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Authors: Campbell Armstrong

Mambo

BOOK: Mambo
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF CAMPBELL ARMSTRONG

“Campbell Armstrong is thriller writing's best-kept secret.” —
The Sunday Times

“Armstrong is among the most intriguing of blockbuster writers … near to unputdownable.” —
GQ

“While touching on suspense with a skill to please hard-core thriller addicts, he manages to please people who … warm to readable novels of substance.” —
Daily Mail

“Armstrong's skill is not just an eye for a criminally good tale but a passion for the people that will populate it.” —
The Scotsman

“Subtle and marvelous … This is a dazzling book.” —
The Daily Telegraph
on
Agents of Darkness

“A consummate psychological thriller … Without doubt, Armstrong is now in the front rank of thriller writers.” —
Books
on
Heat

“Armstrong has outdone both Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follett.” —James Patterson on
Jig

“A full throttle adventure thriller.” —
The Guardian
on
Mambo

“A wonderful puzzle that keeps us guessing right to the end.” —
Publishers Weekly
on
Mazurka

Mambo

A Frank Pagan Novel

Campbell Armstrong

This book is dedicated to Thomas Congdon,

for his continuing support, encouragement, and friendship.

1

London

On a cold October night, two vans and three cars moved in slow procession down a narrow street of terraced houses. The street, already poorly lit, was darker in those places where Victorian railway bridges straddled it.

Frank Pagan, who rode in a blue Ford Escort directly behind the leading van, had the uneasy feeling that this neighbourhood, perched on the farthest edge of Shepherd's Bush, was about to fade into nothing. The houses would give way to vacant sites, half acres of rubble with perhaps here and there some forlorn allotments on which stood broken-down greenhouses. It was not a picturesque part of town, but its drab anonymity and sparse traffic made it as safe a route as any.

It was all theory as far as Pagan was concerned. He knew from his own experience what every policeman knew: there was no such thing as complete security. What you had at best was an illusion of safety. You created diversions, surrounded yourself with some heavy protection, and kept your fingers crossed that good fortune, at best a fickle administrator of human affairs, would be on your side. Tense, he gazed at the small houses, the television lights thrown upon curtains, the half moon over the roof-tops dimmed by pollution, and he had the thought that in a few years this decrepit neighbourhood, like so many formerly dreary London districts, might even be on the rise, resuscitated by estate agents, the terraced houses refurbished and sold to young professionals who did one thing or another in the City or at the nearby BBC.

For the present, though, it was a labyrinth of slum and shadow, exactly the kind of place through which to transport the monster who sat alongside Pagan in the back of the car, and whose name was Gunther Ruhr.

Pagan glanced at Ruhr for a second. He was uncomfortable being this close to the man, uneasy at the touch of Ruhr's leg against his own. Ruhr had one of those faces that suggest flesh long buried in damp earth, a maggot's pallor earned the hard way, hours killed hiding in cellars or somebody's attic. You might imagine that if you cut Ruhr's skin something as viscous as transmission fluid would seep from the veins. Certainly not blood, Pagan thought. Whatever connected Ruhr, with his enormous capacity for brutality, to the rest of the human race, wasn't immediately apparent to Pagan.

The German press, with its unbridled sense of melodrama, had been the first to call Gunther Ruhr
Die Klaue
, the Claw, a reference to the peculiar prosthetic device Ruhr had been wearing on his right hand at the time of his capture and which had immediately been confiscated from him. Ruhr's right hand was missing both middle fingers. The other two fingers, the first and the last, appeared abnormally distant from each other and unable to move more than a quarter of an inch in any direction and then only stiffly. The deformity, exaggerated by the perfect curve of the thumb, was compelling in its way. Like a morbid man enticed against his better judgment by a freak show, Pagan found himself drawn reluctantly back to it time and again.

Some said Gunther Ruhr had accidentally blown his hand up with one of his own homemade explosive devices back in the days when he was still learning his trade, others that the deformity was a birth defect. Like everything else connected to Ruhr's life, neither story had any supporting evidence. Ruhr was a mythical monster, created in part by the screaming excesses of the European tabloids but also by his own pathological need for secrecy and mystery. Without these qualities, nobody could ever have become so successful a terrorist as Gunther Ruhr had done. Nobody, saddled with such a recognisable disfigurement, could have carried out so many atrocities unhindered for so long unless his life and habits were so deeply hidden they couldn't be quarried even by the best specialists in terrorism, who had tracked him for fourteen frustrating years.

The explosion of a Pan Am airliner over Athens in 1975, the mining of a crowded cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 1978, the bombing of a bus carrying teenage soccer players from Spain along the Adriatic Coast in 1980, the destruction of a resort hotel on the shore of the Sea of Japan in the summer of 1984 – the list of atrocities which Ruhr had supposedly masterminded was long and bloody. The hotel had been destroyed on behalf of a group of anti-American Japanese extremists; the Spanish boys were said to have died at the command of a violent Basque coalition; the cruise ship had been mined because its passenger list consisted mainly of Jews and Ruhr's employer was rumoured to have been a Libyan fanatic. What Ruhr did was done, plain and simple, for money. He had no other master, no political position. His services went to the highest bidders at those secret places where Ruhr's kind of labours were auctioned.

And now Frank Pagan, through one of those small accidents that sometimes brighten a cop's life, had him under arrest and was transporting him through the back streets of London and on to Luton, where he was to be flown to the maximum security prison of Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight.
Under arrest
, Pagan thought, and scanned the street again, seeing TV pictures blink in rooms or the door of a corner pub swing open and shut.

Under arrest was one thing. Getting Ruhr – with all his connections in the violent half-world of international terrorism – to his destination might be something else.

Pagan stared at the two men in the front of the car. The driver was a career policeman called John Torjussen from Special Branch, his companion a thick-necked Metropolitan cop who had once been a prominent amateur wrestler known as Masher. Ron Hardcastle was the man's real name and he spoke with that peculiar Newcastle accent. There was something menacingly comforting in Hardcastle's presence.

Pagan looked at the van ahead, which contained four officers from Special Branch and an assortment of rifles and communications equipment. Turning, he glanced next at the two cars behind, then the van at the very back – each vehicle was manned and armed and alert. Menacingly comforting, Pagan thought again. All of it. Everything designed to keep Gunther the Beast safe and secure until he could be firmly caged on the Isle of Wight.

And yet Frank Pagan felt a strange streak of cold on the back of his neck, and the palms of his hands, normally dry and cool, had become damp. He shut his eyes a moment, conscious of the odd way Ruhr breathed – there was a faint rattle at the back of the man's throat as if something thick had become lodged there. The noise, like everything else about Ruhr, irritated Pagan.

The puzzles of Gunther Ruhr, Pagan thought, and looked briefly at the German. Why had he come to England? What was he doing in Cambridge, of all places? Planning a doctoral thesis on atrocities? Giving tutorials on bloodletting? Ruhr had been interrogated for three days after his capture but he had a nice way with his inquisitors: he simply ignored them. When he condescended to speak, he contradicted himself three or four times in the space of half an hour and yet somehow managed to make each version of his story equally plausible. What Gunther Ruhr did was to surround himself with fresh fictions, re-creating himself time and again. Even if there were a real core to the man, nobody could ever gain access to it, perhaps not even Ruhr himself.

The Claw
, Pagan thought with disdain. He hated the way such nicknames took up residence in the public imagination. After a while they exerted a fascination that often had nothing to do with the acts of the villains themselves. Jack the Ripper was still good for a shudder, but how many people brought to mind the images of disembowelled girls, intestines in tidy piles, hearts cut out, everything bloody and just so? How many really pictured the true nightmare? The tabloids had a way of taking a scumbag like Ruhr and elevating him to a celebrity whose name alone doubled circulation for a time. And somewhere in the course of the international publicity circus the real nature of Ruhr's deeds would be lost and a patina of myth drawn over the man, as if he were some wildly appealing combination of Ripper and legendary terrorist, somebody who made pulses beat a little quicker. It was the wrong side of fame, Pagan thought with some resentment. Ruhr deserved another fate altogether: total oblivion.

In the front seat, Ron Hardcastle lit a cigarette and the air in the car became congested.

Ruhr spoke for the first time since they'd taken him from his cell at Wormwood Scrubs. “You will have a decoy column, of course?” he asked. He had impeccable English, a fact that irked Pagan, who wanted Ruhr's English to be broken and clumsy and laughable.

BOOK: Mambo
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