Authors: Chris Ryan
The Watchman by Chris Ryan
Also by Chris Ryan
The One That Got Away (1995) Stand By, Stand By (1996) Zero Option (1997) The Kremlin Device (1998) Tenth Man Down (1999) The Hit List (2000) Chris Ryan's SAS Fitness Book (2001)
by Chris Ryan.
Published by Century in 2001
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Copyright (c) Chris Ryan 2001
Chris Ryan has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work
This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published in the United Kingdom in 2001 by Century. The Random House Group Limited 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SWIV 25A
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Elizabeth (Here's to a dance so many years ago).
He kitenga kanohi, He hokinga whakaaro.
(To see a face is to stir the memory.)
To my agent Barbara Levy, editor Mark Booth, Assistant editor Hannah Black and the rest of the team at Century.
Sunday, 11 February 1996
There was a moment when Ray Bledsoe might have escaped with his life. If he had trusted his instincts at that moment if he had reached for the Walther PPK and emptied the magazine through the side windows of the black taxi as it pulled into the parking bay alongside him he might just have made it. He'd been an undercover soldier for three and a half years now, quite long enough to know bad trouble when he saw it, and a glance at the skinheads in the taxi had told him that this was the worst trouble of all. As he looked away he could feel their eyes lock on to him in icy, murderous anticipation.
But he had done nothing. The voice that whispered danger was drowned out by the voice screaming Yellow Card. If he opened fire on these men preemptively and without delivering the warnings specified on the Yellow Card he could find himself pension less dishonourably discharged and on trial for murder. The Rules of Engagement were bollocks, of course, and dangerous bollocks at that, but seventeen years in the Royal Military Police and a couple of well-published sed trials of British servicemen had instilled in Ray Bledsoe a deep-seated anxiety concerning the procedures of contact.
And so he had done nothing. Instead of reducing the taxi's in tenor to a horror show of shattered glass, jetting blood and brain~ sprayed upholstery he had sat tight and reached for the packet of Embassy and the lighter on the passenger seat. Then, lighting up, he had wound down his window an inch or two and allowed the cold February air to draw out the smoke. Played it innocent. You don't gun down carloads of total strangers for no reason, Ray Bledsoe told himself, whatever your instincts. Whatever your misgivings.
But as the sharp air lanced at his face and the Embassy smoke hit his lungs he knew that emptying his Walther into the taxi was exactly what he should have done and that the moment in which he might have acted had passed. He sensed the purposeful exit of bodies from the taxi, saw his side window implode in a terrif~ring shower of sledge hammered glass, felt a gun barrel jammed cold to his head, smelt vinegared breath and knew himself as good as dead.
"Out, soldier." The voice low, a Fermanagh accent, smooth as the cocking of a heavy automatic.
"And don't even think about... Talk, Bledsoe ordered himself, conscious that fear was freezing him, locking down his thought processes. Blag. Use your bloody gob. He turned to the glassless window but didn't know what words he used. Might have shouted, might have whispered.
Couldn't hear himself "I said out, yer focker. Now!"
The door opening, the honeycombed sheet of safety glass sagging inwards, a blur of shaved heads and tattooed arms, and the gulls screaming and wheeling above them. For all the chance of Bledsoe's reaching the Walther PPK at that moment it might as well have been back in the armoury at Lisburn.
Think. Think SOPs. Think your self past the fear.
And then, as he indecisively half rose, came the smashing blow to the forehead a 9mm Browning butt, full magazine -and the blood in his eyes and the cold air and the arms dragging him and what must have been the carpeted floor of the taxi's boot rising to meet his face. He never saw the weapon's second chopping descent.
After an hour he began to come to. He did not immediately understand that he was in a moving car, and did not at once connect the pain at the front and back of his head with a dimly remembered sequence of events involving a PIRA snatch squad.
Then he did remember and prayed hard for unconsciousness to return, and when it wouldn't return he lay there for the best part or the worst part of another hour. His hands were cuffed, he discovered, and he had been stripped naked. There was a smell of vomit, rubberised carpet and lubricating oil.
Please God, he thought, don't let them take me over the border and out of the Crown jurisdiction. If they get me past the roadblocks and the border posts I'm a dead man.
At the time of his kidnap Ray Bledsoe had been preparing to drop off payment for a tout named Proinsas Deavey in a car park. It was a standard dead-letter drop the routine being that Bledsoe stuffed /200 in used notes in the Embassy packet and dropped it into the left-hand of the two bins by the parking bays, and Deavey swung by a short time later with a soft-drink can to dispose of, surreptitiously pocketed the Embassy packet and made himself scarce. It wasn't an arrangement that either party actively enjoyed, but it had worked well enough up to now.
Deavey was an associate of known Republican players, but a self-destructive mixture of greed and stupidity had put him in the pay of the British security services. Things had started going wrong for Deavey when he set up a small-scale business selling pills and blow in Central Belfast's "Holy Lands'. Named after its principal arteries Damascus Street, Jerusalem Street and Canterbury Street the Holy Lands was the bed sitter enclave serving Queen's University, and students from both sides of the political divide washed their socks, heated their beans and drank their beer there. It was Deavey's bad fortune to have approached a group of ultra-nationalist eighteen-year olds who had shopped him the moment he left the bar. Later that evening he had been given a severe beating behind a Falls Road betting office. The punishment squad had identified themselves as members of Direct Action Against Drugs, a known cover organisation for the IRA.
Resentful, half-crippled and robbed of a useful source of income, Deavey had been a comparatively easy touch for the
FRU, or Forces Research Unit. The FRU was a small and highly secretive unit set up by the British army for the purpose of cultivating and running touts. It was staffed by soldiers who didn't look like soldiers.
Most of them were middle-aged men like Bledsoe long-serving ex-NCOs with pub bellies, thinning hair and anonymous faces.
Proinsas Deavey was one of half a dozen smalltime players that Bledsoe and his colleagues were handling. The former dope dealer had never made contact with any really important players, but the scraps he provided meeting places, unfaithful husbands, who drank with whom all assisted in the piecing together of the Intelligence jigsaw. Deavey had sold his Republican soul to Ray Bledsoe in a fish and chip shop outside Carrickfergus for a down payment of/175.
Touts were the bane of the PIRA's existence and their work with touts made FRU members highly desirable to terrorist snatch squads. When it came to his interrogation, Bledsoe knew, the first thing they would demand would be the identity of the touts he was running. The second would be the identity of the special forces personnel he was in contact with the other FRU members, the Det (or Detachment) soldiers who made up the undercover surveillance teams, the Box (or MI-5) teams and, of course, the SAS. Then they would want the radio codes and the rest of the intelligence baggage that he carried in his head.
The PIRA, Bledsoe thought, had almost certainly had him marked down as an FRU member for months. Lifting him now was partly expediency they badly needed to know the answers he could give them and partly the desire to raise two fingers to the British government. The larger symbol of that contempt had been the bombing, two days earlier, of South Quay in the Docklands area of London. Like everyone else at the barracks, Bledsoe had seen the pictures on TV, had stared open-mouthed at the devastated City landscape, at shattered office blocks, at streets inches deep in a glittering slush of broken glass. The lorry bomb had killed two people, injured many more and caused millions of pounds' worth of damage. A statement had been issued by the IRA an hour before the explosion revoking the official cease fire that had lasted for seventeen months and nine days.
It hadn't felt like a cease fire to Ray Bledsoe. More like business as usual and some of his colleagues said a fucking sight worse. But the bomb signalled a change. The bomb meant that the gloves were off publicly as well as privately. The FRU and the other special forces had been warned to exercise extra caution, to double-check sources, to watch their backs.
But there was only so much, finally, that you could do. Bledsoe's reaction to the warnings had been to request back-up for his drop-off. At his previous meeting with Deavey, Bledsoe had found the tout so jumpy that he had begun to wonder if the little bastard was playing a double game. It wasn't impossible that he'd decided despite everything that he was safer in PIRA's pockets than the army's and had bought his life by promising them an FRU agent on a plate. Or perhaps, even more extremely, Deavey had been PIRA's man all along and had been feeding them false information from the start.
Bledsoe had considered both scenarios highly unlikely the tout seemed just too solid between the ears to run a sophisticated intelligence scam but just in case of any funny business he had requested that a second FRU member attend the drop-off in a separate car. Connor Wheen, Bledsoe knew, had parked his Mondeo three hundred yards away near the car park entrance and with any luck he would have witnessed the snatch.
Assuming that he had done so, Wheen would have put out an alert. Perhaps even now there was an SAS pursuit vehicle a mile behind them, showing no lights.
As he bumped and rolled on the floor of the taxi, however, Bledsoe found it difficult to think coherently. He had never thought of himself as a courageous man. If the car he was in broke through the cordon and escaped over the border there would be... what? The interrogation, the stomping kicks to the teeth and balls, the burning cigarettes to the eyeballs and.. . Stop it, he ordered himself. Get afucking grip. You're a soldier. Act like one. And, more importantly, think like one.
Think of the details. Think of the SAS team bomb bursting out of the camp at Lisburn within seconds of the alert, all with kit and weapons packed for action. Think of them hammering out on to the roads in their big Beamers and Quattros.
The ground grew steadily rougher, severely testing the big vehicle's suspension, and Bledsoe prayed for the grinding, rubber-flapping lurch that would signal that the car had punctured itself on an army spike chain. But there was no such lurch and then suddenly there was no movement at all. From far away came the heavy, squealing scrape of a sliding door. The car rumbled forward for a further few seconds and the sliding door rasped once more. A moment s stillness, then the boot sprang open to reveal the hard white glare of strip lights and Bledsoe was hauled, blinking, on to a flattened earth floor. The floor was cold and damp beneath his bare feet, the cuffs cut into his wrists and he could feel his hair stiff with blood.
There were voices all around him.
Things took shape before his dark-accustomed eyes. He was in a large, iron-sided rectangular barn, surrounded by expectant-looking men in dark-blue boiler suits. Vapour rose from their mouths, and the excited, contemptuous sound of their voices. In the corner to his left, mockingly normal, stood a John Deere tractor and an ordered pile of plastic fertiliser sacks. At the centre of the wall was a workshop area with pulleys and chains, and at the far end a stud partitioned office. Ahead of him, parked along the right-hand wall, was an unloaded trailer.
He half-turned, still blinking. The entrance through which the car had come was barred by a pair of tall cormgated-iron doors hung from greased rails, in front of which waited two boiler-suited guards. One was fingering an automatic handgun, the other was pissing a steaming puddle on to the ground. Both were smirking at him with hate-filled, delinquent eyes.
Bledsoe stood there for a moment, swaying. Two thoughts hit him immediately. Where were the Regiment lads going to hit the place from? This was bad, but the other realisation was worse, so much worse that his chest began heaving involuntarily and he thought for a moment that he was going to pass out.
They were going to kill him and probably to blood some of the younger foot soldiers in the process. They were going to make it messy, to see who could do the business without flinching and who couldn't.