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Dead Centre By Owen Jones Characters: 23201

Updated: 2018-02-09 19:01

Bob was Gareg's right-hand man, but it meant that he was always busy, which he preferred anyway, since it gave him less free time to mope about Jenny. He had a week to prepare the next operation, which was also for Genaro, but someone had to go to Birmingham, Alabama to sort out Ron's widow. He was tempted to get someone else to do it, but he wasn't that sort of person. He could use some of his men, his 'subcontractors', as he called them, to take some of the workload off him at home.

The vest for Essen had already been made and the constituent parts were ready to be shipped at a moment's notice. Richard, the participant, was ready, had done his training and only needed briefing and priming. Gareg, Bob and Genaro had worked out how to achieve their part of the mission, but theirs was only a small part of the whole job, although without success on their part, the rest of the mission could not proceed.

Bob would go to America and be back in plenty of time to take care of the rest of his business.

"Payment from Marseille has just come through, Bob, are you going to Alabama yourself or sending someone in your place?"

"I'll go myself, if you have nothing pressing for me to do here. I like to wrap up everything myself, if I can. I did promise Ron too. You know how it is."

"Yes, I know. It is what keeps you human in this line of business. You have to care about your men and keep your promises to them."

"You have always done that too, Gareg. I learned it from you."

"Thank you, my friend. Ours is a lonely job with only money and the satisfaction of a job well done to console us. At least in the army, we had superior officers to tell us that we had done a good job and that we were doing the right thing. It made it easier.

"There is a difference, I know. In those days we were working for the good of our country, whereas now we are working for the good of ourselves, but the outcome was often the same. A lot of bad guys made a lot of money from our operations and a lot of innocent people got killed.

"We just wiped out Genaro's main mafia competitor and four of his top adjutants, and one totally innocent security guard died as well. In Africa we'd take out a dictator that our government didn't like, so that another, more sympathetic one to us, could take over and fleece the country instead.

"We didn't know whether it was just or not, we just did what we were told. Sometimes I can't see the difference, you know, Bob. We are just freelancers, mercenaries, if you like, and we make some widows rich along the way. That has to be a good thing and the guys die feeling proud, thinking that they are helping their country. They die heroes in their own minds, and that has to be a good thing too, doesn't it?

"So what is the difference between helping Genaro or Bokassa or Idi Amin or all the other stinking dictators we've worked for in the name of the British Government?"

"Why don't we open a bottle of single malt, sir? I think we could do with a few shots."

"Good idea, you know where it is, Bob."

Bob hired a car at the airport and drove to the Carter household, posted the envelope into the letter box and drove off.

He flew back to the UK the following day, satisfied that he had fulfilled his last promise to Ron.

The Iraqi captain of the Federal Police in Baghdad had asked to be kept informed of all suicide bombings, especially those that were in any way unusual. The Scheherazade bombing was beginning to drift onto a back burner, because of all the other violence in the capital and that annoyed him to the point, where he could not concentrate on any other case properly.

News of a suicide bombing in Marseille reached his desk. Suicide bombings in Europe were still unusual, but this one too seemed to have no real motive, unless it was a mafia killing, but then that method had never been proven to have been used for that purpose before.

There was some footage from the security cameras outside the police station and it was being prepared to run on his equipment at that very moment.

Captain Allawi could hardly wait.

When the file arrived on DVD, he and his old team were watching the Scheherazade footage again. The technician put the disc in the drive and started it up. They watched the compiled footage of several cameras up to the point of the explosion and then watched it again from where Ron first made an appearance, concentrating on the bomber. They froze the sequence and studied the bomber. This time he was not trying to look Arabic or anything else, he was clearly Caucasian.

The bomber moved in and out of the sweep of the cameras, but he was clearly visible for the last minute or so before the explosion. He appeared to be walking back to the police station when a car blocked his path, as it attempted to gain access to the car park. He bent down to remonstrate with the driver, or so it appeared, and he exploded. It seemed that there were two possible explanations. First that it was a hit on a known mafia boss and second that it was a failed strike on the police station, because of a malfunction. Perhaps the timer had gone off early, caused by bending down to shout at the driver for obstructing him.

Most sources went with the first option. The covering documents accompanying the DVD noted that the person most likely to benefit from the man's death was one Genaro Vicari, the head of the mafia in Marseille, but there was no evidence and he had not been questioned.

"Any questions or observations?" asked the captain.

There was silence.

"OK, I'll start the ball rolling. Here, the bomber comes into view for the first time. He is crossing the road. He walks over to the gates and then walks off to the right. Then he turns around and seems to quicken his pace as the car behind him catches him up, but he doesn't look, so is this coincidental or…?"

"He has an accomplice or accomplices unknown feeding him with information through an earpiece."

"Which is why he has long hair, to hide it…"

"Good! That might be what is happening here, which would support the mafia hit theory, but it does not tell us who our bomber is or who is controlling him.

"The most likely is his arch-rival, this, er, Genaro. Do we have any information on him?"

"I can log onto Interpol, sir."

"Yes, you do that, lieutenant."

"So, that leaves us with two Caucasian suicide bombers, who tried to hide their identity through disguise. However, these guys are shortly going to be atomised, so why bother?"

"To protect someone else, sir?"

"To protect someone else… that seems to be the most likely, but whom?"

"A fanatical religious sect?"

"That seems the least likely…"

"A political organisation?

"Possibly, but it doesn't seem to gel, does it? They normally claim responsibility."

"The mafia or another criminal organisation, sir?"

"That is the most likely, it seems to me, " said Capta

that afternoon.

First he went to the gents toilets at the airport after immigration, locked himself in a cubicle and put on a wig and moustache. Then he took a taxi to a small pub he had stayed in before, unpacked and took a taxi to the Duke of York.

He had never been to that particular bar before, but he was no stranger to Belfast, he had been there many times when he was in the SAS. He walked into the corner bar and took a seat at the far end of the bar. When the bartender asked what he wanted, he ordered a pint of Guinness, a dozen oysters from out of Dublin Bay and a crusty baguette. There was a traditional folk music band doing their act and the atmosphere, food and stout were excellent.

Gareg studied everyone in the bar in such a way that no-one would know he was anything other than a tourist. It was a good choice of venue for their meeting. That evening, Gareg went on a pub crawl in memory of how he had used to be, but was in bed by eleven o' clock.

After breakfast, he called an old friend from his army days and took him to the Duke of York. They sat at a table right at the back of the bar all afternoon just drinking and talking. About half of the people had been there the day before and were probably locals. Gareg's friend did not recognise any of the faces as being 'known' professionally. They sat there all afternoon and well into the night, eating, drinking and singing along like real holiday-makers.

They talked about rugby and other sports, but often slipped metaphors about individual patrons into the conversation, but so subtly that no-one would have known, even if they could have been heard over the sound of the music. They left to go their separate ways at nine o'clock.

They had both come to the conclusion that the bar was safe, although Gareg did not tell his friend the truth about why he was vetting the place. He had suggested doing it as a 'bit of fun for old time's sake'. Gareg was not sure that his friend had believed him, but he knew that he wouldn't have asked whether he did or not.

The following afternoon Gareg nodded to the barman, who asked him if wanted 'the usual'. Gareg put his index finger up to indicate one and then pointed to the back of the bar. A few people said hello as he passed along the bar. He stood the box he was carrying up on the table and sat down.

"Your Guinness, sir. Been shopping have you?"

"Yes, it's my grandson's birthday in a few days and he's going through the military stage, so I got him an Action Man. Do you think he'll like it? I'm not very good at this sort of thing. Do kids still play with Action Men?"

"I think they do, sir. I'm sure he'll be over the moon with it. Enjoy your drink. Anything to eat, sir?"

"Yes, why not. Got any prawns?"

"Of course, sir, a dozen with chilli sauce and crusty bread?"

"Perfect. You might as well bring another pint when they're ready. Save you a trip."

"Right you are, sir, it'll be fifteen or twenty minutes.

"No problem."

He turned his chair around so he could watch the band, and the entrance. He was an hour early.

Gareg was sitting en route to the toilets, so he got to see everyone eventually and visa versa. As he was finishing his prawns and his pint at two-fifty, an elderly man came back out of the toilet and started talking to him.

"Lovely weather for the time of year, isn't it? On holiday are you? Or are you a sales rep for boys' toys? Can I get you a drink? Same again? It's a fine drop of Guinness in here, great food and a good craic."

"Yes, thank you, why don't you take a seat?"

He did and the barman brought two pints and two double shots of whisky.

"Midleton Very Rare 2007. It's Ireland's best. Sláinte mhaith!"

"Sláinte mhaith! Good health! Ooh, that is a rare treat."

"So, is it true what I heard?"

"What was that?"

"That you have men available for very special, dangerous jobs!"

"Yes, that is true."

They talked for an hour, mostly about Ireland, it's music and it's alcohol and Gareg bought a round.

"Well, it has been very nice chatting to you. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay and that your grandson likes his present. I had better be on my way."

He stood up and held out a hand. Gareg stood up too and took it. They shook hands and Gareg felt a small piece of paper between their hands.

"I'll be in touch, " he added quietly, "you'll get an email with an attachment. This is the key that will unlock the encryption."

Gareg watched him leave and signalled the barman for another pint of Guinness and looked at the slip of paper. There were two words on it:

Sláinte mhaith.

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