I knew Bobby would want to hear this kind of news right away. I went straight round to his house.
‘First Geordie Cartwright now Jerry Lemon,’ he said in disbelief. He walked over to the drinks trolley, picked up the bottle and poured himself several fingers of scotch. He found an empty glass tumbler and held it up to me. I shook my head. I realised that lately I’d not seen him without a glass in his hand.
He took a sip of his whisky then sat down on his big old Chesterfield couch and took another mouthful.
‘I’ve know these men for years,’ he said, ‘right back to when we first started out. We’ve been through some stuff… ’ And he shook his head at the magnitude of it all, ‘and now someone’s killing them off, one by one, just like that.’ He clicked his finger and thumb together. I thought for a second he might even be getting a tear in his eye but then his face reddened like he was fighting his emotions, his teeth set into a snarl and he growled the words, ‘I want whoever is behind this dead.’
‘Of course,’ I said.
‘But I want to look them in the eye first,’ he told me, ‘I want them to suffer before they die. I owe Jerry Lemon that much.’
‘I think you should keep Finney with you for a while,’ I told Bobby, ‘until we get this sorted. I know you don’t like the idea of him moving in but look at it as extra insurance.’
‘I dunno,’ he said then fell silent, like he was affronted by the suggestion that he, Bobby Mahoney, might actually need a little extra protection.
‘Bobby, seriously, no one is saying you can’t handle yourself, but we still don’t know who we are up against and it’s my job to keep you secure. You used to say Jerry Lemon was a hard man but they got to him. Whoever did it knows if they can get you out of the way then they’ve won.’
He thought about this for a long while, ‘okay,’ he said finally, but I could tell he still didn’t like it, ‘send him round – but what are you going to do for protection without Finney shadowing you?’
‘I figure it’s time Palmer earned his money.’
‘I hope he’s as good as you say he is,’ Bobby told me.
‘So do I.’
‘Trouble is, nobody in the city knows him.’ said Bobby.
‘And that’s just the way I like it.’
I’d thought it might be a good idea to get the two of them together, sort of like a blind date for ex-squaddies but, after a shed load of beer I was beginning to wonder if it had been such a wise move. Both of them could drink, my brother Danny and Palmer. I mean really drink.
Palmer and I had downed a few pints straight after Jerry Lemon’s funeral but I didn’t want to sit in my flat moping. We’d talked to everybody we knew in the city but we were still drawing blanks. Nobody had any info on our Russians, so we had to assume they were coming into the city to attack us then melting away somewhere. I was starting to think we would have to wait for them to show themselves again. The trouble being that, every time they did, our people got hurt or killed.
We’d bumped into my brother in the Bigg Market and I just thought fuck it, let’s have a beer. Now it was late and we were back in my flat, with three stubby glasses in front of us, looking at a half-empty bottle of scotch.
‘I hear you were in the Paras?’ asked Danny, ‘before you joined the Regiment.’ Like Palmer, my brother never called it the SAS, only the Regiment.
‘Yeah,’ said Palmer.
‘How come you left then?’
‘Danny,’ I warned him.
‘It’s alright,’ said Palmer, ‘I’m not touchy about it. I got RTU’d.’
‘Oh,’ said Danny.
‘Don’t you want to know why?’ asked Palmer. Danny shrugged, ‘course you do. Everybody always does.’ Danny shrugged again but this time the twinkly little smile was an admission. ‘Okay, I’ll tell you, since we’ve had a good drink up,’ he sipped his whisky. ‘It was nothing spectacular though, quite the reverse in fact.’
‘Go on then,’ said Danny, ‘tell us. I could use a laugh.’
‘Fuck me,’ I said, ‘is this how you army boys discuss each other’s hardships?’
‘Aye,’ said Palmer, ‘that’s about right.’ He took another sip of his drink and said, ‘it was the daftest thing. Like you said, I was in the Paras, made a hundred and twelve jumps, no bother at all, never a moment’s hesitation. Then one day, I was out on a routine top-up jump to keep my wings. I shuffled up to the front of the line no different to normal, but something strange happened.’
‘What?’ asked Danny.
‘I didn’t jump.’
‘You didn’t jump?’
‘I didn’t jump,’ he repeated patiently.
‘I wish I knew. To this day I can’t even explain it to myself. It wasn’t like I was suddenly terrified, just that I didn’t want to go out the door. Not then, not that day, at that point.’
‘What? You mean you had a premonition your chute wasn’t going to open or something?’ asked Danny, ‘you thought you were going to die?’
‘No, nothing so… dramatic. It was more like, out of the blue, after all those jumps, it suddenly seemed…’
‘A bloody stupid thing to be doing.’
‘Christ almighty,’ said Danny laughing, ‘what did they do to you?’
‘Made me sit down in the plane, everybody else went out. They landed the plane and I was returned to unit.’
‘Just like that?’ I asked. ‘Could they not have given you a second chance to go?’
‘Nope, that’s the rule, if you don’t jump,’ he said, ‘there are no second chances. That’s the army.’
‘So is that why you left?’ Danny asked, ‘because you were RTU’d?’
‘Well, yes and no.’
Danny was laughing again, ‘go on,’ he urged, ‘what happened?’
‘It was a while after. I think by then I’d lost my love of the army and, well, me and the missus had split up and I think I was going a bit mad at that point. Then they gave me this shitty guard duty, driving round the perimeter one Friday night and, by this point, I just really didn’t want to be there so… ’
‘What did you do?’ asked Danny.
‘I drove the jeep into the mess.’
‘Through the door!’ laughed Danny, his eyes like saucers.
‘Through the plate glass, locked, double doors and right across the room,’ we were all laughing now, ‘I cleaned out a few tables, everybody was diving out of my way. They were having curry. I remember because I knocked over a massive pan of it, it went all over the floor.’
‘You sure that was the curry?’ I asked.
‘Aye,’ said Danny, killing himself laughing now, ‘a fucking jeep’s flying straight at you across the mess hall!’ and he put a hand under his arse and made a long wet farting noise, ‘me? I’d shit all over the floor and say “it’s just the curry, honest!”.’
‘I bet they gave you a right kicking when the jeep finally stopped,’ I said.
‘There were a few harsh words exchanged,’ he admitted, ‘then they chucked me in a cell and before I knew it, I was out of the army.’
It didn’t surprise me that Palmer had done a little time. They reckon about ten per cent of the prison population is ex-forces. Of course, you don’t see that statistic on the recruitment posters.
You always need a bit of luck. I don’t care who you are or how clever you think you might be, if you don’t get the breaks it won’t make any difference. Look at any sportsman, general, politician or rock star. They’ll all tell you it started because they got a break. The next morning we finally got ours.
I was a bit hungover after my evening with Danny and Palmer, so I arrived at the gym late in the afternoon. I’d been varying my time since the attack, to make it harder for any one to pick up my routine. I’d seen this pasty, grey-haired bloke once before while I was down there. He was sitting on a lounger by the pool while I was doing my lengths. Then another time he was in the caf? when I came out and I noticed he’d chosen the one seat that looked directly onto the exit door of the men’s changing rooms. When I looked over he looked away.
Now he was here again. I was on one of the benches in the changing room and, as soon as I saw him, I just knew he wasn’t legit. He studiously ignored me as he walked in and opened a locker, then started to undress for the pool. It was hard to explain why but it was a combination of instinct and common sense. When you walk into a public room, the first thing you do is clock who’s in there already. You quickly glance at them and they look back at you, to make sure you don’t represent a threat to them. It’s a primeval instinct, Desmond Morris-style behaviour. We can’t help ourselves then we quickly look away, so as not to challenge the other person. No one likes it if you look at them for too long. Hence the standard, it’s about to kick off phrase of ‘What you looking at?’
The thing is, this guy didn’t do any of that. As soon as his tubby body rounded the corner, my eyes went to him automatically but he made sure he was looking the other way right from the off. I could have been a knife wielding hoody for all he knew but he just didn’t take me in and that wasn’t right. I’d varied my routine and this was the third time I’d clocked him. Because of that and the way he avoided looking at me, I just knew this bloke was there because of me. He was watching and he was waiting for an opportunity to set me up. He didn’t look like muscle but, if he had been wanting to take me out, it was all a bit too public in here anyway. I wasn’t daft like Jerry Lemon. I wasn’t about to go driving into darkened truck stops to offer them an easy target.
I was ready before him, so I went to the pool but instead of going straight into the water I sat down on a lounger. He walked in a moment later, went by me and headed for the sauna. I’d wrapped my phone up in my towel and as grey-hair disappeared into the sauna I reached for it. It was one of many pay-as-you-go phones we used and rotated, so there was less danger of it being picked up by anyone listening. I spoke to Palmer. I had to be quick so I didn’t even try to talk in code.
‘I’m at the gym. I want you to get one of the lads down here pronto, use one of our spare swipe keys, get into the men’s changing rooms then turn over a locker for me. Number 468. Take everything, get his details. I want him checked then lifted.’
‘No problem,’ he said, ‘a wrong ‘un?’
‘Looks like it.’
‘I’ll sort it.’
I clicked the phone shut, lay back in the lounger and waited.
I gave it forty-five minutes, swimming a few lengths, during which time our fat friend waddled from sauna to steam room to pool, then, as soon as he waded into the Jacuzzi, I left and quickly dressed. Grey-hair was on his way back in to get changed just as I was leaving. I didn’t hang around to see the look on his face when he realised all we’d left him was the trunks he was standing up in.
I moved my car so that I could see everything from a distance but he wouldn’t be able to spot me when he emerged. It took him ten minutes to work out what his options were. Eventually he had no choice but to kick up a fuss with the girls on the front desk, who must have been bemused by the sight of a middle aged bloke, dripping all over the floor in front of them.
Finally the big, glass doors at the front of the building slid apart and he emerged, dressed in a too tight, blue sweatshirt with the club’s logo on it and a pair of grey leggings they must have retrieved from lost property. They’d found him some manky tennis shoes as well and he was hobbling along in them. He looked over to where his car had been parked and swore at the empty bay. Even from this distance I could tell he was muttering and cursing as he sloped away. He walked towards the main gate, looking like he was going to head into town.
There was a white Transit van with the council logo on it, parked just outside the main gate. I watched as he drew level with the four workers in bright orange high-visibility jackets who looked like they were just about to start digging up the road. He paid them no attention at all, until one of them stepped in his way and, before he could work out what was going on, another marched up behind him and zapped him with a Tazer. He let out a strangled gurgle as his legs gave way and they grabbed him before he hit the ground. A heartbeat later, he was in the back of the van with the doors locked behind him and they were driving away. Smooth as you like.
I’d known having our own van with the council’s logo on it had been a good idea. Now I just hoped I’d given the right order. Hopefully Palmer just lifted someone who’d soon be telling us who he was working for and what was going on. Then we’d finally know who was behind the murders of Jerry Lemon and Geordie Cartwright. Either that or we were about to torture an innocent civilian on my say-so based on little more than a hunch. I tried not to think about that as I drove away.
Palmer called in and I told him to take the guy to a lock-up we used, then get Finney over to scare the hell out of him. I didn’t think Bobby would mind sparing Finney if he thought it might lead to a breakthrough. I went back to the Cauldron and waited for Palmer to call me again.
When he rang, I asked him if Finney was on it. ‘I’ve called him a few times but he’s not picking up,’ he told me, his voice unconcerned. This didn’t sound good to me. Finney was normally reliable when it came to that sort of thing.
‘Shit,’ I said.
‘Don’t worry,’ Palmer assured me, ‘you want the fear of God putting into this prick, right?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Then leave it to me.’
I waited a couple of hours at the club. I ate a meal, trying not to think about the imaginative methods Palmer was going to employ on our grey-haired stranger to get him to talk. Did I have sympathy for him? No. He’d been following me around, noting my movements. He might even have been the guy who’d told Weasel-face I’d be at the match when he broke into my apartment and almost killed me.
I’d long finished lunch when my mobile vibrated into life again. It was Palmer.
‘He’s copped for it,’ he told me calmly, though he sounded a little out of breath, ‘the whole story. You are going to want to hear this.’
‘Good,’ I said, ‘keep him there.’
‘Oh he’s not going anywhere,’ he assured me.
‘Did he give you a name?’ I asked impatiently, ‘did he tell you who?’
‘Yes he did,’ and Palmer proceeded to tell me the whole bloody tale. I didn’t say a word. I just listened. When he’d finished I thanked him and said, ‘there’s something else I need from you, well, from him.’
‘There’s someone on the inside. Somebody’s been handing our organisation to these bastards one bit of information at a time. They couldn’t have known so much just by following us around for a few weeks. Get me a name. Who’s their man on the inside?’
‘You’ve got it,’ he said
I got straight to my feet, my heart thumping with a combination of anger, adrenalin and dread. I now knew what was going on. Our enemy finally had a face and a name. I had to get to Bobby quickly. Things were about to get rough.