A departure for me….
'This is the last time, Jimmy. It's getting a bit iffy, you know what they're like?' He threw it onto the table. Wrapped, discreet in its work-a-day brown envelope.
'Retirement? Or some misguided ethical conundrum?' I lifted the package from the table. 'Do I need to check it?' I held the parcel at arm's length. He didn't answer, didn't need to. The disdainful smile told me all I needed to know.
'My best work. South African. He was taken to A and E straight from the plane. Dead on arrival at Hounslow. Details from another unlucky springbok, this one dead in Johannesburg. A clean identity, verified by my man inside the embassy.' Old Jacob wasn't always this talkative. For old time's sake then. He seemed relieved when I didn't prolong the goodbyes.
The beer was warm and flat. I sat at the one vacant table. Friday night and the Pig and Whistle was revving for the off. Marius Clausen. Well it sounded authentic. I balanced it on my tongue, washed it down with thin ale, whispered it into my pint glass. It would do. The old Jew said it was his best work. I believed him.
I flew the shuttle to Glasgow. Surrounded by cheap suits and wannabe executives; jumped up Jocks, knocked-back Home Counties' chaps, a spotting of neds from out of season Ibiza. Perfect cover… I'd make New York without a tail.
'What the…?' It was on page three, among Tory back-spin. Jacob Weinstein, aged 72, shot three times at close range. There was a whole lot more but I was busy sucking strength from the meagre gin and T. On landing I went to the airport bar. Four large, muscular G&T and I started a more studied analysis.
I made my way to check-in. I supposed old Jacob had any number of enemies. He lived and worked outside the Pale, in that grey margin. I saw no connection. 'Ainsi va la vie.'
'Hello Jimmy.' It was a voice type I recognised. Eton and Oxbridge, though you could perm any two houses of privilege. British intelligence. Now there was an oxymoron. He wasn't young. Military type; brush moustache, gray sidewall hair. At my back two younger suits confined me to the boss's intimate space. I didn't need to check the ID, but I did. Peter Proctor, MI6. I held the card between finger and thumb, then turned it over. The smile was wolfish. It said, 'have your little joke, Jimmy.' He knew I was playing for time, so plucked the card from my fingers. The action was delicate. A showman, then?
'Your passport, Mister Clausen? Please?' He held out his hand, the gesture smooth, urbane. No callouses, no broken nails. A desk jockey, then; but not in the past. The eyes spoke of brutal prior experience. He handed the passport to one of the minions. 'It'll have to be a much later flight, Jimmy. Sorry and all that; but we need you to fill in some of the blanks for us. You understand, I'm sure?' The foot soldiers pressed me toward the exit. I felt the weight of their persuasion in my lower spine. Heckler-Koch, surely.
The routine was flawless. Within minutes we were cutting through afternoon traffic, Glasgow glowering on the horizon. Proctor sat up front with the driver. His right arm hung over the back of the seat; his face, in profile, more sinister than before. I was pinned between the two escorts. I resisted the urge to ask where we were headed. He was ahead of me there, though.
'A safe house, Jimmy; close to home for you. Easterhouse.' They must have felt me stiffen, try as I might to remain nonchalant. Easterhouse was from a long-buried past. Where I'd left my morals, my scruples. The flat was above the papershop in Green Street. Nondescript, unlived-in, unloved. I sat at the table, the two youngsters opposite. No explanations. Proctor was elsewhere, though I could hear the low rumble of his voice. His phone voice by the tone.
'Well now.' The entrance was pure theatre. He pulled the chair and sat alongside me. 'James Drummond, itinerant Scot.' He spat that unclean title. 'One-time employee of the dirty end of River House.'
'Just get to the blanks. We both know who I am, who I was.'
'No blanks, Jimmy, this is an exercise in live firing.' I was his spider. He'd pull my legs off, one by one. I knew the type so well – wiring Ragheads by the testicles, pulling nails amongst the wails of submission. He broke the silence. 'The Jew had a rare sense of humour; of irony I suppose. Devious fuckers, your kikes.' Pretence fell away. This man had a real hair up his arse. He gestured to the troops, who rose and walked to the door. It was taking all of my resolve to resist watching them leave. 'Marius Clausen? What japes! Do you really believe Jacob worked for the good guys?' He slipped his ID onto the table. 'Great work, isn't it? Forgery, of course, yet who could tell?' He slid my passport in front of me. 'Mr Clausen is my boss, Jimmy. You'd know him by a different name; but you'd recognise him if you saw him, your target.' I felt cold metal pressed behind my ear. 'Only you won't now be seeing him, Jimmy……