Skulduggery Part 2
The day that changed my life forever started normally enough. A routine surveillance job watching for a ‘person of interest.’
I was sitting on the top floor of a derelict mill overlooking a forlorn block of flats. I was waiting for Sean Foyle, an IRA errand boy. He fetched guns from the caches and returned them after use. If we could lay hands on this man we could squeeze a huge amount of info from him, taking god knows how many weapons off the streets.
Foyle was slicker than a blob of snot on a glass door knob, never sleeping in the same place for more than a day or two. We’d been after the bugger for over a month now, but he always evaded us. This was one of his few known haunts. He visited occasionally to screw Mary O’Hanlon, a woman who lived on the ground floor.
After the shit settled over the death of my old boss Frank, a new atmosphere prevailed. Captain Angela Tupp took over. She had a less autocratic approach and listened to voices of experience. Life in Belfast still wasn’t easy but it was better.
I called HQ. No answer. Nothing unusual about that, the hand-held personal radios were not brilliant. Emerson was late, very late. I was really pissed off.
Emerson was new, straight from training in England. I had serious doubts about him from the one time I’d met him. He seemed a bit young and naive for our sort of work. Maybe he had hidden talents that I had failed to detect.
Now, I believed I had a case of terminal arse cramp from sitting on a metal chair for hours watching the rain swept street. Where the fuck was Emerson?
This was the second consecutive day this Observation Post had been used. It was too bloody long for safety in a local area where everybody knew everyone else, strangers stood out like a bull dog’s bollocks. In this neighbourhood, however, there were few choices for concealment whilst watching the target so the risk had to be taken. I wasn’t happy about it but hell, what could I do?
At night, the ground floor was used by rough sleepers and wino’s, some of those people were as sharp as shit house rats and would soon detect intruders. They’d sell their sisters for a fix.
Then I heard the creaking of the old service lift as it climbed laboriously to the floor below. The gates groaned open and I heard someone stumping up the stairs. This could not be Emerson, surely? I drew my pistol and lay on the floor behind the filing cabinet aiming at the door. Footsteps clumped along the corridor and the door was flung open. ‘What the fuck?’ said a startled Emerson as he stared down my pistol barrel.
‘Why don’t you blow a fuckin’ bugle to make sure every bastard in Belfast knows we’re up here? You feckless twat.’
‘Sorry Jack, there was a wino hanging about on the front stairs so I went around the back. I found the master switch for the service lift and picked the lock’ he looked crestfallen ‘I didn’t think it would make such a bloody racket.’
‘And now every fucker in Belfast knows we’re up here. Come on lad, time we were gone.’
Fresh from training in England the Lance Corporal looked bemused. ‘Do you think he wasn’t just a wino then?’ He sure looked the real deal.’
‘Who knows? Do you want to stay here and find out the hard way?’ I asked as I rapidly gathered up my kit.
Emerson’s face paled but he pulled out his pistol, checked it and took off the safety ‘oh Christ, sorry boss.’
It was too late to be sorry and I didn’t have time to explain that this was Northern Ireland not a mainland training exercise. Here, carelessness got you killed.
Peeking out into the corridor it seemed all was quiet. If anyone was climbing the stairs it would be a couple of minutes until they arrived. We had to be quick and quiet. At the end of the corridor was a fire escape but if the wino was an IRA spy they’d have it covered. It had to be the stairs.
I squeezed the tit on the handheld radio twice. It was supposed to be an emergency signal that would summon help. The answering mush, mush sound didn’t happen. Fuckin’ typical shit kit I thought, about as reliable as a political promise. I pressed the tit again and whispered, ‘hello Zero this is One, One Alpha, radio check over.’ Nothing. Bugger it, it was time to bug out.
We tiptoed along the corridor weapons half extended, keeping to the walls. To his credit Emerson was conducting himself well. Creeping down the darkened stair well quietly was almost impossible. The stone steps were worn and wet, the banisters broken in many places. The steps were coated in pigeon shit and assorted detritus making every step treacherous.
Two floors down and two to go I was about to pass a doorway when I thought I heard a faint sound. Was it a shoe scrape or a rat scurrying? The hairs on my neck prickled; I had learned to rely on my instincts and now was no time to ignore them. I flattened myself against the wall and signalled Emerson to do the same.
A full three minutes passed but I couldn’t afford to be in a hurry. Then it came again, the same sound. I watched a pistol barrel emerged from the room along the door jamb followed by a wrist barely a foot away.
I brought my own pistol butt down hard on the wrist . The gun clattered on the floor. I jumped around the doorway. The guy was staggering off holding his wrist. Catching him was easy, shooting him would have been easier still but the dead don’t answer questions. ‘Stand still’ I ordered. The guy stopped, put his hands up and slowly turned around.
‘You’re Brits?’ he asked surprised ‘I’m Amos Jackson, Sergeant, Royal Ulster Constabulary.’
And so it turned out, Jackson had been posing as a wino on the lookout for the same guy as us. He had discovered our presence due to Emerson using the lift. He thought he was a Provo (Provisional IRA) hit man said to be operating in the area.
‘Bloody Keystone Cops, I might have known it. Why don’t you lot ever communicate with us? I could have killed you.’ Christ, was I angry.
‘What, and have our ops ballsed up by Fred Karno’s barmy army?’ came the snotty reply.
I wanted to hit him, to hit Emerson, to hit the little shit Foyle who had us all running around this piss hole like lunatics. I did none of those things instead I took a deep breath and assessed our situation.
Cock-ups like this were not uncommon as army intelligence didn’t trust the RUC and the RUC didn’t trust the army so information was not always shared, even though we shared the same police station.
My unit was part of the Army Intelligence Corps, more specifically, the 14th Independent Company known as “The Det” short for The Detachment also ‘The Green Slime.’ We were responsible for intelligence gathering, analysing it and briefing the special forces, plus all the shady, deniable stuff.
We left shortly afterwards. I sent Emerson collect his car and return to base. Yet another cluster fuck assignment was blown. God alone knew when we’d get another lead on Foyle.
I collected my car from the used car lot where I had arranged to park it with a contact. I didn’t know why, but I felt uneasy, like I was being watched. I couldn’t see anyone taking notice of me so I shrugged it off. I was still allowing the cock-up to distract my thoughts.
I was late now, tired, hungry and thoroughly pissed off. After establishing the ID of the RUC Sergeant and trading yet more insults with him, all I wanted was to return to base. I needed to complete my report, eat something and get to my room. I had a bottle of Bushmills that needed attending to.
The downtown traffic would have built up by now so the trip would take bloody ages.
Bollocks, I thought, using the short cut I’d taken yesterday was a risk worth taking. It would save a good half hour shuffling through crawling traffic.
The rain had finally stopped as I drove the big Granada 2.8 Ghia down the long, rough cobbled street through the staunchly Republican area. Not even the well sprung Ghia could stop the uncomfortable jolting and I slowed down.
Half way down the street my short hairs started prickling. Something was not right. Then I saw it.
I was approaching a two hundred metre stretch were there were no parked cars on either side of the road. The children that had been playing on the pavements yesterday were also missing. I quickly slipped my pistol out, thumbed off the safety and stuffed it between my thighs as I accelerated hard. I was a couple of seconds too late.
A car flew out of an alley just in front of me blocking the road. ‘Shit’ I cursed as I spun the wheel. My aim was to ram the ambushers’ front wheel and spin them out of the way. I was far too close and mashed into the driver’s door instead.
Glancing in the mirror I saw another car enter the top of the street and start accelerating towards me. I had to get out or this car would become my coffin.
Throwing open the door I dived to the cobbles as the passenger of the blocking car emerged. He looked shaken, I was supposed to have slammed the breaks on when they blocked me not ram them.
I rolled away as the guy fired; the bullet passed my left ear too close for comfort. Then I was up in the kneeling position and put a round into the gunman’s chest as the guy steadied himself for another shot. As the man was still falling I swung on the driver. I could hear the follow up car screeching to a halt behind me. The doors would be opening and god alone knew how many armed men would be tumbling out. I couldn’t afford to look.
On autopilot now my training had kicked in, thought was not necessary. The driver was stuck in the car, the Granada still rammed into his door pinning it shut. He was desperately winding down his window, squeezing his arm out at the same time trying to line me up with his big Colt .45. Before he could extend his arm fully, I snapped off a shot that took him through the bridge of his nose. He was slammed back into the headrest, blood spurting down his front.
Instinctively, I dived to my right, rolling away as a Provo behind me with an M16 rifle scoured the street where I’d been half a second before. The man kept his finger on the trigger whilst trying to adjust his aim to hose me down. Big mistake, the weapon ran up and off to his right. My next shot went through his chest.
The guy who had emerged last was a cocky bastard. So sure had he been of an easy kill that he was only just clearing his gun from his coat. He managed one hasty shot in my direction. I gave him a happy grin and watched his horrified face before I double tapped him chest and head.
I wasn’t out of danger yet and quickly swept the street looking at windows and doorways searching for snipers. There were none.
The people who had been watching from behind their net curtains would be stunned by what they had just witnessed. That gave me time to collect the terrorists’ weapons before they could be spirited away to be used again. Cocky bastard’s pistol was an old Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, it was lying next to his head in a small puddle of blood.
As I collected the M16, I couldn’t resist asking the corpse of its former owner ‘did no one ever tell you about short controlled bursts, tosser?’
I threw the weapons onto the back seat of my car and quickly made my way to the front car.
People would be getting over their initial shock now. Phones would be ringing, there wasn’t too much time. A young lad of about fourteen suddenly burst out of a nearby house and made a dive for the first man’s gun.
‘Don’t touch it’ I yelled. The kid froze in the act of bending down, staring petrified into my unwavering Browning barrel.
‘You’re a brave lad’ I told the youngster ‘but if you touch that gun I’ll have to kill you.’ I flicked my head in a dismissive gesture and lowered my weapon slightly. The kid took the hint and scrambled away just as a camera flashed in a nearby window. Oh, fuckin’ great, now they have my photo. Bollocks!
I quickly retrieved the last of the weapons as doors started to open and people began to emerge. Some of them still looked bemused but a good many of them were angry and shouting.
They were armed with an assortment of hammers, baseball bats and kitchen knives. Another minute and I’d be hacked to death; my pistol wouldn’t hold them. An axe hurled from the rear of the crowd landed at my feet kicking up sparks as it flew away. I pointed my weapon at the front of the crowd ‘who wants it first then?’ I asked trying to sound calm. This was no time to show fear.
The mob slowed but still advanced some of them edging around to come at me from the side and rear. I pointed my weapon at a fat man at the front, he took to be a ring leader ‘One more step and you’re dead.’ The guy looked into my eyes and halted, knowing this was no bluff, unsure of what to do next.
Seeing him halt the rest of the mob stopped, looking towards the fat man for guidance. This gave me the time the needed, I leapt into the car and threw it into reverse. I rammed the rear blocking car shunting it up the street, its tyres juddering on the cobbles. The crowd to my rear scattered in panic. A huge stone smashed in my rear windscreen and thumped into my left shoulder as the mob closed in once more, howling for blood. A youth dived at the smashed window trying to pull himself into the back seat.
Slamming the Ghia into first I floored it, spinning the wheel hard right. The youth flew off onto the cobbles screaming as the broken glass granules slashed his hands. I clipped the front of the blocking car sending it slewing sideways over the body of the first gunman and roared off, my tyres smoking and screaming.
Down the street I punched the steering wheel, furious with myself ‘you twat, you stupid twat. What the fuck were you thinking driving through an area like this?’
Next day the Red Tops were full of the usual rah, rah headlines. One led with FOUR, FIVE, SIX! The article was full of bullshit about how a lone Special Air Service soldier, ambushed in hostile territory, had killed four gunmen with five shots in six seconds. Where the hell they’d got their info from I didn’t know, nor did I care. The SAS could have the glory, and why not? It was they who had taught me to shoot.
Angela Tupp was incandescent with rage and hauled me and Emerson up for a much deserved bollocking. She was minded to send Emerson back home for extra training, but I managed to talk her out of it. The man had acted cool and professional enough once he had realised his mistake. He would learn fast.
Emerson swore he’d up his game, ‘And besides, boss’ he pleaded ‘where better to gain experience than on the job?’
It transpired that my car, a pool vehicle, had been used in an SAS operation the week before. Unknown to the security services, it had become compromised. The number had been circulated around the Provo’s (Provisional IRA )and their supporters. They had had time to set up the ambush and warn the street’s residents. The ambush was to be a show execution for propaganda purposes, hence the camera.
Left alone with the boss, I knew what was coming. She was sad but firm. ‘Now the enemy have your photo, Jack, you and anyone working with you will be in grave danger. The Provo’s can’t let this go, they’ll lose too much face. They’ll be hunting you with everything they have.’ I was returned to the UK next day by helicopter.
After a couple of weeks leave, I was posted to SAS HQ near Hereford as an assistant liaison officer. The work was interesting but not exciting.
A month later Emerson was gunned down and killed. The Provo’s announced they had got the man who had killed their comrades. It only dawned on me then that, apart from age, Emerson had been the same build, eye and hair colour as myself. What no one knew at the time was that the photo, taken in haste, was out of focus.
The army denied the Provo’s claim of course but then leaked to a known informer, a reporter, that it was indeed the man. This piece of misinformation would not harm Emerson and would further protect me.
I blamed myself for Emerson’s death, if I had backed the suggestion to send him for further training he would not have died. It hurt deeply when I found out that Emerson’s fiancée was six months pregnant. I couldn’t even go to his funeral because the media would be there. Someone might recognise me as the true killer.
Although I did my best, I was beset with guilt and my work began to suffer.
Rather than go into decline I left the army. They gave me a new identity as a belt and braces safeguard against possible future security leaks. I declined the offer of relocation to Australia. I was now Jack Ellis and my file was classified Ministerial eyes only. After a couple of dead end jobs, I used my severance pay to start my own security company. To be continued…..