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   Chapter 3 PECKHAM, LONDON

Dead Centre By Owen Jones Characters: 21162

Updated: 2018-02-10 19:01

"All the required transactions have gone through, sir."

"Thank you, " he replied and hung up.

The doctor from Birmingham had left two messages several hours apart.

"Dr. A.W. Crow Junior speaking… Ah, it is you, sir. I have a potential participant. Details: max three; point five. Understood?"

"Yes, thank you doctor, your interest will be logged and we will get back to you soon. Bye."

The third call was from Genaro in Marseille, but it was so important that Gareg did not ring it. He only sent a text message saying 'Tomorrow'.

"Bob, I have a holiday for you. Can you leave in the next forty-eight hours?"

"I can leave in the next forty-eight minutes, if you want. Where am I going?"

"North America, the USA and Canada. Are your visas still valid?"

"Yes, sir, I never let them expire."

"All right, good, well, arrange to fly to Birmingham, Alabama as soon as you can and you can take it from there. I have to go on a trip to Europe too, but I'll give you the details of your contacts before I go. This is the mobile number you can reach me on for the next seven days only."

Bob took the piece of paper, repeated the number to himself under his breath and remembered it instantly. He handed it back to Gareg. They both walked into the garden via the French doors, stood some distance apart and booked flights to their destinations. Hotels were easy, if they were necessary.

Sergeant Robert Jones, or Bob as he was better known as, was ex-2nd. Battalion, the Parachute Regiment and ex-22 Special Air Service Regiment. He was forty-six, had joined the army at sixteen and was a veteran of many campaigns both at home and abroad. He was a short, squat and broad man at only 5' 4", but one of the last people anyone would ever want to meet in the world was mild-mannered Bob Jones, if he were angry with you or even if he just considered you to be 'in the way'. However, luckily for society, he rarely got angry and he had only ever killed on orders.

Over the twenty-six years he had been in the army, anyway.

There had been a time in Aldershot, shortly after he had signed up, when he was still doing his training, when he hadn't had the self-discipline that he had now and he had run riot in the town's bars, picking fights with townies and putting them in hospital just for looking at him, or for the fun of it.

But that was a lifetime ago.

Bob had been Gareg's right-hand man for twelve years in the army, but they had only started working together again in civilian life a year before, when his wife Jenny, whom he had lived for, had died of cancer.

He counted her the lucky one, because she had been fit and healthy, diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and died all within three months.

That had been a year ago and it still hurt like hell. Gareg's business had picked him up at about that time, the lowest point in his life. His one regret was that she had not lived long enough to help him spend the vast sums of money that he was earning now. Not that she had ever been without. He often wondered whether the cancer had come about from drinking too much when he had been away on active service.

He was not stupid enough to think that it was impossible and he knew that he would never love another woman with that intensity again.

They had never had children by choice, so love for Bob these days meant doing his job well and caring for his boss: in other words, job-satisfaction and comradeship, friendship even.

And the odd fling when he was drunk with whichever woman would have him. As it happened, women did not find him unattractive and he did have money, but most of the ones who came after him were too old for his tastes. He still thought of himself as a twenty-year-old paratrooper, not a forty-six-year-old businessman.

He missed Jenny like he would an arm or a leg and always would and worst of all, he knew that there was nothing in this life on Earth that he could do about it and it depressed the hell out of him.

He drove his Range Rover over to Heathrow where he would stay overnight before flying on to the USA.

He didn't take much: a Saville Row suit that he loved, a couple of handmade shirts, underwear and what he stood up in. He knew that he could buy anything else he needed as and when, and he did like buying souvenir clothes when he went away anyway.

On arrival, Bob just asked a taxi driver to take him to a 'decent guesthouse', because he had never been to Birmingham, Alabama before. He checked in, showered, changed and rang reception.

"I am not feeling too well… I'm a diabetic. Could you get me a taxi to take me to Dr. A. W. Crow's surgery, please? A friend has just recommended him to me."

"Of course, sir, would you like assistance to come downstairs?"

"No, that won't be necessary, thank you. I have an early warning system, as I have been ill for many years. If you will phone a taxi right now, I will start making my way down to reception. Thank you."

"Thank you too, sir."

On arrival, Bob opened the door to the doctor's surgery, saw that there were three people waiting and hung onto the doorknob as he walked in. He gasped deeply, nearly fell over and then rested his full weight on the receptionist's counter.

"I need to see Dr. Crow immediately, " he wheezed. "Diabetic shock, is he in? Dr. Crow? It's a referral from my doctor in New York."

Bob held out two cards, one to show that he was a diabetic and the other to prove that he had money. The receptionist looked at him in horror, raced around to put a seat under him and phoned through. Dr. Crow came out immediately and helped Bob into a different room than he had come out of. Once inside, Bob straightened up, shook the surprised doctor's hand and sat down.

"Hello, doctor, nice to meet you! You have called the agency, DC, twice this week, what do you have for us?"

It took Dr. A. W. Crow Junior quite a few seconds to wise up.

"Er, yes, I'm sorry, but this is the first time that I have ever dealt with anyone from head office, so to speak."

"No problem. My name is Jim and I have come to talk to the participant. If you will give me the contact details, I will let you get about your business."

The doctor reactivated his desktop computer, searched for a patient record, had it printed off, and handed it gingerly over to Bob.

"This is all I have to do?"

"Yes, doctor. We will contact the potential participant and if he wants to co-operate, you will be notified. Thank you very much for your assistance. I hope that we will meet again."

"Yes, thank you, er, Jim. Perhaps, I'd better have some insulin sent in to cover your story."

"Yes, that would be best."

Minutes later, Bob was back on the street with an address in his hand. He looked up and down the street, which was fairly affluent, spotted what he was after and crossed the road.

He entered the bar and ordered a beer. Two beers later, he called the bartender over again and showed him the address, but not the name, which he had folded over.

"Is this around here? I just got in from the UK to see my long-lost brother, but I don't know this city at all. Never been here before."

"It isn't far, but ya'd be better off getting a taxi. It'll cost ya about ten bucks."

Bob paid his bar bill and went outside to flag down a taxi, which took him to a middle-class suburb. He had the taxi stop fifty yards past the house he wanted and walked back to it.

Once on the drive, he patted his hair down, walked up to the door and rang the bell.

A smartly-dressed, fit-looking, pretty woman answered the door.

"Hello, Madam, is this the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Carter?"

"Who wants to know?"

"Please, Madam?"

"Yes, it is who wants to know?"

"Is your husband at home? My name is Jim Barber. I am from 'Walker and Walker', the insurance office associated with where your husband works. There is no problem. In fact, quite the contrary. We think that he may be due a sizable rebate on his insurance premiums. It looks as if he has been paying too much."

"No, he's not in yet, but I'm expecting him soon. He usually gets in at about six."

"I see… I have another call to make at five forty-five… could you give me his cell phone number, so I could speak to him, or could you phone him and hand me over to him? Whatever you like."

She took her mobile phone out of her pocket and rang it.

"Ron, I got some guy at the front door needs to speak to you. All right, honey?"

She passed the phone to Bob.

"Hello, Mr. Carter. I am from your company's health insurance scheme… Your doctor, Dr. A. W. Crow Junior gave me your particulars… Could we meet up soon, very soon? It would be in your financial interest. Please ring me right back on my cell phone, do you have a pen handy? 01408, it will redirect to me. Please call in the next ten minutes, if you can. Yes, it is urgent."

He gave the phone back to Mrs. Carter. She held it to her ear and then clicked it off.

"Well, thank you very much, Mrs. Carter, I have no need to bother you any longer. I'll be on my way. Good day to you."

He nodded his head, smiled, turned and walked away. The street was a mile long, but he knew that if he walked east, he would get back into town. About three hundred yards down the road, his mobile phone rang.

"Hello, Jim Barber…" He knew who it was, since only Gareg and one other person in the world had that number.

"Mr. Carter, thank you for getting back to me so soon. Would it be convenient to meet right away? I have something urgent to discuss with you and I have to leave town tomorrow morning. I take it that you are heading home right now… Yes, good. Could you pick me up? I am six or seven hundred yards east of your house. I'm walking. I've a pale-blue suit on. What are you driving? A white Prius? All right I'll be looking out for you in the next few minutes."

A few moments later a car approached him on the deserted street coming from the city centre. It stopped and the nearest window came down.

"Ah, Mr. Carter, I presume. How nice to make your acquaintance. Jim Barber. Could we go somewhere for a private chat? It needn't take long. I suggest a quiet bar nearby; I could murder a cold beer. It is so hot, isn't it?"

Bob got in. The car did a U-turn and headed back into town. Ron Carter activated the hands-free device on the dashboard and called his wife.

"Hello, hon. Yes, I'm with Mr. Barber now. We're going for a chat but I'll be home within the hour. Yes, sorry about the meal, but you know the situati

on and it doesn't happen often does it? Yes, all right, thanks, hon. See you soon."

"All right, Mr. Barber, what's all this about?"

"Please, call me Jim. May I call you Ron? I'll tell you as soon as we're sitting comfortably, but I will say this, there is nothing for you to worry about. I am the bearer of good tidings, not bad. I have come to help, not to hinder."

When they were seated in a booth at the back of a quiet bar with a jug of Trim Tab Rye Brown Ale on the table and two full glasses five minutes later, Bob said, "Cheers, Ron, " and held up his glass to clink it with Ron's.

"Cheers, " he replied, "I'm all ears."

"I have heard about your condition. I'm sorry, I know that will come as a surprise to you. I understand that you spoke to one of our agents recently regarding a solution."

"I'm rather confused. I don't mean to be obtuse, but what is this all about. Which agent and what condition?"

"You have terminal prostate cancer and I have a way for you to leave your wife a wealthy widow. Does that jog any memories?"

"How do you know about that?"

"This is fantastic beer. As I said, you spoke to one of our people the other evening. In a bar, perhaps even this one, I thought the bar tender recognised you. Are you happy to talk here or would you rather go somewhere else?"

"No, that is not a problem. This is as good a place as any."

"Yes, none better in my experience, let me top you up. Would you like a chaser to go with that?"

"Why not?"

Bob raised a hand and the waiter was there in an instant. He ordered two shots of Wild Turkey.

"I assume you remember the bare details."

"Why don't you make your pitch, Jim, and we'll take it from there."

"OK, Ron, whichever way you want to play it. I know that you told one of our people that you were interested in making some big money quickly, because you and your family are in the financial bog and you don't have much time to sort it out."

"And who told you that?"

"A man you met one day, had a few drinks with and poured your heart out to. Like I said, probably in here."

Ron stopped and thought. It had been a fortnight ago that he had heard from Dr. Crow that he had a virulent form of prostate cancer and that he had no more than three months left to live, but he hadn't told his wife and he couldn't remember much about the evening in question. He remembered talking to several strangers and having a good time. In fact, he had got quite drunk, which was unusual for him these days.

The agent had been set to stalk Ron and sound him out. It was part of the company's routine procedure, so that there would be no link back to the original informant, the doctor himself.

"I'm sorry, Ron, but I cannot reveal to you how I know. Does it matter very much?"

"No, not at all. Just idle curiosity."

"Do you remember what you said to our operative?"

"Sort of."

"Are you still interested?"


"OK. Cheers!"

Gareg flew into Marseille Provence Airport and took a taxi to a large villa near Les Calanques de Cassis. The security guards did not allow the taxi to enter the gates, so Gareg paid the driver off and showed the guards his credentials, and then a drop-top Rolls Royce Camargue took him the quarter of a mile to the main house.

Genaro was waiting for him on the verandah outside the front portico.

"How good of you to come over again and how nice to see you, " he said in a flawless English accent.

"It is good to be here again and see you too, " said Gareg, meaning it. "Whoever said that it was bad to combine business with pleasure was neither a businessman nor a hedonist!"

"Oh, I agree with you one hundred percent, my dear fellow." He stood up to shake hands with and hug Gareg, then he snapped his fingers and a butler wheeled over a trolley with two glasses and a bottle of Bollinger in a bucket of ice on it.

"Would you like to freshen up, Gareg?"

"I would love a shower and a quick dip in that marvellous pool of yours, Genaro, if that's all right."

"Why of course, old boy." Genaro spoke into a handset and a golf cart appeared to take them around to the back of the house.

"Your things have been taken to your room, but we have plenty of trunks for you to use in the changing room over there. Do you remember where it is?"

"Oh, yes. How could I forget? There was a certain Monique in there the last time I was here…"

"Ah, yes, Monique, such a charming girl, but alas, she is no longer with us. We had to let her go, but we have others, if that is your pleasure."

"Perhaps later. I just want to get some of this grime off me and cool down for a while. Another glass of champers wouldn't go amiss though."

Genaro indicated and it was done.

After Gareg had swum a few lengths in the Olympic-sized swimming pool, he again sat with his host.

"That was wonderful, my friend, I do envy you your lifestyle."

"You could have the same, I suspect, but you choose your own way, as I have chosen mine. Shall we eat something?"

"Yes, that would be most welcome."

"Do you have a preference? I can get chef to rustle just about anything up for you."

"No, you know me. I'll eat what the locals eat."

"I'm not sure that I would, but I appreciate the sentiment."

He spoke into the handset again.

"Ten minutes. I cheated. I remembered how easy-going you are and your penchant for seafood, so chef was already preparing something. They'll bring it out here."

"Yes, I love seafood, cheers!"

They knew everything about one another but pretended not to. They were both wealthy men, although Genaro was more used to the lifestyle than Gareg, who was 'new money' since he had made most of his since leaving the army, although that did not matter to Genaro, who only cared about money, not how old it was or where it had come from.

Genaro was a third generation mafia Capo di Tutti Capi in the area, whose great-grandfather had moved to Marseille from Sicily in the aftermath of the First World War. Their family still had land and farms on the island and Genaro often went there for a visit in his private plane, which he kept at the airport.

His mafia family controlled the area around Marseille and he lived as well as any royalty or head of state. He was married and Gareg had met his wife once, but she spent most of her time in Sicily and they had three children who were always away at boarding school in the UK when Gareg had visited.

"So, Genaro, what is the plot this time?"

"Well, my friend, I have had these plans drawn up for you." He took a folder out of a locked drawer under the table top. "Shall we run through them now and you can give me your first impressions. Iron out any wrinkles, as you say."

"Yes, all right, that's a good idea." Gareg moved over to sit next to his friend who was unfolding an A1-sized sheet of paper.

"We'll have a look at these first and then we'll have some fun and you can roll the details around in your head, while you roll Yvette around in your bed." Genaro laughed out loud and slapped Gareg on the back.

"Sounds like a decent plan already, Genaro."

When they met up again a few days later, it was as if they were long-lost brothers, which was always the case. Gareg shook hands with Bob and then hugged him, a hug which was heartily reciprocated.

"How did your trip go, Bob?" asked Gareg, when they were sitting comfortably with a Laphraoig on the porch of Gareg's farm where Bob had spent most of his time since Jenny had passed away. Gareg was happy for him to stay there too, as he otherwise lived alone.

"It was a total success, Gareg. I met three potentials and one who was probably just too flaky.

"Yes, well I'll go with you on your decision on that score, Bob. You have put everything in your report, I'm sure."

"Yes, it is all here, " he said sliding across the blue folder that lay on the table between them.

"Thank you. I'll get all that typed up and entered into the database. When will training begin for our newbies?"

"I think in about a fortnight's time. I am pretty sure that we will have three more recruits register by Monday, but you know how it is."

"Ye, you never really know until they actually turn up, do you? And how about the two we have in training now?"

"Oh, they are committed, si… We will not have a problem with them. I am as sure of them as I can be. Do we have an opportunity for them yet?"

"I think we may, for one of them at least."

"Sir, we have isolated some Caucasian material and according to the footage, there were only two whites on the floor at the time of the explosion.

"One of them is still alive and the other got a piece of shrapnel through the head, but both bodies were intact. This means that we have parts of a Caucasian that cannot be accounted for, unless…"

"Unless he is our bomber… A Caucasian suicide bomber… Do we know anything about him?"

"No, sir, not really, but we are still searching. He is definitely a male; of about forty-five years of age and of European or American, as you say, Caucasian, origin. DNA supports all of this, but obviously, it cannot tell us why."

"Yes, thank you sergeant, I do realise that DNA cannot tell us why, although I darn wish it could. Why would a Caucasian want to blow himself up in a foreign country?"

"Perhaps he had converted to Islam, sir. Many do."

"It is a possibility, sergeant, and the most likely explanation at the moment. Any other suggestions?"

"Nothing, sir."

"So, we have to work with the theory of a fanatical Caucasian convert to Islam. Who would know about converts?"

"Imams, sir."

"Imams, yes, they would, wouldn't they? Get in touch with someone in the government, I don't know who and ask them if they can email all the Imams here and abroad that have reported a white male convert and find out if that guy has disappeared in the last few days or even weeks."

"I'm on to it, sir, " volunteered one of the team.

"It's a very long shot. There might be thousands of them. Anyway, it's all we've got, so we have to run with that. We have a middle-aged, white Caucasian man, who converted to Islam recently – or not so recently - and became so fanatical that he blew himself up, but forgot to shout 'Allahu Akbar'.

"It doesn't feel right somehow and it doesn't make it any the easier for us at all."

Captain Allawi looked up at the hugely enlarged photo of the bomber taken seconds before he died for the umpteenth thousand time and muttered the words

"Who are you and why did you do it?"

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