When Terror Strikes
A continuation of my previous story
On the day that was to change his life forever Jack spent many hours staring through relentless drizzle at a dismal block of flats in the Bogside. He was watching from an old warehouse that had been converted to accommodate dozens of small businesses. The office used for surveillance was on the top floor under a creaking leaking roof. The place was sparsely furnished with a steel desk, a telephone and a couple of uncomfortable straight-backed chairs. In the corner was a dilapidated filing cabinet on which sat an ancient electric kettle. The cabinet held only cheap tea bags and instant coffee, which he hated.
Looking at his watch Jack sighed, Emerson would be here shortly to take over thank god. This place depressed him. He felt hungry. I hope the bugger’s not late again was his only thought at that moment.
Five minutes later he heard the service lift squeaking its complaining way to the top floor.
‘Hi Jack, how’s it going?’ Emerson asked without showing any apparent interest in the answer. He made his way to the filing cabinet pulled out the coffee and a dubious looking milk carton which he sniffed at suspiciously.
‘Shit shift mate. The bastard’s a no-show again. He’s slicker than snot on a glass
handrail that one.’ The guy who hadn’t shown was a suspected arms courier. They had been trying to establish his contacts for a month without a lot of success.
Emerson nodded he was a relatively junior member of the unit and used to these boring shifts. They were just the routine unglamorous stuff that was crucial to intelligence gathering. ‘Wanna brew before you go?’
‘Naw mate, traffic’’ll be building up. It’ll take forever as it is.’ Jack was anxious to be off, Londonderry’s rush hour traffic could be a real pain, especially with the check points to contend with. He knew a short cut that would help although he hated using it.
‘Binoculars are on the window sill with the camera, radio’s playing up a bit but there’s nothing to report anyway.’ He made his way to the door ‘I’ll be off then.’
In the carpark he slid behind the wheel of a Ford Granada Ghia. Its 2.8 litre engine started first time with a comforting growl. Jack checked the mirrors before setting off making sure he had a maximum all round view.
His short cut was down a long narrow cobbled street of run-down terraced houses in a staunchly Republican area. The rough surface rattled loudly beneath his wheels forcing him to slow down. He didn’t like it but the alternative was a drive of an extra two miles through rush hour traffic. He’d been watching his mirror but hadn’t noticed any unusual activity.
The rain had stopped now but the clouds still scudded across the sky like wind driven demons. God, he thought, feeling suddenly depressed again, does the sun never shine in this piss hole of a place?
As he drove on a feeling of unease came over him. Instinct told him something was very wrong. Then he saw what it was. He had entered a stretch of road where there were no parked cars. Not a single one on either side of the road for two hundred metres. The usual assortment of scruffy children playing swinging on old clothesline from the lamp posts were missing, too. He slid his gun from his shoulder holster as he put his foot down but too late.
A car shot out of an alley in front of him and braked, blocking two thirds of the street. His eyes darted to his mirror and he saw another vehicle entering the street a hundred and fifty metres away racing up behind him.
‘Ambush’ his subconscious screamed as he went into automatic mode moving without conscious thought, his actions fluid.
Instead of braking as the ambushers expected he kept the accelerator to the floor and spun the wheel aiming for the front end of the blocking car. That would have knocked them around slamming them into the kerb, allowing him to drive off. He was too close. The driver knew his business and had waited until the last second to pounce.
Jack slammed into the driver’s door but the vehicle didn’t budge far enough for him to get around it. His car would become his coffin if he didn’t move fast. He slipped off the seat belt and was throwing his door open as the car’s passenger emerged looking shaken. The driver couldn’t open his door as Jacks vehicle was jammed into it. He banged on the window with his gun butt; it failed to break. The guy was panicking now desperately winding down his window in order to shoot costing him vital seconds.
Diving onto the cobbles Jack rolled once then came up into the kneeling position his weapon pointing. Behind him he heard the ‘close up’ car screeching to a halt. The doors would be opening and as many as four armed men could be piling out. Jack resisted the urge to turn concentrating on the man to his front.
The passenger fired at him but took his shot too quickly, snatching at the trigger. The bullet passed Jack’s head two inches to his right. Jack put a round into the man’s chest and whipped his gun onto the driver even as the passenger was still falling.
The driver was thrusting his arm out of the half-opened window, a Colt .45 in his hand, lining him up. Jack snapped off a lightening shot hitting the man in the bridge of his nose. He was thrown back violently onto the headrest before sagging forward blood pumping from his head.
Jack dived instinctively to his right rolling and turning as he did so. One of the men behind him was carrying an Armalite rifle and he let go a long burst scouring the street where Jack had been just half a second before. Jack briefly caught sight of another man out of the corner of his eye. The idiot was still drawing his weapon so sure had he been of an easy kill.
Jack put a bullet through the Armalite man’s heart as he was trying to adjust his aim, his finger still jammed on the trigger, trying to hose him down. This continuous fire made the jumping weapon hard to control, a basic mistake. Jack swung on the remaining man who managed one hasty shot in his direction, a look of wild panic in his eyes. With the first three would-be assassins there had been no time for any fancy shooting like double taps. Every split second had counted. Now there was time. Jack double tapped the man chest and head his rapid shots sounding as one.
Quickly he did an all round scan of the windows pointing his weapon, looking for snipers even before the shots echoes had faded away. There was no movement, the eerie silence that followed the violence broken only by the quiet purring of his engine.
He could have made his escape then but didn’t. He knew he had time to collect the hit team’s weapons if he was quick. The people watching from behind their net curtains would still be in shock unable to believe what they had just witnessed. They had been warned of the ambush of course and moved their kids and cars out of the firing zone. This had given Jack a vital couple of second’s warning.
As he retrieved the Armalite he muttered to its late owner ‘Nobody ever tell you about short controlled bursts mate?’ The idiot’s pistol was an old Smith and Wesson .38 revolver lying in a pool of blood next to the man’s head. He threw them on the back seat of his car.
Turning to retrieve the other weapons he saw a young boy about fourteen years of age dash out of a nearby house and make a dive for the passenger’s gun. ‘Don’t touch it’ Jack yelled pointing his Browning straight at the lad. The youngster froze in the act of reaching down, hand extended towards the weapon staring into Jack’s gun wide-eyed.
‘You’re a brave lad’ he told the terrified kid ‘but if you touch that weapon I’ll have to kill you.’ The lad swallowed hard staring down Jack’s unwavering gun barrel. ‘Go home’ he told him dismissing him with a flick of his head. The kid needed no second bidding and scurried away as a camera flashed in one of the nearby windows.
Shit, he thought, now they have a shot of my face. He knew just how dangerous that was but, on his own, there was no way of retrieving the camera. Even as he was thinking the thought swift feet would be carrying it away down back alleys.
His immediate priority now was to escape. People would already be on the phone reporting this to the local Provos. (Provisional Irish Republican Army) All along the street doors were now opening as the locals recovered from their initial shock. Men, women and children were emerging shouting angrily many of them waving axes and kitchen knives. Another minute and he’d be hacked to pieces.
He jumped into his car and reversed fiercely shunting the rear blocking car up the street its tyres juddering up the uneven surface. Jack accelerated away spinning the wheel, smashing into the front wheel of the blocking car sending it flying out of his way to bump over the body of the dead passenger. His engine roared as his smoking tyres screamed on the cobbles.
It turned out that the pool car Jack had been assigned had been used in another operation the week before by the SAS. Unknown to the security forces it had been compromised and a watch put out for it.
Next day the papers were full of the story of how a lone heroic SAS man, trapped in hostile territory, had defeated a lethal ambush dealing a deadly blow to the Provos.
FOUR, FIVE, SIX yelled one Redtop headline proclaiming that he had killed four Provo’s with five shots in six seconds. How the hell they’d gleaned that information he neither knew nor cared. Well God bless the SAS he thought they deserved the credit, after all it was they who had taught him to shoot.
Jack’s unit was 14th Company of the Army Intelligence Corps, known as ‘The Det’ (Short for The Detachment) They were nicknamed ‘The Green Slime’ because of the awful colour of their head gear.
Frank debriefed him. ‘So you stayed and recovered the weapons Jack. Good, well done.’ He eyed him admiringly ‘there could well be a gong in this for you mate and a good one at that.’
Jack had no interest in medals ‘I wouldn’t know about that Frank I was just trying to stay alive that’s all.’ He believed that he had had no alternative other than to retrieve the Provo’s weapons.
‘I had time Frank and the guns would have been spirited away to be used again. The arseholes that tried to nail me would have become a propaganda coup.’
Frank nodded ‘yes, “four innocent family men on their way to look for work” or some other such bleeding heart bullshit.’ He smiled ‘now we have their weapons to prove otherwise.’
All four, it subsequently transpired, were known killers; all their weapons had been used to kill before.
‘The problem is Jack they’ve got your photo now. You and anyone with you will be in mortal danger. The Provos won’t let this go lightly.’
Jack nodded. He suspected what was coming.
‘I’ve had a word upstairs. You’re to be posted back to the mainland tomorrow by helicopter.’
The disappointment on Jack’s face was genuine but he had some good friends here. No way would he make an already dangerous job even more so by his presence.
‘Ok Frank, I kinda expected it.’
After the debrief he felt ravenous and devoured a huge T-bone steak. As far as Jack was concerned a brutal death couldn’t have happened to four more deserving people.
What The Det had no way of knowing was that the photo, taken in haste, was slightly out of focus. This proved disastrous for Jack’s close friend and colleague Sergeant Paul Gibson. ‘Gibbo’ was roughly the same age, height and hair colour as Jack. He was gunned down in the street by the Provo’s a few weeks later just two days before the end of his tour. The Provos announced they had avenged Jack’s killings.
The Army announced that the dead man was a soldier working undercover though it was officially denied he was the man who had killed the four gunmen. It was later leaked to a known informant that Paul had indeed been the killer. He was buried with full military honours but Jack was forbidden to attend the funeral. There would be press and TV cameras there and his presence might just jog someone’s memory.
Jack was posted to SAS headquarters in Hereford as part of the intelligence liaison team. His work in Northern Ireland was now at an end.
Although he did his best in his new role Jack was beset with doubts which he felt affected his work. Poisonous thoughts kept creeping into his head. Paul was dead instead of him. He felt enormous guilt about that. He also felt a cold rage deep inside him that kept gnawing away at his confidence in the Army. Was Gibbo’s death the result of fucked-up orders from on high? Orders given by Whitehall warriors who knew three fifths of fuck-all about life undercover; people he could no longer trust?
He knew he couldn’t afford to think like that and pushed the thoughts away telling himself c’mon Jack buck your ideas up. Yet every time he dismissed them the thoughts returned with increased power. In the end he knew what he had to do for the sake of his sanity. He elected to leave the Army taking the payoff and pension. They gave him a new identity as a ‘belt and braces’ precaution against any future security lapse. It meant losing contact with his friends and that hurt but, on balance, he felt it the safest thing both for himself and his friends.
He declined the offer of resettlement in Australia and after changing his appearance as much as possible he set himself up as Ellis & Co, Security Consultants….to be continued….