target.  Just the target, OK, we're just here for him. No
one else, remember?" Doing things  outside your limits of  exploitation  can
lead to horrendous  fuck-ups elsewhere. We didn't know the whole story, just
this little bit.  I felt  pretty  much the  way  he did, but..  . "Just  the
target, no one else."
     Lotfi said he would lead, as the colour of my eyes and skin could still
be a problem for a little while longer. I caught his shoulder.
     "Remember. If there's a drama He finished my sentence.
     "No head shots." I tapped my  traser. We had  less  than six minutes. I
could hear Hubba-Hubba still murmuring quietly to himself about what Zeralda
was getting up to as there was a burst of laughter from inside the room, and
I remembered that his own sons were nearly as old as these boys.
     We stopped just short of the door. I could hear a little Arabic waffle,
then more laughter from inside the room. Then I hear da young voice, clearly
pleading: whatever was going on in there, he didn't like  it. I felt a surge
of anger.
     Traser  told me there were  four minutes left  on the Parkway timer.  I
undid the top flap  of my bergen, dug  out  the rubber gloves and started to
put them  on. Those two,  and their invisible  mates, had  better get  their
finger out once we were inside: we didn't have much time.
     Hubba-Hubba picked up  a wrought-iron chair  and hurled it against  the
windows. The noise of  smashing glass was  followed by startled screams from
inside, and then by even louder screams of aggression as he and Lotfi kicked
out the remaining glass and pushed their  way through.  Even Pink Floyd were
no match for this lot.
     The next distinguishable sound I heard was begging, this time  from the
men.  I didn't want to know what was going on in there now, or how Lotfi and
his mate  were  choosing to control  the  situation.  I heard more  breaking
glass, the racket of furniture being pulled about.
     A  split  second  later  the loud  crump of  the devices  made me  duck
instinctively as what  looked like sheet lightning filled the sky. There was
a renewed frenzy inside; more furniture being hurled  about, and the screams
became wails.
     All at once the boys' cries ceased, as if a switch had been thrown.
     I checked my  she  mug took the bergen in my left hand and the Makharov
in my  right, and  poked an  eye round the corner to see what was happening.
The room reeked  of cannabis smoke. Pink Floyd were still going for  it next
door.
     Both  men were on the floor, being kicked and  stamped on by Lotfi, who
was alone  in the room with them. Zeralda was about to collect a boot in the
teeth.
     "Not the face," I yelled.
     "Not the face!"
     Lotfi turned, his huge black eyes wide and quivering. I  jumped through
the french  windows,  my  trainers crunching on shards  of  broken glass.  I
dropped  the bergen and put my gloved left hand on  his shoulder, keeping  a
good grip on theMakharov with my right,  and my thumb on the  safety in case
he totally lost control and I had to stop him.
     I gave his shoulder a squeeze  and  eased him away  from the whimpering
and bloodstained heap on the floor. I had to speak up  to be heard over  the
music.
     "Come on, mate, remember why we're here ..."
     I understood what was disturbing him and  liked him  for it, but not so
much that I'd let him jeopardize the job. He moved  back against the wall as
I looked down to  check out  Zeralda's  head. I caught the other one looking
into my eyes.  I guessed that  he knew  I wasn't an Arab, that this wasn't a
GIA attack.  Bad  decision on my part, not waiting  until Lotfi had finished
and called me in. It was  just one of those fuck-ups that happen once on the
ground. And  a totally bad  decision on his  part, having ears and eyes:  no
matter what the  reason for no one else being killed in the  house, he would
have to die.
     He seemed  in control,  even if his overfed face didn't look that good;
most of the blood that should have been inside his head was now on the front
of his shirt.
     I kicked Zeralda over on to his back. His face wasn't too bad. He had a
few teeth missing and blood leaking out of his mouth and nose,  but not much
else. His eyes were closed and his body wobbled as he, I presumed,  tried to
explain why I should keep him alive.
     I stepped  back,  raised  the  Makharov, and double-tapped him  in  the
chest. After a couple of jerks, he wobbled no more.
     Zeralda's mate's eyes  were shaking  in  their sockets  now,  just like
Lotfi's, but  there was  no  gasp of horror  or any begging from  him as the
music  took over again, punctuated  by the  distant  cries of  the boys from
somewhere else in the house.
     Hubba-Hubba came back into the room.
     "Where are the boys?"
     "Bathroom." Hubba-Hubba pointed back the way he'd come.
     "Get them out of here before  the fuel cuts us off. Give them  the car.
Go,  mate, just get  them  out  of here. This fucker  stays,  I want  him to
watch." Lotfi had pulled the grease ball on to the bed and was yelling abuse
at  him. He let fly with his fist,  punching him hard in the mouth for  good
measure.
     As Greaseball tried to separate  his hair from the blood on  his face I
made sure  he saw me  take  out  the butcher's knife. He  began to  get  the
message. His brown eyes bulged and shook some more.
     I pulled Zeralda by the arm and rolled him back over on to his stomach,
then sat astride him and  grabbed a  fistful  of his hair in my left hand. I
yanked it back and positioned the knife below his Adam's apple.
     I  looked up  to  double-check that Greaseball was  watching, and  then
started  to cut. I had prepared myself for days by telling myself  that this
was going to  be shocking, but this  wasn't the time to be shocked. I  had a
job to do.
     The  knife was razor  sharp, and I felt little resistance  once  it got
through the  first layer of skin and  I pulled back on his head to  make the
cutting easier. I was beginning to feel a little lightheaded.  Maybe  it was
because of  the  cloud of wacky baccy that still  hung in  the  air,  but  I
doubted it. Pink Floyd were still at full pitch, singing  about the happiest
days of our lives.
     Greaseball closed his eyes but Lotfi thrust his pistol against his ear,
uttering in Arabic. His eyes opened again, just in time to see  blood stream
from his dead friend on to the tiles, and flow between his own feet dangling
from  the bed. It  was too  much for him; he vomited on to the bedding as he
tried desperately to keep his feet off the ground, as if it was on fire.
     He  started  to  gob off  in vomit-soaked Arabic to  Lotfi,  but halted
abruptly as a blinding light burst  through the haze of sweet-smelling smoke
that still filled the air.
     It  came from the area around the tanks. The OBIs had done their stuff.
The fuel  was  burning  good-style: I  could  see  the  leaves on  the trees
outside,  which were higher than the perimeter wall, reflecting  the  bright
orange flames.
     I concentrated  on the job in hand,  working  at the  top of his spinal
column like I  was  cutting a section of ox-tail.  Lotfi had got fed up with
his supporting role and  was pistol-whipping  the  other paedophile.  If  he
hadn't before,  Greaseball  now got the  message: he  was  in  deep shit. He
started begging, his legs  and red-stained soles up by his chest,  his hands
down between them trying to protect himself as he lay on the bed.
     "Please,  please, I'm a friend. I'm a  friend ..." something like that,
anyway.  His English sounded pretty good;  I  just couldn't hear too clearly
with the music this loud.
     I  yelled at Lotfi:  "Turn that fucking  noise off, it's  doing my head
in."
     He kicked his way  past  the furniture that had been thrown  around the
room, and  seconds later the music stopped,  just as Greaseball tried wiping
the vomit from his mouth before realizing his hands were bloodstained.
     Hubba-Hubba appeared in the doorway and for a moment looked appalled by
what I had nearly finished.
     What?"
     "Glasses," he said.
     What?"
     "One of the boys needs his glasses."
     I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
     "Fuck him, just get rid of them. We're running out of time."
     "He can't. He needs them, they're difficult to get. Really expensive to
buy here."
     He rooted around  on the floor  next  to the bed, then pulled  back the
blood-soaked covers as I finished what I'd come to do.
     I  grabbed the top sheet, pulled it from under  Greaseball, and wrapped
Zeralda's head in it.
     Hubba-Hubba stood over the headless body.
     "Can you turn him over?"
     "What?"
     Turn him over. They could be under him. You have the gloves."
     I did as I was told. The precious glasses were under his legs, one lens
cracked and bloodstained.
     Hubba-Hubba picked  them up between his thumb  and forefinger as if  he
was holding a scorpion. They can go now, I'll put them in the car."
     Lotfi hadn't returned, but I knew what he was up to.
     I  wiped the  knife blade on  the bed and put it back into  the bergen,
then pulled out a black bin liner and threw in the shrouded head.
     And that  was it.  I'd never cut off a man's head before, and  I hadn't
been looking forward to  it one bit. But after seeing Zeralda with the boys,
I'd had  all the incentive I needed. In fact, I felt pretty good as I turned
to Greaseball.
     The roar of burning fuel now filled the night. Flames licked higher and
higher, brushing against the sky. The police could only be minutes away.
     Greaseball raised himself up from the bed.
     "You  can't kill me, I am too important. No one but  Zeralda is  to  be
killed  you  know  that,  don't you? You  can't  kill  me,  that is not your
decision to make, you are just the tools."
     I looked him straight in the eye, but  said nothing, feeling  angry and
deflated as he spat out some vomit. Then he almost smiled.
     "How do you think your people knew that he  would be here  tonight? You
cannot kill me, I'm  too  important. You need me. Now, stop being stupid and
crawl back into your kennel until required."
     Windows were being smashed  about  the house now, to feed the  fire  we
were  going  to  start  in  here.  Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba would be  stacking
furniture for good measure. This was  the bit they'd really loved during the
training.
     Lotfi  pulled the  last of the squeezy  bottles from his bergen. They'd
been  half filled with boiled washing up  liquid, then topped up with petrol
and given a good shake. He gave  the  bed a squirt,  then saved the rest for
Zeralda. One match and this place would be an inferno.
     Greaseball  made a  run for it into the  house  and Hubba-Hubba started
after him.
     "Leave him. Not enough time."
     The phone  rang and we all jumped.  It could have been anyone maybe the
police,  maybe  one  of Zeralda's  family, or one of  his paedophile  mates.
Whatever, Hubba-Hubba turned and gave the phone a good old squirt as well.
     "Come on!" I  shouted, 'time to move.  Let's light up,  let's go, let's
go!"
     I shouldered my bergen, and heard the rush of fuel being ignited in the
room next door. Lotfi ran  past me and out into the courtyard. I followed as
Hubba-Hubba transformed the bedroom into a furnace.
     There was no great plan for the next  bit just run down to the boat and
get out to sea for a pick-up and  some hot sticky black tea and a noseful of
diesel fumes.
     As I ran through the perimeter door  I  saw the  flaming fuel  from the
bung flowing out of the breach and down the incline, exactly like it said in
the script. The sky was bright  orange. After all that  practising, all that
rehearsal, it  looked  just beautiful. I stood there  for  what  seemed like
ages, looking at the flames as the heat gently seared my skin.  I was almost
sorry that we  wouldn't be  around to see the best bit. As the flames flowed
under the  fuel trucks, they, too,  would soon  be joining  in the fun, with
luck just as the police arrived.
     Lotfi gave me a shove, and  our shadows followed us  until we got  over
the  lip. Once we hit the sand  it was  simply a  case of turning  right and
following the shoreline to the Zodiac.
     As I  scrambled down the hill  I felt nothing but exhilaration. At long
last I'd earned my US passport and the right to a whole new life.
     Five.
     FRIDAY, 16 NOVEMBER, 11:56 hrs
     I  sat on the T, the smart aluminium commuter train that had brought me
from Logan  airport into  Boston  and, after  a quick change,  north towards
Wonderland.
     Wonderland always sounded to me like some kind of glitzy shopping mall;
in fact, it was only the drop-off point for people from the northern suburbs
heading into Boston. Today,  though, no  destination  could have been better
named.  Carrie had been lecturing at  MIT this morning, so was picking me up
here  instead of at  the airport,  then taking me  to her mother's  place in
Marblehead, a  small  town about  twenty miles  north  along the  coast. Her
mother had lent us the granny annexe, while she  carried on with her B-and-B
business in the main house. Carrie and I lived there alone now that Luz  had
started high school in Cambridge. To me it was home, and it was  a long time
since I'd felt that way about anywhere.
     The other passengers looked at me as if I'd just escaped from the local
nuthouse. After two days of  travelling back from Egypt, my skin was greasy,
my  eyes  stung, and  my  socks, armpits and breath stank. As some  kind  of
damage limitation before I saw Carrie I was brushing my teeth and swallowing
the foaming paste  as  I  looked  out  of  the window. It  wasn't  going  to
transform me into Brad Pitti on Oscars night but it was the best I could do.
     I picked up the nylon holdall near my feet and put it on the empty seat
beside  me. I needed to check just one more time that the bag was sterile of
anything  that could  link me to the job  before she picked  me up. My  hand
passed over  the smooth, rounded shape of the  Pyramids snowstorm shaker I'd
bought  her at Cairo airport,  and the  hard edge  of the  small photo album
she'd lent me for my weeks away.
     "If you don't look at it and think nice things about me every day, Nick
Stone," she'd said, 'don't even think about coming back."
     I opened  it  and felt a grin spreading across my face, as it did every
time I saw her. She was  standing  outside Abbot Hall in Washington  Square,
Marblehead, on the start of what she'd called my US Heritage Induction Tour.
Abbot Hall was the home of The Spirit of '76', the famous portrait of a LIFE
and drum at the head of an infantry column during the revolutionary war. She
wanted me  to see it because she said it embodied the spirit of  America and
if I was going  to become  a US  citizen one day, it was  my  solemn duty to
damned well admire and be moved by it. I said I thought it  looked more like
a cartoon than a masterpiece, and she pushed me outside.
     Her short brown hair was being  buffeted by  the wind blasting off  the
Atlantic as I pressed the shutter. She  looked like GI Jane in green fatigue
cargoes  and a baggy  grey sweater.  She certainly didn't look  in  her late
thirties, even  though  a certain  sadness  in her  smile,  and a  few small
creases at the corners of her mouth  and eyes,  told  anybody who was paying
attention that the last couple of years had not been easy on her.
     "Nothing  Photo Shop can't  handle," she  said, 'once I've scanned them
into the PC."
     It  was  rare to see  her  expression  so relaxed, even  when  she  was
sleeping.  Normally  it  was  much  more   animated,  most  often  frowning,
questioning, or registering disgust  at Corporate America's latest  outrage.
She had good reason  to look weighed down.  It had been hard for her and Luz
since the two  of them had come back from Panama, one without a husband, the
other  without the man  who'd become  her father.  Since Aaron's death there
hadn't been a day when  he didn't come into her conversation. I still tended
to cut away  from stuff like  this, but  the way she  saw it, he'd been  her
husband for fifteen years and dead for only a little over one.
     In  the whole of my life as a Special  Forces soldier, and later, as  a
"K' working on  deniable operations for the Intelligence Service, I'd always
tried  to  turn my back  on the  guilt,  remorse and  self-doubt that always
followed a job; what was done was done. But watching her trying to deal with
it moved me more than I'd thought possible.
     I'd  been  sent to  Panama in September 2000  to coerce a  local  drugs
racketeer  into  helping  the  West.  Carrie and  Aaron  had been  my  local
contacts; they'd  been environmental  scientists running  a research station
near the Colombian border, and on the CIA  payroll as low-level intelligence
gatherers.  I  was staying  at  their house when  the racketeer's boys  came
looking for me, and Aaron had paid the price.
     There hadn't  been many days since when I didn't wonder if there'd been
something more I could have done to save him.
     There  was  another photograph  of Carrie in her  mother's  kitchen  at
Marblehead. She was cooking  clam chowder.  Just to  one  side of her was  a
framed black and white portrait of her with  her father, George, a handsome,
square-jawed all-American in a uniform, probably taken in the early sixties.
     I gazed at the one of her standing outside her college. Carrie had been
encouraging me  to give the place a try; I'd always  loved medieval history,
and had been reading quite a lot about  the Crusades lately. I'd  told her I
wasn't sure the whole  mature-student thing  was  me,  working in Starbucks,
being  bollocked  by an eighteen-year-old  team  leader.  I hadn't quite got
round to telling her that my formal education had ended when  I was fifteen,
so the college was  unlikely to take  me on as a janitor, let alone enrol me
on one of its courses.
     I guessed there was quite a lot of stuff, one way or the other,i that I
hadn't told Carrie. There was my trip to Algeria, for a start. It wasn't the
job itself; I wouldn't have said  a word about that anyway. It  was the fact
that I'd promised her I'd never get involved in dirty work again. The carrot
George  had  dangled  in   front  of  me  was  irresistible;  with  American
citizenship papers in my pocket,  I'd be free to work at whatever I  wanted.
But I wasn't sure Carrie would appreciate the method behind the madness.
     The  story I'd  told her  was that I'd  been offered three weeks'  work
escorting thrill-seekers into  Egypt. After the 9/11 attacks, tourism to the
Middle East  had all but dried up, and the few travellers still brave enough
to go wanted minders. Carrie agreed it was a good idea for  me to  make some
money before I started the long process  of  applying for citizenship. Until
that happened,  all  I could do were menial jobs, so money would be tight. I
hadn't a clue  how I was going to explain to her why my citizenship had come
through so fast, but  I'd cross that bridge when I  came  to  it. I  sat and
looked  out at the dull grey  day as ice-covered trees zoomed past along the
side of  the track and vehicles  in  the distance with  cold  engines tailed
exhaust fumes behind  them. It wasn't a good start to us being together, but
it was done now. I should just look to the future.
     After   two   days   of  mincing   around,   ninety  metres  below  the
Mediterranean, following the North African  coastline, we'd finally  made it
back into Alexandria. The weather had closed in as predicted about ten hours
after we got on board, not that we knew, so far  below water. A Chrysler MPV
was waiting at the dockside; somebody took my bergen, and that was the  last
I saw of it. For the next  week I just had  to wait in a hotel room in Cairo
while the head I'd brought back was confirmed as Zeralda's. If not, we might
have been sent back to get the correct one.
     I still didn't know why I'd been asked to bring back Zeralda's head and
I still  didn't care. All that mattered was that George was coming to Boston
in a few days' time, and  I'd be getting Nick Stone's shiny new US passport,
social security  number and Massachusetts  driver's licence. I  was about to
become a real person.
     I  looked  around the train. Most  of my fellow travellers had now  got
bored looking at  the  dickhead cleaning his  teeth and wiping the foam that
ran  down  his chin, and were buried in their papers.  The front pages  were
plastered  with  the war in Afghanistan, reporting that everything was going
well  and  there   were  no  casualties.  Northern  Alliance  fighters  were
silhouetted  against  the  sunset as they stood watching  US Special  Forces
soldiers carrying enough kit on their backs to collapse a donkey.
     I looked out and  chewed on my brush. To my right, and running parallel
with  the track, was the coast road, also cutting through the icy marshland.
We  were overtaking  a  taxi,  his  side windows  festooned  with  patriotic
imagery; there was even  a little  Stars  and  Stripes fluttering  from  his
aerial. I couldn't see the driver, but knew he just had to be an Indian or a
Pakistani.  Those guys  didn't want to  leave  anything to chance  in  these
troubled times.
     The  marshland  petered  out, and  whitewashed,  weather-boarded houses
sprang up either side of the train, then the  blur of  supermarkets and used
car lots also draped in the Stars and Stripes.  I felt my pulse quicken with
anticipation. I didn't have to work for the Firm any more, didn't have to do
any  more jobs  for George. I really felt I'd  been given a new  start, that
life was coming together. I was free.
     Six.
     I shoved the toothbrush into my brown nylon holdall  as the  train came
to a halt  and people stood and  got their hats and coats on. The  automatic
doors drew back to reveal  the  signs for Wonderland Station,  and I stepped
out  of the  carriage,  hooking  the holdall over  my  shoulder.  I  got  an
immediate and fierce reminder that I wasn't in North Africa  any  more.  The
temperature was several degrees  below zero. I  zipped up my  fleece jacket,
which did nothing to keep out the bitter wind as I joined the throng heading
for the barrier.
     She  was  standing  by a ticket  desk, dressed in a  green  nylon Puffa
jacket and a  Russian style black sheepskin hat, her breath billowing  about
her face as we both waved and smiled.
     I got through the barrier and threaded my way through the crowd. Taking
her in  my  arms, I planted a big,  exaggerated kiss on her forehead, hoping
that the  toothpaste routine  hadn't been in  vain. I ran  my fingers gently
down her cheek as I drew back and we exchanged huge smiles.
     Her large  green eyes stared  into  mine for  several seconds, then she
hugged me hard.
     "I missed you big-time, Stone."
     "Me too." I kissed her again, properly this time.
     She linked her left arm in mine and rubbed her free hand up and down my
stubble.
     "Come on," she said.
     "Places to  go, things  to  do. Mom's  at a church  meeting  until this
evening so you don't have to say hello until later. Gives us a little time."
She rested her head on my shoulder as we walked outside.
     "But we're not going home just yet. There's something I want you to see
on the way."
     We weren't quite in step: the leg she'd broken in  Panama  had left her
with a slight limp. I grinned like an idiot. I'm all yours."
     The  dog-track parking  lot was  used by commuters during  the day. The
November  air had  already worked its magic on line upon line of windscreens
and frozen them white.
     I looked down at her face poking out from the sheepskin.
     "How's Luz?"
     "Oh, she's fine. She says hi. She might be coming back next week with a
new friend."
     "It'll be good to see her. Who's the lucky boy?"
     "David somebody, I think." She turned to me.
     "But you're not to ' "I know." I held up my hand to swear the oath.
     "No jokes, don't worry, I won't embarrass her..." If I did,  though, it
wouldn't be the first time.
     We reached the main drag and  waited for the lights, along  with ten or
so other pedestrians heading for the lot.
     "So, how  was  your trip? I notice I didn't get  a card of the Pyramids
like I was promised."
     "I know, I know. It's just that  I thought by the time I got back  into
Cairo and posted it I'd be here. Especially this time of year..."
     "Not to worry. You're back, that's all that matters."
     The traffic stopped and the bleeper on the crossing ushered us across.
     "Did you get hit by the storms?"
     "We were much further south."
     "I  was  worried." Those little  lines  appeared at the corners  of her
eyes.
     "Six hundred people died in the floods in Algeria ..."
     I looked straight ahead.
     "Six  hundred? I didn't know." We'd just got in among the cars when she
stopped and faced  me, her arms  pushed in under mine  and linked around  my
waist.
     "You stink like a camel, but it really is good to have you back all the
same." She kissed me lightly on the lips, her skin cold but soft.
     "You  know what?  I don't want you  to go away ever again.  I  like you
right here, where I can see you."
     We  stayed wrapped in each other and I fought the urge to tell her  the
truth. Sanity prevailed. I would find a time and a place to do that, but not
now, not yet.  She was too happy, I was too happy. I wanted to keep the real
world outside.
     She let me go.
     "Magical-mystery-tour time."
     We  got to  her mother's  Plymouth sedan. Carrie  hadn't got  round  to
buying  a car since she'd got back:  she'd been too busy. She'd arranged the
transportation of  Aaron's  body from  Panama to Boston, then the cremation,
before  returning to Panama to scatter his ashes in the jungle.  After that,
she'd had to get Luz settled into high school, and herself into her new job.
She'd  also  had  to set up  house then change her life around again when  a
not-too-reliable Brit turned up begging for a spare room.
     We  split as she  went  to the driver's side of the Plymouth,  reaching
into her bag for the keys and hitting the fob. The car unlocked with a bleep
and a flash of the indicators. I pulled open the door, threw my holdall into
the back and climbed in, as Carrie closed her door and put on her belt. That
frown  of hers had  reappeared, the  one  that  went  along  with the raised
eyebrow and slight tilt of the head.
     The engine  turned  over and we  rolled  out of the parking  space. She
cleared her throat.
     "I've been thinking about  a whole bunch  of stuff while you were away.
There's something very important I want to say to you."
     I  reached  across  and  pulled  off her  hat before running my fingers
slowly through her hair,  as she negotiated the Plymouth over  the  potholed
tarmac. We hit the main drag and turned left up the north shore  for the ten
miles to Marblehead.
     "Good important or bad important?" She shook her head.
     "Not yet. It'll be easier for me to explain when we get there."
     I nodded slowly.
     "OK. Tell me some other stuff, then."
     Luz liked her new school, she said, and had started to make some really
nice friends; she was staying over with one of them for the rest of the week
to  give  us time  together. She also told  me how her mother's  B-and-B had
picked up a little since September. Oh, and that she thought  there might be
a part-time job for me at the yacht club as  a barman. I  wanted to tell her
that I didn't need  a job pulling  pints of Samuel  Adams for  weekend water
warriors.  Come  Wednesday,  I  was going  to be  a  bona  fide, flag-waving
citizen; the US was my oyster, and all that sort of thing.
     Marblehead old town was like a film set: brightly painted wooden houses
with neat little gardens sitting  on winding streets. Cornish fishermen  had
settled there in the  1600s, maybe because the rocky coastline reminded them
of home. The only fishermen there  now  dangled lines off the backs of their
million-dollar boats in the Boston yacht club.
     Marblehead  today  was where  old' Boston  money met new Boston  money.
Carrie's mother had  been born there, and was blessed with plenty of the old
stuff. She'd come  back ten or  so years ago, after her divorce from George,
and took in B-and-B guests because she enjoyed the company.
     Carrie made a couple of  turns that took us off the main street and  we
came  to a  stop on a  small  road that ran along the water's edge. Tucker's
Wharf  jutted  just  a  little into  the  water,  with  old  weather boarded
buildings either side, now restaurants and ye olde shoppes. This is it," she
announced.
     "We're here."
     We got out,  zipped up against the cold, and Carrie took my arm as  she
walked me towards a wooden bench. We sat and looked out over the  bay at the
large houses the other side.
     "Mom used to bring me here when I was a kid," Carrie said.
     "She called it  Marblehead's gangway to the world. That  sounded pretty
magical to  a ten-year-old, I can tell you. Itmade me think my home town was
the centre of the universe."
     It sounded pretty magical to me,  even now.  The place I'd grown up  in
was the centre of a shit-heap.
     "She used to tell me all kinds of stories of  fishing boats setting off
from  here  to  the  Grand  Banks,  and  crews  gathering  to  join  in  the
revolutionary war and the war of 1812." She smiled.
     "You're  not  the  only   history  buff  around  here.  I  hope  you're
impressed." The smile  faded  slowly as her thoughts turned  elsewhere.  She
looked into my eyes, then away, across the water.
     "Nick, I don't really know where to start with this."
     I  gave  her hair a stroke. I didn't know where this was  going, but  I
guessed it had  to do with Aaron. I had a sudden flash of him  sitting under
guard in that store room in Panama, smoking. His nose  was bloodied and  his
eyes were swollen, but he was smiling, maybe feeling happy with himself that
he'd helped the  rest of us  escape into the jungle as  he enjoyed his  last
cigarette.
     I  hadn't had a clue  how I was going  to get  him  out of there. I was
unarmed; my options were  about nil. Then he had made the  decision for  me.
The door burst open and Aaron launched himself into the night.
     As  he slithered into the darkness there was a long burst of  automatic
fire from inside the house. Then the guard got to the door and took aim with
a short, sharp burst.
     I had heard an anguished gasp, then a chilling,  drawn-out scream. Then
the sort of silence that told me he was dead.
     "I brought  him here,  you know, soon after  we'd met. We  came up from
Panama one vacation. I knew it would  scandalize my parents. Turned out they
had a whole lot of other stuff on their minds. George was too  busy fighting
whoever were the designated  bad guys that  year  to notice I was  there.  I
shouldn't have been surprised. He couldn't even  remember Mom's birthday. So
back we went  to Panama to study while the folks  got divorced."  She smiled
wistfully.
     "Jeez, I'd gone to all that trouble to round off my rebellious years by
getting laid by my teacher, and my straitlaced parents were too busy messing
up their own relationship to pay any attention  ... Shit!" she said, rolling
her eyes.
     "Maybe I shouldn't be encouraging you into college."
     I gave her a squeeze.
     "I  spent  my  rebellious  teenage years  nicking  cars, and the ones I
couldn't get into I'd just smash up. I think they're over now."
     Suddenly she pressed herself against me.
     "I hated you being away, Nick. It scared me. I guess it made me realize
how much I've got used to having you around.  After Aaron died I told myself
I'd be very careful about laying myself open to that sort of pain again."
     I lifted a hand to her face and brushed a tear from her cheek.
     "I was worried about being with you, Nick.  Dependability isn't exactly
high on your resume."
     I gave my resume, as she called it, a quick glance. This time last year
I'd been living in sheltered housing in Camden, had no money, had to line up
to  get free food from a Hare Krishna  soup-wagon.  All my friends were dead
apart from one, and he despised me. Apart from  the clothes I  stood  up  in
when I arrived in Panama,  my only other possessions  were in a bag stuck in
Left Luggage at a London railway station. She had a point.
     "And  no sooner have we  settled down here than you take off again. Not
much for a girl to brag to her mother about, is it?" She paused.
     "Then there's Kelly. What if we don't get on? What if she and Luz don't
get on?"
     I  was Kelly's guardian:  she was the other woman in my life I was busy
disappointing. She was  thirteen and not nearly as grown-up as she liked  to
think  she was. I'd  be seeing  her  at Christmas down  in Maryland.  Not on
Christmas Day itself, because she was doing the  family thing with  Josh and
his children, her new family, but I'd be seeing her on Christmas Eve.
     "Carrie, I ' She placed a finger to my lips.
     "Sssh..." She turned and looked me straight in the eye.
     "I was  worried, but I'm not  worried any more. I  don't care about the
past. You're a tour guide now, a barman, whatever -I  don't care, as long as
you're good at it. The  last few weeks have been good for me.  They  gave me
time to think, and  I realized something. I can  finally think about  what's
ahead. It's  like I was just treading  water the  last year, my life was  on
hold.
     That's what I want to tell you,  Nick. I want us  to be together really
together." She looked down, then up again and into my eyes.
     "New Carrie, new Nick, new life. That's why I wanted to bring you here.
Tucker's Wharf, gangway to the world. Gangway to the future.
     "You've been so patient  about  Aaron. I  know I'll never get over him,
but I am ready to move on, and that's the important thing. I want the future
to be about us."
     "I don't know what to say."
     Then don't. You don't need to say anything."
     We stood  up  and walked arm in arm for about  twenty  minutes until we
reached a small protected cove.
     "Little Harbor." She swept her hand across the bay.
     "Mom always called this the  place where  it all began.  The  founders,
some of them her family, put down their roots here in 1629. The settlers cut
back the forest  to build  tiny thatch-roofed cottages  and fishing boats. I
can still hear Mom saying, "From here, strong-hearted  men  set  out to fish
uncharted  waters." I loved her stories of the founding families. They  were
gutsy, venturesome, in search of  personal  liberty, a plot of land, a place
by the sea..."
     They had a point." I was surprised to hear myself saying it out loud.
     "Marblehead  is pretty much my fantasy,  too, you know." I hadn't known
places like this existed when I was bunking off school in Peckham.
     Tucker's Wharf was about departures, Nick. This is about arrivals. It's
our new start. I feel we're at the start of something, and I wanted to bring
you here to tell  you that. I've never shared this  place with  anyone,  not
even Aaron." She smiled again.
     "Ready for  some  more history?  Our ships traded with the known world,
dried fish  for clothing, tools, gold  and  silver. Everybody  prospered and
there were  two big news stories  -war with the  French, and  pirates.  They
harassed the coast for decades."
     She hesitated for a moment, embarrassed.
     "I got you this." From  under her coat she produced a carefully wrapped
gift, tied with shiny blue ribbon. She beamed.
     "Go on, then, open it. It won't bite."
     I removed the ribbon as delicately as I could.
     A General  History of the Robberies  and Murders of the  most Notorious
Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson.
     She could barely  conceal her delight as  I  flicked through the pages,
pausing at each illustration.
     "It  was  first published  in  1724. I had  to get this edition from  a
little place  in New York. I  know  it's not the Middle  Ages, but there's a
whole  lot about ships from New England being boarded  en route to London. I
knew you'd like it. And, besides, it's to remind you of everything I've been
boring you about just now."
     I closed the book.
     "You haven't been boring me. I loved every word of it."
     We got back into  the car and drove to Gregory Street.  The  house  had
been in the family for years. Built in 1824, it was originally a fisherman's
cottage overlooking the sea. Various extensions and rebuilds over the years,
probably during the Golden Age she was talking about, had turned it  into  a
spacious family home. A wooden pineapple was nailed above the  front door as
a sign of welcome. They were all over the place in this part of the world. A
couple of hundred years ago, sailors returning from long voyages would place
a pineapple by their  door to show they were back and people were welcome to
come and visit. I would normally have made some quip about that, but thought
better of it today.
     She swung the  car  into the  gravel led driveway  and headed towards a
white Taurus parked  in front of the annexe,  next to my covered-over Yamaha
600 motorcycle.
     Carrie didn't seem too concerned.
     "I thought Mom wasn'texpecting anyone until Saturday. Oh, well, I'll go
see  if she remembered to put out  the cookies and coffee. Got to look after
the guests!"
     As we got closer I  could see Massachusetts plates.  The vehicle was so
clean and sterile it had to be a hire car.
     She parked beside it and we both got out. She threw her keys at me over
the roof. Tell you what, why not  take a shower and I'll be  right back? And
make sure  you  shave. We  have  some catching up to do."  There was a smile
before she nodded at the annexe.
     "Go."
     Excited, she ran back  down the drive towards the front of the house as
I went  into the annexe.  It was huge, much bigger  than the last house  I'd
lived in, and tastefully furnished in dark wooden furniture that had been in
the  family for generations. I always felt  as if  a photographer from Homes
and  Gardens would appear at any minute  to take pictures of me reclining by
the log  fire. I didn't spread myself around too much, though. I didn't have
much to spread.
     She had made a big effort for  my homecoming. There were flowers, and a
bottle of champagne on the mantelpiece. Leaning against it was a plain white
card that  said  in her distinctive,  large and  neat handwriting,  "Welcome
home."
     I put my holdall on the floor  in  the bedroom, went into the en  suite
and got the shower sparked up while I undressed. The hot  water ran  down my
smelly  body  and I did  something I hadn't done for a  while. I  started to
think seriously about the future.
     I got to work with the soap and razor before stepping out to dry myself
with soft white towels.
     I heard the front door shut.
     "I'm in here ..."
     The bedroom door opened and she  stood in the frame, tears running down
her red face.
     I  had  a  bad  feeling  about  this,   and  it  had  to  do  with  the
Massachusetts-plated Taurus parked in the driveway.
     "Carrie?"
     Her  green  eyes,  just  as red  as  her  face, stared at me as I moved
forward to  comfort  her.  "George  is here.  Tell me what he's saying isn't
true, Nick." Her eyes searched mine, and I had to look away.
     "What's he saying?"
     That you've been working for him."
     "Carrie, come and sit down '
     "I don't want to sit down."
     "I have something to tell you."
     Then  tell me,  before  I  go  crazy,"  she said, and I could  hear her
starting to lose control.
     "What are you going to tell me? Why won't you simply say that my father
is lying?"
     "Because it's not that simple," I said.
     "It is simple! It's fucking simple!" She could no longer keep the panic
out of her voice.
     "He says you work for  him. But that's not true, is it,  Nick?  Is  it?
You've  been in Egypt, haven't you,  as a  tour  guide? Christ, Nick, are we
living a lie here?"
     I shrugged. I didn't know what to say.
     Carrie looked at me as if I'd knifed her.
     "You bastard!" she gasped.
     "You fucking bastard!"
     "You don't need to know this shit," I said.
     "My work for him is finished. I've done one job for him. I only  did it
to get my citizenship. George has got me a US passport. We can '
     "We nothing!" she snapped.
     "We don't exist any more."
     "But '
     "You don't understand what you've done to me, do you?"
     The  next  few  seconds seemed  to pass in  slow motion.  Carrie  moved
towards the door, anger  and sadness etched across her face. She stopped and
looked at me for a  long time, as if  she had  something to say but couldn't
find the words. Then she was gone.
     I didn't move. I told myself I needed to give her some space. In truth,
I just didn't have the bollocks to go after her.
     Then the decision was made for me. The engine of the Plymouth  fired up
and the car shot down the drive.
     Seven.
     A gang of  seagulls screeched  overhead  and dived into  the water just
forty metres away as I ran towards the front of the house.
     The sea was choppy; there was a wind getting up that made the yachts in
the bay  bob agitatedly at their moorings, and their rigging sound like  the
rattle of a hundred cages.
     I  opened  the insect  screen and as soon  as I  was through  the heavy
wooden front  door I  was hit  by  the overbearing heat. Her mother kept the
temperature at a solid ninety degrees, day and night.
     George called out from the rear, "In the kitchen."
     My Timberlands clunked on the dark hardwood floor of the hallway and  I
passed the loudly ticking grandfather clock.
     George was sitting, straight backed, at the old pine rectangular table.
A dozen or  so photographs  of boats were stuck to a  cork board behind him,
and he was looking down at a picture frame in his hands.  Little doilies and
smelly candles sat on every scrap of surface.
     "You know what they say about New Englanders and the cold, Nick?"
     I shook my head.
     "When  the temperature hits zero  all the  people in Miami die. But New
Englanders, they just close the windows. Trust my ex-wife to be different."
     If he was extending a hand of friendship, I wasn't shaking.
     Just like in the old picture  of years ago, square-jawed and  muscular,
George was still looking like something off  a  recruitment poster. The only
difference now was that  his short back and sides was  greying. His face was
cold and  unyielding. This setting  of New England family domesticity didn't
suit him at all.
     "What the fuck are you doing  here, George? We  were  supposed  to meet
downtown Wednesday, remember?"
     "Our plans  have  changed,  Nick.  We're not talking  about  a  holiday
booking."
     He  pursed his lips  and picked  up a framed photograph  from the Welsh
dresser.  I could  see it was of the  three of them.  Carrie must  have been
about ten years old in her blue checked  schoolgirl summer dress.  He was in
his medal- and badge-festooned military uniform, holding a certificate, with
his wife  standing proudly  beside him. I'd told Carrie when I first saw  it
that they looked the perfect family. She'd laughed.
     "Then hellooo ... meet the camera that lied."
     "You could have sent somebody. You didn't  have to come  in person. You
know I wanted to keep her out of this."
     He  didn't answer as I looked down at  him.  He was a man who had never
let power  and success go  to his clothes.  He  was dressed in his  civilian
uniform, a brown corduroy sports jacket  with brown suede elbow  pads, white
button-down collar shirt, and a brown tie. There had been one addition since
11  September:  he now had a Stars  and Stripes button badge pinned  to  his
right lapel. But, these days, who didn't?
     At last he looked up.
     "She didn't even give you time to dry your hair." There was just a hint
of a smile as he  thought  of  his daughter fucking me off, as he placed the
frame carefully on the tabletop.
     "I've done you a favour, son.  She needed to  find out some time. And I
happen to think she deserved to know." He bent down  and picked up a leather
folder from beside his feet.
     "Maybe this will help. Compliments of the US Government."
     He went and poured himself some  coffee from the percolator while I sat
opposite his chair at the table and unzipped the folder.
     "It's  not as if  it's a bad  thing you've done, you've  nothing to  be
ashamed of." He turned round and gestured towards the mug  in  his  hand.  I
accepted with a grudging nod. Carrie's mother would  go ape if  the wood got
marked so I took two pineapple-motif coasters from the pile in the centre of
the table as George continued, now with his back to me.
     "This isn't a war of  choice like Vietnam or Kosovo. This  is a  war of
necessity. It's in our yard now, Nick. Carrie should be proud of you."
     I  glanced  into  the folder and  saw my passport, driver's licence and
other documents. This could have waited, George."
     "What you did for  us  out there, it  had to be done, Nick. This is not
the time to be showing the world we're nice guys. This outreach thing that's
going on, every school kid gets a  Muslim  pen pal, that  kind of thing,  it
makes no sense. This isn't a time to hug, this is a time to be feared."
     I flipped through  the passport and there was something wrong, big-time
wrong. These weren't Nick Stone's documents; they belonged to someone called
Nick  Scott,  who had the same face as  me.  I looked up sharply. George was
still pouring creamer.
     "I didn't want a new name, I wanted my own back."
     He came and sat down  with the two  mugs  of coffee, passing one across
the  table then  waving my  last words aside. He kept the other in his  huge
left hand, his veteran's onyx signet ring glinting on his wedding finger. He
took a tentative sip; too hot the mug went on the coaster.
     "Do you know over six hundred people died in floods over in Algeria two
days ago? You were lucky to get in-country before the storms."
     I cupped my hands around the mug and felt the heat.
     "I heard something."
     "You know why? Because the  drains had been blocked  to stop terrorists
planting bombs under  the streets and killing people. Kind of  ironic, isn't
it?"
     I didn't  know where  this was  headed, but I wasn't feeling good about
it. I just wanted to get out of here and go and find Carrie.
     "Know what  my  job is  nowadays, Nick? To  make sure we  don't have to
block our drains.  You've helped  me do that, and the first  thing I want to
say today is thank you."
     This was really starting to worry me. I picked up the dull-looking brew
with not enough creamer, and took a sip.
     "For years,  we've  been fighting  this war  with  our hands  tied. Now
people  are  looking  for scapegoats because  America doesn't feel safe  any
more. America says,  "The  government should have known, the CIA should have
known,  the  military should  have known. Thirty billion of  our tax dollars
spent  on  intelligence, why didn't anyone know?" He paused to lift his mug.
Well,  here's  the news.  On  nine-eleven  America  had  the  exact level of
protection that it was willing to pay for. We've been telling government for
years that we need more money  to fight this thing. We told them this  would
eventually happen but Congress wouldn't give us  cash. Doesn't anyone  watch
C-Span any more  to  see what their  own government is doing?  Maybe they're
just too busy watching Jerry Springer. What do you think?"
     I shrugged, not really understanding what  he was on about, not that it
mattered. I just got the feeling the place we were going to wasn't one where
I wanted to be.
     "Did any  of the complainers see the intelligence chiefs talking  about
the new terrorism? We kept telling Congress, live on TV, there wasn't enough
money to build intelligence  networks  in the  areas where  these  scum  are
operating and that they needed to untie our hands so we could deal with this
situation. We've told them for years that this is a clear and present danger
within  America's borders that needs to be  taken on and defeated  but, hey,
guess what? Congress just said no, looking at ways of  saving a nickel."  He
took a long, slow breath of frustration before continuing.
     "So why didn't America demand more protection  from their  Congressmen?
Because  they  were  watching  one of their  two hundred other channels  and
didn't catch the  news. Didn't catch Congress telling us we didn't need more
capability. Telling us we were just looking  for something  to  replace Cold
War. Know why  Congress did that? Because  they think that's what the people
think, and they don't  want to upset  them,  because they don't want to lose
their vote. Now everything is different.  Now we have all the  nails we need
to shut the stable door, but the horse has already bolted.
     "Goddamn it, Nick, why  didn't things change after the terrorist attack
on  the USS Cole?  Seventeen American sailors  came  home  in body-bags  why
didn't that  open their eyes?  And what about  the bombing of the air  force
base  in  Saudi  Arabia? Or the  embassy  staff in  Africa?  Or our soldiers
mutilated and dragged through the  streets  of Somalia?  Why wasn't  anybody
letting us do anything then?
     "Because  those guys up on the Hill were just  too damned busy worrying
about  the civil rights of  paedophiles and rapists, worrying about interest
rates  on credit cards that the voters use to buy wide screen digital TVs to
make them feel life is good. But those home-movie  centres don't seem to get
C-Span. Nobody knows what's going on, and that's just how Congress wanted to
keep  it.  Then they have the gall to ask  us:  "Why  did  they  attack  the
innocent  people? Why didn't they go after  the  military?" Well, the answer
is, that's a done deal, but no one took any notice."
     He  picked  up his mug and looked genuinely  sad, the first  time I had
ever  seen him like that. He seemed to be lost in his own world for a  while
until I cut in.
     "So now what?"
     "Now?" The mug went down.
     "We've  got  the money. A  billion-dollar  down-payment. The problem is
finding a  way to fight  these  people. They don't have anything  to defend.
It's not like the  Cold War, or any war, that we've  seen before. There's no
real estate  to fight  over,  and the  notion  of deterrence doesn'tapply to
these  guys. There's  no treaty to be  negotiated, no arms control agreement
that's going to guarantee our security. The only way  we  can deal with them
is to hit them hard and fast  and take them down. You know it's crazy only a
few  months ago,  they were saying a hundred  million  for the  Navy was too
much..."
     He paused and reflected. I wasn't too  sure if this was all part of the
performance: George might be sad, but he still had a job to do.
     "But, hey, you can't unring a  bell, Nick. I'm here  because I want you
to work for me. For us. Nick Scott would be your cover name."
     I shook my head.
     "The deal was one job. You agreed on that."
     "Events have taken a serious  turn  these last couple days,  Nick." His
voice was steely, his gaze level.
     "Al-Qaeda  have  upped the  ante,  these  guys are  just programmed for
trouble. I can't tell you how unless you commit. But I can tell you, this is
the front page  of the threat matrix the president  gets to read  every day.
These are scary days, Nick. Yesterday's ran to thirty pages." He looked down
at the table and traced a figure of eight with his mug.
     "You know  what? At the  moment I feel like  a  blind  watchmaker, just
throwing the components into the case and waiting to see what works."
     I didn't look up, because I  knew  he  was waiting,  his eyes  ready to
ambush mine.
     "I need your help, Nick." It was a challenge, not an entreaty.
     Things are good here with Carrie."
     "Are they?" He gave an exaggerated frown.
     "I don't think she took it too well. She's like her mom."
     The arse hole Divide and rule. He'd done it on purpose. I forced myself
to stay calm.
     "You didn't tell her everything, did you?"
     "Son,  I don't even tell God everything.  I'll leave that until  I meet
him face to face. But, right now, I see it as my duty to make sure there's a
big fucking bunch of al-Qaeda ahead of me in the line."
     He stood  up and  turned his back to me again as he  placed the  framed
picture back on the dresser. Maybe he didn't want me to see how proud he was
of the way he'd delivered his lines.
     "The secret of combating terrorism is simple don't get terrorized. Keep
a clear head  and fight back on their terms. That's the only way we're going
to win this war or, at least, contain it, keep a lid on it. But we can  only
do that if we take the battle to them, with every means at our disposal. And
that's  where you come in, Nick.  I need  to stop the drains getting blocked
and fast. Do you want to know more, Nick, or am I wasting my time here?"
     I looked at him and took another mouthful of  coffee. I'd like to  know
what happened to Zeralda's head."
     There was a bit of a smile.
     "It came back here and was presented to his cousin in Los  Angeles on a
silver salver. By all accounts it kind of freaked him out."
     "What about the grease ball who was there  with him? Was he the source?
Is that why no one else was to be killed?"
     "Greaseball?" He managed to complete the smile.
     "I like it. Yes, he was and still is a  source, and a good one too good
to lose just yet." The smile faded.
     "Nick,  have you  ever heard of hawallaT I'd  spent enough  time in the
Middle East to know it,  and when I was a kid in London, all the  Indian and
Pakistani families used it to send cash back home.
     "Like Western Union, but without the ADSL lines, right?"
     He nodded.
     "OK,  so  what we've  got is a  centuries-old system  of  moving money,
originally  to  avoid  taxes and  bandits along the ancient Silk  Road,  and
nowadays to avoid the money laundering laws. A guy in San Francisco wants to
send some cash to, say, his mother in Delhi. So, he walks into one  of these
haw  alla bankers,  maybe  a shopkeeper,  maybe  even  working in  the money
markets  in San Fran. The  hawallada  takes  his  cash  and gives the  guy a
codeword.  The  hawallada then faxes, calls  or  emails his  counterpart  in
Delhi,  maybe a restaurant owner, and gives him the  codeword and the amount
of the transfer. The guy's mother goes into the Delhi restaurant,  says  the
codeword and collects. And that's it takes less than thirty  minutes to move
huge sums of money anywhere in the world, and we have no track of it.
     "These  haw  alla  guys  settle   their  debts  and  commissions  among
themselves. In Pakistan, business  is huge. There's maybe five,  six billion
dollars US sent back there every  year by migrant workers just from the Gulf
states.  But  only  one  billion  goes  through  normal   banking  channels.
Everything else goes  via  hawalladas.  These  guys work on  total  trust, a
handshake  or a  piece  of  paper  between  them.  It's  been  going on  for
centuries,  must  be about  the  second  oldest profession. It  even gets  a
mention in the New Testament." He gave me a wry smile.
     "Carrie's mother is a very religious woman. You know the tale of Ananis
and Safia?"
     As if. I shook my head.
     "Go read some day. These haw alla guys were hiding money that they were
due to give  to Peter, so  they  were deemed  sinners.  And  when they  were
confronted  with  their  shame they  just  fell down and died." There  was a
pause.
     "That's  what you did for us, Nick: you made Zeralda fall down and die.
This haw  alla network has been used to funnel money to the terrorist groups
in  the Kashmir  valley. It's  been  used by the heroin trade coming out  of
Afghanistan, and now it's here, in the US.
     "This  is not good,  Nick. Zeralda was a hawallada, and we  reckon he'd
moved between four and five million dollars into this country  for terrorism
in the last four years. You can be sure the legit banks are doing their  bit
now and cracking down on laundering  all around the world, but with haw alla
we can't check accounts or monitor electronic transfers.
     "Well,  we've  got  to  close  it  down.  Al-Qaeda  is  retreating  and
regrouping their assets in both manpower and cash. We've got to turn off the
faucet, Nick, and we've got to  do  that before al-Qaeda moves all its funds
to safe harbours. Money  is the oxygen for their  campaign in  this  country
your new country. I say again, am I wasting my time here, Nick?"
     I really needed room to think.
     "What happened to the cousin in Los Angeles?"
     "Let's put it  this way, we didn't stand in  his way when he  jumped on
the first plane he could get out of the States. All he left behind was a few
clothes,  a  pair  of leather  motorcycle gloves, a  Qur'an, and maybe sixty
pages of Arabic text off  the Internet. All  his  accounts  are  frozen, but
we're  not after  his  money. We  want  him to go spread  the news  of  what
happened to the other half of the transaction route. He's back in Algeria, a
very scared man, and much more use to us there than he would be sitting in a
penitentiary."
     The  coffee was almost cold. I took another sip to buy myself some more
thinking time.
     "See,  Nick,  you were  the key. The key that switched on the  power of
terror.  Bringing back that head showed these guys that for  us anything  is
possible  as  well. They've got to know  we're coming for  them,  that  they
shouldn't start reading any long books, know what I mean?"
     He liked that one and took another swig himself.
     "As Rumsfeld just told the world, Nick, there will be covert operations
and they'll be secret even in success."
     "Did you know beforehand that Zeralda was into boys? We were briefed it
was just hookers."
     "As I said, even God  doesn't know everything I  know. I wanted to make
sure you guys finished the job.  Not being  mentally  geared up for it, then
seeing  something  as sick  as  that  would make it  ...  shall I  say  less
confusing? I just figured you'd be thinking  it could be your own kid. Am  I
right?"
     I nodded. The expression in those boys' eyes had reminded me of the way
Kelly looked when her parents were killed.
     "Nick,  I  understand what  you want  from life now,  but  things  have
changed for all of us since September, and everything's  ratcheted  up again
in the  last  twenty-four hours.  My grandfather was only here a year before
fighting for this country in the First World War. My  father did the same in
the Second,  because he wanted this  country  to  remain free. I've done the
same all my life, and even found myself crying on nine-eleven and that's not
a place I often go to.
     "Do  this  new job for  me,  and  I guarantee you'll  get a Nick  Stone
passport. All you'll need  to do is swear your oath of allegiance and that's
it, you're one  of the seven hundred  thousand  new Americans this year." He
switched on the kind of expression  you normally  only see in  stained-glass
windows.
     "You're one of us now, Nick. All the people you love  live  here. Think
about Kelly. What world do  you  want her  to grow up in?  The kind of place
where you freak  out every time she flies here to see you? Who knows?  It'll
take a while, but Carrie will understand. Think about it, Nick, just think."
     I'd done my thinking. I'd heard all I needed to hear.
     I stood up, handing him the empty mug.
     "No. I've  done  my bit. We had a deal  and my only job now is to  make
things right with Carrie."
     Eight.
     I ran out on to the street. I didn't need to  be  Oprah Winfrey  or Dr.
Phil to work out where she had gone  I mean, where do  you  go when  the man
you've poured your heart out to turns round and head butts you?
     I  found  the Plymouth and  walked down into  Little  Harbor.  She  was
sitting on the  beach,  staring out at  the houses on the other  side of the
bay. My footsteps crunched on ice as I approached.
     "Carrie, I'm so sorry ..."
     She turned very slowly to face me.
     "How  could you?"  Her  voice  was weary, defeated, empty  even of  the
bitterness I expected and, I guessed, deserved.
     "How do you think this makes me feel? I trusted you."
     "I'm  not turning into your dad. It  was just that once.  One job. It's
over now."
     "Of all people ... He caused Aaron's death, remember? The same  man who
was going to blow  up  an American cruise ship just so the White House would
have the excuse to march  back  into Panama. Doesn't that mean  anything  to
you?"
     I hated it when she looked at me like  that. It was as though she could
see right through  me, and it wasn't a view  I'd  ever much enjoyed. I'm  so
sad, Nick. I'm feeling bereaved all over again. I feel  so goddamn stupid; I
thought we had something good happening here."
     I sat down beside her.
     "Look, I'm sorry  I couldn't tell you,  but  what could  I have said to
make it sound all right?"
     The  truth,  that's all I needed and always need from you. The truth  I
can  handle, the truth I can work with, but this ..." She turned away, tears
running down her face.
     I thought about Zeralda's head, and gave mine a shake.
     "Carrie,  you remember how  it  was in Panama. You know how these  jobs
work. There are some truths you really don't want to know..."
     This  has been the story  of my life, Nick. I just  can't risk  it  all
happening again. I know  it's selfish of me, but I don't think I can take it
any more. That man is responsible for so much pain in my life. He sacrificed
me and my mom by  dedicating himself  to his double-dealing world. But  even
so,  I allowed myself to  be sucked in, and  because  of it my  husband  was
killed. I kid myself I blame George for Aaron's death, but do you know what?
Really, I blame myself. I let my own father exploit me,  the way he exploits
everyone.
     "In Panama, he  knew I was  desperate to  get a passport  for Luz so we
could get back  to the States.  But I've never gotten  anything from him for
free. Even as a little girl, I always had to earn it first."
     I watched her as her eyes  concentrated on the water  but  her mind was
elsewhere.
     "Aaron was  right all along. He told me that once it started and George
knew we were  desperate for the passport, it would never stop because George
wouldn't let it. And you know what? He was right, because here we are again.
How can I let myself be  with  you until I  know you've no longer got even a
toe in that world?
     "I've made the  mistake  of depending  on  you. Depending on you  being
there when  I wake up in  the morning. And, worse  still, Luz has started to
get used to  you being around, too. I'm not going to run  the risk of having
to tell her that another person she loved, that she relied upon, is lying in
some ditch with a bullet in the back of his head ..."
     I reached out to touch her but she stiffened and moved away.
     "You could have applied for citizenship. You could have  gone  back  to
school,  had  a home, you  could  have  had me.  Doesn't any  of  that  mean
anything?"
     I didn't answer her immediately.
     "I can't think of anything I'd  like more. It's the full fairytale, for
me." I didn't  know how she did it, but  I always found myself saying things
to her that I thought I'd kept well buried.
     "Perhaps the real  truth is  that I can't quite believe there's a place
for me in your  perfect world. Remember what I said to you in the jungle? My
world may look like a pile  of shit' 'but at  least you sometimes get to sit
on the top of it..."
     I looked at her, hoping for even a  hint of a smile, but I  hadn't come
close.
     "That's not the issue here." Her voice was still sad and tired.
     "You lied to me,  Nick, that's the long and the  short of it. Nothing's
changed.  You  betrayed what I thought we had. Oh, God, when I  think what I
said to you today, I feel so ridiculous."
     My  heart was pounding as I stood behind  her,  trying to think what  I
could say.
     "We just need time, Carrie. We just need time..."
     She shook her head. The  tears were  running off her face now and on to
her Puffa jacket, staining the nylon a darker green.
     "You'd  better go. Both of us have got  to  do  some thinking.  I don't
think I can  just now. When you're ready to  come back to  me  on my  terms,
Nick, give me a call.
     "Until then, if it has to be  you who does  my father's dirty  work for
him,  Nick, it has  to  be you. I'll  never forget what  you did  for  us in
Panama. I'll always admire the man you are, and I'll always love the man you
might have allowed yourself to  be. But don't  expect Luz and me to come and
put flowers on your grave ..."
     Nine.
     Navigation  lights  flashing  in the  gloom,  an American  Airways  jet
thundered down the runway and took off, quickly disappearing  into dense low
cloud.  I turned  back from  the window and looked at George. His finger was
jabbing a copy of the Boston Globe so I could see the front page pictures of
dead Taliban scattered across Afghanistan.
     "A  wounded  animal is the  most dangerous of  all, Nick. There will be
another strike; it's  just a matter of where and when." He gave me a look of
such intensity that I began  to realize  I was going to be going sooner than
later.
     "We've  received A grade int  in the last few days that they're putting
something together for  Christmas.  But  we  have no idea of  the target and
that's where you come in."
     We'd come straight to the Hilton at Logan airport,  and it  had already
been  getting dark  when we arrived. He had booked the room well in advance.
The arse hole had known precisely how Carrie would react when she  heard the
truth, and had still been in the kitchen, waiting for me, when I got back to
the house. He didn't exactly have to twist my arm to  get me working for him
again. I'd already made up  my mind on the walk back  to Gregory Street  or,
rather, it had been made up for me. The fact was, I  had nowhere else to go.
What was I going to do? Check  into a motel down  the road and try  to patch
things up  with  her over  the next few months, between pulling pints at the
yacht club?  Go back  to  the  UK? There was  nothing  for  me  there except
trouble; George would make sure of that.  No, if I  wanted to stay in the US
to  see Kelly and perhaps really get a life,  I had to play by his rules. My
immediate objective had to be to earn a  real passport, and when the job was
over, just see which way the wind was  blowing. Well, that was where my half
an hour of thinking had taken me,  and  it had seemed  to make  some kind of
sense at the time.
     "You have to  ask yourself, Nick, which is  scarier, the  noise  or the
silence?  Even before nine-eleven, we knew  that there  were al-Qaeda active
service units  out there, and they haven't gone away." He was sitting at the
desk to the left  of the  TV and mini-bar; the chair had been turned to face
the bed where I was lying against the headboard.
     "You got anything on them?"
     "If only ..." He jabbed at the newspaper again.
     "The word is they'll all  have mad eyes and beards not so. This side of
the  Atlantic   they're   just  ordinary,   respectable   people.   Computer
technicians, accountants, realtors; sometimes even born and raised here." He
looked around the room.
     "Even hotel receptionists, some  of  them married  with two point  four
children, an MPV and a mortgage.
     They don't have  to hide themselves  in ethnic ghettos, Nick. They live
in our neighbour  hoods shop  in our malls, wear Gap, hey, even drink Coke."
He took a can from the minibar and lifted the ring pull
     "These  folks  are well-spoken,  intelligent pillars of the  community.
They come here as kids, lie low, blend in, bide their time classic sleepers.
But  they don't even have to be foreigners.  Guys are converting to Islam by
the hundred in our own  prisons and,  believe  me, they're not  turning into
Allah's answer to Billy Graham..."
     He sat back, the can resting on his knee.
     "We  don't know who, or how many, are in the ASUs. All we know is these
sons  of  bitches are  ready and waiting to  press  the  button  on December
twenty-fourth."
     He  pulled  some  papers  from  his  alloy briefcase, and a fistful  of
airline tickets for Nick Scott.
     "These  are copies  of  stuff found  by  Special Forces in Afghanistan,
transcripts  from  tactical  interrogations of  prisoners, and more in-depth
material from  al-Qaeda,  rendered in  Pakistan." He sat back in  the  chair
while I scanned the first few pages.
     "It  confirms  three things. One, al-Qaeda  have the  knowhow to  build
radiological  bombs.  Two,  they've   gotten  their  hands   on  substantial
quantities of radioactive material in the US. And three, they plan to use it
December twenty-fourth. Dirty bombs you know what I'm saying, don't you?"
     I knew what he was saying. These things had radioactive material packed
around  conventional  explosives.  When  detonated,  the immediate explosion
would cause just as much damage as a conventional weapon, but it  would also
blast  radiation  into the  surrounding  atmosphere.  An area  the  size  of
Manhattan or bigger,  if  the wind blew would have to be cordoned off  while
they sandblasted buildings, replaced tarmac,  bulldozed  contaminated  earth
and for  years after, the queues of cancer  victims would grow outside every
hospital.  Dirty bombs are a perfect terrorist weapon;  they don't just blow
you up, they rip out the nation's heart.
     George was reading my thoughts.
     "We're talking Chernobyl, Nick.  Chernobyl, in our own backyard ..." He
paused, holding up his hands, fighting back the words.
     "And if that happens, they've won.  No  matter what happens after. Just
imagine what  will happen  if  a truck with  maybe  four  thousand pounds of
homemade explosive  and  radioactive waste drives at  ninety  into the White
House railings,  right on to  the  lawn, maybe into  the house  itself. Now,
imagine another heading  into  Rockefeller Plaza, when  you  can't  move for
Christmas shoppers,  and another, say, on Wall Street. Or maybe  not trucks,
maybe  twenty people on  foot, in malls across Boston, carrying  two, three,
four pounds of contaminated HE in  ac arrier  bag  or  strapped  under their
winter  coats. Imagine them detonating all at the  same time. Imagine  that,
Nick. I do, and haven't slept for weeks."
     He squeezed the empty can of Coke  like he was throttling the life  out
of it, and this time it wasn't part of the act.
     "According  to  these documents,  their  guys  have  been stealing  and
storing isotopes  for two years,  the  stuff used in hospitals and industry.
We're talking a big enough stockpile  to make either a  lot of small devices
or maybe  five  or  six  Oklahomas  we  could be talking  of  both truck and
pedestrian attacks."
     He leant forward, elbows on knees.
     "We  have one straw to grasp  at. These guys  are on a suicide mission.
But," he raised his  right  index finger,  'but  they're not going  to do  a
damned thing until they know family business is taken care of."
     "You mean,  the ASUs won't commit until they get  confirmation that Dad
has a new Landcruiser with all the trimmings?"
     "Exactly.  They  may be  crazy,  but they're not stupid.  So, here's my
thinking. The set-up funds for these attacks  have  been coming into  the US
for  nearly three years,  and  they'd  have had  everything in place  before
hitting the WTC  because they'd know the shutters would  come down  straight
afterwards.
     "We  know from the Zeralda connection that al-Qaeda channelled the cash
to their ASUs in the US via  three hawalladas based in the South  of France.
These guys  would also get the compensation money to the ASUs' families, via
their  counterparts in  Algeria." He smiled for the  first  time  since we'd
entered the room.
     "But that isn't  going  to  happen now, since  you  did  your John  the
Baptist trick with Zeralda.  All hawallada activity has come  to a  halt  in
Algeria, and other al-Q money-movers have followed suit.
     "So,  the way it looks is that these French hawalladas  have a mass  of
cash around three million US which they still  have to get  to the families.
If not, no attack.
     "We know from our source in France that an al-Qaeda team is on its  way
there  they're going to physically package up the money and take  it back to
Algeria." He  paused, to make sure I got the message.  Tour job, Nick, is to
make sure that doesn't happen."
     In  George's language, we had to  'render' them. In  mine,  once we had
identified  the  three  hawalladas  with  the  help of  information from the
source, whom I'd be contacting once I got into France, we were to lift them,
drug them,  and leave them at a  DOP [drop off point]. From there, they'd be
picked up and taken  aboard an American  warship that would be anchored near
Nice on a goodwill visit. Once on board,  a team of interrogators would  get
to work on them  straight away, to find out who  their US counterparts were.
There'd be  no time to bring them back to  the States, it  had to be done in
theatre.  They'd not enjoy coming round  in the belly  of that  warship; the
inquisition would be doing their stuff to protect their own flesh  and blood
back  home,  not  some far-off  bit of  desert or jungle.  It  makes quite a
difference. Once the hawalladas had been sucked dry, maybe they'd have their
heads chopped off, too. I didn't want to know, and I didn't much care.
     "The FBI  and CIA are  doing everything they can to locate these ASUs,"
George said.
     "But as far as I'm concerned,  these hawalladas  are the quickest route
to fingering  the  guys  sitting  at home  in New Jersey  or wherever with a
truckload of caesium wrapped around some homemade explosive."
     "What if the source doesn't come up with the goods?"
     George waved this aside.
     "Everything's in a state of flux. Just get down there, meet up with the
two guys who'll be on your team, and wait for my word on the source meet."
     He looked me directly in the eye.
     "So much depends on you, Nick.  If you succeed, none of these guys gets
to see December  fourteenth,  let alone twenty-four. But  whatever  happens,
that money must not make it to Algeria."
     He sat back in his chair once more and spread his hands.
     "And  it goes without  saying, this has to  be  done without the French
knowing. It takes time to go through all that human  rights  and due process
bureaucratic  crap that's time we don't have." "And we have to make sure the
rendered haivalladas  still  have their heads on, so they  can  chat  to you
people, right?"
     George helped himself to another  Coke. I didn't notice him offering me
one.
     "I  don't  have to tell you this, Nick. If  someone hits  you and  then
threatens to hit you some more, you've got to stop them. Period."
     The can went into the bin and he started collecting together  the stuff
on the bed and  put it back  into his briefcase. The briefing was over. "You
leave in  the morning. Enjoy  the flight I hear Air France have  some  great
wines."
     He stood up, tightened his tie, and buttoned up his jacket.
     "We have a lot of catching up to do if we're to win this war, Nick, and
you're now part of that catch-up."
     He turned back half-way to the door.
     "Until they kill you, of course, or I find someone better."
     He gave me a big smile, but I wasn't sure he meant it as a joke.
     Ten.
     WEDNESDAY, 21 NOVEMBER, 10:37 hrs
     I  sat in  the  laverie on  boulevard Carnot, watching my sheets tumble
about in the  soapy water,  deafened by  the constant  roar of traffic  that
drowned even the drone of the washing machines. I was waiting to RV with the
source.  The RV  was to take place  across the busy  boulevard at  Le Natale
brasserie  at eleven, either inside  or  at a  pavement table, depending  on
where the source decided to sit. She was calling that particular shot, and I
didn't like it.
     The  mid-morning  temperature had  climbed into  the low  sixties.  The
thinnest clothes I'd  brought  with  me from Boston were  what I was wearing
now,  jeans and a blue  Timberland sweatshirt,  but judging by one or two of
the passers-by, I wouldn't have been out of place in winter furs.
     Le Natale was a  cafe-tab ac where you could buy a lotto ticket and win
a  fortune, put  all the winnings on a  horse, watch the  race  while eating
lunch or just throwing coffee  down your neck, then buy  your road tax and a
book of stamps on the way out.
     I had  picked the launderette  for  cover.  The sheets  had been bought
yesterday after  I'd recced this area. You always have to have a  reason for
being somewhere.
     George had told me three days ago that the source would be supplying me
with details  of a pleasure boat that was parking some time soon,  somewhere
along  the coast. On board would  be the al-Qaeda  team,  an  as yet unknown
number  of people, who would  be collecting the money  from  three different
hawalladas  before  taking  it  back  to Algeria.  We  were  to  follow  the
collectors, see who they picked up the  money from, then do our job the same
day. There was no time to waste. George wanted them in that warship ASAP.
     I was the only one in the laverie, apart from the old woman who did the
service  washes. Every few minutes she hitched up  her shabby brown overcoat
and dragged her slippered  feet across  the  worn  lino  tiles to  test  the
dampness of the clothes in  the tumble  dryers. She kept dabbing the clothes
against her cheeks and seemed to be complaining to herself about the lack of
drying power every time. She'd then close the door  and mumble some more  to
me  while I smiled  back at her and nodded, my eyes already returning to the
target the other side of the plate glass window, or as much of it as I could
see through the posters for Playboy and  how 'super economique' the machines
were.
     I'd been  in the South of France four days  now, having left  Boston on
the first flight to Amsterdam, then on to Paris before finally arriving here
on the eighteenth.  I got  myself a  bed in  a hotel  in the old quarter  of
Cannes, behind the synagogue and the fruit and cheap clothes market.
     Today was  the day  the covert three-man  team I commanded was about to
take the war to al-Qaeda.
     My washing machine was spinning like mad as a stream of people moved in
and out of  the brasserie doors, buying their Camel Lights or Winstons along
with their paper as the world screamed past in both directions.
     The  money we  were after  from the hawalladas had been  made  here  in
Europe. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban between them controlled nearly  seventy per
cent  of  the world's heroin trade. The  haw  alla system had been used very
successfully to move  that cash to the US to finance the ASUs. The old woman
pulled  her weary body up once more,  mumbling to herself as I  pretended to
look interested in a man  on  a  moped  who  was weaving in and out  of  the
traffic with  only  one  hand  on his handlebars. The  other was  holding  a
plastic coffee cup. His helmet straps flew out each side of his helmet as he
tried to take a gulp at the same time as cutting up a Citroen.
     This was a good place to watch the RV before making contact, and it hid
me from the CCTV camera mounted outside on a  high  steel pole. It seemed to
be monitoring the  traffic  on the incredibly busy four-lane boulevard  that
connected  the autoroute  with the beach,  but for  all I knew  it  might be
movable. I wasn't taking  any chances. There was not  only al-Qaeda and  the
hawalladas to worry about, but French police  and  intelligence surveillance
as well.
     Since this was a totally deniable operation, every precaution had to be
made to ensure the  security  of  our  team. The French had  vast experience
fighting Islamic fundamentalism. They  had  an excellent human  intelligence
network in North Africa and could discover  that we were  operating  on  the
Riviera at any time. It didn't matter  how or why; they might have monitored
the al-Qaeda  money  movement,  and we'd  get  caught in the middle. Then we
would be really in the shit,  as no one would be coming to help us. In fact,
George would  probably help the French to convict us as terrorists to  cover
his arse. I still wondered  late at night why the fuck I did these jobs. Why
did I not  only take them on but get fucked over by the very people I should
have had most reason to trust? The money was good well, it was  now, working
for  George. But I still couldn't come  up with the  answer, so last night I
used  the same mantra I'd always muttered to stop me thinking too much about
anything.
     "Fuck it."
     This meet with the source was the first of many high-risk activities my
team was going  to undertake in the next few  days.  I had no  idea who this
woman was; for all I knew, the French, or even al-Qaeda, might already be on
to her, and I'd be caught up in a total gang fuck on day one.
     The cafe  had large, clear windows, unobstructed by posters or  blinds,
which was something else I didn't like. It  was too easy  for  people to see
in,  especially people with  telephoto lenses. A red canvas awning protected
some of the outside tables  for those who wanted to keep out of the sun. Two
customers sat at different tables reading newspapers under it, and a  couple
of  women  seemed to  be comparing  the hairstyles of their little puffed-up
poodles. The Riviera's morning routine was just generally mooching along.
     A few of the women had to be Italian. They didn't so much walk as glide
in their  minks,  but maybe they were  simply  steering  clear of the poodle
shit. Everyone in Cannes seemed  to own one  of the  heavily coiffed  little
shifters, and trotted them along on their fancy leads, or looked on lovingly
as they did a dump in the  middle of the pavement. I'd already had to scrape
three loads off my Timberlands since arriving,  and had now become a bit  of
an expert at the Cannes Shuffle, dodging and weaving as I walked.
     To my right, the boulevard headed  gently uphill, getting steeper as it
passed two or three kilometres of car dealerships and unattractive apartment
blocks before hitting Autoroute  8, which took you either to Nice and Italy,
about an hour away, or down to Marseille and the Spanish border.
     To my  left, and  about  five minutes' walk  downhill,  lay the railway
station, the  beach and the main Cannes tourist  traps. But the only part of
town I was interested  in today was where I was right now.  In about fifteen
minutes the source should be turning up wearing a red pashmina and a pair of
jeans;  she was  going  to  sit  at  a  table and read a month-old  copy  of
Paris-Match, one with a picture of Julia Roberts on the cover.
     I didn't like the physical set-up for this meet. I'd taken a coffee and
croissant inside the  cafe  yesterday for  a recce and could  see no  escape
route. It wasn't looking good: large, unobstructed windows letting the world
see what was happening inside, and an exposed pavement  outside. I  couldn't
leap off afire escape at the back, or go to the toilets and climb out of the
window if anyone came barging through the main door. I would  have to go for
the virgin ground of the kitchen.  I  had  no choice: I had  to make contact
with the source.
     The tumbler  door  opened  behind me on  to  a batch  of  very  flowery
patterned sheets. I  shifted my weight on to my left buttock and adjusted my
bum-bag, which hung over the fly  of my jeans and contained my passport  and
wallet.  The bag never left me, and to help make sure it stayed that way I'd
threaded a wire through  the  belt. Pickpockets in the crowds down here used
Stanley  knives to slit belts and straps, but  they'd  have had a  tough job
with this one.
     The old woman was still mumbling away to herself, then raised her voice
to me, looking for my  agreement on the crap state of the machines. I turned
and  did  my bit,  "Oui, oui,"  smiled and turned  my eyes  back towards the
target.
     Tucked  down the front of my  jeans  was a worn-out 1980s Browning  9mm
with a thirteen-round mag. It was a French black-market job, which, like all
the team's weapons, had  been supplied by a contact  I  had yet to see, whom
I'd nicknamed Thackery. I  hadn't laid eyes on  him; I just had this picture
in  my head of a clean-shaven  thirty-something with short  black hair.  The
serial  number had been  ground out, and if the Browning  had  to  be  used,
ballistics would link it  to local Italian gangs. There were  enough of them
around here, with the border so close. And, of course, I had bought myself a
Leatherman. I'd never leave home without one.
     As I checked up and down the road and across once more at the cafe, the
world  was buzzing around me  and  my  new  girlfriend in  the  launderette.
Schoolkids raced around on motor  scooters, some with helmets, some without,
just like the  police on their BMWs.  Small cars  were driven like ballistic
missiles in both directions. Christmas decorations were rigged up across the
boulevard; the most  popular number this  year was white lights in the shape
of stars and lighted candles.
     I thought about  how much  things had moved  on since  Logan.  "All the
people that you care about live here." George had known exactly what  he was
doing even before he  got me to take  Zeralda's head.  Blind watchmaker,  my
arse.
     I scanned up and down the boulevard for the hundredth time, looking for
anybody wearing red  on blue, checking to make sure no one  else was lurking
around waiting to jump me once I'd made contact.
     I had a contingency  plan if there  was a problem  before the meet.  My
escape  route was out of the laverie service  door,  which was open. It  was
lined  with bags  of left  washing and  lost socks  and  underwear,  and led
through a small yard into  an alleyway. At the end was a low wall, which led
into the back-yard of the perfumery on  the boulevard to my left. From there
I'd  slip into an adjacent apartment  block and hide in  the basement garage
until the coast was clear.
     I checked traser. Four minutes to  eleven. To my left I caught a  flash
of red  among the pedestrians on the kerb, waiting to cross in the direction
of  the cafe. I  hadn't seen  it before; she  must have come from one of the
shops or the other tab ac further down the hill. She'd probably been sitting
having a coffee, doing pretty much what I'd been doing. If so, it was a good
sign; at least she was switched on. I kept the patch of red in my peripheral
vision, not searching for the face in case there was eye contact.
     There  was a gap in the traffic and the pashmina made a move.  It was a
man;  he  had a  mag  rolled  up  in  his  right  hand  and  a  small  brown
porte-monnaie  or fag-bag, as a few of my new  fellow countrymen called them
in his left. If I was wrong, I'd soon be finding out.
     Once over  the road he went  up to an empty pavement table  and  took a
seat. As  in  all French  cafes,  the  chairs were  facing the road  so  the
clientele could  people-watch. He got settled and  laid the mag out flat  on
the table. I continued to watch through the traffic. A waist coated waitress
went over and took his order  as he brought a packet of cigarettes out  from
the fag-bag. I couldn't see much of his face, owing to  the distance and the
volume  of traffic  between us, but he was wearing sunglasses and was either
dark-skinned or had a permatan. I'd find out later. I didn't look at him any
more  now. My gaze  shifted elsewhere; there were more important  things  to
check. Was it safe to approach him? Was  anyone else  about, waiting to fuck
up my day?
     I ran through my plan  once more in  my head: to go and  sit near  him,
order coffee and, when it felt safe, come out with my check statement. I was
going to point to Julia and say, "Beautiful, isn't she?" His reply would be,
"Yes, she is, but not as much as Katharine Hepburn, don't you think?" Then I
was going to  get up and go over and sit by him and start talking Katharine.
That would be  the cover  story: we just met and started  talking about film
stars  because of  the cover  of the magazine.  I  didn't know his name,  he
didn't know mine, we didn't know each other, we were just chatting away in a
cafe. There must always be a reason for being where you are.
     I still felt uneasy, though.  Meeting  inside  the cafe would have been
bad  enough, with nowhere  to run,  but outside  was even worse. He could be
setting  me  up  for  a snapshot that could be used against  me,  or maybe a
drive-by shooting. I  didn't know this character, I didn't know  what he was
into All I knew was that it had to be done, no matter what was out there; if
everything went to plan, I would come away with the information we needed.
     I  stood up, adjusted my  sweatshirt and bum-bag, and nodded to the old
woman.  She  folded  some  jeans and  mumbled something as  I set  off left,
downhill towards  the town centre. There was  no need to watch Pashmina Man.
His window for  the RV was  thirty  minutes,  he was going to be there until
eleven thirty.
     Everything seemed  normal as I  passed  the perfumery. Women were doing
their sniff tests on  overpriced  bottles, and young men sporting the Tintin
look, with plucked eyebrows and waxed-up hair, were wrapping their purchases
in  very expensive  looking  boxes.  The tab ac  further  along wasn't  that
packed. A few old boys were drinking small beers and buying lotto tickets. I
couldn't see anything out of the ordinary.
     I reached the  pedestrian crossing about fifty metres further  downhill
and, once on  the  RV side  of the road,  I headed back up  towards the  red
pashmina past the news stand and patisserie. Only in France could a man wear
one of these things and not even get a second glance.
     As I approached I got a glimpse  of him in  profile, sipping  espresso,
smoking and  watching the world pass  by  a  little too intently.  He looked
familiar, with his slicked-back hair,  slightly thinning on top,  and round,
dark face.  I got a few paces  closer before I  recognized him,  and  almost
stopped in my tracks. It was the grease ball from Algeria.
     Eleven.
     I  ducked into the first doorway to my left, trying my hardest  to look
interested in the glass display cabinets along the wall while I collected my
thoughts. The elderly shopkeeper gave me a smile and a genial "Bonjour1'.
     "Bonjour, parlez-vous anglais?"
     "Yes."
     "Just looking, thank you."
     He  left me alone  as I looked at the array of wooden and plastic pipes
and  all  the paraphernalia you  need to  smoke  one. I  turned my wrist and
checked traser: 11:04. Greaseball still had twenty-six minutes to wait until
the RV was closed, and I was in no rush. I took my time. I needed to think.
     I didn't want to  meet up with him, source  or not, especially outside,
especially if he was a known  face. That was bad professionally: I needed to
be the grey man.
     I turned  to the door and gave the old  man a mechanical  "Au  revoir',
straight  from the  phrase  book wishing that what little  time I'd spent at
school had been at French lessons.
     Without  looking in the  direction of the  RV I went back out into  the
street, turned right  towards the pedestrian crossing,  over  the road,  and
pushed my shoulder against the door of the tab ac It was a dreary place, the
walls covered in dark brown carpet to complement the dark wooden floors. The
old men in  here  had half a dozen  Gauloises  on the go, the haze  of smoke
adding to the gloom. I sat back  from the window  so  I could keep an eye on
Greaseball, and ordered myself a coffee.
     He'd  lit up another cigarette. The pack  was  on  the  table  with the
lighter on top, next to his porte-monnaie. He ordered something more, and as
the  waitress  turned to go back into the  cafe  I took my paper  napkin and
wrapped it  round  the espresso cup before taking a  tester sip.  Greaseball
started to get a little agitated now, checking his watch for the  fifth time
in as many minutes. There were three more minutes to go until eleven thirty,
and once again he checked through the cafe window to see if there was anyone
seated inside  on his own,  before  twisting round again and making sure the
mag was flat and easy to spot.
     I poured my change on to  the table from my small  brown coin purse and
left eleven francs, which were collected with a grunt by the old guy running
the show.
     Greaseball checked his watch once more,  then leant across to  ask  the
waitress  cleaning the next table for the time. Her reply seemed to  confirm
what he  feared, because he got to his feet and checked up and down the road
again as if  he  knew what he was  looking for. It  was  eleven  thirty-four
before he packed away his cigarettes and finally headed up the hill.
     I picked up the cup for the last time, gave the lip a quick wipe before
leaving with the napkin, and followed him from my side of the road as trucks
and vans blocked him from view for split seconds. I  needed to make a little
distance and be right on top of  him in case he got into a car. If he did, I
could stop him before  he moved  off. I would  have  to approach him at some
time,  but  not  yet. First of  all I needed  to  make sure no one  else was
following him or me.
     I  couldn't  see anything suspicious: no one talking to themselves with
their eyes glued to the back of  Greaseball's  head; nobody leaping into  or
out of  cars in  a desperate  measure to get behind him, or concentrating so
much  on not  losing him in a crowd that they  took  a slide in dog shit  or
bumped into people and lamp posts.
     Dicing  with death, I crossed the road then focused  on his brown suede
loafers, which perfectly matched the fag-bag. He had bare,  hairy ankles. No
socks: very South of France. He walked with Julia in his  right hand and the
bag in his left.
     I didn't want him to have any opportunity to turn and make eye contact,
since he'd  be unlikely not to recognize me. And, given the circumstances of
our last meeting, I guessed he might be a tad nervous when he did.
     I  checked constantly to  my  left  at  the  shops  and apartment-block
entrances  for somewhere I  could go if he stopped. It's not an easy bit  of
tradecraft, because by  the  time the target has turned and  looked back you
have to be static if in view or, better still, hidden. And you can't  afford
to draw attention to yourself in the process.
     He turned left, off the main, and became unsighted. I quickened my pace
to  get to the corner, did the Cannes Shuffle, and crossed the  road. No way
was I turning into dead ground without first  checking  what was waiting for
me.
     Looking left and right for traffic as I crossed, I  had the target once
more. He was still on the  left-hand  side of  the road and wasn't  checking
behind him. He was  walking purposefully:  he wasn't running from something,
he was going to something.
     Once on the other pavement  I turned  left and went with him. He  was a
bit further away now, but that was fine because the road was a lot narrower,
just a normal street lined  with  houses and apartment blocks. There weren't
many real people here, so a little distance was a help.
     Looking ahead and keeping the red in my peripheral vision, I could  see
the large blue neon sign ahead for an  Eddie's on my  side of the  road. The
supermarket took up the ground  floor of an apartment block. It was one of a
chain called E. Leclerc. I didn't actually know what the E stood for, but it
had been a boring four days so I'd made up  the name, along with Thackery's.
There was a rotisserie van at the kerb with its  sides open, selling freshly
cooked  chicken  and  rabbit. A flock of small  cars  were  trying to  force
themselves into impossible  spaces and  double-park  around  the shop.  They
bumped  up on to the  kerb, and into each other. People  didn't seem to care
much about their paintwork down here.
     Greaseball  crossed  towards  the  store  and disappeared  up  the road
immediately before it. I quickened my  step.  As I got to the junction I saw
him  easily  beyond the chaos of shoppers, moving  up the  road. It was very
narrow here, just single track, and quite steep now that we'd got further up
the  hill.  There were no pavements, just iron fences and stone walls either
side, flanking houses and apartment blocks. Some of the buildings were quite
new and some needed a lick  of paint, but they all  had one thing in common,
and that was the amount of ironwork that covered every point of entry.
     He kept to the  left.  I  followed, allowing  him to become temporarily
unsighted now and again as the road twisted  uphill, in case  he stopped. We
were  the only two  on this stretch of  road  and  I didn't want to make  my
presence  too  obvious.  If he'd disappeared by  the time  I  got  round the
corner, the drills for finding him would be long, laborious and  boring, but
I  had no  choice.  I'd have  to find  a  place to hide  and wait for him to
reappear.  If I had no luck I'd have to contact George and  tell him the bad
news.  I'd lie, of course, and say I'd  seen something suspicious around the
RV. He would have to get his finger out in quick time and do whatever he did
to get another RV organized.
     I wasn't  worried any longer  that he  was going  to a car,  because he
wouldn't  have parked this far from  the  RV. The  thought did cross my mind
that he'd pinged me  and was moving around the town  a  bit to confirm I was
following him.  What that  would mean to me, I didn't know maybe a reception
as  I turned a corner. But I  had no  option, really.  I had  to  follow and
contact  him once we were somewhere safer and  less  exposed. The old  terra
cotta roofs that overlapped the walls here  and there each side of me  would
have been there  for donkey's  years before  the dull cream apartment blocks
that had sprung up on every  available patch of land since the sixties. They
were no more than five or six storeys high; quite a few of the balconies had
towels, duvets  or washing  hanging off  them; one or  two had  barbecues. I
could hear the drone of the traffic from the main drag off to my right.
     Greaseball  took off  the pashmina  to reveal a blue checked  shirt. He
wasn't the only  one getting  hot; I was starting to leak around my face and
down my spine as I made my way uphill. We passed some more apartment blocks,
which seemed  a little the worse for wear, and Greaseball stopped for  a car
to   squeeze   past.   He   rummaged   in   his   fag-bag.   There   was   a
not-too-good-looking  block  opposite, with  a  line of cars nosy-parked  in
front.
     I carried on towards  him, head down,  not making eye contact. He might
be  pinging me this very moment, waiting  for  me to betray myself.  The car
accelerated  past me and  I had  to stop  to let him  through as  Greaseball
disappeared into the covered, mosaic-tiled porch way
     There was no time to  be subtle.  I only had one chance. I  ran towards
him and got there just  as he  turned the key  in the glass-and-brass-effect
main door. He had his back to me but he  could see  me in  the reflection of
the glass.
     "Beautiful, isn't she?"
     He spun round,  leaving the key in place. His eyes were bulging and his
arms  fell to  his sides as  he moved back  against the glass.  My left hand
grabbed the  hem of my  sweatshirt, ready to pull  it up and draw  down  the
Browning. His eyes darted after it. He had a  good idea of what that was all
about.  For  several  moments  he just  stared  at  me in  horror,  then  he
stammered, "You? You?"
     I wasn't  surprised he'd  remembered me. Some  things stay with you for
ever.
     Even  from a  couple of feet away  I could smell his heavy  aftershave,
mixed with the  odour of heavily lacquered hair.  Isaid  again,  "Beautiful,
isn't she?" and nodded  at  the magazine  in his hand.  There  was  still no
reply.
     "Answer me. Beautiful, isn't she?"
     At last I got something.
     "Yes, but Katharine Hepburn ..." His  face  wobbled. He  realized  he'd
fucked up.
     "No,  no,  no, please. Wait, wait. She is, yes, she is, but not as much
as Katharine Hepburn, don't you think?"
     It was good enough.
     "Where are you going?"
     He  half turned and pointed. He'd  shaved this morning, but already had
shadow.
     "Is there anybody in there with you?"
     "Now."
     "Let's go in, then. Come on."
     "But..."
     I shoved  him through the  door, and into  the  dark  foyer. The rubber
soles of my Timberlands squeaked on the grey phoney-marble floor. A baby was
crying in one of the  ground-floor flats  and  I  could  smell frying  as we
headed for  the  lift. He was still flapping big-time. There  was some heavy
erratic breathing going on in front of me as he cradled his pashmina  in his
arms. I was going  to  reassure  him  about my intentions, but then thought,
fuck it, why bother? I wanted to keep him on the back foot.
     The small, box-like lift arrived and we got  in. The smell changed. Now
it was like the tab ac He pressed for the fourth floor and the thing started
to shudder. I was standing behind him, and could see the sweat trickle  down
from his neck hair on to his shirt collar as I tapped him on the shoulder.
     "Show me what's in the bag." He  was only too eager to comply, and held
it  up for inspection over his shoulder. There  was nothing in there  that I
hadn't seen already:  a  pack  of Camel Lights, a gold  lighter and a  small
leather money pouch. The keys were still in his hand.
     The lift climbed so slowly it was hard to tell if it was moving at all.
Looking  at him from the  rear, I could  see that  his jeans were a bit  too
tight around his  gut.  His love handles flopped  out  each side,  straining
against his shirt, and folding over his waistband. A gold Rolex and a couple
of  thin gold  bracelets dangled  from  his left wrist  on to  his perfectly
manicured hand. He also had a matching pair of bracelets on his right wrist,
and  a signet  ring  on his  little finger.  All  in all, he looked  like an
over-the-hill gigolo who thought he was still twenty-one.
     He zipped up the bag and wiped the sweat from his neck.
     "There's no one here," he assured me.
     "I promise you."
     The lift doors opened and I gave him a shove into a semi-dark landing.
     "Good. What number?"
     "This way. Forty-nine."
     I squeezed behind him, my right hand ready to draw down on my 9mm again
as he placed the key into the cylinder lock in a dark brown varnished  door.
It  opened into  a small room, maybe ten by ten. The sun was  trying hard to
penetrate the net curtains  covering the glass sliding doors of the balcony,
and not  quite  succeeding. He walked in while I waited where I was, hand on
my pistol grip. He turned back towards me,  arms sweeping  around  the room,
"Look, you see, everything is OK."
     That was his opinion. He might be Mr. Gucci out on the boulevards,  but
this place was a tip. To  my left was a door into the kitchen. It was fitted
with 1970s faded blue  and white  veneered units that had been worn down  in
places to  the chip board An ashtray overflowed on to a half-eaten baguette.
The sink was piled high with dirty pans and dishes.
     I closed the door with my heel as I walked  in and motioned to him with
my head.
     "Bolt it."
     I moved aside as he obeyed, breathing heavily.
     There was another door to the left.
     "Where does that go?"
     The bedroom and bathroom."
     He started to walk towards it, eager to please.
     "Let me go and ' "Stop, we go  together. I  want  to see every move you
make. Got it?"
     I followed a few steps  behind  him as  his  loafers squeaked over  the
light grey mock marble. Both of the other rooms were in a similar state. The
bedroom just  fitted the  bed,  and the rest  of the floor  was covered with
newspapers, dirty underwear, and a couple of Slazenger  tennis bags still in
their Decathlon sports-shop carrier. He didn't look the tennis type, but the
two  used syringes  that  lay on top  of the bags were very much  his style,
which was why he tried to kick it  all under  the bed  without me seeing. He
was obviously contributing energetically to al-Qaeda's heroin profits.
     A  pair  of  wardrobes were  packed  with brightly coloured clothes and
shoes, all looking  new. The bedroom stank of aftershave and cigarettes, but
not as badly as the tiny bathroom did.  It had  a faded  yellow sink, toilet
and a typical French half-bath  with a hand-held  shower. Every surface  was
covered  with bottles  of shampoo,  cologne and  hair colour. The  bath  had
enough pubic hairs around the plug-hole to stuff a mattress.
     "You see everything is correct. It is safe."
     I didn't even bother to check  if he was embarrassed as we  walked back
into the living  room. I squeezed around the furniture and went over  to the
patio-style  window  that led on  to the balcony overlooking the road we had
just walked up. A couple of tennis rackets leant against the railings, and a
pair of scrunched-up beach towels hung over the balustrade.
     By now he  was sitting nervously on  a green settee, which had probably
been installed at the same time as the kitchen. It was against the left-hand
wall, facing  a dirty Formica wall unit that was dominated by a huge TV  and
video.  Everything  was covered in so much dust I could even  see his finger
marks  around the controls.  VHS tapes and all manner of  shit was scattered
around the  shelves. A  small boom box-type CD player stood on a shelf above
the  TV,  surrounded  by  a sea  of  discs  lying out  of  their  boxes. The
videotapes  had no  titles, but I could  guess the sort of thing he was into
watching.
     The rectangular  waxed-pine coffee table at the  centre of the room was
covered with more old newspapers, a  half-empty bottle  of red  wine,  and a
food plate that had doubled as an ashtray  I was beginning to feel greasy as
well as grubby in this guy's company.
     I got to the point, so I didn't have to spend too much more time around
him.
     "When will the boat be here?"
     He crossed his  legs and placed both hands around his knees,  feeling a
little more comfortable now it  seemed I wasn't going to take his  head off.
Tomorrow night, at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, it's towards Monaco."
     "Write it down." I knew where it was, but wanted to make sure I had the
right  place. He leant forward, found a pen among the mess on the table, and
wrote on the edge of  a  newspaper,  in  a scrawl that any doctor would have
been proud of.
     There is a port, a marina, I think you call it. It's not  far. Her name
is the Ninth of May. It's a white boat, quite large. It's coming in tomorrow
night." He ripped off the edge of the paper "Here' and pushed it towards me.
     I looked  out of  the  window and down into  the garden  of one of  the
original  houses  opposite.  An  old  man was  tending  a  vegetable  patch,
attaching bits of silver paper to bamboo sticks. I kept watching him.
     "How many are going to be on board?"
     There are  three. One will always remain with the boat, while the other
two collect the money.  They're going to start on Friday, the first of three
collections. They'll make one a day, and leave for Algiers with the money on
Sunday. They are trying to close their accounts here in France before you do
it for them, no?"
     I turned back to Greaseball. He rummaged around in his bag and  dragged
out a Camel. With an elegant flick  of a lighter, he sat back and  let smoke
curl out of  his nostrils.  He  crossed his legs once more and laid his left
arm  along the  back of the settee  as  if he  was running  the show. He was
starting to get a bit too confident.
     "Where are they going to collect the cash, then, Greaseball?"
     He choked on his cigarette and smoke blew  uncontrollably from his nose
and mouth.
     "Greaseball?" Composing  himself,  he  took another drag and  this time
exhaled slowly, smiling at his new name.
     "Where? That  I do  not  know, and I won't until tomorrow night, maybe.
I'm not sure yet. But I do know they're only going to  use public transport,
buses,  that  sort  of  thing. It's safer than Hertz. Conductors don't  keep
records."
     It made sense to me.
     "Do you know how much money?"
     "Anything between two point five and three million American."
     He took another drag and I went back to watching the old guy dig around
his vegetable patch, thinking about the number of suicide bombers'  families
with Landcruisers with all the trimmings that could be funded with that sort
of cash.
     "Are they collecting from hawalladas?"
     "Yes,  of course. These guys on the coast, the ones who will be handing
them the money, are haw alla people."
     I moved back one of the net curtains so I could get a clearer view.
     "What time will the boat arrive?"
     "Did  you  know this  is where the money  was collected to  finance the
attack  on the  American embassy in Paris?" He took another drag and sounded
almost proud.
     "Can you imagine  what would have happened if that  had been successful
too?"
     "The boat, what time?"
     There was some shuffling as he adjusted himself in his seat.
     "In  the evening some time, I'm  not too sure." There was a pause and I
could hear him stubbing out his cigarette and pulling another from the pack.
I turned as he gave the lighter a flick  and looked at the  CDs on the  wall
unit. It was obvious he was a big Pink Floyd fan.
     "Zeralda  liked me to bring  a new tape for him each  trip. I'd collect
the  boys too, of course." He  cocked his  head  to one side,  measuring  my
reaction.
     "Did you  see me drive  back to the house that night? I  was hoping you
would have finished  the job by  then. But he  kept  calling on my cell.  He
didn't like to be kept waiting ..."
     The fucker was smiling, taunting me.
     I pulled the sliding glass panel with my sweatshirt  cuff to letin some
air, and was greeted by the sound of traffic from the main drag, and the old
boy outside clearing his passages. I  resisted the temptation to go over and
give Greaseball a good smack in the teeth and looked outside again instead.
     "So you two liked the same music as well as the same boys?"
     He blew out another lungful of smoke before he replied.
     "You find it distasteful but are you telling me it's worse than cutting
off a man's head? You don't mind using people like me when you need  to,  do
you?"
     I shrugged my  shoulders, still  looking out  at  the old man. I'm here
because it's my job, believe me. And  distasteful isn't a strong enough word
for what I think about you."
     I heard  what sounded like a snort of  derision and turned back to face
him.
     "Get real, my friend. You may hate me, but you're here, aren't you? And
that's because you want something from me."
     He was right, but  that didn't mean to say  I  was  going to share  his
toothbrush.
     "Have you got anything else for me?"
     That's  all  I  know  so far.  But  how  do  I  inform  you  about  the
collections?"
     I'll come  here at eleven tonight. Make  sure you're here,  and no  one
else is. You have  a bell that rings downstairs, yeah?" He nodded and sucked
the last mouthful out of his Camel.
     "Good. Open the door."
     He moved towards the exit. I went over to the coffee table and took the
marina address, as well as the newspaper. Beaulieu-sur-MerI did know it, and
so would  anyone else if  they picked up the paper. The imprint was clear to
see  on the pages beneath. As I bent down I could see  the  lower shelves of
the wall unit and did a double-take at some Polaroids. I  knew he liked rock
music, but this was  something else. Greaseball was  in a bar, drinking with
one of  the  guitarists  from Queen.  At least,  that's who it looked  like.
Whoever it was, he had the same mad curly hair.
     Greaseball  was  trying to  work out what had caught my eye as I waited
for him to pull back the bolt.
     "Those  people, the ones on the boat... Are you going to do the same to
them as you did to Zeralda?"
     I checked  my 9mm to  make sure it  was concealed as he opened the door
and glanced outside. I didn't bother to look back at him.
     "Eleven. If  you  don't know by then, I'll be  back in the  morning." I
went past him, my left hand ready to pull up the sweatshirt.
     As I walked towards the lift I saw the stairwell and decided to go that
way  instead, just to  get  off the floor more quickly. I  elbowed the light
switch as I passed it. A couple of floors down, I was smothered in darkness.
I waited for a moment, then pressed the next one.
     I reached the  ground  floor and headed  for the  main door as  a young
woman in red tracksuit bottoms and pullover was packing a crying baby into a
pram on the landing.
     Out in  the sun again, I had  to squint as I  checked the bell-push for
number forty-nine. There was no name by  it but, then, who would want to own
up to living in a place like  this? As  I walked  away, I wondered how I was
going  to  break the news  to Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba that Greaseball was the
source.
     Twelve.
     As I headed back  along boulevard Carnot, I knew I'd  have to move from
my hotel. It was far too close to Greaseball's  flat, and I didn't even want
him to see me, let alone find out where I was staying.
     I stopped at the launderette and picked  up my sheets. They were now on
top of the washing machine,  still wet.  As I shoved them into the black bin
liner the  old woman  gob bed off at me for leaving them in when there  were
about four other people waiting. I'd obviously breached the laverie protocol
big-time, so I just smiled my apologies to everyone as I finished my packing
and left.
     I set off down the hill towards the beach. I had to contact George  and
give him a sit rep,  and that meant going to the  Mondego, a cyber cafe, and
getting online. He needed to know where the collectors were going to park up
their boat  and, later on, where they  were going to  collect the  cash.  My
surroundings got  very  smart very quickly. Luxury hotels that  looked  like
giant wedding cakes lined the coast road, La Croisette, and Gucci shops sold
everything from furs to baseball caps for dogs.  I tipped the  sheets into a
street bin,  hanging  on to the plastic  bag.  As I carried  on  walking,  I
screwed up the  newspaper  I'd taken from Greaseball's apartment inside  it.
This might have been the upscale end of town, but anything that stuck out of
the pavement, like a parking bollard or a tree, was decorated with fresh dog
piss and a couple of brown lumps.
     New cars, motorbikes and scooters were crammed into every possible, and
impossible,  space,  and  their owners, the  customers in the  cafes, looked
extremely  cool  and  elegant in their  sunglasses, smoking, drinking,  just
generally posing around the place.
     There were quite a few homeless around here as well. Fair one: if I was
homeless  I'd want to sleep in a warm place with lots of good-looking people
about, particularly if they were the sort to throw you a few bob. A group of
four or five dossers were sitting on benches alongside a scruffy old mongrel
with a red polka-dot scarf around its neck. One guy had a can of beer in his
coat pocket, and as  he bent over to pat  the dog the contents were spilling
on to the ground. His wino friends looked horror struck
     I'd never used this cafe to get online:  normally, I drove to Cap 3000,
a  huge centre  commercial on  the  outskirts of  Nice.  It  was only  about
forty-five minutes away, driving within speed limits, which I was meticulous
about, and  always crowded. But this time I needed to tell George what I had
found out immediately. I was  leaving Cannes now anyway, so wouldn't need to
come here again.
     The  place   looked  quite   full,  which   was   good.  A   group   of
twenty-somethings wearing designer  leather  jackets and shades  posed  near
their motorbikes and scooters,  or sat on shiny aluminium  chairs and sipped
small glasses of beer. Most had a pack  of Marlboro or Winston  on the table
with a  disposable lighter  on  top, alongside a  mobile that got  picked up
every few seconds in case they had missed a text message.
     I wove my way through the temple of cool, past walls lined with  boring
grey  PCs,  towards the rows of  gleaming  drinks  optics  and  the steaming
cappuccino machine that stood at the black, marble-topped  bar. I pointed at
the nearest PC and tried to make myself heard above the beat of the music.
     "I want to get online.... Er, parlez-vous anglais?"
     The guy behind  the  counter  didn't  even look  up  from unloading the
dishwasher.
     "Sure, log on, pay  later. You  want a  drink?" He was dressed in black
and sounded Scandinavian.
     "Cafe creme."
     "Go, sit down."
     I headed to a vacant PC station, perched myself on one of the very high
stools, and logged on. The screen information was all in French, but I'd got
the hang of it  by now and went straight into Hotmail. George  had set up an
account for  me  that  was  registered in Poland.  The user name was BB8642;
George was BB97531, a sequence of numbers that  even  I  couldn't forget. He
was as  paranoid as I was, and he'd  gone to quite a  lot of trouble to make
our correspondence untraceable. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd fixed
it for Bill Gates  to erase  our messages personally, as soon as they'd been
read.
     Signing in, I  made  sure the font  size  was the smallest  possible so
nobody  could read  over my  shoulder,  and  checked  my  mailbox. He wasn't
getting information  on this job from anywhere else. He  just wanted it from
me. I  was his  only  line  of  information: anything else  would  have been
dangerous. There was  no other way of  making contact: I'd never had a phone
number for him, even when I was with Carrie, never even knew where he lived.
I wasn't sure if she did, these days.
     George's email asked me if I'd got his present, and said I mustn't open
it until Christmas. He was referring to the kit left for me at  the DOP, and
the drugs we were going to use to help  the  hawalladas on their way to  the
warship.
     I tapped away with my index fingers.
     Hello, thanks for the present, but  I'm not too sure if I can wait till
Christmas. Guess what? I just saw Jenny and she said that Susanna is  coming
to town on business, arriving tomorrow night. She'll be in town until Sunday
and has  three meetings while she is  here, one a day starting Friday. Jenny
is  finding out the details so she can arrange for all of us to get together
and try that place you are  always talking about,  the one that serves great
White  Russians.  I have  so  much  to tell  you. You were right,  Susanna's
business is worth anything between 2.5 and 3 mill. Not bad! You'd better get
in there quick  before some  stud moves in. I know she likes you! I'm around
tomorrow, do you want to meet up for a drink, say 1 p.m.?
     My coffee arrived and I took a sip of froth without picking it up. This
was  the second email  I'd sent George  since arriving in-country. Each time
any contact was made, a colour was  used for  authentication.  The first was
red, this one was white, the third, the brush contact tomorrow at one, would
be  blue. Then  I'd  start  the colour  sequence again. All  very  Stars and
Stripes, all very George, but these things  needed to be simple or they were
forgotten. Well, by me, anyway.
     George  now knew that I had met  the source, the boat  was coming in on
Thursday night, and  I  wanted  a brush  contact tomorrow  to  pass over the
collection details. Things like that are far too sensitive to send in clear,
even if Bill Gates was in the good lads club.
     I  finished  the email  "Have a nice day'. After all, I was  nearly  an
American now.
     Signing out of Hotmail, I reopened with the addresses I used to contact
Lotfi and Hubba-Hubba.
     Anyone checking the subscriber would discover he lived in Canada.
     There was  nothing in my  mailbox from these two, which was good  news.
Like me, they were just waiting for the  time to meet up and get on with the
job.
     I invited  each of them for coffee  at  four  o'clock  today. They'd be
checking their  boxes  at one-ish, so they'd get  the message  in plenty  of
time.
     I wrapped a napkin around the coffee cup and took a sip while  I worked
out  what  to  do  next. I  had  to  check  out  of  the  hotel then  go  to
Beaulieu-sur-Mer and do a recce before the boat arrived. I'd need to look at
the vital  ground before meeting up with Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba  at the safe
house at four.
     I took another slow sip. This was going to be my last quiet time before
I started running around like a crazed dog.
     I wondered  what Carrie  was doing now,  and spent a minute or two just
staring  at  the keyboard,  trying to shake that last  image  of her  at the
harbour out of my head. In the end I just logged off, and wiped the keys and
cup rim clean with the napkin.
     My hotel was right  next  door to a synagogue, and  above a kosher take
away pizza joint called Pizza Jacob. It had been perfect,  not  only because
it was cheap but because the ageing manager took cash. My fellow guests were
a  bunch of dodgy-looking comb and pencil salesmen, trying to save money  by
sleeping in a room with no TV or phone, and very thin blankets.
     I checked out and threw  my  holdall  into the  boot of the  dark  blue
Renault Megane.  The bin liner,  still containing the bits  of  Greaseball's
newspaper I hadn't already chewed up and swallowed, joined a couple of paper
cups, three empty Coke cans and napkins in  the passenger  foot  well I made
what must have been  about  a  sixty-point turn  and  eventually managed  to
squeeze out  of the  small  and crowded car park at  the rear.  I put  on my
sunglasses and dark blue baseball cap before I emerged on to the street. The
sun was bright, but it wasn't what I was shielding myself from. CCTV cameras
were everywhere along this coastline.
     I'd sort myself out a new hotel when I needed it, and if I had time.
     Thirteen.
     I hit  the coast road, turned east, and headed towards Nice, flanked by
the  railway  tracks and the sea.  About  a K outside  Cannes  I pulled  up,
bumping the car half up on to the kerb behind a row of others belonging to a
bunch of rod fishermen down on the beach. Bad  parking was so common here it
didn't draw a second glance, and it meant I could check to see if I'd picked
up any tracking devices in the last twenty-four hours.
     I wasn't expecting anything just  yet, but I'd still taken precautions.
I'd bought  a little pot of silver  enamel modelling paint and a  brush, and
had coated all the retaining screws  on the bumpers and the number plates If
anybody had been tampering they would have had to cut the paint.
     I looked round the wheel arches and underneath  the chassis. Then I had
the bonnet up and checked the engine compartment.
     If I found a device, I'd simply walk away, and that would be the end of
the job as far as I was concerned. The other two would have to carry on.
     But  everything was fine.  I got back behind the wheel and  carried  on
along the coast road, passing through all sorts of places I'd heard about in
songs.
     The sea was almost totally still today,  and shimmered in the sunlight.
It all looked  just  like the South of France should look,  except that  the
sand was heaped up in gigantic  mounds. They  imported it  by  the truckload
from North Africa, and now was obviously the time of year when they gave the
beach a makeover before the new season.
     Nobody  was  sunbathing  but  quite a lot of  people were  out blading,
walking their dogs and just generally enjoying  the space. Stony beach  took
over again as I  neared Nice proper. I skirted the airport and Cap  3000, my
email centre and the place where the brush contact would happen tomorrow.
     The airport was right at the edge of the city, virtually on the  beach.
A new terminal  was under construction, and large pictorial banners  told me
how wonderful it would be for the future of the area.
     I drove into the city along a wide dual carriage way punctuated by palm
trees.  The  automatic  sprinkler  system threw  up a series  of  pint-sized
rainbows along  the central reservation. The traffic  was  funnelled between
glass  and  steel  hotels and  more  construction  sites. It got busier  and
busier, until it  turned into the Wacky Races, with the contestants stopping
and starting like maniacs, slaloming from lane to  lane and leaning on their
horns.
     I switched on the English-speaking  Riviera Radio  and  listened  to an
Alan Partridge soundalike make his link from the  closing  bars of  a Barbra
Streisand weepy into  a  string of  commercials for  financial and  yachting
services. Before long I even knew the price  of a barrel of Brent crude, and
what  was happening on the  Nasdaq. It was obvious what type of  Brit ex pat
they were  broadcasting to: the very rich  kind. But I always listened to it
because they had a review of the US papers in the afternoon, and carried the
BBC World Service hourly.
     I hit the Promenade des Anglais, the main  drag along the coast. It was
a glamorous stretch, lined with palm trees and glitzy old-world hotels. Even
the buses were immaculate: they looked as though someone had just given them
a good  polish  before they were  allowed into town. I  carried on round the
harbour, which  was heaving with  pleasure cruisers and ferries  en route to
and from Corsica, and started to see signs for Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
     The road wound uphill until only the cliff edge and a hundred-foot drop
separated  it  from the sea. As  I  got  higher I  could see mountain ranges
inland that seemed to go on for ever. I guessed Riviera Radio was right when
it  said you  could  be  on  the  beach in  the  morning, and  skiing in the
afternoon.
     Nice disappeared behind me as the  road snaked along  the cliff. I felt
like I'd been  caught up  in  a Sunday  afternoon  black-and-white movie;  I
expected to turn a corner at any  moment, and meet  David Niven in an Austin
Healey coming the other way.
     I took  a  steep left-hander, and Villefranche and its huge  deep-water
bay lay spread out below me. Home of the US Sixth Fleet until France decided
to pull its military out of Nato, it was one of the biggest natural harbours
in the world. American and British warships still dropped anchor  there when
on a courtesy visit or when spiriting away heavily anaesthetized hawalladas.
     The dull grey shape of  the warship  dominated the  bay with  its large
registration number stencilled in white paint on the back. It had more domes
and  antennae  than  the Starship Enterprise,  and a helipad on the back big
enough to take a jumbo jet.
     The crew wouldn't have a clue what  was happening. The most they'd know
was that an area was out of bounds, and some important guests were on board.
Only the captain and a few officers would have been  told  what the goodwill
visit was really all about. The guests were probably getting a  sit rep from
George this very  minute, using  the information  I'd just  sent. They'd  be
sparked up now making their final  preparations in  some small, steel-walled
room, out of screaming distance from the crew. I  really hoped we were going
to make it all worth their while.
     Beyond the  warship  was Cap Ferrat.  It  looked  very green, and  very
opulent, with  large houses surrounded by trees and  high fences. I  made my
way  round the  bay, through Villefranche and past a  small left-hander that
hair pinned up to the mountains. Up that road and just over sixteen Ks away,
on the  other side of a couple of small villages and the odd isolated house,
was the DOP. It was an illegal tipping area,  full  of rusting freezers  and
household waste. It looked like it could host the biggest jumble sale on the
planet, and was just the place I needed.
     A few minutes later  I  was in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.  The harbour  was  the
other side  of the  town,  so I followed signs to the gare.  It  was a small
cream-coloured  building  with  a  taxi  rank and flower beds  that were  so
manicured they looked like they had  a  personal stylist. After a  couple of
circuits, I  found  a  spot and  parked.  I got out and retrieved my digital
camera from my holdall.
     The Megane  was a perfect  vehicle for this sort of job: it was a  dark
colour,  a popular  make,  and about  as nondescript as they come, once  I'd
peeled off  the  sticker from the dealership  the hire company had bought it
from.  It was also small  enough to park quickly, but  big enough to  hide a
body in the boot. Which was why, as well as my personal kit, I had two rolls
of silver gaffer tape in  the boot. Lotfi and Hubba-Hubba also had  some; we
wanted to make sure that once we got a body inside a vehicle it was there to
stay.
     All three vehicles had been played  about  with so that the reverse and
brake lights  could be cut out. It was simple enough: we just sliced through
the  leads  and  added an on off  switch to the  circuit.  When  we  drove a
hawallada into the DOP with the lights out, the last thing we wanted was for
the brake  or reversing lights to  kick  in and show everyone around what we
were up  to.  For  the  same reason,  all  the  interior lightbulbs had been
removed. We'd  have  to return the cars to Alamo, or wherever the  other two
had got theirs from, in the  same condition we'd hired them, but it wouldn't
take more than an hour or so to change everything back.
     I wandered around between the post office  and the station, making like
a tourist, taking the  odd snap  while the  taxi drivers stood  around their
Mercedes, preferring to talk and smoke rather than take a fare.
     The gare was  immaculate, as  French  railway  stations  always  are. I
glanced  at  the  timetables regular services in  both directions along  the
coast, either back to Nice, Cannes and Marseille or on to Monaco and Italy.
     I bought myself nine francs' worth of percolated while-you-wait  coffee
from  the machine and tried not to over-excite three small white  hairy dogs
that  were  tied by lengths  of string to the news-stand  on my  left.  They
looked at me as if it was lunchtime. I  stepped around them and went to look
at the postcards carousel. Cards are a really good source of information for
people like  me, because they usually  have shots of locations you can't get
to  easily.  It's a  Standard  Operating  Procedure  for  most  intelligence
operators  to  collect  them as they travel round  the  world,  because  the
agencies want  these things  to  hand.  If there's an incident,  say, at  an
airport in the middle of Nowhereland, they just have to open their files and
they've got a collection of visuals  to  refer to until  more information is
gathered.
     I picked up several  pictures of  Beaulieu-sur-Mer,  which  showed  the
marina  from  different angles and heights, all shot in fantastic  sunlight,
with  beautiful women and sharply  chiselled men strolling among  the boats.
Next  to the  carousel was a display  of  town maps, so I  picked  out three
different ones.  The vendor had  a big round face  and  an annoyingly  happy
smile.  I gave him my "Merci, au  revoir and  walked  away with  the change,
which the  French  never  seem to  put  into  your  hand, but  always on the
counter, in case you've got some disease.
     I went back to the car.
     The  marina  was  larger than  I'd expected from the postcards. Two  or
three hundred shiny masts rocked and glinted in the sunlight.
     Just before  turning through the entrance,  I saw  bus  stops on either
side  of the road and a glass phone box. Whoever was on  the boat had chosen
their location well: there were buses to  both Monaco and Nice, and the rail
station was just a ten-minute walk away.  The phone  box was certainly going
to be a bonus for us.
     The  large  blue sign  welcomed  me, thanked  me  for my visit,  looked
forward to me coming back  again, and  gave me a list of available shops and
services. I took a  right on to  the access road, a short avenue with neatly
trimmed  hedges on either side. There was a mini-roundabout ahead of me, and
beyond that, the world's largest supply  of  pleasure  craft. I  turned left
towards the car park.
     Fourteen.
     A one-storey, flat-roofed  building  housed a parade of shops and cafes
that ran for  maybe a  hundred metres each  side of the  mini-roundabout.  I
bumped  slowly  over  a  succession   of   sleeping  policemen,  past  fancy
restaurants  with glinting glasses  and  dazzlingly white linen tablecloths,
all laid out for  lunch. It  was just after midday, so they'd be full pretty
soon,  once  the  punters had emerged  from the  clothes shops, carrier bags
bulging with Lacoste polo shirts and jumpers.
     Coffee drinkers sat  at cafe tables just a few metres  from the water's
edge,  probably wishing  they were  sitting aboard  the  sleek and beautiful
boats  just  out of reach to my right instead. The craft all seemed  to have
English names like Suntreader or Kathy's Dreams, and  it  was obviously  the
time of day for  their owners  to  be out  on deck,  to take an aperitif and
enjoy being envied.
     I  reached  the  point  where  the  parade  merged  with  a  series  of
administration buildings that bordered the car park. I pulled up next to the
deserted beach, by a sign saying "Petite Afrique', probably because that was
where  the sand  came  from. I was  alongside a little play  area, which was
half-way through being given a facelift.
     Thanks to  the postcards and what I'd seen so  far, I  now had a pretty
good  sense  of how  the  boats  were arranged.  From the mini-roundabout, a
central pier  ran straight out into the middle of  an open square, with four
smaller piers branching  off each side at  right angles. Another three piers
jutted out  from the quay by the  shops, and  three more  from  the opposite
side. The  place was jammed  with row  after row of boats, their masts, with
whatever bits and pieces they had hanging off them, towering up to the  sky.
I had no idea where the Ninth of May was going to find  room  to park up; it
didn't look like there was a space to be had.
     My  first priority was  to  find a single OP that would cover the whole
area, so no matter where this  boat parked,  I'd  be able to get eyes on and
trigger the collectors as they left to pick up the cash. If that couldn't be
done, I'd have to find a number of different ones.
     I could  already see two routes  out of this place, apart from the sea.
There was the access road I'd come in on, and a footpath to the right of the
shops, which led up to a terraced garden.
     I left the Megane,  hitting the  key fob before  walking back  past the
shops  towards the roundabout and  the central pier. Ambling around with  my
camera in hand, I particularly admired the terraced garden. It was nearly as
long  as  the parade,  and  was  packed with  small  palm trees  and exotic,
semi-tropical plants set in light, dry soil well worth a couple of photos. A
shiny green hedge ran along the back of it, hiding the road, but I could now
see  there was a way through, because a man  walking his dog along the  path
had just headed up some steps and disappeared.
     The  majority of the  boats seemed to have red  ensigns hanging off the
back. A lot  were registered in the Cayman Islands. I heard a group of Brits
sitting on the back  bit of a huge motor boat, enjoying a beer and listening
to Riviera Radio. There was quite a lot of activity aboard, and not just the
clinking of glasses. Decking was being pulled up, cleaned and varnished, and
chrome was being polished until you could see your Gucci sunglasses in it.
     There was an  incessant ching ching ching of steel rigging and  the one
thing I did know that hung off boats,  radar reflective balls, as I wandered
along, snapping away, playing the tourist. When I got to the mini-roundabout
I could see  the  rest  of the shops.  There  was a tyre replacement centre,
several  chandlers  and  a  high-tech yard  with  yachts  up on  blocks  and
shrink-wrapped in white  plastic  as if they'd just come off the supermarket
shelf. There  was also another set of  stone steps that led directly to  the
road.
     I turned  left at the mini-roundabout on to the  main  pier, which  was
built  of grey  concrete  slabs. As I got to the  first  set of  branches, I
looked down the line of boats. Every two or three parking spaces there was a
shared utilities station, with  pipes  and cables  feeding the  rear of each
vessel  with power,  water and  a TV aerial.  I saw the occasional satellite
dish  too,  weighted  down by  sandbags and breeze blocks so the boat-owners
could get Bloomberg to check if the markets were performing strongly  enough
for them to buy the next size up.
     The  yachts nearest the parade were large enough to keep most America's
Cup teams happy, but  the further  I walked along the pier, the closer I got
to the really big boys, until I was among the kind of vessels that had radar
domes the size of nuclear warheads on the back and  only needed  a splash of
grey paint to be confused with battleships. One even had its  own two-seater
helicopter. No doubt about it, I was in the wrong job and had  been fostered
by the wrong family. I'd always said to myself I should find out who my real
parents were, and I realized that now was the time I should start trying.
     From the end  of the main  pier I looked back once more to the  garden,
working on the theory that if I could see a possible hiding place from where
I  was now,  I could  probably see  down here  from up  there.  I  took more
pictures. The only place that looked  possible as a one-size-fits-all OP was
to the far  right of  the marina, above  the flat roof of the administration
building,  and among the bushes that were about level with the  car park.  I
wandered back, feigning  interest in the boats but really looking under  the
piers to check how they  were constructed. Huge concrete pillars rose out of
the water, topped with T flanges, on which sat the concrete sections.
     A thin film of oil coated the water at the rear of the boats, a hundred
different shades  of blue and orange swirling in  the sunlight. I could  see
shoals  of tiny fish fussing  around  the pillars  quite easily through  the
clear water. I didn't know  how yet, but I had to get  on board the Ninth of
May and plant the device that was going to stop it reaching Algeria with the
cash. Getting wet might be the only way to do it.
     As I walked back towards the car park I could hear  British, French and
American voices settling down for lunch. Waiters and waitresses hovered with
expensive-looking  bottles of  water  and wine,  and  baskets of freshly cut
baguette. I was beginning to feel quite hungry.
     I stopped at a tab  ac and inspected another carousel of postcards as I
tucked  into   a  jumbo-size  Snickers  bar.  I  listened  to  a  group   of
twenty-something Americans drinking beer at  one  of  the tables outside. It
had been  a lot  of beer, judging  by the  number of empty glasses  and  the
content  of  their  conversation.  And, judging by  their  severe  haircuts,
tattoos and  tight polo  shirts, they  had to  be on  shore leave  from  the
warship at Villefranche.
     "No way, man, we should fucking nuke 'em, man, this very p.m.!"
     Another  guy started chanting, "USA, USA, USA," getting very worked up.
The  others chorused their  agreement  and swigged some more Kronenbourg. It
must have  been  hell being stuck in the Mediterranean instead of bobbing up
and down on the Indian Ocean, waiting to hose down the Afghan mountains with
cruise missiles.
     I rotated  the spinner. These cards  weren't as good as the ones at the
station, but then I caught sight of something in a display  case that I knew
would make Lotfi's day a baseball hat wit han arm sticking out of the top of
it,  holding a hammer. When you pulled  a  piece of  string the hammer swung
down on  to the peak. I  couldn't resist it: it would send  him ballistic. I
went inside  and handed over a hundred francs. It was pretty outrageous, but
as she  was selling Hermes scarves for those windy days on the  waves for  a
couple  of thousand, I guessed I got off  pretty lightly. No  wonder all the
shops had alarm boxes with yellow strobe lights above their front doors.
     The sailors were still honking as I came out.
     "We shouldn't be kicking back here, man,  we should be kicking some Bin
Laden ass right now."
     I looked beyond them to the central pier, and stepped back rapidly into
the  doorway. Two white  vans with blue light bars and riot grilles over the
windows  had pulled up, and were spilling out heavily armed men in navy blue
jumpsuits on to the quay.
     I suddenly got very interested in the latest issue of Paris-Match as an
estate car, also with a blue light bar, stopped next  to the vans. The  word
"Gendarmerie' was emblazoned along the door panels.
     Not flapping  just  yet, and still  engrossed  in the contents  of  the
magazine rack, I checked chamber. If they were here for me, they  didn't yet
know where I was: otherwise why get together  for  a briefing at the rear of
the vehicles?
     I watched as the Americans continued to develop the Kronenbourg plan of
attack on Bin Laden, unaware of what was happening just past the roundabout.
     It couldn't have anything to do with me. But, just in case, I moved out
on  to the  pavement  and turned left,  away  from  them,  heading  for  the
staircase that would take me up to the terraced gardens.
     The  American  table-thumping  slowly  faded  out  of  earshot.  They'd
probably never  know how much  Bin Laden ass  they  were  about to  kick, if
George's plan hit the target.
     I found the concrete steps at the end of the block that  led up to  the
higher ground. They were  well worn and there was no notice to say they were
private. If I did get challenged I'd just play the dickhead tourist.
     The steps took me up on to the roof,  which was covered in red  asphalt
and  formed a balcony. There was even a set of railings to stop  you falling
into  someone's soup on a windy day. The roundabout was in  dead ground from
here,  which was good; I couldn't see them,  they couldn't see  me.  A stone
wall, about a metre high, ran the length of the path, against which concrete
benches  had been installed at ten-metre intervals,  facing in the direction
of the marina for a nice relaxing view. Nearer  the road, an old man with  a
wheelbarrow was giving some weeds the good news with a spade.
     The  dirty  white top  of a truck  zoomed past above  me and beyond the
hedge, heading for Nice. This looked good so far: not only should I  be able
to see the entire marina, once I'd  got into the  bushes a few  metres above
me, but I could be over the hedge and on to the main drag in no time.
     A bench  stood directly in front of the  bushes where I  would probably
try to  establish  the  OP. Someone had sprayed "I fuck girls!"  in  English
across the back of it in blue paint. After  my morning  with Greaseball,  it
was a breath of fresh air.
     I  glanced  up  towards the gardener, and down in the  direction of the
gendarmerie, but both were out of  sight. I slipped over the bench and on to
stony ground above it.
     Moving  into  a  possible OP site from the front  was something  that I
would never normally do: it leaves sign in the very place you are trying not
to draw people's attention to.  But it  didn't matter here; there was enough
human and dog sign about already.
     I scrabbled  up the bank  and into  the bushes, settling behind a large
palm bush that branched into a perfect V  at about head height. The field of
view  wasn't bad; I could see the whole of  the marina,  and the binos would
get me right  on to the Ninth of May,  wherever it parked.  I could also see
all three exit points.
     The vehicles by the roundabout were now deserted and the  jumpsuits had
split into two groups, each with a hyperactive spaniel on a  lead. I watched
as the dogs  scurried  about  the piers as if they  were demented,  darting,
stopping, pointing their noses towards the backs of  the boats. It had to be
drugs; they were carrying  out spot  checks or looking for some kit that had
been smuggled in. I sat  and thought about the three million dollars US that
was headed towards the Ninth of May, a vast amount of US bills that would be
contaminated  with drug residue,  as  most US cash is. Tens of  thousands of
them bundled together would send even a half-bored sniffer dog crazy.
     Was  that  what they were  aiming for  now? Were they checking for  the
cash? No, they  couldn't be. They would  be more proactive, there would be a
lot more support. This looked like a routine operation.
     I  let  them  get on with it,  and stood up  to take a  look  over  the
four-foot-high  hedge. There was a tarmac pavement, and beyond that a narrow
strip of  garden on the level ground before  the  road,  and,  maybe fifteen
metres  downhill,  about  ten nose-in  parking spaces. Just over  a  hundred
metres further was the marina's main entrance.
     I took off my sun-gigs and sat back in the OP, taking a few pictures of
the target area before  checking traser. There was plenty of time before the
safe house meet to stay static and tune  in to the  place.  Could I be seen,
for example, from the pavement above or the path in front if somebody walked
past?
     I  listened  to  the  traffic,  which was  constant but not  heavy, and
started to visualize what I wanted the other two to do when I triggered  the
collectors off the boat.
     I looked down at the jumpsuits and dogs as they  worked their way round
the marina, and wondered if French intelligence were on to the collectors as
well.   Their  External  Security   Service   hadn't  messed  about  in  the
mid-eighties when Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior had parked  up  for the night
in Auckland, New Zealand, as it campaigned against French nuclear testing in
the  Pacific. DGSE's  Operations Division, using  divers  from their Swimmer
Combat  Command, just  blew up the boat,  no fucking about. I was glad these
people weren't allowed to operate  on French soil but then again, we weren't
either, and these were strange times.
     Fifteen.
     I continued to play about with  ways we could take the  collectors from
the  boat  to  wherever they were  going  to pick  up the money.  I needed a
half-decent  plan I could present to  the other two at  the safe  house.  We
needed a structure, orders that would be  the template for the operation. It
would  change  as  more  information  was  gathered  or  the  collectors did
something we didn't  expect,  but  at least we would have something to guide
us.
     A few  old women  gossiping at warp  speed in high-pitched  French were
walking behind me with their dogs. I could hear  claws scratching the tarmac
as they moved past.
     I sat  for  nearly  an hour as the police dogs wagged their  tails  and
sniffed like mad things  down in  the  marina. The old guy was still digging
his  way downhill, unperturbed by the activity going on  below us. I  wasn't
worried;  he shouldn't see  me, and if he did, so what? I'd just  pretend to
have a piss and hope he wouldn't be back to tend this part of the garden for
another three days.
     When I checked traser again  it was one forty-seven. The safe house was
no more  than an  hour  away, so I'd  stay a little  longer.  Time  spent on
reconnaissance is seldom wasted.
     A bit of a  wind  had got up, and the boats were  swaying  from side to
side  now. The cry of  a seagull took me straight  back to the  Boston yacht
club,  and the thought that  I  could be working there now, pulling pints of
Samuel Adams in  a place where  the dogs  weren't  allowed  to  shit,  and I
wouldn't have to spend all day in a bush.
     Just after two o'clock, a while since the jumpsuits had gone, I decided
to make a  move,  thinking it  was a shame that  the gardener hadn't made it
this far along. It would have been a good test of the position.
     Not  wanting to destroy the very  bit of vegetation  behind me that was
hiding  me  from the road, I moved right,  along the hedgerow about four  or
five metres,  and, after checking the other side, climbed over. I pulled the
peak of  my  cap  down  some more  and  replaced  my gigs as I  followed the
pavement back to the marina entrance. Once at the roundabout, I turned left,
past the shops and cafe on the way to the car. I played the tourist as ever,
taking  a lot of  interest in the boats and how wonderful they were, looking
around  and enjoying  myself as some  more Kronenbourgs were  being summoned
from the  tab  ac The  boys were  going to have to wait a while before  they
kicked some al-Qaeda butt.
     I drove  back  towards Nice.  Hubba-Hubba  and  Lotfi would  both  have
checked their emails at one-ish, and be on their way to the safe house. Each
of  us had no idea  where  the  other was  staying,  and,  just  like on the
Algerian job, we didn't know what names we were using as cover.
     We'd come into France  at  different times, but had been operating as a
team for  the  last four days.  I alone knew how to contact George. Anything
they didn't need to know I wouldn't be telling them, just in case they ended
up  hanging  upside down as a nice  man read them  their  horoscopes  with a
length of two by four on the soles of their feet.
     Even  though I hardly  knew these guys, I couldn't help liking them. It
was obvious that they  knew each other well, and they made me feel as if I'd
been sort of adopted by them. But operational security was something  we all
understood  and, fuck  it,  I'd never see them  again after  Sunday,  so  we
weren't exactly aiming to be friends for life.
     In  preparation  for  this job  I'd  cut  the TAOR  [tactical  area  of
responsibility]  into  three  areas,  allocating  one  for  each  of  us  to
familiarize himself with in depth, or at least as much as we could in such a
short  time.  Then  we had a day in each other's  areas. Hubba-Hubba had  to
recce the area from Monaco to the west side of Nice, ending  at the airport.
I  took  over  from  there to  the west side of  Cannes, and Lotfi took from
Cannes down to St-Raphael,  about twenty  Ks along the coast. We'd now  read
enough  guidebooks  and  travel  information on  our TAOR to start  our  own
holiday company. But it had to be done; from the moment the boat arrived, we
needed to be able to operate as if  we'd lived in this part of the world for
years. We could have done  with a few  more weeks to bed in properly, but as
usual we were victims of life's two fuckers: not enough information, and not
enough time.
     We  now had to learn how the buses and trains worked here, even down to
the fare structure. If Greaseball was right, it  was highly likely that we'd
find  ourselves following these  people on  public  transport. At  the  very
least, we'd need  to have  the correct change or tokens ready so as  not  to
draw attention to ourselves.
     To operate successfully, a  team like ours had to achieve three  goals.
The  first was  to establish  efficient communication and  information  flow
within the unit, and then separately between the unit leader and the command
structure.
     The  second  was  to  limit the  chances of discovery by outsiders,  by
minimizing the number of communication links between the members. That meant
no phone calls, no meetings other than at the safe house, and even then only
when  operationally  necessary. There had to be no other communication other
than my contacting them by their individual  email, and no marked road maps,
in fact nothing on paper. Everything had to be committed to memory. The less
of a trail we left, the better our chance of survival. The third goal was to
limit the damage that might be done if one member of the team was discovered
and  removed  from the network, which meant minimizing the number  of direct
links with each other, and only sharing information on a need-to-know basis.
That was why we had split up and done our own thing so far: if one of us got
lifted, he didn't know where the other two  were, he didn't  know their full
names, he didn't know anything apart from my Canadian email address.
     Working within these constraints had  meant  that we had  to  sacrifice
efficiency  in communications,  intelligence gathering and planning,  but it
kept us alive. Now, as the job started kicking off, we  had no choice but to
operate  more visibly  as a team,  which made us more  effective,  but  more
vulnerable to discovery.
     My  route took  me back into Nice along  the  Promenade des  Anglais. I
reached  the centre of  town and turned right,  away from the beach, heading
north. I flicked on Riviera Radio and got the same boring voice I'd heard at
the marina.  He was waffling his way  through a badly  worded commercial for
easily fitted security  shutters for the home and  office. Then  there was a
review of the American newspaper headlines.  It was  all doom and gloom  and
people dying of anthrax. For about the hundredth time since I'd left, all  I
could do was hope that no one I knew was affected.
     It wasn't long before the five-star  shopping areas and hotels and palm
trees gave way  to freight depots, grime-covered warehouses and dirty cream,
rectangular  sixties or seventies apartment  blocks built  far  too close to
each other.
     I followed the road round a  sharp left-hand bend and  over the railway
lines, then hit the maze of high-speed feeder roads to the motorway. I drove
beside the river. At this time of the year it was just  a hundred-metre-wide
stretch of  sandstone-coloured  rock and  rubble, in the  centre  of which a
trickle of water wound its way down towards the sea.
     Beautiful nineteenth-century houses that had once lined the banks  were
now towered over by DIY super stores and warehouses There were no palm trees
round here, that was for sure. There were no shiny buses, either.
     Autoroute 8 appeared ahead of me now as  I  crossed  the river. It  ran
along a viaduct, a couple of hundred feet high, that straddled  this part of
the city before disappearing into a tunnel in the direction of Monaco.
     It would have  been a lot quicker and easier  if we'd allowed ourselves
to use the autoroute, but that wasn't going to happen unless the shit really
hit the fan. The  toll  booths had cameras and,  besides, the police  always
hung around these places checking car tax and insurance. For all we knew the
booths might also have face-recognition technology on the cameras.
     All  three of us  had  to avoid  leaving sign. We were careful  to pick
cafes  and  shops with automatic doors,  or ones  we could  push open with a
shoulder.  Even drinking coffee was a major  challenge, as it had to be done
without leaving prints, and every attempt had to  be made to prevent leaving
DNA. It wasn't so much what  they could  do  with any of the information  we
might leave in our wake right now,  it  was what it could tell  them  later:
this stuff stays on computer for ever.
     I remembered a job I'd  been on with the Regiment  in Northern Ireland,
when we  were trying  to get  some fingerprints to connect a suspect  with a
bombing campaign. This guy was so good, he wore gloves most of the time, and
when he didn't, he took care to remove all print traces.
     In the end, we risked everything to follow him, just waiting for him to
slip up. He went into cafes several times and had a cup of coffee, but wiped
the cup and the spoon every time before  he left. If it was a  paper cup, he
took it home with him. And he didn't just throw stuff like that out with his
household rubbish, he burnt it in his garden.
     It took weeks, but  we got him in the end. One day he used  a teaspoon,
stirred his coffee, put it down and  forgot to wipe it. The moment  he left,
the team was  straight  in. There was  no way I was  going to make the  same
mistake. Everything I touched I wiped, or if the prints weren't wipable, I'd
keep it  with me and destroy  it  later. Even taking cash from  an ATM was a
pain.  All three  of  us  had had  to do  it a  lot, since we paid cash  for
everything.  When we took money  out,  we did  so from the same  area I used
Cannes so that no pattern of movement could be established. I never used the
same ATM twice; I wasn't giving  anyone a  known  location to  stake out and
lift  me. The only routine  I followed was  that I always  got  money out at
night, varying the time and slipping on a hat and sunglasses and standing an
arm's length to  the side so the ATM camera didn't  get me. Even then, I had
to make sure I didn't leave a print. It was the same when  it came to buying
stuff from a shop or cafe it was vital not to go to the same place twice. It
was  all  a major  pain in  the arse, but if things went  noisy, I wanted to
leave the French  police as few pieces of our  jigsaw puzzle as  possible. I
knew that prison visiting wasn't high on George's list of priorities.
     I drove under the  viaduct, past  the huge concrete funnel that belched
smoke from the city's incinerator. I was now in L'Ariane, very near the safe
house.
     Areas  like these, Hubba-Hubba had told me, were called banlieues,  the
suburbs. That word had always conjured up the  image of nice three-bed semis
with  privet  hedges  near the commuter station.  But here  it meant ghetto;
high-density  tower  blocks  where les immigres, mostly  North African,  had
taken refuge. L'Ariane had the reputation  of being one of the most deprived
and violent banlieues in France,  after those that ringed Paris. Hubba-Hubba
had told me plenty of his auntie's horror stories;  it was  a no-go area for
the  authorities, out of  bounds even to  ambulance  crews  and firemen, who
didn't dare set foot in  the  place  without police  protection and just one
glimpse of a gendarme was all it took to spark a riot. I couldn't think of a
better place for a safe house.
     I passed a burnt-out car that hadn't been there  three days ago.  Apart
from  that,   everything  else  looked   the  same   a  grim,  rat-infested,
litter-strewn warren of graffiti-sprayed concrete and satellite dishes.
     I took the first turning left into the estate  and parked  outside  the
kebab-cum-cleaner's-cum-patisserie-cum-laundry.   I  got  out   of  my   car
immediately so it looked as  if I had a reason  to be here which, in fact, I
did, though it wasn't one I wanted anyone to know about. I worried about the
Megane; the roads were packed with vehicles, but mine was four or five years
newer, and still had its plastic hubcaps.
     I'd  only  been here  twice before:  when  we'd  got  together  on  the
twentieth  to  sort out the  recces  and divide the areas, and again earlier
today, to deliver the kit I'd picked up from the DOR
     Sixteen.
     I'd tucked my pistol into the front of my jeans. I worried about having
just one  mag with me, but then again, if I needed more than thirteen rounds
to protect myself, I was beyond help and should probably be pulling pints at
the yacht club.
     As I closed the door, a young  Muslim woman appeared, eyes  lost in the
shadows of her headscarf, shoulders drooping under the weight of two plastic
carrier bags full of cans and breakfast cereals. She was blending  in here a
lot more easily than I was.
     I went to the boot  and got  out my bag, locked up and  headed straight
for the entrance to the  nearest block of flats on my side  of the road. The
mosaic  tiles  decorating  the front of the building had crumbled away  long
ago. The concrete underneath  was now decorated  with a  blend of French and
Arabic graffiti that I didn't understand.
     The security locks and  intercom system had been trashed years ago. The
entrance  hall stank of  piss, the floor was littered  with cigarette butts.
Shouts came from  the floor above me, and  a barrage  of loud French rap. At
least I was out of sight  of the  road.  Anyone watching would  assume I was
visiting  someone  in the  block,  and since I  was a white  stranger,  that
probably meant I was there  for drugs. Because I was alone and without armed
back-up, I couldn't be a policeman. I headed straight out of the  back  door
and into a square flanked  by four identical  blocks. It had probably looked
wonderful  when it  was full  of shiny  little  Dinky-toy  vehicles  in  the
architect's  model. I  could still make out the markings  of a car park, but
now the place  looked more like a storage area for the incinerator next door
than the forecourt  of a Citroen dealership.  It was littered with burnt-out
cars and rotting food that seemed to have been flung out of the upper-storey
windows.  Windblown rubbish was heaped in drifts against  the walls of every
block  and,  for some reason I couldn't work out,  dead pigeons seemed to be
lying everywhere. Maybe someone was shooting them from a  window with an air
rifle, or perhaps they'd eaten some of the food. A couple of seriously macho
rats darted from body to body.
     I   strode   purposefully   across    the   square,   putting   in   an
anti-surveillance route to make sure I wasn't being followed.
     I  entered  the next block to  the blare  of  music  and kids screaming
upstairs. There was a strong smell of cooking. Two guys who looked as though
they'd just got off the bus from  Kosovo were in the  entrance hall ahead of
me, surrounded by kids with bobble hats and baggy jeans.  The kids  were  in
the  process of paying for whatever it was these guys were selling them. The
men froze, the foil wraps in their hands, and stared me out,  waiting to see
my next move. The kids couldn't have cared less, they just wanted the wraps.
     It was pointless turning back. I  just  acted as if I  belonged, didn't
give a shit what  was going on, and walked past. The  moment they realized I
wasn't concerned they carried on with the deal. I pushed open a door and hit
the road.
     I  worked my way through a maze of small  alleyways. Hollow-eyed men in
shell-suit tops and jeans hung out on every corner, smoking and occasionally
kicking a stray ball back to their kids, who looked like smaller versions of
their dads.  These people  had no work, no  prospects, no future. It  didn't
matter  what colour they  were, in this part of town everyone was burnt-out,
just like the  cars. I turned towards the last block.  On my first visit I'd
thought  it had  been condemned; the place had  scorch marks licking up from
every  window.  Breeze blocks  filled  the window frames  on the  first  few
floors. This was my last  checkpoint before heading for the RV; I was clear,
nothing  behind me, and everything  looked  normal, or as normal as anything
could look around here. A Muslim woman came out on to a landing above me and
gave the family duvet a good shake.
     I crossed  the  debris-covered road and headed  for the RV,  one of the
three farmworkers' cottages that crouched in the  shadows  of the estate.  I
imagined the  owners  sitting  here  fifty  years  ago,  minding  their  own
business, watching  their  chickens and sheep  go down to  the  river for  a
drink. Next thing they knew, they were living  in the middle of a dustbin of
a housing project, as the city swallowed them up and introduced  them to the
brave  new  world  of  high-rise  living.  The  far   one  now  belonged  to
Hubba-Hubba's aunt. He'd paid for  her and her husband to go  back to  North
Africa for two months  and see  their family before they  died, so the house
was ours for the duration.
     I  checked the position  of the  Browning;  I  really  wanted to  check
chamber as  well, but couldn't. In  a  place like this there would  be  eyes
everywhere.
     I made  my way along  a stretch of dried mud that might  once have been
grass.  The cottages had been  painted dark beige many years  ago. The faded
green  shutters on  the furthest one  were closed, the windows covered  with
metal grilles. Litter blown from the road had piled up against the bottom of
the  rusty, sagging chain-link fence that surrounded them. Beyond  it was  a
concrete path and a  dilapidated chicken coop that  had last seen  an egg in
the fifties.
     I could hear an exchange of rapid  and aggressive French from the flats
behind    me.   The   duvet   shaker   was   giving   someone   inside   her
state-of-the-nation address. I  checked  that  the  first tell-tale  was  in
position.  It was: a new  black bin liner,  half filled with newspaper,  had
been placed by the gate inside the fence That  meant Hubba-Hubba  was in the
house, hopefully sponsoring the RV. A glance  at  traser told me it was four
minutes to four. All being well, Lotfi would also be in position.
     When Hubba-Hubba  had arrived he'd have put out the bin  bag for  Lotfi
and me to see as we made our approach. Hubba-Hubba would have got here about
three; Lotfi thirty minutes or so later.
     If the bin liner hadn't been there, I'd have just kept walking and gone
to  the  emergency RV  in twenty-four hours' time  -Cannes at McDonald's, or
McDo as it was called down here. The place was always packed with schoolkids
and office  workers, much to the  disgust  of the French food police. If any
one of us failed to show we'd be in the shit, but the job would still go on.
We had no choice: there was too much at stake for it not to.
     I went through  the gate with  my bag over my left shoulder, leaving my
right ready to react with the Browning, and walked up the pathway.
     As I reached the door  of the furthest cottage, I  checked again that I
wasn't about to be jumped on as I took off my sun-gigs. I looked for the two
match heads that should be  protruding from the bottom of the door. They had
to  be where I could see them without  adjusting the  angle  of my head as I
approached;  I  didn't  want  to  make  it obvious  that I  was looking  for
something.
     They  were exactly where they should be, one sticking  out an inch from
the right-hand corner of the door, and the  other on the left, by the frame.
That told me that  both Hubba-Hubba  and Lotfi were  inside; the door hadn't
been opened and closed without the tell-tales being replaced.
     I  knocked on the door  and watched. After a few seconds, the spy  hole
darkened. I lowered my eyes, but kept my face  in line with  it, to indicate
that everything was  OK, that nobody was against the wall  and  out of  view
with a weapon aimed at  my head.  Eyes  are a good tell-tale; they can't  be
seen  from  a distance, so nobody  can  see  what's  going on.  The  matches
disappeared  from view, four bolts were pulled back, and the handle  turned.
The door opened  and three rubber-coated fingers appeared around its edge as
it was  pulled inwards. I walked in without any greeting, and it  was closed
behind me. The bolts were slid back into place.
     I took two steps over the wooden floorboards of the cramped hallway and
on  to a worn, Persian-style rug.  I  followed  the smell of  freshly brewed
coffee into the dimly  lit living room, past furniture draped in doilies and
faded  black-and-whites of  kids with  gummy  smiles  gathered together on a
sideboard in  cheap chrome  frames.  Lotfi  was  standing  by a wooden-armed
settee,  part of  an  ancient,  flower-patterned  three-piece suite.  It was
covered in  clear plastic sheeting,  which reflected the few beams of  light
that managed to defeat  the shutters  behind him. The coffee  stood on a low
table in front.
     He wore  jeans and a  cheap striped  cotton shirt, the  sort  where the
pattern fades  after just a few washes, but that wasn't what made me want to
grin. He was also wearing Marigolds, and a dolphin-patterned shower cap over
his  heavily gelled hair. Hubba-Hubba  knew  that  the boy  was  taking  his
personal  security very  seriously,  but  had  taken  the  piss  out  of him
mercilessly the last time we'd all met.
     I  put  my bag on the rug and  got out my own gloves, the clear plastic
ones I'd picked up from a filling station.
     Lotfi watched  me as I  put  them  on and muttered, "Bonjour," in a low
voice. I knew he was waiting for my face to break into a smile.
     I  unzipped  my bag,  removed  my  Nike  cap and replaced it  with  the
hammerhead  baseball cap I'd bought at  the marina. Then I  stood smartly to
attention, trying to keep a straight face as I pulled down on the string.
     Lotfi watched impassively as the hammer moved up  and down on the  peak
and I heard Hubba-Hubba try not to snigger by the door.
     "This is serious, Nick." He pointed behind me.
     "Please, do not be a fool like him." I turned. Hubba-Hubba was sporting
a plastic Groucho  Marx big-nose-moustache-and-glasses  set.  The two  of us
snorted with laughter, like a couple of kids. We couldn't help it. It really
had been a boring four days, and I was feeling sort of all right to see them
again.
     Hubba-Hubba held  up his  hands,  to  give me  the full benefit  of his
ridiculous flower-patterned gloves, and that only made things worse.
     Behind  their disguises,  both  of  them  still had  very neat hair and
moustaches. Hubba-Hubba  had broken out  slightly and  not shaved  for a few
days. His teeth  gleamed  in the murky light  as  we enjoyed our  moment  of
stupidity, and Lotfi tried not to understand why it was so funny.
     After  a moment  or  two, I decided that kindergarten was over.  We had
things to do.
     "Is the escape clear?"
     Hubba-Hubba  nodded, and the Groucho  Marx kit slid down  the bridge of
his nose. That started me off again, and this time even Lotfi joined in.
     The escape route was into the cellar via the kitchen, then through into
the next-door cottage. A mat had been glued over the trap-door, so that when
it was closed it would be concealed. Apparently  it  was a leftover from the
Resistance in the Second World War.
     We sat  down around the coffee table to the sound  of crumpling plastic
that Hubba-Hubba had bought from a DIY  store. We couldn't  afford to  leave
behind anything  like hair or  clothes fibres that might be used against us.
The sheeting  and our other precautions wouldn't do a one hundred  per  cent
job, but you can only do your best.
     I'm  afraid  we  may  have  a  problem,  Nick."  Lotfi  nodded  towards
Hubba-Hubba, his expression serious.
     "I'm getting worried about him. He's turning into a weird beard."
     "A what?"
     "Weird beards you know, Talib. He's turning into Taliban."
     Hubba-Hubba  took off his big nose  and glasses, shaking his head as he
poured the coffee into three blue flower-patterned cups
     "We have to make allowances, Nick. He doesn't get out much these days."
He gave me a theatrical wink.
     I  sipped  my  coffee. This was nothing instant from a jar, it was hot,
sweet Arabic stuff. It always tasted to me like perfume, but it was good all
the same. I could hear kids  running around on the road,  and mopeds buzzing
past, sounding like turbo-charged sewing machines.
     "We're operational from tomorrow," I said, in a low voice.
     "The  boat's going  to park up at Beaulieu-sur-Mer  some  time tomorrow
night. I  don't know  yet  where  the collections  are  going to happen,  or
precisely when, but I'm told there are going to be three of them; one a day,
starting  Friday. I've got another source meet tonight,  and  hopefully I'll
get the collection addresses then."
     Lotfi was silent for a moment,  digesting this information. Finally, he
spoke.
     "Berth, Nick." He smiled.
     "You berth a boat."
     I smiled.
     "Berth, OK. I'll try to remember that one."
     "And the French don't have marinas," Hubba-Hubba added.
     "They have ports."
     Seventeen.
     I watched the two of them drop enough sugar cubes in their cups to make
their spoons stand up. I decided to treat  myself to one. Then I pulled  out
the camera from my bag, together with the  postcards and maps  I'd  got from
the news-stands, and a couple of sets of leads. I nodded at Hubba-Hubba.
     "OK, smart arse let's see if you can spark up Auntie's telly ..."
     He stood  up and pressed the on button. After a  minute or so there was
an electronic squelch and a picture appeared:  some high-octane Italian quiz
show with everyone's arms flying everywhere. They looked as though they'd be
getting their kit off any minute.  I went round the back and rigged  up  the
connecting wires so we could  have  a good look  at the pictures I'd  taken,
instead  of  having  to crowd around the digital display on the  back of  my
camera like schoolboys with a copy of May fair.
     I took another sip of coffee as I marshalled my thoughts.
     "OK.  These are  orders for  the  stakeout of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and the
take of  the collectors from  the  target boat,  the  Ninth  of May, to  the
hawalladas,  then the hawalladas' lift and  drop-off.  We'll  just call  the
marina BSM from now on, OK?"
     They  both nodded, probably pleased to be spared my bad  pronunciation.
Their French, of course, was perfect.
     I  held  out my now  empty cup to  Hubba-Hubba, who  was already  doing
refills.
     "OK, then, the ground  ..." I  fiddled with the buttons  on the back of
the camera to bring up one of the pictures of the marina.
     "BSM - I know you've been there, but I'm going to give these orders  as
if you haven't so we all know where we stand." I explained the layout of the
town, the main coast road, railway line, station, bus stops and phone box.
     Lotfi got out  his prayer beads and started to feed  them, one  by one,
between  his right thumb  and forefinger.  It sounded like the ticking  of a
clock.
     "Before I carry  on," I took a  breath, 'the source is the man we  left
behind in Algeria, the runner from the house. The Greaseball."
     They exchanged glances and their faces fell.
     "That's obviously why no one  else in the  house was to be touched."  I
paused, knowing very well what was going through their minds.
     "I thought you should know, that's all."
     It felt good wiping  some of his slime off me, spreading the shit about
a bit.
     The two of them looked at each other again and I could sense they, too,
felt contaminated.
     "As I said, I don't know the locations or timings of these collections,
but I have another Greaseball meet tonight, so hopefully we'll know then.
     "OK, let's have a look  at the  target area in  detail the marina,  the
port, whatever you want to call it." I threw a glance at Lotfi. He managed a
smile as I flashed up the  entrance sign,  and showed them the pictures  I'd
taken of the way that the piers, the shops, and the OP were positioned.
     "It will make  more sense  when you go down there to see  it  again for
yourselves. Any questions?"
     They  had  none.  Or maybe, as they  studied  the postcards  and  maps,
sitting on plastic sheeting and trying to pick up the small coffee cups with
rubber-gloved  fingers, they  had  other things  on  their mind, apart  from
Lotfi's shower cap.
     "OK, situation so far: the Ninth  of May is  coming  in tomorrow  night
Thursday. All I know about it is it's a white pleasure boat, quite large.
     "There will probably be three of them on board; one will always stay on
the boat, while the other two collect. They're planning one collection a day
for  three days, starting Friday, and aiming to leave  for Algeria  with the
money  on  Sunday  some time  after the  last collection.  So, we  should be
getting out  of  here  by Monday,  and by then  Friday's  haivallada  should
already have had everything he knows  dragged out of him.  By the time we're
flying into the  sunset Monday night, the first of the ASUs could already be
having their doors  kicked  in by the FBI  as they sit  down  to watch Jerry
Springer."
     Lotfi lifted his head towards heaven.
     "In-sha'allah."
     I knew what it meant, and smiled.
     "If God wills it."
     Lotfi  came  down  from the  sky  and looked  at  me as if I  should be
replying, so I dusted off some ropy Arabic.
     "As-salaam alaykum."
     I wasn't too sure I'd used the right reply, but it got me a smile and a
"Wa alaykum as-salaam' in return as  he looked over to Hubba-Hubba. I turned
to him and caught him smiling back.
     "Hey,  I think my Arabic's getting pretty good, these days. What do you
reckon?"
     Hubba-Hubba gave a slow nod.
     "It's better than your English."
     They laughed  and  took sips of  coffee as I joined them, thinking they
were probably right. I got back to the orders before they took the  piss out
of me even more.
     "The collectors  will use public transport trains  and buses.  Possibly
taxis, but unlikely. Any questions?" I looked at each of them in  turn,  but
they stayed silent.
     "OK then,  enemy forces as normal, everyone and everything.  During  my
recce today, the police came  into the marina with dogs for what looked like
a drugs search. It wasn't targeted at specific boats, but it's something  we
should be aware of.
     "Friendly forces basically, that's us. There's probably just  a handful
of people on board  the warship who know what's happening, but you know they
won't help us. If we're in the shit, don't expect any help."
     They gave each other a knowing nod.
     "The mission." I paused.
     "The mission is in two  parts. One, identify the hawalladas and deliver
them to  the DOR  Two,  ensure the  money  never  makes it to Algeria."  The
mission is always repeated so there  is no doubt, even though I  kept having
the feeling that these two were way ahead of me.
     "The  mission. One, identify  the hawalladas and  deliver  them to  the
drop-off point. Two, ensure the money never makes it to Algeria."
     I knew by the look on Lotfi's face that I'd fucked up.
     "What's wrong?"
     "Hawallada. Not hawalladas. It is uncountable, both singular and plural
there is no S."
     Hubba-Hubba nodded his agreement.
     "Hawallada it is. But I get to keep "parked" and "marina", right?"
     They thought that was a reasonable trade.
     "OK, then, let's have a  look at how  we're going to  do it." I  looked
them both in the eye: fun time had ended, and they understood.
     "I see this happening in five phases. Phase one, the OP on the Ninth of
May. Two, placing the device. Three, taking the collectors to the hawallada.
Four, the hit and drop-off at the DOR Finally, phase five, preparing for the
next day. Any questions?"
     I  paused  for  a few seconds to let that sink in. They drank  a little
more brew.
     "Phase one the OP." Hubba-Hubba refilled as Lotfi got back  to work  on
his beads. I showed them the pictures of where my car would be parked on the
road behind the hedgerow. They would  find  somewhere within com ms distance
when they did their own recces tomorrow.
     "I want you, Lotfi, to get in position  on the town side of the marina.
Check out the closing times of those shops."
     He  nodded.  "Hubba-Hubba, I want  you  to check out  the other  side's
timings and find  a lie-up  position  towards Monaco.  I'll  need  the  shop
closing times when we meet tomorrow for the confirmation orders."
     It had  been  more important for me to  find an  OP position than spend
time in the target area looking at shop signs.
     I went through  how I saw the OP being checked out  tomorrow night and,
of course, what we were going to do if anything went wrong.
     "Questions?"
     I took a couple of  sips of coffee as Lotfi's beads clicked away in his
hand  and Hubba-Hubba's cup made gentle  contact  with the table. They  both
shook their heads.
     "Phase  two placing  the device on the boat. I'm probably going to have
to approach  it from under the pier,  or just walk  straight on, but I won't
decide until  I know  exactly what the boat looks like, and where it's going
to be parked. If  I  can't get  it in place tomorrow night, I'll keep trying
until I do."
     I nodded at Hubba-Hubba.
     "You need to run me through the device after this."
     Lotfi grimaced.
     "You are a very brave man, Nick. Do you really think it was a good idea
for him to play with explosives? He can only just tie  his  shoelaces.  Even
that I  had to  teach him." He slapped  Hubba-Hubba across the  back  of the
head.
     "Boooom."
     "OK,  then, phase three taking the collectors, who  we will call  Romeo
One  and  Two, to the hawallada.  Nothing should happen until about six a.m.
Friday at the earliest. There aren't  that many buses or trains until around
that  time anyway.  If  the Romeos  are  moving around they'll  want  to use
pedestrian traffic as cover and before six it's going to  be a  bit thin  on
the ground."
     I told them  how we were  going to take the Romeos, by bus,  train  and
taxi, even a hire car in case Greaseball was  wrong. Hubba-Hubba checked the
coffee pot as I continued.
     "As I said  before, it's unlikely they'll use taxis, so we need to make
sure we know the drill for getting a bus or a train. Make sure you'vegot the
right  change. Find out how you get  a  ticket,  and how  it  all works down
here."
     They  looked disappointed, but then I  realized it was because the brew
had run out.
     "No matter how we take the Romeos, at  least one of us has to be  there
when they meet up with the hawallada. Otherwise there's going to be no lift,
and we fail. Any questions?
     "OK, then, let's  have a look at how we're going to carry out the lift.
We don't know  what languages  they speak, if they're young or old, or where
we're going to be able to do it. It will be think-on-our-feet time. If there
is only  one  of us in a  position to  hit the hawallada, it's  going  to be
tough.  And remember,  even after injection they could be kicking about  for
another couple of minutes."
     We all gave this some thought.
     A  car horn  honked  and  was joined  by several others. The  noise got
louder as the vehicles came up the road towards us.
     We  jumped  to  our  feet,  un  peeling ourselves from the  plastic.  I
immediately started to erase the pictures from the camera.
     "What the fuck's that?"
     Lotfi gathered up our brew kit and moved with it down  into the escape.
Hubba-Hubba was at the  shutters as I went to the back of the  TV and pulled
out the wires. He raised his Marigolded hand.
     "It's OK, it's OK ... Calm."
     Lotfi came  back into the  room and I  went  with him  to the window. A
parade of  six- or  seven-year-old Mercedes  and Renaults  was moving slowly
along the road, decorated with ribbons and bouquets. Lotfi laughed.
     "A wedding."
     I  couldn't see a bride or groom,  but felt  glad that somebody in this
shit-hole was having a good time.
     We got back to business on the settee.
     "Once the hawallada is in the DOP, the  ready-for-pick-up marker is put
in place are we OK  with that?" There was more nodding. Hubba-Hubba sat back
into the  plastic, spreading  it  over  the  back of the  settee. Lotfi just
played with his beads.
     "Good. Phase five. Once the first hawallada is left at the DOP,we split
up,  refuel, feed our faces, and get  back in position to wait for the  next
collection. The timings will depend on when we get the hawallada to the DOP.
We should try to do it as soon as it's dark, so we have more time to prepare
for  the next day. But who  knows? We  could spend all  night trying to lift
him, and  if we don't succeed, I'll  decide  whether we stay with him on day
two, or go and get the trigger on the boat and take the Romeos to the second
hawallada.  That  way,  at  least  we  have  two  IDs  instead of just  one.
Questions?"
     They shook their heads.
     "OK, then, support. Radios?" I pointed at Hubba-Hubba.
     "Yes, I have laid everything out for you to check, and I  now have more
batteries. More batteries than I'm shaking a stick at."
     Lotfi laughed.
     "More batteries than you can shake a stick at..." He turned  to me, his
eyebrow raised. "You see, Nick? This boy needs help."
     I gestured  at Hubba-Hubba. Thanks, mate. I'll  go down and  do a final
check of the kit after this. In the meantime, do you both remember the phone
number? I'll start zero four."
     Hubba-Hubba went,  "Ninety-three, forty-five."  Lotfi  picked it up for
the four numbers after that.
     "Great.  Phone cards?"  I  reached into  my bum-bag and  pulled  out my
wallet and  phone card,  and they produced  theirs.  The phone  booths  here
worked  on  cards  that you could buy  anywhere, and ours were all  worth  a
hundred francs.
     "OK, last thing, insulin pens?"
     Hubba-Hubba nodded.
     "Downstairs."
     "Good. After  we've  finished here, I want  you two to  go  and do your
recces  of BSM. Hubba-Hubba, make  sure you  finish by ten tomorrow morning.
Lotfi, you go between eleven thirty and  one thirty, because I want  us  all
clear  of the area before the boat comes in. We will meet back here tomorrow
at nineteen hundred unless you hear from me online before  sixteen,  telling
you otherwise. Can you  make email at that time of day?" They nodded.  Lotfi
sparked up.
     "I will  pray before leaving. It could be the last time for a few days,
or for ever. Who knows these things but God?"
     I watched  him shove the coffee table to  the side of  the settee while
Hubba-Hubba went into the kitchen to start on the washing-up.
     I leant against the wall while he prepared himself, watching as he took
off his trainers.
     "Ramadan  started  on  the sixteenth  of November,  right? So  how come
you're working, eating and drinking -I  thought  someone like you would have
stopped by now."
     He placed his trainers neatly beside him.  To  a Muslim, saving life is
mandatory. If he or she does not have strength to  do so without  food, then
it is mandatory  to  break the fast. Saving life, that is what we are doing,
no? Do you think Muslim doctors stop work?"
     It made sense to me.
     "If they did, most of the hospitals across Europe would close down."
     He started to adjust his shower hat.
     "By the way, I  read that article in the  Tribune  you told me about. I
didn't realize the Virgin  Mary  gets more mentions in the Qur'an  than  she
does in the Bible."
     He tucked in two rogue strands of hair.
     "Jesus is also revered in the Qur'an."
     "I've never really had much time for him. I could never be arsed to get
out of bed on Sundays."
     He rewarded my glibness with a quiet smile.
     "So what gives you conviction, morals, fulfils your life?"
     I hated being asked questions by people who were so squared away.
     "I guess I just get by day to day, you know how it is."
     "No, I  don't know. That's a  sad thing, Nick.  I feel  sorry for  you.
There is so much you have missed." He gave me a stare so penetrating  that I
found myself looking away, checking on Hubba-Hubba behind me.
     "It must be painful being so empty inside.. ." "I  like to keep  things
simple, just seems better that way."  I was starting to wish I hadn't opened
my mouth.
     "Simplicity  is good, Nick. Emptiness  is not." His expression softened
again.
     "But  there is always time to learn, time  to fill yourself.  You know,
both the  Bible and the  Qur'an trace a common lineage back to  Abraham  and
Adam. There really is a lot we all can  learn from  them.  Maybe  you should
read them one day, they have made many people whole."
     I smiled.  He smiled  back,  knowing there was more  chance of me being
struck by lightning.
     He turned his back to me so that he was  facing east, in  the direction
of the TV. As he  went down on his knees, I couldn't resist asking, "Is that
why the world's so full of justice, mercy and compassion?"
     "I see you took your time reading that article, didn't you?"
     He didn't look back,  but I could see the fuzzy reflection  of his face
in the TV screen.
     "Justice, mercy and compassion, that would be perfect, don't you think?
But when I think of people like  the ASUs in America, who use my religion as
a vehicle  for  their  own  selfish  anger, I see  no  justice,  and find it
difficult to feel mercy and compassion. But God has helped me overcome these
things. You see, these people, these ASUs, they call themselves Muslims. But
they are not truly so. In associating their acts  with the will of God, they
are  guilty of shirk. This is the most unforgivable sin. So it is my duty as
a true  Muslim, someone who  really has submitted himself to  God,  to  send
those  who are sinning  in his  name before his angels,  for their  book  of
destiny to be weighed."
     I  thought  he and George should  get together one  day  over a coffee.
They'd have plenty to talk about.
     "At  this  time, God  will  decide  what  becomes  of them. He  decides
everything, all our destinies."
     That's Kismet, right?"
     He turned  back towards me  as a car with a dodgy  exhaust rattled past
the window.
     "What do you know of Kismet, Nick?"
     "Not much." I grinned.
     "I saw the  film when I was a kid. Loads of your mates flying around on
magic carpets, that sort of stuff."
     "You make jokes to cover up so many things, don't you?"
     I shrugged, fighting back another stupid remark.
     "Kismet, justice, mercy and compassion. You have been studying a little
bit  more  than  that  article  since  we last spoke,  haven't you? Here  is
something else for you to think about." He turned back to the TV, sat on his
heels and  rocked slightly  from side to  side to  adjust himself. He looked
completely ridiculous in his shower cap, but spoke with such dignity I found
myself hanging on his every word.
     "In Sura 28:88, the Qur'an says: "And cry not unto any other  god along
with Allah. There is no god save Him."
     "Now where have we heard these words before?  We sound the same, and we
are the same, in  so many  ways, except that the Bible has stories about our
God written  by many people, sometimes hundreds of  years after  the  event,
while the Qur'an holds God's very words, spoken directly to the Prophet.
     That's why one in five people on the planet is a  Muslim, Nick. We feel
closer to God."
     I shifted myself away from the wall.
     "Well ask him to keep an eye on us over the weekend, will you? We might
need a hand."
     "Of  course.  But  you know  true believers  are always triumphant over
non-believers, in  the  end. Maybe  you will be able  to put a good  word in
yourself, one day."
     Eighteen.
     I  went  into  the  kitchen.  Hubba-Hubba  was  rubber  glove  deep  in
washing-up suds as he cleaned the brew kit.
     "See you down there."
     He nodded as he tackled a stubborn coffee stain. His auntie would  have
been proud of him. The sounds of Lotfi  at prayer floated in from the living
room as  I  lifted the trap-door and  went down the  wooden ladder into  the
musty coolness  of the cellar. It wasn't  that big, maybe  three  metres  by
three, but high enough to stand up in. In the  far corner was a coarse green
blanket laid out with all our equipment in very straight lines.
     Hubba-Hubba  really did like  order. Squared  up with  the edge of  the
blanket were our radios, binoculars, and the drug packs we'd need to  subdue
the hawallada.
     I  knelt in the dust  of the stone floor and checked  the radios first.
They were small yellow Sony  walkie-talkies, the sort of things designed for
parents to keep track of their kids on ski trips or in the mall.  We had two
each, one on  our bodies, one as a back-up in the boot of each car. If there
was a drama with anyone's radio, they could either get their own spare or go
to another  vehicle, take the key hidden behind the rear  licence plate, and
help themselves to a replacement.
     The Sonys  only had  a communications distance  of about a Kand a half,
virtually line of sight. It would have been better to have a longer distance
set  in case  we got split  up during the follow, but at least  it  meant we
couldn't be listened to out of that range.  Taped to the bottom of each were
eight AA batteries: two lots of stand-by  power. Attached  to a socket was a
mobile phone hands free with a plastic ear clip The jack was taped firmly in
place so it  didn't fall  out when someone  was  sending, because  sod's law
dictated that that was exactly when it would get pulled out,  and we'd be in
loud time, treating the world to a running commentary on what we were up to.
     The row of  three rectangular  grey  plastic  cases,  each  about seven
inches long and three wide, contained enough anaesthetic to send an elephant
to sleep. They were disguised  as diabetics'  insulin kits.  I opened one to
check the thin green auto  pen sunk  into its hard  plastic recess.  It  was
already  loaded with a  needle and cartridge.  Also  bedded into the plastic
were another three needles that simply clicked on to the bottom of  the pen,
and another three cartridges. Once you had it against the target's skin, you
pressed the trigger, and the  spring inside would  shoot the needle  forward
and  inject  the  drug,  which  in this  case wasn't insulin  but  ketamine.
Alongside  them was a  card holding  six  nappy pins, with  big pink plastic
caps. The hawallada wouldn't be too worried about the colour:  the pins were
to  prevent  their  tongues falling  down  their throats and  choking  them.
Depressed ventilation was a  side effect of  this stuff, so their airway had
to be kept clear at all times.
     I started  to  check the  other two kits, making  sure  that each  also
contained a scratched and worn steel Medic  Alert bracelet as cover, warning
anyone who  was interested  enough to  check that we  were,  strangely,  all
diabetic.
     Ketamine hydrochloride street name "Special K' or "K' is still  used as
a general anaesthetic  for children, persons of poor health, and small furry
animals. It is also a 'dissociative anaesthetic', separating perception from
sensation. Higher  doses,  the  sort  we  were  going  to  give,  produce  a
hallucinogenic effect.  It  can  cause the user to feel very far  away  from
their body They enter what some people call a "K-hole'; it has been compared
to  a near  death experience,  with the sensation of rising above one's body
and finding it difficult to move. I had that feeling most  mornings, but the
amount these hawallada would be  getting, they'd be waving through the space
shuttle window.
     In powder  form, ketamine looks  a little like  cocaine;  street  users
snort it, bung  it in drinks, or smoke it with marijuana. Our hawallada were
going  to be getting it in liquid form, jabbed into the muscle mass of their
arse  where there was  little risk of  us hitting a blood vessel and causing
permanent damage.
     The three sets of green binos were small x8, the sort that fits  into a
coat pocket. We needed them in case we couldn't close in on the boat for the
trigger and had to get eyes on the target from a distance.
     All  these  items  were important, but  none more so than the dark blue
plastic cylinder  that lay at  the  centre  of the  blanket. About  eighteen
inches long  and three in  diameter, it came  apart if you twisted it in the
middle. A length of fishing line had been fed through a small hole that we'd
burnt with  a  hot  skewer just by the  join,  and was held in position by a
strip of insulation tape on the outside of the casing, which had been folded
back on itself to make a tab for easy removal.
     The cylinder looked  like it had  come from  a stationery shop, and was
normally used for storing rolled-up drawings. Now  it  was full of some very
exotic high explosive taken from a consignment made  in Iran and sent to GIA
in Algeria, but intercepted by the Egyptians on the way. I'd collected it at
the same time as the insulin kits from the DOP, when I first got in-country.
     Like  everything else on this job, the components  from which the  pipe
bomb was constructed were normal everyday items that could be bought cheaply
and  without  raising eyebrows. Hubba-Hubba had bought all the kit he needed
from  DIY  stores: wooden clothes pegs, emery  paper, drawing  pins, a small
soldering  set,  wire,  super glue  insulation  tape.  Thelast  item  on the
shopping list had come from a phone shop.
     I  felt  a little guilty about giving Hubba-Hubba this task  instead of
doing  it  myself.  I  got  on  well with  these  people,  yet  here  I was,
jeopardizing  his  security by making  him buy all  the  kit  and build  the
device. But that was  just  how it was; as team commander I wasn't  going to
compromise myself if I didn't have to, and he knew the score.
     I  heard footsteps behind me  as  the praying  continued above, and saw
Hubba-Hubba's trainers coming  down  the ladder. He still had his gloves on,
and the cuffs of his  rolled-up  sleeves  were wet. He  came  and knelt down
beside me.
     "No  offence,  mate," I tapped  one of the radios  with  my right index
finger, "but you understand that I have to check everything."
     He nodded. He was a  professional; he understood  the mantra check  and
test, check and test.
     "You had better take a look at this, then. One of my best, I think."
     He carefully untwisted the cylinder and pulled it  apart at the centre.
The  inside  was  packed  with eight  pounds of  the  mustard-coloured  high
explosive, with just enough space in the centre for the pager and initiation
circuit, which were glued on to a rectangle  torn from a  cornflakes packet.
The pager was glued face down, so that with the back cover  removed, the two
AA  batteries and the rest of the  workings were exposed. He laid the opened
device back on the blanket.
     The sweet, almost sickly pick 'n' mix smell of the HE hit my nostrils.
     "Where did you make it?"
     Hubba-Hubba moved his head back to try to avoid the smell.
     "In a Formula One  motel, just off the autoroute. People only  stay for
the night and move on, so it was a good choice. It only took me two hours to
make, but the rest of the night to get the smell out of the room!"
     His smile didn't last long.
     "Nick  ... the source, Greaseball. I don't  like it,  why  are we using
such a man?  Afterwards maybe we should ' "Time to stop thinking about that,
mate. I  feel the same way but the sad fact is, he's worth  more alive  than
dead. Just think of the int he's given us so far. He's the one who's getting
us to the hawallada. And that's what we're here for, aren't we?"
     He looked down at  the  kit, his eyes scanning each item on the blanket
as he nodded in grudging agreement.
     "Listen arse holes like that? It's not worth  getting worked  up about.
I'm sure when he's no  longer any  use he'll be history. There'll be quite a
queue."
     Hubba-Hubba's brow creased.
     "Do you have children, Nick?"
     I dodged the question.
     "I understand, believe me. His day will come."  I  pointed at the pager
with a plastic-covered finger.
     "Come on, take me through this thing."
     He  explained  that the power to initiate the device would be generated
when the bleeper notified the owner they had a message,  hopefully from  us.
This pager either bleeps or vibrates, depending on the user's choice. I have
diverted the notification power by rewiring it, so that when it receives our
call the power is sent  to the detonator instead of making the thing beep or
vibrate."
     It didn't have to be a pager; anything that  generated enough power  to
initiate the detonator could have  been used.  Psions  or Palm Pilots do the
job, especially  if you know the exact date and time  you want the device to
initiate someone making a speech next month, say, or even next year. All you
have to do is set the alarm on the schedule programme for the  time and day,
place the device, leave it, and  when the notification sparks up, boooom, as
Lotfi would say.
     I could see the  two thin wires coming out of the end of the pager, one
disappearing into the PE where the det was buried. The other was glued along
the  top jaw of the wooden clothes peg, which was, in turn, glued  down next
to  the pager. I knew what it was  doing there but waited for Hubba-Hubba to
explain. It was his fireworks party.
     "Four kilos is  a lot of  high explosive,  Nick, but it is not going to
turn  the boat into a  Hollywood fireball unless you can locate it to ignite
the fuel, of course."
     He was right. It would all depend on where I could place the thing.
     The clothes peg, Nick, that's the circuit breaker, your  safety  catch.
To stop you going bang."
     I couldn't help but smile at his understatement as I checked the two AA
batteries. Between the nipple of the  top battery and  its connection in the
pager was a sliver of  clear plastic cut from the pager's packaging, in case
someone called a wrong number while I had this thing shoved up my jumper. It
would stay there until just  before I went  to  place the device. I wouldn't
want  to waste time opening the  cylinder and  messing  about  with  bits of
plastic when I got on the boat: I'd want to  just get on  board and get this
thing hidden and armed as quickly as possible.
     Hubba-Hubba picked up a  splinter of wood  and  used  it  to trace  the
circuit, following the det wire glued along  the top of the  peg then tucked
under the top jaw.
     "I wrapped the wires around the drawing pins and  soldered  them. It is
an excellent connection."
     The wire leading from the drawing pin in the lower jaw disappeared into
the PE.
     For the time being, these two pins  were separated by  another piece of
plastic,  to  which Hubba-Hubba had  fastened the  other end of  the fishing
line. He let me admire the circuit for a few more seconds.
     "It is good, yes?"
     I nodded.
     "Did you emery the pinheads?"
     He raised his hands in a gesture of disbelief.
     "But of course! As I said, it is an excellent connection. Before moving
to  the  boat, you take out  the  battery breaker  and close the device, OK?
After checking this safety catch is in place, of course."
     "Of course."
     "Then,  once you have placed  the  device, gently  pull  on the fishing
line. Once the pinheads make contact, the circuit will be complete and it is
time for you to leave the boat with quick feet!" Any one of us  three  could
shove our phone card into a call box, ring the pager number, then tap in ten
digits. Once contact  had been  made, we'd get "Message bien re cue which  I
supposed  was  the  French for "Bang'. And that would be that; the boat, the
people,  the money,  gone.  I  only hoped I'd be  the one  in the  phone box
outside the marina by the bus stop, watching the boat leave. I'd detonate as
soon as the Ninth of May  was safely in open water and,  with any luck, some
of the millions would be washed ashore at my feet.
     There was one question we didn't yet know the answer to: how far out to
sea would the pager initiate?
     Hubba-Hubba gave his handiwork one more check.
     "It is all yours now."
     I twisted the  cylinder  back  together as carefully as he'd undone it,
and left it on the blanket. Upstairs, Lotfi was still praying at warp speed.
Hubba-Hubba leant down to put the device back in line and I checked the rest
of the kit.
     "Still warding off that evil eye thing?" I nodded at the pendant, which
was swinging by his chin: the small, beaded hand with an unblinking blue eye
in its palm.
     "Of  course. I've had it  since I was  a baby. In Egypt, many  children
have charms  pinned to  their coats as protection. You see, Westerners think
nothing of saying about a  child, "Hasn't he grown?" or "Isn't he looking so
healthy?" But these things are taboo where we come from. That is because the
evil eye could  make the child sick.  That is why  we only give  compliments
related  to character, things you cannot easily  measure, and even then only
in a way that shows there is no malice or envy intended."
     "So the evil eye can't hear, right?"
     "Something  like that. For instance, someone might see me driving later
tonight and feel envious,  and if they had the evil eye they could cause  me
to crash, maybe even die. But  this," he tapped his chest, 'this has stopped
such things  happening to me  for over thirty years. You should  get one. In
this world,  they  are  more  practical,  perhaps, than that..."  He  looked
upwards as the sound of Lotfi's prayers drilled their way through the floor.
     I stood up.
     "On this job," I said, dusting myself down, "I reckon  we  can  use all
the help we can get."
     Lotfi was just dotting the Is and crossing the "Is with God as I got my
bag  and Hubba-Hubba went  to  the door to check the spy hole I heard a bolt
being drawn back as I pulled off my gloves and stuffed them into my bag.
     "Right, I'll see you later."
     Hubba-Hubba nodded "Au  revoir  before checking the spy hole once more.
He gave  me a thumbs-up, and I walked out into the darkness. I  heard a  dog
barking off a balcony somewhere.
     I retraced my earlier route, with the bag back over  my  left  shoulder
and my right free for the Browning. There were no street lamps, and the only
light came from the windows above me.  Behind them, adults and kids hollered
at each other, music blared, more dogs barked.
     I got to the  door of  the last block of flats, but  made no attempt to
stop  and look  out.  I didn't want  to draw  attention to myself.  I walked
straight  out, keeping my  head down and my eyes up as I hit the key fob and
the  Megane's  indicators  flickered.  I locked  myself  in  and  drove  off
immediately, as you would in this part of town.
     Two consecutive right turns got me back on  to the main road.  I wasn't
worried about anti-surveillance yet as they wouldn't be  following me around
here. They'd wait at the exits from the estate.
     Once  on  the main,  I  kept  my speed  normal and drove into  the city
centre, heading for the coast and the Promenade des Anglais. There was still
plenty to do. I needed to get something to  eat, get back to Greaseball and,
with luck, get the addresses, then go and see exactly where they were.
     I saw the  bright yellow lights of a Shell garage as I  approached  the
city centre, and drove on to the forecourt. Whenever there is an opportunity
to fill up, no matter how little  fuel is needed, it must be taken. Watching
the vehicles drive past,  I went through the routine of  filling  up  with a
plastic  glove on, to stop the horrible petrol smell  on my delicate skin. I
messed about with the petrol cap, making mental notes of passing cars, their
plates, make and colour, and number of passengers, hoping that I'd never see
them  again. French  number plates comprised a group of numbers, then two or
three  letters, then  another  group of numbers. The  easiest way to try  to
register  them was just to take note  of  the letters and  the last  set  of
numbers.
     As the  unleaded  flowed, I continued  moving my eyes  about to  see if
there were  any  cars parked up  with people in, looking, waiting  for me to
move  out of  the  forecourt. But it  was just  the normal  evening commuter
crowd, trying their hardest to get home to whatever French people did in the
evening which, as far as I knew, was just eat.
     Filling up with exactly fifty francs' worth,  and with  my hat and head
down  for  the security  cameras, I  paid cash and  didn't  have to wait for
change. Then, driving over to the air  and water section with a new batch of
gloves, I checked for any devices that might have been placed while I was at
the safe house.
     I hit the coast road towards Cannes, and was nearly blinded by oncoming
headlights and  flashing  neon  as I drove along  the Promenade des Anglais.
Near the airport, the first of the happy-hour hookers had started her shift,
complete with leopards  king bomber  jacket,  sparkly silver spray-on pants,
and the world's highest white platform boots. At least, I thought they  were
the world's highest until I saw  one of her colleagues, leaning  against the
wall in a long  black  coat and huge black vinyl platforms. She was chatting
away on  her mobile, maybe  taking  a booking  from  someone  in one  of the
business  hotels  that satellited  the  airport. A couple  of days  earlier,
Riviera  Radio  had  reported that  the  French girls had  complained to the
police about East Europeans taking all  their trade, when  they had no visas
and no right to be here. The police had  responded  by rounding everyone up,
and the commissioner  said  he  was embarrassed  as a Frenchman  to have  to
report that the East  European girls were  considerably better  looking than
their French  counterparts,  and that  was  probably the reason there'd been
complaints.
     Leaving the airport behind me, I hit more neon at Cap  3000 and carried
on along the coast towards Juan-les-Pins, deciding to pick up a pizza on the
way  to Cannes. The place was a  seasonal beach town,  living  off  its past
glory from the sixties and seventies, when Brigitte  Bardot and the jet  set
used to come down for a cappuccino and a pose of a weekend. It still had its
moments, but right now three-quarters of the shops were closed until  Easter
or whenever the season started again. Restaurants were being refurbished and
bars were getting repainted.
     Nineteen.
     I cruised around the sleepy town.  Strings of Christmas lights twinkled
across the streets, but there was nobody at home to enjoy  them-. A few bars
and cafes were still  serving a  small number of customers, but the majority
of  the hotels  looked  dead.  Several shops  had whitewashed windows,  like
bandages across next season's facelift.
     I drove  down a  tree-lined main, looking for a take  away  pizza place
that was  open, and did a double-take at the two men walking towards me. For
a moment I even wondered if  I was hallucinating, but there was no  doubting
who it was in the long leather coat, smoking and chatting as he went.
     I jerked my head down instinctively so  that the peak of  my cap hid my
face. I didn't know if Greaseball  had seen me,  and I didn't want to check.
There was no reason why he should  have: my headlights  should have  blinded
him temporarily anyway.
     I took the next right and threw the Megane up on to the kerb, then made
my  way quickly back to the main. I looked up to my left and they were still
in  sight, walking away from  me.  They  were the only  other people around;
cigarette smoke drifted behind them in a cloud. Greaseball's mate was taller
than him, maybe six foot, and  had a bush of dark curly hair, cut just above
the shoulder.  He was wearing a  dark, three-quarter-length coat  over  what
looked like  jeans.  I couldn't see  that much of him from behind, but would
have  bet good money on him being the man  I'd spotted in the Polaroids back
at  Greaseball's flat. They talked quietly  and  earnestly to each  other as
they moved up the road.
     They stopped and Greaseball  turned  towards  the kerb; I could see the
glow of his cigarette. He took one last drag as he nodded to his  companion,
then threw the stub into the gutter. The other man was definitely Curly from
the Polaroid. He took something from his coat pocket, checking around him as
he did  so.  It must have  been small, because I couldn't see  a thing. They
shook hands and quickly hugged before parting; whatever it was, it was being
posted.  Maybe  this  was  who  gave  Greaseball  his  fixes.  Curly  turned
immediately  left, down a side road, while Greaseball carried on another few
metres up the street, before disappearing into what looked like a restaurant
or bar. A sign hung on the wall outside, but it wasn't illuminated.
     I  crossed the street, to get a better  view of the place, and  checked
the road  Curly had  gone down. As I closed in, I could  see that  the  sign
showed a belly-dancer with a veil and low-cut bikini top. There was  no sign
of Curly,  and it  looked as though Greaseball was now being  entertained by
the "Fiancee of the Desert'.
     The outside of the building looked  as if someone had gone berserk with
a  truckload of plaster,  flinging  handfuls at  the wall  to  make  it look
ethnic.  Ornate grilles  covered  two small windows  each side of the  door,
through which I could just make out shadows bobbing about in the glow.
     I  went back  across the  street, head down,  checking  left and right.
There was no  traffic, just a mass of tightly parked cars.  I  tried to  see
what  was going on inside, but  couldn't make  out  much through the  small,
square window. I couldn't see Greaseball anywhere.
     Carrying on past the solid wood door, I peeped inside  the  next window
as  casually as  I could. I still couldn't  see  anything but low light  and
tablecloths.
     It looked as if a pizza would have to be binned for a few hours. I went
to  the top  of the  street, and stopped in a  doorway on the opposite side.
Three  scooters  screamed past  with  their engines  at bursting  point. The
riders looked about fourteen.
     The street lights and decorations cast  a haphazard pattern of shadows,
so it was  easy  to find a corner to  lurk in, in the doorway  of a lingerie
shop. It  was probably  the best place not to  arouse any  suspicion in this
country;  if  Greaseball could  get  away with  wearing a pashmina, I  could
probably wear this kit without anyone batting an eyelid.
     Diners finished their  meals.  Groups and couples kissed,  laughed  and
went their separate ways, but still no sign of Greaseball.
     After two hours I was  quite  an expert on basques and  suspenders. The
only people on the street  now were old  men and women taking their dogs out
for  a last  dump  before  bedtime.  Only  the  odd vehicle  came in  either
direction.
     A Lexus  glided up  the  road  from  my left  and stopped  outside  the
restaurant. The alloy wheels and body work were so highly polished you could
see the Christmas decorations in them. The driver stayed put with the engine
running as his passenger finished off a  telephone call. When he finally got
out,  I could see  he looked like a dark-skinned version  of George Michael,
with a goatee beard and flat, short hair.  As  he slid into  the restaurant,
the  car  moved further along the road and parked up. The driver, also dark,
had a shaved  head that gleamed as impressively  as the Lexus. I  could tell
that he was already bored with waiting.
     Fifteen minutes later,  the door opened and Greaseball emerged into the
glow of the Christmas lights. He turned towards me and I moved back into the
shadows. If he got  level with me,  I'd have to sit down, hide  my face  and
pretend to be  pissed. But it would  be difficult for him to see me over the
parked cars from the other side of the road.
     I  waited  for  him to  pass,  then  came  out on to the  pavement  and
followed. The Lexus was still  there,  waiting  for George  Michael  to stop
filling  his face. The driver  had  the interior light on, trying to read  a
paper;  this probably  wasn't his idea of  the perfect night out. Greaseball
turned left, heading for the taxi rank at the railway station.
     I watched as he got into the back of  one and moved out on to the main,
towards Cannes. I checked  traser: nine thirty-seven, not long to go  before
the meet. He  must be going home.  It was pointless  rushing back to  my car
since I was pretty much certain where he'd be at  eleven.  Besides, I didn't
want to scream around after him  and get stopped by the police for jumping a
red.
     I headed back in the direction of the Fiancee of the Desert.
     At ten forty-five, having  finally  grabbed something to eat,  I turned
the Megane up boulevard Carnot and made my way  past Greaseball's  apartment
block.
     I  took  a few  turns, methodically  checking out  the area  for people
sitting  in  cars  or  lurking  in  shadows  before  parking  outside  Eddie
Leclerc's.
     I  moved into  an alleyway behind the shop and  waited to see if anyone
was following me up the hill. I just stood as if I was having a piss between
two large skips full of cardboard boxes, and let ten minutes go by.
     I could still hear vehicles on  the main drag as I walked up the  hill,
but  at  this time  of night it was no longer a  constant drone.  Otherwise,
there was just the occasional burst of music from a TV, or a dog barking.
     There  were  lights  on in a  couple of the apartments on  Greaseball's
floor.  I checked  traser. I was a couple  of  minutes early, but it  didn't
really matter. I hit the bell with the cuff of  my sweatshirt over my thumb.
I heard crackling, and a rather breathless "Hello, hello?"
     I moved  my  face  nearer the  small grille  and said,  "It's me,  it's
eleven." There was  a buzz at the door. I pushed  it open with my foot, then
pressed the intercom again. The  door  buzzed  once more  and  the  intercom
crackled again. Tush the door," he said.
     I gave the handle a rattle, but didn't move.
     "Nothing's happening. Come down, I'll wait here."
     There was a moment's hesitation, then, "Oh, OK."
     I slipped into the hallway and closed the door  gently behind me,  then
moved to the side of the lift, by the door to the stairs, and drew  down the
Browning, making myself feel better by checking  chamber  before  packing it
back into my jeans.
     The lift rattled its way up the shaft. I eased open  the  door  to  the
stairs and hit the light  plunger with my elbow, just in case he had friends
waiting to move in behind me once I'd got up to the apartment.
     The stairwell was  empty. I closed the  door as the light went out  and
waited where I was for the lift to come back down. It stopped and Greaseball
walked out, expecting me to be at the front door. There  were no keys in his
hand. How did he plan to get back into his flat?
     I drew down in preparation, and whispered, I'm here."
     Greaseball spun round.  He could see the weapon down at my side and his
eyes flickered in alarm.
     I said, "Where are your keys?"
     He looked confused for a second, then smiled.
     "My door is  open. I rushed down  to meet  you." He  looked and sounded
genuine enough.
     Is anyone with you?"
     "No, non." He gestured.
     "You can see."
     "No. Is there anyone with you upstairs?"
     "I am alone."
     "OK, let's go." I ushered  him into the lift and, just as before, stood
behind him  in a cloud of aftershave and alcohol.  He  was dressed as he had
been earlier  in the day, except for the pashmina, and still had his leather
jacket on. He wiped his mouth nervously.
     "I have the I have  the  '  "Stop. Wait  until we get inside." The lift
stopped and I moved him out.
     "Off you go. You know what to do." He headed for Flat 49, with me three
paces behind, the weapon held alongside my thigh.
     Twenty.
     He hadn't lied: the door was still open. I touched  him gently with the
pistol on the side of his arm.
     "In you go, and leave this  as it is." He did  as he was told, and even
opened  the door  that led into the  bathroom and the bedroom, to  prove the
place was deserted.
     I stepped inside and it was immediately obvious that the magic cleaning
fairy hadn't paid any surprise visits since this morning. I turned the light
off above me with  the Browning's muzzle, then pushed down the  button  that
released the dead-bolt so I could close the door with my heel.  I raised the
Browning, ready to go into the room.
     The moment the door was shut, I reactivated the deadlock. I didn't want
anyone making entry with a key while I was clearing the apartment.
     He was standing by the table.
     "I have  the addresses  ..." He had to force  his hand into his  jeans,
which were straining to hold in his gut.
     "Turn the light out."
     He looked confused for  a second,  then  understood. He reached for his
Camels before moving to the  switch; then  we were plunged into darkness.  A
street light  across  the  road  glowed against  the old  man's garden wall.
Greaseball was nervous the lighter wouldn't keep still as he tried to direct
the  flame towards  the  tip  of  his cigarette. The shadows  that flickered
across his face made  him look even more like  something out  of  the Hammer
House of Horror than he normally did.
     I didn't  want the  darkness  for dramatic  effect. I just  didn't want
anyone to see a silhouette waving a pistol about through the net curtains.
     "Now close the shutters on these balcony windows."
     I followed the red glow in his mouth  as he pulled  down on  the canvas
strap that controlled the wooden roller shutters, and began to lower them.
     "I really do have ' Wait, wait."
     Once the shutters were down I watched the glow of ash move back towards
the  settee, and listened to him wheezing as he tried to breathe through his
nose with a mouth full  of cigarette. He knocked into the table and I waited
for the sound of him sitting down.
     "You can turn the light back on now."
     He got up and walked past me to hit the switch.
     I started  to clear  the  flat, with him  in  front of me as before.  I
glanced at the  wall  unit for another look at  Curly. The Polaroids weren't
there.  A dog barked its head off on  the balcony above us as we entered the
bedroom. It looked as if he had decided against tennis, after all. The bags,
along  with the syringes,  had gone  from under the bed. The flat was clear:
there was no one here but us.
     As I  moved towards the living room, I pushed the Browning back into my
jeans and stood by the door. He  collapsed back  on to the settee,  flicking
his ash at an already full plate.
     "You have the addresses?"
     He nodded,  pushing  himself to the edge of his seat and reaching  over
the coffee table for his pen.
     "The boat, it will be at Pier Nine, berth forty-seven.  I'll  write  it
all down for you. I was right. There  are three collections, starting Friday
in Monaco ' I lifted my hand.
     "Stop. You've  got the addresses  in your pocket?" "Yes, but but... the
ink's bad. I'll write them again for you."
     "No. Just show me  what  you've got in your pocket." His excuse sounded
too apologetic to be true.
     He managed to squeeze his hand back into his  jeans, and produced an A5
sheet of lined paper that had been torn  from a notebook and folded three or
four times.
     "Here." He leant towards me with the sheet in his  hand, but I  pointed
at the table.
     "Just open it up so I can read it."
     He laid it  down on  top of yesterday's Nice Matin, and turned it round
towards me. It wasn't his writing,  unless  he'd been  to neat lessons since
this morning. This was very even and upright,  the sort  that schoolgirls in
my comprehensive  used to practise for hours in their exercise books. And it
belonged  to a Brit  or an American. The first address contained the  number
617; the one didn't look like a seven, and the seven didn't  have  a  stroke
through it.
     Monaco was marked "Fri'. Nice marked "Sat'. Here in Cannes was labelled
"Sun'. "Who gave you these?"
     He shrugged,  visibly annoyed with himself, and probably shaken because
he knew he'd fucked up when he flapped at the beginning and got too eager to
give me the addresses so I would go away.
     "No one, it's my ' This isn't your handwriting. Who gave it to you?"
     "I cannot... I would  be ' "All right, all right, I don't want to know.
Who cares?" I  did,  really, but there were more  important  things to worry
about right now and, besides, I thought I already knew.
     "Do you know the names of the collectors or the hawallada?"
     He  shook  his  head  and  sounded breathless, probably  because of the
amount of nicotine he was  inhaling. He  couldn't have been more than  forty
years old, but he'd be dead of lung cancer long before sixty.
     "What about the collection times?"
     "This is all I was able to find out."
     "How do I know these are correct?"
     "I can guarantee it. This is  very  good  information." I went over  to
crazy-threat mode.
     "It had better be, or you know what I will do to you, don't you?"
     He leant back in the settee and  studied  my face. He  wasn't  flapping
now, which surprised me. He smiled.
     "But that's not  really going to happen, is  it? I know things.  How do
you think I've survived so long?"
     He  was absolutely  right. There wasn't a thing  I  could  do about it.
These  people  can  screw  you  about as much as they want. If  they provide
high-quality  intelligence,  nothing  can  happen to them unless people like
George want it to. But what sources often fail to understand is that they're
only  useful while they can provide  information. After that, nobody  cares.
Apart from Hubba-Hubba and Lotfi;  I was sure they  would continue to care a
great deal.
     He studied me for  a long  time and took another drag of his cigarette.
The smoke leaked from his nostrils and mouth as he spoke.
     "Do you know what slim is?"
     I nodded. I'd heard the word in Africa.
     That's me slim. HIV  positive. Not  full-blown Aids  yet. I pump myself
with antiretrovirals, trying to keep the inevitable  from happening,  but it
will come, unless.... Well,  what do I care what you do to me? But I used to
wonder about Zeralda. I used to  wonder if he had slim ..." He was trying to
hide a smile but couldn't stop the corners of his mouth from turning up.
     "Who knows? Maybe he did, maybe  he didn't.  Maybe  he  did, but didn't
know it. Slim has a way of doing that. It just creeps up on you." He flicked
some ash angrily on to the plate.
     "Maybe you should have a check-up yourself. There  was a lot  of blood,
wasn't there?"
     Taking more nicotine into his lungs, he sat back and  crossed his legs.
He was enjoying this.
     I  didn't let him know that  I wasn't that fussed by Zeralda's splashed
blood. I knew that I had about the same risk of contracting the disease from
it as being struck by lightning on the same day I won the lottery.
     I stared back at him.
     "If you  don't care about dying, why were you so scared in Algeria? And
why were you scared earlier?"
     He started to smoke like Oscar Wilde on a bad day.
     "When I go, my friend, I plan to go how do you people say? with a bang.
Let me tell you something, my friend."  He leant forward and stubbed out his
second butt end.
     "I know there is no hope for me. But I do plan to end my life the way I
wish to, and that certainly isn't going to be at  a time of your choosing. I
still want to  have a lot more living before slim really gets me then bang!"
He clapped his hands together.
     "One pill and I'm gone. I don't want to lose  my figure as  you can see
I'm still the prettiest boy on the beach."
     I  picked  up  the  newspaper and folded it around the  notebook  page,
making sure it was nice and secure, then rolled it up, as if I was on my way
to the building site.
     "If you're lying  about  these addresses, I'll  get the  green light to
hurt you bad, believe me."
     He shook his head, and extracted another cigarette.
     "Never.  I'm too  valuable to your  bosses. But you, you worry  me, you
have been out of your kennel  too long." He jabbed a nicotine-stained finger
at me.
     "You would do it of your own accord. I felt that in Algeria." There was
the single click of his lighter and I heard the tobacco fizz.
     "I know you don't like  me, and I suppose  I  can understand  that. But
some  of us have  different desires and  different pleasures, and  we cannot
deny ourselves our pleasures, can we?"
     I ignored  the  question. I opened the door and he  got  to his feet. I
left with the newspaper in my hand, wanting to get out of there quickly so I
could resist the overwhelming urge to splatter him against the wall.
     Twenty-One.
     I dumped  the  newspaper, still with the piece of  paper inside, in the
foot  well of the passenger seat,  and  took  one  of the  pairs of  service
station clear  plastic gloves from the  glove compartment  and  put them on.
Then, bending down into the foot  well I  fished  out the piece of paper and
read the addresses, holding it by just one edge.
     The first  was Office  617 in  the  Palais  de la  Scala,  at  place du
Beaumarchais, Monaco. I remembered the building from my recce. It  was  just
to  the side of the casino and the banking area, not that that  meant  much:
the whole of Monaco was a banking area. The de  la Scala was Monaco's answer
to  the  shopping  mall, with real  marble pillars  and  bottles  of vintage
champagne that cost  the same as a small hatchback. It  was also next to the
Hotel Hermitage, the haunt of rock stars and fat-cat industrialists.
     The Nice address was on Boulevard Jean XIII, which a quick check of the
road atlas told me was in an area  called La  Roque,  near the freight depot
that I had passed to get to the safe house and with  a railway station, Gare
Riquier, no more than  seven hundred  metres away. The last one, I knew very
well.  It was  along  the  Croisette  in  Cannes,  just  by the  PMU betting
shop-cum-cafe-cum-wine bar,  facing the sea and cheek by jowl withChanel and
Gucci.  Women  in  minks sat there with old Italian men whose hands wandered
under  the  fur  like ferrets as they bet  on  horses,  drank champagne, and
generally had fun until it was time to be escorted back to their hotels. The
only difference between the women in minks and the ones who  worked the road
near the airport was the price tag.
     I was tempted,  but it was far too late to go into Monaco to do a recce
of the  Palais de la Scala. For a start,  the mall would be closed, but that
wasn't the  main reason. Monaco has  the  highest  per capita income in  the
world, with security to match. There's a policeman for every sixty citizens,
and street crime and burglary simply don't  exist. If  I went into Monaco at
this time of night for a drive-past of the target area, I'd be picked up and
recorded  by CCTV, and  could very well be physically  picked up  at a  road
block. Drive in and out  of  Monaco three times  in a day and there's a high
possibility  you'll  be stopped by  the police and  asked  why. It  was  all
designed  to  make  the  inhabitants  feel  cocooned and protected, and that
didn't just mean  the racing drivers and tennis  stars who  lived  there  to
avoid tax. The population also included others who had made their money from
the big three: deception, corruption, and assassination.
     I  decided to leave the recce for the morning,  and take a  look at the
Nice  address on  the way  to BSM  where I planned to spend the rest of  the
night. That  meant  parking up  overnight somewhere, and joining the morning
traffic queues into the principality, but it carried far less risk. I folded
the piece of paper and placed it inside another glove, then hid it under the
seat, pushing it right up into the upholstery.
     I hit the coast road. It was much less busy now; just the odd Harley or
two thundering along as their riders took advantage of the deserted tarmac.
     As I approached Nice,  the whole coastline seemed to be bathed in neon.
It reminded me of the United States, a never-ending stream  of shocking pink
and electric blue.
     There was heavier traffic  in both directions along  the  Promenade des
Anglais, and the whores were doing good business with kerb crawlers near the
airport. Quite a few bars were still open for diehards.
     I  turned inland on the same road as I'd used to go to the  safe house,
and headed  for La Roque, on the east edge of town. It turned out to be just
a big  sprawl of  apartment blocks,  much like those around the safe  house,
only cleaner and  safer. There were no scorch  marks above the  windows,  no
bricked-up buildings, no burnt-out cars. There were even supermarkets, and a
street market, by the look of the boxes of damaged fruit and vegetables that
were piled up in the  main street.  A rubbish truck lumbered along, bedecked
with  yellow  flashing  lights, and collectors in fluorescent  jackets moved
among the dossers rooting through the debris.
     I pulled  over  to check  the map. Boulevard Jean  XIII  was the second
option right, so  I overtook the rubbish truck and turned right.  Cheap shoe
shops, thrift shops and grocery stores were both sides of me. Maybe this was
where Lotfi  and Hubba-Hubba had bought their outfits. A few take away pizza
joints were still open, flanked by lines of  mopeds  with boxes on the back,
ready to zip off to  an apartment block with a large  quatre  frontages  and
some special deal chicken dippers.
     The building  turned  out to be not a house  but  a  shop front covered
completely by a large pull-down shutter plastered in graffiti. Huge padlocks
anchored it to the pavement.
     I hung the next right at the junction, just two shop fronts along, then
right again, taking a  quick look at  the back of the shop.  I  found rough,
broken tarmac and  crushed Coke cans, and hundreds of signs that I  presumed
said, "Fuck  off, don't park here, shop owners  only." Big skips  lined  the
long wall that ran along the rear of the parade of shops.
     I drove along the back of the parade. There was no need to park, and it
wouldn't  be  wise  to spend too long hanging around  commercial premises at
this  time of night. It might attract attention,  or even a couple of police
cars.  At  least I knew where it was; I'd do the recce the night before  the
lift.  Turning right again after about a  hundred  metres, I was back on the
boulevard; I turned left, back the way I had come, towards the  sea and BSM.
Nice  harbour was  a forest of  lights  and  masts.  As I drove  round it, I
noticed an Indian restaurant, the first I'd seen in France. I wondered if it
was  full of ex  pats throwing  down  pints  of  Stella  and prawn  cocktail
starters while the cook added a little squirt of Algipan to the vindaloo, to
give it that extra zing.
     I reached  the marina at  BSM at  just after one thirty, and drove into
the car park between the harbour  and the beach. The world of boats was fast
asleep, apart  from  a  couple of lights that  shone out of  cabins  rocking
gently from side to side in the light breeze. Dull  lighting came from tall,
street-style poles  following the edge of the marina. These ones  were a bit
fancier, branching out at the top into two lights per pole, though  a few of
the  bulbs  were on their last  legs and flickering.  Luckily for me, they'd
been designed not to give out too much light, or no one would have been able
to get to sleep.
     My only company in the  car park was two cars and a  motorcycle chained
to the  two-foot-high steel tubing  set  into  the  ground to stop  vehicles
parking in the flower bed.
     With the engine off, I opened my window and listened. Silence, save for
the soft chink of the rigging. I felt under the seat for the piece of  paper
and put  it into my bum-bag. I got out, making the Browning comfortable as I
headed  towards the  admin  end of the parade. Quickly climbing the concrete
steps, I got to  "I fuck girls', jumped  up on to the OP, and settled myself
in for the remainder of  the night, having first buried the addresses in the
earth at the base of the palm tree. I needed to be detached from it, in case
I'd been  seen by some well-meaning member of the public  and got  lifted by
the local police for dos sing in a public place.
     It was  going to be a pain in  the  arse staying  up  here for the next
seven hours,  but  it had to  be done. The car was  a natural draw point  if
people had  surveillance on me, so I didn't want  to sleep in it. Also, from
here I could see anyone trying to tamper with it.
     I brushed  some of the stones from  under me as I leant forward against
the palm, and  alternately watched  the car and studied the  layout  of  the
marina.
     The addresses were in my head by now; I didn't need the information any
more. That bit of paper was for George. The handwriting, the fingerprints on
it, even the paper itself could be useful to him, either now or later. After
all, this was going to be a long war.
     It started to get quite nippy at about four o'clock. I  dozed off for a
few minutes now and again, having pulled the baseball cap down as far as  it
would go, and curled my arms around myself, trying to retain some warmth.
     Twenty-Two.
     THURSDAY, 22 NOVEMBER, 07:27 hrs
     My eyes  stung more and more  and my  face  got colder, which  kept  me
checking my watch. It  was still dark. I retrieved the  addresses from their
hiding  place and  moved  along the hedge  before jumping  over, then walked
along the road to the entrance, down  to  the roundabout, and past the shops
and cafes. Everything was still closed; the odd light could  be  seen behind
the blinds of  a couple of the smaller boats as they got  the kettle  on for
the first brew of the day.
     I got my washing kit from the car; there was a freshwater shower by the
beach on the other side of the car park. I washed my hair and  gave myself a
quick once over with the toothbrush. I'd spent a  third of my adult life out
in the field,  sleeping  rough, but today I couldn't  afford to look  like a
dosser. I  wouldn't last five minutes in Monaco if I  did. Also,  I couldn't
walk  around in  swim  wear  or go bare-chested anywhere but  the beach.  No
camper vans, either.
     A comb through my hair and  a brush-down of my jeans and I was ready. I
went back to the Megane and hit  the  road, with the heater going full blast
to dry my hair. Monaco was twenty-ish minutes away if the traffic was good.
     I  hit  Riviera  Radio  just  in time for the eight  o'clock  news. The
Taliban were fleeing the bombing campaign,  Brent crude was down two dollars
a barrel, and the day  was  going to be sunny and warm. And now for a golden
oldie  from the Doobie Brothers... I disappeared  into a couple of  mountain
runnels, the bare rock just a few  feet away from me, and as I emerged  into
the gathering daylight I put my hat back on and made sure the peak  was down
low for  the  trip into  the  principality.  The  first  people I  saw  were
policemen  in white  peaked caps  and long blue coats  down to  their knees,
looking like they'd come straight from the set of Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.
     The road was quite congested, with a hotchpotch of  number plates There
was  a  lot  of  French  and  Italian traffic,  but  just  as much  from the
principality, with red and white diamond cheque red shields on their plates.
     As  I reached the small roundabout just a few hundred metres beyond the
end of the tunnel, I had to run a gauntlet of motorcycle police parked up on
either  side of  the road. Three of  them, in knee-length leather boots  and
dark blue riding  trousers, were  checking  cars both  in  and  out  of  the
principality, scrutinizing tax and  insurance details  on the windscreens as
their radios gob bed off on the BMWs beside them.
     The road wound downhill towards  the harbour, past  three or  four CCTV
cameras. They  were everywhere, the rectangular  alloy boxes swivelling like
robotic curtain twitchers.
     Sunlight was starting to  bounce off the clear  water in  the  harbour,
making the boats  shimmer  as I  got down to sea level. Some yachts were the
size  of P&O cruisers, with helicopters and Range Rovers parked  on the deck
so that the owners didn't have to worry about phoning Hertz when they parked
up.
     High  on  the other side of the harbour was Monte  Carlo, where all the
casinos, grand  hotels and fat cats' condos were clustered. That was where I
was heading. I followed the road as  it skirted the port, and couldn't  help
imagining  myself  as one  of those Formula One drivers who raced along this
stretch  of tarmac each year, made millions, then came and lived hereto make
sure none of it leaked back into  the tax  system. Good work if you can  get
it.
     Monaco hadn't struck me as a particularly attractive place. It was full
of boring, nondescript  apartment blocks smothering the grand buildings that
had gone up in the days before people  wanted to cram  into the principality
and save some cash. The banks  held twenty-five billion  dollars on deposit,
which wasn't bad for a population of thirty thousand people. The whole place
could fit into  New York's Central Park and still have some grass to  spare.
Money even washed over into the streets, where public escalators took you up
and down the steep cliffs that started less  than a hundred metres from  the
water's edge. There was no shortage  of  rich people wanting to live  there,
and the only way to accommodate them had  been  upwards. On the  recce a few
days ago, I'd walked past a primary school housed on  the  first floor of an
apartment complex.  Its terrace had  been extended,  and  covered over  with
green felt flooring to create a playing-field.
     There were just as many little whippety dogs in waistcoats, and poodles
with baseball caps here,  but there was no need for the Cannes Shuffle. Even
the pavements were part of the fairy tale.
     The  harbour fell away as  I  drove up  the hill  towards  the  casino.
Opposite me, on the far side of it, was the  palace where the Prince and all
his gang lived. Flags fluttered from every  tower and  turret. The architect
must have been Walt Disney.
     I  hit the  perfectly manicured  lawns of  the  casino. Even  the giant
rubber  plants  around  it were protected, cocooned  in  some  kind  of  wax
covering in case of a freak frost. A fairy-tale policeman directed me out of
the path of a Ferrari that was being reversed out of the valet park, so some
high-roller could drive  the quarter-mile  or  so  back to  his yacht  after
gambling the night away.
     I  turned left, past the Christian Dior and Van  Cleef jewellery  shops
and more protected rubber plants. Across a junction in front of me was Place
du Beaumarchais, a large grassed square with walkways and trees. To my right
was the Palais de la  Scala, an impressive  six-storey pile built in the old
French style, with pristine cream paintwork and shuttered windows.
     I followed the edge of the square, and turned right into an underground
car park just before the de la Scala entrance, squeezing in next to a sleek,
shiny Acura  sports car with  New  Jersey plates.  How it  had  got there, I
didn't have a clue; maybe it had been driven off one of the yachts.
     Back up at  street level I walked across to the shopping mall. The  sun
was just reaching over the tops of the buildings, and I put on my sunglasses
to complement the hat for the short walk under the security cameras.
     I pushed  my way  through the door of the mall with my shoulder, and my
nostrils were immediately assaulted by the smell of money and polish. I took
off my  glasses. Small  concession  shops lined  both  sides of  the  marble
corridor, selling champagne and caviar. First stop on the left was the glass
entrance to the main post office, its interior as grand  as  a private bank.
The  corridor  went  on  for  about  forty  metres,  then  turned  left  and
disappeared. Just before the corner there was a cluster of tables and chairs
outside a cafe. Large decaffs and  the Wall Street Journal seemed to be  the
order  of  the day. Power-dressed people  moved  among them with a click  of
their heels.
     Half-way down on the right was a Roman-style marble pillar and  door. A
sign announced it  was the reception  area for the  offices that made up the
five floors above.
     I walked towards the  cafe, glancing  at a  large Perspex  display that
gave details of  who owned or rented  the office space upstairs. One  glance
told me they all started with Monaco  the Monaco Financial Services Company,
Monaco this, Monaco that. They were all spaced  out, showing who was on what
floor, but I was walking too fast and my mind was working too slowly to spot
who occupied 617.
     I carried on past the  blur of brass plates. Double  glass doors opened
into the reception area. An immaculately dressed  dark-haired woman operated
the desk. A wall172 mounted camera swivelled behind her  as she spoke on the
telephone.
     I took a  seat at  a vacant table at the cafe, looking back towards the
reception area. A  waiter immediately materialized and I ordered a creme. He
wasn't too impressed with my attempt at French.
     "Large or small?"
     "Large one, and two croissants, please."
     He looked at me  as if  I'd ordered enough  to explode, and disappeared
back into the cafe.
     I looked  over to  my right to see  what was round  the corner.  A very
smart-looking cobbler's shop sold shiny belts and other leather goods, and a
dry-cleaner's had a row of ball gowns on display. Opposite the cleaner's was
a china plate shop. This part of  the corridor was only about fifteen metres
long, and ended with another glass door. I could see sunlight reflecting off
a car windscreen outside.
     My  order  arrived  as well-dressed people at other tables finished off
their coffee and sticky buns before  work. The loudest  voice I  could hear,
however, was English home counties. A  woman in her early  forties with  big
hair was talking to an older companion. They wore enough makeup between them
to fill a bomb crater.
     "Oh, darling,  it's  just too  awful  ... I  can't  get salopettes long
enough for my legs in London. The only place seems to be Sweden, these days.
I mean, how ridiculous is that?"
     Others talked quietly,  almost covertly, into their  mobile  phones, in
French, Italian, English,  American. All the English speakers used  the same
words  during their conversations:  'deal', 'close'  and 'contract'. And  no
matter which nationality was talking, they all ended with "Ciao, ciao'.
     Twenty-Three.
     I finished my milky coffee as two  suits stopped at the plastic-covered
board and checked it out before pressing a buzzer. One bent his head towards
the intercom, then they both disappeared through  the  doors immediately  to
the left inside the reception area.
     I'd seen nearly everything in here I needed to. I picked up the napkin,
cleaned my hands and wiped the cup, even though I'd only touched the handle.
Leaving an  outrageous sixty-six francs and a  tip, I went out the  way  I'd
come in.
     This time, my eyes hit the sixth-floor sign and  ran along the  row  of
small  plates:  617   was  apparently  the   home  of  the  Monaco  Training
Consultancy, whoever they were. I walked on and exited the building.
     The sun  shone bright  above the square now,  so I put  on my gigs  and
pulled  my  peak  down.  Cars,  motorbikes  and scooters were  crammed  like
sardines  into  any available space around the  square. Gardeners pruned the
bushes  and  a couple of guys  in Kevlar  gear were  just about  to  take  a
chainsaw  to some branches of the large  leafless trees.  Sprinklers lightly
sprayed the grass as women dressed  in furs floated past, their dogs wearing
matching  fashion accessories.  I took  a right at Prada and went  round the
back  of the building as the  chainsaw sparked up behind me. I wanted to see
where the exit by the dry-cleaner's emerged.
     The narrow road this side of the building  was about sixty metres long,
with a few  small  shops developing pictures or selling  little paintings. I
turned right again, along  the back of de  la Scala, and found myself in the
building's  admin  area. Some shutters were up, some  were down; behind them
were  private  parking spaces and storage areas  for the shops. Most of  the
space was taken up by the loading bay for the post office. It was very clean
and orderly, and the postal  workers wore smart, well-pressed  blue uniforms
and white socks. I felt as though I'd wandered into Legoland.
     The  dry-cleaner's  entrance was just  past the loading bay. I  glanced
through the glass doors and could see all the way to the cafe, and the point
where the corridor turned right towards the reception.
     Beyond the dry-cleaner's, on the other corner of the Palais de la Scala
and  about  twenty feet above the  ground,  was  a camera. At the moment  it
wasn't angled in  this  direction because  it was  too busy  monitoring  the
junction below it. I hoped that wasn't going to change. I walked back to the
Megane the way I'd come.
     I squeezed  away from  the Acura and went and had a look at the railway
station before heading for Nice and Cap 3000. It was time to prepare for the
brush contact with my new mate Thackery that  I'd  arranged yesterday  in my
email to George.
     I drove into the  retail park  at  just after ten thirty. I  put on  my
disposable gloves, retrieved the addresses from under my  seat, then  pulled
the paper from  its own protective wrapping. I  ran through the addresses in
my  mind before unfolding it, testing myself; this was the  last time  I was
going to see them. Then  I folded it once more, and rolled it tightly enough
to be able to squeeze it back into the  thumb  of the glove,  ripped off the
excess  polythene  and  shoved it into the pocket of my jeans. I got out and
locked my door as an airliner touched down on the runway a couple of hundred
metres away. For a moment it had  looked as though it was going  to land  on
the beach.
     Most of the complex was dominated by the Lafayette retail company, with
its huge department store and gourmet supermarket, and the spaces  around it
were  filled with  shops  selling everything from smelly  candles to  mobile
phones.
     As  I walked  through the automatic glass doors, a loudspeaker above me
knocked out some bland Muzak. There weren't many Santas about, but plenty of
twinkling  lights  and  Christmas novelty stalls. One sold a whole range  of
multicoloured velvet  head wear  from top  hats to jesters' caps with bells.
Escalators carried hordes of shoppers  with gigantic plastic bags bulging at
the seams between the two levels. This was the only place that I'd used more
than once. It was large, busy, and I  considered it a reasonable risk. I had
to get  online, and a cafe was too intimate. So long  as I never used a card
or an ATM, this place should be OK.
     Four shiny new Jaguars from the local  dealership were parked up in the
atrium, windscreens groaning with promotional material. To the left of  them
was the entrance to Galeries Lafayette, the two-storey department store.
     The  rather  bored-looking Jaguar salesman sat  behind  the cars,  at a
white plastic garden furniture set, complete with parasol. He was surrounded
by piles of shiny catalogues, but had his nose stuck firmly in  Nice  Matin.
Perhaps he realized that November isn't  the time to buy cars; it's the time
to buy socks and slippers and Christmas stuff for your mum.
     First things first.  I went to  the sandwich shop and got myself a Brie
baguette  and a  very  large hot  coffee,  and  took  both  with  me  to  Le
Cyberpoint.  This wasn't a shop, but a  collection of telephone-cum-Internet
stations, each with a conventional telephone, linked  to a small touchscreen
and metal keyboard, with a big steel ball for the mouse. There were eight of
them, mostly being used by kids  whose  parents had dropped them  off with a
phone card to  shut them up for an hour or so while they did the shopping. I
put my coffee on top of the machine, to relieve my burning fingers and allow
me to shove some crusty baguette down  my neck before pushing the phone card
into  the slot and  logging on. Muzak  played in  the background, too low to
hear and too loud to ignore, as Hotmail hit me with enough adverts in French
and  English to fill a whole  night's  TV  viewing. There  was  nothing from
George. He'd be waiting  for the addresses that I'd give to Thackery  at one
o'clock, and had nothing new to tell me.
     I closed down, and  pulled  out my phone card which still had sixty-two
francs left on it.  As I picked up my coffee, I  spilt some down the machine
and jerked back to avoid  any dripping on me. Visibly annoyed with myself, I
gave the screen, keys and mouse a good wipe down with the napkin that they'd
wrapped  round the  baguette, until I'd left no fingerprints. With a fistful
of soggy paper and  a  suitably apologetic  look  on  my  face,  I  left  Le
Cyberpoint and headed  back to the car, stopping on the way to buy a roll of
35mm film and a red and yellow jester's hat with bells on.
     There was  only an hour  before  the  brush  contact,  so I turned  the
Megane's ignition key  and hit Riviera Radio,  then slipped on the polythene
gloves. I tipped  the film out of its plastic canister, and replaced it with
the rolled-up addresses.
     Marvin Gaye was interrupted by an American voice.
     "We now  go to the BBC  World Service for  the top-of-the-hour news." I
checked traser on  the last  of the  bleeps, and it was dead  on. A suitably
sombre female  brought me up  to  speed  on  the bombing  of Kabul,  and the
progress of the Northern Alliance. I turned it off, hoping that Thackery had
been well trained and was doing exactly the same.
     At thirty-two minutes past the hour I checked the canister in my jeans,
the  Browning, my baseball cap  and  bum-bag, and headed once more  into Cap
3000.  It was a lot busier now. The gourmet food  hall was doing  a  roaring
trade, and  it looked as  though the Jaguar rep had led the  charge.  He was
still at  the garden  table, but sitting  back with  a glass of red wine and
afilled baguette the size of  a small torpedo. I headed left and through the
ground-floor perfume department of Galeries Lafayette. Menswear was directly
above me, up an escalator, but going this way gave me time  to check my arse
and make sure no one else was wanting to join us.
     I went into the book  department to the right of  the smelly  counters,
and started  to  check  out the English-language guides  to  the  area,  not
picking them up but tilting my head to scan the spines.
     When I'd satisfied myself that no  one  was taking more interest in  me
than was healthy, I walked deeper into  the store,  took the escalator up to
the  first floor, and worked my  way back to  the  men's section.  I hit the
bargain rails  of cargo trousers and took a  pair, plus  some jeans. Then  I
minced along  the coat  rail  and chose one in  dark  blue padded cotton. It
would stop me freezing to death at the OP, and not make the noise that nylon
would every time I shifted position.
     I moved  from table to table,  comparing prices,  before picking up two
sweatshirts.  As far as I  knew, you couldn't  leave fingerprints on fabric.
The only thing I was doing differently from any other browser  was snatching
a look at traser whenever I could. I had to be on my start line at precisely
twelve minutes  past. The  contact wasn't exactly at one o'clock, but twelve
minutes after. Surveillance teams are aware that humans tend to do things at
the half, quarter, or on the hour.
     At the same time, I was also keeping a running total of my expenditure.
I wanted to make sure I had enough cash on me to cover the cost of this kit.
I didn't want any scenes at the checkout that people might remember later.
     At eight minutes past one  I headed over to the maze of shelving in the
underwear  department. Calvin was doing a  nice line in flannelette  pyjamas
and long Johns this season,  but  they weren't really my style. I moved  on,
glancing at the four or five other people in  my immediate vicinity. None of
them was wearing blue. I picked up four pairs of socks after sifting through
the choices and checked traser. Three minutes to go.
     Still no  glimpse of blue.  I draped my purchases over my left arm as I
agonized over a shelf full  of T-shirts and  fished  the canister  out of my
jeans. A  man brushed past me from  behind, and gave me a big "Pardon'. That
was  OK: it gave me extra cover to check traser. Two minutes  to go. Michael
Jackson's Thriller' was interrupted by somebody gob bing off over the Tannoy
about the bargain of the day.
     I was walking back  towards my start line when I spotted a  blue chunky
turtleneck  jumper  ahead  of me, no more than ten metres away.  It  was two
sizes bigger  than it needed to be, and making its way towards the other end
of the socks and underwear aisle, the other start line. This wasn't the sort
of Thackery I'd imagined: this one  looked straight out of a garage band. He
was in his late twenties, with peroxide blond hair, gelled up and messy. He,
too, had a bag in his left hand. He was hitting the start line; it had to be
him. One minute to go. I toyed with a selection of boxers on the edge of the
underwear department, but my mind was focused on what was about to happen.
     Twenty seconds to go.  Adjusting the clothes  on my arm,  I transferred
the  canister into  my  right  hand as  I  started to  walk down the  aisle.
Thackery was  now about six metres away. Between us,  an old man was stooped
over a pile of thermals.
     There was another announcement over the  Tannoy, but I hardly heard it.
I was concentrating completely  on what needed to happen during the next few
seconds.
     Thackery's eyes  were  green, and  they  were  looking into  mine.  The
contact was on. He was happy with the situation; so was I. I headed straight
along the  aisle, aiming  for the suits, but my  eyes were on  his hand. Two
metres  to  go. I  stepped  around the old man, and  relaxed my grip  on the
canister.
     I felt Thackery's hand  brush against  mine, and the canister was gone.
He carried on walking. He'd done this before.
     I decided against the  suits, but  had a  quick  look at  the overcoats
before heading to the cash desk on the  far side of the floor. I didn't know
what Thackery was doing, and didn't care. My  only job now was to pay up and
get out, and that was exactly what I did.
     Twenty-Four.
     A wrecked  car was burning  nicely in the square, dangerously close  to
one  of  the  apartment  blocks. Flames  were  licking  at  the  first-floor
balconies, but nobody seemed to care. An old mattress had been chucked on to
the roof,  its  burning  foam adding to the column  of  thick black smoke. I
tossed  the bin liner containing all my crap on to the fire; it was too good
an opportunity to miss and I stood  against a wall and  watched  it  turn to
ash. Kids ran round the car like Indians around a wagon train. They threw on
wooden pallets and anything combustible they could find, while their parents
shouted at them from the windows above.
     As I approached the house, Hubba-Hubba's bin liner was exactly where it
should have been,  and the matches were under the door. Lotfi looked up from
the  settee by the  coffee table  as I entered the living  room.  Wearing  a
matching  green shower cap and gloves, he muttered, "Bonjour,  Nick," with a
very straight face,  daring me  to comment  on his  new  hat.  I just nodded
extremely seriously as Hubba-Hubba threw the bolts behind me.
     As I bent down to get my own gloves out of my bag, I saw  Hubba-Hubba's
trainers  stop a few feet behind me.  He  gave me a cheery  "Bonjour', but I
didn't look up until I'd slipped onmy new multicoloured velvet jester's hat,
then given a shake of the head for the full benefit of the bells. I tried to
control  my laughter,  but  failed as Hubba-Hubba moved  into  view.  He was
wearing  a  pair  of  joke  glasses  with eyeballs  bouncing up and down  on
springs. Lotfi looked at us with a pained expression, like a father with two
naughty children.
     We all took  our places  around  the  coffee  table. Lotfi  got out his
beads, ready to start threading them through his fingers as he thought about
his next conversation  with God. Hubba-Hubba took off his glasses  and wiped
the tears from his eyes before playing mother with the coffee. I kept my hat
on, but what I had to say was serious.
     "I've  got the location of the  boat in BSM from  Greaseball. I've also
got  the  three addresses  from him, but he doesn't  know the  names  of the
hawallada or the times of the collections." I looked at the two of them.
     "You ready?"
     They both nodded as I tried  the hot sweet brew. Then they closed their
eyes and listened intently as I gave them the Palais de la Scala address.
     They were immediately concerned.
     "I know what you're thinking. I couldn't agree more. It's going to be a
nightmare. But what can I say?"
     Well,  I did know what to say: the address, three more times. I watched
their lips moving slightly as they repeated it to themselves.
     I gave them the second address three times, then the third. They opened
their eyes again once I'd finished, and I told them about the recces.
     On the  build-up for the  Algeria job, when we were  in Egypt,  sitting
around a pot of coffee just like we were now but without the clowns' get-up,
I'd told them about the seven  Ps: "Prior planning  and preparation prevents
piss-poor performance." They liked that  one and  it  was  funny afterwards,
listening to Hubba-Hubba trying to get his tongue around them in quick time.
     "OK, then,  the  Ninth  of  May is  going  to  be  parked  up at  berth
forty-seven, pier  nine. Forty-seven, pier nine. That's the second one up on
the left-hand side of the marina as you look at  it from the main  road. Got
that?"
     Lotfi turned to Hubba-Hubba and  gave him  a quick burst of Arabic, and
for once,  I understood  the  reply: "Ma  it  mushkila,  ma it mushkila." No
problem, no  problem. Hubba-Hubba  waved his gloved hands around the room as
he traced the outline of the marina and pinpointed the pier.
     I gave them the confirmatory orders for the stake-out, from placing the
device to lifting and dropping off the hawallada.
     Lotfi  looked at the  ceiling  and offered his hands  and beads  to his
maker.
     "In'sha'allah."
     Hubba-Hubba gave a sombre nod,  which looked ridiculous, given  the way
we were  dressed. Lotfi's beads clicked away as kids on scooters screamed up
and down the street.
     "OK,  then. Phase  one,  finding the Ninth of May.  Lotfi, what are the
closing times for the places you looked at?"
     "Everything is shut by midnight."
     "Great and yours, mate?"
     There was a rustle of plastic as Hubba-Hubba moved in his seat.
     "Around eleven thirty."
     "Good." I picked up my cup and took a gulp of coffee.
     "I'll do the  walk-past at twelve  thirty  a.m.  I'm going  to  put the
Megane in the parking bay up on the  road, and walk  down to  the marina via
the shops, check out  the boat, then  back to the OP via the garden  and the
fuck bench, to clear the area in front of the OP.
     "If the Ninth of May is parked up where it should be, the OP won't have
to change."  I looked at Lotfi and he  nodded slowly as he leant  forward to
pick up his brew. I described the  OP once more, the higher ground above the
fuck bench, the hedgerow, and the path from the marina to the main. I needed
them to know my exact location so that if there was a drama they  would know
where to find me.
     Lotfi looked puzzled.
     "One thing I don't understand,  Nick. Why would anybody write that on a
bench?" I shrugged.
     "Maybe he's proud of his English."
     Hubba-Hubba joined in gravely as he filled Lotfi's cup.
     "I think that whoever wrote that has had a very tall glass of weird."
     Lotfi's eyebrows disappeared under his shower cap.
     "You've been watching too much American TV."
     Hubba-Hubba grinned.
     "What else can I do while I wait for you to finish praying?"
     Lotfi turned to me  with a look of exasperation. What am I to  do  with
him, Nick? He is a very  fine man, but an excess of popcorn culture  is  not
good for such a weak mind."
     I started to go through the what-ifs. What if the boat wasn't  there at
all? What if the boat was there, but in a different position and  I couldn't
see it from the OP? What if I got compromised  by a passer-by in the OP? The
answers at this stage were mostly  that we'd just have to  meet  up  on  the
ground to reassess.  And if the boat didn't  make an appearance at all, we'd
have  to spend all night screaming up and  down the coast,  checking out all
the marinas and, of course, Greaseball.
     I  swallowed  the last of  my brew and Hubba-Hubba picked up the coffee
pot to give me a refill. There was a gentle click of beads as I continued.
     "Phase two: the drop-off and the  OP setup. I want you, Hubba-Hubba, to
walk  along the  main and past the OP at twelve  forty with the  radios, the
pipe bomb, binoculars and insulin case. If the  OP area is clear, I want you
to  place the bag in the  OP, so it's there when I get back from finding the
Ninth of May. Leave a Coke Light can  in  the top of  the hedge to give me a
tell-tale, then move back to your car and get in position for the stake-out.
Where exactly are you going to be?"
     Hubba-Hubba waved his arms about again  to give me directions,  as if I
knew what was in his head and what he was pointing at. I was eventually able
to establish that he'd  found a place  just past the marina, towards Monaco.
There are vehicles parked along the coast, mostly belonging to the houses on
the high ground."  He checked inside the pot to make  sure he had enough  of
the black stuff to keep us going. The radio should work I'll be no more than
four hundred metres away."
     "Good news." I had a brain wave
     "Wrap all my OP kit up in a large dark beach towel, will you?"
     He looked puzzled, but nodded.
     "Once I've found the  boat I'll move back to the OP the same way that I
walked in, but not before twelve forty, so the kit drop can take place. Once
I'm settled in the OP I'll radio-check you both. Where are  you going to be,
Lotfi?"
     He'd  gone for the car park five hundred  metres back into the town, on
the other side of the marina from the OP.
     "The one that looks over some  of the marina," he  said, 'so  the radio
should work from there too I'm in line of sight with you."
     It was a good  position: in the dark it would be very difficult to  see
him, as long as he sat perfectly still and left a window open  a fraction to
stop condensation  forming, and giving the game away. I'd  told both of them
to practise this when  we first met up in-country. They'd spent  a couple of
nights not getting noticed in supermarket car parks, so they were well up to
speed.
     "Call signs  are our initials L, H and N. If I don't hear anything from
you by one thirty, or you don't hear from me, you'd better move position and
try to get com ms Come in closer  if you have to. This job's going  to be  a
nightmare with these radios, but it would be even worse without them.
     "Once  we've  established  com ms I'll tell  you if  anything's changed
like, the boat isn't  there and  we can  reassess. Once we've done the radio
check, and  everything's fine, the OP is set, and no matter what happens  we
must never lose  the trigger  on the Ninth of  May.  Not even for  a second.
Lotfi,  I  want  you to radio-check  us  every half hour. If somebody  can't
speak, just hit the pressle twice and we'll hear the squelches."
     I moved on to phase three.
     "While we're all  hanging about and getting bored, I'll  be working out
when to go down to  the  boat and place  the device. I  won't know when  I'm
going to doit until I see  what's happening on the  ground. And I won't know
where I'm going to place the thing until I know what the boat looks like. It
might  not happen tonight they might have  a rush  of blood to the  head and
invite their mates  round for a barbecue  on deck, or decide to  sleep under
the stars. Or the boat next  door  might be throwing a party. But as soon as
I'm ready, here's what I want you both to do."
     I covered  all the angles,  and  finished by telling them what I had in
mind if there was a drama, so we could get away quickly and, with luck, make
it  look like  nothing more significant than an  aborted robbery. We  didn't
want to put the collectors off their mission.
     Lotfi and Hubba-Hubba were absolutely  silent now.  Even the beads were
still. It was time for the difficult bit.
     "OK, phase four, triggering the collectors away from the boat. We can't
afford to  lose  them. We think we  know  the first location, but  it  means
nothing  we're going to have to take them. I'm  calling  them  Romeo One and
Romeo  Two, and so on  as we ID the hawallada. I'll  give them their numbers
when I first see them. If they go towards Monaco, this is how I want to play
it..."
     I covered the details of the take of the collectors to the Palais de la
Scala.  Then I  went through  the actions-on  in  the event that  they  went
towards Nice  or  Cannes,  and finished my  brew before confirming the major
points.
     "Remember that radio contact is vital, especially if I've had to follow
them on to a train. If  we have this all wrong and  they go towards Nice and
Cannes,  I want  you,  Lotfi,  to  head  straight  for the  Cannes location.
Hubba-Hubba,  you work  your  way into  the city  and take Nice.  That  way,
hopefully, one of you  will be at the collection point  to  back me  up if I
manage to stay with them.
     "If they go somewhere else altogether and we get split and  lose com ms
I'll have  to assess the situation, see if I can do the job myself. Whatever
happens,  we'll meet back  in  our  BSM  positions  again by  0030  Saturday
morning. I'll radio-check  at0100. If there's been a fuck-up,  we'll meet up
on the high ground and sort ourselves out. Any questions?"
     They shook their heads again, and Lotfi got cracking with the beads.
     "Phase  five: lifting the hawallada,  and  the  drop-off.  Getting  the
Special K into him is  going  to  be  difficult. I  doubt if he'll take  the
injection lying down. Just remember, no matter  what, he has to be delivered
alive. When and how we do this is going to have to be decided by  whoever is
on the ground at the time."
     I was silent for a minute to let them take it in.
     "Right, let's go through the DOP again."
     They knew where it was and how it worked, but I didn't want there to be
any misunderstanding.
     "Remember the telltale for the hawallada in position the Coke Light can
to the right and  just under  the recycling bin. Whoever is  picking up  the
hawallada will  remove  it  so it's clear for the  next drop  the  following
night."
     Lotfi started to pour everyone more coffee. I waved it away. I hated it
when my  pulse raced: there was going  to  be enough of that  tomorrow,  for
sure.
     "We have until four in the morning to make the drop-offs. I want to get
rid of each one  as soon as we've lifted him. That will  give us time to get
clear, and sort ourselves out for the next lift.
     "We'll use frequency one for Friday, frequency  two, Saturday, three on
Sunday  just  as well  this  job is  only  three days,  we  only  have  four
frequencies."
     It got no more than a polite laugh from the two of them.
     "We'll change frequencies at midnight no matter what is happening, even
if  we're still playing silly fuckers  trying to lift  the  first hawallada.
Remember, keep the radio traffic to a minimum and, please, no Arabic."
     Lotfi sparked up. Is it OK to  come up on the net if we need to correct
your English?"
     I laughed.
     "OK, but only in the event of split infinitives."
     They  gave each other  another squirt of Arabic, and  both smiled  When
Lotfi turned back to me, I knew what was coming.
     "On second thoughts," he said,  'we won't be carrying enough  batteries
..."
     "Very funny." I reached over.
     "Split this." I gave him a smack on the back of the shower cap.
     "Have I missed anything?"
     We sat quietly, running  everything  through our heads, before  I wound
things up.
     "I need you both to go  and check out the other two hawallada locations
before  getting on the ground at BSM tonight. Get  down to Nice, get down to
Cannes, familiarize yourselves. But leave Monaco. I think we should  only be
going in there when we have to."
     As I went through all the timings again, I  fished around in my bum-bag
and got out my phone card They did the same.
     "Zero four nine three." I pointed at Hubba-Hubba.
     "Four five."
     I nodded at Lotfi,  who did his bit too. We went round  and  round with
the telephone number until it was burned even deeper into everyone's memory.
     We started to play the address game, exactly the same as we'd done with
the pager  number.  I started  off with the Cannes address, stopped half-way
through  and handed the baton to Lotfi, who finished it off, then started on
the Nice address, pointed at Hubba-Hubba, who carried on. We played the game
until we heard  sirens  in the  distance probably  a fire  engine and police
escort about half an  hour too late to sort out the burning car or maybe one
of the apartments by now.
     This  is  now going  to be the  most dangerous period for  us." I leant
forward, elbows on thighs, as the plastic crumpled and my hat bells  gave  a
gentle ring.
     "Up to now we've sacrificed  a lot of our efficiency for security. From
now on it's going to be the other way round. We'll  have radios  beaming out
our intentions; we're  going to have to meet up  without a safe house; we'll
be on the ground, vulnerable and open to discovery. Not only from the Romeos
and  the  hawallada but from the  police  and  the intelligence services  as
well." I pointed to the shuttered window.
     "Not to mention that  lot, the  third party."  The kids  screamed  with
excitement as they taunted the  fire crew. It must  be tough  trying to hook
into  a  hydrant while you're being  pelted with dead pigeons. I wondered if
they ever got used to it.
     "They're  the ones who'll be watching every minute we're out there. But
if we're careful, by Tuesday morning we can all be back where we belong."
     I stood up and pulled  the plastic away from my jeans  as static  tried
its hardest to keep it there. Lotfi continued to watch me.
     "And where do you belong, Nick? Maybe this is the biggest question."
     I somehow  couldn't  shake off his  gaze,  even though  he still looked
ridiculous in his shower cap.
     "I mean for all of us." He paused, choosing his words with care.
     "I have been thinking about God, and hoping that  he doesn't want us to
die here, because it is for my family that I do  these things. I'd rather be
with them when he decides it is my time. But what about you, Nick?"
     Hubba-Hubba  rescued me. Take no  notice. It's been this  way with  him
since we were children."
     I sat  back down  to the jingle of bells  and looked at each of them in
turn.
     "Of course, brothers. I should have realized ..."
     One  thing I  did  realize  was  that  we  were moving  into  dangerous
territory  here. Standard operating procedure said that  each of  us  should
know nothing more about the others than we had to. Then I thought, fuck  it.
We were in dangerous territory already.
     "How did you both get into this, then? I  mean, it's pretty weird for a
family man, isn't it? Is it an Egyptian thing, you all stupid or something?"
     Hubba-Hubba smiled.
     "No,  I'm here  to become an American. This time next  month  my family
will be living in Denver." He punched his brother on the arm in celebration.
     "Warm coats and ski lessons."
     Lotfi looked indulgently at his brother as if he was an Andrex puppy.
     "What about you?" I asked him.
     Lotfi slowly shook his head.
     "No. I'm going to stay where I am. I'm happy there, my family are happy
there." He touched Hubba-Hubba on the shoulder.
     "And he isn't  doing this  for warm  coats and skiing lessons. He  is a
little like you: he likes to cover hurtful things with humour."
     Hubba-Hubba's  smile evaporated.  He glared at  Lotfi,  who just gave a
reassuring nod.
     "You see,  Nick, we  have an older sister,  Khalisah. When  we were all
children she was whipped and kicked in front of  us by the fundamentalists."
He cut the air with his right hand.
     "Her  crime against Islam? She was licking  an  ice-cream cone.  That's
all, we were just having ice-cream." He had the mixture of hatred  and grief
in his eyes that only comes from seeing your own family hurt.
     Hubba-Hubba  rested  his elbows on his legs and shifted his gaze to the
floor.
     Lotfi's  face  crumpled  under  his  shower  cap  as   he  relived  the
experience.  The  fundamentalists shouted at her, screaming that it had lewd
connotations. Our twelve-year-old sister was  whipped with sticks  there, in
the  street, in public, then kicked until she bled." He rubbed his brother's
back between the shoulder blades.
     "We tried to help,  but we were  just small boys. We were swatted  away
like flies, and forced  into the dust while  we watched our beautiful sister
beaten. She still has the scars on her face, to remind her, every day of her
life. But the scars inside are worse ..."
     Hubba-Hubba gave a low groan, and rubbed his face with gloved hands. He
was breathing  hard through  his fingers as Lotfi rubbed his back some more,
and comforted him with a stream of soft Arabic.
     I didn't really know what to say.
     "I'm sorry ..."
     Lotfi looked up at me,  acknowledging my  words. Thank you. But  I know
that you, too, have your sadness. We all need a reason to continue, and this
is  our reason  for  being  here.  We made a  pact  that  day.  We  promised
ourselves, and each other,  that we would never again  just lie there in the
dust if one of us was being hurt."
     Hubba-Hubba gave himself a shake, wiping his eyes with the back of  his
hands, and sat up as Lotfi continued.
     "He will be leaving me soon for Denver. A new start for his family, and
Khalisah she is  going also. But I am staying at  home,  at least until this
evil  is  driven out.  The fundamentalists, they  are  guilty  of shirk  you
remember what that is?" I nodded.
     "So you also remember I have a duty to perform for God?" Lotfi fixed me
again with his  penetrating  look. Not for the first  time, he  gave  me the
impression he could  see right through me, and no amount  of  silly hats was
going to stop him. A new start. Where had I heard that before?
     Twenty-Five.
     FRIDAY, 23 NOVEMBER, 00:19 hrs
     The four ways flashed as  I  hit  the key fob of  the Megane and walked
away from the parking space behind  the  OP. As I carried on  down  the road
towards the  marina entrance, I zipped  up  the front of  my new  jacket and
shoved  my  hands  into my pockets. There were several Snickers bars in each
for later on, wrapped in cling film to cut down on noise.
     A set of headlights swept the high  ground ahead of me, the  other side
of the marina as they left the town, then cut into the night sky in the area
of the  car park where Lotfi's Ford Focus  was going  to be  positioned. The
vehicle continued down the dip, passed the marina entrance, then came uphill
towards me, still on full beam, dipping  briefly as it  climbed  past me. It
was  Hubba-Hubba's silver Fiat Scudo. He'd drawn the short  straw  with  the
sort of small van an odd job man would use. It had a sliding side door, plus
two at the rear; on my instructions he'd had to spray out the windows in the
rear doors with matt black car  paint, and would have to scrape it off again
before the van  was  returned to the rental company. We couldn't be  sure of
making a definite ID on the  hawallada if  we  encountered a group of people
handing over the cash, so we might have to lift a  job lot of people, bundle
them into the van, and let the warship sort it out. I bet they'd be able  to
sort  the  problem  out in no  time  at all. I  couldn't see him behind  the
steering wheel because  of  the headlights, but  I could read the first four
digits of the rear plate as he went by. Tucked under that plate, as with all
our vehicles, would be his spare key.
     Silence returned, apart  from the sound  of water slapping against very
expensive hulls and the clicking and clacking of bits of metal and ropes and
all sorts of other shit as they rocked rhythmically at their moorings. A few
lumpy clouds blocked out  the stars now and then as  they scudded across the
sky.
     I turned  left  at  the mini-roundabout, and walked past  the  shopping
parade towards the car park. There was still a light shining in the  rear of
one  of the fancy restaurants, and the flickering  glow of a  TV set escaped
from the gaps around the blinds of a cabin directly opposite, but apart from
that everyone else in marina land had thrown in their hands for the night.
     I turned right at the car park and  headed for pier nine, which was the
second one on the right. In  the dull glow of the overhead lamps  that lined
the edge of  the marina, a sign  told me I couldn't fish from here, and that
the spaces were numbered forty-five to ninety.
     From  either  side  of  me  came  the slap of  water  and the click  of
electricity meters as I passed the reversed-in boats. I was sure there was a
better way  of saying  it,  but Lotfi wasn't around  to  put me right. In my
head,  I ran  through  my  reason for being  here.  I  was  looking  for  my
girlfriend. We'd argued, and I knew she was on a  yacht here somewhere well,
here or in Antibes,  I wasn't too sure. But I was unlikely to be challenged:
even  if somebody saw me, they'd be much more  likely to assume  I was going
back to one of the boats than getting up to bad things in the night.
     A TV blared  out of a white  fibreglass gin palace the  size of a small
bungalow, gleaming in  the darkness to my left. A satellite dish on the pier
was collecting what sounded like a German programme, with aggressive  voices
barking out. People in  the  studio  and inside the boat were laughing. As I
neared  parking  space forty-seven on  my right, I found what I  was looking
for. The Ninth of May was a bigger and more up market version of the fishing
boat  from Jaws. Her  name  was painted on  the rear in  flowing,  joined-up
writing, as if it had  been done with a fountain pen. She was registered  in
Guernsey,  Channel Islands, and had a red  ensign  hanging off the back of a
small sort of patio area. A diving deck jutted out over the propellers, with
a foldaway ladder for swimmers to climb in and out of the water.
     A  short  aluminium gangway, hinged at  the back of the  boat above the
diving deck, was lifted clear of the  pier by a pair of  divots,  as if they
wanted a little bit of privacy.
     A  set of blacked-out  floor-to-ceiling  doors,  with  matching windows
either side of  them, preserved  the anonymity of  the  main cabin. To their
right  was an aluminium ladder  with  handrails that led to the upper  deck.
From what I could see as I wandered past, there were  two settees  up there,
facing  forward, and a  console, all covered  with  purpose-made heavy white
plastic tarps. I supposed they'd whip these off for summer driving.
     I concentrated  for  the  time  being  on  trying  to take in  as  much
information as I  could  without stopping  or  turning my head too obviously
towards the target. I had to go to the end of the pier,  glance at my watch,
look a bit confused, then turn round and walk back. There  was no  other way
to get off. The second time I caught the left-hand side of the boat, and saw
light leaking from the two cabin windows. As I got closer there was still no
noise but, then again, there wasn't a satellite dish and no TV cable running
from the plastic casing on the quay; just water and electric.
     It was twelve  thirty-eight  when  I  approached the shops. Hubba-Hubba
should be nearing the OP. I decided  to wait  a few minutes to give him time
to check the position and  drop  off my kit,  before I moved up the concrete
steps and checked out the front of the  OP for myself on the way back to the
road.
     I stood against one of the louvred doors and listened to the gentle hum
of a generator, feeling the heat seep through the slats as I had a good look
at  the top of the  Ninth of  May and worked out how I  was going to get the
device on board.
     At twelve forty-three I walked up the stone  steps to the flat roof and
the fuck bench, following the pathway that led to the main drag. Once on the
main I turned right, and saw a lone  figure on my side of the road,  heading
towards  Monaco.  I knew  it was  Hubba-Hubba  because he took  small, jerky
strides, almost as if he was wearing a pair of punk bondage trousers.
     By the time I was past the Megane he had disappeared into the darkness.
I spotted the Coke can sticking  out  of the hedge, and,  picking it up as I
passed, I moved along the hedgerow about four or five metres before climbing
over at what I thought was the same point I'd come out of on Wednesday.
     Scrabbling on my hands and knees, feeling in front of me, I got to  the
bundle.  I made sure I  had eyes on  the boat as I unknotted the towel.  The
Ninth of May  was  packed in among  all the other boats like a sardine,  but
even in the  gloom it was easy enough to spot,  simply because I knew it was
there.
     The priority was to sort out com ms nothing was going to happen without
them, apart from a fuck-up.
     I wished we could have just used  one of those antennae sticking out of
the warship  as  a  relay  board.  With that sort  of  help, we  could  have
communicated safely  and securely  with anyone, anywhere in the world,  even
George. But you don't  have  that  kind of luxury  when you're deniable: you
have to rely on emails, brush contacts and the Sony corporation.
     I turned the volume dial  to switch on the  radio, then peeled back the
strip of gaffer tape that covered  the illuminated  display, to check it was
on  channel one.  The channel  dial was  also  covered with gaffer  tape, to
ensure  it didn't move.  Hubba-Hubba  would  have checked  all  this  before
leaving the  safe house, but it was now my radio, and time to check again. I
slipped  it into  the inside pocket of my jacket, and put on the earpiece of
the hands-free. The next item  I retrieved and checked was the insulin case,
before it went into my bum-bag.
     A truck thundered past, heading east  towards Monaco, as  I checked the
spare radio  and the pipe bomb.  It was still in its  bin liner,  to keep it
sterile. Then I  made myself as comfortable as I could  against  the  hedge,
making sure I could see the target through the V-shaped palm in  front of me
before getting  a Snickers bar down my neck and checking traser. There  were
six minutes to go before the first radio check.
     I watched the boat and  generally  sorted out my arse by shuffling left
and right to make a small dip in the earth. It was going to be a long night.
Then, checking the time  once more,  I  unzipped my jacket and hit the radio
pressle.
     "Morning, morning.  Radio  check,  H."  I  spoke in a low, slow, normal
voice.  These radios weren't  like military  sets, which are  designed to be
whispered into. I'd only end up repeating  myself, as the other two tried to
work out what the mush in their ear was  all about. I'd be wasting power and
time on the air.
     I let go of the pressle and waited until I heard a voice.
     "H. OK, OK." Then it went dead. I hit the pressle. That's OK to me.
     L?"
     "I can hear you perfectly."
     "Good, good. OK, then. Everything is how it  should be, the  OP is set.
I'll call you when I've worked  out what  I'm going to do. H,  have  you got
that?"
     I got two clicks.
     "L?"
     Click, click.
     "OK."
     I  zipped up my jacket and looked out at the  boat, thinking hard about
my options.  It didn't take me long  to work out that I really only had one.
Swimming would  be more covert on the approach, but once on the boat I would
leave sign, and I couldn't guarantee it would evaporate by the morning. They
might even come out during the night and see it. So it looked like the towel
was out of commission tonight, which was good. I hadn't been looking forward
to a dip anyway. I decided simply to walk to the back  of the boat, climb on
board, and go for the padded  seats  on the  top deck. At this time  of year
they  wouldn't  be used: the weather,  and  the  reason for the visit, would
encourage the Romeos to keep a low profile. The position wasn't perfect: the
inside of the boat would contain the pressure wave of  the high explosive as
it detonated, just for a nanosecond, before it ripped its way out, shredding
the superstructure, and whoever was on board, into thousands of tiny pieces.
Even  so, planting the device  on the top deck would be  good enough to take
out the whole of the cabin, and the driver's seat below. If the blast didn't
kill them, the shards of wood, metal  and  fibreglass flying through the air
at supersonic  speed would. I wasn't  sure it would do enough damage to sink
her,  but  no one inside would survive  and the  money would be shredded and
with it my fantasy of it washing ashore at my feet.
     Twenty-Six.
     As  I started to visualize playing  Spiderman round  the outside of the
boat, Lotfi came up on the net. It must have been one thirty.
     "Hello, hello, radio check. H?"
     Click, click.
     "N?"
     I pressed twice, and Lotfi finished the check: "OK."  It was good quick
voice procedure,  considering we  hadn't worked together  with radios before
and they were used to gob bing off in Arabic over the net.
     I pulled  my knees up  to my  chest and rested my  chin on  them  as  I
watched the silhouettes of the masts and continued visualizing getting on to
the  boat, moving around to the right-hand side,  climbing  up the aluminium
ladder. I wasn't happy about it being right next to the cabin window, but at
least there was a blind. I imagined that the sea covers were  strapped down,
so I thought  I'd probably have to pull out the hooks  from  D-rings in  the
deck before pushing the pipe bomb into the gully where the seat and backrest
met, in among the crushed crisps, melted chocolate and fifty-pence pieces.
     Lotfi came back on the air at two a.m. and we all had a radio check. It
was  time to stop  thinking  about  it and  just  get on with  it.  That's N
foxtrot." I was about to start walking. "L, roger that."
     "H?"
     I got two clicks from Hubba-Hubba.
     I  got up  slowly  and felt around the  towel, brought  out the plastic
cylinder, still  in its bin liner, then moved along  the hedgerow and exited
at the same place as I'd come in and walked down to the car. This time I put
the key into  the door,  to try to cut down on the  profusion  of electronic
signals flying around.  High-frequency  signals and electric detonators  are
not a good mix, so the more I could do without them, the better. I had to be
quick off the mark, though, once the  door was open, as the alarm started to
count down  with a steady sequence of bleeps. I  had to get the key into the
ignition and turn it the first two positions before  the alarm activated and
woke up the whole of BSM.
     I got in on the passenger side  and put the  pipe bomb on  the driver's
seat. Then  it was on  with the  garage gloves before  opening  up the glove
compartment to switch on the only interior light I'd left working. I put the
device  on the drinks tray.  Twisting and  separating the two halves of  the
cylinder,  I checked the clothes peg to make sure  the plastic was in  place
before connecting the batteries.
     Hubba-Hubba came  up  on the net. He was quite casual about it,  but he
had important information.
     "Two cars, you have two cars."
     I immediately  covered  the light with my  right  hand and lay flat, my
cheek resting against  the piping of the  driver's seat.  I could  smell the
pick  'n' mix sweetshop  aroma  coming  from  the cylinder as  the  noise of
engines  got  louder  and  light  bathed  the interior  of the  Megane. Both
vehicles carried on  past, and as the sound of their engines died away I sat
up again, checked the clothes  peg and  battery plastic  yet again, and made
sure that the fishing line was still held in place on the outer casing.
     I hated this next bit.
     There was nothing else I could do now; I'd checked everything but still
checked  it several times  over again. Now I just had to go for it. Besides,
if I'd made a  mistake, I wasn't going to know much about it, because I'd be
the one in thousands of pieces, not the boat.
     I  pressed down on the batteries with my  left thumb, to  keep  them in
place while I took hold of the plastic  safety strip with my right thumb and
index finger.  I eased out  the  plastic, without breathing not that  it was
going  to help  in any way, it just felt the  thing to do. Once I had closed
and twisted  the cylinder tighter,  the  device was ready to be  placed. I'd
remove the final circuit breaker once I'd got it into position.
     I closed the glove compartment and sank back into the darkness.
     "L and H, that's me ready."
     I got  an "OK' from Lotfi and two clicks  from Hubba-Hubba  and  waited
were I was.  After three or four minutes, I saw Hubba-Hubba to my right, his
short strides taking him downhill towards the marina entrance.
     I  let him pass  behind  me, watching him in the side  mirror, and very
soon he got on the net.
     "L, I'm nearly there. Acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Soon afterwards I saw headlights up on the high ground as Lotfi started
down the hill.  The headlights turned  into the  marina,  then  disappeared.
Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba  were  moving into their positions, to cover  me as I
placed the  device. Hubba-Hubba was foxtrot and staying near  the  shops, to
warn me if  anything was coming from  that direction; Lotfi  would stay with
his vehicle and cover me from the car park. They were my eyes and ears while
I concentrated on getting the device where  it needed to be and  not blowing
myself up.
     Leaving the bin  liner, because I still had the gloves on, I shoved the
device down  the front of my  cotton Puff a jacket and got out of the car. I
moved on to the pavement behind  the OP, for some cover between the hedgerow
and  the little bit of  garden at the  roadside, to check  myself out. Then,
using some of  the insulation  tape  I'd kept in  the  bum-bag,  I taped the
earpiece  around  my ear. I didn't  want it falling off and  making a noise,
either as it hit the deck or  as  one of the guys  gob bed off at me while I
was on the task.
     I put the tape  back in my bum-bag and made sure it was zipped up, then
moved it  round  so it was hanging off  my  arse. I  checked I  had  nothing
rattling in my pockets. The  Snicker bars were still there, so I zipped them
closed,  and  jumped up and down to make sure that nothing was going to fall
out.
     I'd already  done this before coming into BSM,  but  it was part of the
ritual for a job, very much like  checking chamber  and checking the device.
Check and test, check and test it was my lifetime mantra.
     Finally I  made sure my Browning was  going  to stay where it was in my
jeans and not fall into the water,  and  checked the hammer. When I'd cocked
the weapon, I'd put the little finger of my left hand between the hammer and
the pin, then squeezed the trigger  so the hammer came forward under control
but then stopped in the half-cock position, with the safety off. If I had to
draw down,  I'd have to  make like Billy the Kid in a  saloon fight, drawing
and  whipping back the  hammer to its  full  cock  position  before I fired.
Without an  internal holster, it felt safer for me to have it like this as I
was  clambering around,  rather than  hanging  next to my  bollocks with the
hammer back and a safety that could easily be flicked off.
     Finally, I  pressed each nostril closed  in  turn, and gave them a good
blow. It's a pain in  the arse trying to think and  breathe at the same time
with a nose full of snot. It would be back soon, it always was on a job, but
I liked to start on empty.
     As  I set  off  down  the road, I  got  out one of the  Snickers  bars,
unwrapped the cling film  and started to munch. It  would make  me look less
suspicious and, anyway, I was still hungry.
     Twenty-Seven
     There were  too  many boats blocking my view to make out  the  Ninth of
May, and no sign of Hubba-Hubba as I carried on past the shops  and into the
car park, hands in my pockets, sweating up inside the plastic gloves. I took
off  my  Timberlands and left them behind a  wheelie bin  at the end  of the
parade. The last thing I wanted  when I got on the boat was  them  squeaking
all over the deck and leaving tell-tale dirty marks.
     Following  the marina  round towards  the  second  pier,  I checked  my
bum-bag to make sure everything was zipped up, then checked the Browning yet
again to make  sure it  was good  and  secure.  I  walked  casually but with
purpose, a  boat-owner going back  to his  pride and  joy. I  wasn't looking
around me because there was no need: Lotfi and Hubba-Hubba were covering me,
and if there was a problem, I'd soon know about it in my left ear.
     I spotted Lotfi's Ford Focus nose-parked in a  line of cars facing pier
nine. I caught  a  glimpse  of his face, illuminated by a  flickering marina
light, as I turned towards Ninth of May, then my brain started to shrink and
focus completely on the target and surrounding area.
     Light spilled out round  the  sides of cabin  blinds to  my left, and I
heard the sound of German TV and real-time laughter once more.
     I was  no  more than a few metres away from the target  when  a vehicle
approached from the Nice end of  the main. But it wasn't coming my  way. Its
engine noise dwindled and its lights faded as it headed on towards Monaco. I
checked the device yet again, then the  Browning and bum-bag, and risked one
good look around me before  crouching down  behind the boat's utility stand.
The meters ticked away like the crickets in Algeria.
     All the blinds were still down,  and  I couldn't see a single light. It
looked as if the Romeos had turned in.
     It's pointless fannying  around once  you're on target you're there, so
you  might as well just get on with it. Sitting on the edge of the pier,  my
hands  gripping  the base of  the utility stand,  I stretched my right  foot
across to the small fibreglass diving platform that overhung the propellers.
My toes just made contact and I dug them in to  get a decent purchase. I let
go of the utility stand  and extended my body  like a circus gymnast, slowly
pushing  myself off  the pier and transferring my  weight  on to the  ledge.
Every  muscle  screamed  with  the  effort  of controlling  my movements  so
precisely that  I didn't slip or  bang  into  anything.  The  boat was large
enough to absorb my weight; it wasn't going to start rocking  just because I
was messing about on the back end. The only thing I was worried about, apart
from one of the  Romeos suddenly deciding to take a breath of fresh air, was
the  noise the  device or the  Browning would make if they dropped into  the
water or clattered on to the deck.
     I breathed through my  mouth, because my nose was  starting to block up
again, and heaved myself on to the ledge. I hooked my little finger into the
earpiece and pulled it away from my head, blocking the outlet in case one of
the boys started to gob off on the radio. I needed both ears from now on. My
throat was dry, but I wasn't going to do anything to moisten it just yet. It
was  more  important to listen for a while. There was no sound at all coming
from this boat, apart from the gentle lapping of water  against its sides. I
could still  hear the Germans' muted laughter. I  replaced the earphone  and
raised my head,  inch by inch, until I could see over  the back of the boat.
The patio doors were just a few feet away.
     It's  basic  fielder aft never to look over something if  you can avoid
it; always around  or, even better, through. You should never cut a straight
line, like the top of a  wall,  or  the skyline, or the side of  a boat. The
human  eye  is  quick  to  detect  broken  symmetry.  My  hands gripped  the
fibreglass as I raised my  head, painfully slowly, hoping  that the movement
was disguised against the background of divots and the raised gangway. There
was nothing: it was still clear.
     I checked  the device, Browning  and bum-bag  one  more time,  then got
slowly and deliberately to my feet, lifted my right leg over the back of the
boat and tested the ribbed decking with my toes to make sure I wasn't  about
to  step on  something like a  glass  or a plate. I put the rest  of my foot
down,  gradually shifting my weight until  my left leg was able to follow. I
took my time, concentrating on  the  job in hand,  not  worrying about being
seen through  the patio doors. If I had been, I'd know about it soon enough.
Better to spend time and  effort  on  the job than  worry about  what  might
happen  if things went pear-shaped. If they did, that was when I'd  start to
flap.
     Moving  to  the right of  the patio area, I eased myself  up on  to the
right-hand walkway that led round towards the front of the boat,  and to the
ladder that would take me  over  the cabin and on  to the  upper deck. I was
concentrating so hard that the rustle of my gloves sounded to me like a bush
being shaken. I reached the ladder  and placed my right foot on the first of
the three rungs, applying pressure very slowly on the  aluminium. The  cabin
window was  no  more than six inches to  my  right. I didn't want to use the
handrail, to avoid strain on the rivets.
     There was  a metallic creak  as  I lifted my  left foot on to  the next
rung.  My mouth  was open  so I could control the  sound of my breathing; my
eyes were straining to make sure I didn't bump into anything. I kept moving,
slowly and deliberately, all  the time checking that the bum-bag, device and
weapon weren't going to bounce on to the deck.
     I eased my  weight  on  to  the  third rung,  then got my  hand  on the
fibreglass deck and heaved myself upwards.
     I found myself on all fours, on the top deck, as two vehicles came from
the direction of Monaco and lit up the main, then  vanished into the town. I
got slowly to my feet, so there'd only be  two  points of contact  above the
sleeping people. It  took me  six slow, deliberate steps to reach the seats.
Once there, I lowered myself on to my  knees, and tried to  find out how the
covers  were held down. There was a Velcro fastening down the sides. Undoing
that would be a big no no, this close to the enemy.
     I  heard  the sound of sliding doors, a burst of  laughter, then German
voices.
     Lotfi got on the net.
     "Foxtrots! We got fox trots
     I  couldn't  do  anything  but  hug the deck,  then inch my way, on  my
stomach, towards the protection of the seats forward of the driving console.
I ended up over a sort of sunroof, a  clear sheet of Perspex that would have
looked directly down into the cabin if it wasn't for the blinds.
     I rested my face on the Perspex and tried not to think about what would
happen if the blind was opened. I heard  the doors slide shut, and the sound
of footsteps on the pier behind me. Then came the whimper of a dog, followed
by a sharp, Germanic rebuke from its owner.
     There was  nothing  I could  do but wait where I was for  the all-clear
from Lotfi. I stuck my free  ear to the  Perspex to check  for  noises  from
below.  There were none,  and it was  still dark on the  other  side  of the
blind.
     I  lay  perfectly still, mouth open, breath condensing on  the Perspex.
Car doors slammed and engines fired up in the car park.
     I stayed  where I was,  nothing moving but my eyeballs and  the dribble
spilling from the corner of my mouth, as I watched the vehicles leave in the
direction of Nice.
     I got a low whisper from Lotfi.
     "All clear."
     I didn't double-click him  in response: that would just create movement
and noise. He'd see me move  soon  anyway.  There was  still  no sound  from
below,  but  I  wanted  to get off this  sunroof. Having nothing more than a
sheet of  clear plastic and a concertina blind  between  me and  a bunch  of
al-Qaeda was not my idea of fun.
     I began to raise myself on my toes and the heels of my hands.
     "More fox trots more fox trots
     I  couldn't  see  what  he  was  on  about,  but that didn't matter.  I
flattened myself once more. Then I could  hear mumbling from somewhere along
the pier. It sounded like more German.
     Two bodies on deck, smoking."
     I reached down slowly for my Sony.
     Click, click.
     We'd have to wait this one out. There was nothing  I could  do  now but
hope I wasn't seen.
     I stayed exactly where I was, ears cocked, nose  blocked, the left side
of  my face cold and  wet. The mumbling was definitely German.  I even got a
whiff of pipe tobacco as Hubba-Hubba now got on the net.
     "Stand by, stand by. That's four fox trots towards you, L."
     I heard  a double click from  Lotfi as Hubba-Hubba gave the commentary.
That7s  at the first pier, still foxtrot, still straight. They must be going
for pier nine. N, acknowledge."
     I double-clicked gingerly. He was  right, there was nowhere else to go,
apart from one of the cars.
     Lotfi got on the net.
     "N, do you want me to stop them?"
     What the fuck did he mean, stop them? Shoot them?
     If they were aiming  for any of the boats near me, I'd be seen. I could
hear  their footsteps now and the mumbles  of a foreign language.  They were
definitely heading my way.
     I reached  for  the Sony and clicked twice, and Hubba-Hubba came on the
net immediately.
     "H will stop  them."  There was  a  crash of  breaking  glass  from the
vicinity  of the  shops. A microsecond later, a high-pitched  two-tone alarm
split the night.
     Twenty-Eight.
     I froze.
     A bright yellow strobe light near the tab ac began to bounce around the
marina. There was nothing  I could do but hug Perspex,  my pulse racing. The
four fox  trots sparked up loudly in  French, sounding  surprised, while the
Germans shouted urgently to each other.
     I heard  a  rush  of  Arabic in the cabin  below.  Furniture  was being
knocked into. A glass was smashed. Lights went on. Through a tiny gap at the
edge of the blind, I found myself looking straight down  on  to a stretch of
highly varnished wood  below  the front window. A hand  grabbed at things  I
couldn't see, and disappeared. A blue-shirted back came into view. They were
already dressed down there. They'd probably been ready to do a runner. There
was more gob bing off. They were flapping,  thinking that whatever was going
on outside was meant for them.
     I  heard an  English  voice,  male  and  educated,  very calm,  very in
control.
     "Just let me check, just wait. Let me check."
     I saw  a  mass  of  curly black  hair,  and a  wash-stained, once-white
T-shirt. The  hair was flatter on one side, probably from  the way he'd been
sleeping; its owner was  peering under the  front blind  towards  the shops.
There was movement in other boats, too, and lights coming  on. A few  people
were venturing out to see  what the  commotion was all about. The strobe was
still  going for it big-time,  and  I kept rigid, my eye glued to  the  gap,
trying  to see through  the  condensation  and  dribble between  me  and the
Perspex.
     The  man below  me  turned,  and his face was high  lit by the flashing
strobe. It  was  Curly, for  sure,  the  man  at Juan-les-Pins  and  in  the
Polaroid;   now  I  definitely  knew   where  Greaseball  was  getting   his
information. George needed to know about this.
     He was very skinny. His shoulder blades poked through his T-shirt as if
he had a coat hanger in there. His  big hair made his head look  totally out
of proportion to his body.  He hadn't  shaved for a  while, and his slightly
hooked nose and sunken eyes made him look as if he'd jumped out of a Dickens
novel. He'd be the one giving Oliver Twist a hard time.
     It's OK," he said,  smooth  as  silk. It's just a burglar alarm. Things
are cool..."
     There was  another  flurry of Arabic. He  was definitely  the  voice of
reason.
     "No, an alarm it's just being robbed. You know, someone's breaking into
the shop to steal, that's all it is, it's OK." He moved back from the window
and his face disappeared.
     Was the alarm going to fetch  the police? If so, how quickly? There was
still talking and movement beneath me.  It was an ideal  time to get the job
done. If I was wrong, and people saw me, I'd soon know about it. I got to my
knees and wiped up what  had fallen  out of my mouth with my sleeve. Then  I
pushed the  device under the covering and into the channel where the back of
the seat  met the backrest.  I peeled back the insulation tape tab, and gave
the fishing line a steady pull until the clothes-peg jaws released the strip
of plastic and the two drawing pins connected. The circuit was complete; the
device was armed. I pushed the cylinder in as far as my arm could reach. The
strobe was  still  going  ballistic  and I could hear people  on other boats
talking animatedly.  It was starting to feel like some sort of yachting rave
out there. I lay  by the seats, not moving  an inch, worrying about  whether
the kit  at the OP would be found if the police decided to have  a good look
around. Biggest worry  of all, though, was how  to get off this thing before
the gendarmes showed up.
     About  fifteen  seconds later I knew it was too late.  Two sets of blue
flashing lights were heading down from the  town. They arrived at the marina
and turned right, towards  the  strobe.  Below me, Curly started calming the
Arabs down. They're just checking out the shop. Everything is cool."
     I  watched as four uniforms got out of their  patrol cars and inspected
the shop-front, silhouetted in their headlights and flashing blues.
     They were joined almost immediately  by another set of  headlights. The
driver  got out and  waved his  arms about, jabbering  away nineteen  to the
dozen. Probably the owner, working himself up to a big insurance claim.
     The police stayed for another twenty minutes, then the voices faded and
lights started  to go  out all round the marina. Things  went quiet  in  the
cabin below me. At least  they  wouldn't be leaving without me knowing; this
must have been the closest OP in OP history.
     I lay there for another hour, glad of  my new  quilted jacket as I felt
my extremities  start  to chill. I sat up  slowly and checked around me. The
marina was asleep once more. The tab ac lights  were  on; it looked like the
owner was guarding it for the night.  I made sure that the vinyl covering of
the settee  looked  exactly  as  it had when I  arrived, then went back into
Spiderman mode.
     Less than fifteen minutes later  I was  walking along the pier  towards
the car park and Lotfi's Ford Focus.
     I turned left, towards my Timberlands, and hit the pressle.
     "L, stay where you are and keep the trigger. There's a  change of plan.
I'll let you know what later. Acknowledge."
     Click, dick. "H, check?"
     Click, click.
     "Meet me at my car."
     Click, click.
     I got back to the bins to  retrieve my Timberlands. As I headed back to
the OP, I offered up a prayer to  the god of  wrong numbers  that no one got
through to the pager by mistake. At  least, not until the  three on the boat
had done their job.
     Twenty-Nine
     I had just started moving towards the stone steps when Hubba-Hubba came
on the net.
     "Stand by, stand by. Vehicle towards you. N, acknowledge."
     Click, dick.
     Not that I needed him to tell me. The unmistakable sound of a VW camper
thud-thud-thudded its way  around the edge of the marina. I sat  half-way up
the concrete steps and waited for it  to park up, before  moving towards the
OP.
     I followed  the pathway  until  it reached  the main, and turned  right
towards the Megane.
     Lotfi came  on the net. I couldn't see  Hubba-Hubba but I knew  he  was
around somewhere. He wouldn't show himself until he saw me.
     As  I drew  level with the car, I  spotted him further  up the  road. I
waited for him to join me, and we crouched in the shadows behind the hedge.
     "What did you do that for?" I said.
     "Getting the police down here could have been an absolute nightmare."
     He grinned.
     "It stopped those people seeing you, didn't it?"
     I nodded: he had a point.
     "In any case, I've always wanted to do that."
     I nodded  again: so had I. "What did you use to smash the window?" "One
of the metal weights they use to keep the parasols in place.  Those  windows
are quite tough, you know."
     "I need to ask you something." I wiped my running nose.
     "Is there anywhere in your area where I can send an email right now? It
might be important.  One of the guys on  the  boat was  with Greaseball last
night. He's a Brit, early to mid-thirties, skinny,  long black  curly  hair.
Looks like the guitarist out of Queen, you know who I mean?"
     He ignored the stupid  second question and  thought  for a few  seconds
about the first.
     "The  main  station in Nice. They have some of those cyberpoints. There
are maybe four or five of them. I think they lock the station  at night, but
I'm not sure. There are definitely two outside."
     I briefed Hubba-Hubba on what  I had seen inside the boat, and told him
to pass it  on to Lotfi while I went to  Nice. Tell Lotfi to keep a  trigger
until I get back. And if they move before  that, you  two just  have fun!" I
slapped him on the shoulder. I checked the pavement for people, then stepped
out and went back to the Megane.
     Driving  past  the  entrance  to the marina and on  up towards  Lotfi's
position,  I  listened  in as  Hubba-Hubba briefed Lotfi  on  the  net, then
started to work out the code words I was going to need in the email.
     I drove along the coast  towards Nice.  At this time of the morning the
city was dead. A few  cars passed me, and the odd loving couple or lost soul
wandered among the brightly lit shop-fronts.
     The main station  was a grand nineteenth-century  building, with plenty
of modern steel and glass now complementing huge blocks of granite. The area
around it  was  filled with  the  usual array  of  kebab  stalls, sex shops,
news-stands and souvenir shops.
     Hubba-Hubba had been right: the station was closed, probably to prevent
it  becoming a homeless refuge at night. The two  cyberpoints he'd mentioned
were among a cluster of maybe six or seven brightly lit glass phone boxes to
the  left of the  main  entrance. The only cameras I saw were focused on the
entrance.  I carried on past  and squeezed into the only space I could  see,
down a side road.
     The cyberpoint  was exactly the  same as the one in Cap 3000. I slipped
on my plastic gloves, inserted my phone card got on to email.
     I started to tap out with two fingers, gradually getting faster.
     It was  good to see you  yesterday. Guess what? I think  you had better
move a lot faster if you want to get in with Susanna. There's this guy  I've
just seen with her.  I don't know his name, but you might know him, he's got
long,  dark,  curly hair. In his mid-thirties and English. Do you  know him?
Anyway, he's getting  about quite a bit.  I also saw him  and Jenny together
last night, which looked a bit suspicious as they  obviously know each other
very well, and it certainly  seems that this guy tells Jenny everything. Did
you know  about this or is Jenny keeping  that a secret from  you?  Sorry if
this is sad news, but  I just thought you'd  like to know. Is there anything
you  want  to tell  me? If so I can come round after work tomorrow  night. I
would say have a nice day, but maybe not. PS I gave your present to Susanna,
she loves red.
     I closed  down and pulled out my phone card  If George had anything new
to tell  me, or  if I needed to change the plan,  I'd pick it  up at the DOP
tomorrow night.
     Thirty.
     There was a sudden burst of static in my ear for the eight a.m. check.
     "Hello, hello radio  check."  As I reached inside my  jacket, I  heard,
"H?" followed by two clicks. Then, "N?" I hit the pressle twice.
     That's all OK."
     The radio  went dead. I brought  my hand out of my pocket and pulled up
the zip. The coat had  done its job well through  the night, and a couple of
times I'd even had to undo the top a little.
     My  face was  greasy and  my eyes  stung,  but my job was to  keep  the
trigger on the target boat  and that was what I'd done. There'd been no sign
of life, outside or in.
     First light was a bit later today  because  of the cloud cover, and for
the last hour or so a gentle breeze had been coming off the sea and rustling
the  vegetation around me. It was  going to be a  dull, grey, miserable day,
not one that the postcard photographers would be rushing to capture.
     The  traffic was starting  to  make its presence felt behind  me, and a
shop's  shutter  rattled  open below. I bet the tab ac was going  to get one
now.
     The first thing I'd done on my return from Nice last night was fold the
towel and use it as  a cushion under my arse. Ithadn't turned the OP  into a
hotel room on  the  Croisette, but it had made me  quite comfortable. All my
Snickers bars had gone, and I'd  had a dump in the cling film. Lying next to
it was my water bottle, full of urine.
     I  brushed my hair back with my hands and  rubbed my  eyes  awake.  Now
wasn't the time to slack. I could hear laboured breathing:  someone running,
coming  down the road to my left. He took  his time to  get to me, and I was
amazed when he finally did: the  wheezing and scraping of feet made it sound
like he was about to have a heart attack.
     There was  general movement around the  marina  now, with  quite a  few
bodies moving out of their boats. The crew of  a rubbish truck were emptying
champagne  bottles and  caviar tubs out of the  two wheelie bins.  I  made a
mental note  to  really  find out who  my biological parents were one day -I
wouldn't  mind  finding  out  I belonged  in a  place like  this, maybe even
getting  served in the Boston yacht club  instead of just being able to work
in it.
     Birdsong had  sparked up around me.  I tipped over on  to  my side  and
supported my head with my right arm,  stretching  out my  legs as I tried to
restore some  sort of feeling in them. I had  a better view of the VW camper
now. It was yellow and white, one of the newer, squarer-shaped ones, and all
the windows were covered with aluminium folding blinds.  They must have  got
their heads down as soon as the wheels stopped turning.
     With just  one eye on the binos, because I couldn't be arsed  to sit up
and use both, I watched the  couple on the boat to the right of the Ninth of
May emerge  on deck. Hair  sticking up, much the same as mine  probably was,
they  did  some boat stuff around the deck,  their fleece jackets protecting
them from  the breeze. There was still nothing coming from the Ninth of May:
the  black blinds still covered  the  front window  and the two  on the side
facing me. I ran the binos over the plastic covering on the top deck settees
and the  driving  station. It  was buckling  a little under the breeze,  but
didn't look as if it had been disturbed. I thought about what might be going
on behind those  blinds. Maybe they were already up, all three of them, just
waiting  to go and  collect,  lying  in their bunks with  time  to kill,  or
memorizing  street  maps  and bus and train  timetables. Whatever it was,  I
wished they'd hurry up and get on with it. The longer they stayed there, the
more chance I had of being compromised.
     A very small, narrow  Japanese van pulled into the car park and the old
gardener I'd seen yesterday got out: he was dressed in the  same baggy green
overalls and wellies. He seemed more concerned  about  the camper than about
his  plants  right now; he  dragged himself towards  it, looking like he was
about to start an incident. Maybe campers weren't  welcomed as energetically
as everyone else was, according to the marina entrance sign.
     When he got there,  he shouted and banged on the side panel. One of the
blinds went up and  he carried on shouting and waving his arms as if  he was
directing traffic. He  obviously got a satisfactory answer, because he  went
back to his  vehicle with a bit more  of a spring in his step. He opened the
sliding door to reveal  forks and spades and a wheelbarrow.  The tools  came
out one by one,  clanging  as they hit the ground.  I  just hoped he  hadn't
woken up at three in the morning determined to get to grips first thing with
that V-shaped palm up behind the  fuck bench. Whatever he  was  planning, it
wasn't going to happen  yet. He looked as if he was going to take  the first
break of the day.
     Lowering  himself on  to  the sill  of the sliding  door,  he tapped  a
cigarette out of a packet. The smoke was picked up and dispersed quickly  by
the breeze.
     "Radio check. H?"
     I unzipped.
     Click, dick.
     "N?"
     Reaching in, I double-clicked the pressle.
     "Everything OK. Time  to  change batteries."  He was  right:  we should
start  the day with fresh  power, and I had to get it  done before  Old  Man
Titchmarsh  dragged himself  up here  and  started digging  where he  wasn't
welcome.
     I took the radio  from my jacket, tugged the  batteries off the  gaffer
tape, pulled off the battery  cover and replaced them. I checked the display
to make sure the power  supply was on and I was  still on channel one,  then
bunged the Sony back inside my jacket.
     It wasn't that long before the sliding door to Old Man Titchmarsh's van
was closed  and  he  wheeled  his  way  towards  the  concrete steps  before
disappearing  into the dead ground below me  at  the  start of the stairway.
There was nothing I could do but stay where I was and just  get on with  the
job.
     The  morning  commute  gathered pace on  the  main,  and it wasn't long
before OMT  bar rowed past me and the fuck bench, looking down at the camper
and grumbling to himself. Maybe  he  hadn't been as firm as  he'd thought. I
soon  heard metallic  noises to my right as his  tools  were pulled off  the
wheelbarrow, and he started to dig in the sun-dried soil. If  he saw me, I'd
just have to play the bum and let him chuck me out. I could walk down to the
marina entrance and maybe sit at the bus stop; at least I'd still have an OP
on both exits. Then all three of  us would have  to  take turns keeping that
trigger  until  the  Romeos moved. It would be  a  nightmare, but there  was
nothing I could do about it.
     "Hello, hello radio check."
     I put my hand in my jacket. It must be nine o'clock.
     "H?"
     Click, dick.
     "N?"
     Click, click.
     "That's all OK."
     The next  three and a half hours were a pain in the arse. OMT seemed to
spend  more time smoking than he did gardening, which was fine by me because
he took his breaks at the far end  of the garden. Down in the marina, people
wandered off their boats and returned with baguettes or bags  of croissants;
delivery vans arrived and did their stuff at the shops; cars  drove into the
car park and men with tool kits and overalls went to work  on decks, rigging
and  other boaty stuff. I could hear a bit  of  music now and again from the
restaurants,  and  the occasional  loud  voice or  burst  of  laughter  from
customers  in  the  tab ac punctuated  by  the smashing of  more  glass. The
window-replacement boys must have been on site.
     A  small electric cart  loaded  with rubbish bins and brooms whined its
way out of the  dead  ground  in front  of the shops and towards the wheelie
bins where I'd hidden my  Timberlands.  OMT  shouted down at the driver, who
stopped and dismounted with a drag on his cigarette  and a wave. His stomach
looked about  the  same weight  as the  vehicle, which was probably  feeling
relieved to be  rid of him.  The bin  cart driver  cupped an ear towards the
high ground of  the  gardens as the old boy gave him some  verbal broadband,
then turned back towards the camper with a determined nod.
     The bin cart driver closed in on the VW, and repeated the performance.
     There was a lot of thumping on the side of the van and what  I supposed
was the French for "Get the fuck out of here, this isn't a campsite'.
     The door  slid half-way open  and a  woman with  short  dark hair and a
black leather jacket appeared in the gap.
     Words were exchanged, but whatever was said stopped the cart man in his
tracks. He walked away from the camper as the sliding door closed.
     My heart beat a little bit faster. This didn't feel right.
     Old Man  Titchmarsh called to him, wanting  to know what was happening.
The cart man beckoned him down the steps.
     I hit my pressle.
     "All call  signs, this is N. There could be a  problem. The  yellow and
white  VW van  that  came in  last night might contain another  surveillance
team. Roger so far, L." Click, click.
     "HI'
     Click, click.
     "I'll explain more later. Nothing changes for us.  Just  remember  your
third-party  awareness.  If I'm  right,  there might  be  others  out there.
Acknowledge, L."
     Click, click.
     "H?"
     Click, click.
     The woman had been fully dressed. Was that so she  could get out of the
camper fast if the shit hit the fan,  and  still have her  weapon  and radio
concealed?
     Either  way,  we still had  our  job  to  do. If they  were  after  the
hawallada, we just had  to get there  first. I reckoned George would be able
to wring what he needed out of  them a lot quicker than any  law-enforcement
agency.
     The  engine  sparked  up on the camper.  It headed towards  the  marina
entrance, with a man at the wheel.
     "Stand  by, stand by.  That's the van now mobile, two up. A man with  a
dark ponytail and a woman with short  dark hair and a black leather jacket."
The van went out of sight, following the line of the shop-fronts. That's now
unsighted towards the marina exit."
     They both acknowledged  with a double click,  and it was no more than a
minute before Lotfi came on the net with the van's progress.
     "L has the Combi towards BSM, still two up. Now unsighted."
     I tried to convince myself that I'd been wrong about what I'd seen. But
only for about three seconds.
     OMT shuffled  his way back up the hill and  started  digging away to my
right as I got another radio check. It was twelve o'clock on the dot.
     "Hello, radio check. H?"
     Click, click.
     "N?"
     At almost the same moment, my eyes were sucked towards the rear deck of
the  boat.  There was movement: a  body appeared It  was Curly, still in his
T-shirt and jeans, having a look around as he let down the gangway.
     "N, radio check."
     Click, click, click, click.
     There was a pause. He would only have been expecting two.
     "Is that a stand-by, N? Is that a stand-by?"
     Click, click.
     He got the message.
     "Stand by, stand by."
     Thirty-One.
     Curly had finished  pushing out the gangway, still in bare feet, as the
Romeos I'd almost dribbled on last night appeared on  deck. I couldn't radio
Lotfi  and Hubba-Hubba,  as  OMT was just a bit too close for  comfort as he
scraped about  in the earth with his spade no more than four  or five metres
away. But Lotfi knew what to do.
     "N, is there movement?"
     Click, dick.
     "Are the Romeos still on the boat?"
     I did nothing.
     "Are they foxtrot?"
     Click, click.
     OMT  was  even closer  than  I'd thought. I  could hear the rasp  of  a
lighter.
     The Romeos were now off the pier and had turned left towards the shops.
I had a better view of them now. Both were in dark suits.
     Lotfi got back on the net.
     "Are there two of them?"
     I clicked twice, raised  the  binos to my eyes with my right hand,  and
kept the left over  the  pressle  as  Curly hauled the  gangway back  in and
disappeared  inside  the boat. I  checked them  out while  Lotfi  carried on
asking questions.
     "Are they male?" Click, click.
     Hubba-Hubba came on the net.
     "H is mobile."
     Lotfi: "Are they still in the marina?"
     Click, click.
     There was  hesitation: Lotfi was trying to think of other things to ask
so he and Hubba-Hubba could have a clearer picture of what was going on. But
he still hadn't asked what they looked like. Finally he got there.
     "Are they Arab?"
     Click, click.
     I couldn't tell him right now, but they were also young, maybe in their
early thirties, with short, well-groomed  hair, white shirts, ties and black
shoes. The shorter one, maybe five seven,  five eight, had straight hair and
a  rounded, over-fed face. In  his left  hand he was  carrying  a  Slazenger
tennis  bag, with a racquet in the outside pocket. The  to welling round the
racquet handle  was  faded  and  worn. They'd  thought  about  ageing  their
collection kit, to make it look as normal as possible. They looked just like
bankers off to the tennis club. It looked as if Greaseball'sint was going to
prove good: they would blend in perfectly in Monaco.
     The second one was  hands free and taller,  maybe six foot, quite lean,
with wiry hair brushed  back  off his forehead, a very neat moustache and  a
pair of aviator style sun-gigs. The Saddam look was obviously in this year.
     I heard a vehicle drive into the parking space  behind me, and a second
later Hubba-Hubba got on the net.
     "H is static behind you, N, and has the trigger on the main. I can give
direction once they are on the main. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     As planned, Hubba-Hubba was coming in closer on the stand-by. That way,
we'd have another person who could take the Romeos once they were out on the
main, just in case I couldn't get out of the OP and do it myself.
     The two collectors disappeared by the parade as Lotfi sparked up.
     "N, are they still in the port?"
     Click, click. "Can you see them?"
     Hubba-Hubba cut in when I hadn't replied after five seconds.
     "H still has the trigger on the main."
     I waited for another thirty  seconds, more than enough time for them to
get half-way up the  steps, if that was the direction  they were headed. But
there was a no-show as I still smelt OMT's cigarette on the breeze. I got up
slowly  on  my  hands  and  knees and gathered all  my kit into  the  towel,
including  my little cling film  package and the bottle of piss. Only  after
crawling to the exit point along the hedgerow did I risk getting on the net.
My voice wavered as I tried to suck in air and move at the same time.
     "OK, OK. They're both Arab, dark suits, white shirts, ties. The smaller
one, Romeo One, is  carrying  a  blue tennis  bag,  Slazenger.  Romeo Two is
taller, slimmer; sunglasses and moustache. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "Is it clear? I'm coming out."
     There was a pause.
     Click, click.
     I stood up, jumped over the hedgerow. Hubba-Hubba had  parked his Scudo
my side of the Megane,  so he  was shielded but could  still look through my
window to keep the trigger.
     His window was half down, and he had his eyes on the exit.  I walked up
and made a show of checking my watch.
     "The station, mate. Get to the station and be careful, keep an eye  out
for that van."
     He nodded, fired the ignition.
     "Don't worry.  Remember,  Lotfi brings  God  with  us."  He  gave me  a
gleaming  smile as he reversed back into the road. I dumped  the  kit in the
Megane boot, took over the trigger and prepared for the take. It was good to
know that God was still on our team. We needed all the help we could get.
     I  closed  the boot as Hubba-Hubba came back on the net, in a calm, low
voice.
     "Stand by, stand by.  Romeo One and  Two foxtrot,  approaching the main
from the  entry road, about ten  short." I looked down the road and saw  the
Scudo just starting to move uphill past the marina entrance.
     "L, standing by."
     I gave my acknowledgement.  Click, click. Bending down to  check out  a
wheel on  the  side  of  the  car  away from the marina  exit, I  peeled the
insulation tape off my ear and waited for them to appear on the main. Then I
checked my Browning and bum-bag while I pretended to inspect the tyre tread,
with both eyes on the marina exit.
     Out they came.
     "Stand by, stand by. N has Romeo One and Two.  At the main. Wait that's
them now, left, towards the town. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "H?"
     There was nothing.
     Lotfi came up: "H, they're foxtrot, towards the town."
     There  was  a  moment's  delay   before  Lotfi  came  back  to  me:  "H
acknowledged and everything looks OK. No Combi."
     I double-clicked. H was too  far away from  me, probably already at the
station, but still within range of Lotfi, who was receiving both of us.
     I let the Romeos settle down,  and watched as they walked away from me,
up the  hill towards the  bus stop. They both looked  a little jumpy.  Maybe
they'd had too much  coffee this morning. Romeo  One kept changing  hands on
the bag and Two  kept looking around  him, not realizing he could do that by
just moving his eyes.
     I got on  the net. That's  approaching the  bus stop on the left. Wait,
wait. That's at the bus stop, still straight."
     "L, roger that. That's straight at the bus stop. H, acknowledge."
     One  moved the  bag over his right shoulder and glanced back. I doubted
that he  could see  the wood for the trees, though: his nerves seemed  to be
taking over. I started to follow.
     "That's N foxtrot and still has Romeo One and Two on the left and still
straight, towards the town. They  look aware, be careful. L, relay to  H." I
got two clicks before listening to a one-way conversation as Lotfi passed on
the information.
     If  they'd stopped  at the bus shelter, taking  them  towards Nice, I'd
have  got on  at the stop before and Lotfi would have kept the  trigger.  If
they were going towards Monaco and crossed the road to the other stop, Lotfi
would have done the same and kept the trigger.
     The trick was for each of us to know exactly where the  Romeos were and
what they were up to, so we could either jump  ahead or hold back, and  take
these two without them ever seeing us. The more exposure we had to them, the
more chance we  had  of  getting  compromised. We  needed to be out of their
vision at  all times, because the mind stores everything. If they saw one of
us today and thought  nothing  of  it,  maybe  they'd  make  the  connection
tomorrow. One of us had to have eyes on the Romeos as much as possible, with
the other two satelliting them, always out of sight, always backing the  man
who was taking, always being aware of the third party.
     I  lost  them now and  again as the road  wound its way up  to the high
ground and into the town. But Lotfi had them in sight. That's Romeo  One and
Two, now passing me, still straight."
     I double-clicked, not knowing if Hubba-Hubba had done the same.
     I checked  my Browning  was  in position, and felt the  bum-bag to make
sure the insulin case was  still  inside even though I knew it wouldn't have
unzipped the bag  by itself and jumped  out. I fished the Medic Alert out of
my jeans and put it on to  my left wrist to announce that I was diabetic and
really needed to carry this stuff about with me.
     As I got  to the high  ground, I caught sight  of Lotfi's  Focus tucked
away well inside the  car park. The Romeos were still ahead, partly shielded
by the traffic.
     "N has, N has  Romeo One and Two. Still foxtrot on the left  about five
zero short of the station option. H  acknowledge." I smiled  away to myself,
as if I was talking to my girlfriend on my mobile.
     Click, click.
     "L?"
     Click, click.
     There was a junction right further up, where the  station road ran down
on to the main. A set of lights controlled the traffic.
     The patisseries, news-stands  and cafes were open for business.  People
were in line for a lunchtime sticky bun to go with their coffee taken at one
of the outside tables.
     "N still has, N still has foxtrot  on the left, half-way to the station
option. Do not acknowledge."
     I wanted  them  to  listen, to cut down on time on the air, so I  could
just concentrate on the take.
     "That's approaching. Wait, wait..."
     I stopped and looked into a shop that seemed to  sell just men's  socks
and ties. They're static at the crossing, they're at the crossing, intending
the station. Wait, wait. It's a red man, wait out."
     I released  the pressle and watched through the corner of the window as
I agonized over my choice of Christmas tie, Santa or the Virgin Mary. Nobody
gave Romeo One and Two a second glance, but to me they  looked out of place.
They weren't talking to each other; they didn't even look at each other.
     A couple  of families were  also  waiting to cross, with all  the  kids
wearing Pokemon backpacks. I heard the beep of the pedestrian crossing.
     "Stand by,  stand by,  green man on. Romeo One and Two crossing left to
right, half-way."
     Once over the road they carried on straight up towards the  station and
disappeared. That's them  straight and towards the station, unsighted to me.
H, acknowledge."
     "H has, on the right towards the station, sixty short."
     The lights at the crossing had turned red again. I joined two women and
more kids with  backpacks. The kids were shoving baguettes  down their necks
as if they hadn't eaten since last Tuesday. Hubba-Hubba came on the net, and
for the first time I  had  to put my hand over the  earpiece as a  couple of
trucks screamed past. It was  a big no-no,  but I didn't  have a choice.  "H
still has, half-way to the station, still aware."
     The green  man flashed and the beeps sounded. My new school friends and
I crossed. It was a good  sign that the Romeos  were aware. I hoped it meant
they hadn't pinged us, rather than that they were in fact  very switched on,
and  about  to take  us to an amusement park or  shopping centre to  fuck us
about or, even worse, into an ambush.
     I  reached  the  other side  of  the road  and  turned  uphill, leaving
Hubba-Hubba to continue the take.
     "H has, still on the right, approaching the station."
     The  Romeos  disappeared  right, into the parking  area in front of the
station as Hubba-Hubba continued his commentary.
     "That's  at  the station, wait, wait ...  at  the  first  set of doors.
That's now complete and unsighted to me. I'm going foxtrot. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     He  would now be  taking a position that would  give him a view of both
the platforms, so we'd know whether they were aiming for Monaco or Nice.
     I spotted Hubba-Hubba's empty Scudo van just past the entrance. He  was
out here somewhere, trying to get the trigger, making sure the Romeos didn't
see him or, just as  importantly, the third party who might wonder what this
weird Arab bloke was up to.
     The drivers  at the taxi rank were still leaning against  their  Mercs,
smoking and putting the  world  to  rights. The  multicoloured  flower  beds
nearby were still getting a good sprinkling.
     Taking  my time,  I  wandered past the first of  the two  glass  doors,
hoping to get  a glimpse of  the  Romeos, maybe  by a  ticket machine or the
kiosk. But there was no sign of them in this half of the foyer, and I didn't
want to walk in myself and risk being seen.
     I  plonked myself on the wooden bench outside, between the  two sets of
doors, hoping the train wasn't due just yet.
     "H, can you see them?" There was a pause.
     "No, just the far end of the platforms. They could still be complete."
     Click, click.
     A garage truck approached from my right, and  I could  hear  it  change
gear through  the radio as Hubba-Hubba spoke. He must be up there in the far
car park. I decided I'd give it a minute or two to see if he pinged them; if
not, I'd  have no alternative but to go in. They should have bought a ticket
by now and, with luck, would be out there on the platform.
     I dug out my hundred-franc notes and stood up,  making sure the zip  of
my bum-bag was still done up, and the Browning was still tucked well into my
jeans.
     I hit the pressle.
     "N is going complete the station. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "L, stand by."
     Click, click.
     I walked through the second set of doors by the news-stand in case they
were still on  the concourse, and stepped  around the  little rat  dogs that
were  still guarding the news-stand. My head  was  down, hat on, not looking
for faces, just dark suit trousers. I couldn't see the Romeos anywhere. That
was good, and that was also bad.
     I stopped at  the  coffee  machine and bought myself a cappuccino, then
eyed  up the  snack  machine  and selected  a  couple of  muffin-type things
covered with  sugary  goo as the plastic  cup  fell into place waiting to be
filled.
     Hubba-Hubba sparked up on the net as I bent down and  watched the  brew
fall into the  cup  and  pulled  the  muffin wrapping  apart with my  teeth,
getting the goo on my  chin. That's  both Romeos on the platform, your side,
the station side platform."
     Thirty-Two.
     The dogs tied up by the  news-stand  gave me the evil  eye as I reached
inside my coat.
     Click, click.
     Some people  bought tickets from the touch-screen machines, some headed
straight through the double glass doors on to the platform, but there was no
one hovering around like me, trying to shove the last of a muffin down their
neck without  getting most of the topping over their front, while attempting
to keep out of the Romeos' line of sight. They were out there somewhere, the
other side of the  wall  the coffee machine stood against.  And, so  far, it
looked as if they were going to  Monaco. They'd have to go over a footbridge
for trains to Nice, Cannes and all stations to Marseille.
     Four more people went through to the platform. They had to file between
two steel posts about a metre high. There was a resounding clunk each time a
ticket got fed into the slot and validated.
     The coffee machine had finished clearing its throat. I took a sip  from
the  steaming  plastic  cup  as  I  walked  over  to the touchscreen  ticket
machines, and looked out  on  to the platforms to  see  if I could  ping the
collectors. The only people in sight were two train workers with peaked caps
and beer bellies. I  touched the screen for a single  to Monaco, then bought
another to Cannes. I didn't know  which  of the three locations these people
were heading  for.  They might  even  do  all  three today, or none of them.
Perhaps they really were just meeting some of their mates for tennis.
     If the destination was Nice, I'd just use the Cannes ticket and get off
earlier. My tickets were  still printing out as Hubba-Hubba came on the air.
I could tell by the noise of traffic and his disjointed  speech that  he was
walking  fast. Too much third party, I'm going complete. They are definitely
on the Monaco side, definitely on the Monaco side."
     I double-clicked him as I went  and checked the  timetables. The Monaco
train was due in ten minutes' time, at twelve forty-one.
     It would take  much longer to get to Monaco by road at this time of day
than the thirteen minutes it  took by train, but Lotfi was waiting for me to
press the button.  The  plan was that he'd drive to the underground car park
by the  Palais  de  la  Scala and be ready  to receive  the two Romeos  if I
screwed up on the follow and lost them, while Hubba-Hubba tried to catch up.
I needed the latter here for the time being, just in case the Romeos changed
direction after Lotfi had taken off for Monaco. I made my decision.
     I ran my finger down the timetable like a puzzled tourist.
     "L?" I got two clicks.
     "Go now, go now. Acknowledge."
     I  could hear the engine already  turning  over  while his  pressle was
down.
     "L is mobile."
     He'd  have just  twenty minutes  to get there.  I  hoped he didn't  get
caught behind a truck on the narrow road.
     Hubba-Hubba  kept it  brief.  He knew I  was in the  station, and might
therefore be surrounded by people.
     "H  is  complete  and  has the  trigger on  the  station  exit. Do  not
acknowledge."
     The  timetable remained  very  interesting for a while as a middle-aged
couple chatted with  the guy at the news-stand, and played with the demented
little dogs, then I turned my attention to some ads  for sun-soaked holidays
in Mauritius for something like a thousand pounds a night,  and decided that
Cape Cod was more my kind of place.
     The couple  said their  goodbyes to the guy and cooed over his dogs one
last  time  before  moving over to  the glass doors  and  clunking  in their
tickets.  As they passed  through to the platform,  I  could hear the train,
right on time. The rumble on the  tracks  got louder and the dogs growled as
the train stopped with a squeal of brakes. I clunked my ticket and waited by
the validation posts until I could hear electric doors slide open and people
say their French goodbyes. Only  then did I walk on to the platform, without
looking left or right, and climb into the first carriage I saw.
     From my forward-facing seat, I could see the backs of the Romeos' heads
and  the Slazenger  bag on the rack  above them  through the interconnecting
carriage doors. I sat and waited, ready to jump off  again if they did.  The
doors closed and with a slight shunt the train started to pull out.
     Hubba-Hubba came on the net.
     "Are the Romeos on the train?"
     Click, click.
     "Are you on the train?"
     Click, click.
     "H is mobile."
     His foot was probably  flat to the boards as the Scudo screamed towards
Monaco.
     The railway  line  followed  the coast road, but there  was no sign  of
Hubba-Hubba. It was going to be  a nightmare  for him to catch up; he'd just
have to do the best he could.
     There was no way I was going  to  walk into their carriage,  in case we
met in the aisle. One of  them might be  heading for the  toilet, or  simply
moving away from where they'd got on, as  I would in their  position, to try
to avoid surveillance.
     I sat  and  watched the sea,  and kept  an eye on the vehicles we  were
overtaking on the road. With luck, Lotfi  would be approaching  the  tunnels
just short of Monaco.
     As we  neared Monaco,  gracious old buildings with  wooden shutters and
ugly new  ones blocked  my view of the sea.  Then we entered the tunnel that
took us deep  into the mountains. The train rattled on  for a few minutes in
darkness before emerging into the brilliant light  of an immense underground
station. The place looked like something  out of a  James  Bond film, a huge
stainless-steel and marble cavern.
     The train slowed and a few people  got up from their seats and gathered
their  bags  and briefcases. I stayed put, looking out  at the  station. The
platforms were clean and the marble highly polished; even the light fittings
looked like they came from a Conran shop.
     Carriage  doors opened, and people dressed  for  work  rubbed shoulders
with  Japanese  tourists sporting their  Monaco Grand  Prix  sweatshirts and
Cannes baseball caps as they got out on  to the  platform and headed towards
the front of the train. I, too, stepped out and  followed the herd, the peak
of my cap well and truly down as I checked around me.
     I pinged  them up ahead. Romeo Two  still had  his sun-gigs on, and One
the  bag  over his  shoulder. I got my gigs out and  put them on my nose  as
well. Maybe sixty or seventy metres ahead of me were sets of escalators that
led  up  to  a bridge.  The herd were  moving up them and left,  across  the
tracks, to the ticketing hall. I caught another  glimpse of the Romeos doing
the same.  Romeo  Two  took  off  his  glasses as they  crossed, looking  at
everything  but  hopefully seeing  nothing, as smooth  announcements floated
over the Tannoy system, and giant flat-screen TVs flashed train information.
     We  came into  the ticketing hall:  more acres  of  stainless steel and
polished  marble,  still underground. All  around me shoes squeaked and high
heels  clicked,  to  the accompaniment of coffee machines hissing and people
jabbering to each other over espressos. The crowd was waiting for one of the
many lifts  to  take them up to ground level. I didn't want to join them, no
matter  how big a crowd  the  lifts  could accommodate.  With  my  left hand
holding down the bum-bag and the pistol grip  of  the Browning, I pounded up
the steel stairs,  turning back  on  myself every tenth step or so.  It  was
further than I'd  expected, and I was starting to get out of breath. It  hit
me  that I'd made a  mistake: my chances  of getting up there before the two
collectors were slim. I could have gone faster if I'd used the handrail, but
I didn't want  to leave any sign. I pumped  my arms back and forth, and kept
going for it.
     At last I saw daylight above me. Three more flights and I was at ground
level. I saw  the four aluminium doors for the  lifts  and  a small group of
people waiting. I walked  into the entrance hall gulping  in air,  trying to
calm myself down as the back of my neck started to leak. The glass and steel
frontage  of the small hallway looked out on a bus shelter my side of a busy
road. I could see we were high above the  principality, as I was looking out
on to  the Mediterranean, but there  was no  port. It must  have been  below
somewhere.
     The  breeze blew in from  the sea as I headed for the bus stop. My eyes
darted about, looking for the Romeos. They should be going  left, to the  de
la Scala.
     I  saw them  then,  at a corner  about fifteen metres away to my  left.
Romeo Two was  checking  a small map as  One looked about  nervously and got
stuck  into a pack of  Marlboro. I kept  my back  to  them now,  and  walked
directly to the bus stop, hitting my pressle.
     "Hello, hello, is anyone there? This is N, anyone there?"
     There was  nothing.  I gave it just  under a minute, then spun round to
face the road, hoping to see them in my peripheral vision. They were walking
down the hill towards the casino and the general  area  of the Palais. I set
off behind them,  and immediately spotted  two CCTV  cameras. I  hated  this
place: it  was like an  extra-large, extra-rich version of the  Big  Brother
house.
     I crossed to the right-hand side of the road, hoping to avoid them; the
port was about three hundred  feet below me. Huge grey clouds hung above us,
cutting the tops off the mountains. Hordes of trucks and motorbikes screamed
up and down a  road that had probably been built in the early 1900s  for the
odd Bentley or two.
     The  more we  descended  to  the middle  ground of the casino area, the
taller the bank buildings became around us. Houses that had  once been grand
private  residences  were now  plastered with brass  plates. I  could almost
smell the big money deals going down behind their heavily blinded windows.
     The  Romeos consulted the  map again before  carrying on past the shiny
Rolls-Royces, Jags and Minis lined up in the British Motor Showrooms, as One
dragged on his Marlboro, sending  smoke up above  him before it got taken by
the wind. If  they were  heading for the de la Scala,  they'd have  to cross
over soon and turn off to the right. I stopped, stepped into the  doorway of
a bookshop, and got very interested in a French cookbook with a picture of a
big sticky bun on its cover.
     They crossed. I hit  my  pressle  again,  smiling  away  like an  idiot
chatting on his mobile.
     "Hello, hello, anybody there?"
     They must be heading for the de la Scala. They were now my side  of the
road and  walking down Avenue  Saint-Michel. I  knew  that  because  it  was
engraved expensively on a  slab of  stone just above my head, like  all  the
street names here.
     They committed to the right-hand bend of  the avenue  just fifty metres
down the hill and became unsighted to me. Dead ahead  of them now, about two
hundred  metres  away, beyond manicured lawns, fountains and frost-protected
rubber  plant things, was the casino and its Legoland  policemen.  But  they
still had about  another fifty metres until  the end of Avenue Saint-Michel,
where once more they had a choice of direction.
     I got on the net again as I started to follow.
     "Hello, hello, hello. Anyone there?" Still nothing.
     Thirty-Three.
     I didn't want to stay behind them  because I wasn't being proactive. If
I was going to be the only member of the team on the ground with the Romeos,
I really needed to be doing  Lotfi's job now, waiting for them in the de  la
Scala for the meet with the hawallada. But that  meant jumping ahead, and if
they  went somewhere else once they got  to the end of the avenue  I'd be in
the shit.
     I  carried  on down Saint-Michel and talked  to my imaginary girlfriend
with a big smiley voice.
     "Hello, hello, this is N." Still nothing. Maybe they were caught in the
traffic; maybe Lotfi was here  but down in  the car park. Whatever was going
on, I had to make a decision.
     I turned on  to some steps that went directly downhill, to  cut off the
bend that they'd followed towards the casino. They led to an apartment block
on the steep side  of the road, and were well worn, which I hoped  was going
to prove it was a short cut.
     I hurtled down them, past exotic plants and boring grey concrete blocks
each side  of  me, keeping my  left  hand on the  bum-bag  and  Browning and
checking  traser, as  if I  was late for an appointment, until I reached the
road below. The  casino was to my half-left about a hundred and fifty metres
away. Legoland policemen kept people moving so the Ferraris and Rolls-Royces
had  somewhere to park. The  manicured  lawns  were being  pampered  by  the
sprinklers;  directly left  along the road, just under a hundred metres, was
the junction with the avenue. I  turned right, not checking anywhere because
the Romeos could already be at the junction  and heading my way. I continued
to play looking at my watch as I hurried past fur-coated women and expensive
shops.
     By the time I rounded the corner to the de la Scala square, my neck was
not  just leaking but  drenched with  sweat.  There  was no  sign  of  Lotfi
anywhere on the grass, listening to  my follow  so he could  decide when the
time was right to go into the  mall  and get a trigger on the meet. The only
people in  sight were the orange-overalled, tree-cutting crew, having a brew
on a bench. I tried again on the radio, but there was nothing. I'd just have
to get on with it: I might be the only one here.
     I started towards the glass  doors of  the mall, taking deep breaths to
re-oxygenate myself, pushed through  with my shoulder as  I  wiped the sweat
with  my  shirt cuffs,  and headed straight for the cafe, past the reception
and the  Roman marble entrance. The  same  immaculately dressed  dark-haired
woman was operating the desk,  and still gob bing off on the phone. The same
sort of people were at the cafe, too, talking  discreetly into cellphones or
reading papers.  Some  did  both. I  pulled up a  chair to the  rear of  the
outside tables and by the left-hand corner of the mall, so I was  facing the
reception but could also cover the exit by the dry-cleaner's.
     I started to flap a little as I flattened my wet hair on the back of my
head. What if the Romeos had gone  elsewhere? Fuck it, I  was committed now.
I'd just have to wait and see.
     The  waiter who  took my coffee order was more interested in watching a
woman crossing her  stockinged  legs at one  of the other tables than  in my
sweaty face. I took off my glasses and just hoped that one of the  other two
was nearly here. I needed some  back-up desperately. My crane turned up with
a biscuit and a small  paper napkin between the cup and saucer to  take  the
spills. I handed the guy a fifty-franc note, not wanting to wait  for a bill
later. I needed to  be  able to  jump up and go, without being chased myself
for  doing a runner. The change emerged from his money-bag  and smacked down
on the table just as Lotfi burst on to the net. He was out of breath and, by
the sound of it, on foot and moving fast.
     "Anyone, anyone, stand by,  stand by. Anyone there? Stand by, stand by.
They are in  the square,  Romeo  One and  Two in the  square approaching the
mall."
     I reached into my jacket as I took a sip from the napkin-wrapped cup.
     The snarl of a chainsaw gave me a clue to his location.
     "That's complete the building now, they're inside."
     Click, click.
     There was relief on the air.
     "Is that N?"
     Click, click.
     "Are you inside?"
     Click, click.
     "OK, I'll stay outside, I'll stay outside."
     Click, click.
     The  Romeos appeared  at the bottom of the corridor and looked  around,
getting  their  bearings:  they  obviously  hadn't  been  here before.  They
eventually walked up to the reception and studied the board. They stood  for
ten or  fifteen seconds  before their eyes seemed to  lock on to the address
they wanted: Office 617, the Monaco Training Consultancy.
     I took another sip of coffee and watched between the heads of two women
who  were  gob  bing off in Italian in  front of me, smoking  themselves and
anyone nearby into an early grave.  Romeo Two had  his  gigs back on now. He
took a  pen from his inside pocket and used  it  to press the  buzzer; I bet
he'd used his shoulders to get through the door as well.
     What now? What was I going to do if I was locked outside while they got
directions from the receptionist?
     Romeo Two bent down and I watched him say a few words into a speaker by
the  buzzers maybe a confirmation statement. Whatever it was, he was a happy
man as he  stood  upright and gave Romeo  One,  who didn't look  too certain
about things, a reassuring nod.
     They waited, not going into the Roman entrance just  to their left, and
then  I realized why. I needn't have  worried. There were cameras behind the
receptionist's desk, and  she would know what office  they'd  gone  into. So
they  waited, admiring  the  Persian  rugs  in  the  shop  opposite, perhaps
wondering, like I had, why  people would  pay so much  just for something to
stand on. Their mums could probably knock them one up in a couple of weeks.
     Lotfi came  back on the air; the chainsaw  fired up behind him,  before
turning into a high-pitched whine as it bit into a tree.
     "N,  radio check." He  sounded anxious, not knowing what was  going  on
inside and needing a bit of reassurance.
     I double-clicked him as the reception doors opened and out came a tall,
dark-skinned man with black  hair, greying at the temples in a way that made
him  look quite  distinguished. He was  about six foot and  slim,  not Arab,
maybe   Turkish,  maybe  Afghan.  They   didn't  shake  hands.  He  wore  an
expensive-looking  navy  suit, black  loafers and  a dazzling  white  shirt,
buttoned all the way up, no tie. Maybe, like many people, he refused to wear
one because it was  a symbol of the West. Or maybe he was a  fashion victim.
I'd get the boys on the warship to ask him later.
     They finished exchanging half  a dozen  very  serious-looking words and
started to  walk back out of the door of the  mall they'd come in through. I
warned Lotfi. Click, click. Click, click.
     Lotfi was straight back.
     "Coming out?"
     Click, click.
     "Same doors?"
     Click, click.
     They disappeared from sight  and, no more than three seconds later, the
net burst into life once more.
     "L has Romeo sOne Two and Three. They've gone right, your right  as you
exit. Towards the rear of the building."
     I  got up from the table, and double-clicked  him as  I wiped the  mug,
keeping  the napkin  with me. As  Lotfi carried  on the commentary  with the
chainsaw in the background, I shoved the napkin into my jacket pocket, where
it joined the muffin wrapper and plastic coffee cup.
     "That's Romeos One, Two and now  Three, foxtrot  on the right, still on
the  right-hand  side. About half-way towards the rear. They're not talking.
Romeo One is still aware, they have quick feet."
     I pushed  my way through the glass doors into the cacophony  of traffic
and  chainsaw. I  didn't  bother to look for  Lotfi.  I  knew  he  was there
somewhere.
     "Do you want me to stay here?"
     I double-clicked him as I turned right,  and followed on the  same side
of the road, putting my gigs back on.
     Thirty-Four.
     They were now about two-thirds of the way  down the narrow road leading
to the admin  area at the rear of the building,  still not  talking,  but at
least Romeo One wasn't  looking around  any more. He still  had the bag over
his shoulder  and hung  back slightly because there  wasn't enough room  for
three abreast on the pavement. They'd chosen a good route, avoiding cameras;
the  only  bits  of  people  control  were the two-foot-high steel  bollards
stopping people parking on the kerb.  By Monaco standards, it was all  quite
relaxed.
     They turned right at the corner  and disappeared from view. I quickened
my pace to get eyes on in case they disappeared completely through a door. I
hit the pressle.
     "That's all three Romeos right, to the rear, temporary unsighted."
     I  got two  clicks from  Lotfi;  I  didn't know if he could see  and it
didn't really matter, so long as he knew what was going on. There was also a
possibility  that Hubba-Hubba could receive but not send as he  made his way
to us.
     Reaching the corner, I crossed the road and began to hear  what sounded
like  a supermarket trolley round-up. Steel containers on wheels were  being
shunted backwards and forwards from a  lorry backed  into  the  post  office
loading  bay. Once I was on the far pavement I turned right, just in time to
see the three of them passing through  a steel door next to a garage shutter
alongside the loading bay.
     My mind raced as the door closed. It must be the  exchange -unless this
was a car park and they were about to leave.
     "L ... Hello, L." It was hard to keep my happy smiley face as I chatted
on my hands-free.
     "Are you near your car?"
     "Yes, in the car park, in the car park."
     "OK, mate, go complete ...  and static  outside the car park. All three
Romeos are unsighted in a garage, I have the trigger. You've got to be quick
in case they go mobile. Remember your third party."
     I got two clicks as  I passed the post-office van  and the mail-trolley
pushers, then an anxious voice.
     "Hello, N, hello, L? Radio check, radio check."
     At last, Hubba-Hubba.
     I hit the pressle. This is N. Us here too. Where are you?"
     "Near the casino, I'm near the casino, I'm nearly there."
     "Roger that. That's Romeo One, Two  and now Three unsighted at the back
of  the  building in the last shuttered garage before  you  get to the  post
office loading bay. I have the trigger, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "OK,  stay  complete  and  cover  the  square,  able  to  take  in  all
directions.  L is going complete now. I'll  trigger  them  away if  they  go
mobile."
     Click, click.
     "L, where are you?"
     No reply: he was probably down in the car park.
     "That's  H  static  on  the square.  Can  take in  all  directions.  N,
acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Seconds later Lotfi came back on the  net, and I could hear the Focus's
engine closing down in the background.
     "Hello, N,  hello, N. That's L static  on  the car  park road, covering
away from the square."
     "Roger  that,  L. Stay where you are. H  is here,  and  is covering the
square  and can  take in all directions. N still has the trigger, no change.
L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     By  now I was at the mall entrance near the dry-cleaner's and there was
a loud hiss of steam from a pressing machine.
     "L, I want you to describe Romeo Three to H. Acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     There was  nothing  else I could  do  now  but keep the trigger  on the
shutter and listen  while Lotfi  told  Hubba-Hubba what our  new  best  mate
looked like.
     I watched the letters and parcels being taken backwards and forwards in
the  carts.  Keeping  the trigger  was so  important that I'd have  to  risk
exposing myself out here in full view of the postal workers, and so close to
the women in the cleaner's, but thankfully out of sight of the camera on the
corner of the building.
     I leaned against the wall and checked my traser. I wasn't interested in
the time, just in making it look as if I had a reason to be there. There was
another loud hiss of steam from the pressing shop, and then a small group of
people came out of the exit. I had to brass  it out. Security was definitely
getting sacrificed for efficiency.
     A couple of minutes later there was movement.
     "Stand by, stand by,  Romeo One and  Two foxtrot. Wait ... that's Romeo
One and Two both carrying bags. Wait..." I started to smile, as though I was
listening  to a  good story  on the  mobile. That's both Romeos  now foxtrot
right, towards me. Romeo  Three still unsighted. He must still  be inside. I
have to move. Wait out."
     I turned and walked into the mall with the big smile still fixed  on my
face.  That's  Romeo One and Two unsighted, stay where  you  are.  Both stay
where you are. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "H, can you get a trigger on the mall entrance?"
     "H already has  the trigger and can see the road from  the rear  of the
building." Click, dick.
     Both exit points from the shutter, plus both entry points back into the
mall, were covered if Romeo Three moved  on foot. But it was what we'd do if
he went mobile that worried me.
     As I bent  down  I  took  particular interest in the china shop  window
across  from the  dry-cleaner's. Painted plates  and silver  cutlery gleamed
under  the brilliant  display lights and I waited to see what the two Romeos
were doing. It was just a few seconds before I caught a side view of both of
them quickly passing  the mall's glass doors, going on to the junction below
the camera. They had two bags now,  each  with a tennis racquet in  the side
pocket.  The second bag must have been inside the first to give it bulk, and
now it just looked like they were two mates on their way to a friendly game.
     I got back  on the road, hoping that the Romeos weren't waiting  at the
junction.  Tough shit if  they were: I was committed  now and  had to  get a
trigger on the  shutter in case Romeo Three  went  mobile. I needed to get a
vehicle ID and direction for Lotfi and Hubba-Hubba,  who  would  then  be on
their own.
     I'd got myself out on to the other side of the mall door, looking right
quickly by the camera junction no Romeos then left towards the shutters,  as
my earpiece burst into life.
     "Stand by, stand  by! H has a possible Romeo Three foxtrot  towards the
square, that's half-way ..."
     He  double-clicked  as  I  shot  back  in  through  the door, past  the
cleaner's and china shop, towards the cafe with a third party smile.
     "H stop him. He mustn't get back to the office. Stop him!"
     I got a double-click just as I followed the mall corridor right, passed
the cafe and headed for  the other exit. If Hubba-Hubba  didn't stop  him, I
would have to in the corridor. As I passed  the marble entrance  and  carpet
shop, my left hand started to unzip the  jacket so I had an easier draw down
on  the Browning. I had a hot, tingling feeling, and  was sweating again. If
we didn't act fast we  could lose him upstairs, maybe for ever. I wanted him
lifted and  dropped off as quickly  as  possible.  We couldn'tafford to wait
around here: security was tighter than a duck's arse.
     Barging  my shoulder against the mall door, I shot back  out on  to the
road  facing the  square and the chainsaw  crew. Hubba-Hubba  stood  on  the
pavement to my immediate right, with  an enormous smile  all over his  face,
just about to shake the hand of his long-lost friend, Romeo Three. There was
a burst of French between them before the Arabic started.
     "As-salaam alaykum."
     Romeo Three looked perplexed, but went through the motions and raised a
hand to Hubba-Hubba's.
     "Wa alaykum as-salaam."
     Passers-by took no notice as the  old  friends met  on the  street, and
Hubba-Hubba  initiated  a  bit  of  cheek-kissing.  As  I  approached,   the
hawallada's eyes darted nervously between the two of us. Hubba-Hubba greeted
me in Arabic,  all smiles, and put a very firm arm out to bring  me into the
group  and  let  me know he was running this  bit. The hawallada's hand  was
large but his shake was weak  and soft. Hubba-Hubba carried on gob bing  off
and gesturing towards me, accompanied by nods and smiles. Romeo Three didn't
look so happy, though.
     "Allah-salaam alaykum." I reciprocated.
     "Wa alaykum as-salaam." But I left the kissing business to Hubba-Hubba.
     As I broke  off with the handshake, Hubba-Hubba  embraced us both,  and
steered us back towards the rear of the mall, still jabbering away in Arabic
and talking about the old days.
     Romeo Three's eyes betrayed a mixture of fear, puzzlement and pleading.
He was flapping big-time, but he was too scared to do anything about it, not
that he had the opportunity. Hubba-Hubba kept both of us tightly in his arms
as he continued  to  gob  off, smiling and nodding like a game  show host. I
smiled  back  and  nodded  at  the  hawallada. Whatever  was being said  was
obviously  doing  the  trick,  for  Romeo Three turned  the  corner  without
protest, just  resignation.  We  stepped aside as the  post truck  thundered
past.
     We  stopped  next to the  shutter, and Romeo Three  fumbled through his
bunch of keys. With  Hubba-Hubba's help and support, he finally inserted the
right one into  the cylinder  lock  and opened  the metal door.  Acting  the
gentleman, Hubba-Hubba ushered him inside and followed a step behind.
     I entered  the cool  darkness last. There was hard concrete  beneath my
feet, and a  strong smell  of paint. Romeo Three  started  begging. The only
word I could make out sounded like "Audi'. I pushed the door closed and  hit
the light switch  on the left-hand side  of the steel frame with my elbow. I
could  now  see  what  the  hawallada  was babbling  about. A  French-plated
metallic silver Audi A4 was parked and filled most of the space in here.
     Hubba-Hubba stepped alongside him just as he was turning towards us and
slammed his right hand over Romeo Three's mouth. The keys slipped out of his
hands  and  fell  to the ground with a jangle.  Pulling  his head back,  and
hooking his left arm around his  neck, Hubba-Hubba went down with him on  to
the dusty concrete, grazing the skin on his face, their clothes covered with
dust.
     Muffled screams escaped from the jerking body  as he kicked against the
side of  the  car in  his struggle  to  get  out from under Hubba-Hubba. The
Egyptian looked like he was trying to wrestle a crocodile,  and responded by
forcing Romeo  Three's  head more firmly into  the concrete to  the sound of
both of them snorting for oxygen.
     I  was already down on my knees, opening up  my bum-bag and  extracting
the insulin pen  as  the  hawallada  fought  non-stop to  free  himself, and
Hubba-Hubba did everything to keep his face down and his arse up.
     That's good, mate, keep him there, keep him there." I dug my right knee
into his  left thigh. His cologne filled my nostrils and I  saw a gold Rolex
glint on his wrist. This boy had obviously never seen what a traser could do
for you.
     I clamped  the plastic needle  cover between my  teeth, and put  all my
weight on to his thigh, so I could get to the injection site before spitting
it  away. I could feel  his wallet  in the back pocket of his trousers as  I
used my free hand to push down on his arse, trying to keep it still.
     As  I fumbled with the button to pull it out, there was a  hiss of  air
brakes and another truck started to back into the post office loading bay.
     Thirty-Five.
     I whispered urgently, "For fuck's sake, keep him still!"
     The sound  of the  two of them fighting for breath as they heaved about
on the concrete was almost as  loud as the  rattle of  containers and banter
between the postal workers.
     I threw the hawallada's  wallet on to  the  ground and sat on both  his
legs, right behind his knees so his kneecaps were pressed into the floor. It
must  have hurt, but he was flapping too much to notice. I  stabbed  the pen
into the upper right quadrant of his right buttock and pushed into him hard,
pressing  down the trigger at  the same time. There was a faint ping as  the
spring pushed the larger than normal insulin needle through his clothing and
into the muscle mass. I held the pen  there, pushing down for ten seconds as
instructed,  as  the  sound of angry, frustrated  breathing  fought its  way
through Hubba-Hubba's hand.
     We both held him down for the minute or so it took for his struggles to
subside. Very soon, he was en route for the K hole.
     I  got to my feet. Hubba-Hubba  still  held him down until he'd stopped
moving completely. I reloaded  the pen by  unscrewing it  and replacing  the
cartridge and needle.  After picking up the spat-out needle cover, I  packed
everything away in the bum-bag and fished out the nappy pin from my jeans as
Hubba-Hubba disentangled himself and brushed himself down. The carts outside
were still being filled, to the sound of a lot of French banter.
     Hubba-Hubba  picked up Romeo Three's keys and  talked slowly and softly
to Lotfi on the net, telling him what was going on as he inspected the fob.
     With  the  opened nappy  pin in my  hand, I leant down, forced open the
hawallada's mouth, and  pushed it  through his bottom lip  and tongue before
fastening  it  and  clicking  down  the  pink safety cap.  His muscles  were
completely relaxed  by the ketamine, and we couldn't risk him swallowing his
tongue and suffocating. There was also the  risk of him vomiting as  he came
round from the drug  and if that happened at the DOP with no one else there,
he might choke on it. The pin would keep him safe  until  he reached his new
home. Meanwhile Lotfi had got the  news from Hubba-Hubba,  and  I heard  him
give a double click.
     Our new friend  was probably having his  near-death  experience by now,
looking down at us both and thinking what a pair of arse holes we were.
     The Audi's  yellow four ways flashed as Hubba-Hubba pressed the  remote
and the locks clunked open.
     I thumbed through  the wallet  and found  that our  new mate's name was
Gumaa Ahmed Khalilzad. On the whole, I preferred Romeo Three. Pulling at his
sideburns and  fiddling with the nappy pin, I got no reaction. Then I put my
ear  to his mouth to check his breathing; it  was very shallow, but that was
what we'd been told to expect with this stuff.
     What   I  wasn't  expecting  were  the  two   thick,   banded  wads  of
hundred-dollar bills Hubba-Hubba held in each hand  as  he  walked back from
the Audi.
     I took  one bundle  off  him, and threw  it down inside  my jacket  and
sweatshirt.
     "A little commission he skimmed off the top?"
     Hubba-Hubba  nodded in agreement  as he  slipped  his  bundle down  his
shirt.
     He looked at me expectantly.
     "What  do we  do  now?" A  quick look at  traser told me  it was  three
thirty-eight, a couple of hours or so before last light.
     The  banter from  the postal workers ebbed and flowed as I went through
the options. Hubba-Hubba knelt down and pulled out a crisply laundered white
handkerchief from Gumaa's now dirt-covered navy jacket. There  was no way  I
could get Hubba-Hubba's or Lotfi's wagons in here. They wouldn't  fit in the
garage, and they couldn't just back up to load him in with people so close.
     I watched as Hubba-Hubba tied the handkerchief around Gumaa's head like
a blindfold. It wasn't  to stop him seeing, but to protect his eyes.  He had
lost control of  his eyelids  as  well as his  tongue, and they might easily
open during transportation  to the DOP or during his wait there for pick-up.
We needed to deliver him in a reasonable condition so that the interrogation
could  start as soon as  he came  round,  and not after  he'd  had emergency
treatment to  remove  two inches  of lollipop stick  from his  eyeball. We'd
planned to use gaffer tape from our cars, but you can't win them all.
     I was  going to have to drive the Audi out  of Monaco with Gumaa in the
boot. There was no other way.
     Hubba-Hubba looked at  me expectantly.  I gave him  a  nod  and  hit my
pressle.
     "L?"
     Click, click.
     I could hear vehicles, and people  talking around him. The chainsaw had
stopped.
     "Are you still complete?"
     Click, click.
     "In the same place?"
     Click, click.
     "H is going mobile first to clear the DOP. I'll then come out on to the
square, turn left, and  pass you in Romeo Three's car,  a silver Audi. He'll
be with me. I'll count  down to  the junction and then to you. You then back
me, OK?"
     Click, click.
     "Good.  We'll  then make our way to  the  drop-off,  just as  planned."
Click, click.
     "Remember, you are Romeo Three's protection."
     At last he was able to come on the air.
     "Of course, of course."
     I nodded at Hubba-Hubba.
     "We'd better get him in the boot."
     He  went round to the driver's seat and  there was a clunk as  the boot
opened.  With me lifting his legs and  Hubba-Hubba  gripping  him  under his
armpits,  we lugged Gumaa over to the  Audi and lifted him  in. We were  now
vulnerable; him  to  getting the good  news from a tail-end crash, and us to
being compromised,  so Lotfi would  try to stay  behind me,  close enough to
stop anyone getting between us in the traffic. As we laid Gumaa down, I took
off  his  jacket and wrapped it round his head as a cushion, then pushed him
on  to his  side so he could breathe better,  adjusted the handkerchief  and
threw the wallet back into his pocket after wiping it free of prints. It was
part of the package for the boys on the warship.
     Hubba-Hubba stood there waiting for the green light.
     "Not yet, mate. We need to make this look like a hire car." Fortunately
there wasn't much to  rearrange,  just a  plastic air-freshener on  the rear
parcel shelf,  shaped like a crown, and some French and Arabic newspapers on
the seat. They all went into the boot before it got closed down.
     I looked at Hubba-Hubba.
     "First thing, how do I get out of here?"
     He pointed at a red and a green button to the side of the shutter.
     "OK, mate,  go and  clear the drop-off. I'll come in via BSM, and radio
check you to make sure everything's clear up there."
     He nodded and walked to the door as I half sat in the  Audi, turned the
key  and  watched him disappear into the street,  closing the door carefully
behind him.
     That's H foxtrot. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     The engine ticked over gently and exhaust fumes filled my nostrils as I
moved over to  the electric doors,  waiting to be  cleared  by  Hubba-Hubba.
There  were still voices outside and I could  just hear  the chainsaw rev up
once more  in  the  distance.  It  was  now  magnified  in  my  earpiece  as
Hubba-Hubba came on the net.
     "N, it is all clear, it's all clear."
     Click, click.
     I hit the  shutter button with  my elbow and the electric motor whined.
As the steel door  squeaked  its way up, I slipped my gigs on to my nose and
pulled my peak down low.
     Reversing  out,  I had to stop parallel with the  truck  to  close  the
shutter, before heading for the  square.  Hubba-Hubba was  on his way to the
drop-off.
     "H is mobile. L, acknowledge."
     "Roger that, N is mobile."
     The Audi was an automatic, so it was quite easy  to keep  my right hand
on the pressle.
     That's approaching  the  left-hand bend ...  at  the  bend  towards the
square ... half-way ... approaching." I hit the junction.
     "Stop, stop, stop. Silver car."
     "L has, L has."
     The black Ford Focus was up the road to my left, just past the entrance
to the car park and facing  away from me. There was no need to carry on with
the countdown: he had me. I turned left and Lotfi slotted in behind.
     We wound our way back to the casino, down the hill towards the harbour.
Traffic was heavy but  steady as people began to head home from offices  and
banks, clouds of cigarette smoke and bad music  billowing out of  their open
windows. Higher  up, much bigger clouds, dark and brooding,  gathered in the
mountains.
     We crawled around the harbour, with Lotfi  protecting  the rear  of the
Audi from impatient commuters.
     Motorcycle police were directing traffic on a four-way junction not far
from the tunnels. A truck in front of me eventually got  the wave and turned
right. I followed as Lotfi hit the net.
     "No, no, no, no, no!"
     As the message sank in I saw Lotfi in my  wing mirror, heading straight
on.  There  was a series  of short, sharp whistle  blasts  from  one of  the
policemen now behind me. He was wearing high-leg riding boots and a sidearm,
and was waving me to  a halt. Another policeman kicked up  the stand on  his
bike, and  my  mind raced through the options. It didn't take long; I didn't
really have any. I had to bluff it.
     If I put my foot down  I probably wouldn't even make it past the  other
side of  the tunnel. I  took a deep  breath, accepting my  big-time fuck-up,
checked my Browning was covered,  and pulled over as a few trucks  moved out
into the centre of the road to pass the knobber who didn't know where he was
going. The policeman approached and I pressed the down button on the window,
looking up at him, my face  one big apology.  He still had his helmet  on, a
BMW lid, the sort that you can pull up the face. He said something in French
and  pointed  back to  the  junction.  His  tone was  more  exasperated than
aggressive.
     I stammered, I'm sorry, officer, I..."
     The  bags under  his  eyes  drooped  as  he  looked down  at me with an
expression of unutterable weariness.
     "Where are you going?" Perfect English.
     To Nice. I'm sorry, I'm a bit lost and I missed your signal..."
     His expression told me he'd been dealing with dickhead Brits for years.
With a resigned nod, he  walked back towards the junction and beckoned me to
reverse.  A  dozen horns  were leant on as  he held  up the traffic  with  a
leather-gloved  hand and pointed me in the direction Lotfi had gone. I  gave
him a wave of  thanks  and  tried  to  avoid  the angry glares of the  other
drivers.
     As I pulled away I saw Lotfi on foot to my left,  coming uphill towards
the junction. His arms were crossed and inside his  jacket, which meant only
one  thing. He had drawn down in case  he had to get me out of the shit  the
hard way. He spotted me and turned on his heel as I got on the net.
     "L, where are you parked? Where are you parked?"
     The roar of the traffic filled his mike.
     "On  the  right, not far. Down on the right."  "OK,  I'll wait for you,
I'll wait for you."
     Click, click.
     I  drove  down the hill, looking  for the Focus. It felt really strange
knowing  that someone had actually been coming to help. Nobody had done that
for me since I left the Regiment.
     I  saw  his car  in a small lay by in front  of some shops. I pulled in
about four cars back,  and waited for  him to get  back behind  the wheel. I
watched him approach in my rear-view, and  felt a surge of  gratitude that I
realized was close to friendship. It had been my fuck-up; he  didn't have to
come back and help, but he  had been prepared to put his own life at risk to
do so.
     He  walked past  me, not  giving the Audi  a  second glance, and as  he
waited for a line of  cars to pass before opening his door, I wrote myself a
mental Post-it to find a way of thanking him.
     Thirty-Six.
     The Audi and the  Focus merged  with the traffic as we flicked  on  our
lights to drive through the tunnel. Two Legoland police  and  three  more in
riding  boots, astride their  machines, were  on duty  at the roundabout the
other side, checking tax and insurance discs as the  traffic  filtered  past
them. The flow speeded up now, as most of the  traffic turned  up to the A8,
wanting to get straight home rather than waste time winding along the coast.
I was trying to think  what to do now that there was an extra vehicle in the
plan.
     It was starting to  get  dark, so the headlamps stayed on. Pinpricks of
light were scattered all over the populated slopes to  our right, but as the
mountains got higher, they thinned out.
     It wasn't long before we arrived at BSM and passed my Megane behind the
OP and then the marina entrance. I knew I wouldn't be  able to see the Ninth
of May from the road, but couldn't resist a look anyway before checking  the
rear-view mirror for the hundredth time to  make sure Lotfi was still behind
me. I got on the net.
     "H, radio check, radio check."
     I got two low and crackly clicks.
     "You are weak. Have you checked the drop-off?"
     The clicks were still crackly.
     "OK, change of plan, change of plan. I still want you to  cover me, but
in my car, cover me in my car. Roger so far."
     Click, click.
     "I  need you to get rid of the Audi after the drop-off. Lotfi will back
you, and take you back to your car afterwards. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "Roger that. Just carry on now as planned. Do not acknowledge."
     I carried on along the  coast road, Lotfi still behind  me; I could see
his dipped lights in  my rear-view, but I had no idea where Hubba-Hubba was.
It didn't matter: we were communicating. We eventually  reached the junction
that led  to  Cap Ferrat,  and then, no  more than  two minutes further  on,
rounded a sweeping right-hand bend and the bay of Villefranche stretched out
below  us. The  warship was lit up like a  Christmas tree about a kilo metre
offshore, and a dozen yachts twinkled away at their moorings. I  didn't have
long  to take in the picture-postcard  view before stopping  at the junction
that took us to  the DOR I  waited with my indicator flashing for  Lotfi  to
overtake, then followed him  up an incredibly steep series of hairpin bends.
The road  narrowed, with room  for two  cars just to inch  past each  other.
Lotfi's tail-lights disappeared ahead of me  every now and again as we wound
our way up the hill, past the walls and railings of large houses  perched on
the mountainside,  then steel  crash barriers  to stop  us driving  over the
edge.
     Our destination was Lou Soleilat, an area of rough brush and  woodland,
situated around  a big car  park-cum-picnic area lined  with recycling bins,
where the Coke Light marker was going to be placed to  show that there was a
hawallada ready for collection.
     The pick-up team, probably embassy or naval personnel, would drive past
the picnic area from the opposite direction, from Nice. If  the Coke can was
in position,  they'd  throw it away  with  the  rest of the  crap  they'd be
dumping for  cover, and  continue downhill about five hundred metres  to the
DOP, pick  up the  hawallada,  and continue  to  follow  the  road  down  to
Villefranche and the warship.
     The picnic area  had  been cut into  the  woods  and laid with  gravel.
Wooden benches and  tables were sunk in concrete for those Sunday afternoons
with the family. I  supposed the  bottle banks were just  there so the local
fat cats could drive up in their overpowered 4x4s and dump a week's worth of
empty  champagne  bottles,  and  feel  they were  doing  something  for  the
environment.
     We carried on  until we were  about four  hundred  metres short of  the
drop-off  point, then  I turned off  into a small  parking  area while Lotfi
headed on  beyond the DOP to  the  picnic area. There was room for about six
vehicles; it was used by people during the  day while they took  their  dogs
for  walkies  in  the woods, and  at  night by  teenagers  and  philandering
businessmen for a different kind of exercise  altogether.  There were enough
used condoms scattered around  the place for  an army of  dogs to choke  on.
Whatever, it was too late for dogs and too early for any  backseat stuff, so
I was alone.
     As Lotfi disappeared into the darkness  I hit  the lights on the  Audi,
letting the engine tick over. My head fell back on to the headrest for a few
seconds. I was fucked: my brain hurt just thinking about what I was going to
do next.
     Lotfi's job at the picnic area was to warn me if anything came from his
direction as I dumped off Gumaa, and to leave the Coke Light marker once the
job had been done.  Hubba-Hubba would be joining me here soon, and he  would
cover me from this direction.
     It wasn't long before Lotfi came on the net.
     "That's L static in the car park. There are two other  vehicles, with a
lot of movement  in a Passat.  The occupants are  being  very energetic with
their map-reading. The Renault next to it is empty."
     I  double-clicked.  I'd obviously  been wrong: it wasn't too  early for
that sort  of stuff. Maybe they'd just  fancied one more for the road before
they went home to their respective partners.
     While  I waited, I got out the pen, hoping that whoever was picking  up
Gumaa would be driving past at intervals during the night, and not only just
before first light.  It wouldn't be  good  if  he woke up  in the  tarpaulin
thinking, what the fuck am I doing here with this pin in my mouth?
     I  couldn't  hear any movement from him yet, but he  was going  to need
another burst of Special K to keep him floating, or whatever he was doing in
the back there.
     Headlights approached from down the  hill  and  turned into the parking
area. As they bumped  over  the gravel I recognized the Megane.  Hubba-Hubba
pulled up level  with  me and powered down the window.  I did  the  same and
leant  over  my  passenger  seat  to  talk  to  him.  He  looked  eager  for
instructions.
     "Would L'Ariane be a good place to burn this thing out?"
     It needed to be somewhere  that wouldn't arouse too much attention, not
for three days anyway, and the estate seemed a safe bet.
     He thought for a moment, his fingers drumming on the steering wheel.
     "I think it would  be, but I need to wait  until much  later.  It's too
busy there at the moment. Maybe past midnight some time. Is that
     OK?"
     I nodded. All I wanted was to make sure there were none of my prints or
DNA,  or anything else,  to connect us to this job. I  said, "Make sure  you
lose the plates as well, mate."
     Hubba-Hubba smiled just enough for me to make out the whiteness  of his
teeth.
     "Of course. I'll give them to you as a souvenir." He jerked his head at
the rear of the Audi.
     "How is he?"
     "Haven't  heard a word.  He's going to get the  good news  with the pen
right now, just in  case  he's got a long wait." I felt for the boot-release
catch and got out into the fresh and rather nippy air. The light came on  as
I  opened  the  lid, and there  was a heavy smell  of exhaust  as the engine
ticked over. I  could just make out his face from the boot light, and it was
obvious the movement of the car, or maybe his  own efforts,  had done him no
favours. The nappy pin had  ripped some of his lip and tongue. He was  still
breathing;  blood was bubbling from the corner of his  mouth and on  to  the
handkerchief that had slipped down his face, and one glazed and  dilated eye
was open.
     I pulled his eyelid down and  pushed the  handkerchief up over his eyes
once more before turning him over  a bit. I pressed the pen against his arse
and pushed down the trigger. He was going  to wake up  thinking  someone had
implanted a golf ball in his cheek. Not that he'd  be worrying about it that
much when he  saw he was in the steel hull of the warship with a roomful  of
very serious heads bearing down on him.
     I shut the boot, packed away the pen as I coughed out the exhaust fumes
from my lungs, and walked over to Hubba-Hubba.
     "What  did  you say to him earlier  on? You  know,  to get him into the
garage."
     He smiled even more, pleased that I had asked.
     "I told him I wanted to go back to where he'd  just come from. He asked
me why, and I told him I wanted the money. He said he didn't know what I was
talking about. So I insisted."
     "How?"
     "It was easy. I introduced you as the man who cuts off the heads of the
hawallada, and promised that if he didn't hand over the  money you'd do that
to him. I told him that we all have very thin skin."
     No wonder he hadn't been too keen to shake hands.
     Hubba-Hubba finished the story.
     "At first  he kept saying  he  had no  money. I knew  that he had  just
handed it to the Romeos. I just wanted to get him off the street so we could
lift him. But then he started to  say that  I  could have the money, that he
had it in his car. It was pretty good, no?"
     "For a beginner ..." I grinned back at him.
     "Listen, thanks for getting us all out  of the shit  this afternoon. It
was really quick thinking."
     He took his hands off the wheel momentarily in surrender.
     "It was nothing. He  had to  be stopped. Besides, it was  you that  was
going to cut his head off, no?" Now there was something he wanted to say.
     "About the money..." He touched the lump in his chest.
     "What are we going to do with it?"
     "Split it three ways. Why not?"
     He didn't like that.
     "We  can't, it's not ours. We must  put it with  the body  and it'll be
taken to the ship. If we keep it, it's stealing. Lotfi would agree with me."
     If we handed  it back, it would be  lost in the ether. I shook my head.
Tell  you what, keep hold of  it and we'll decide what to do on  Sunday. You
never know, there might be a lot more of this to worry about in the next two
days."
     Before he could say anything more, I explained how I was going to carry
out the Gumaa drop-off.
     Hubba-Hubba had something else on his mind.
     "We got away with it, didn't we?"
     "One down, two to go. I'm going to check the bins later  in the morning
to  see if  they've shed any light  on  the Greaseball and Curly connection.
It'll be about five-ish and I'll need  Lotfi to take the trigger, same place
as this morning, when  I'm ready. You never  know, you might get your chance
to sort out Greaseball after all."
     That made him happy.
     "Make sure Lotfi  knows  what's happening, and  tell  him we still need
that God of  his for another  couple of  days. After  that  we'll  be in the
clear, so he can have the rest of the week off."
     "I'll ask him."
     "Good. Come on, give me a hand."
     We  lifted  Gumaa out  of the  Audi  and  replaced  his  wallet  before
transferring him into  the boot of the  Megane. It  took about  two or three
minutes for us to gaffer tape his hands  and feet, then join all  four limbs
together. I then taped his eyelids down correctly as  Hubba-Hubba gave Lotfi
a  sit rep before  going back to  the Audi with a new phrase  to add to  his
list.
     "One  down, two to go," he said, and gave a quiet chuckle as I got into
my Megane.
     That's N mobile to the DOR L, acknowledge." Click, click.
     I took the money out of my sweatshirt and placed it under  the driver's
seat, hoping that maybe a little might find its way back to the US with me.
     Thirty-Seven.
     With the  brake and  reverse lights  cut-out on, I backed out into  the
road with  just  a gentle red glow  of the rear lights.  There was no  white
reverse and no bright red as I put on the brakes to change into first before
heading uphill.
     The DOP was about four hundred metres to my left, at the end of a small
grassy track that went  in  about eight metres  before being chained off. It
looked as though it had been that way for years. Just the other side  of the
chain, old fridge-freezers were  piled  on top  of  each other as the ground
sloped  downhill,  and  there were enough  bulging bin  liners  to feed  the
incinerator by the safe house for a year.
     Lotfi came on the net.
     "Stand by, stand by. There is movement between the cars. Engines on. N,
acknowledge."
     I double-clicked and slowed.
     "Both cars are mobile. Wait, wait... at the main ...  wait... one left,
one right towards you, N, towards you. Acknowledge."
     I double-clicked  again, hit  the brake  and clutch  and waited for the
headlights to get to me. As long as  no one else was  coming from behind I'd
be OK.  Within seconds,  twin beams swept over the high ground  then hit  me
full on as the vehicle crested the hill. Whoever was  in the car would never
be able  to make out whether I was static or not, and it saved me having  to
pass the drop-off, turn round at the picnic area and try again.
     I saw the faded, hand-painted sign nailed to the tree. It probably said
the driveway  was private property and dumping  was illegal, so fuck off.  I
didn't much care. It was my marker to turn my lights off and take my time in
the  dark. Foot on the brake continuously, I drove slowly over the  hard mud
ruts up to the chain.
     "That's N static. No one acknowledge."
     They knew where I  was and I wanted to cut down time on the air and get
on  with  the job.  The  track  was  lined with fir trees  and  thorn bushes
plastered with wind-blown refuse.
     There was no time to fuck about.
     With the engine and  hand brake on I climbed out and  opened  the boot,
making sure  the Browning was tucked well into  my jeans and the bum-bag was
done up.
     Gumaa was a lot heavier  than he looked when only  one person was doing
the lifting, and I  banged him  about a bit as I tried  to loop him over  my
shoulders. I  eventually  got his taped  and  trussed  body  into a  sort of
fireman's lift.
     Once I'd got my  legs over the drooping chain,  I moved out of the line
of sight from the driveway and in among a couple of ripped open bin bags, an
old  mattress  with  protruding springs,  and  a very  ancient  tarpaulin. I
dropped Gumaa on the tarp, and pulled him on to his side so he could breathe
easier. Finally  I checked that he was still alive, before  wishing him well
on his onward journey with Ketamine Airways, and folding the decaying canvas
over his body to keep him warm.
     I reversed the Megane back out on to the track, and turned downhill.
     "That's drop-off complete. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     "L, don't forget the marker."
     Click, click.
     Passing Hubba-Hubba's parking area, I got  back on  the  net once more.
That's N now clear. Refuel, get some food. Andremember to change channel. If
I  don't  hear  anything  before one  thirty,  I'm going to move my car into
position, and check out the boat, OK? L, acknowledge."
     "Yes, mother hen."
     "H?"
     "Cluck cluck."
     One  down, two to  go. I could  almost hear Hubba-Hubba repeating it to
himself, and having another little chuckle.
     As I turned the first of the string  of  hairpins that led back down to
the glittering patchwork of Villefranche, I threw the muffin wrapper and all
the  other  crap I'd been collecting during the  day into the passenger foot
well On the main drag, I headed right, towards Nice, stopping to fill up and
buy  two egg baguettes,  a can of Coke Light, some bottled water and  a  few
more Snickers bars for the OP.
     Curiosity  got the better  of me as I neared Villefranche. I still  had
time to kill before returning to the Ninth of May so I parked for a while in
a line  of vehicles tucked  into the side  of the road, still facing towards
BSM and just short of the DOP junction. The baguettes were cling-wrapped and
sweaty, and the Coke was warm. It looked like I'd been a fridge too far.
     As  I munched, I  watched the  lights of the warship glittering  on the
water below me. It was just after eight when I'd finished, and  the road was
still fairly busy. I settled back, feeling greasy, full of  Coke Light, damp
bread and not-too-fresh egg.  My eyes were stinging, but once I'd pushed the
seat  all the way back things started to get more comfortable. Checking that
the doors were locked, and the Browning secure, I eased the hammer away from
the patch of raw skin on my stomach where it had been rubbing, and made sure
that my window was open a fraction to  let out condensation,  then closed my
eyes and tried to doze.
     My head jerked up again  less than  a  minute later  as  a car  heading
towards me seemed to slow as it neared the junction, but went straight on.
     Next time  I looked,  traser told me it was eleven forty-eight.  A very
noisy Citroen had made its way down from the  high ground and was waiting to
join the main. The street lamp just short of the junction illuminated an old
man hunched over the wheel with a cigarette in his mouth. He wasn't too sure
when  to  move out, even  though  there wasn't much traffic. When he finally
went for  it, I saw why.  With  a grinding of gears  and  a flapping of  fan
belts, he laboured his way  towards BSM. I wondered how he was ever going to
make it back up the hill. I'd seen flashier motors used as chicken coops.
     I changed batteries on the Sony, momentarily peeled off the gaffer tape
and switched to channel two. I'd watch the junction until about one o'clock,
then go  back to the  marina, get into position, and wait for the other two,
who'd be at least another couple of hours.
     My bacteria  take away was starting  to  make  its  presence felt;  the
atmosphere in the Megane smelt like gorilla's breath. I hoped I'd be needing
a dump before I got into the OP, rather than after.
     At  twelve  fifty-six,  I  saw  headlights  coming  downhill.  A small,
dark-coloured Renault van, the sort a tradesman would use,  came into  view.
It was two up, and I was sure I knew the head behind the wheel.
     They checked the  main and turned right, no indicators, towards  me and
Nice.  As  they passed under the street light  I got a better angle from  my
semi-prone position, and pinged the driver. He'd had a different top on  the
last time I'd seen him, but it was definitely my mate Thackery. I didn't get
to see his companion that close, but he, too, was young.
     As  soon  as they'd passed,  I popped my head up and watched them  turn
left, down towards  the  bay. I didn't envy Gumaa  what  was going to happen
next.
     I  jumped  out  of  the  Megane  and  crossed  the road,  watching  the
headlights bounce off the houses along the  narrow streets, sometimes losing
them altogether  as  the  van continued  downhill. Eventually it reached sea
level, and disappeared into one of the buildings by the water's  edge. Today
had been  a success.  We'd achieved  the  mission. But we  hadn't  had  much
choice.  I couldn't see George being too understanding if  we hadn't brought
him Gumaa.
     "But, George, we really had a good trigger and the follow was, frankly,
excellent. It was the  French getting  in the  way that messed things up for
us. Never mind, I think we've learnt a great deal today  and we can do a lot
better next time ..."
     I walked  back to  the car, feeling a sense of satisfaction. The  other
thing I was feeling, as  I pulled the seat up into the driving position, was
a  nagging sensation  in  my bowels.  Turning the  ignition key  might  have
disguised  the noise, but it  hadn't hidden  the smell. I  powered  down the
window and  made my way to the picnic area to  see if there was anything for
me from George, having learnt one big lesson. No more dodgy egg baguettes.
     I turned into the junction and headed uphill, reasoning I might as well
check the recycling bins now to see if anything had  been  left for me,  and
save time and  fucking about later. I was going to the same place  that  I'd
collected the insulin packs  and explosives from. The  marker was  the  same
Coke can. It would be  left in position if something was there for me, and I
would remove it once I had picked up.
     I drove past Hubba-Hubba's cover position,  then the dropoff, and on to
the picnic area.  My  headlights hit the recycling bins and two  huge  green
plastic  bottle  banks, each with a large steel ring  poking out of the top.
The Coke  Light can  was still in position just under the forward right-hand
corner of the nearer one.
     There were  no other vehicles in sight, so I parked  up  on the mud and
gravel just  past  the  bins, and  turned off my  lights. I pushed  my  hand
underneath the  one to the  left  of the Coke  can, and  felt for the broken
brick that would be there if I had a message. Bingo. I dragged it out, a lot
lighter than an ordinary brick, then took the can as well.
     I turned the car round and headed  back the way I'd come, wanting to be
clear of the area as fast as  I could. Once back on the  main I turned left,
towards BSM, leaving the  warship lighting up  the bay behind me. At the lay
by  behind the OP, I closed down the Megane, then got out  my Leatherman and
started to dig into the brick with the pliers.
     The centre had  been hollowed out, then its contents  plastered over. I
pulled  out  the cling-filmed package and  unravelled  it, at  the same time
brushing the plaster dust off my clothes. Inside was a sheet  of A5, covered
in tight  print. I opened the  glove compartment and  laid  it on the drinks
tray. There was no introduction, just the message.
     George  did know about the connection between  Curly and Greaseball. It
also  seemed the  Ninth of May  was well known to  the French  police.  They
suspected it had been used  more than once to ferry heroin  from here to the
Channel Islands.
     Curly's  actual name was Jonathan Tynan-Ramsay, and he  originated from
Guernsey. I  didn't give a fuck: he was going to stay Curly for me. He had a
list of  minor drug  of  fences and had been  on  court-imposed  drug  rehab
programmes, which he'd failed to complete. He'd eventually served five years
in jail in England for his part in a paedophile ring,  and left the UK after
being put on the sex  offenders list. He had  lived in France  for the  past
four years. He and Greaseball were members of all  the same  clubs. The sort
of clubs Hubba-Hubba wanted to put a bomb under.
     George finished  with  a  warning.  The  local  police were  taking  an
interest now that the Ninth of May was on the move; it had last been seen in
Marseille  three days  ago.  The  police didn't know  what had  happened  in
Marseille, but George reckoned it had picked up the  Romeos from the Algiers
ferry, and now the police were  waiting to see where it  popped up again. It
was just routine, he said, but be careful.
     I  tore  the message into  bite-size pieces  and started chewing.  As I
headed back down the mountainside, I  wondered why  the fuck  George  hadn't
told me all this in the first place. There'd been enough opportunity.
     Thirty-Eight.
     SATURDAY, 24 NOVEMBER, 01:38 hrs
     I passed  Lotfi's vehicle position in the hotel car park  and could see
nothing out of the ordinary. Below and ahead of me was the marina, and quite
a  few of the boats were still lit up. Driving  down to the entrance, I  saw
nothing to  get me worried, nothing parked  up near the bus stops, no bodies
mooching around. I carried on up to the lay by behind the OP.  It was empty,
no sign of Hubba-Hubba's  vehicle. Good man:  he had thought about the third
party, parked elsewhere and walked over to pick up my Megane.
     So far everything looked normal which didn't mean a thing.
     A vehicle approached from the other direction, passed me, forgetting to
dip its lights, and carried on. I followed the line of the mountains towards
Monaco, not wanting to  park up behind the OP now in case the  van was back:
if d make too  much noise  this time of the morning. The marina lights in my
rear-view  mirror disappeared as I completed the corner and  drove  into the
darkness.  Eight or nine  vehicles were parallel  parked  in a lay by ahead.
They  probably belonged  to the cluster  of  houses  above me on the steeper
ground apart from Hubba-Hubba's Scudo. I pulled in at the end of the line.
     I got out,  checked my  bum-bag, and moved the Browninghammer away from
the  sore,  which had  started  to  bleed.  From the  back  of my  Megane, I
retrieved  the   towel,   emptied  out   the   cling-film-wrapped  dump  and
urine-filled water bottle, and replaced them  with my fresh supply of  water
and Snickers bars.
     I  locked  the Megane,  slung the  towel and its contents  over my left
shoulder, and started back down to the OP with  my  cap firmly on my head to
keep me warm later on.
     There were  just one  or  two lights on in the houses way up  the hill;
other than that the mountain was asleep.
     An animal scurried away from me as I approached the entry  point in the
hedgerow. I had a  quick  look round before  climbing over and following the
hedge line on my hands and knees until I reached the V-shaped palm shrub.
     I  sat  there for a  while and tuned in, then got the binos out of  the
towel. They worked well  as a  night-viewing aid with a little help from the
dull lighting around the marina. I started  with  pier nine, but couldn't be
sure that the  Ninth of  May was still  there. A boat was parked up  in  its
position, but  it  didn't seem  to have the same silhouette. The binos  were
inconclusive; they were good, but not that good.
     I'd have  to  go down  to the  pier to confirm physically,  and  do  it
straight away. There was no point sitting waiting  for first light, only  to
find that the thing wasn't there.
     I scanned the general area through the binos for  the  van. There  were
about a dozen vehicles in the  car park, only two  of  them vans. These were
right next to each  other, and  parked facing the  boats. The one nearest me
had some sign writing  on  that  I couldn't  make out from here. Worryingly,
both had a good view of pier nine.
     Leaving the towel and its contents behind, I crawled to the exit in the
hedgerow  but,  instead  of  going  through  it,  carried  on  for   another
twenty-five or thirty  metres as  a vehicle moved into the marina.  I turned
downhill towards the Petite  Afrique beach. There was no pathway, just scrub
and dry earth all the way down to the sand. Once I hit the sand I got up and
walked to the car park.  My detour meant I was approaching the vans from the
rear,  on  the  assumption   that  if  anyone  was  inside  them  they'd  be
concentrating on the target.
     I passed the swings and climbing frame, using the huge piles of sand as
cover but walking normally as if I was taking a  short cut back to  my boat.
It  was pointless getting  tactical and running, crawling, ducking, all that
sort  of stuff. I was out in the open and, no matter  what I did, I would be
seen when I crossed the flat, open expanse of car park, if not before.
     My Timberlands slipped and slid as I negotiated the sixty-odd metres of
beach; then I hit the heat-cracked tarmac of the car  park. I checked inside
the  cars as  best I could, to  see if any heads were pulled back  in  their
seats,  with their  car  windows  open just  an inch  to  prevent that  ever
compromising condensation. The odd vehicle still moved to and fro  along the
main, and I heard laughter from the  far side of the marina. As I got closer
to the car park  I could see the silhouette of a couple kissing in  a saloon
to  my  right,  near  the  bin area,  but that was all.  It was probably the
vehicle that had come in  while I was  moving down  here. I didn't think I'd
seen it there before. I sauntered along  until I got  between the two  vans.
Once there, I stopped and listened,  standing  as if I was taking a piss. If
there was surveillance, it would probably be  in the unmarked one. The other
was too easy to spot with such a VDM visual distinguishing mark.
     There was nothing  I could do  but stand there and listen. I put my ear
gently against the side and opened my mouth to cut off any cavity noise, but
heard  nothing. I did the same  with the other  one,  but again, nothing. It
would look  highly suspicious  to anyone watching, a  guy  putting his  head
against a couple of vans, but I didn't have any other options.
     I must have been there for about three minutes, hearing nothing but the
gentle lapping of water against boats, and the odd clanking of the rigging.
     A vehicle screamed along the main towards Monaco as I stepped out on to
the  pier. I wasn't concerned  about the  kissers: they had other things  on
their minds, and might be there all night. The Germans  weren't  dreaming of
life on the ocean wave along  with everyone else around here. Their  TV  was
still going full blare as I  passed, but it was the last thing on my mind by
then. I had a horrible, empty feeling in my gut. I took a few more steps and
stood, looking foolishly at the washing that hung along  the back of a  boat
called the Sand Piper, which was parked  where  the Ninth of May should have
been. I stood  there like an idiot, willing my boat to materialize, hoping I
was about to discover I was on the wrong pier. But it wasn't to be.
     Fuck now what?
     Spinning on my heel, and quickening my pace, I checked further down the
pier, just in case it had been shifted a few spaces. I went back and checked
the first pier. No luck. I was  going to have to  search  the whole  fucking
place:  I didn't  know how  the system worked,  maybe  they'd been moved  to
another parking place,  or they had a  technical problem and were  parked up
alongside the workshop the other side of the marina. I  wanted to  cover  as
much of the area as I could, in as short a space of time as possible,  but I
couldn't run. There was still third-party awareness to think about.
     As I made my way back towards the shops  I delved  into my  bum-bag for
the phone card and started to recite the pager number to myself. 04 ... 93 -
45 ... Fuck, what if they'd left for Algeria already? What if Greaseball had
been wrong, and  there was only ever going to be one pick-up? My mind raced.
The tennis bags had  been big enough to hold at least  a  million and a half
dollars between them, more than enough to pay off a coach load of relations.
     Shit, shit, shit.
     Clenching the  phone card  in my fist  and  reciting the number like  a
madman,  my eyes darted everywhere, still in  hope  of spotting the boat. My
plan now was to work my way methodically around the whole marina. There  was
no other way to confirm whether the boat was there or not. I walked past the
cars that  were parked  to my right, but kept on looking out to  my left, at
the boats.
     Two bodies stepped out from the kissing car. There was a challenge from
the driver.
     "Arretez! Arretez! Arretez!"
     I  carried  on walking,  my  hands in  my  pockets,  eyes  down  at the
concrete. I wasn't going to stop, but  I didn't know what I was going to do.
Water was behind me: the  only escape was forward,  past them and up to  the
main.
     The driver, a man, was about six metres away and came out past his car,
blocking my path, his door left open.
     "Police! Arretez!"
     Now  the other body, a  woman, emerged, leaving her door open as  well.
She ran behind and past him, and carried on down to the  quay, maybe to make
sure I didn't jump in.  Her  black  leather  jacket  glinted dully under the
lights.
     Thirty-Nine.
     The man's voice was  very calm. As  he moved  forward  I could see  his
ponytail.
     "Arretez, police."
     I kept walking, head down,  and did my best to look  confused. I didn't
want to open my mouth unless I had to.
     The woman moved in step with him, following the  waterline no more than
two metres  behind. She kept  at an angle to her partner  so she had a clear
field of fire. The man  kept gob bing  off in French as he got closer to me,
moving  slowly, like a stalking cat, bending his  legs  and  hunkered down a
bit, treating  me as if I  was an unexploded bomb with a tremor  switch. The
woman sensed this was wrong: I hadn't stopped. Never taking her eyes off me,
she  moved her  right  arm, pulling  back the jacket  to get  to the  pistol
somewhere on her hip.
     No more  than three  metres  separated us now. I stopped as I heard the
squeak of leather  as the woman's pistol  came  up. I  hadn't exactly helped
calm the situation  down by not talking to  them or  looking as  if this had
never  happened before.  Her hair flicked up as she jerked her  head around,
checking everywhere to  make sure  I was  alone, before getting eyes quickly
back on me.
     Ponytail moved forward while she stood her ground, covering him. He had
a  couple of days' stubble to go with his hair. He thrust  his ID at me with
his left  hand. A National Police badge,  looking very much like a sheriff's
star with the word "Police' set in a blue centre.
     "Police," he said, in case I had trouble reading.
     He flicked the fingers of his right hand upwards, but at first I didn't
understand the gesture. Then I twigged; he wanted my hands out of my pockets
and up where he could see  them. His eyes never left mine, looking for signs
that I was going to try something. This guy was  really experienced; he knew
that eyes give away an action a second before it happens.
     He gestured upwards again with his right hand.
     "Allez,  allez." He wanted my hands in the air, or on my head, I wasn't
sure which.
     What the fuck was I  going  to do? Jump into the water and swim for it?
To where?
     He was  just  a pace  away as  my hands went  up on to my head. He  was
pleased with that and continued to talk to me in confident, subdued tones as
he closed his ID and shoved it between his teeth.
     She was still static at the water's edge, behind him and to my left.
     Ponytail closed  in and  ran his left hand over the front of my jacket.
His  right hand was still free to  draw down if necessary.  Encountering the
Sony, his eyes narrowed. He breathed through his nose, kept  the  ID  in his
mouth, and gave a muffled but calm, "Pistokt."
     Even I knew  what that meant, and  the woman  moved in closer until she
was at right angles to  me. I could almost feel her tongue in my ear as  she
whispered something along the lines of "Move and I'll kill you'.
     She was too close. You should never be within arm's reach. I  had to do
something, anything, before he got down to the Browning.
     He started to pull on the zip of my jacket, yanking  it with such force
that it snagged about a  third  of the way down and I got tipped forward. It
was time to act.
     His eyes were still  staring into mine. My hands  were still on my head
and my  left elbow  was level with her pistol. Taking a slow, deep breath, I
counted to three, then forced  my arms forward to push  the muzzle away from
me. She shouted out, as if Ponytail didn't know what was happening. I made a
lunge to the left and body-checked her, toppling her into the water.
     Ponytail came at me. I tucked my head in  and got my forehead into  his
face.  There  was a crunch of bone on bone and he dropped  to the ground.  I
followed, my head flashing with pain. It felt like I'd head butted a wall.
     He arched his back, trying to draw the weapon, which  he had  holstered
behind his right kidney, as Leather Girl splashed about below us. His jacket
fell open. I saw a mobile phone clipped to an inside pocket. It was  quicker
to get to than my Browning  or his  pistol hand.  Grabbing the phone  upside
down in my right hand,  I knelt astride him  and  stabbed at  him, using the
stubby antenna like a dagger blade, stabbing into his shoulders and chest. I
didn't want to kill him, but I needed to  fuck him up for long enough for me
to get  away. He screamed in pain and I felt his blood warm on my hand as my
own ran  into my  eyes. The pain in my  head  was a  nightmare.  I  kept  on
stabbing, maybe six or eight times more, I wasn't counting. Fuck him and his
weapon, I just wanted to make some distance between them  and me. Scrambling
to my feet, I ran towards the concrete steps.
     Ponytail cried out in pain as he writhed on the ground behind me, and I
could hear people calling out from the  boats in a cocktail of languages.  I
wasn't too worried about the girl. When she got out of the water, she'd stay
with him,  sorting him  out. It might have been worse. I might have gone for
his face or throat.
     I was taking the  steps  two  at a time  when Lotfi's voice burst in my
left ear.
     "Hello, N - N, radio check."  Almost  simultaneously, I saw  headlights
coming from the  direction of  the town, down towards the marina entrance. I
jumped over the "Ifuck girls!" bench  and hit the Sony pressle as I stumbled
into the scrub.
     "Keep going, we have a drama, do  not stop.  Go to  His vehicle. You'll
see mine there, wait there, wait there. Acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Mud  caked my bloodstained right hand,  as well as  the mobile. Lotfi's
lights  continued on past the entrance and passed  me as I grabbed the towel
and the OP kit and scrambled along the  hedgerow,  leaving the  screams  and
lights going on in boats behind me.
     As soon as I was out on to the  road I started to sprint uphill as fast
as  I  could,  ready to leap back over the hedge as soon as any vehicle came
along the road. My throat was  bone dry and my  lungs hurt  as I  sucked  in
oxygen and pumped  my  free arm to get me up  the  hill and past the bend. I
found Hubba-Hubba and Lotfi waiting in the Focus, lights off  and engine on.
Lotfi unlocked the doors as he saw me approaching.
     I jumped into the back.
     "Let's go! Drive  towards Monaco and get off the main quick as you can,
come on, let's go, let's go!"
     The Focus revved  up  and we screamed away from the kerb as I tried  to
catch my breath.
     I shoved the mobile with the OP kit in the  towel, wiping  the mud  and
blood from my hands as I did so.
     The  boat  it's  gone. At least, I think so. I  only  got  to check two
piers. The van, it was definitely the police. I've been stopped by them."
     They didn't look at all happy.
     "It's OK, I think  they just  want to know what the boat is up  to. The
guy who owns it is a drug smuggler, small-time, that's all."
     I  finished wiping my hands as the Focus hit the  first of the  hairpin
bends, and stuck the corner of the towel on  the split  in my forehead, just
inside my hairline.
     Hubba-Hubba's mind was already jumping ahead.
     "The device ...  if they are  on  their way to Algeria, we must stop it
now." "It's an option. We could make  the call, if it's still in range.  But
we've got other things to consider first. It  could have  moved  to a marina
along the coast,  so the Romeos can  still make their collections. As far as
they're concerned, yesterday was a success."
     Lotfi changed down to get up the incline.
     "Look.  Maybe the alarm and  the police scared them  last  night. Maybe
Greaseball is wrong and they  move each day ... maybe it is still down there
..."
     I  had regained  my  breath now.  Leaving my head, I fished inside  the
towel  and brought out  some  water to finish cleaning my  hands and face as
well as getting some down my neck.
     "Perhaps they've pinged us and moved, hoping  to  shake us off  for the
next two collections. Maybe they've even prepared an ambush in case  we find
them again."
     I much preferred the first two possibilities. Lotfi's face was set in a
frown as he concentrated on the road.
     "If we call  in the device now, we might stop them  getting to Algeria.
But what if they're still here? Not only do we fuck up the mission, we might
kill  real  people,  and that's something we're here to stop. So, I  reckon,
forget about the police, forget about the boat missing. These things can  be
dealt with. We're here for the hawallada, remember? One down, two to go."
     I leant back in the seat.
     "Look, we are in the shit, and right now checking the marinas seems the
best way of getting out of it. What do you think?"
     It was pointless me telling them what I  wanted  to happen. Playing the
dictator always leads to a  gang fuck. You've got to bring people along with
you. They looked at each other, mumbling away in Arabic, then both nodded.
     "I have already been to the bins and got more information about the guy
I  saw with Greaseball on Wednesday night and on board last night. The Ninth
of  May  belongs  to  him. He's  a  small-time  dealer and  another  fucking
paedophile. Him and Greaseball are mates."
     I  could hear heavy, angry breathing from both of them. "I know how you
feel, but we have to  cut away from that and get  on with  the job. Remember
what we're here for.  We've got  to find the boat.  If we have that, we have
hawallada. We have to keep focused."
     I  let it sink in, which gave me time  to think. There wasn't  really a
plan: it  was  just a  matter of  getting out there and finding the boat. If
not, we were  going to have to stake out  both Nice and Cannes tomorrow, and
hope they came to us.
     "OK, we have to  check every marina in our areas. I'm going to see what
Greaseball  knows. We'll meet at  six a.m. in  the parking  area Hubba-Hubba
uses to cover me at the DOR I want to get together while it's still dark, so
if  we've found the boat again, we can  get an OP in  to  trigger the Romeos
before first light."
     They nodded.
     "If anybody doesn't make it to the meeting place,  for whatever reason,
the other two must carry on with the job."
     I  continued my  quick change-of-plan  briefing  as it bubbled up in my
head.
     "Anyone who doesn't make the meet this morning is to stake out the Nice
address. See if you can raise anybody on the net. If not, tough. We all meet
up again, twelve thirty tomorrow  morning  in the same parking area, whether
or not we've dropped another hawallada off first.
     "If we don't find the boat, we're going to have to put triggers  on the
Nice  and Cannes addresses and  hope they turn up to collect. We do that for
two days, and if no luck, that's it, we'll have fucked up. Any questions?"
     Lotfi raised his right index finger.
     "What if only one of us makes the meet tomorrow morning?"
     My stomach rumbled. The one who makes it has the choice.  Put a trigger
on the Nice addresses and carry  on as before, or  just bin it and  go home,
accept the failure."
     Hubba-Hubba's eyes scoured the coastline.
     "It's got to be here, it's got to be somewhere," he muttered.
     "We can't let the  money leave." Lotfi gob bed off in Arabic and  I got
just one of the words.  Allah. He turned to me  as Hubba-Hubba  shrugged his
shoulders and looked back out to sea.
     "I'm  sorry, Nick, I  forget. I was saying that he is not  to worry. If
God wants us to find them we will, and he  will protect us, believe me." His
eyes shone with conviction.
     I hoped like hell he was right.
     Forty.
     The Focus drove  around  for  another twenty minutes  up  on  the  high
ground. At one point the autoroute was visible in the distance; white light,
not too much at this time of the morning, moved in both directions.
     We  came back down the mountain  to the cars. We had to get on with the
search,  and  had to  take  the chance of getting  closer once  more to  the
marina, no matter what was happening down there now.
     Lotfi changed down again as we took a steep right-hander.
     "Anyway, the Audi." I chanced a smile in the silence.
     "How did it go?"
     I drank  some more water as Hubba-Hubba gave a grin that glowed  in the
light from the instrument panel.
     "We burnt it near the incinerator." By the look on  his face, Lotfi had
enjoyed himself too.
     "There was  another dead  vehicle already  burning  there,  so  we just
joined the party' The main was clear and we parked up where we  had started.
As I gathered up my towel, the smell hit them. Lotfi quickly opened the door
to  get  out. Hubba-Hubba thought it was funny but got out all the same, for
health and safety reasons. He turned back  and whispered, "Is that,  how  do
you say, a "silent but deadly"?" I got out of the car on Lotfi's side. As he
locked  up  he  muttered,  "He  really has  been  watching too  much  BE and
Blockhead."
     Hubba-Hubba shook his head slowly.
     "Butthead - Beavis and Butthead."
     I checked  traser and it was three  fourteen as I drove through Cannes,
stopping two or three times after turning a corner to see who followed. Just
short of Greaseball's apartment off  Boulevard Carnot,  I turned three sides
of a square, but nobody came with me. Finally, I parked about half a  K from
his flat and walked in.
     I pressed the buzzer for about two minutes and eventually got a groggy,
crackly answer. I knew exactly how he felt.
     "Comment?"
     "It's me. I want to talk to you. Open up."
     He was confused.
     "Who? Who's me?"
     "Somebody you met in Algeria, remember?"
     There was a pause.
     "What?" He coughed.
     "What do you want?"
     "Open up and you'll find out."
     The speaker went dead and was replaced by  the high-pitched buzz of the
electric latch.  I moved towards the stairs, taking my time to minimize  the
squeaking  of  my Timberlands on the fake  marble, and didn't push the light
switch to help me up the stairs. The Browning came out and I pulled back the
hammer to full cock and pushed  the safety  catch up with my thumb, ready to
take it off at a moment's notice as I slowly climbed.
     Standing in the stairwell on the fourth floor, I listened with my right
ear at the doorway out  into the corridor, my mouth open to lessen the noise
of me catching  my breath. There was nothing. I moved  into the hallway with
the  pistol  at my side. I  got  to Rat 49 and  tapped  gently on the  door,
standing to the left of the frame so I could see into the flat as soon as it
opened. There was the rattle of a security chain, then the squeak of hinges.
He looked scared but a bit out of it, dark rings beneath his glazed eyes. He
staggered a  little as he led me into the living room. The glass patio doors
and shutter  were closed, so the smell of cigarettes was overpowering. Fully
dressed, he stood by the  coffee table,  taking  nervous  sips from  a small
bottle of Evian. A used syringe lay on top of the table, next to a foil card
of oblong-shaped pills.
     His hair was  greasy as always, but  now  sticking up.  His red-striped
shirt was creased, with the  tail hanging out.  Judging by the  scrunched-up
pashmina on the settee, that was where he'd been sleeping.
     "Is there anybody else here?"
     "No, there's  no  one. What do you want? I have told you everything ' I
put the Browning muzzle to his lips.
     "Shut the fuck up." I  nodded towards  the door that divided the living
area from the corridor  into the bedroom and bathroom, then stepped back and
closed the front door with my arse.
     "Go on. You know what to do."
     "I tell you, there is no one here. Why would I lie to you? Why?"
     He held out his arms in submission and swayed a little.
     "Just do it."
     After two attempts he recapped the bottle, chucked it on to the settee,
and walked into the corridor. I moved behind him, clearing the flat. Nothing
much had changed: everything was  still in a shit state.  We came  back into
the living room and he sat down, slumping into the cushions.
     "Where's the Ninth of May?"
     His brain wouldn't compute.
     "It's where I said it would be."
     "No, it isn't.  It  was there yesterday, but now it's moved.  Where has
Jonathan taken the boat?"
     He looked totally confused now.
     "He?    Who?   I   don't    understand    what    you    '    "Jonathan
Tynan-lah-di-fucking-dah-Ramsay. I know  all about  him, what  he does, what
he's  done, who  he's done it  with I even saw you with him Wednesday night.
The Fiancee of the Desert, Juan-les-Pins, remember?"
     I bent down, looking into the wall  unit for  the Polaroids,  but  they
were still nowhere to be seen.
     I straightened again.
     "You hearing me?" I pushed up his chin and finally got to look into his
eyes.
     "I have no time to fuck about. Tell me where the boat is."
     He  looked  genuinely puzzled and  very worried as he slumped back into
the settee.
     "I don't understand, I don't know what you're saying. He should ' "It's
very simple," I cut in.
     "The  Ninth of  May has left Beaulieu-sur-Mer  and I want to know where
it's gone. Back to Marseille?"
     I wanted him to know I knew a lot more than he thought.
     There was no more time to waste. I was losing valuable minutes.  I went
to  the kitchen  and  used the  muzzle  of  the Browning  to rummage in  the
drawers. I picked up  a  plastic-handled bread knife  and came back into the
living room. He pushed himself back an extra three inches in the  settee. He
was paying a lot of attention to me now.
     I'm going to ask one more time. Where is the boat?"
     He hesitated, then began to stutter.
     "I don't know  ... it  should  be  at  the  port.  It  isn't  going  to
Marseille, that was just to pick up the two guys from the Algiers ferry. No,
no  ... Beaulieu-sur-Mer ... that's what he '  He was  rubbing his face  now
with both hands, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his legs.
     "It should be there, I..."
     I  didn't try to get eye contact  again, just pushed  him back into the
back cushions and pointed the knife at his face. He needed to see it.
     "Listen carefully. If you don't know where it is, you're no good to me.
I don't give a shit how important you think  you are to other people.  To me
you're nothing, and I'd rather have you  dead than able to talk about me, if
you ever live long enough, pumping that shit down you." His dopy eyes rolled
towards the syringe and pills.
     "Please, I  don't know  anything. The boat should be  at the port.  The
boat was there. I swear, you  will make a great mistake, I am protected, I '
"Shut the  fuck up. You've got fifteen seconds left. Tell  me where the boat
is." I shoved the Browning into my jeans and checked traser.
     "You saw  how messy this gets ... especially if  this thing isn't sharp
enough."
     His eyes were jumping around in his head. He was losing it, big-time.
     "I swear I don't know,  please  ..." His hands  suddenly came up, as if
he'd had a revelation.
     "Maybe he's gone back to Vauban..."
     "Antibes?"
     "Yes, yes. Maybe he's moved back there ..."
     I knew this place, I  knew  Vauban. It was a  massive marina in the old
town of Antibes, about ten minutes' drive from  Juan-les-Pins. I pointed the
knife back at him.
     "Why there?"
     "It's  always there, in the port, that's where he lives.  He told me he
would go to Beaulieu-sur-Mer for three days with those guys. I swear this is
the truth, I swear ..."
     "Where in Vauban?"
     "With the fishing boats."
     I reckoned  he was scared enough now  to  be  telling  the truth. Sweat
poured down his face as he leaned forward, nervously pushed a tablet through
the foil and bunged it down his neck, then fought with the Evian bottle top.
I watched as  he swallowed it like a gulping dog, hands shaking so badly the
water ran down the side of his stubbly face.
     He fiddled with the  foil,  as  if making up his mind whether to take a
second for luck.
     "Is everything still going to plan?"
     He looked up at me, his voice trembling as much as everything else.
     "Yes, yes, everything. I'm sure. I don't know why the boat has moved. I
didn't  speak  with  Jonathan  since he  returned  from  Marseille  with the
collectors on  Wednesday.  He stopped  at Vauban with those  guys for a  few
hours,  to meet  me and try to persuade them to stay there. That was  when I
learnt the addresses of  these  hawallada. You have to believe  me.  If  the
Ninth  of  May has moved, that is where it will  be,  by the  fishing boats.
Jonathan will not be letting anyone down, there  will be a reason for him to
leave."
     I looked down  at  the crap he had on  the  table. He  knew what I  was
thinking.
     "You're disgusted. Everything I do disgusts you." He waved the card  at
the syringe.
     "You  think  this is heroin,  or maybe  a little mixer, something  like
that?" He held  up the tablet that he'd just pulled out with his shaky thumb
and forefinger. This, my  friend, this  is saquinavir, an antiretroviral..."
His whole  demeanour  had changed. I  didn't  know whether  he suddenly just
didn't  give  a fuck, or if the chemicals he was  taking had made  him a bit
soft in the head. He put the pill  into his mouth, but didn't follow it with
any water. It rattled against his teeth as he spoke.
     "How times have changed. I take it for keeping slim at the gates for as
long as I can. The syringe, that  is for  my pain. These are the only  drugs
Jonathan and I take these days."
     He  tilted  the  last  of the Evian into  and around  his mouth  before
collapsing back into his sleeping position on the settee.
     The police were at  Beaulieu-sur-Mer. They  were  looking at  the  boat
before it disappeared."
     He smiled weakly to himself and moved  his head to get more comfortable
in the pashmina.
     "He told them he didn't want to leave Vauban, he told me at dinner, but
that's what they wanted, so ..." He shrugged his visible shoulder.
     "He is my  friend, I  know him. He must  have moved  back  home to make
things look more  normal. Yes, that's what he has done. The  boat would have
been  watched  because it has moved such a small distance. The police,  they
know these things, the boat is known to them. But those two guys, they don't
know that."
     He smiled to himself once more and rubbed his eye like a child.
     He might be right. Curly might have used  the Romeos'freaking out as an
excuse to move back to where he felt safer.
     Greaseball looked up at me, red-eyed.
     "Do you know why it's called that?"
     "What?"
     The ninth of May, 1945. The day Guernsey was  liberated from the Nazis.
Jonathan's  a very patriotic boy." He was definitely  in a world of his own;
maybe the  pills  were making him ramble. He  sighed  and a little stream of
saliva dribbled down the side of his face.
     "It  is  going to be our liberation." He took a  deep, whistling breath
through his nostrils,  and  his eyelids  drooped. He  gave  himself a small,
secret smile.
     "Not sad for long. No, no, no."
     "Both of you planning to go out with a bang, are you?"
     "Bien sur, mon  ami. That's the only thing that keeps us  alive. I know
you want to kill me. But  I don't care what you  think. Fuck all of you. All
of you are hypocrites.  You  find  us disgusting, yet you use us if it suits
you. You give me immunity for what we have done."
     "Fucking boys, you  mean? Does  he still do it? You take him to Algeria
with you?"
     "And  more,  and more."  His eyes  were almost  shut  now,  and  he was
dribbling big-time. Whatever he'd been pumping into his veins over the years
had cost him several billion brain cells.
     "You don't like me and I don't like you. But I've still given you  what
you need.  You know why?  Because  we do have something between us.  We both
hate al-Qaeda."  He tried to stare at  me with glazed  eyes, but he was just
off-line.
     "Are  you surprised? Why  else do you think I am doing this? Why do you
think I  told  them I could organize the  collections? I  have  made  them a
fortune from heroin here, and what do I get?" He threw his arm out, pointing
at the flat.
     "So, you  see, we  are  the same, you and  me. You don't like that,  do
you?" He gave up trying to lock on my eyes and turned over.
     I opened the door with my sweatshirt cuff and left him to his dreams. I
only wished I could have helped him on his way.
     Forty-One.
     Antibes and  its  harbour, Port  Vauban,  is Yachting  Central for  the
Mediterranean. A third of the  world's  mega boats are based on the Riviera,
and the majority of them are parked in this one port.  Here, even boats with
a helicopter on the deck are sneered at by those on Millionaires' Row, where
the smallest looks as if it's owned by Cunard.
     The  support  services for  all these thousands of pleasure  craft make
Antibes  an  all-year-round  town,  not   a   sleepy,  seasonal  place  like
Juan-les-Pins or any of the others along the coast.
     I  passed  the nondescript apartment blocks that had spread out  of the
old town like a wave, swamping everything in their path, and as I neared the
port the streets  began to narrow  and  the buildings  got much older. There
were just  inches each side for manoeuvring  past rows of scooters and cars,
all  of which looked abandoned rather than parked. Maybe the mayor awarded a
weekly prize for the most artistic parking arrangement.
     The  Romans  had  built  Antibesinto  an  important town,  but  in  the
seventeenth century the public baths, aqueduct and open-air theatre had been
torn down and  the stone used  to build  its de  fences including  a fort to
protect the port where  Napoleon was once imprisoned.  All  that was left of
the old city wall was a few hundred metres that faced the port.
     The  old  town  proper  was  picture  postcard  stuff,  apart  from the
Christmas  lights taped  on to  windows and  straddling  the  streets. Tall,
shuttered buildings lined the streets, with washing strung  on lines between
them. I drove through a small archway set into the old wall, which was maybe
ten  metres thick.  The other  side and ahead of me was  a forest  of masts,
illuminated by  the harbour lights. To my left was a  car park that followed
the  wall until it ended, maybe two hundred  metres away. To  my  right, the
wall continued, and rows of small fishing boats were parked up in the water.
Behind them, small market  stalls waited empty  to sell the day's  catch. If
Greaseball was correct,  then somewhere among the fishing boats, in the poor
man's area, was the Ninth of May.
     The car park  was virtually empty, and not a VW camper to be seen.  Not
that  I expected to see it: if the police were here, they certainly wouldn't
be using the same vehicle. Keeping  a  constant speed, I checked out the car
park opening times before turning left, back  into the old  town, parking in
the first space I could find.
     If there was a  French trigger  on the Ninth of May,  they'd ping me as
well if I used the car park. Just like  the Romeos,  I always  wanted  to be
behind  them,  out of their field of view. I'd abandoned my  jacket  and cap
after the gang fuck at the marina and cleaned myself up a bit before putting
on the new green baggy  sweatshirt I'd bought at  Cap 3000 during  the brush
contact yesterday.
     Before getting  out  I checked  the  Browning and  the bum-bag  for the
umpteenth time before following the wall town side back towards the port. To
my right was  a line of  small  restaurants and  cafes in the shadow of  the
massive blocks of  granite  or  whatever it was.  They  were closed for  the
night, their outside furniture stacked, wired and padlocked to the ground.
     I headed past the archway towards  the  stone steps up to the ramparts,
so that I could get a better view of the boats.
     Once through an alleyway between the wall and a closed-up bar I emerged
into a  small,  cobbled,  tree-lined square  that  had made many a  postcard
photographer's  day.  As  I started up the  steps, I looked at  the sky. The
clouds had gone and stars were out, twinkling as best they could against the
manmade stuff thrown up from the town and harbour.
     I stopped  about four steps before  the top to check out  the ramparts.
Along  each side of the wall was a  three-foot-high parapet, which must once
have  run its entire length. Now, it was blocked in both directions, leaving
quite a large area for people to use as a viewing platform. To the left, the
wall over the archway was blocked by a rusty wrought-iron gate and railings,
and to my right it had been made into a small car park. How they got up here
was a mystery, but I saw three empty cars  and a Renault van. The van was  a
dark colour, and  had been  reversed  against the parapet. Its  rear windows
looked down over the port.
     I moved back down the stairs a little, into dead ground, and sat on the
steps. A dog  started to  yap somewhere in the old town and a moped  rattled
along the cobblestones below.
     There was only one way to find  out if the van was occupied  or  not. I
stood up and climbed to the  viewing area. The van had a sliding door on its
passenger side, so I kept to the right-hand side of it,  in case it suddenly
opened to reveal a bedraggled, short-haired woman in a damp leather jacket.
     As I approached, I could see that the driver's cab was blocked off from
the rear, screening the  interior. I'd have expected a vehicle  like this to
be full of old newspapers and drinks cans, even an air-freshener hanging off
the mirror, but there was nothing.
     I got  on the right side of it, between the flush body panel and a BMW,
before standing still, doing my open-mouth trick, and waiting.
     The dog  sparked  up again.  Still I  waited, and  maybe three or  four
minutes  passed before there was movement. The  steel creaked just a little;
maybe they were changing over  the trigger; but enough to tell me there were
people inside. I  moved forward, closer to  the parapet, but not beyond  the
line of  the  rear  windows,  to look down at the quay. I couldn't help  but
smile as my eyes followed the line of boats below me. There, tied up next to
the first  of a  whole row of bigger boys,  a fifty-foot monster  called the
Lee, was the Ninth of  May, looking as if it was hiding behind  its mother's
skirts.
     Like the owners of plenty of other small craft here, Curly had made the
place  look just  like  home. The  quay  behind boasted  an  array  of  very
weathered garden furniture.
     I studied the settee cover on the top deck, and it looked much the same
as when I'd left it. There were no lights on board and the blinds were down.
     I turned slowly,  walked back to the steps  and down  into the  square,
leaving the police to  it as I thought through potential exit points for the
Romeos. They'd  have to come along  the  quay, past  the  fishing  boats and
stalls, until they  got to the road through the archway. They  could then go
straight, following the wall on either side  until  it stopped, then uphill,
out  of the  old town, towards the railway station. The other  option was to
turn left through the archway and head for the  bus station through  the old
town. Neither was more than ten minutes' walk away.
     According  to traser it was three fifty-eight. I still had time to do a
more detailed recce of both, and work  out how I was going to  get a trigger
in on the boat without  getting pinged by the police. I crossed the archway,
staying out of sight on the town side of the wall, and went to check out the
rail option  first. I thought about the two,  maybe three people  inside the
Renault. Chances were, they had a camera mounted, ready to take  pictures of
the  boat as soon as there was movement on board. Like me, any food they had
with  them would  have been removed  from its  original noisy packaging, and
wrapped in cling film or a plastic bag. Their toilet arrangements would be a
little better than mine, though:  they might even have  stretched to plastic
jerry cans  The inside of the van  would be protected to cut down  on noise.
Maybe the  floor was  covered with  soft  gym mats and the  wall padded with
foam. They'd certainly be wearing trainers or soft shoes.
     But  even so, at night,  with hardly any ambient noise to  drown  their
gentle movements, thank fuck I had heard them.
     Forty-Two.
     It was six thirty-three when I arrived in Hubba-Hubba's car park, three
minutes late. The other  two  vehicles were already there, parked  together,
with no  one else  around. It was far too dark to  walk the dog, and the sex
would have happened hours ago.
     Once I'd closed down the Megane, I started towards Hubba-Hubba's Scudo.
The cab windows were slightly open, and the engine was off. I heard a gentle
click behind me as Lotfi closed the door of the Focus. We approached the van
together and as we climbed  in through the side door the ribbed steel  floor
buckled gently under our combined  weight. Hubba-Hubba turned  round  in the
driver's seat to  face  us  both. I  slid the side door  back  so it  closed
gently, and before anybody said anything I gave them a thumbs-up in the dull
light of the glove compartment bulb.
     "We've got the boat back. Greaseball gave it to me and  I have checked,
they're in Antibes." Two very relieved people gave big sighs and gob bed off
to each other in Arabic.
     "But we do have a problem: the police are there."
     I described the boat's exact location, then the position of the Renault
van, and the layout of the surrounding area.
     "The only way I can see us getting a trigger on the target is by having
someone  in  the  back of  this  thing." I  looked at  Hubba-Hubba  as  they
exchanged more Arab stuff and sounded quizzed.
     "Where are the blankets to cover the  hawalladaT  He tapped the rear of
his driver's seat.
     "Under here."
     "Good, I think it'll work. Basically, one  of us  needs  to get in  the
back of  this wagon, and stay there all day  if necessary, watching the quay
by the fishing boats and the archway  so we can trigger the  Romeos away. We
need to play about with the back of this thing a  little  bit, but the first
thing we need  to do  is choose the  right  man  for  the  job. Hubba-Hubba,
congratulations."
     He didn't make any sounds of concern.
     "Don't  look so happy. You're just about  to find out what it's like to
be holed up in the back of one  of these things  all day, looking through  a
small aperture  waiting  for the target, knowing  that if you take your eyes
off the trigger for just a second,  you could miss what you've  been waiting
hours to see."
     Lotfi knelt up and forward and  shook Hubba-Hubba's shoulder, obviously
pleased it wasn't him. That's not a problem for this man. He's the smallest,
of course he should do it."
     Hubba-Hubba  said something  back  that didn't  sound too  pleasant.  I
couldn't  do anything  but smile  because I didn't  know what  Lotfi was  on
about. To me they looked like they'd both come out of the same mould.
     I took a breath to gather my thoughts.
     "OK,  then,  first  things first."  I was  waiting for Lotfi to get his
beads out and, sure enough, I heard a click.
     "Ground you've just had it. Remember that the bus and the rail stations
are a lot  closer to  the boat than they were yesterday. That's good for us,
as  it's easier to take them, but it's bad if they've decided they can  trim
their timings and get there just in time to jump  on and go. So we've got to
be on the mark and right on top of them.
     "The  boat is in exactly the same condition as when we last saw it: the
blinds  are down, everything is buttoned up on the device. There's no reason
to believe it's been moved, or that the Romeos have gone." Lotfi's mind  was
elsewhere.
     "What about the  police, Nick?  What about what happened to you? Do you
think they have made a connection between you and the boat?"
     "I  really don't  know. We  just  have to  focus  on what we're  doing.
Nothing has  changed for  me.  We have a  job to do, an important  job.  The
police are at Vauban so what? They're here for the boat, we're here for  the
hawallada  and the cash. If we do our job properly they  won't even know  we
exist. When, or if,  they do, that's when  I'll start flapping. It's  a tall
order, but we don't have a choice."
     Lotfi gently tapped his brother's arm once more.
     "But Nick and I, we are taller."
     He was clearly very pleased not to be going in the back of the Scudo.
     "Situation.  Greaseball  and  the int from the recycling bins both said
the police presence could just be routine,  because Curly's used the boat to
smuggle heroin.
     "And because  it's  moved about quite a bit these  last  few  days, the
police  have taken  an interest. It  went from its normal  parking place  in
Vauban to Marseille to pick up the Romeos from the Algiers ferry, then  back
home to Vauban, then to BSM. I reckon they moved  back because of the  alarm
last night. The  Romeos were spooked big-time,  and I think Curly used it as
an excuse to scurry back home."
     Hubba-Hubba adjusted himself in his seat.
     "But why use a boat that is known to the police? That's crazy ..."
     "Fuck knows,  mate. I asked Greaseball and he said  the  Romeos  didn't
know the boat was known, and laughed. Maybe him and Curly were so  desperate
to make  a few dollars they just forgot to tell them that  the  Ninth of May
had form. Who knows, who cares?"
     Lotfi did. Why, if they are getting  paid for helping the  Romeos, does
Greaseball become the source?"
     That I don't  know.  What  I do  know is  that  he's protected,  so  he
probably has  no choice  and maybe he thinks he'll get  to keep some of  the
money." Neither of them could  keep a straight face as Lotfi gave out a low,
"Booooom."
     I grinned too. I couldn't agree more.
     "It's just a shame that Greaseball won't  be on board when we make that
call."
     Hubba-Hubba looked as disappointed as I felt.
     "So,  I reckon that if they don't know  the  police have eyes  on them,
we've  got to assume  that everything from the collectors' point of view  is
still going to plan, and they're off to Nice tomorrow."
     I pressed on.
     "Enemy  forces. We  now have  Curly  on  the  list  and, of course, the
police. Also, don't forget  our last enemy. Watch your third-party awareness
... "Execution general outline. Phase  one is getting this van  in position,
which has to be pretty soon, before the car park fills up, so we've got time
to manoeuvre you into a good spot before it gets busy. Phase two, triggering
the  collectors and taking  them  to Nice, or wherever  they're going to go.
Phase  three,  the lift  of the  hawallada,  and the drop-off.  Phase  four,
setting up for the last collect in Cannes."
     I saw Lotfi's fingers getting ready for the next few clicks.
     "Phase one, positioning  the van." I explained that  I needed the Scudo
to nosey-park  in one of  the spaces near  the archway so that the rear door
windows faced  the  fishing boats,  with Hubba-Hubba already in the back and
Lotfi driving.
     "You guys need  to meet up somewhere  near the rail station." I pointed
at Lotfi.
     "Leave  your car there,  then drive Hubba-Hubba  into position. The car
park barrier comes down at six, so make sure you leave the parking ticket in
the cab with  some  cash.  Work  out  where you're going to leave it in  the
vehicle,  but  leave it out of  sight. And  remember,  there  could  be eyes
looking at you from inside that Renault."
     I turned to Hubba-Hubba.
     "For the same reason, just be careful and  don't rush coming out of the
back of here. You can have a  practice later. Make sure you have the trigger
on the quay, and be able to give direction if the Romeos are foxtrot or even
mobile at that archway. Who knows?  Curly  might have a car  and give them a
lift."
     Hubba-Hubba nodded intently.
     "So  then,  phase two, triggering the  collectors. On the standby  from
Hubba-Hubba, I want you, Lotfi, to cover the rail station. You don't have to
be on it physically all the time; you can be hovering about having  a coffee
somewhere, doing whatever you want  to do, but make sure you have eyes on it
within  a  minute. And, of course, make  sure your car is nearby so you  can
react to whatever the Romeos do.  I'm going to be doing the same, but at the
bus station.
     "Phase  three,  taking the  collectors to the hawallada. We're going to
have to do exactly the same as we planned before, and that's why Hubba-Hubba
needs  to be  in the back  here, because I want  us all in  our own vehicles
today. Does that make sense?"
     Hubba-Hubba  nodded at Lotfi, pleased  there  was  a tactical  decision
behind my choice.
     I  ran through all the RV drills if we got  split during the take. They
were the same as yesterday's, but I covered them anyway.
     "Any questions?"
     None.
     "Phase  four,  the  lift and the drop-off. Same  as yesterday. We don't
know  where the  hawallada  is going to be,  we've just got  to think on our
feet.  If there's  one  of  us, if there's  three  of us, it doesn't matter.
Whoever's there will just have to improvise. The most important thing is, we
must get these people. I've got two cartridges left for my pen, so I'm going
to need a spare from one of you. We can redistribute the stuff tomorrow."
     Lotfi fished in his jacket pocket.
     "Any  questions?  All  right, service and  support. Remember  the radio
frequency change  at midnight. Remember fresh batteries.  Remember full fuel
tanks. Remember the pager number. And please, Lotfi, put in a good word with
God  for us again." He shrugged his shoulders. There is no  need.  I already
have."
     "Then  ask him  if  he  wants  to  give  us  a  hand  sorting  out  the
arrangements."
     Hubba-Hubba sparked up.
     "We are going to prepare it here?"
     Why not? It's as a good  a place  as any. Besides, it won't  take  more
than half an hour. All we have to do is use  one  of the blankets to cut off
the rear from the cab, and make a small aperture through the paint on one of
the rear windows. Easy."
     We  sat  in  the  dark  now  that  Hubba-Hubba  had  closed  the  glove
compartment.
     "But the  problem  there is."  I poked Hubba-Hubba in the shoulder, 'no
matter how small the aperture, there is  always the risk of compromise. Kids
are a  nightmare: they always  seem  to be  exactly the same  height  as the
aperture. And when they've thrown a wobbler at their mother,  they'll always
stop and turn just in time to notice half an eye looking out at them  from a
hole in the van parked next to them. That normally freaks them out  and they
scream  which, of course, pisses the mother  off even more, and she  doesn't
believe the kid's story of eyeballs looking at them and drags them away."
     Hubba-Hubba conferred with Lotfi. He looked confused.
     "Nick, what is a wobbler?"
     "A paddy." He still didn't get it.
     Lotfi gob bed off some Arabic as Hubba-Hubba nodded intently.
     I leant forward and poked him in the same spot once more.
     "And that's the least  you'll  be wanting  to throw  after  a few hours
staring out of the back of this thing."
     Forty-Three.
     We all exited the Scudo.
     "Lotfi, I need you to keep a  lookout  on the road while I sort out the
back with Hubba-Hubba, OK?"
     "Of  course." He walked to the parking area entrance as  we put the van
space  light back  in place  to see what we were  doing, and  started to use
gaffer tape  to fix  up  one  of the dark  patterned, furry  nylon  blankets
Hubba-Hubba had bought so that it hung from the roof just behind the two cab
seats.
     Hubba-Hubba was leaning in from the  left, and me from the right, as he
whispered  questions about his new  job to the sound  of  gaffer tape  being
pulled away from its reel.
     "Won't  my  eyes  be  seen  from  outside  if  I'm  looking through the
aperture?"
     "No, mate, it doesn't  work like that  if we do it  correctly. It'll be
pitch black inside here if we seal the blanket down the sides. You just need
to keep your head back a bit, especially if there's a kid throwing a wobbler
next to you."
     What about noise? What if I have to move, what if I get a cramp?"
     "That is a problem,  mate,  because if  you move too fast the wagon can
rock. The slightest movement  can  be  detected. Even when these things  are
purpose-built  inside a van.  If you ha veto just  do it  really slowly. You
must keep the noise down in there.
     "Normally these  vans would be  lined  with foam,  stuff like that,  to
absorb the noise.  But for  you there is  going to be jack shit. You'll just
have to take your boots off and lay out the spare blanket."
     "Jack shit... Jack shit. Yes, I like this saying."
     "And  talking  of  shit,  don't.  Sorry. No food, just water, you can't
afford to need a dump." I explained the logistics.
     "Make sure you take some empty bottles to piss into Dumping is going to
make too  much noise, too much movement, and you won't be  able  to keep the
trigger. And you can't just dump in your  jeans, because you need to get out
and join in the take."
     Hubba-Hubba couldn't resist.
     "Have you ever had to dump during one of these triggers?"
     Twice. Once on purpose, because there was nothing I could do about  it.
I was just about to trigger someone and I couldn't hold it in any longer. It
didn't  matter,  because I wasn't  in the take, just  the trigger, so I  was
going to be driven away."
     Another length of gaffer tape was ripped off the roll.
     "And the other?"
     "Let's just say it was lucky I had a long coat on."
     The blanket  was now hanging from the roof and we were starting to tape
down the sides. Even with half of it hanging  down  and the rest gathered on
the floor, I could make out the picture I was faced with in the dull light.
     "Where the fuck did you  get  this?" I pulled out the blanket from  the
bottom to expose the remainder of the furry dogs playing snooker.
     They were all I could get in the time..." He giggled as he realised how
stupid it looked, and I couldn't help but join in.
     I forced myself to get serious.
     "Where's your spray paint?"
     "In the passenger door compartment."
     "OK. You need to seal off just a little more down your side."
     I climbed out of the van and walked round  to the right  hand  door, to
the  sound  of  ripping gaffer tape as he got  to work. Bythe time I had got
round to the back again, Hubba-Hubba was sitting on the side door sill.
     "What we need to do now, mate, is scrape a small hole at  the bottom of
the right hand window,  in the left  hand  corner. That way the aperture  is
roughly in the centre of the rear, and you'll get a better perspective."
     I shook the paint can and the ball bearing mixer inside rattled about.
     "Keep it in the back in case you need to make it smaller once you're in
position."
     Less than five minutes later, and  with the  use of Hubba-Hubba's thumb
nail, it was done: a  nice little  scrape, a centimetre long,  ran along the
bottom of the right hand window.
     "Once you've triggered the Romeos, just crawl under the blanket,  check
first it's clear,  and climb out. You've got the Renault to think about, and
we  might  as  well   keep  the  blanket  in  position  seeing  as  it's  so
interesting."
     Hubba-Hubba stayed  in the  back as  I got out  and  slid the side door
shut, and the interior  light died. I moved  to the driver's seat  and could
hear him moving about inside.
     I opened the glove compartment for some light.
     "OK, mate, have a go at getting out."
     He started to  worm his way under the blanket, trying to keep low. When
he was half way, he stopped and fished down the front of his  shirt, pulling
out his charm.
     "It keeps doing this." He lay where he was, checking the clasp.
     "H, can I ask you a question?"
     He looked up, surprised, and nodded.
     "I think I  understand Lotfi but," I indicated his little  beaded palm,
'where does this fit in? Are you religious you know, a paid-up Muslim?"
     He concentrated once more on his repairs.
     "Of  course, there is only one God. To be a true Muslim doesn't mean we
all have to be like Lotfi. Salvation is attained not by faith but by works."
He took the charm  to  his teeth,  biting down  on the metal before fiddling
with it some more.
     "You see,  when  I die I will be able  to say the Shahada with the same
conviction as he will. Do you know  what I  am talking about?" He raised his
head again.
     "You heard the old guard say it in Algeria.
     "La il aha ill-Allah, Muhammad-ur  rasul-ullah." For  you,  that means:
"There is  no God  but Allah, and Muhammad is the apostle of Allah." That is
the  Shahada, the first and greatest teaching of Islam. I  just said that to
you with true sincerity, and that is what makes me just as  good a Muslim as
him." He fastened the chain, and gave it an experimental tug.
     "When  my book of destiny is weighed it will show God that I was also a
good  man, and  my  reward will be the same  as his, crossing the bridge  to
Paradise.  Our Paradise is not like yours a cloud  to sit on, a harp to play
it  is a perfumed garden of  material  and sensual  delights, surrounded  by
rivers and fountains playing. Sounds good,  yes?"  He  put  the  charm  back
around his neck.
     "Lotfi would be able to tell  you  what Suras that is in. But  before I
get there, I have to live this life." The charm was now securely back on and
he lifted it up for me to see.
     "And this gives me all the help I need."
     He replaced the chain  around  his neck before  finishing  his crawl up
into the passenger seat.
     "What does Lotfi think of all that?" I was puzzled.
     "How come  you two are so different? I mean, you with the charm and him
with the Qur'an?"
     He  smiled as he fought with the seat, jerking himself forwards, trying
to get the thing to move as he pressed down on  the seat adjuster, so  there
was more room to crawl  into the cab. As the  seat finally gave  in, I could
see where he had hidden the cash from Gumaa.
     "We  were  both  at a Muslim school  together  you  know, sitting there
cross-legged on  the floor,  learning to  recite the  Qur'an  from memory. I
would have been like him, if it wasn't for the fact that the words just fell
out of my head as quickly as  they tried to put them in. So I was thrown out
of school and our  mother  taught me with my sister. Our  father had died of
TB,  years  before." He  looked directly into my eyes. "You  see, going to a
religious school is not just about faith. For a family cursed by poverty, it
is  a way  outboys are fed and cared for. Our mother saw it as the only  way
for us to survive."
     "But how did you learn English? I mean, most  people in  your shoes are
still '
     He laughed gently to himself.
     "You know, the first  pair of  shoes  I ever had were  from Lotfi. They
were given to him at school." His smile turned to an expression of  infinite
sadness.
     "Our mother died a few months after Khalisah was beaten. She never  was
the same after that none of us were."
     He put his hand on my shoulder.
     "But  we stayed  together, Nick.  That is  because the  inheritance our
mother left  us was love for  each other. We  are a family  first, no matter
what disagreements we may have, no matter  what  pain we may suffer. Because
we have love."
     I thought a bit about my inheritance, but decided to shut the fuck up.
     He tapped his chest.
     "He  hates  this. He says I  will not go  to Paradise,  but to Gahenna,
hell, instead. But he is wrong, I think." His eyes sparkled.
     "I hope ..."
     He paused  for a moment,  but I kept silent. These  boys were  making a
habit of saying stuff that came a bit too close for comfort.
     "Lotfi  is  not right  about  everything, but neither am I. And  it was
Lotfi who gave up what he had  to take us both to Cairo, to our aunt, and to
school. That's why  I  speak English. We are a  family, Nick. We learnt long
ago to meet in the middle, because otherwise the family  is lost. And we had
a promise to keep, that we made as children."
     He dug into his jeans pocket before pointing a clenched fist at me.
     "What is it?"
     "Ketamine, you needed some more, no?"
     Forty-Four.
     The square  was near the bus station in the new part of  Antibes. I sat
in  my  car in a roadside parking  space  with my hat and sunglasses on  and
listened  to  the two  of them as they put the Scudo  in place,  Hubba-Hubba
giving Lotfi instructions as he manoeuvred the wheel.
     "Back,  back,  back,  stop, stop."  I'd  asked them  to communicate  in
English  so  I  knew   what  was  happening.  Finally  everything   was   to
Hubba-Hubba's satisfaction.
     "H  has the trigger. I can't see the target, but I will be able to give
a  stand-by as soon as they  move along the quay, and  can give direction at
the  archway.  The  Renault  is  still  on  the  wall. It's  dark  blue.  N,
acknowledge."
     I put my left hand down to my jeans belt and hit the pressle.
     "Roger that, that's N foxtrot. L, be careful."
     "Roger that. That's L, foxtrot to check the obvious." He was on his way
to  confirm the Ninth of May was still there.  Just because the police were,
it didn't automatically mean the boat was. The  only way for him to do  that
was to go up on the wall where the van was, or hug the port side of the wall
so he was  in dead ground to the van along the quay. But that would take him
in direct line of sight to the boat. He opted for the  wall and bras sing it
out. He wouldn't be  there for more  than a minute, and it had to be done. I
got  out of the Megane and bought myself a  twenty-four-hour parking ticket.
The  last  thing I wanted was to  come  back here and find  the car had been
towed  away.  I  had  also  learnt  a  lesson yesterday when I  should  have
pre-bought tickets in both directions in case the timings were tight for the
Romeos  when  they caught the train, and  there wasn't enough time to  get a
ticket without them seeing me. I wasn't making  the same mistake today: both
Lotfi and I had paid a visit to the station earlier this morning.
     I left  the parking ticket on the dashboard and glanced down at traser:
seven  forty-seven.  Dodging the  dog shit,  I  headed across the  square in
search  of a cafe. I was ready for some  coffee and croissants. It was going
to be a sunny  day; the birds were singing  in  the morning's  first  light,
traffic was moving, people were going to work, most with  sunglasses on, and
a lot with small dogs in tow.
     Several of the cafes were open, their canvas  or plastic awnings out to
shade  the  handful of customers who  were already  getting stuck  in to the
coffee and newspapers.
     I walked over the square towards a large corner cafe that was all glass
front, with huge patio doors and wicker  chairs outside, and ordered a large
creme  along with a couple of  croissants, paying for it  there and then  in
case I got a stand-by. It was  time just to sit and relax in the shade until
Hubba-Hubba gave us the hurry-up.
     Lotfi  came on the net just as the croissants were put on the table. He
was walking:  I could hear French conversation and the beep  of a scooter in
the background. This is L. The obvious is still static, blinds down, gangway
up. H, N, acknowledge."
     I put my hand down on the Sony and waited to hear the double-click from
H before I gave mine.
     Lotfi came back.
     "I'm going for coffee. H, what would you like cappuccino?"
     There was no reply to that or, at least, not on the net.
     Cars trundled around the large  grass- and tree-covered square The sore
on my stomach was trying hard to  scab but the hammer on my  Browning wasn't
going to let it.  No matter, two more days  and the weapon could go into the
sea. I felt into my hairline above my forehead; at least a  scab  had sealed
the head butt split.
     I drank coffee and watched doorsteps  being  washed, and rat dogs being
walked  by their owners and having a dump everywhere they could. I could sit
here  for  an hour or so  and no  one  would see it  as anything out of  the
ordinary.
     I started to  think about  the  police  but  cut  away quickly. If they
planned to do anything we  would know about it  soon enough.  And  there was
fuck all we could do about them in the meantime.
     I stretched  out my legs under the table, and thought about Hubba-Hubba
cramped up in the back of the small van. Although Lotfi and I were  covering
the two stations, we also  had to make sure we were close enough to give him
support if  someone  fancied getting their  hands  on  a new van for minimal
outlay. We'd  have to get in there quick,  mainly  to help  Hubba-Hubba, but
also to salvage the operation.
     The  sun rose gradually over the  buildings and began to warm the right
side  of my face. I took  another  sip  of  coffee  and dunked the end of  a
croissant.
     Lotfi was exactly on time with the eight o'clock call.
     "Radio check. H?"
     Click, click.
     I could hear a dog barking in the background. That was all  they seemed
to do around here, bark and crap. I'd not seen one chase after a stick.
     "N?"
     I reached under my new green Cap  3000 sweatshirt and double-clicked on
my belt, then sat back, stubbed at the croissant crumbs on the napkin with a
coffee-wet finger and waited for the stand-by.
     Another twenty-seven minutes  passed and  I  was waiting for  Lotfi  to
start the next radio check. Hubba-Hubba came on the net his voice agitated.
     "H has lost the trigger ... There's a truck in the way. H has  lost the
trigger. N, L, acknowledge."
     I hit the pressle.
     "Roger that. N's going for the trigger. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     I got up  and started to  move as I  wiped  my cup and took the napkin.
Nearly running through the old town, I climbed the stone steps in the small,
cobblestoned square. As  my head got level with the concrete between the two
sides of  the ramparts, I saw  the Renault, still reversed against the wall,
now with a Skoda parked to its right.
     Two other people were up there with me, old men waffling  to each other
by the  rampart  overlooking  the port, where the wrought ironwork  met  the
stone. I hit the pressle before I got too close as I took the last few steps
up on to the wall.
     "N has the trigger. N has the trigger. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     I  got up  top  and looked  out over  the port, between the van and the
Skoda.  I gave myself some time  to admire the effect of  the  dazzling  sun
bouncing  off  the water around so many hulls. If Hubba-Hubba had any sense,
he'd be using the time to rest his eyes.
     I checked  that the  blinds and gangway were still the same,  then down
over the wall and left, into the dead ground, to make sure the Romeos hadn't
decided to move out in  the minute or so it had taken to regain the trigger,
and weren't walking along the  quay. I could see the Scudo, reversed  into a
space  so that the rear blacked out windows  faced towards  me.  The vehicle
blocking Hubba-Hubba's view was a small, refrigerated van picking  up crates
of fish  from  the  boats.  I got my  eyes  back  on the Ninth of  May as  a
passionate conversation was developing on  the other side of the police van,
and saw movement on the Lee. Three kids, aged from ten to twelve, were doing
boaty jobs on the deck. Two adults,  whom I presumed were their parents were
in chairs at the back, drinking coffee.
     Still playing the  tourist, I stared  out at  the fort overlooking  the
mass of masts and  glittering hulls. In less  than five minutes the fish van
was on its way back through the archway. I moved back towards the steps.
     "Hello, H, that's the truck clear. Acknowledge."
     I stayed up  top, waiting  for Hubba-Hubba to take over as  the two old
men sauntered past behind me, their arms flying around as they put the world
to rights. They  disappeared  down the  stairs with  their  dogs  in tow.  I
suddenly felt naked, with my back to the van and no one else here.
     "H has the trigger. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     I'd finished my bit of tourism and headed back  to the steps, wondering
where I'd go now for another brew.
     Three paces  down I got  click, click, click,  click in  my earpiece. I
smiled, slowed down and hit the pressle.
     "Is that a stand-by from H?"
     Click, click.
     Shit, they were early.
     "Are they both foxtrot?"
     Click, click.
     "Are they dressed the same as yesterday?"
     Nothing.
     "Are they carrying a bag?"
     Click, click.
     Then he came on the net.
     "Romeo one has  the same  bag. It's  full. They're both wearing jeans."
The net went dead momentarily.
     "That's approaching the archway."
     I stayed put, smiled some more, and sat on the stone step.
     "N can take, N can take. L, where are you?"
     "Nearly  at  the  station, nearly  there."  His voice  merged  with the
passing traffic.
     "H still has Romeo One and Two, at the archway ... Wait... wait, that's
now crossing the road, towards  me. They're  staying this side of the wall."
The radio  went dead  as I started down the stairs again into the square and
right towards the archway. If they had a camera in the Renault, I bet it had
been snapping away big-time.
     Forty-Five.
     I got to the  arch  and waited for  information. It wasn't long  before
Hubba-Hubba came back on the air. That's Romeo  One and Two in the car park,
following the wall and unsighted to me."
     I  went through the archway, turned left, and  could  see  their  backs
immediately among the lines of vehicles.
     "N  has  Romeo One, Romeo Two foxtrot.  Half-way  along  the  old wall,
generally towards the rail station. L, acknowledge."
     An out-of-breath Lotfi did just that.
     "L has the trigger on the station."
     "Roger that, L.  Romeo One, black leather jacket on jeans, carrying the
bag. Romeo Two, brown suede jacket on jeans. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     That's both Romeos now temporary unsighted."
     I  moved  to  the right as I passed Hubba-Hubba's blacked  out windows,
trying to get a better view now they were hidden by some coaches.
     "Both  Romeos still  temporary unsighted,  still  generally towards the
rail station."
     There was  nowhere else for them to go just now, unless they could walk
through  walls. Hubba-Hubba would be crawling his way under the snooker dogs
now and moving out of the car park so there would be no delay when he needed
to  go mobile. He  had better do it  right.  The  van  could see him from up
there.
     They appeared the other side of the coaches.
     "Stand by, stand by. N has both Romeos approaching the end of the wall.
No one acknowledge."
     I started  to cut in left, towards the wall now, so I'd be more or less
behind  them  when  they  hit  the  end of  it,  with freedom to  go  in any
direction. Romeo One was clearly nervous.
     I hit the pressle. That's at the end of the  wall  and  still straight,
generally towards  the station. Approaching  the  first option left they are
aware. No one acknowledge."
     I was now behind them by  about  thirty metres  as they passed boat kit
and insurance shops before stopping  at  the junction to  let a vehicle out.
That's held option left, still intending straight, towards the station."
     They  carried  on over once the  vehicle had passed. That's now foxtrot
still straight."
     Getting to the  junction  myself,  I  overheard a voice straight out of
EastEnders  as  a  crew-cut  thirty-something with  a  black nylon Docklands
bomber jacket gob bed off on his mobile.
     "I don't fucking care. What's the matter wiv you, you deaf or some fink
Further down the  junction a Brit-plated truck with pallets of Happy Shopper
goods was  being unloaded for "Geoffrey's of London', a shop  that seemed to
supply baked  beans  and  plastic cheese to the  huge  numbers of Brits  who
worked on the boats.
     I got  back  on the  net. That's Romeo One and Romeo Two still foxtrot,
approaching the main before the station. L, can you at the main?"
     The last leg of the route was uphill and they would  be unsighted to me
for far too long once they crossed the main as it was higher, dead ground to
me.
     He could.
     "L has,  L  has.  Romeo One. Romeo  Two. At the main, they're crossing,
approaching the station."
     The Romeos  were unsighted to me now  as I moved uphill and the traffic
screamed past in both directions above me. The station was the other side of
the main. In front of it was a bay for taxis and a small car park.
     That's H now complete. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Loth" kept up the commentary.
     "That's approaching the station."
     I got  to the main and also watched them while  I waited  for the green
man and Lotfi kept gob bing off on the net.
     "That's both Romeos complete the station, unsighted to L."
     The green  man  flashed,  the bleeps cried out, and the traffic stopped
reluctantly. I gob  bed off and  smiled as if I'd just heard a  joke on  the
phone.
     "Roger  that. N will take. H,  go now, mate, go now. H, acknowledge." I
got a double click and hoped I'd done the right thing by taking a chance and
sending him straight on to Nice. This surveillance stuff  wasn't  a science,
and decisions had to be made on what you knew at  the time. All  I knew  was
that  the traffic was horrendous and  the  train would get there far quicker
than any  road vehicle,  and  I needed someone else there to back me. If I'd
made a  mistake and they were going for Cannes, or anywhere  else  for  that
matter,  Lotfi  had better be able to fly in  that Focus of  his and keep up
with the train.
     The old station had undergone quite a renovation within the last couple
of  years. It had  retained its original shape, but  the  inside looked very
modern and  clean,  with glass  everywhere,  glass  walls,  glass  counters,
plate-glass doors.  As  I  went  in, the Romeos weren't  to the  left by the
ticket  machines,  or  to  the  right  where  there was  a  small  cafe  and
news-stand.
     Four kids  were smoking  round  one of the  tables, listening  to dance
music on their radio. I could see a section of both of the platforms and the
two tracks  between.  Time in recce is seldom  wasted:  I  knew the platform
nearest me would be going towards Cannes. What I was hoping was that both of
the Romeos were going down into  the tunnel to the left, and would emerge on
the far side platform, which would mean they were off to Nice.
     I got on the  radio  as I checked the  timetables. That's the Romeos on
the platforms. L, can you see them?"
     "L's foxtrot."
     I waited in the cover of the station  listening  to an NRG Radio jingle
booming out from the cafe area.
     Lotfi came on the net.
     "Stand by, stand by. L has the two  Romeos on the far platform. They're
static the tunnel exit. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     The  framed  and Perspex-covered timetable on  the  wall said  the next
train for  Nice  was at nine  twenty-seven, stopping at  Gare  Riquier, just
seven hundred metres or so from  the  target  shop on  Boulevard  Jean XIII.
Maybe I'd made the right choice in sending Hubba-Hubba there, after all.
     I waited near the timetable and listened to the high-caffeine breakfast
show  blaring  from the radio.  I didn't  want to  move  anywhere  else now,
because if I crossed the concourse towards the cafe the two  Romeos would be
able to see me.
     Posters carried pictures of happy  families going  on trains and really
enjoying themselves, all with unnaturally perfect teeth.  I studied them for
a couple of minutes before Lotfi came back on.
     "Stand by, stand by. Train's approaching,  no change on the Romeos. I'm
going complete. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     The  train entered  the station from the direction of Cannes. The dirty
blue  and aluminium  carriages  squeaked to  a halt.  I ran  out on  to  the
platform, turned left, and headed for the tunnel. Through the grimy glass of
the carriages I followed  the two Romeos' dark  faces as they waited to step
aboard with the dozen or so others alongside them.
     I  raced down  the  steps and along  the dimly lit tunnel,  passing the
people who'd  just got  off the train. It  looked perfectly natural in  this
environment: who didn't run to catch a train?
     Taking the steps two at  a time and making sure my peak was down low, I
didn't  look at their carriage, but  carried  on  and entered  the next  one
along. Taking  my seat immediately to keep out  of the way, I kept an eye on
the tunnel just in  case they'd changed their minds, or were putting in some
anti-surveillance. The train doors  closed before it shunted forward and off
we went as I tried to control my breathing.
     "L, we're mobile. Go for it now, go! Acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     He'd be hitting the coast  road on his way to Nice, hot on the heels of
Hubba-Hubba, who should have been at least a third of the way there by now.
     I couldn't see the Romeos through the glass of the connecting door this
time, but  I'd be able to see  if they got out at one  of the  four or  five
stops on the way.
     We emerged from  the shade of  the station building and the morning sun
burned  through the glass, making me squint,  even with my  sun-gigs and hat
on. I just sat there and watched  the Mediterranean go past as  we travelled
the twenty minutes towards Nice.
     Gare Riquier wasn't like the  station at Antibes, an old building  made
new: it was still old, an unmanned pick-up and drop-off point for commuters.
     The  two Romeos disembarked along with  a woman in a big flowery dress,
dragging a tartan shopping  trolley behind her. Both  now with gigs on, they
walked out of the station and left towards the busy road, which was the main
drag I'd used to get up to L'Ariane and the safe house. I followed them out.
The main was about forty metres away,  and the  noise  of traffic was almost
deafening. Trucks, cars and scooters fought for space on the tarmac  in both
directions  as  their exhausts  hazed  the  air.  The  Romeos stopped  about
half-way,  dug  out a  map from the  side  pocket of the bag, and  got their
bearings.  If they were  going to  the target shop, it would  be left at the
main, straight on for about four hundred  metres, then right on to Boulevard
Jean XIII. I  waited by a wall smothered  in spray-painted graffiti  in both
French and Arabic. I imagined the  good news was that they all fucked girls,
but I couldn't be sure. The Romeos put away their map and turned left at the
main, under the railway bridge, before crossing over and heading north along
the right-hand side of the street, maybe to keep in the shade, maybe because
they should be turning  right eventually anyway. Romeo One had  the bag over
his shoulder and  was  still looking like a cat on hot  bricks as he checked
left and right  of him, still seeing nothing. They  carried on past  rows of
low end cafes, banks and shops, everything that fed the  east  side of town,
all very much the poor relations of their counterparts in Cannes or downtown
Nice.
     Smaller roads fed the  main from both sides and the odd tree stuck  out
along the pavements.  But instead of grass around  them, there was  just mud
and windblown McDo cartons, dog shit and butt ends. It was a  lot easier  to
do the follow here than it had been in Monaco;  one, because  there was less
CCTV to worry about,  and two, because there  were  many more people  moving
around in all directions. Wherever  they  were heading,  they were obviously
late.
     I  tried  a  radio check but  there was  nothing from either  Lotfi  or
Hubba-Hubba. I wasn't expecting there to be, but it would have been nice  if
they'd been here somewhere to back me.
     They crossed several  small junctions on  the right, then stopped at  a
larger one  that  had lights,  waiting with  the impatient  herd,  which was
growing as  vehicles hurtled past  and air brakes  hissed. There were  a lot
more brown and  black faces here than in Monaco, and the two  Romeos weren't
getting a second glance. They took the opportunity to check their map again,
while I took particular interest in the range of mattresses in the window of
a  waxy pine bed shop.  They should be  turning right at  the next junction,
which was a crossroads, to get on to Jean XIII. From  there  the target shop
was roughly three hundred metres up the boulevard on the right.
     Forty-Six.
     Romeo One still looked around as if he was expecting the sky to fall on
his head. He lit up as Romeo Two went back to the map.
     The green man flashed and  they  crossed.  I  gave  another radio check
before following on behind.
     "Hello, anyone, this is N. Radio check, radio check."
     Nothing.
     They turned on to Jean XIII and became temporary unsighted. I quickened
my pace and  fought with the flow of pedestrian traffic to get eyes on again
as French and  Arabic music fought its way  out of cafes  and cheap  clothes
shops. It was risky to do so this early  in the take, because of third-party
awareness. No matter where you are, someone is always watching. But I had to
get in there, I had to keep on top of them, being so close to the target and
hawallada whom we still had to
     ID.
     I started across  the road at the junction with  Jean XIII, dicing with
the traffic.  A scooter had to swerve to get out of my way.  The Romeos were
still foxtrot towards the target,  still on  the right. I  got  to the other
side,  turned right, then had them once more. Being on  the opposite side of
the road gave  me a better perspective of  what they were up to than if  I'd
been directly behind them. The shops were all selling  pots  and pans, pedal
bins and  bundles of brightly  coloured plastic coat hangers, and the Romeos
mingled well with the early shoppers who'd just stocked up on toilet cleaner
and bin liners.
     The net  burst into  life. That's H turning on to  the boulevard. Radio
check, radio check."
     It was a relief to hear his voice. I hit the pressle on my Sony.
     "N has  Romeo  One and Romeo Two on the right on the boulevard. They're
at  the Cafe  Noir, on  the right. H, acknowledge." Just as  I  released the
pressle, I saw his Scudo pass me.
     "H has, H has. I'm going for the trigger."
     I double-clicked him as  I continued taking the  Romeos.  Both  of them
were checking shop numbers to the right and left of them. We came to a small
street  market  selling  fruit  and  veg, and the Romeos disappeared now and
again between barrows  of apples and melons and street traders sounding like
French Del Boys.
     I  gave  a running commentary for  Hubba-Hubba  and also, I hoped,  for
Lotfi, who at some stage was going to rejoin  the net and would  need to get
up to speed on the situation.
     "N still has Romeo One and Romeo Two. On the right at the fruit market,
still straight, towards the shop. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Ten seconds later he came back on the air.
     "That's H static, thirty metres past the shop on  the right. The target
is a fabric  store, one old  man, Arab, white  shirt,  buttoned  up, no tie.
That's H foxtrot."
     I double-clicked him. The  Romeos  had stopped at a  small junction and
were still checking numbers.  Romeo One  scanned  the  crowd of  shoppers as
Hubba-Hubba came back up on the net.
     "H has the trigger. N, acknowledge."
     Great news.
     "Roger that. Romeo One, Romeo Two, still on the right,  approaching the
end  of  the  market.  Can you  after  the market?" There  was  a  gap while
Hubba-Hubba worked it out.
     Click, click.
     "Roger that. That's ten short, still on the right."
     I  shut up now and  waited for Hubba-Hubba to see them. They passed the
last stall and had gone no more than three or four paces before he was back.
     "H has Romeo One, Romeo Two."
     Now I could drop back a little and let Hubba-Hubba  take them  into the
shop. That's now fifty short, still on the right."
     I  could still  see the Romeos, but the  fact that  Hubba-Hubba had the
trigger gave  me the freedom  to think about what I was going to do next.  I
just hoped that Lotfi got here soon.
     "That's  twenty-five  short, still  on  the  right,  checking  numbers.
They're slowing down, they're slowing down."
     I  kept my  head  low as I listened, pretending to window-shop  as  the
world  passed by. There was no need to  look directly at the targets.  I was
being told what was going on,  and it would be a nightmare  if we had eye to
eye.
     "That's approaching the target. Wait, wait. That's at the target, going
complete ... that's complete the target. They're talking to the white shirt.
Wait, wait." The cry of a baby and  a  flood of female Arabic burst over the
net. I heard their waffle get weaker: he was walking away from it.
     "H is foxtrot, I can't hold the trigger, I can't hold the trigger."
     I quickened my pace.
     "Roger that. N going for the trigger. You take the rear, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     As I got  nearer I could  see  what the  problem was.  Hubba-Hubba  was
crossing from left to right over the road just past  the target:  he'd  been
lurking in a doorway, which  two head-scar fed  women with  long coats and a
pram were trying to get through.
     He  reached the  junction, which was two shop fronts to the left of the
target, and disappeared. His route  would take him round  to the rear of the
shops and the wide alleyway.
     Security  was  now definitely  being  sacrificed  for  efficiency as  I
stopped  to  have a look at  the display outside a hardware shop. Ladders on
the pavement leant against the wall, and brooms and brushes sprouted between
the rungs. No matter; at least I could see the shop.
     "N has the trigger."
     Click, click.
     I  could  also  see  the  conversation that was  happening between  the
unknown in the white shirt  and Romeo One and Romeo Two. When that finished,
they started to walk towards the rear  of the dimly lit shop.  I had to take
off  my glasses  so I could see inside clearly. It looked almost empty, with
not much more  stock than a few  rolls  of multicoloured  fabric lining  the
walls.  They passed a  long glass counter with lengths  of cut  material all
over the place, then another man emerged from the rear internal door with  a
group who'd been standing in the shadows.
     "Stand by, stand by. Unknowns on target."
     Then  I realized they weren't unknown.  It was the man with the  goatee
I'd seen  get out of the Lexus on  Wednesday night  in Juan-les-Pins, and go
into the Fiancee of the Desert. His smaller, bald-headed driver was standing
to his right, still looking bored.
     Goatee  leant  forward and  spoke  into  Romeo  Two's  ear without  any
greeting.  I got back on the net. That's a possible Romeo Three. Tall, Arab,
black on jeans, and goatee beard, with three or four unknowns."
     There  was  a  little more movement in the gloom.  My view was abruptly
blocked  as a truck rumbled between us. By the time it had passed, everybody
was starting to pile back through the internal door.
     They're heading  to the back of  the  shop," I  said. That's all  three
Romeos unsighted, could be coming your way. H, acknowledge."
     "Nearly there, I'm nearly there. Wait out." It had to be the hawallada.
They were whispering the password.
     I moved away from the hardware shop.  It was pointless being exposed to
the white  shirt who had now  returned  to the glass counter. I  could still
keep the  trigger from  a distance. I  turned back the way  I'd come, making
sure I could still see the place.
     "Hello, this is L. Radio check, radio check."
     Relief wasn't the word for it  as I felt for the pressle and stopped by
the door of a flat, behind a news-stand.
     "N has the trigger on the shop. Where are you?"
     "Approaching the target from the main."
     "Roger that. Wait."
     I kept  my eyes  on the shop as a group of  teenagers  in  the  world's
baggiest jeans  ambled past with Walkmans  in their  ears  and cigarettes in
their hands. It gave me time to think before I hit my pressle.
     "L, sit  rep.  I have  the  trigger front. Romeo One and  Romeo Two are
complete the shop with a possible Romeo Three. Arab, tall, black on blue and
a goatee. H is foxtrot  and  getting the  trigger  rear. Go static and  stay
complete in case Romeo Three goes mobile. L, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     As soon as that finished, Hubba-Hubba came on the net.
     "H has the trigger." I heard  him trying to control his breathing so he
could be heard clearly.
     "N, acknowledge. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     That's L  static. First junction  past  the  market and can take in all
directions. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     I guessed he was on the junction facing the boulevard now to be able to
do  that, so  he could come  on to the avenue and turn left, right,  in  all
directions.
     Hubba-Hubba  started to  give plate checks in case  any of the vehicles
behind the shop went mobile with the possiblehawallada.
     "White Mercedes van, Zulu Tango one five six seven. Large scrape on the
left-hand side. Blue Lexus, Alpha Yankee Tango one three. Highly polished."
     I was right, it was him.
     "Stand by, stand by movement by the vehicles."
     The net  stayed open for a few  seconds and I  could hear Hubba-Hubba's
laboured breathing and the rustle of his clothes before  it went dead. There
was a long pause and  I could feel my heart go up a gear as I waited for the
next stand-by to  say vehicles  had  gone mobile. Lotfi would  be doing  the
same, and his engine  would be running in preparation. The world just walked
on past as we both waited on Hubba-Hubba.
     The net crackled into life.
     "That's  an  Arab,  short, fat, brown wool on  jeans. Foxtrot from  the
shop. Wait... He's going to the  Mercedes, he's heading for the van. Wait...
wait... no good, I think he's seen me, he's using a cell. That's me foxtrot.
Lost the trigger, lost the trigger."
     I hit the pressle with my eyes still on the front of the target.
     "H, go complete. Stand by to take anything  that goes  mobile.  L, go-'
Two  guys exited  from the  front  of  the  shop. The  expression  on  their
dark-skinned faces said they were on a mission.
     "Stand  by, stand by. That's  two unknowns from the  target front, both
Arab and black leather. That's right, towards the junction.  H, go complete,
get out of there. H, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Lotfi burst back on the net.
     "L is mobile."  His voice was  tight with  tension and I understood his
concern.
     The two guys from the shop had reached the junction and turned right. I
hit  the pressle. That's the unknowns now  right at the junction, unsighted,
towards the rear. H, acknowledge."
     Hubba-Hubba's voice was a whisper.
     "H has the  two unknowns,  I  can't  move yet. Engine on, engine on the
van."
     He was close, I could hear it.
     That's 'The next sound  was of  Hubba-Hubba resisting  and  Arab voices
shouting. There was lots of grabbing going on around the Sony as it crackled
like a forest fire.
     Fuck. It had gone noisy.
     Forty-Seven.
     Shit, shit, shit!
     I  sprinted across the road,  not bothering to look out for traffic. My
right hand forced the Browning  down into  my jeans to stop  it falling out,
and  my left held the earpiece in place. My  whole being was focused on that
corner, two shops to the left of the target. I got that familiar feeling  in
the pit of my stomach, the same sensation that always came when shit was on.
I'd had it even as  a kid,  running away from the bigger boys  who wanted to
beat me up and nick my dinner money, or from an angry shopkeeper whose stuff
I'd tried to lift. It was a horrible feeling:  you know there's a drama, you
wish it wasn't there, you know you've got to do something about it, but your
legs just won't take you fast enough.
     I turned the corner but saw nothing except a few  people standing maybe
twenty  metres further  down on the other  side of  the road.  All eyes were
turned to the alleyway. Screams still came over the net,  mixed with  shouts
and the sounds of  a  struggle. Everything was in Arabic but  none of it was
from Hubba-Hubba. Then I heard him in the background. He was in pain, he was
getting filled in, he was getting subdued.
     My mouth was dry as I drew down and, alert to the third party, kept the
weapon by my side.  I turned the corner  into the alleyway, not bothering to
clear it. There wasn't time.
     I was too late.  The  Merc van was bouncing over the potholes away from
me, with one  of the unknowns  trying to  close the  rear door. More  Arabic
commotion  streamed over the net. Even if I'd spoken the language I wouldn't
have been  able to  understand  what  was being said it was so  confused and
loud. But for sure  Hubba-Hubba was in  there.  I  caught a  glimpse  of his
trainers; he was fighting back as two guys  climbed on top of him, trying to
keep him down in the back.
     The  left door was already  closed,  the  small window covered by black
plastic.  The second  door  was  pulled  shut  from  inside; that,  too, was
covered. I kept running towards the rear of the shop.
     The Lexus was still there. The back of  the shop was closed down. Shit,
who to go after, Hubba-Hubba or the hawalladal Lotfi swung into the alleyway
like something out of Hill Street Blues. Somebody somewhere would be getting
on a phone to the police. I motioned with my hand, trying to get him to slow
down, to stop. The vehicle  nearly somersaulted over its two front wheels as
he  hit the brakes. His eyes looked frenzied. The growing crowd  on the road
turned and gawped.
     Jumping out, Lotfi had his pistol up, ready to fire.
     "Keep  it down, for fuck's  sake!" I pointed  along the alleyway, which
was now clear. The van, black plastic covering the rear windows. He's in the
back. Go, go, take it."
     I turned to  run  back the  way I'd come, shouting at him as he  jumped
back into the Focus.
     "I'll give you directions at the boulevard, go to channel four, channel
four. Go, go, go!"
     I disappeared left around the corner, going back towards the boulevard.
Fuck the third party now. People everywhere were stopping to rubberneck.
     I got down to the  corner and looked left. The van  had slowed  as  the
traffic hit the vegetable market. I turned the  dial on the Sony to four and
hit the pressle as I sucked in oxygen.
     "L,  they've  gone  left,  they've  gone  left  towards  the  main.  L,
acknowledge, acknowledge."  The Focus screamed  into view  at the  junction,
Lotfi still playing cops  and robbers.  He  was going  to have to  slow down
before he had a crash or ran somebody over. Either would stop him being able
to take. He was looking frantically left and right, trying to  see where the
van had gone, then  looking down, probably  having just remembered to change
channels. I  kept  on sending.  They've gone left, they've gone left towards
the main."
     He didn't reply, but he  must have heard me because the  Focus screamed
round  towards the market, braking hard as  the  horn screamed out at people
trying to cross the road in front of him, then hurtled down towards the mass
of fruit buyers.
     I turned right and  had gone  maybe twenty metres up towards  the Scudo
when I got a blast of screaming and ranting in my ear. I couldn't understand
any of it.
     "Slow down, slow down! Say again."
     I got to  the wagon and started to pull at the soft steel  number plate
at the rear, feeling for  the key and fob taped behind it.  Lotfi carried on
trying to get the message across; he'd slowed down but the  voice  was still
very high-pitched, he was really hyped up.
     "L has, L has! Past the market straight for the main. They're going for
the main. N, acknowledge, acknowledge."
     I double-clicked, not wanting to talk yet, in  case he got more sparked
up.
     By now I'd extracted  the key  fob  and hit it to  release  the central
locking. I  jumped  in and began turning the  Citroen round so I  could back
Lotfi. A cluster of third party watched; at  least two were on mobiles. This
was a weapons-grade screw-up.
     Forcing the  Scudo round into the traffic and driving  down towards the
market, I checked my decision to go for Hubba-Hubba. It must be right: Lotfi
wouldn't help me lifting Goatee. But deep down I knew we wouldn't get Goatee
either way; he would be  well and  truly going  to  ground now. The job  was
destroyed and I would be, too, if I got caught by the police. But what could
I do about it? Abandon the two of them and just head for the airport? It was
tempting. I instinctively moved my hand down to  the bum-bag, making sure my
docs were still with me. I could just turn round and drive  straight to Nice
airport,  get  the first plane out  of here ... Lotfi had calmed down a  bit
when he came back on the net, trying hard to keep the speed and tension from
his voice.
     "L still has, L still has. They  are  approaching the  main, lights are
green, lights are green. No indication. Wait, wait. They're intending right,
that's  now  right  on   the  main,  towards   the  autoroute.  Acknowledge,
acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     By now I was half-way down the market. I couldn't see Lotfi ahead of me
and  just hoped  that  he was still  with them and  hadn't got held  by  the
lights. I couldn't guarantee it, because he  was too sparked up to give me a
full commentary.
     I tried to anticipate. The main drag went on for about a kilo metre and
a half, until it  took a sharp left-hander at the  bridge  over  the railway
lines from the freight depot. If the van went  that  route they'd eventually
hit  the feeder road that followed the  river  towards the  autoroute at the
north end of town, where the safe house was.
     "L still has approaching the freight station."  Despite his efforts, he
was still hyped up, talking an octave above his normal voice, but at least I
could understand him now.
     I reached the main on red, getting right up close to the  car  in front
in case it was a short light.
     That's now at the freight station still straight towards the autoroute.
N, acknowledge."
     "Roger that, I'm held at the main."
     Click, click.
     They changed. All the  cars in the  queue made it through, and I turned
right, following Lotfi,  trying to get closer  and back him as he carried on
with the commentary. That's approaching the swimming pool  on  the right." I
heard the hiss of an artic's air brakes over the net.
     That7s  now  at  the  swimming  pool.   Still  straight,  speed  forty,
forty-five. N, acknowledge."
     "Roger that, N's mobile."
     Click, click.
     Railway lines  appeared on my left,  running into the  freight  station
just ahead. I couldn't  be that far behind them. The swimming pool was maybe
three hundred metres  further on and  I was  travelling at roughly  the same
speed as them in the flow of traffic.
     All  of a sudden  I got a frenzied,  "Stop, stop,  stop!  That's at the
lights  before the railway bridge. The  van's five vehicles  back, I'm  four
behind that, lights still red. N, where are you? Where are you?"
     I held down the pressle.
     "The swimming pool, not far."
     "Roger  that. Stand  by,  stand  by. Lights  green.  Wait,  wait... Now
mobile. That's left over the bridge. Wait, wait ... Stand by. They are going
... Wait, wait.  That's them  in the right-hand lane  ...  intending  right,
they're going to the autoroute. That's them  now towards the autoroute, they
are  following  the  river to  the  autoroute. Acknowledge,  acknowledge. N,
acknowledge. Where are you?"
     Click, click.
     He  was starting to  get sparked up again  as he  took the van over the
junction. The important thing was that he knew I understood where he was and
he knew I was behind him somewhere.
     The railway bridge traffic lights were about a hundred  metres ahead of
me as Lotfi resumed his commentary.
     "Speed, sixty, sixty-five. Half-way to the autoroute  turnoff. N, where
are you? Where are you?"
     It  was  time  to  talk,  now  that  he'd  finished  manoeuvring around
junctions, and was on a straight drag.
     "At the bridge lights, and held."
     "Roger that, speed no change."
     They were on the dual carriage way towards L'Ariane,  the autoroute way
above them and ahead, on the viaduct. If they carried  on straight this side
of the river,  they could take the  ramp for Monaco  and Italy, or cross the
river and head for  the Cannes and Marseille ramp. I  didn't care which one;
it'd be much easier to take  them up on the  autoroute, fuck the toll booths
and cameras now.
     Lotfi had more to say.
     "Approaching  the  bridge  over  the  river, on red. We're  going to be
held."
     Good, I could catch up. Cigarette smoke  billowed  out from  the car in
front, and its radio blared as we waited for my lights at the railway bridge
to change.
     "N's mobile."
     "Roger that, N. That's at  the lights, intending left. They're going to
cross the river, they're going to cross the river."
     I turned right on to the fast-flowing road and the riverbed to my left.
Ahead of  me were the other two vehicles. I could see the  autoroute viaduct
ahead and accelerated up to ninety Ks, trying to close the gap.
     "Stand by, stand by,  lights to  green ... that's left over  the river,
left over the river. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Lotfi's voice was still high-pitched, but slower.
     "That's  halfway over the  bridge.  They're  intending  right,  they're
intending right, not for the autoroute, intending right towards L'Ariane. N,
acknowledge, where are you?"
     Forty-Eight.
     Click, click.
     Lotfi came back.
     "Stop,  stop,  stop.  Held  at  the  lights,  still  intending  towards
L'Ariane. The autoroute  traffic now is moving on. We are  held. N, they are
definitely intending right. Acknowledge, acknowledge. Where are you? What if
they go into the mountains?"
     It was still not the time to talk to him yet. Click, click.
     I  got  my  foot  down and tried to  make  up  the distance. If the van
carried  on further  north, past L'Ariane and the built-up  area,  the roads
became very narrow and  wound up the  mountains on either side. It would  be
hard to follow a  target in that sort of terrain even with a four-car  team,
let alone two.  It would need both of us to keep on top of the van, changing
positions often so the same vehicle was never behind the target for long. At
the same time, we'd have to keep close to each other, because once we got up
into  those  hills there was no telling if we could keep  communications. If
the  van  became  unsighted,  we'd  have to split up and  look  in different
directions to try to find it, which would totally screw everything.
     Lotfi came back on.
     "Stand by,  stand  by. Lights to green. They're  mobile, right, towards
the incinerator. N, acknowledge." Click, click.
     "Roger that, approaching the bridge, approaching the bridge."
     "Roger that, N. Still towards the incinerator.  Speed  four  five, five
zero. Increasing."
     "Roger that, roger that, I'm at the bridge, at the bridge."
     Click, click.
     I  turned  on  to  the  bridge  and  followed the line  over the  stony
riverbed. The  viaduct and the incinerator funnel towered into the sky to my
right. I turned  right, past the filter light,  and as I  followed the other
side of the riverbank, I could  see Lotfi's Focus about  four cars back from
the Merc van. Lotfi was regaining control once more. That's half-way towards
the incinerator."
     "Roger that. N's backing. I'm now backing. Acknowledge."
     "Good, good, that's approaching the  incinerator.  Wait,  wait, at  the
incinerator, still straight. Now straight towards the apartments."
     Click, click.
     Lotfi was sounding a lot better now. That's approaching the apartments.
Wait, wait. Past the first option left, speed six five, seven zero. It looks
like they're not slowing down around here. N, acknowledge. N, acknowledge."
     "Roger that. That's me at the incinerator."
     "Roger  that, N, that's past  the  second left,  wait, past the  third.
Still straight, they're still going straight, speed no change."
     Driving past the incinerator, I saw the burnt-out shell of the Audi  in
the dead ground to the right of  it, and the skeleton of a van a  few metres
away that had also been torched.
     That's now  past the apartments, still straight. They're heading north,
it looks like they're heading out of the city, speed no change. I'm going to
need you soon to take. N, acknowledge." He was getting sparked up again.
     Click, click.
     That7 s now approaching the bridge on the right. Brake lights on, brake
lights on! Intending right, intending right, they going back over the river.
That's now right on to the bridge. N, acknowledge. N, acknowledge."
     Click, click.
     Looking  along the line of the rocky  riverbed, ahead of me I could see
the van crossing the bridge from left to right, with the Ford Focus directly
behind. Lotfi came back.
     "Half-way over  the bridge brake  lights on, brake lights on, intending
left."
     I could see the the van's rear indicators flashing.
     That's now  over the bridge, they're intending left into the industrial
area.  I'm going '  Don't  go with  them, don't  go  with them! Acknowledge,
acknowledge. L, acknowledge. Don't do it."
     The van disappeared as it took the first left just over the bridge. The
Focus went straight  as  Lotfi told me  what  he could  see down the option.
That's  the van at the horse, at the horse. They've  gone straight, into the
industrial area beyond the horse, somewhere to the left. I'm unsighted."
     "Roger that. N is checking, N is checking. L, acknowledge."
     I got  a double-click  as I  saw  him take the  next  turning left  and
disappear. I  got  to the bridge  and turned  right, and got a burst  of air
brakes and flashing headlights from  an approaching  truck as  I crossed his
front.
     I  didn't  want Lotfi  to  go in there. Going  into  a closed area  was
dangerous and it might be a trap. Or they might just be stopping in there to
see if anyone was following.
     I was about half-way over the bridge when I heard, "L's foxtrot."
     "Roger that. That's me on the bridge."
     As  I reached  the other side  of the rocky riverbed I looked  into the
first  option left and could see the horse he'd been on about.  Down on  the
left-hand side of the road was a thirty-foot-high stone monster, prancing on
his hind  legs, Roman  fashion. It  was to the left of an entrance into what
looked like a decaying light-industrial estate. To the left of the  gate was
a large, rundown brick warehouse with a faded, hand-painted sign running the
full length  of the  wall, announcing it was a  brocante,selling second-hand
furniture  and all sorts. There was a line of vehicles parked into the wall.
Fuck it. I  turned, crossing over the traffic  and headed to the left of the
horse and the vehicles.
     The road quickly became a mud-caked, potholed nightmare with puddles of
diesel and muck. At last I saw Lotfi in my wing mirror, walking down towards
me from the bridge road. I swung left by the horse and backed up against the
brick wall  of the  warehouse, in line  with the  other  cars. It was out of
sight of the industrial estate entrance, in case I was being watched, and it
looked natural. I was just your everyday furniture buyer.
     Lotfi was just a  few metres short of the  estate gates,  and was going
for his pistol. If he'd seen me, he certainly wasn't coming over to join me.
     I  powered down  the  window  and  waved to him from the Citroen like a
long-lost friend, smiling and  gesturing for  him to cross  over.  It didn't
look  as if  it was working.  All I  could  hear  was the  noise of  traffic
rumbling over the bridge and the hissing of air brakes. He looked over to me
and must have had a change of heart, because he ran  reluctantly towards me,
avoiding the potholes as I  held out my hand in welcome from  the window for
the benefit of any  third parties.  He played his part in the pretence,  but
his eyes were still dancing around just like they'd done in Algeria.
     I tried to calm him down and glanced at the pistol.
     "Put that away, mate, get in the car."
     He ignored me.
     "Get in the car."
     "No, come. That is wasting time. We've got to go and get him. Now."
     I started to  plead  with  him through the  window, and both  of us had
smiles on as his eyes screamed round like a pair of Catherine wheels.
     "We just can't  go in  like that." I gestured for him to  get  into the
wagon.
     "Look, we don't  know where  they are, how  many of them there  are. It
could be a trap. Come on, get in the car, let's take our  time and we'll all
get out of this alive." But Lotfi wasn't having any of it.
     "He might be dead soon. We have to  ' "I know,  I know. But let's  find
out where he is first, so we can work out how to get him out in one piece."
     "I will not leave my brother behind."
     "We're not  leaving  anybody  behind. Just get in the car. We've got to
stay calm and work out how to get him out. Come on, you know it's the  right
thing to do."
     He thought about  it  for a  couple of seconds,  then walked  round the
front  of  the  Citroen and  climbed in  beside me. He stared at  the  rocky
riverbed to the right, where  the  wall of the brocante ended. I left him to
it,  changed  channel back  to  two  and listened  in  case  Hubba-Hubba was
sending. There was nothing coming over  the air at all, so I switched it off
and removed it from my belt as Loth checked chamber.
     "I cannot wait any longer, he  could be dead any minute. Are you coming
with me?"
     I turned to a heavy, nostril-breathing  Lotfi, who was trying  to  calm
himself  down  as  he  stared into my eyes. I couldn't make  out  whether he
really cared if I went with him or not: he was going anyway.
     "You know this is fucked up ... You don't know  how many there are, you
don't know what weapons they have, you don't even know  where  the fuck they
are. You are going to die, you know that, don't you?"
     "God will decide my fate." He turned for his door handle.
     I hated  this  shit. I  should have  just cut  away  and headed for the
airport back at the boulevard. Fuck it. I started to suck in my stomach so I
could draw down the Browning. I tapped his arm with my spare hand to get his
attention before nodding at the radio.
     "We can't use these  things  any more,  mate. They might start scanning
channels  on Hubba-Hubba's. Let's  just hope  they didn't switch to  channel
four and listened to us flapping on the way here, eh?"
     Lotfi turned  and  gave me a  smile as I pulled back  the  hammer  from
half-cock  and checked chamber. My head was spinning Why was  I  doing this?
Thank you," he said quietly.
     "Yeah,  right. Kismet my arse. If I'm going to die I might as well make
sure  a couple of  those fuckers come along  with  me so  they can get their
books, whatever they're called, weighed."
     He  finished checking  that  his magazines were correctly positioned on
his belt carrier before looking up at me as I did the same.
     "Destiny their books of destiny. You know exactly what it is called."
     "Come  on,  then, let's get ' Lotfi's eyes darted beyond me and he sank
back into his seat. Instinctively, I followed.
     "Lexus."
     I heard  a vehicle crunch over the gravel filling some  of the potholes
on the road towards the industrial estate.
     "Two up in the front."
     I looked,  but  now being  side on I  couldn't see who  was behind  the
darkened rear windows. Baldilocks was definitely driving.
     "Romeo  Three, with  the Goatee, I saw  him in the  same restaurant  as
Greaseball the other night. I don't know if they met or what, but..."
     The  vehicle had gone past  the gates  and  I jumped  out of the Scudo,
shoving away my Browning.
     "Come on, we can do this without getting killed now, we have time."
     Lotfi ran round the vehicle to make up the distance with me as I headed
towards  the  rusty, sagging  chain-link  gate  that hadn't  been  closed in
donkey's  years.  I kept to the left against the  brocante wall for a little
cover as I passed the gate. Lotfi  had caught up with  me, and he still  had
his pistol out.
     "Put it away!" I snapped. Third party, for fuck's sake."
     Leaving him a few steps behind to sort himself out, I kept  walking. In
front of  me was  a  ramshackle collection of  buildings,  at least  thirty,
probably  forty  years old, some  of  brick or stone,  some of a  corrugated
fibre. Pipes that ran between the buildings had been lagged and painted with
tar, and held together with bits of chicken wire. Skips were overflowing all
over the place. Stacks of old tyres had collapsed across the diesel-infected
tarmac that long  ago had lost its  straight edges and was starting to merge
with the  mud. There was even an  old stone  farmhouse and barns, which  had
long since given up the struggle against the encroaching banlieues.
     I inched forward, using the wall, trying to look as  normal as I could.
Then, as I reached the end of the wall of the brocante, I saw movement to my
left. The rear of the Lexus was disappearing inside a tall brick building. I
held out my hand behind me.
     "Stop, stop."
     I leant back  against the wall, just as  a train came into the  station
off to  my right,  beyond  the estate. The  screech  of  its braking  wheels
drowned out the clatter  of the roller shutter as it crashed down behind the
hawallada and his men.
     Forty-Nine.
     I took my gigs off for a better look at the building  and put them into
the bum-bag.
     The estate consisted of  six or seven worn-out structures spread around
the edge of a large open square. The target building, which  I hoped the van
had driven into,  was in the left-hand corner furthest away from us.  It was
about forty metres long and twenty-five high, and constructed of dark, grimy
brick. There were no windows  on the front elevation, just the rusty shutter
in the  left third, tall enough to  take  a  truck. The roof  was flat, with
lines of triangular glass skylights sticking up in the air like a dinosaur's
fins,  or something in  a Lowry  painting. Two  other  buildings a converted
stone barn, and the old farmhouse formed the left side of the square and met
the back of the brocante. Just beyond them was the river.
     Lotfi was trying hard to control his breathing; he had his mouth closed
and  pulled  in air heavily  through  his  nose.  The veins  throbbed in his
temples as his eyes stayed glued to the building.
     "He knows I'm coming for him," he said.
     "He's waiting for me."
     He started to move forward  and I  held out my arm to stop him, looking
around anxiously  for third  party. It was midday, people were on the  move,
traffic hummed up and down the main.
     "I reckon nothing's going to happen to him just  yet, mate. Goatee will
want to know what all this means that's why  he's here, it  must be. We have
time now to do a little planning."
     I made an effort to get eye  to eye with him, but he was too focused on
the building.
     "We won't  be able to  get in there anyway look,  there are  no windows
this side, no possible point of entry. Just those shutters, and they're down
and  locked. And even if we  could get  in,  we haven't got a clue how  many
players are in there ..."
     Lotfi's gaze was still locked on the building as he  lifted his hand to
cut off my objections.
     "None of that  matters to me. God will decide  the outcome. I've got to
go."
     "We'll both do  it. Look, if God's going to  decide what happens, let's
give  him a  hand here and do  a recce, give him something to work  with." I
managed eye contact, and he sort of smiled.
     "You might be in the good lads' club with him, but I'm not sure I  am."
I tilted my head to indicate the way we'd just come.
     "Let's look round the back."
     There were two  elements to this now. The first  was to get Hubba-Hubba
out in  one piece,  the second was to lift the hawallada. We still had a job
to do. If we did it right, maybe we could achieve both  but not  if  we just
went for it like Lotfi wanted to.
     We turned right, passing  the Scudo, and walked along the front  of the
brocante towards the fence  line just as  two happy  shoppers tried to fit a
couple of chairs on to the roof rack of their Nissan. I  hoped we could work
our way along the river-bank, passing the barn and the farmhouse, get behind
the target building, and see what we could see.
     As  we took  a  right again at the far  end of  the  brocante,  we were
confronted by a  dry,  worn mud path that seemed to run the whole length  of
this side  of the  industrial estate.  It was about four metres wide, in the
space between the river and  the buildings,  and strewn with rubbish and dog
shit. The remains of a  chain-link  fence ran parallel with the riverbank to
our  left.  Old  concrete  posts were still standing  at five-  or six-metre
intervals  but  the  wire  was either  rusty  and pushed  down,  or  missing
altogether. About  a hundred and fifty  metres away on the other side of the
river was the busy main that followed it, and  a  cluster of blocks of flats
that looked  as though they'd wanted to join the L'Ariane club, but couldn't
afford the membership fee.
     I walked slightly  ahead  of Lotfi, following  the natural path  rather
than kicking through all the decayed  Coca-Cola  cans, old cigarette packets
and faded plastic carrier bags. About a hundred  metres  ahead of us was the
solid  brick  side  elevation of the target  building,  easily  the  tallest
structure in the estate. We  followed the path past the end of the brocante,
and now had the solid stone back wall and terra cotta-tiled barn immediately
to our right and traffic screaming over the bridge behind us.
     A  group of half a dozen women suddenly appeared  from  another path at
the rear of the target  building.  I  looked back at Lotfi to make sure he'd
seen. His weapon was out again, down by his leg.
     "Put that fucking thing away, will you?"
     The  group were  headscarfed  Arab women  weighed  down with overloaded
plastic bags. They didn't turn left to  come down towards us, but carried on
straight,  through the fence-line. They  didn't give us as much as a  second
glance  as they  began  to pick their  way across the dried-up  riverbed. It
looked as if they  were heading to the flats on the other side of the river,
and couldn't be bothered going all the way down to the bridge.
     The farmhouse  was derelict, and graffiti-scrawled  steel sheets barred
anyone getting  in through the windows that  faced the  river. Somebody  had
started a fire against the steel-covered doorway; black scorch marks stained
the stone and the paint had blistered off the steel. We continued, trying to
look as normal as possible as we negotiated the remnants of a  disembowelled
mattress lying across our path.
     We turned right, behind the target,  and on to a track that was just as
well-worn and covered in litter. Instead of  a  fence  on my left, there was
now a  stone wall  about ten feet high. I could see straight away that there
was nothing at the  rear that would help us gain entry no vents, no windows,
just more unrelenting brick.
     Lotfi came up level with me.
     "This must be a short cut to the station."
     "What are you on about?"
     There's a railway station just the other side of the buildings,  at the
end there. That's where I've parked."
     We carried on, following the rear of  the building; there was still the
other  side  elevation  to check out. At the far corner,  about forty metres
along,  I  finally  found  something useful,  a  window  frame  set into the
brickwork. Lotfi and I exchanged a look.
     "See? I told you it was worth it." At last I got another smile.
     The  window was  metal-framed, with a  single glass  panel that  opened
outwards not that it had been opened in  years.  The frame  was  rusty,  and
covered with cobwebs and grime. The glass was heavy-duty, frosted and wired,
but  there  was  a small wind-activated  plastic ventilator fan, about  four
inches  in diameter, cut into its  centre.  The main problem was going to be
the two  bars on  the other  side that  I  could see  casting  dark vertical
shadows against the glass.
     We carried on the five or so paces to the end of the building, and both
leant against the  wall, trying to look as if we  were having a  casual chat
while I took a look round the corner and back into the estate. On this side,
there was nothing but brick once more. Past the  far edge of the building, I
could  see the gate off  to the left, and  beyond that traffic buzzing along
the bridge road.
     Lotfi lost patience and started walking back to the window. I followed,
glancing down the track towards the station, then back at the river.
     "Listen,  mate, nothing's going to happen to  him yet.  He knows you're
coming, he'll hold on. We've got to do this right."
     He was now inspecting the window.
     "The only way is up," I said.
     "What  do you reckon? Shall we go and see what we're up against first?"
Lotfi wanted to go through the window. I shook my head.
     "It could take far too long. Better to use  the time climbing up there.
Maybe there's a skylight open or something."
     He surveyed the window once more, then the twenty-five metres of climb,
before nodding reluctantly.
     "Let's do it. But, please, let's hurry."
     "One of us at a time, OK? It's old."
     He  checked  that his weapon  wasn't going  to fall out, and  I did the
same. I started to climb the rusty down pipe hot from the sun. It shifted as
it took my weight and there was a small shower of rust flakes, but there was
nothing I could do about that. I climbed with no great technique, apart from
pulling down on the  pipe as  opposed to pulling out. I didn't know how good
the fixings were, and I was not sure I wanted to find out.
     My hands eventually got  to the top and I thrust my forearms on to  the
flat  roof. My  shoulders,  biceps  and fingers  ached from  the  effort  of
climbing, but they  needed to produce one last burst of energy. I heaved and
clawed my way upwards and  across, until  I  could eventually roll on to the
rooftop. It  was  hot bitumen  and gravel,  almost molten  under the sun. It
burned into my knees and the palms of  my hands as I swivelled round to look
down at Lotfi.
     As  I  leant out,  I could  see beyond  the industrial  estate,  in all
directions. We were overlooked in the distance by the flats across the river
and a few  houses  on the high ground this side but, apart  from that, there
should be no problem with third party. I  hoped none of the tenants  decided
this was the time to test out a new pair of binoculars.
     I could see the railway station a small one less than a  hundred metres
away to my right. A well-worn path led to it from the rear of the warehouse,
through  a gap  in the fence, over the line,  and  into the  parking area. I
could just make out the shape  of Lotfi's Focus estate in a line of vehicles
near the road.
     The  railway  line  ran parallel to  the  river, and there  was  alevel
crossing just past the entry point to the estate that Lotfi must have belted
over before turning left and parking.
     Lotfi's grunts became audible above the drone of traffic as he climbed.
Two hands appeared at the top of  the pipe and I  pulled on his wrist as  he
gripped me. I heaved him over and we both lay on the flat roof,  getting our
breath back. I closed my eyes against the sun, and felt the heat of the roof
burn through my sweatshirt and jeans.
     I rolled on to my front, my clothing pulling at me as the bitumen tried
to make  it  stay  where it was.  After checking that my Browning was  still
secure, and not  covered in  tar and grit, I crawled on my hands  and  knees
towards the line of six skylights in the centre of  the roof. Even from here
I could see they weren't frosted and wire-meshed, just clear but grimy. Some
of the  panes had cracked, and  many  were covered in pigeon shit. It didn't
matter: it was a way in.
     As I crawled, with Lotfi just behind, the  hot tarmac substance beneath
the gravel slowly moved under the weight  of my elbows, toes and knees. Then
its  surface  split,  like  the  skin  on  old custard, and  I  sank  a  few
millimetres into the black stuff.
     I noticed that my shadow was more or less under me, and a quick look at
a now tar-covered traser told me it  was  after  twelve thirty. The sun  was
high,  but all the same I'd have to be careful as I stuck my  head  over the
glass that I didn't cast the world's biggest shadow across  the floor below.
Shape, shine, shadow, silhouette, spacing and movement are always the things
that give you away.
     I headed for the second skylight from the left, because there was glass
missing from it. I was  no more than a metre away when I heard a scream from
inside, louder than the drone of the  traffic and the blast of horns and air
brakes.
     Lotfi heard it too, and scrambled past me to get to the missing pane.
     I put my hand up.
     "Slowly, slowly. Remember your shadow."
     He nodded and moved his head  up gently, trying to get his face against
the  hole. His nose was doing all the breathing now,  and his  sweat-covered
face was screwed up in anger.
     I went to the left of him and, with bitumen-covered fingers, rubbed the
grime slowly from the glass to get a better view.
     Fifty.
     Years  of  pigeon shit  hung  from  the steel  roof  supports like grey
icicles. Then, down  at ground  level, among the  old faded  newspapers  and
lumps  of  rubble,  I saw why  Lotfi's breathing  was  suddenly  a lot  more
agitated. Romeo Two was  on the concrete floor, naked and  covered in blood,
getting kicked to bits by the two unknowns I'd seen come out of the shop and
walk to the rear,  the ones who must have lifted Hubba-Hubba. They still had
their black leather jackets over jeans. I couldn't see any weapons on them.
     There was movement  from Romeo Two.  He was trying to crawl towards the
Lexus, parked next to the Merc  van,  which was two up, opposite the shutter
at the far end of the building. Blood dripped off his moustache and mouth as
the  two unknowns just followed him,  kicking, and having a good laugh. They
pushed  him down  on to the ground, then kicked him again, turning him  away
from the vehicles. The engine sparked up on the van and  it drove  slowly to
the shutter. The passenger got out and pulled  on the chain. He climbed back
in and the Merc disappeared,  while one of the black leather jackets lowered
the shutter.
     Below us, in the  middle of  the building, were  two vehicle-inspection
pits and two  sets of concrete ramps.  Romeo Oneand  Hubba-Hubba were inside
one  of  the  pits, also  naked.  Ripped  clothes were strewn around on  the
concrete,  probably  having  been  checked  inch  by  inch for  tracking  or
listening  devices.  Blood  had  dripped  from  their  faces  on   to  their
sweat-drenched bodies. They were kept in the pit by what looked like a heavy
old iron gate from a stately home, maybe bought from the brocante next door,
which had been dragged over the top of it.
     Hubba-Hubba  sat  cross-legged  in  one  corner,  his  head  down.  His
blood-wet hair  was matted and glinted in the  sunlight.  I couldn't see his
face.
     Sweat dripped into my mouth as I took in  the scene. Goatee stood above
them  on the  gate,  shouting and  poking them with  a broom  handle,  as if
baiting a couple of pit bulls before the Big Fight.
     All the faces  below  me  were  Arab. Baldilocks was leaning  against a
concrete  ramp  in a baggy blue short-sleeved shirt and black  trousers.  He
took a long drag on a cigarette and swapped funnies with the fat van driver,
who had a brown pullover stretched over his gut.  I thought that he had been
the one to spot Hubba-Hubba at the rear of the shop, as the  Romeos prepared
for loading inside. But none of this made sense. Why  lift him, and why lift
the Romeos?
     Lotfi was inches from me now, his eyes fixed on the  pit. Hubba-Hubba's
head was still bowed.  He wasn't  reacting to the  blows, just rolling  with
them, taking the pain. Romeo One was on his knees, begging Goatee for mercy.
What he got instead was another burst of good news from the broom handle.
     Lotfi turned to me, his face determined.
     "He's waiting for me."
     I nodded.
     "Not long  now, mate. Go  beyond  the skylight, see  if  there's a trap
door."
     He  took  another  long,  hard  look  at  his  brother  before crawling
backwards and making his way to the other side of the  roof. Maybe there was
a  fire  door, with a steel escape ladder attached to  an interior wall.  It
wouldn't help us much: we'd be spotted at once  coming down it. But at least
it  got Lotfi out of the way  for a while. I  didn't want him sparked up any
more than he was already.
     As I listened  to the screams and shouts I looked around below me.  The
building was just one  big open space, and had obviously once been used as a
garage workshop. I was lying with my head  towards the shuttered entrance at
the far end of the building. There was nothing behind it now, apart from the
Lexus. It  looked as though it  had been the vehicles'  holding area, before
they  were brought over to the inspection  pits and ramps  for repair in the
middle.  At  the  other end,  the  ground-floor  window  was hidden  by  two
Portakabins, which stood at right  angles to each other in front of a rough,
whitewashed breeze block cube, no  more than eight  foot  high, which jutted
out of the corner. Unless Lotfi came up with something magical, the only way
in was through the shutter, or that window.
     Goatee stepped  off the  gate  and  barked an order at the  boys by the
ramp. Baldilocks and Van Man threw down their cigarettes, walked over to the
pit, and dragged the ironwork gate to one side. When there was a  big enough
gap, Romeo Two was herded into it by the black-leather brothers.
     Hubba-Hubba didn't  react as the newcomer  fell in  beside him  and the
gate was  dragged back  over. But  the  reunited Romeos gob  bed off to each
other and did some more begging to the people above.
     A mobile phone  rang.  A couple of them reached into their pockets, but
it turned out to be Goatee's. He flipped it open, and did a bit  of business
as the other four congregated by the ramps. Cigarettes were passed round and
lit as Goatee carried on his conversation in what sounded like French. There
was even a little laughter from him as he walked towards the shutters.
     Goatee had a big smile on his face,  and waved his left arm gently back
and forth as he talked. He was maybe in his early forties with a short, very
neat hairstyle that made him look  even more like George Michael  today. His
body language was cajoling, and  he kicked small imaginary footballs against
the wall as he moved.
     Lotfi appeared from  the other side  of the skylight  on his hands  and
knees,  shaking  his  head  as  he closed  in  on  me.  He  stared  down  at
Hubba-Hubba, then shifted his attention to Goatee.
     "It's a woman," he whispered.
     "He says he'll be home late, there is lots to do."
     And  then, as  if a switch had been  thrown, the phone  was thrust back
into Goatee's pocket and he strode back to the pit. The smile had gone.
     The two Romeos were on  their knees, beseeching him in rapid Arabic.  I
turned to Lotfi.
     "What are they saying?"
     He put his ear to  the  hole instead of  his eyes and plugged the other
one with his thumb as a jet passed overhead and vehicles raced about us, his
face screwed up in concentration. While I waited for him  to work it  out, I
moved  the Browning to the back of my  jeans and  turned the  bum-bag round,
letting my  front sink  into the bitumen. It didn't  make much difference, I
was  already  covered  in the stuff. I felt as if I'd been crawling  in  hot
volcanic mud.
     They don't know who my brother is. They've never seen him before."
     I watched  Goatee light a cigarette  while he glowered at  the  two men
gibbering on their knees below him, picking off some tobacco  that  was left
on his lips.
     They're saying they're just here to collect money from three locations.
One yesterday and two today.  They don't understand  what's  happening. They
know nothing apart from where to collect the money' He  had the same thought
as I did.
     "Nick, two collections today?"
     Shit!  I glanced  over to him, then back  at Goatee, who was  holding a
hand out as Van Man brought over Hubba-Hubba'syellow Sony. He brought  it up
to his mouth and mouthed, "Bonjour,  bonjour,  bonjour," with an exaggerated
sneer.
     He  flicked his  unfinished  cigarette into the  pit and  crouched over
Hubba-Hubba,  shouting questions. There was  no  reaction  at  all  from the
Egyptian.
     "He wants to  know who  he was talking  to on  the  radio." Lotfi wiped
sweat from his face.
     "He wants  to know who we are,  where  we are,  what we're  doing." And
then, strangely, Lotfi smiled. He looked me in the eye.
     "He won't say a word, Nick. He knows I'm coming."
     Hubba-Hubba  was still facing the bottom of  the pit,  not  responding.
Maybe Lotfi was right: he actually did believe. Goatee got pissed off at the
lack  of  reaction and hurled the Sony at  the  gate. Shards of  plastic and
electronic  components showered  into  the pit like shrapnel. Then, in  what
looked like an explosion of frustration, he forced the broom  handle down on
to the base of Hubba-Hubba's neck with both hands. Hubba-Hubba just took the
pain and went down, his bloodstained head falling into Romeo Two's lap.
     Lotfi  stared down as Goatee screamed into the pit. He was  looking far
too calm. It was as if he had a plan.
     "What else are they saying, mate?"
     Lotfi closed his eyes and cocked his ear to the broken pane.
     "He doesn't  believe the  Romeos. He  says  it  doesn't matter  who  is
telling the truth and who  is lying. It doesn't matter if he  kills them and
he is wrong. Someone else will  collect the  cash." He opened his eyes again
and looked at me.
     "It is now time, Nick."
     I nodded back.
     "We only have the window  to ' Lotfi jerked away from the  glass and up
on to  his knees. Wiping his  hands on his jeans to get the bitumen off,  he
nodded over towards the gate. The heat burnt into my palms as I put my hands
into  the black  stuff and pushed myself up to  see what  he'd seen. He  was
already crawling towards the down pipe
     A Peugeot estate with police markings and blue light bar had stopped at
the junction opposite  the line of cars in front of the  brocante, where the
Scudo was parked. It was three up, and the front passenger was on the radio.
     Fifty-One.
     I had to assume the worst: that third-party  calls earlier had  alerted
the  police  about  the Scudo and these three  boys were just about to get a
promotion. They'd  find  the radios and the boot set-up, and the  cash under
the  seat together with enough fingerprints to keep  them dusting for weeks.
The first thing they'd do was look for us around here.
     I  checked Lotfi's Focus. Nothing was happening there, but it  wouldn't
be  long before it did after his cops-and-robbers  impersonation. I couldn't
help thinking  that maybe it was God's" way of  saying, "That's  enough of a
recce for me today, now just get on with it."
     Still trying to work out how we were going  to do it, I decided to take
one more look down into the building before I went  to  join Lotfi. I hadn't
reckoned on things getting worse. Goatee was still on the gate, but the boot
to the Lexus  was now open and Baldilocks was handing him a red plastic fuel
canister. The can was then held up,  like a bottle  of wine at a restaurant,
for the three in the pit to see.
     Hubba-Hubba finally looked up. The charm had  gone from his neck. There
was no reaction at all: he  just took  the shouting, and bowed his head once
more. He was waiting for Lotfi to come. But in the meantime he was preparing
to die. Lotfi was nearly at the corner of the  roof as a train squealed into
the  station. He  stopped at  the parapet, waiting  in case  anyone took the
short cut. By the time  I had reached him, the train had left. Should I tell
him  what  I'd seen? What  would it change if I did?  We were still going to
have to get down and try  to  make  entry through that window. Would it help
for  him  to  know that  his brother  was  on  the verge  of  being  torched
-especially if it turned out we couldn't get inside?
     Lotfi checked for people crossing the railway line.
     "All clear. Ready?"
     I  nodded,  checked my  Browning and bum-bag,  then clambered over  the
parapet, scrambling  down a  bit too  fast. Slivers of rust sliced  into  my
hand, but  my  pain was nothing  compared to Hubba-Hubba's. As soon as I hit
the ground, Lotfi started to follow.
     I switched  the bum-bag and Browning from my back to my front once more
and took my Leatherman out of  its belt case. I wanted the weapon back where
it normally sat, because it was  an instinct to draw down from that position
and I got the feeling I'd be needing it.
     Lotfi  landed beside me  as I  opened  the  blade  of  the  Leatherman.
Reaching up on  tiptoe with my left hand and pushing up with my free hand on
the concrete window sill, I started  to stab  and cut into the  plastic  fan
casing.
     Lotfi was against the wall,  keeping watch.  It seemed a  good idea  to
prepare him for failure.
     "If we can't get these bars off,  the only way  to go in is through the
shutter.  We wait for  someone  to come out, or maybe the van to  come back,
then ' "God will decide what we can and cannot do, Nick. It's in his hands."
He didn't look at me: his eyes stayed fixed towards the track.
     That was all well  and  good,  but what if  God decided it was time  to
light up the pit?
     I lifted out the centre of the four-inch-diameter fan and tried to look
through at the bars beyond the now grimy, bitumen-smeared  glass. Fuck it, I
had to tell him.
     "Before we left the  skylight, I saw  Goatee waving  a fuel can at  the
three of them in the pit. You know what that could mean, don't you?"
     His expression didn't change.  His eyes  still didn't  leave the track.
But  he did have  his  beads in his  left hand, threading  them  between his
fingers and thumb, one by one.
     "Yes, I  do  know what that means."  His  voice was  unbelievably calm,
unbelievably collected.
     "Let's just carry on."
     I needed help to get my hand through the hole.
     "Give us a leg  up, mate."  I lifted  my  right foot, and he cupped his
hands. We  both grunted as I stretched out  my  arm and he pushed up against
the bricks.
     I got  a glimpse  of urinals  as  I reached  through, and at the fourth
attempt I managed to pull down the rusty  window latch.  Not much  happened.
The frame  was  so old it had  been glued  in  place by years of weather.  I
lowered myself back  to the  ground and used the  Leatherman blade  to prise
open the frame.
     There was no noise  from inside, which  was  good: if we couldn't  hear
them, chances were they couldn't hear us. I just hoped none of them suddenly
decided they wanted to take a leak.
     Pushing  at the bars was no  good, they  were solid, but I used them to
pull myself up the extra foot so  I could  see what  was going on. They were
secured  by three  straight  head screws, above and below  the frame, driven
through two strips of metal that were welded on to the bars.
     I  dropped  back  to  the ground  and  got out the  screwdriver of  the
Leatherman. "You know we still need to get the hawallada, don't you, as well
as Hubba-Hubba?  We've already  lost the third one, and without these people
we don't get to the ASUs. We need them you  know  what's going  to happen if
these ASUs aren't jumped on?"
     "Nick,  I understand  the importance. You  forget,  my  brother  and  I
volunteered." His expression was so calm it was  unnerving.  He  really  did
believe in right and wrong, and all that Kismet stuff.
     "You also know it's finished, after this?  We  are  compromised to  the
police, we have  missed the  other  collection. Let's just get  both of them
out, drop off the hawallada,  and  get  the fuck out of this country. OK? No
revenge shit, it'll take too long."
     I pulled  myself up again, using the  bars, and managed to half sit  on
the sill so I could get to work with the screwdriver.  At least  the stained
toilet and two dust-filled urinals had no smell, just dried cigarette butts,
from the eighties probably; the filters gathered around the drain holes were
faded white with age.
     Layers of paint  covered the screw heads near the ceiling, and I had to
dig  them  out first  with  the  blade before I could get the screwdriver to
bite. It eventually started to turn after the head had  twice slipped out of
the groove and scraped my knuckles.
     The first screw came  out and I handed it to Lotfi and stayed silent as
I  got to  grips with the remaining  ones. There was too  much to think  and
worry about. I glanced at Lotfi, still calm, watching  up and down the path.
Me, I was  flapping a bit, but ready to go for it  so we could get  the fuck
out of France before the police got hold of us.
     I didn't bother with the bottom screws, just prised the bars downwards.
Then, getting out my Browning and turning my bum-bag round to the back of my
spine  again, I went in head first, belly-flopping  on to the  toilet, using
the  two urinals as support to stop  me falling  on to the floor  and making
noise.
     I could hear voices the other side of the door.
     Lotfi  followed  me  through, closing the  window  behind  him  but not
pulling down the catch.
     The  door  was  an  over  painted  cheap  interior  one,  with  an old,
brushed-aluminium handle. The gap  at  the bottom was too  narrow for me  to
look  through,  but  the  screams  and  shouts  didn't  leave  much  to  the
imagination. At least I couldn't smell petrol or burning yet. Lotfi also got
his ear to the door. They're begging them to stop we must hurry now."
     "We  need to spread out so we can cover them  all.  I'll take the left,
using the Portakabin that side as cover. You take the right, using the other
one."
     One of the  Romeos screamed so loudly  it sounded as if he was in  here
with us. Lotfi  got very sparked up, his eyes flashing once more the same as
they'd done in Algeria. I put a hand on his shoulder.
     "Me left, you right, and this God of yours knows I'm with you, yeah?"
     As he nodded, both Romeos cried  out  again. I pulled the  hammer  back
from its half-cock position  on the Browning and  checked  chamber by gently
pulling back  the backslide just  enough to  see the brass  of the round  in
position. Then I pushed it back into position.
     Lotfi was doing the same as I checked my  bum-bag for the last time and
wiped the sweat from my eyes with a bitumen-stained hand.
     Slowly,  I pushed  down on the door handle  and  it gave  way with  the
smallest of squeaks. I didn't want to burst in. I wanted us to get in as far
as we could, using the Portakabins as cover, before it went noisy.
     There was a little resistance from the hinges, but I managed to pull it
towards  me  an  inch  as  Goatee's  shouts and  the  screams  from  the pit
increased. My view  was mostly obscured by the Portakabins, but between them
to my half-right  I could see the concrete ramps. And no  one  was there any
more.
     Fifty-Two.
     I  couldn't understand  the Arabic,  but I  could  tell the  difference
between  begging  and  demanding. Lotfi's hard-set jaw told me that  for him
every word mattered.
     I just had to  assume that they  all were at the pit; there was nowhere
else  for  them  to  have  gone,  unless they  were  bumming around  in  the
Portakabins or giving the Lexus a polish.
     Change of plan now that I couldn't see anyone. I visualized how I would
go straight through the gap  in the two Portakabins to the ramps, so I could
use  them as cover while I dominated the area. None of them would be able to
outrun Mr. Nine Millimetre.
     That  would  give Lotfi a chance to  move in and lift Hubba-Hubba,  and
once that was  done, there would be three  of  us to get Goatee into the car
and get the fuck out. And that was about as  far as I got. We'd just have to
get  in there  with the maximum amount  of speed,  surprise  and aggression,
weapons up, making sure they didn't have time to draw down. Only Lotfi's God
could tell where things went from there.
     I moved my head back so I could whisper to Lotfi.
     "Change of plan,  I'll  head straight  for  the ramps and  ' A piercing
scream forced its way through  the gap in the door. Lotfi jumped up, pushing
me over. Pulling at the door, he drew down his weapon before hurling himself
into  the  warehouse, screaming Arabic,  running straight  through  the  gap
between  the Portakabins then  turning right,  to the pits, and disappearing
from view.
     I followed,  safety  off, screaming at the top of  my voice, joining in
with everyone else now as the noise echoed about the building.
     "Hands up! Hands up! Hands up!"
     I'd taken only  three steps into the  warehouse when  there was  a loud
whoosh from  the other side  of the Portakabins to my  right,  then agonized
screams that drowned every other sound.
     I emerged  past the Portakabins  to  see the group to  the right of the
blazing pit staring open-mouthed  at us. We both screamed  louder, trying to
overcome the noise from below us as the flames shot higher than our heads.
     Baldilocks was in position to draw down, but couldn't decide whether to
do so  or not. He  looked at  Goatee. He was looking at me. I stayed static,
weapon up, out in the open.
     Lotfi had reached the pit, his screams now just as loud as those of the
burning men.
     I kept my Browning up, pushing down with my thumb on the safety.
     "Hands up! Hands up! Hands up!"
     The  black-leather brothers were trying to  work out whether  to take a
chance and draw  down, I  could see it in their eyes. I  felt the heat on my
face as I moved in closer, to get better shots, never crossing my feet  over
as I moved, wanting to keep them apart  so I had a constant, stable platform
to get  some rounds off on target.  I didn't  have that many to  fuck  about
with.
     Lotfi, on his knees by the pit, roared with all the air in his lungs as
he battled with the hot, heavy iron gate, trying to drag it just a few feet.
     Hands flailed  from the flames below. Disembodied, high-pitched screams
filled the building.
     Above ground, the  group's  eyes were still darting everywhere,  at the
pit, at me, at  each other. I moved towards them more and with each step the
stench of burning flesh became  stronger than the fuel's. It was tempting to
do all four of them, but Goatee was in the middle of the group. I needed him
alive.
     Lotfi yelled for his brother, fighting the flames, fighting the gate.
     Where was Van Man?
     There was movement to my right and I was too late.
     The piece of scaffolding swung in  hard. I felt  a crushing pain in the
right side  of my  chest and the Browning flew from my hand. I  lost all the
air from my lungs before hitting the concrete.
     Between the flashes in my head I could see Lotfi  lying  on the  floor,
gripping a charred  hand  that strained up through the bars of the gate. The
flames were beginning to die. Even if his brother hadn't burned to death, he
would have been asphyxiated long before now.
     Lotfi bellowed  like a wounded animal, a long,  drawn-out, pitiful howl
of despair. His sleeves were  smoking and burnt away, and his hands and arms
were blistering.  Bodies moved in and he was kicked away from  the gate, but
it wasn't physical pain that was causing his anguish.
     My glimpse  of  him lasted a second more,  before feet rained in on  me
too. I could do nothing more than curl up, close my eyes, grit my teeth, and
hope it would stop very soon.
     Angry Arabic echoed round the walls. The kicking stopped. Hands grabbed
my  feet,  dragging  me on my  stomach  and  chest towards the pit.  Lotfi's
screams  got closer. I pushed down on the  heels of my hands to try and keep
my face from  being  grated along the concrete floor and felt the skin of my
palms coming away.
     I  opened  my eyes  in  time to see the charred but  still recognizable
bodies in  the pit, and the  smouldering  paint on the gates. My  legs  were
released,  my  bum-bag got  pulled off  me  and  I was  pushed  against  the
right-hand Portakabin. Lotfi was frog marched over to  join me and forced on
to his knees. All four of  them stood around us, letting off a good kick now
and again. The hem  of Baldilocks'  trousers was just  inches from my face I
could smell cologne  and cigarettes, and heard  heavy, laboured breathing as
one of them gob bed on to my neck.
     Lotfi seemed oblivious to the state of his arms and hands. His skin was
hanging off him like potato peel, some flakes red, some black. His watch and
Medic Alert looked  as if they had sunk into his grotesquely swollen wrists.
The raw skin on my  hands, ingrained with grit, was incredibly painful,  but
nothing like he was going through.
     A pain in  the right of my chest was as much as I could  bear. I had to
take rapid, shallow breaths, and each one felt like I was being stabbed.
     Lotfi caught  my  eye and started rocking slowly backwards and forwards
with his arms out so he didn't touch them, just taking the pain.
     "I should  have ' He got  a  kick that rolled him off to his side. They
closed in on us again just  as Goatee pushed his way through the crowd. They
gave him some space as he looked down  just a  few feet away from us, having
nearly  recovered his breath. In  his left hand he held our  passports.  The
four behind  him were already counting out  our  cash. In  his right hand he
held an un tipped cigarette, unlit, and a disposable lighter. Eyeing us both
with  mock concern, he placed the cigarette between his lips and clicked the
lighter twice  before  he got a light. His watch, a  very  slim gold  thing,
glinted in the sunlight.
     He hadn't bought his clothes at a street market either. The black shirt
looked  quality,  and his jeans had an Armani label on the back. He smelt of
expensive cologne and  as  he smoked I could  see well-manicured  nails. The
fingernail on the little finger  of his right hand was much longer than  the
rest, to  the  point where it nearly started to curl.  Maybe  he  played the
guitar,  or perhaps  he  just  didn't like using a  spoon  to  scoop up  his
cocaine.
     He traded stares with Lotfi while I cleared the snot and blood  from my
nose on to the concrete and my jeans. Hubba-Hubba lay less than fifteen feet
away from his brother, yet Lotfi gazed at his killer as if he was studying a
painting. I was impressed I'd known a  few people over  the years  who could
keep their head in a gang fuck, but this was something else.
     Goatee looked down  at us and  breathed deeply, before kicking Lotfi in
the leg.
     "Do you speak English too?"
     Lotfi nodded, his gaze never wavering.
     Goatee took another drag of his cigarette. When he exhaled, the halo of
smoke danced in the sunlight above him.
     "I suppose you are the people on the other end of the  radio?" His tone
was icy. He was  waiting for an answer, but Lotfi wasn't giving, and  he was
right, but only up  to a point. This wasn't the time to answer questions, it
was the time to start begging for our lives.
     I wiped another fistful of snot and blood off  my nose,  then went  for
it.
     "Look, I don't know what the fuck is going  on  here." I  nodded in the
direction of the pit.
     "We  were just  told to follow those  two. We  thought they were moving
heroin to the Channel Islands.  Someone there  was worried  it  was going to
affect his  business. Whatever's going on here, we don't need  to know. What
the fuck, we can just walk out of here now and forget the whole thing ..."
     I knew I  had lost  him  on the first few words. He didn't even look at
me, but remained staring at Lotfi, and took another drag before gob bing off
at  him in Arabic. Lotfi replied with three or four  sentences,  which meant
nothing to me. I just knew Goatee was getting fucked off by him big-time.
     Goatee forced a  lungful of smoke out through his nostrils as he turned
to face me.
     "What does it matter? I do not care who you are. If  you  came to steal
from me, or you didn't, it matters not." He flicked the ash over towards the
pit.
     "They  are dead. You  are dead. I still have the money, and I'll simply
wait for  another collection. I can't afford to  take  chances. I don't care
what's happened. God understands, God will forgive me." He turned to Lotfi.
     "No?"
     There was no reply.
     Goatee took  another  drag  and  turned back  to  have a  word with the
black-leather brothers.  Lotfi's lips started to move;  he put his head down
and rocked backwards and forwards slightly I didn't understand all of it but
certainly got the "Muhammad rasul-ullah' bit.
     The Shahada; he was preparing for death.
     He might be ready to meet his maker, but I wasn't.
     Goatee  heard Lotfi too,  and  turned his  head round  to watch, before
shrugging  his  shoulders and throwing both passports  towards the pit. They
landed on the gate,  one  falling down  on to  Hubba-Hubba's  black and  red
charred body. Goatee walked away and yelled stuff at the other four.
     Lotfi's  eyes followed the black-leather brothers, one  of whom carried
the empty petrol container, as they walked  towards the Lexus. If God was on
our side, he needed to get his finger out  of  his  arse  and  do  something
pretty quick.
     One of the  brothers sparked up the Lexus while the other pulled on the
chain  to  open up  the  grease- and  grime-covered  shutters.  The  vehicle
reversed,  then turned  to  face the  exit as  the  hawallada's mobile  gave
another  ring.  He opened  it  up  and headed towards the  other side of the
building. The Lexus went through the door  and disappeared. Van  Man started
closing the shutter  as Baldilocks kept  watch  on us, sunlight bouncing off
his sweat-covered head.
     It  was a very short phone call: I  got  the impression that Goatee was
telling her he might  be  back in  time for  tea after all,  but not to keep
calling  him  at  the office. Whatever we were going to do,  we had to do it
before the Lexus got back. I looked over  at Lotfi  and his eyes  were still
locked on Goatee. Blood dripped from his nostrils, bubbling as he prayed.
     Goatee put the  phone in his pocket  and walked  back over to  us. He'd
almost reached us  when two shots rang out outside.  Van  Man let  go of the
chain. The shutter stopped rattling, about two feet from the ground, as they
all drew down and Van Man dived to one side of the entrance.
     There were  more shots, followed  by shouts and the revving of engines,
then the screech of  brakes and the sound of  a collision. Baldilocks froze,
looking to Van Man  for some kind of clue about what  the fuck he should  do
next. There were more single shots. Van Man took a quick look outside.
     "Police! Police!"
     Goatee  barked  instructions  at  them  both.  Lotfi  had  stopped   in
mid-prayer. The light was back in his eyes. He  glanced across  at me with a
look that said, "You see, Nick? I was right. God's come to the rescue."
     I gave him  one back that said,  "Let's get  the fuck out of here,  and
let's do it now ..."
     He launched himself at Goatee, as the pain in  my chest disappeared and
I  wrapped  myself  around Baldilocks  before  he had the  chance to  switch
himself  back on. I hung  on to him like a  drowning man, trying to keep his
arms down and the weapon out of the way. I kept  pushing him back, moving my
legs as  quickly as I could to keep him off balance. The pistol clattered to
the concrete and  we crashed into the  ramp, then fell  to  the floor, me on
top, still wrapped  around  him. The  pain returned, big-time.  My ribs felt
like they'd been given the good news by a jackhammer. I fought for breath. I
heard  myself scream as  he squirmed under me, his  pistol just over a metre
away.
     It  was a Beretta, and the safety catch was still  on. My brain shrank.
That weapon became my whole world.
     I fell sideways, arm  outstretched,  but Baldilocks managed  to slow me
down,  grunting  with  the  effort,  dragging  at  my  leg,  pulling  at  my
sweatshirt, trying to beat me to it.
     The muzzle was facing us; my hand was no more than six inches from  it.
I  could  feel  his fingers scrabbling at me, trying to climb over me. But I
was there, no pain in my hands now, gripping it to my chest.
     I couldn't  breathe.  I couldn't  suck in any  air. Trying to turn  the
thing round, I got it in my right hand. He was now on top of me, forcing the
weapon  down between me and the concrete. My ribcage  started to collapse. I
pushed up with my  arse, trying to make  space under me, trying to spin  the
weapon round, stripping the skin off my knuckles.
     He grabbed  my throat.  His teeth bit  into  my  shoulder.  I  felt his
laboured breathing on my neck.
     If  I  didn't  get some  air into  my lungs  soon,  I  was going  down.
Starbursts  of  light flickered across my eyes. I needed oxygen, my head was
about to explode.
     More gunshots outside.
     I got the weapon in my hand, but  his weight was still pressing down on
me too much to move it.
     I twisted  left and right,  jerking up and down, trying to create a gap
so I could free my hand. He bit harder, his hands shifting from my throat to
my arms.
     I  rolled  on to my right  side, got  the Beretta into  his biceps, and
fired. He shrieked and sprang off me, clutching the wound, wriggling like an
eel. I could see bone and blood as I lay there trying to breathe.
     Lotfi  was lying  by  the pit, a few feet from Goatee. Both were curled
up, both leaking blood.
     Sunlight  poured  in through  the  gap underneath  the  shutter.  Shots
ricocheted off the steel  as Lotfi crawled over to the hawallada. I screamed
at him, "No, let's go, let's go!"
     He'd got  on  top  of Goatee  and was forcing the pistol into his face.
Fuck him, we'd never get him to the DOP anyway.
     "Just do it, let's go come on! Come on!"
     He looked over at me, his face covered with blood.
     "Come on! Do it! The window!"
     Sirens wailed. Rolling off Goatee, he lifted the  pistol to fire at Van
Man, who was still at the shutter, but  he was in shit state; it  would be a
waste of rounds, and he knew it.
     The weapon came down  as I  moved to the  cover  of the Portakabins, my
head swimming, vision blurred, eyes wet with pain.
     "Come on, kill him," I croaked.
     "Let's go!"
     We had to get out of there before  the police threw a cordon around the
estate.
     Lotfi  hauled himself on to his knees, clutching his stomach. Take him,
take him now ..."
     He was still scarily calm.
     "Fuck him. Let's go!" "No, I need revenge, you need the hawallada."
     He staggered to his feet  and stumbled  towards Baldilocks, firing  two
rounds into him as soon as  he was  close enough. One  exited his head at an
angle and ricocheted off the ramp.
     As he headed for Van  Man, I shuffled forward and got hold of Goatee by
the  feet,  dragging  him behind  the Portakabin.  His head bounced  on  the
concrete as he tried to keep his hand over the gunshot wound in his stomach.
His black shirt, wet with blood, glistened in the sunlight.
     I stopped at the toilet door.  I  couldn't catch my  breath, everything
was too  painful. But  I had to keep dragging. Somehow, I got to the window.
Blood streamed from my mouth as I bent down and tried to get Goatee on to my
shoulder.
     I had  to get on my  knees to do so, then haul myself upright on one of
the urinal pipes.  He gave a whimper  as I stopped  to chug  up and gob  out
another mouthful of  blood,  before trying  to shove  him  out  through  the
window.
     Fifty-Three.
     He fell out of  the  window head  first, gasping  in pain as his  shins
scraped against the metal rim  of the frame, before he hit the ground with a
crump and a muffled cry.
     I  followed, trying  to keep my weight off my chest as  I wormed my way
through, fighting  to stop myself shouting with pain. I finally tumbled down
beside him on  the dried mud of the  track. Sirens wailed in the distance. I
got to my knees, trying to suck oxygen into my lungs without moving my ribs.
Every intake of breath still  felt as if I was being stabbed. I was sweating
all over, the pulse throbbing heavily in my neck.
     On my knees, I lifted Goatee by the armpits, manhandling him back on to
my shoulder. I struggled to get  myself  upright, using my legs to push, and
my free hand to claw my way up the wall. I tried to take deeper breaths, but
the effort just made me cough up more blood that in turn blocked my nose.
     As I stumbled towards  the railway tracks and Lotfi's Focus, the  sound
of  sirens got  closer,  coming down  the main  behind me  and following the
river.
     I made my way to the end  of  the building and peered round it, towards
the estate entrance. The white police patrol car  was blocking it. The Lexus
had smashed into its rear, spinning it round in its attempt to get away, and
ending up off towards the farmhouse in the right-hand corner.
     I couldn't see any sign of the black-leather  brothers, but  the  three
policemen were bobbing and  weaving on the far side of the patrol car. Their
main attention was towards their left and the farmhouse area.
     Lotfi appeared in the open  ground, staggering  towards the police with
his weapon dangling in his hand. They started screaming orders at him as  he
made his way slowly towards  their line. He was buying me time to get  away.
The gap between this building and the next was about  two metres; after that
I'd be in  cover right down to the railway tracks.  He raised his  hands  as
more orders were  screamed  at him,  but  held on  to  the pistol.  He moved
forward, blood drenching his clothes, taking his time to come level with the
Lexus, making sure they were following his every move.
     Would they spot me as I crossed?
     Lotfi moved to the right.
     I  tried to  fill  my lungs, adjusted  Goatee on  my shoulders as Lotfi
moved  to  the  right,  towards the farmhouse,  firing  at the black-leather
brothers who were over there somewhere, firing back.
     I went for it.
     Sirens seemed to be coming from everywhere. I couldn't tell if I'd been
seen or not as  I crossed. It didn't really matter. All that did was getting
to the car.
     I  lurched along the path, a  stone building to my  right and the brick
wall to my  left, bumping  into both.  My vision was blurred; I was  feeling
dizzy, I needed more oxygen, but it just hurt too much  to  fight  for it. I
heard a fusillade of shots  from the police that seemed to last for ever. If
it meant they were still shooting at Lotfi as  he ran out of rounds and went
at them with his bare hands, I could only hope his end came quickly.
     The track disappeared into a cutting,  which  was lined both sides with
bushes and  caked with drinks cans and cigarette packets. The cutting was no
more than five or six metres deep  on each side, but that would be enough to
hide Goatee in while I went to get the Focus.
     I  scrambled and slid  down  towards  the  railway.  Goatee was  making
spasmodic attempts to free himself, but they only lasted  a few  seconds. He
lost it once more and slumped on to me. I could feel  his blood soaking into
my bitumen-covered sweatshirt and mixing with my own sweat. His beard rubbed
against my right forearm as I struggled to keep him in position.
     Signs  that probably said "Do not cross here'  were nailed  up to  warn
users of  the dangers of  this  rat run. I picked my way carefully over  the
stone bedding,  then crossed the tracks. My nose was  still blocked,  and by
the time we were on the far bank my mouth was full of blood again, making it
hard to breathe.
     I  couldn't muster the strength  to get  him up the other  side  of the
embankment. I tried,  but we fell together on to the dry  earth path just  a
metre up the bank.  Sirens  were  directly above us, on the main  beyond the
station. It was decision time.
     I lay there in much the same condition as Goatee, both on our backs and
desperately trying to take in oxygen.  He mumbled  to  himself then screamed
out. I swung a clenched  fist to make  him shut up, hitting him somewhere in
the face.  I wasn't too  sure  where, because my  eyes  were still  wet  and
blurred, but it seemed to do the trick.
     I rolled on to my front and crawled over him, leaving him where he was,
and  headed slowly up the bank,  finally  coming  level with the cracked and
potholed tarmac of the packed car park.  The  station  itself, a dirty cream
brick  building, was immediately  to  my right.  I  lay there for  a minute,
fighting for breath, and against the pain that  each breath brought with it.
Blood continued to pour out of my mouth each time I coughed.
     Craning my neck around the tyres  of the car nearest  me, I spotted the
Focus,  parked  facing  the road  about fifteen  metres  away,  its tailgate
towards me.  People had  stopped, trying to see what was happening, and were
getting on  their  mobiles to  tell their friends about all the  excitement.
More  police  cars swooped into the area, one passing  left to  right on the
main.  There was nothing I could do to hide myself. I just had to go for it,
and get us both into the Focus before there was no way out.
     It was fuck-it  time again.  I got up  and staggered towards  the black
estate car, squinting in the  sunlight,  trying  to walk  upright  and  stop
myself coughing, and failing at both.
     I burped up  some more blood and gob bed it out. I was going to need to
control my  breathing soon, and McDonald's  came to  my rescue. A bin to  my
right  was overflowing with McDo  burger containers and grease-stained brown
paper  bags. I picked one  up,  tipped  out the  used  napkins  and  ketchup
sachets, and shoved it into my back pocket.
     It was then that I heard  the gentle thwack of rotor blades up above me
somewhere. I couldn't be arsed looking up, just focused instead on the car.
     The glare of the sun made my  eyes water even more as  I bent  down and
started to pull at the thin rectangular number plate With the key and fob in
my hand, I pulled myself upright to go round to the driver's door, and found
myself face  to face with a skinny, middle-aged black woman with  a freckled
face and multicoloured  dress. She  stood on the  pavement by the Focus with
two carrier  bags of shopping. She just opened  her mouth and  stared  at my
bloodstained,  bitumen-streaked sweatshirt,  and at the blood  and  snot all
over my face.
     Fifty-Four.
     The  four ways flashed as I hit the key  fob. I  grinned at her like an
idiot, not having a clue what to say.
     Half  climbing, half falling into the driver's  seat,  I  settled for a
smiley "Bonjour', and, to my amazement, she just replied in kind and carried
on walking. Maybe she saw blokes like me every day round here.
     I closed  the door  on  the stifling heat and  smelly  plastic  of  the
interior and started the engine, checking the fuel gauge as I did so. It was
just  over  three-quarters  full.  Good  skills  he'd  filled  up  at  every
opportunity.
     I tried to turn my  head  to find the closest gap to the path,  but the
searing  pain in my  chest made me think again. I  couldn't get a lungful of
air. It seemed  to be going into  my mouth  all right, in short sharp gasps,
but nothing would go down. I was starting to hyperventilate.
     I reached into the back of my  jeans, pulled out the  McDo bag, and got
it over  my  nose and  mouth. With  both  hands  cupping  it in  position, I
concentrated on breathing slowly in and out  a few times, puckering my lips.
It  was a bit juddery,  but  I managed  to get at least half-lungfuls before
holding my breath for just a second, then exhaling slowly.
     Leaning  forward over the steering wheel  with the bag over my  face, I
repeated the cycle. My eyes flashed up as a red pompiers ambulance passed me
on the  main. This  just wasn't happening quickly  enough. I was fighting to
draw oxygen, but  I wasn't getting  anywhere. And then,  painfully slowly, I
started  to  succeed. The bag collapsed  half-way, then filled out again. It
was  a big effort and took  me several  attempts, but at  last I got  things
under some kind of control. That was all I could do for now; I really needed
more time if I was to get my breathing back to anything like normal.
     I reversed  the Focus out  of  its space, scraping it along the Peugeot
next  to me, and carried on backing  into the  gap nearest to where I'd left
Goatee. The heels of my hands stung as the raw skin ran over the hot plastic
of the steering wheel, smearing it with blood.
     Leaving the engine idling, I got out once more, opened the tailgate and
scrambled down the bank. He'd shifted on  to his  side, and was curled up in
pain. I got him on to my shoulders once  more, and began to work  my way  up
the bank. His weight pressed against my lungs as I moved up the hill, and  I
couldn't stop coughing.
     Still more sirens in the distance, but closing in.
     When  I finally got on to level ground, I felt like cheering. I reached
the car and tipped Goatee  into  the  boot just as the helicopter closed in.
There  was next to no resistance from him as  I pushed and  bent his legs to
fit  him in.  I checked that  the back tray came down  flat and  closed  the
tailgate, pushing down on whatever bit of him was in the  way until he moved
it. Back in the driver's seat, I got the bag over my mouth once more, trying
to regulate my breathing before I made my move. My eyes were still watering,
my head banged, everything was blurred.
     The quickest way out of the city was north into the mountains. I turned
the ignition  and rolled out of the  car park. The sun was still fairly high
and to my left.
     To  help relieve the pain, I  had to lean my body left or right  rather
than  turn the  wheel  with  my hands. I  caught sight  of my  face  in  the
rear-view: I was really  fucked up. I screwed it up further to  try to  keep
the sweat out of my eyes as I moved into the traffic.
     I carried on out of the city, concentrating on the road ahead as best I
could. Wiping  my eyes with my sleeve didn't seem to  make  much difference.
Goatee  found another little burst  of  energy, kicking out at  the back and
screaming, then went quiet again.
     The road narrowed and we were  soon climbing  steeply.  The  pain in my
chest was  too bad for  me to change gear, and I had to stop in a lay by  to
let a small convoy of cars pass  before  they got  terminally annoyed  at my
snail's pace. I  used the  opportunity  to take controlled breaths into  the
bag, the paper inflating and deflating like my lungs weren't.
     I  didn't know where I was, but the sun was still to the left of  me. I
was definitely moving north. There was no way I was going to take  the  risk
of driving back into the city, just  to get on to the main drag  that I knew
led directly to Villefranche. I was going to do it cross-country.
     I stayed in the lay by for maybe ten  minutes, breathing into the  bag.
Now that I  had time to do it  properly,  I was able to breathe back  in the
carbon dioxide that I needed in  my blood to relieve the symptoms. Willpower
alone wouldn't have done the  job: I needed the  bag  to  break the cycle of
hyperventilation. I knew I must be in shit state for this to be happening.
     Breathing a lot better but still in small gulps, I thought about  how I
was going to get to the DOR From here, I knew that as long as I kept the sun
on my left, to the west, the coast would be  behind me. I'd chuck a right at
the  first opportunity, and head east,  with the sun behind  me, paralleling
the coast. That  way I'd be able to bypass the city. When  I chucked another
right, heading south, I'd eventually  hit the sea. With luck, I'd be able to
sort myself out from there.
     I  rejoined  the road, keeping  in  first  gear,  only changing up into
second when the engine was screaming. There was another outburst from Goatee
in the boot and I turned on the radio to drown the noise. It was monotonous,
rapid dance music, but at least it was louder than he was.
     Even if I got Goatee successfully to the DOP, I didn't know  what I was
going to  do  next.  There  was  no  way  I  could  go  to  a  hospital.  No
identification, no money, no  nothing I'd be picked up  in minutes. What had
happened down in the industrial  estate would be  a massive  deal,  even for
such a  rough  banlieue.  The  police heli  was up:  they'd  be  looking for
runners. TV and radio would carry saturation coverage any minute.
     I had no chance of getting out  of this. The police  would find my docs
in the pit soon enough, and then I'd  really be in the shit. I  couldn't run
to the American consulate.  They'd  fuck me off at the door. The only chance
I'd have would be to jump over the wall,  giving myself up to someone inside
the compound.  Even then they'd probably chuck me out. I could try  making a
run for Italy, but I'd still be in the same boat.
     I worked my way  up on to the high ground, leaning on the wheel to take
some of the weight  off my chest. The  coughing persisted, and the knifelike
pain came back each time my body tensed as I tried to stop it.
     The  only  chance  I  had was to  get on board that  warship. It didn't
matter how I did it, even if  it meant  posing as one of the hawallada. Only
the warship  guaranteed  medical attention, and offered  the  possibility of
escape.
     I  drove with the sun to  my left  for  what felt  like hours.  I still
didn't  know  where I was because I'd been concentrating too  much on  other
things.  I eventually  took a  junction right, which led  into a narrow lane
with  steep,  rocky  sides, dotted with clumps  of grass and the  odd stubby
tree. I  was heading  east  now;  the sun half blinded me  in the  rear-view
mirror. The  dance music banged out, and the boot  tray  gave a jump now and
again,  not quite in time with the beat. I didn't have a clue how far inland
I was, but I knew I was paralleling the sea and was some way above Nice.
     I was feeling more and more  exhausted. I'd gone on maybe another hour.
Any road south would do me now. I found one and with the sun to my right and
getting lower, began my descent towards the coast.
     The rapid breathing returned, and I had to  pull in at the roadside and
get the paper bag on to my face. The radio boomed, and Goatee  gave the back
tray another couple of kicks as I puckered my lips and kissed air.
     Fifty-Five.
     I  gob bed  out some more blood and covered my mouth and nose once more
with the McDonald's  bag,  but  it was getting wet from me dripping  into it
every five minutes, and wouldn't be good for much longer.
     After about fifteen minutes, the hyperventilation had eased and I threw
the bag back on the passenger seat. The road ahead swam in and out of focus.
All I knew  was  that  as long as I kept heading  south, towards  the sea, I
could sort myself out and get to the DOR As darkness began to  fall, I found
myself on an avenue of large houses set well back  from the road, at the end
of which  was a sign that told me Villefranche was to the left, and Nice  to
the right.
     The  volume of traffic increased, and  I had to concentrate even harder
as  the  headlights came  on and  the  wipers failed to shift the  smear  of
insects on my windscreen. In just a few more Ks I was approaching the picnic
area.  I stopped by the bottle  banks, and levered myself slowly out  of the
car, letting my arms take my  weight. The car park was empty, but I left the
music on to cover any noise  Goatee might  make. Opening  the rear passenger
door, I bent  down to  retrieve a full  can of Coke Light from a six-pack in
the foot  well and  shoved it  under the  right corner of the nearest bottle
bank. My chest felt like a knife  thrower had used it for target practice as
I pushed myself back up.
     Back  behind  the  wheel, I felt  under  the  dash for  the  brake  and
reversing lights  cut-out, pressing down on the brake  so the  rear  of  the
wagon was now  a  blaze of red. It was in the same position as  on the other
two cars so  that everyone knew  where  to find it, just like  the keys.  My
fingers found the switch, and the gentle glow from the tail lights  returned
in the rear-view mirror.
     I  circled the  car park and headed downhill,  eyes  peeled for the DOP
driveway. If  I missed it,  I'd have to go into Hubba-Hubba's old holding-up
point, then make my way back uphill, and I didn't want to do that if I could
avoid it. Every movement was agony.
     I kept the vehicle lights on full beam and let  the car  just coast  on
its brakes, leaning on the wheel to relieve the pain. I turned off the radio
to help me concentrate. There was no sound from the boot.
     At  last  I saw it. I moved  into the oncoming lane, killed the lights,
put the Focusinto first and managed to make  the sharp  right turn on to the
track. My chest burst into flames again, and I coughed blood on to the dash.
     The rusty chain was padlocked to a wooden post at  either end. I put my
foot down.  I  hit it dead  centre  and the  Focus lunged forward,  but then
stopped, throwing me against the steering wheel. The engine stalled.
     My  chest was agony. I coughed up  another mouthful of  blood and mucus
and reached for the soggy McDonald's  bag. When  my breathing had slowed,  I
lowered the window,  listening for vehicles. There was nothing;  I moved the
gearshift into reverse, checked there  was no white light behind  me, backed
into the road, and tried again, this time with more revs.
     The  post ripped out and  I braced myself  and braked, not wanting  the
Focus to go all the way down the hill just yet. I turned off the engine, put
the hand  brake  on, and  pressed  the  boot-release catch before  stumbling
outside. Shoving the wet McDonald's bag down my sweatshirt and using the car
to support myself, I  waded through  a river of broken boxes, empty cans and
burst bin liners.
     The light came on as I lifted the tailgate. Goatee was still out of it,
just a limp bundle. I got hold of his feet and swung them out, bent down and
half lifted, half  dragged him  out  on  to the ground. It was just  as well
there was no resistance from him: I wouldn't have been able to fight back.
     I  made my way back to the  driver's seat, released the hand  brake and
gave  the Focus as much of  a push as my grating ribs would allow. It rolled
slowly forwards, gathered a bit of momentum,  and carried on down the  slope
until it hit a barrier of old washing  machines. It hadn't gone far, but was
out of i view of the road, and that was what mattered.
     I turned and limped back to Goatee, got my hands under his armpits, and
dragged him on to the canvas tarpaulin to the right of the driveway.
     A  car  came  downhill from the  picnic area,  bathing the roadside and
bushes  in light. I waited  for the sound of its engine to die, then  pulled
him over on  to  his side to make sure he  didn't choke  on  his  tongue. He
curled  up like a baby. I sat over him; I tried  lying down, but it was just
too painful.
     Coughing  out more  blood, I  checked traser. It  was just  past  seven
o'clock: it could be hours before we got a pick-up. Goatee's condition was a
worry.  I  wasn't sure  he was going  to make it. Come to that, I wasn't too
sure about myself.
     I  lifted  the corner of the  tarpaulin  and  covered  him,  trying  to
maintain his  core temperature. I tried  to get some of it over me as  well,
but  it hurt  too  much  to pull it any further. I started to hyperventilate
again with the effort and the McDonald's bag finally  fell apart as  I tried
to breathe into it  again. There was nothing I could  do  but use  my cupped
hands. I rested my elbows  on my  knees for  a  moment,  but  that  was  too
painful.
     More vehicle lights bathed the skyline intermittently for the next hour
or  so, then I  heard  a diesel engine coming down the hill. I listened  and
hoped it would stop at the  driveway, but no  such luck. It  passed and  the
lights disappeared.  I  checked traser again. Only  ten  minutes  had passed
since the last time I'd looked.
     Goatee retched, and I heard  a  splash on the tarpaulin. He wheezed and
fought for breath, then  coughed again  and I felt  warm liquid on the  hand
that I was using to support myself.
     Two  or  three more vehicles  passed in each  direction  as I just  sat
there, cross-legged, trying to keep my trunk upright,  wishing my  life away
because  I desperately needed Thackery to turn up and  get  us  out of here.
Goatee moaned gently below me; now and again his body twitched and his  legs
pedalled on the tarpaulin, but  at least his breathing was more regular than
mine.
     Suddenly, soft bleeping  noises filled  the air. I wondered  if  I  was
hallucinating. It  took me several seconds to realize  they were coming from
Goatee's mobile.  He started to straighten out his legs, mumbling to himself
in Arabic. I  lay down next to him, feeling in the dark, finding his hand as
it tried to find his pocket. I pulled it away weakly.
     "Fuck you,"  he grunted. There were only a few inches between our faces
now and I could smell his rancid breath. Mine was probably no better.
     I  dug  into his trouser pocket with my left  hand  and pulled  out the
mobile. It had stopped ringing,  and Goatee was whining in Arabic, I thought
more in anger at not being able to take the call than from the pain.
     "What you saying?"
     I  could  hear slurping  as he opened and closed his mouth a  couple of
times before muttering, "My wife."
     I opened up the phone and a dull blue display glowed in the dark.
     "Tough shit." With the  blood-  and  bitumen-covered thumb of my  right
hand I tapped in the digits 001, then the rest of the Massachusetts number.
     It would be afternoon in Marblehead, and she should be home. She had to
be it was her day to look after  the  B-and-B. It rang three or  four times,
then I heard her voice.
     "Hello?"
     "Carrie, it's me. Please don't hang up."
     "Oh."
     "I need help."
     "I've been telling you that for months." Her tone changed.
     "So, Nick, where do we go from here?"
     "Listen, I really need your help." I tried to stop myself coughing.
     "Are you OK, Nick? You sound ... have you got somebody with you?"
     "Yes, I have." I hesitated, then realized I had no choice.
     "Look, I'm  still working for George." I moved the phone away  from  my
mouth, and this time coughed up some more blood.
     "Nick?"
     I'm all right. I need you to call your dad for me. Tell  him I'm coming
in with  today's  collection, and the collection is ready  now. Tell  him we
both need medical attention, and quickly. Can you do that?  Can you  contact
him?"
     "Sure, his pager. But ' "Please, just make the call."
     "Of course."
     "Please do it now it's important."
     "Nick?"
     "I've got to go just do it now, please." I hit the off button, but kept
the power on in case the phone had an access code.
     Goatee coughed and cleared his mouth before speaking.
     "Your wife?" He lay there waiting for a reply.
     "You're dying. People are going to pick us up soon and try to save you,
but  that's only  because they  want you alive. They want  to know  what you
know. After that, I don't know what happens, but it's not going to be good."
     There was a pause. He didn't say  anything, but I could  hear  his head
moving up and down on  the canvas and the smell of  his breath came and went
in waves.
     "Me,  I'm going  home. That's the end of it, apart  from the fact  that
somebody stitched both of us up. Those two you lifted in the shop, they were
the  real collectors."  I could hear his head move again.  We  were there to
follow them, to  get to you and then do exactly what I'm doing with you now.
So  my job is  done, but  my two  friends are dead.  And  so  are yours, and
chances are you'll never talk with your  wife again. Tell  me who you saw in
Juan-les-Pins  Wednesday night,  and  what  they  said." I let it sink in  a
little before continuing.
     "Look, you're fucked, but I can do something for both of us."
     A vehicle passed by, up on the road, so I let my words sink in a little
more.
     "You've got nothing to lose, you've lost it already."
     He gave what sounded  like a  sob, then made  an effort to pull himself
together. He turned his head towards me, and the rancid smell returned.
     "He said he knew that the collection was taking place today ... He said
the collectors were  not the real guys. They were coming to steal the money,
but they were coming with the correct code. He also told me that there would
be other guys out there following them as protection."
     What did this man look like? Was he white? Black?"
     "Arab."
     "With long, greying hair?"
     "No, no. Greased back." He coughed, and I heard liquid in his throat.
     "I had to do what I did. Surely you understand that? Just tell me  your
price and let me go.  I'll pay you money, more than you can  imagine. No one
will know what happened. You can say I escaped. How much do you want?"
     My mind was on  other  things. I'd heard all that  crap a million times
before,  over the  years.  I  thought  about the  first  time  I'd  been  to
Greaseball's  flat. He hadn't been expecting me, and that was why he'd tried
to hide the tennis  bags. I'd thought he was trying to  stop  me  seeing the
syringes when he kicked them under  the bed, but  that  wasn't it at all: he
was going to collect the money in them. There were even a couple of racquets
out  on the  landing. Their plan couldn't have  been simpler: they were even
prepared to  sacrifice this  collection so they could  hang on to  the other
two, Monaco and Cannes. I opened  up the mobile once more, mentally reciting
the pager  number. The first  four numbers toned out from the phone,  then I
stopped. What  if they  were  still in  the harbour,  or anywhere near  real
people? I couldn't do that. I had to stop the  money movement, but it was my
anger  dialling, not  the job. I  could  get  something organized  from  the
warship.  After all,  they had enough  technology on board to find anything,
anywhere.
     I kept the phone in my blood-stained hand as Goatee stirred again.
     "Please tell my wife ... please call her."
     I thought about lying to him  to  make him feel better. Then I  thought
about Hubba-Hubba's  charred hand  reaching through the wrought-iron gate. I
turned to face him again in the darkness.
     "Fuck you."
     He didn't reply, just coughed up even more blood than I had and started
to breathe very  quickly and  shallowly. I forced  myself up on  my arse  to
relieve some of the chest pain,  and felt myself  breathing out of rhythm. I
cupped my hands over my nose and mouth.
     Another vehicle roared up the  hill  and I checked traser. It was eight
twenty-seven.
     I slid my way down again, and lay next to Goatee.
     All I could do was wait now, try to control my breathing, and hope that
we were going to get picked up before both of us were dead.
     Fifty-Six.
     Another vehicle swept down  the hill, but this time slowed as it neared
the entrance to the track.
     Whoever it was came to a complete halt, with his engine ticking over. I
heard the high-pitched whine of the vehicle reversing; then a mixture of red
and white  light  swept across  the bank of bin liners beside  us. There was
just a  second's  silence  before the doors swung open. There  was something
about  their echo that made me think van, not car. It must be them. Then the
crunch of footsteps headed my way as red light now fought its  way  past the
collapsed chain barrier.
     I didn't  move a  muscle. Maybe it was  just somebody about  to do some
late-night fly-tipping. If it was Thackery, he'd  know where  to  find us: I
didn't want to spook him, in case he  and  his mate were armed.  I wanted to
get into the back of that wagon in one piece.
     Goatee stirred, and I leant over and  cupped my  hand over his mouth. I
realized  that I  still had the  phone in my other, and slipped  it into the
pocket of my jeans.
     Two  silhouettes  appeared  in front of the  gentle  red glow,  weapons
already drawn down, and picked their way through the rubbish. The one on the
right saw us first.
     "Shit! We've got two!" The other one closed in  and gave Goatee a kick.
I didn't know whether he was looking for a reaction, or if it  was just  for
the hell of it.
     The hawallada responded  with  a dull moan and curled up even  more.  I
didn't want any of that: I didn't know if my ribcage could take it. I looked
up and kept my voice very low.
     "He's  the  one  you're  here  for. He's  got a gunshot  wound  to  the
abdomen."
     The shadow leant towards me.
     "I'm the one who delivered him. The man ' The punch  flattened my  nose
against my face. My eyes watered, and white stars flashed  inside my head. I
lay there, just trying to get my breath back, as a hand ran  over  my  body,
checking for weapons. The phone was found and confiscated.
     The  other did the same to  Goatee, then  they  both picked  him up and
carried him by his arms and legs to the van, beyond the bushes. I hoped they
were going to come  back for  me, but just in  case, I struggled up on to my
hands and knees and started to follow.
     My route was paved with rusty cans and broken glass.
     I got to the track as the two shadows  reappeared. I  held up my hands,
taking the pain in my chest.
     "I'm one of you," I gasped.
     "I need to get to the ship."
     They closed in and I got a very thick New York growl in my left ear.
     "Shut  the fuck up." Hands gripped me and half  lifted, half dragged me
into the back of  the van. The pain was unbearable but I wasn't complaining.
One of  the shadows got in  with us  and  the door closed. In the gentle red
glow  from the  rear  lights, I  could  see  him  ripping  apart  the Velcro
fastenings  on a  trauma  pack.  As we started to  move,  he  turned  on the
interior light and I saw Thackery's face at last.
     He completely ignored me, concentrating on  Goatee in  the mix of white
and red light from  the rear units exposed in the back as we bounced our way
back to the road.
     He  was  wearing much the same gear as he had in Cap 3000. I tugged  at
his jeans.
     "It's  me. Cap 3000, remember?  The brush contact, the colour was blue.
It's me ..."
     He ripped open the plastic wrapper of a field dressing with his teeth.
     "Do you recognize me?"
     He nodded.
     "You OK?" He sounded like one of Dolly Parton's backing group.
     "Not sure." I dribbled some blood down  the front  of my sweatshirt, as
if to show him what I meant. We headed steeply downhill  and encountered the
first of the hairpins.
     Thackery held the  dressing in place over Goatee's gut, and  manhandled
him over to look for the exit  wound. Not  finding one, he started to wrap a
bandage aggressively around the hawallada's stomach.
     "What the fuck's going on here, my friend? Some buttons got pressed and
we were told to do the pick-up quick as we could."
     The driver  hit the brakes. Thackery held Goatee in  place and I put my
hands  on the floor of  the van  to steady myself  as  we took another sharp
right-hander, and lost some more of the now drying top layer of skin from my
palms. There's been a fuck-up. I need your help."
     He  continued bandaging, checking Goatee's  tongue wasn't blocking  his
airway.
     "Hey, man, I  don't know what this is about,  and I don't want to know.
We know nothing, we just do what we do."
     More red light bled into the white as the driver hit the brakes for the
next hairpin.
     "I need you to go to the port at Vauban."
     "All we do is pick up and  drop off, man. Don't even  have com  ms with
the guys down the hill."
     "Look,  the men  who killed the rest of my team they've got the  money,
they've  got the  boat.  We  have to  stop  them,  or all this has been  for
nothing. They  don't know it  yet, but the  guys  down the hill need to know
where it is. That's why I'm here, that's why you  got  the  fast ball for an
early pick-up. We need your help, there just isn't time!"
     He finished dressing the injury and stared at  me intently. I explained
about the Ninth of May.
     "I need to know if it's still there. If not, bang on other  boats, wave
our  weapons  around,  shout do  whatever  we need to do to find out  what's
happened to it."
     He hesitated, and got back to checking Goatee.
     "How do I contact you?"
     "You got a cell?"
     He nodded.
     "In the front."
     "Keep mine, and I'll take yours.  Find out  what's happening in Vauban,
then call your own phone."
     He nodded and slid back the hatch on the bulkhead.
     "Hey, Greg, we have a  situation here. We have to  kick ass  in Antibes
after the drop-off."
     I  looked through  the  hatch  as we  continued  downhill. We'd already
crossed  the main drag, and were heading into  Villefranche. People were out
and about, restaurants were open, neon was flashing.
     Then, to our left, I  saw the  warship, still lit up  like a  Christmas
tree in the centre of the bay.
     Thackery's phone was passed back and  the hatch closed. He turned it on
before handing it to me.
     Greg banged on the bulkhead and Thackery said, We're here."
     The vehicle came to a halt, then moved on another ten or fifteen metres
before stopping again. An American  voice echoed outside, "Lights." Thackery
opened the rear door  and  disappeared left as the last  of  the fluorescent
strip lights  flickered on along a  wall. We were in a stone building with a
high terra  cotta roof; I couldn't see anybody, but there were more American
voices around the van as they closed in on Thackery.
     We got two guys."
     Thackery didn't fuck about. The one in the sweatshirt covered in tar is
one of ours. He's  injured. He needs to talk  to whoever is in command here.
There's  more going down, he'll  explain. The other guy, the pick-up,  has a
gunshot wound  to the abdomen. Looking pretty bad. Look, we gotta  go, he'll
explain." A radio crackled and a slick East Coast voice started relaying the
information to  the ship. Three or four people appeared at the  back of  the
van,  led by a black woman with Venus Williams hair, and a sheet of paper in
her  left  hand.  She was  dressed as if  she'd  stepped straight from a Gap
window, apart from a Clock .45 on her right hip.
     Tour name?" She was from the South, too.
     "Nick Scott."
     "What did you deliver yesterday?"
     "A man, Gumaa ... Gumaa something. Guy in a blue suit."
     "What's the next authentication colour?"
     I didn't want to fuck this up. I  tried  to get  my brain in gear. Blue
was the brush contact, and red was the Nice email.
     White, it's white."
     "OK."
     She moved out of the  way as  Goatee got lifted out by two men in jeans
and  safari  jackets with pockets full  of shiny scissors  and other medical
kit.
     She  reappeared, and I saw that the paper she held was a printout of my
Scott passport photograph.
     "You OK?"
     "You in command?"
     "No. He's on board. He knows you're here."
     One of the safari jackets cut in.
     "Has he been drugged?"
     I shook my head and looked back at the woman.
     "I need to get over there."
     It was pointless talking  to  her. I didn't know  how far down the food
chain she was, and  to relay stuff  just wastes time -which was something we
didn't have.
     As soon as Goatee had been lowered on to a stretcher, a young guy got a
line into  his arm and attached to a bag of fluid. Two others tended the gut
wound.
     Venus held out her arm to me.
     "Can you move?"
     I nodded and eased myself down on to the concrete, clutching Thackery's
cellphone to my chest in a vain attempt to ease the pain.
     I could see now that we were in  a boathouse. A grey  Navylaunch with a
hard top was waiting at a jetty. The place echoed with low but urgent voices
and the sound of feet on concrete as the stretcher was taken on board.
     Venus put her  arm round  my  waist  to  help me to the  launch, but it
wasn't the  kind of  help  I needed. I  could  almost hear my  ribs  grating
against each other.
     "It's OK," I gasped.
     "I'll sort myself out."
     There was a shout from somewhere behind me.
     "Lights!"
     We were thrown into darkness as a set of well-oiled shutters was lifted
and  the van  reversed out. The  shutters  came  down  again  and  the  neon
flickered back to life.
     Keeping my back as  straight  as I could, I hobbled towards the launch.
Venus went  to  lock up and sort things  out. No  one was remotely concerned
about my condition. It was Goatee they were here for.
     I  pressed  a button on Thackery's phone to illuminate the display. The
signal strength was fives.
     I stumbled aboard like an old man and sat on a hard plastic bench while
Goatee  got the five-star treatment. He had an  oxygen mask on now, and  was
having more trauma care than a major RTA.
     We were ready to  go.  Venus  hit the  switch  again  as another set of
shutters opened seawards.
     The launch started up, smothering me with diesel  fumes, then  reversed
out into the bay as soon as she'd jumped on board.
     As we gathered  speed,  the line  of restaurant lights along  the  quay
receded. I went back  to staring at the phone screen,  willing the signal to
stay strong,  and hoping  that  Thackery and Greg  weren't screaming towards
Antibes at warp speed, risking a crash or getting pulled by the police.
     Fifty-Seven.
     The side of the warship loomed high  above us. A rectangle of red light
glowed at us from the top of a gangway, about six or seven metres above  the
waterline.  At the  bottom of  it  two  shadows stood ready to  receive  the
launch. Two black and businesslike RIBs frigid inflatable boats],  each with
two huge outboards, bobbed up and down on the swell beside them.
     The launch's props powered down,  and we came slowly alongside. The two
guys grabbed our side rails. They  were dressed in dry bags and black woolly
hats, and had rolled-up life preservers around their necks. Venus got to her
feet as they pulled us alongside.
     "Come with me." She nodded down at the stretcher.
     "Where he's headed, you don't want to go."
     I left Goatee to his fate, and made my way up the gangway behind her. I
was feeling weak and nauseous, and salt water gave the good news to my hands
as I tried to get a grip on the guardrail.
     Wrapping my arms around  my chest like a cold child, I stepped into the
red  glow. There was a gentle hum of radio  traffic, and murmured  exchanges
among  the  dozen or so bodies crouched in the small,  steel-encased holding
bay. They  were  all in dry bags, unzipped to let in some air.  Next to each
man, a  Protect helmet,  the sort canoeists  wear,  rested on top of a black
nylon  harness, holding magazines for the 10mm version of the Heckler & Koch
MP5.  All wore leg holsters with .45 Clocks.  The  red light was to  protect
their night vision; something was going to happen out there in the dark and,
by the look of things, it was going to happen soon.
     One of the bodies stood and spoke quietly to the woman. Her name wasn't
Venus, it was Nisha.
     Then he turned back to the group.
     "White light, people. White light."
     Everybody closed  their eyes  and covered them  with their hands  as he
threw the lock  on a bulkhead door and  pushed  down the handle. White light
poured in from the corridor, drowning the red. I followed Nisha; as the door
closed, we stood blinking in  a corridor lined  with some  sort of imitation
wood veneer.  There was complete  silence, except  for  the  gentle  hum  of
air-conditioning from the ducts above us. Our rubber soles  squeaked on  the
highly polished lino tiles as I followed Nisha along the corridor, expecting
a squad of imperial storm troopers to appear at any moment.
     I kept unwrapping an arm, checking the phone. The signal  bars suddenly
disappeared.
     "Stop!"
     She spun around.
     "What's the problem?"
     "I can't go any further." I started to turn back towards the red room.
     "I haven't got  a signal. The two guys in  the van, they're  heading to
Antibes there's a boat, we need to know where it is. I need a signal."
     "You talking Ninth of May?"
     I nodded.
     "We got it. Left Vauban a couple hours ago."
     "You're already tracking it?"
     "We'll hit it  just as soon  as it  crosses the line into international
waters." She turned back the way we were heading.
     "Come on. Someone is waiting to talk to you."
     We  came  to another veneer-covered  steel door, with a stainless-steel
entry system alongside it. She tapped in a code, there was a gentle buzz and
she pulled it  open for me. Banks of radar and computer screens glowed at us
from three sides of the  room. This had to be the ops centre. Maybe a  dozen
people, all dressed in civilian clothes, talked  quietly into radios and  to
each other as they studied the screens.
     The room was small, maybe  five metres by five, with wires gaffe red to
the  floor and wall; this  wasn't a permanent fixture. A  large command desk
dominated the centre of the space. A grey-headed forty-something in a  green
polo shirt stood by it, poring over charts, mapping and photography with two
more serious-looking heads.  All three  grasped mugs of  steaming  brew, and
none of them looked up.
     As Nisha and I approached, I could make out satellite  images of Vauban
and BSM, and then an enlargement of my passport picture.
     Greyhead  finally  acknowledged  our   presence.  He   raised  a  pale,
overworked, acne-scarred face.
     Nisha moved over to one of the computer screens.
     "You in command?" I asked.
     He gave me the once-over.
     "You OK?"
     I shrugged.
     He nodded in the direction of Nisha, who was now holding a phone.
     "I wouldn't keep him waiting."
     "Who?"
     He  didn't  answer,  but I didn't really need him to. As  he turned and
told someone to get me a medic, I dragged myself over to Nisha, eased myself
down  into  a  padded  swivel chair,  but  couldn't  stop  another spasm  of
coughing. Stuff  came up, but there was  nowhere to  gob it, so I pulled out
the neck of my sweatshirt and used the inside. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve
before  taking the phone. I put the mobile on the desk top; there  were  two
signal bars on the display.
     "Nick?" It was George.
     "Where  are  the ' The collectors? They're dead. It's  not them on  the
boat, I  reckon it's ' "Stop.  I need two things right now. One: where's the
rest of the team?" "Both dead. The police will have the bodies by now ..."
     "You sure they're dead?"
     I took a long, slow, painful breath.
     "I watched one die, and heard the other."
     "Good. Were you part of the incident in L'Ariane?"
     "Yes."
     "Good, we can contain that."  I heard him turn away from the mouthpiece
and speak to the people around him. This was a deniable operation: they were
making sure every track that could  lead to us had been blocked.  Lotfi  and
Hubba-Hubba were no longer assets. They'd been written off  George's balance
sheet.
     I  could hear murmurs  of approval from  the voices around George as he
finished passing on the great news.
     "OK.  Two:  is the  device  still  onboard?  Our  people  are  going to
intercept."
     "Listen, George, it's  not  the collectors  on board. I  just told you,
they're  dead. It's  the source  and  Ramsay.  They  got the  team  and  the
collectors killed, and they've taken the money."
     "We know, son, we found  out  yesterday. They won't get to keep it  for
long."
     We found out yesterday? They knew? Why the fuck hadn't we known?
     "What?  We  could have done things differently ...  the other two could
still be alive."
     "I keep telling you, son, I don't tell even God everything. Now, is the
goddamned device still in position? They  don't know it exists yet they need
to know if it's still there."
     I shook my head in disbelief.
     "What's happening? You lifting them?"
     "All we want is the money."
     "You're just letting them go? They got our guys killed ' "OK, son, this
is how it goes down. It's  over. They go free, we get the money, we  get the
hawalladas, you get a medic, and a good night's sleep."
     "My  team are dead, George. You're  letting the  fuckers go?" He didn't
even pause to draw breath.
     "I have other plans for those  two. Don't mess up on me  now. You  have
everything to lose, and nothing to back up with."
     I remained  silent for a  moment. I thought  about the boys on the RIBs
giving Greaseball and  Curly  a big kiss on both cheeks  and waving as  they
disappeared into the night.
     George seemed to be reading my mind.
     "Son, do I need to worry about you?"
     "No, George," I said.
     "I know what I've got to do."
     "Good. Tell them about the device. We'll meet soon."
     The phone went dead and I gave Nisha back the receiver.
     "There's an explosive device on board."
     She turned to Greyhead.
     "Simon, we definitely have a device on board."
     He looked up sharply from his desk.
     "On the top  deck, a plastic cylinder tucked into the settee behind the
wheel. There's no anti-handling device ... just twist the cylinder, take the
two AA batteries out and it's safe. I'll draw a picture."
     Nisha was already fetching  me paper as the information was passed down
to the red room via one of the radio operators.
     One of the  medics  arrived as I started  sketching  a diagram  of  the
device and its location, trying not to smear it with too much blood.
     Greyhead had other things on his mind.
     "Stand  to, the crews.  The Ninth of May ... Looks like they've stopped
hugging the coast and are heading out to  sea. Should  be over  the line  in
twenty-five."
     The red room would be  a  hive of activity now as the crews  pulled  on
their chest harnesses, made  ready their weapons,  and finally put on  their
Protects and life-preservers.
     As I sat there,  trying to  cut away from  my anger, the theme tune  to
Mission Impossible struck  up. Heads spun to  see which shit-for-brains  had
brought a cellphone into the ops centre.
     I pressed the green button and immediately got Thackery hollering in my
ear. It's  gone,  the  boat  left!" I heard  the  kids from  the  Lee in the
background.  There were  two on board,  the guy  who owns the boat, and  his
friend ..."
     I looked around me as  things started  getting more  intense. The crews
were in the boats, ready to go.
     "Stand down, mate, it's all been taken care of."
     "What?"
     "It's all been taken care of, stand down.  Thanks, mate, thanks." I hit
the end-of-call button, then finished the drawing and handed it to Nisha.
     I sat in the swivel chair as Greyhead confirmed the crews were ready in
their boats. As soon as they had the drawing, he'd give them the go.
     "Contact  thirty-three  minutes." He  wanted to  make sure they were in
international waters.
     George  was  right, of course. This was going  to be  a long  war,  and
Greaseball  would  be  even more useful in future.  Now  they'd stolen  from
al-Qaeda, George  had both of them  tightly by the bollocks, and could point
them in whatever direction he pleased, as long as HIV didn't get them first.
     "Contact  twenty-nine  minutes,"  a voice called  out  from  the  radar
screen.
     I wondered what was happening on the Ninth of May. Curly would probably
be doing  the driving,  leaving Greaseball  to  pull the cork on a bottle of
good  champagne. Next  stop, maybe, some boy town Greek island and the start
of their own big bang theory.
     The ops room continued to follow the progress of their two crews.
     "Same heading. Contact twenty-one minutes."
     But then my smile disappeared. So  what if  they lost the money? They'd
still be alive: they'd still get to go wherever it was they were heading.
     As  the medic lifted my sweatshirt and started  to have a good  look at
what  was  left  of my ribcage, I  pictured Lotfi and  Hubba-Hubba in  their
Marigolds at  the safe house, having a good laugh as I  gave them my  jester
impression. They had  saved my life, and kept their promise to  each  other.
Now it was time for me to keep mine to them.
     I  started pressing the  buttons with my right thumb as  the medic  dug
into his bag. A gentle beep sounded  each time  I hit another  digit  of the
pager number, willing it still to be in range.
     Suddenly the  answering  service  was gob bing off to me  in French.  I
didn't understand a word it was saying, but I knew what  it meant: "Wait for
the tone, then tap in  the number that you  want the pager to display. After
that just hit the star button."
     I waited  for the tone,  and did exactly that,  just hitting the  eight
button a few times,  then the star. I pushed  the phone against  my  ear and
held my breath.
     We had  done  our  job,  and done  it well;  so  fuck  George, and fuck
everything he had for me.
     A few  seconds  later  the answering service came back to me, and  this
time I understood every word.
     "Message bien reque."
     EPILOGUE.
     WEDNESDAY, 5 DECEMBER, 10:28 hrs
     The coast road north ran parallel with the rail track out  of Boston. I
watched from the carriage as it cut  through the icy marshland.  The day was
dull and grey,  the only burst of colour a  huge Stars and  Stripes  in  the
distance,  fluttering  from  a flagpole at the point where the earth met the
sky. I wondered how cold my reception was going to  be at Wonderland or if I
was going to get one at all.
     The other passengers on the aluminium commuter train still looked at me
as if I'd just escaped  from the local nuthouse, maybe because I  was in the
same  greasy, unshaven state as last  time, maybe because I still had traces
of bruising, and the cuts on my hands and head had not yet healed. I was too
exhausted to worry.
     The  front  pages  of  their papers still carried pictures of troops in
Afghanistan, where the Taliban were now on the run.
     "Inside the Manhunt' read  the cover of Time magazine,  and Bin Laden's
face stared out at me through the cross-hairs of the art department's sniper
rifle.
     I  hadn't  seen  George yet, and  still didn't know  what  was going to
happen  to  me.  My  big hope  was  that I'd find a passport in my Christmas
stocking, but I wasn't holding my breath.
     The train rattled on  across Rivere.  Every time I did  this  journey I
felt as though I was in the middle of an American history lesson: everywhere
you looked there was  something  to remind you  that the Brits had had their
arses  kicked here  a  couple  of  hundred years  ago. I  remembered telling
Carrie, "We'll be back as soon as the lease runs  out."  It had seemed quite
funny at the time, but I couldn't raise much of a smile right now: I was too
busy wondering how much Brit arse was going to get kicked today.
     The  warship  had  weighed  anchor  within  hours of  the  Ninth of May
exploding, after Greyhead's boat teams had finished trying to  make sense of
the fireball  they'd seen  in the distance  as they closed in.  Once we were
within reach of the western Italian coast, I was shoved on a heli.
     The headquarters of the US  16th Air Force, based  at Aviano, was about
an hour and  a  half  from Venice, but I  missed out on  the sightseeing. My
three days there were spent in a featureless  admin block, getting debriefed
by two men and  a woman to the roar of F-16 fighters and a coffee percolator
whose power  kept cutting out. At  least the coffee was hotter on the flight
back to the States, courtesy of the USAF.
     They  told me George had gone  ballistic  about Greaseball  getting the
good news. I spent a  bit  of  time  describing  how  the device worked, but
couldn't for the life of me explain  what had caused the detonation. Maybe a
wrong number? That had always been a worry.
     They nodded, then moved on, but I wondered how long it would  be before
George took a long, hard look at Thackery's phone records. Whatever, I would
just have to play dumb: it was one of the things I was really good at.
     Being  holed up at Aviano at least  gave me time to rest my  two broken
ribs, with some  help from  a  shedful of codeine and  sleeping upright on a
settee.
     Gumaa and Goatee hadn't been so lucky. They'd wasted no time in telling
the  interrogation  team  who their contacts were in the US, and  a bunch of
six-man  ASUs, one living  in the Detroit  area, had  already  been covertly
rendered.  There  would be more to  come: the two hawallada  were giving out
information faster than Bloomberg.
     The  Detroit  ASU  had  planned  to drive  to  the  Mall of  America in
Minnesota.  Seven  times larger than  a  baseball  stadium,  with more  than
forty-two million visitors  every  year, it  was  the  perfect  target for a
dirty-bomb  attack.  Their plan  was pretty much along the lines  George had
feared. All six were going to move into the mall at different times, through
different entrances, on to different floors in different sections.  They had
aimed to  detonate themselves at exactly two p.m. on 24 December. The  place
would have  been filled with tens of thousands of shoppers, kids in line for
Santa, all that sort of Christmas stuff.
     I thought Lotfi  and Hubba-Hubba would have been pretty pleased to have
got in the way of that. I just wished they'd been here to celebrate.
     Their bodies were probably still in a morgue in Nice. No  one was going
to come  forward to  claim them; they'd probably be burned, or buried by the
French in paupers' graves.  I hoped that they'd both be getting their little
bit of  the Paradise Lotfi had spent so much  time talking to God about, and
that they'd been able to look down on the Ninth of May with  a big smile  on
their faces as it got the good news.
     I thought about the three of us fucking about with the hats in the safe
house,  and  Hubba-Hubba  with  that evil  eye  thing around  his  neck, and
couldn't help but  smile.  Then,  from  nowhere,  I could hear his voice  as
clearly as if  he was sitting next to me: "He hates this. He says I will not
go to Paradise ... But he is wrong, I think. I hope ..."
     I hadn't been able to  stop thinking about their sister, Khalisah. What
would she and their families  do now? They'd be needing money. I didn't know
how these  things were done:  would George see  to it that they were  looked
after? He'd have to, surely he'd have a hell of a job recruiting more Lotfis
and Hubba-Hubbas if  they discovered their families wouldn't betaken care of
if everything went to rat shit. But there was no way I could trust him, even
if he said he would. I'd do something about it myself. The Megane would have
been towed from the square  in Antibes by now, but with  luck the money we'd
taken  off Gumaa would still be  under the seat. It wouldn't be much, but it
would be a  start... The bridge over the Saugus river  took us into Lynn. We
were  nearly at  Wonderland. Last  time  I'd come up  this track  I'd looked
forward to a new job, a new life. But what now?
     I didn't even know if  she was going to take the day  off work  to meet
me. But if she  didn't, I'd just  go and sit on the doorstep until she  came
home. There were some things  I needed to say,  and  thought  she needed  to
hear.
     Hubba-Hubba had helped make my mind up.
     He'd been sitting in the cab of the Scudo, repairing his evil eye.
     "We  are a family first, no  matter  what disagreements we may have, no
matter what pain we may suffer ... We learnt long ago to meet in the middle,
because otherwise the family is lost."
     I couldn't  be a  student or a  bartender  or  anything else, for  that
matter. I couldn't do anything  other than what I did.  Sure, I didn't  much
like a lot of the stuff that went with it. But she had  once said to me that
she didn't care what I did, as long as I was good at it. Well, this was what
I did,  and I was  good  at it.  And, thanks  to  my  two  friends with  the
Marigolds  and  the  shower cap  fetish,  I'd realized  I  was  working  for
something I believed in. The people  I cared for lived in  the country I had
played a small part in protecting, and for once in my life I felt good about
what  I had  done. And if  the angels  did  come down and  weigh my book  of
destiny for a laugh,  then maybe there'd  be a page or two of good stuff for
them to read.
     Maybe Carrie would read it too. Maybe I could tell her  about Lotfi and
Hubba-Hubba and Khalisah, and we could  take a few steps towards the middle.
People can stay together if they really want to, even if there's a whole lot
of shit going on around them. I knew that now: I'd seen it happen.
     The  train came  to a halt and people stood and reached for their  hats
and coats, and gathered up their  bags of Christmas  shopping. The automatic
doors drew back to reveal the signs for Wonderland station.
     I stepped out of the carriage.  It was as cold as it ever was,  and the
wind was bitter. I zipped up my fleece jacket, and joined the throng heading
for the barrier.
     Andy McNab joined  the  infantry  as  a boy  soldier.  In  1984  he was
'badged' as a member of 22 SAS Regiment and was involved  in both covert and
overt special operations worldwide.
     During the Gulf War he commanded Bravo Two Zero, a patrol that, in  the
words  of  his commanding officer, 'will  remain in  regimental history  for
ever'. Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal
(MM)  during his  military career, McNab was the British  Army's most highly
decorated serving soldier when he finally  left the SAS in February 1993. He
wrote about his experiences  in two phenomenal bestsellers,  Bravo Two Zero,
which was filmed in 1998 starring Sean Bean, and Immediate Action.
     His novels, Remote Control, Crisis Four, Firewall and  Last Light, were
all  bestsellers. Besides  his  writing work,  he  lectures to  security and
intelligence agencies in both the USA and the UK.

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