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Authors: Jack Higgins

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Confessional

BOOK: Confessional
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Jack Higgins - Confessional
FOR MY CHILDREN
Sarah, Ruth, Sean and Hannah
PROLOGUE
O
WHEN THE LAND ROVER turned the corner at the end of the street, Kelly was passing the church of the Holy Name. He moved into the porch quickly, opened the heavy door and stepped inside, keeping it partially open so that he could see what was happening.
The Land Rover had been stripped down to the bare essentials so that the driver and the two policemen who crouched in the rear were completely exposed. They wore the distinctive dark green uniforms of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sterling submachine guns held ready for instant action. They disappeared down the narrow street towards the centre of Drumore and he stayed there for a moment, in the safety of the half-darkness, conscious of the familiar odour.
'Incense, candles and the holy water,' he said softly and his finger reached to dip in the granite bowl beside the door.
'Is there anything I can do for you, my son?'
The voice was little more than a whisper and, as Kelly turned, a priest moved out of the darkness, an old man, in shabby cassock, his hair very white, gleaming in the candlelight. He carried an umbrella in one hand.
'Just sheltering from the rain is all, Father,' Kelly told him.
He stood there, shoulders hunched easily, hands thrust deep in the pockets of the old tan raincoat. He was small, five feet five at the most, not much more than a boy, and yet the white devil's face on him beneath the brim of the old felt hat, the dark brooding eyes that seemed to stare through and beyond, hinted at something more,'
All this the old priest saw and understood. He smiled gently, 'You don't live in Drumore, I think?'
'No, Father, just passing through. I arranged to meet a friend of mine here at a pub called Murphy's.'
His voice lacked the distinctive hard accent of the Ulster-man. The priest said, 'You're from the Republic?'
'Dublin, Father. Would you know this Murphy's place? It's important. My friend's promised me a lift into Belfast. I've the chance of work there.'
The priest nodded. 'I'll show you. It's on my way.'
Kelly opened the door, the old man went outside. It was raining heavily now and he put up his umbrella. Kelly fell in beside him and they walked along the pavement. There was the sound of a brass band playing an old hymn,Abide with Me, and voices lifted, melancholy in the rain. The old priest and Kelly paused, looking down on to the town square. There was a granite war memorial, wreaths placed at its foot. A small crowd was ranged around it, the band on one side. A Church of Ireland minister was conducting the service. Four old men held flags proudly in the rain, although the Union Jack was the only one with which Kelly was familiar.
'What is this?' he demanded.
'Armistice Day to commemorate the dead of two World Wars. That's the local branch of the British Legion down there. Our Protestant friends like to hang on tight to what they call their heritage.'
'Is that so?' Kelly said.
They carried on down the street. On the corner, a small girl stood, no more than seven or eight. She wore an old beret, a couple of sizes too large, as was her coat. There were holes in her socks and her shoes were in poor condition. Her face was pale, skin stretched tightly over prominent cheekbones, yet the brown eyes were alert, intelligent and she managed a smile in spite of the fact that her hands, holding the cardboard tray in front of her, were blue with cold.
'Hello, Father,' she said. 'Will you buy a poppy?'
'My poor child, you should be indoors on a day like this.' He found a coin in his pocket and slipped it into her collecting tin, helping himself to a scarlet poppy. 'To the memory of our glorious dead,' he told Kelly.
'Is that a fact?' Kelly turned to find the little girl holding a poppy timidly out to him. 'Buy a poppy, sir.'
'And why not?'
She pinned the poppy to his raincoat. Kelly gazed down into the strained little face for a moment, eyes dark, then swore softly under his breath. He took a leather wallet from his inside pocket, opened it, extracted two pound notes. She gazed at them, astonished, and he rolled them up and poked them into her collecting tin. Then he gently took the tray of poppies from her hands.
'Go home,' he said softly. 'Stay warm. You'll find the world cold enough soon enough, little one.'
There was puzzlement in her eyes. She didn't understand and, turning, ran away.
The old priest said, 'I was on the Somme myself, but that lot over here,' he nodded to the crowd at the Cenotaph, 'would rather forget about that.' He shook his head as they carried on along the pavement. 'So many dead. I never had the time to ask whether a man was Catholic or Protestant.'
He paused and glanced across the road. A faded sign saidMurphy's Select Bar. 'Here we are, then. What are you going to do with those?'
Kelly glanced down at the tray of poppies. 'God knows.'
'I usually find that He does.' The old man took a silver case from his pocket and selected a cigarette without offering one to Kelly. He puffed out smoke, coughing, 'When I was a young priest I visited an old Catholic church in Norfolk at Studley Constable. There was a remarkable medieval fresco there by some unknown genius or other. Death in a black hood and cloak, come to claim his harvest. I saw him again today in my own church. The only difference was that he was wearing a felt hat and an old raincoat.' He shivered suddenly.
'Go home, Father,' Kelly said, gently. 'Too cold for you out here.'
'Yes,' the old man said. 'Far too cold.'
He hurried away as the band struck up another hymn and Kelly turned, went up the steps of the pub and pushed open
ii
the door. He found himself in a long, narrow room, a coal
fire burning at one end. There were several cast-iron tables
and chairs, a bench along the wall. The bar itself was dark
mahogany and marble-topped, a brass rail at foot level. There
was the usual array of bottles ranged against a large mirror,
%old leaf flaking to reveal cheap plaster. There were no
customers, only the barman leaning against the beer pumps,
a heavily built man, almost bald, his face seamed with fat,
his collarless shirt soiled at the neck.
He glanced up at Kelly and took in the tray of poppies. 'I've got one.'
'Haven't we all?' Kelly put the tray on the table and leant on the bar. 'Where is everyone?'
'In the square at the ceremony. This is a Prod town, son.'
'How do you know I'm not one?'
'And me a publican for twenty-five years? Come off it. What's your fancy?'
'Bushmills.'
The fat mannodded approvingly and reached for a bottle. 'A man of taste.'
'Are you Murphy?'
'So they tell me.' He lit a cigarette. 'You're not from these parts.'
'No, I was supposed to meet a friend here. Perhaps you know him?'
'What's his name?'
'Cuchulain.'
The smile wiped clean from Murphy's face. 'Cuchulain,' he whispered.
'Last of the dark heroes.'
Murphy said, 'Christ, but you like your melodrama, you boys. Like a bad play on television on a Saturday night. You were told not to carry a weapon.'
'So?' Kelly said.
'There's been a lot of police activity. Body searches. They'd lift you for sure.'
'I'm not carrying.'
iz
'Good.' Murphy took a large brown carrier bag from under the bar. 'Straight across the square is the police barracks. Local provision firm's truck is allowed through the gates at exactly twelve o'clock each day. Sling that in the back. Enough there to take out half the barracks.' He reached inside the bag. There was an audible click. 'There, you've got five minutes.'
Kelly picked up the bag and started for the door. As he reached it, Murphy called, 'Hey, Cuchulain, dark hero?' Kelly turned and the fat man raised a glass toasting him. 'You know what they say. May you die in Ireland.'
There was something in the eyes, a mockery that sharpened Kelly like a razor's edge as he went outside and started across the square. The band were on another hymn, the crowd sang, showing no disposition to move in spite of the rain. He glanced over his shoulder and saw that Murphy was standing at the top of the steps outside the pub. Strange, that, and then he waved several times, as if signalling someone and with a sudden roar, the stripped Land Rover came out of a side street into the square and skidded broadside on.
Kelly started to run, slipped on the damp cobbles and went down on one knee. The butt of a Sterling drove painfully into his kidneys. As he cried out, the driver, who he now saw was a sergeant, put a foot hard on Kelly's outstretched hand and picked up the carrier bag. He turned it upside down and a cheap wooden kitchen clock fell out. He kicked it, like a football, across the square into the crowd which scattered.
'No need for that!' he shouted. 'It's a dud!' He leaned down, grabbing Kelly by the long hair at the back of the neck. 'You never learn, do you, your bloody lot? You can't trust anybody, my son. They should have taught you that.'
Kelly gazed beyond him, at Murphy, standing on the steps outside the bar. So - an informer. Still Ireland's curse, not that he was angry. Only cold now - ice cold and the breath slow, in and out of his lungs.
The sergeant had him by the scruff of the neck, up on his knees, crouched like an animal. He leaned, running his hands under the armpits and over the body, searching for a weapon,
then rammed Kelly against the Land Rover, still on his knees.
'All right, hands behind you. You should have stayed back home in the bogs.'
Kelly started to get up, his two hands on the butt of the Browning handgun he had taped so carefully to the inside of the leg above the left ankle. He tore it free and shot the sergeant through the heart. The force of the shot lifted the sergeant off his feet and he slammed into the constable standing nearest to him. The man spun round, trying to keep his balance and Kelly shot him in the back, the Browning already arc-ing towards the third policeman, turning in alarm on the other side of the Land Rover, raising his submachine gun, too late as Kelly's third bullet caught him in the throat, driving him back against the wall.
The crowd were scattering, women screaming, some of the band dropping their instruments. Kelly stood perfectly still, very calm amidst the carnage and looked across the square at Murphy, who still stood at the top of the steps outside the bar as if frozen.
The Browning swept up as Kelly took aim and a voice shouted over a loudspeaker in Russian, booming in the rain, 'No more, Kelly! Enough!'
Kelly turned, lowering his gun. The man with the loudhailer advancing down the street wore the uniform of a colonel in the KGB, a military greatcoat slung from his shoulders against the rain. The man at his side was in his early thirties, tall and thin with stooped shoulders and fair hair. He wore a leather trenchcoat and steel-rimmed spectacles. Behind them, several squads of Russian soldiers, rifles at the ready, emerged from the side streets and doubled down towards the square. They were in combat fatigues and wore the flashes of the Iron Hammer Brigade of the elite special forces command.
'That's a good boy! Just put the gun down!' the colonel called. Kelly turned, his arm swung up and he fired once, an amazing shot considering the distance. Most of Murphy's left ear disintegrated. The fat man screamed, his hand going to the side of his head, blood pumping through his fingers.
'No, Mikhail! Enough!' the man in the leather overcoat
cried. Kelly turned towards him and smiled. He said, in Russian, 'Sure, Professor, anything you say,' and placed the Browning carefully down on the bonnet of the Land Rover.
'I thought you said he was trained to do as he was told,' the colonel demanded.
An army lieutenant moved forward and saluted. 'One of them is still alive, two dead, Colonel Maslovsky. What are your orders?'
Maslovsky ignored him and said to Kelly, 'You weren't supposed to carry a gun.'
'I know,' Kelly said. 'On the other hand, according to the rules of the game, Murphy was not supposed to be an informer. I was told he was IRA.'
'So, you always believe what you're told?'
'The Party tells me I should, Comrade Colonel. Maybe you've got a new rule book for me?' Maslovsky was angry and it showed for he was not used to such attitudes - not from anyone. He opened his mouth to retort angrily and there was a sudden scream. The little girl who had sold Kelly the poppies pushed her way through the crowd and dropped on her knees beside the body of the police sergeant.
'Papa,' she wailed in Russian. 'Papa.' She looked up at Kelly, her face pale. 'You've killed him! You've murdered my father!'
She was on him like a young tiger, nails reaching for his face, crying hysterically. He held her wrists tight and suddenly, all strength went out of her and she slumped against him. His arms went around her, he held her, stroking her hair, whispering in her ear.
The old priest moved out of the crowd. 'I'll take her,' he said, his hands gentle on her shoulders.
They moved away, the crowd opening to let them through. Maslovsky called to the lieutenant, 'Right, let's have the square cleared.' He turned to the man in the leather coat. 'I'm tired of this eternal Ukrainian rain. Let's get back inside and bring your protege with you. We need to talk.'
The KGB is the largest and most complex intelligence service in the world, totally controlling the lives of millions in the Soviet Union itself, its tentacles reaching out to every country. The heart of it, its most secret area of all, concerns the work of Department 13, that section responsible for murder, assassination and sabotage in foreign countries.
Colonel Ivan Maslovsky had commanded Department 13 for five years. He was a thickset, rather brutal-looking man, whose appearance was at odds with his background. Born in 1919 in Leningrad, the son of a doctor, he had gone to law school in that city, completing his studies only a few months before the German invasion of Russia. He had spent the early part of the war fighting with partisan groups behind the lines. His education and flair for languages had earned him a transfer to the wartime counter-intelligence unit known as SMERSH. Such was his success that he had remained in intelligence work after the war and had never returned to the practice of law.
He had been mainly responsible for the setting up of highly original schools for spies at such places as Gaczyna, where agents were trained to work in English-speaking countries in a replica of an English or American town, living exactly as they would in the West. The extraordinarily successful penetration by the KGB of the French intelligence service at every level had been, in the main, the product of the school he had set up at Grosnia, where the emphasis was on everything French, environment, culture, cooking and dress being faithfully replicated.

BOOK: Confessional
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