MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Type: multipart/related; boundary="----=_NextPart_01CBF9F2.4BF7BD40" This document is a Single File Web Page, also known as a Web Archive file. If you are seeing this message, your browser or editor doesn't support Web Archive files. Please download a browser that supports Web Archive, such as Windows® Internet Explorer®. ------=_NextPart_01CBF9F2.4BF7BD40 Content-Location: file:///C:/0C48E0CB/canuck.htm Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Type: text/html; charset="us-ascii" The long voyage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canuck

 

 Book 1=

 

 

 

“The babysitting routine”

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Geoff Wolak, 2010.=

 

www.geoffwolak-writing.com<= o:p>

 

 

 

 


This book/work is copyrighted in the United Kingdom and other countries. This bo= ok is a work of fiction and the author accepts no responsibility for any false conclusions or impressions drawn from it.

 

No part of this book/eMedia/eBook may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmit= ted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recordin= g or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author and publisher(s).

 

This book/eMedia/eBo= ok is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the author’s and publisher’s prior consent in any form or in any binding or cover other than that in which it is normally sold and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser(s).

 

© Copyright Geo= ff Wolak, 2010. Great Britain. All rights reserved

 

 

This work has not been professionally produced through a publisher or agent, it = is self-published. If you find any typos - apologies, no professional copy-edi= tor has checked or enhanced it.  A= ll agent/publisher enquiries welcome. www.geoffwolak-writing.com

 

 

 

Format

These books are printed in lulu.com format 6x9 ‘novel’ .

www.lulu.com/gwresearch=

 

Contact

Email: gwresearchb@aol.com

 

 


The babysitting routine

 

1

 

 

Martin Colette eased back = in his chair, taking a break from his computer screen, a glance at his secretary as she busied herself behind her own computer.

     After twelve years with the service, Colette was now the Operations Manager for Department P2 within SIS – Britain’s overseas intelligence agen= cy, formerly known as MI6. P2, responsible for the Club-Med countries of Europe, was a low priority department that had always been at the bottom of the pil= e of interesting departments to work for. It wasn’t as bad as Research, bu= t it wasn’t far off.

     At the end of the Cold War the Russian Section – where the career people traditionally worked on interesting cases – had lost direction for a while. But, thanks to the rise of al-Qa’eda, the Russian Section̵= 7;s best and brightest had something new to get into, and many switched to the Middle East section. Those who had learnt Russian and German were hurriedly= retrained and those who spoke Arabic suddenly found themselves much needed – an= d in high regard.

     Colette spoke French and Spanish, so would forever be assigned to P2 and the Club-M= ed countries. But, with the rise of al-Qa’eda and the problem of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan landing in Greece and Italy, his department had gained a little extra work, and a little extra respect around the canteen.<= /span>

     When his phone went, it was his boss. ‘Martin, got a minute?’=

     ‘I’ll be right down, sir.’

Colette placed down the phone and stood. ‘Boss wants me,’ he told his secretary. ‘I’ll be in with him if you n= eed me.’ She hadn’t even looked up from her screen.

Stepping out of his office on the fourth floor of the MOD buil= ding, central London, he headed along a bland internal corridor, fifty yards and = to the last door, the small sign at eye-level declaring: “Dept. P2. Chambers, D.K.” Knocking, then turning the handle, he opened the door just enough to show his face. Chambers was on the phone, finishing a call, = but waved Colette in and to a seat.

     Placing down the phone, Chambers said, ‘Have a job for you, small job, but turning over rocks sometimes shows up a gem.’ He handed over a file. ‘You’re familiar with Mohammad Sayeed?’

     Colette’s brow knitted. ‘Yes, sir: Pakistani nuclear scientist who assisted the Iranians with their programme. Not our department…?’

     ‘He has a brother, who’s been to Europe before, and who’s booked on= a flight tomorrow to Malta, via Rome. Put a watcher on him, discreet surveillance, see if something turns up.’

     Colette had already scanned the first page within the file. ‘He’s clean, sir, according to this.’

     ‘Indeed, but was suspected of being a message gofer. It’s probably a waste of time, but … well, put tail on him.’ Chambers face was already i= n a file. ‘Thanks, Martin.’

Back in his office, Colette requested a courier for Malta. Thi= rty minutes later a lady appeared; mid forties, plump, glasses.

     ‘This file, hand delivery tomorrow, secure hand-over to our man only,’ Cole= tte listed off. ‘His mobile number is on the Post-It note so call him when you arrive there, I’ll brief the agent now. Oh, have you met Canuck before? I did ask for someone who had.’

     ‘Twice, sir. Michael J. Canuck, pronounced Can-ook. He dropped out of Oxford Univer= sity after two years, he dropped out of the Guards after two years, he dropped o= ut of Interpol after just under two years, joined us and … dropped out a= fter little more than two years.’

Colette eased back, regarding the courier coolly.

She continued, ‘He’s now a freelancer who likes to= be called Mick because it makes him sound Irish and working class, when heR= 17;s anything but that. Canadian diplomat father, English mother, Russian grandmother; speaks Russian, Arabic, and German fluently. And … he ho= lds the record for the most disciplinary hearings in a single year.’

     Colette resisted a smile. ‘And a good field agent, despite what people say.’

     ‘They say he’s a bit unstable, sir.’

     ‘Unstable?’ Colette took off his glasses and made a face. ‘Now, how could someone= who gets paid a modest fee to risk his life - or a lifetime of incarceration in= a foreign hellhole - be called unstable?’ He put his glasses back on and attended a file. ‘Thank you. Off you go.’

    

* *= *

 

‘Mick, it’s me,’ Colette said into his mobile. ‘Can you talk?’=

     ‘Sure, just sat in a café surrounded by people within earshot. But at least it’s sunny.’

     ‘Where are you?’

     ‘Somewhere warm, in a cafe. How about yourself?’

     ‘The sky is as grey as my office wall. Listen, got a job for you: it’s a simple surveillance job for a week or two, courier heading to Malta tomorrow morning, Wednesday. She’ll call you when she gets there. Money and details with the courier.’

     ‘And the job’s particulars?’

     ‘Low grade tail, a clean suspect with an interesting brother. He might be a mess= age gofer of some sort.’

     ‘I’ll pack my case, clean my teeth and shine my shoes. What’s the courier like?’

     ‘I wouldn’t, so you definitely wouldn’t. Call me after you get the file.’

     Colette’s secretary was staring across as he ended the call.

     ‘What?’ he asked with a shrug. ‘When dealing with … the boys, you have to be … one of the boys, you know … talk in their language.’

     Her expression hadn’t altered.

 

2

 

At Malta’s Luqa Airp= ort, the courier stepped out to the busy taxi rank and into the sun, placing on = her sunglasses. She dialled the number.

     ‘Universal Exports,’ Mick answered.

     ‘Ha bloody ha,’ the courier said. ‘Where are you?’

     ‘Get a taxi to the Hilton Hotel, St. Julian’s Bay.’

     ‘I know it.’

     ‘Don’t go in, go into the marina next door, down the steps all the way and meander around to the left till you can meander no more due to the ocean being in t= he way. It’s a lovely day so … take your time.’

     ‘See you soon.’ She grabbed the next taxi, her bag over her shoulder, and joined the traffic heading towards St. Julian’s Bay, just a few miles southeast of the airport. Paying the driver outside the Hilton Hotel, she walked away from the hotel, its reception at the end of a cul-de-sac, and f= ound the steps leading down to the marina on the left.

     ‘Very nice,’ she said as she stepped down to the first landing, glancing at= the upmarket open-air restaurants positioned either side of the steps, the establishments currently closed, the marina seemingly devoid of tourists at= the moment. She checked menus posted to a board. ‘And suitably expensive.’

     She negotiated steep concrete steps till she drew level with the pontoons and boats, stood in a small half-circle marina dominated by a cliff-like arrangement of apartments behind her, the apartments blocking the sun in th= is part of the marina. She scanned the beautiful, yet oddly quiet marina, the boats all similar white cruisers with blue cloth covers. They varied in siz= e, but hardly varied in design as they bobbed gently.

     Turning left, she noted the closed offices of a marine engineering company that had seen better days, the Hilton Hotel now above her head. A wooden bridge presented itself, a way for pedestrians to cross a small offshoot of the ma= rina that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Walking over, she stepped into the s= un and warmed immediately, following the path around to the left.

     She emerged onto a square dock that had obviously been a functional part of the local port at some point in history, now full of boats awaiting some attent= ion from their rich and absent owners. The marina was currently devoid of peopl= e, leaving her wondering if this was the right place.

     A pleasant hundred-yard stroll took her past a scuba diving centre, the centre now closed, and brought her to the far side of the marina. She was now faci= ng the way she had come, suddenly realising that it would have been impossible= for anyone to follow her, and that that was probably the reason for her being h= ere. The gentle roar of the ocean called to her from the other side of a breakwa= ter, but she couldn’t see over it, a little sea spray registering on her cheeks. Her phone trilled.

     ‘Yes?’

     ‘Enjoying the stroll?’

     ‘It’s lovely here, so you take your time.’

     ‘I figured you could use a walk after the flight. Double back, up the stairs, cross the road and down, straight ahead and up the hill into Paceville, fin= d a restaurant and have a cold drink. I’ll be ten minutes.’ The line went dead.

     The courier slowly retraced her steps, ambling back around the dock in no particular hurry and staring down into the clear and inviting turquoise wat= er. Back at the top of the steps she crossed the cul-de-sac, the Hilton’s entrance on the right, noticing now steps leading down to a road running al= most parallel, the other side of a tall tower. Reaching that road, she headed up= the hill at a gentle pace till the shops and cafes began, choosing one with a l= arge green awning.

     ‘Hello,’ the waitress offered.

     ‘Large orange juice, please, with ice. Oh, and do you have a sandwich?’

     ‘Cheese, tuna –’

     ‘Tuna. Thanks.’

     With the drink and sandwich placed down she tucked in, watching the street and trying to remember what Canuck looked like. Six foot, athletic build, collar length medium brown hair, and not bad looking.

     He suddenly pulled out a chair and sat beside her, placing down a half drunk b= eer. She glanced over her shoulder, Canuck having come from inside the caf&eacut= e;, her contact now wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses.

‘Nice day for it,’ he offered.

     ‘How did you know I’d choose this café?’

     ‘It’s the first suitable café up that road. So, you have something for me?’

     She opened her bag on her lap. ‘One thousand five hundred Euros. Count and sign, please.’

     Under the table, Mick flicked a thumb across the wad of Euros, placing it in a shoulder bag of his own. The courier presented a yellow pad, Mick signing a= nd dating, stating the amount in words underneath. Next came a thin file, hand= ed over without inspection and also placed into his bag, a second page of the = pad signed and dated.

     ‘All done?’ he asked.

     ‘All done - Mick,’ she confirmed, a glint in her eye.

     ‘It’s been a pleasure,’ he said with a grin. Scraping back his chair, he st= ood and entered the café. Unknown to the courier, he exited via a door in the toilets. She slowly finished her drink and sandwich, but he didn’t reappear.

 

* *= *

 

Twenty minutes later, Mick stepped into a quiet back-street bar in St. Paul’s Bay, populated now= by just two old men sat drinking. He tossed a set of car keys to the barman, a stocky white-haired man in his sixties with a ruddy complexion.

     ‘My car still in one piece?’ the barman asked.

     ‘Jim, that car is worth more as scrap. Pour a damn beer.’

     ‘Did you … get the job?’

     ‘Yep,’ Mick said as he sat in the corner and opened his shoulder bag.

     The pint of beer was brought over, placed down as Jim sat. ‘Any … w= ork for me?’ Jim risked.

     ‘This job is a babysitting routine, mate; the guy’s clean, but his in-laws = are dirty.’

     ‘Hah! If the family is dirty, he’s dirty,’ Jim countered. ‘Didn’t I teach you anything?’

     Mick sipped his beer. Placing down the glass, he said, ‘The guy arrives on= the three o’clock flight from Rome.’ He checked his watch. ‘F= ancy closing up early?’

     Jim took in the two old men near the door. ‘This time of year the place is dead.’ Loudly, he called, ‘Time gentlemen, please!’

     The pensioners glanced around, checking watches and wall clocks, before attempt= ing to finish their drinks quickly in numerous small sips.

     ‘Am I … getting paid for this taxi service?’ Jim nudged.

     Mick handed over a crisp fifty Euro note. ‘How do you manage to survive he= re anyway?’

     ‘It’s all paid for – no mortgage, the bills are low, and the summer is good enough to make up for the quiet winters. I go fishing a lot.’<= /p>

     ‘How long now since … you know?’

     Jim turned away, watching his two customers shuffle out, alone with his thoughts for a moment. ‘She’ll be gone five years in May.’<= /p>

     ‘Your kids?’

     ‘Paul was out here with his wife and the grandkids a few months back – first time in three years, and Susan’s … she’s not one for flyi= ng. I have to go to her.’

     Mick took in the run-down Irish theme bar, a bar that could be found in a thousa= nd locations around the Med, run by a thousand retired Brits. ‘Is all of your retirement money tied up in this dump?’

     Jim made a face. ‘Selling it now would lose money, but I might move on. T= he summer is a killer, being open from eleven in the morning till gone one at night. And I can’t afford the staff.’

     Mick flicked through the notes on Sayeed. ‘I always fancied my own bar, but – you know – somewhere with a bit of a buzz, girls in bikinis.’

     ‘Yeah, well I’m a bit beyond all that.’ Jim gestured towards the file. ‘Anything interesting?’

     ‘Fifty-two year old Pakistani on a tour of Europe.’

     ‘Just wait outside the brothels for him,’ Jim scoffed.

     ‘He’ll have a hard time finding one of those around here,’ Mick pointed out = as he flicked through pages. ‘You have lap dancers that aren’t all= owed to be naked, and a street of curb crawlers that would turn the stomach of hardened sailors with one eye - after a long voyage. And drunk!’

     ‘Should see the hotels in winter, especially Christmas. An ambulance turns up each = day to take a pensioner away. More fly home in coffins than on the damn planes.’

     Mick took in the empty bar before facing his old mentor in SIS. Jim’s fore= head was pink and sunburnt, his hair thin, his eyebrows a wild mess of white hai= r, his cheeks reddened, his Adam’s Apple covered in white hair, more whi= te hair again escaping the top of his shirt. He took a moment. ‘I’= ll give you a couple days work if … there’s work to be had.= I can’t say more than that.’

     ‘Appreciate it, Mick. The last divorce case we did helped.’

     Mick sighed. ‘Yeah, could do with a few more like that.’

     ‘Do they … give you enough work?’ Jim delicately broached.

     ‘All or nothing; flat out busy for a month, three thousand Euros a month plus co= sts, then nothing for a month. But … I have other paymasters.’

     ‘Be careful, Mick. Do they … know?’

     ‘They think I do divorce work, which … technically … is true. Divorce, counter-espionage, it’s all the same – people trying catch the other side out.’

     ‘You … got some money tucked away for a rainy day?’

     Mick pursed his lips and nodded, returning to the file.

    

 

 


On = the job

 

1

 

The 3pm flight from Rome t= ouched down five minutes early. Mick stood just inside the main doors of the small airport, holding up an A4 sign saying ‘WILSON’; bold black lett= ers on a white background. Opposite him stood a local taxi driver with a sign saying ‘HOFFMAN.’ Mick wore a baseball cap and sunglasses as before, and now leant on a stainless steel railing awaiting the mark, secur= e in the knowledge that no one would pay him any attention at all.

     Twenty minutes later Sayeed walked past, a quick glance at the name signs. Mick straightened, took out his mobile and dialled the last number, cutting the = call after two seconds and quickly pocketing the phone. He rolled up the sign as= he stepped out, turning the baseball cap around. Jim pulled up in a dusty and beaten-up old white Fiat Punto, being tooted at since he was not a taxi.

Mick jumped into the back. ‘Follow that taxi,’ he theatrically announced, pointing forwards. ‘But I got its number in c= ase you frigging lose him, old man.’

     Jim accelerated, soon positioning himself to be one car behind the taxi, Mick hiding behind Jim’s head and shoulders, but focused on Sayeed. Jim sa= id, ‘Looks like he’s heading for St. Julian’s Bay, Mick. Is t= his guy a big spender?’

     ‘Apparently not.’

Mick opened a knapsack on the back seat. Taking off his cap, he gelled his hair back with a colouring gel, combing it straight as they sped along. Wiping his hands in a cloth, he placed on clear glasses. Hanging off= the front passenger seat was a white cotton jacket that needed ironing. Mick grabbed it, struggling to get it on in the back seat, taking out a German passport and placing it into his shirt’s breast pocket.

     ‘The mark is definitely heading to St. Julian’s,’ Jim said from up f= ront as they left a dual carriageway and joined the traffic.

     ‘Are they ever going to fix these fucking roads?’ Mick complained as they crawled along dusty potholed streets.

     ‘I’ve been coming here thirty years, and trust me – this is better.’

     ‘If it looks like it is the Hilton, then drop me in the next street - by the st= eps, don’t pull up next to him in this.’

     ‘What, don’t you think this’ll pass for a new Mercedes taxi?’ Jim protested.

     Five minutes later, Jim said, ‘It is the Hilton!’ He screeche= d to a halt at the base of the steps, the steps that the courier had ambled down earlier.

     Mick jumped out, grabbing an abnormally light suitcase from the boot and rushing= up the steps, the suitcase light due to its limited contents. At the top of the steps he extended the suitcase handle and walked calmly along the cul-de-sa= c, Sayeed now having his own case placed down by his taxi driver.

In reception, Mick drew alongside Sayeed. ‘Speak … Deutsche?’ he asked the lady receptionist. She called over a man in h= is late forties.

‘Kann ich ihnen hilfen?’

In German, Mick said, ‘I haven’t made a reservatio= n, I’m off a boat. Do you have a room, please?’

     ‘A single room, sir?’

     ‘Please.’

 &nb= sp;   Sayeed filled in his booking card, a glance at the tall and well-built German next= to him.

     ‘Room 310, sir,’ the receptionist informed Sayeed. ‘Up two floors.= 217; She placed his key card in a small cardboard wallet and handed it over with= a second page of detail. ‘Meal times, sir. Three days with breakfast, restaurant is downstairs, sauna and spa two floors down.’

     ‘Thank you,’ Sayeed offered. He turned to grab his case, but took a long ten seconds to scan the street through the glass doors, that action now noticed= by Mick. Walking off dragging his suitcase, Sayeed carefully studied guests sa= t in the foyer before turning towards the lifts.

     ‘Your key, sir,’ brought Mick back to the man attending him. The receptioni= st swiped Mick’s Santander Bank credit card, handing it back as he typed into a computer. ‘Room 317. Three days, bed and breakfast.’

     ‘Danke.’

     Mick caught the next lift car after Sayeed, carefully watching the floor that the mark had gone to, the sixth floor according to the display. The hotel’= ;s reception sat at street level, but was actually on the third floor due to the hill th= at the hotel was built into. Exiting the lift, Mick could see Sayeed enter a r= oom, the suitcase dragged. Hunting for his own room, he found it almost opposite Sayeed’s, a little closer to the lift.

     Inside the room, he called Jim. ‘You still there?’

     ‘Round the corner. How’d it go?’

     ‘Fine, but the mark is nervous.’

     ‘Told you he was dirty.’

     ‘You’re on a retainer till tomorrow midnight, usual rates. Park up, go sit in the m= ain square with a paper and look for a Pakistani in a smart suit, short black h= air, about five ten tall, bit of a pot belly. Call me if I miss him.’

     ‘I’m on it.’

     Mick selected a number. ‘Colette, it’s Mick.’

     ‘Got him?’

     ‘I’m in the room opposite his at the Hilton.’

     ‘Expensive?’

     ‘Single room is a hundred and ten Euros a night with breakfast; it’s low seas= on. Anyway, our boy is nervous.’

     ‘Yes?’

     ‘Either he’s not as clean as we think, or he thinks we’ll follow him because of his brother. But if he thinks we’ll follow him anyway - th= en why does he care, and why’s he checking over his shoulder?’

     ‘Given who his brother is he’s bound to be a bit paranoid. Got to go.’ Colette hung up.

     Mick heard a door slam and rushed to his own door, his palms flat, his eye flush against the peephole. Sayeed. Mick lifted his mobile and selected the last number called. ‘Jim, he’s moving,’ he whispered. ‘C= over the end of the cul-de-sac, I’ll be three minutes behind.’

     Mick tore off his jacket and threw it onto the bed. Opening his case he pulled o= ut a blue shirt, placing it over his white short-sleeved shirt, fastening just t= hree buttons. Grabbing a blue baseball cap and his sunglasses, he tapped his poc= kets before finally opening the door.

     Sayeed was not visible in the foyer, but Mick did not wish to be seen to be looking around the plush seated area below reception. He stepped outside and into t= he bright afternoon sun, Sayeed visible at the top of the steps, but seemingly halting. Mick knelt next to a green and yellow Mercedes taxi, the driver winding down the powered window.

     ‘Sorry, my English … not good,’ Mick said. ‘To go to the Gozzo Island, it is … aeroplane?’

     ‘No, no. Taxi or bus to ferry, and boat.’

     ‘Ah, boat, yes.’ Sayeed disappeared from view. ‘Thank you.’

Straightening, Mick walked around the cul-de-sac and across the entrance of the tall tower, soon stood observing Sayeed from above, and now being shaded by a large bush in a concrete base. Sayeed stopped to ask directions, crossed the road and asked a second time, soon heading left and towards the main square.

     Mick raised his mobile. ‘Coming your way, light grey jacket. Give me his direction, then get the car, we’ll swap.’

     ‘Moving.’

     Mick walked casually down the steps, a deliberately slow pace. Not following Say= eed’s path, he walked one block over and turned left, crossing over and closing i= n on the square. Sayeed eventually came into view, no sign of Jim yet.

Mick’s phone trilled a minute later. ‘He’s h= eading down the coast road,’ Jim said.

     ‘I’ll take him. Get the car and wait over the other side of the bay.’

     Darting through the traffic, Mick jogged across to the busy main square, populated = with bored taxi drivers sat waiting some trade, and slowed right down, ambling a= long in the late afternoon sun, pigeons moving aside. Sayeed’s jacket stood out amongst the tourists, but his direction was being fixed for him by the layout of the bay.

Ducking into a café to read their menu, Mick could see = that Sayeed would soon be on an exposed stretch of busy road, the harbour on one side and hard for a tail not to be spotted. He lifted his phone. ‘Dou= ble back, pick me up.’

‘Give me a minute.’

Mick crossed the road, flagging Jim down thirty seconds later,= Jim being tooted at by angry Maltese drivers. ‘Drive up and around, plent= y of time, and back to where you were.’

     Jim turned in the square, being tooted at again, and sped down the hill and onto the bay road, turning left up a hill and a sharp right at the top. Noticing= a vacant parking place, Jim ducked in and screeched to a halt. He pointed to = the road ahead. ‘Down this road, it’s easy to follow someone in a car.’

     ‘Yep,’ Mick agreed, adjusting the car’s mirrors.

     Ten minutes later, Jim said. ‘Here he comes.’

     ‘Pull forward to the next curve in the road.’

     They moved a hundred yards along the road and found a vacant parking place.

     ‘Still coming,’ Jim confirmed.

They waited.

     ‘He’s crossed over,’ Jim noted. ‘Obviously not wanting to take in the nice sea view like a normal tourist.’

     Mick swivelled around, an arm on the seat back. ‘Fuck, he’s just gone into that hotel! What hotel is that?’

     Jim craned his neck around. ‘That’s … the Metropole.’

     ‘Quick, go book in, make up a story. Got a passport?’

     ‘What the hell would I carry it for? I live here!’

     ‘ID of some sort?’ Mick pressed.

     ‘Yeah.’

     ‘Go tell them you’re a resident, but have relatives in your flat, or a bu= rst pipe. Book two days!’

     Jim eased out and crossed the road.

After five minutes of observing the hotel in the car’s mirrors, and pedestrians out strolling, Mick stepped out and stretched, par= tly hidden from a direct line of sight of the hotel’s front by numerous s= mall concession stands. Turning, he walked to the nearest of the stands. A couple were stood at the stand, but did not seem to be being served.

     ‘Got a large bottle of water, love?’ Mick asked the lady inside. He grabbed two chocolate bars. She handed over the water bottle, Mick paying four Euro= s.

     ‘He’s inside the hotel. Do we go in?’ came a whisper, uttered by the woman = to Mick’s side. But in Russian.

     Mick turned away and carried his purchases back towards the car, every step take= n in slow motion, his eyes everywhere. He immediately noticed two suspicious men= sat in a white hire car. Beyond them, he noticed a moped rider in black leather= s, stopped and facing the hotel. Finally he noticed two local police officers strolling towards Jim’s car.

     Mick tossed the chocolates onto the back seat, cracking open the bottle’s = top. Pouring water on the windscreen, some on the rear window, he knew that he w= as in plain view of the two men in the car, as well as the Russian couple. He sipped some of the water, noting that the police officers were getting clos= e.

     Placing the bottle in the back of the car, he turned to face the officers. ‘S= orry to trouble you. I live here – retired from Interpol, but I was trying= to get a license for a boat mooring - not in the marina, but a small fishing boat.’

     ‘You mean, the red ball on the water, like that?’ the first officer asked = with an accent.

     ‘Yes, like that, for a little fishing boat.’

     ‘Officially, they don’t make new ones, you have to buy it from an existing owner, = and then pay to have it recognised. Thirty Euro. But many people make their own= if it’s a quiet area.’

     ‘So … I have to find someone with one first, because I haven’t seen them advertised.’

     ‘You won’t, they are always kept and passed down – the good ones.= 217;

     ‘You said you were Interpol?’ the second officer asked, the older of the t= wo men.

     ‘Yes, Berlin, nine years. I had enough and came down here.’

     ‘I worked in Interpol, Brussels, for a two year exchange.’

     ‘Oh, excellent,’ Mick said with a smile. He pulled out his wallet and show= ed the man a photograph taken at Interpol Headquarters, a group of graduates posing.’

     ‘You did the course?’

     ‘Yeah, that was interesting enough. But chasing Russians smuggling BMWs to the east was boring. I came down here a lot for scuba diving, I’m an instructor -’

     ‘You know the Paradise Bay dive centre?’

     ‘Up by the ferry, yes. Dived off the wall on the left many times, out to the wr= eck, especially at night.’

     ‘Next month I do my Divemaster exam there.’

     ‘Studying hard?’

     ‘When I can.’

     ‘Say, tell me, what is it with Maltese airline pilots? Are they all women?’=

     The officers smiled widely. ‘We have many lady pilots, but don’t go upsetting them. As the aircraft captain they can remove you.’<= /p>

     Mick laughed, taking back the photograph. ‘I dive up at the ferry often; i= f I see you I’ll buy you a beer afterwards. Thanks for the advice on the moorings.’ He extended a hand and shook with both officers, waving th= em off, all smiles, before sitting in the car, certain now that the officers appeared more as friends to a local resident than anything else.

     Jim appeared a few minutes later. Mick jumped out. ‘What the hell was that?’ Mick barked.

     Jim stopped dead. ‘What?’

     ‘You were only supposed to look at the vending machine, not stop for a sleep.= 217;

     ‘Ah…’ Jim let out. He opened the car door. ‘Do it your fucking self next time,’ he shouted before getting in, Mick easing back into the car. ‘We got company?’

     ‘There are more watchers on this street than you could poke a stick at.’

     Jim pulled away.

     ‘Did he meet someone in there?’ Mick asked.

     ‘No, he booked in.’

     ‘He booked in?’

     ‘Yep. Room 127, sea view, thirty-five Euros a night.’

     ‘Do you smell that, Jim?’ Mick asked, staring out at the ocean.

     ‘I smell a giant rat,’ Jim said. ‘There was a dodgy looking guy sa= t in reception and eyeing Sayeed. And did you see the moped?’

     ‘I did.’ Mick dialled Colette as they drove. ‘Got a minute, boss?’

     ‘Shoot.’

     ‘You want to tell me what the fuck’s going on?’ Mick loudly asked.

     ‘Meaning?’

     ‘Meaning … that Malta is hosting a spy convention, guest of honour and chief m= ark being Sayeed.’

     ‘He has a tail?’ Colette puzzled.

     ‘We’ve been on him less than an hour, and we’ve counted five fucking tails! = Not only that, he’s booked himself into two separate hotels.’

     ‘I’ll call you back in ten.’

 

Colette knocked on Chambers’ door. Poking his head in, Chambers peered over the rims of = his glasses.

     ‘Come in.’

     Colette stepped in and closed the door. ‘Slight … hiccup, sir, with Sayeed.’ He sat.

     ‘Did he arrive?’

     ‘Yes, and our man followed him to the Hilton Hotel. But then our man noticed that Sayeed was twitchy.’

     ‘Twitchy?’

     ‘Looking over his shoulder … twitchy.’

     ‘So, he may be a gofer,’ Chambers realised.

     Colette’s expression suggested trouble.

     ‘Something?’ Chambers asked.

     ‘First, Sayeed booked himself into two separate hotels, and second … there are half a dozen different tails on him.’

     ‘Ah...’ Chambers took his glasses off and eased back, deep in thought for a moment,= his chest rising and falling. ‘I do not … wish us to be step= ping on anyone’s toes – we don’t need an incident. Tell your m= an he has twenty-four hours. Then, if he can’t tail him without rubbing shoulders, I want him pulled off. Follow Sayeed in the computer.’

     ‘And if Sayeed is up to something?’

     ‘Then he won’t get very far with his plans, not with that many bedfellows.’

     ‘I checked the computer again, spoke to the French and Italians. No one’s interested in Sayeed, no one has an active file, Interpol has no interest – and the Maltese obviously don’t care.’

     Chambers made a face. ‘Any clues as to who the other teams belonged to?’=

     ‘If I may, sir.’ Colette dialled Mick. ‘It’s me. Any national= ity on the other teams?’

     ‘Russian.’

     ‘Thanks.’ He hung up, carefully pronouncing, ‘Russians.’

     ‘Russians? Tailing Sayeed on our turf? Oh, no, no, no … that is most definite= ly not allowed. Tell your man to track the Russians; put some extra bodies on = it. If the Russians are interested in Sayeed then I’m damn well intereste= d as well.’

    

Mick answered his phone to Colette as Jim drove around in circles through the town. ‘Mick, we’re very interested in the Russians, and what they’re after.’

     ‘No problem. I’ve got old Jim with me, you remember Jim Turvil?’

     ‘Yes, I forgot he retired to Malta.’

     ‘Can we find him a week’s pay as a driver?’

     ‘Yes, definitely. And try and identify the other parties for me.’

     ‘Will do, boss.’ Mick hung up and faced Jim. ‘You got a week’s work.’

     ‘Excellent.’

     ‘Head back around, we’ll sniff out the Russians.’

     They spotted Sayeed walking back around the bay, and possibly back to the Hilton. Behind him the couple strolled hand in hand.

     ‘That’s them,’ Mick said, glancing over his shoulder as they drove past. ‘Park near the square, I’ll jump out. When the happy couple wan= der past, nudge them from behind.’

     ‘Nudge them?’

     ‘Enough to shake them up; I’ll be the helpful bystander.’

     ‘I could do without trouble from the local police,’ Jim firmly requested. ‘I have to live here!’

     ‘Just a nudge. Besides, they won’t want anything to do with the local polic= e; they’re probably on fake passports. Relax, I’ve never steered y= ou wrong.’

     Jim shot Mick a look of clenched teeth and curled lips.

     ‘OK, OK, just a gentle nudge for the happy couple,’ Mick nudged.

 

2

 

Mick ran to the road as th= e thud of two pedestrians impacting a car registered with bystanders, the bored ta= xi drivers stepping forwards at the chance of some excitement. Jim had hit the couple from behind – harder than he had meant to, and now stepped out, loudly proclaiming his apologies.

     ‘I saw it, they just stepped out,’ Mick stated as he knelt. ‘Are y= ou OK?’

     The man was dazed, the woman clutching her elbow.

     ‘Are you OK?’ Mick loudly asked as he relieved the man of his wallet, toss= ing it under the car and next to a wheel. He lifted the man up and handed him to Jim, who then helped the injured man to lean against the car as Mick tended= the lady, a crowd starting to gather. ‘To the bench,’ Mick told Jim= , and assisted the lady towards the seats vacated by the taxi drivers.

     Easing the lady down, Mick allowed a Maltese woman to assist, soon finding a police motorbike in front of Jim’s car. Mick approached the officer as the m= an took off his gloves and helmet. ‘I saw it all; they just stepped out = and were hit from behind by this car. They don’t seem hurt, just a bit bruised.’

     With the officer approaching the injured party, Mick retrieved the wallet, pretending to look for damage to the car, everyone now focused on the coupl= e. Back at the edge of the crowd, he could now see two officers on foot approaching, the same two officers Mick had spoken to outside the Metropole= .

     ‘Shit,’ Mick whispered, turning and circling away from the officers. With his head = low he walked off, jumping into the first taxi on the rank. ‘Silema, please.’

     In Silema shopping centre, Mick paid the driver, walked through the bustling shopping streets, ducked around the corner and flagged down a second taxi, = soon back at the Hilton and in his room. Sitting on the bed, he opened the walle= t.

     ‘Oleg Djubornov, a … Ukrainian from … Kiev. No you’re not my friend, not with that accent.’

     The wallet gave up two hundred US Dollars, fifty Euros, a train ticket stub from Kiev to Odessa, a Ukrainian driving license, and a folded piece of paper. M= ick opened it and read the Cyrillic script letters: Sayeed, Malta, Hotel Metrop= ole.

     ‘Well that’s naughty, Oleg, because I wasn’t told what hotel he’= ;d be staying at. So how come you knew the hotel, my friend. And you got a nic= e lady assistant to work with.’

     Mick’s phone chirped. ‘Yeah?’

     ‘Where the hell did you get to?’ Jim loudly asked.

     ‘Two local police officers I spoke to earlier approached, I had to be gone. What happened?’

     ‘The police took our details, but the Russians didn’t want to make a complaint. They stormed off. The Russians I mean.’

     ‘I got the guy’s wallet. Listen, grab a quick bite to eat, stock up the = car with food and drink and meet me behind the Metropole in an hour. And don’t forget, you’re being paid, so be punctual.’ Mick co= uld hear cursing as he hung up.

    

* *= *

 

Colette answered his mobil= e with ‘Hello?’

     ‘It’s Mick. Got a paper and pen?’

     ‘Fire away.’

     Mick read out the driver’s license details. ‘Have a nose on the computer, I think they’re Russians posing as Ukrainians.’

     ‘And you got this information…?’

     ‘The guy dropped his wallet. But I will return it.’

     ‘Sayeed?’

     ‘Back here for now.’

     ‘Good work on the Russians – and quick work. I’ll call you back.̵= 7;

 

* *= *

 

With a sandwich ordered fr= om room service, an expensive sandwich at twelve Euros, Mick sat on a chair ne= xt to the door. Several door slams signalled false starts, regular hotel guests glimpsed walking past, their images distorted by the fish-eye lens of the door’s spy hole. Finally, Sayeed was moving.

     Mick checked his watch. 7pm. ‘Evening meal, but not in the hotel.’ <= /span>

Listening intently, he opened the door a crack and waited for = the ‘ping’ of the lift. With the lift door closed, Mick stepped out, grey jacket, clear glasses, dark trousers, fake goatee beard in pocket. It would not hold up to scrutiny, but from across the road it served its purpo= se, especially at night.

     He dialled Jim as he approached the lift. ‘He’s on his way, so dri= ve over to the square. Oh, and Jim – drive carefully, eh.’<= /p>

     Sayeed wasn’t visible in the foyer, but the Russian couple were sat in the p= lush area below reception. And – oddly enough, from where they sat they wo= uld have had little chance of seeing Sayeed leave. Through the hotel’s automatic glass doors, Sayeed could be seen heading for the steps.

     Stepping out, and lifting his welcome note as he walked, Mick dialled the number of = the Hilton. ‘Ah, I wonder if you can help me. Could you page Oleg Djuborn= ov for me, he should be waiting in reception. That’s Oleg Djubornov. Tha= nks.’

     Stood next to the tower, Mick could see Sayeed heading up the hill towards Pacevi= lle. He moved slowly towards the steps with the phone still to his ear. ‘No response? Try his business: Oleg from the SVR. Thanks,’ Mick said as = he negotiated the steps. Smiling widely, he hung up and dialled Jim. ‘Ji= m, he’s heading up into Paceville. Park up and see if you can pick him u= p at the start of the bars.’

     ‘On it.’

    

* *= *

 

‘He’s just sat= there stuffing his face, his back to the crowd,’ Jim noted an hour later. ‘Anyone could just walk by and stab him. In that crowd, no one would notice!’

     ‘He does seem to be … a bit obvious,’ Mick commented, sat with a be= er in hand. ‘And he must have seen the tails earlier.’ He moved his chair in as people squeezed past and to the next table, the bar they were in busy, the pedestrian thoroughfare outside bustling.

     Jim tipped his head to the left. ‘Aye, aye.’

     Mick could see the Russian couple taking a table at a bar, the opposite side of = the busy thoroughfare to Sayeed, and the next bar down to his own. The steps between the bars were packed, mostly with locals, the music from several ba= rs competing to be heard.

     ‘I haven’t been up here for ages,’ Jim noted.

     ‘It is a bit loud,’ Mick agreed, taking out his phone. Squinting towards = the sign on the next bar, Mick carefully entered the establishment’s numb= er into his phone and checked it. He pressed the green button and put a finger= in his other ear.

     ‘Hello, er … I wonder if you can help me. I was due to meet my friends in your bar. Can you look for a man and woman, Russian, about thirty, the man weari= ng a blue shirt and blue jeans, the woman in a red top. His name is Oleg. Can you tell him its Mister Putin. Thanks.’

     ‘What the hell are you doing?’ Jim whispered.

     Mick leant forwards, across the table. ‘They were in the Hilton foyer earl= ier, so I paged them using his real name – from the wallet. A professional would have left the country by now; this guy don’t know when to quit.’

     They both turned, observing as a waitress approached the Russian couple, Mick hitting the red button and hanging up as the waitress asked the Russians if they were the couple in question. Heads shaking, Oleg and his companion got= up and walked off.

     Jim laughed, shaking his own head as Mick put his phone away. Two tall men, dre= ssed all in black, squeezed past and took the next table, a corner table with a clear view of Sayeed.

     Mick suddenly adopted a louder voice, and a crude tone. ‘So what’s ‘em lap dance bars like, you reckon they’re any good? Are they = as good as Spain?’

     Jim had been squinting back, but quickly got into character. ‘Guy in my h= otel says that the girls here - they don’t take their clothes off.’<= /span>

     ‘They don’t take their clothes off?’ Mick repeated.

     ‘No,’ Jim confirmed. ‘They have clothes on, and they strip down to a bikini= and … and that’s it. And they can’t dance in front of you or touch!’

     ‘How’s that lap dancing?’ Mick asked.

     The first of the two men had been listening, and now turned towards Mick and Ji= m. In an accented voice, he said, ‘Sorry. You say here … lap dance with clothes?’

     Jim nodded. ‘Really strange it is, but cheap – like ten Euros.̵= 7;

     ‘Ten Euros. But … you can do nothing?’

     The second man turned inward, but in sight of Sayeed.

     ‘Nothing,’ Jim confirmed. ‘But there is a street … you know, of ladies. But apparently they are … you know, not worth going to.’

     ‘It’s not like Europe,’ the first man noted, Mick considering the man’= ;s accent as possibly Czech.

     ‘You down here for a drinking holiday?’ Mick asked.    

     ‘Drinking … holiday? Ah, no. Diving.’

     ‘Diving, underwater diving?’ Mick asked, the man nodding. ‘You wouldn’t see me with that equipment on. Swimming in the sea, fine, but under … nah.’

     ‘You are … drink holiday?’

     Mick nodded. ‘It’s cheap, very cheap down here in the winter. Only o= ld people you see.’

     The men nodded. ‘Let us get you a drink.’

     ‘Never say no, very kind of you. Where you from?’

     They exchanged a quick look. ‘Germany.’

     ‘You Germans are all big strong lads,’ Jim said, tapping the nearest man’s broad shoulders.

 

Three beers later, everyon= e was merry, the two “Germans” quite relaxed, but secure in their position observing Sayeed, Mick and Jim coming across as stupid British dru= nks on holiday. When Sayeed finally decided he’d had enough of the loud music, the two “Germans” stood.

     ‘Off now?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Yah, our woman … in hotel.’

     ‘Well good luck with the … you know, diving stuff.’ They were waved o= ff.

     Jim eased closer. ‘Christ, Mick; there’re more people watching our = mark than there are in this bar. And I’m sure I saw a pistol grip.’<= /span>

     Mick’s features changed. ‘You sure?’

     Jim nodded, a stern expression offered.

     Mick stood. ‘C’mon then, let’s spoil their fucking night.̵= 7;

     At the top of the busy thoroughfare, Mick caught sight of the two “Germans”, easy enough to spot the men since they were tall, we= ll built and dressed in black. Quickening his pace, he closed in to within ten yards of the men, the crowds thickening, the pedestrians being weaved aroun= d. Where the steps met the road, two police officers in blue stood next to a patrol car. Mick rushed over.

     ‘Officer, these two men, big German men in black,’ Mick said pointing. ‘We saw a gun in their belt, a pistol.’

     The police in the car were soon out, one officer on his radio, the first two officers weaving through the crowds. Jim caught up with Mick, now taken by = the arm and down a side street. They stopped on a corner and looked back, the police pointing guns at the “Germans”.

     ‘Go take a closer look,’ Mick said. ‘Not too close!’

     Five minutes later, Jim returned. ‘Pistols,’ he carefully mouthed, n= ot looking happy.

     Mick took a moment, staring at his old friend. ‘Let’s circle around = to the car.’ He dialled Colette as they walked along quiet and dark side streets, the air full of the sound of sirens.

     ‘Mick?’ Colette asked.

     ‘Yeah, got a problem.’

     ‘What’s happened?’

     ‘We just spotted two goons following Sayeed, muscle bound idiots that sounded l= ike they were Czech. And Colette, they were armed.’

     ‘Armed?’

     ‘We just tipped off the police, who grabbed them, pistols recovered. Mister Col= ette … you know better than anyone how difficult it is to get weapons onto= the island. These two idiots were not very good, but their paymaster is not half bad.’

     ‘That Ukrainian drivers license is fake.’

     ‘No shit. Mister Colette, is there something we should know?’

     ‘You already know more than I do.’

     ‘That’s not very inspiring, boss. Listen, we’re unarmed and tailing someone w= ith no record – supposedly; you said nothing about a shooting war.’=

     ‘I’ll get the details of the men who were arrested in the morning. In the meantim= e, pull back.’ He ended the call.

     ‘We’ve been ordered to ease off,’ Mick commented as they neared the car, lef= t by Jim in a quiet side street.

     ‘Do we still get paid for the week?’ Jim queried.

     Mick shrugged. ‘You OK to drive?’

     Jim nodded. ‘I had Shandy.’

At the first junction, Mick said, ‘Fuck it. You need the money, and I can take these amateurs.’ He faced Jim and waited.

     ‘Well, if you think we’ll get paid…’

     ‘You want to quit?’

     Jim took a moment. ‘No.’

     Mick faced the empty junction, and the quiet street beyond. ‘We carry on then.’

     Jim pointed. ‘Is that Sayeed?’

     Mick peered through the window. ‘Yep. Taking a very slow and roundabout way back to the Hilton.’

     ‘Don’t look left,’ Jim said. ‘Scooter. It’s the same guy.’=

     ‘Don’t pull off yet.’

     Jim checked his mirror. ‘Nothing behind us.’

     The scooter pulled forwards and turned, obviously watching Sayeed.

     ‘Now, does that guy work with the Russians, or the other two?’ Mick thought= out loud. ‘Jim, how’s your driving?’

     Jim sighed. ‘Not very good, not today.’

     ‘So it can’t get any worse then. Go.’

     They glanced left and right before pulling off the empty junction, taking the co= rner on the wrong side and swiping the scooter side on and into the back of a van with a thud. Jim hit the brakes, Mick’s door open before the car had stopped. Running around the van, the street dark and quiet, Mick found the rider sat on the road. A powerful kick to the front of the helmet knocked t= he rider backwards.

     Mick placed the man’s foot on the curb, stamping down with all his weight = and strength, a muffled cry coming from within the black helmet. Mick tore at t= he man’s trousers, finding a wallet. Back in the car, Mick said, ‘Go!’

     Jim pulled off with a screech, reaching a brightly lit main junction at the end= of the road.

     ‘Metropole,’ Mick said as he opened the wallet, Jim turning right at the junction. ‘Ah, bollocks.’

     ‘What?’

     ‘Interpol. Special Investigations Division.’

     ‘Interpol? We knocked down an Interpol officer? Jesus, Mick.’

     ‘Relax, the guy didn’t see our car. He felt it, but he didn’t see it.’ He wound down his window as they crossed the bay, throwing the wallet out hard and into the water. Winding the window up, Mick said, ‘Here, four hundred Euros for you - he won’t be needing it. He won’t be doing any figure skating for a while either.’

     ‘Jesus, Mick.’

     ‘Look, if these shits are all over Sayeed we don’t get the job. And tomorrow morning I want to report to Colette that the teams have gone.’=

     ‘Gone? Been done over gone!’

     They pulled up near the Metropole hotel.

     ‘C’mon, Jim, they were rank amateurs; look how easily we played them. This is no= t … a high stakes game.’ They clambered out. ‘You got your = room key?’

     ‘Yeah.’

     ‘I want you to zero the guy you saw earlier, and then leave him to me. OK?R= 17;

     Jim reluctantly nodded as they crossed the road.

‘And tell me you don’t miss this.’

 &nb= sp;   Jim tried, and failed, not to smile. ‘I must be mad.’

     ‘No, retiring down here to open that crappy fucking bar - that was mad!’    

     They reached the hotel entrance. ‘OK, stupid drunk Brits on holiday, quiet= but wobbly.’

     In the bar, Jim ordered them both drinks, Mick’s eyes closing, a hand on Jim’s shoulder for support; the act had begun. Drinks in hands, and c= risp packets gripped by fingers, they sat, Jim deliberately sitting near the mar= k, a man in his fifties with a thin face and an intense stare.

     Mick placed down his beer, unsteady on his feet, and plonked down. Opening the crisps, some ending up on the floor, he dunked them into his beer before ea= ting. It elicited a disgusted look from the mark, the old ladies sat opposite not= too pleased either.

     ‘Safer in here, ladies,’ Mick told them. ‘We were up the Paceville just now, and some guy was shot.’

     ‘Shot?’ the old ladies queried.

     ‘Aye, some Pakistani fella,’ Jim put in.

     The mark looked like he had been prodded with a hot iron. ‘You say … someone was shot?’ he asked Mick in a heavily accented voice.<= /p>

     Mick put an unlit cigarette on his lip.

     ‘It’s no smoking in here,’ the ladies pointed out.

     ‘I don’t smoke,’ Mick told them. ‘I just … you know … so I don’t smoke.’

     ‘The man who was shot, you saw it?’ the mark asked.

     ‘We walked by after; fella in the road, blood everywhere,’ Mick said, slurring his words. ‘Police said he was a Pakistani tourist. Only arr= ived today, poor fella.’

     ‘Terrible business,’ Jim commented, eating his crisps. ‘First day on holi= day and all.’

     The mark got up and left the bar, heading towards the hotel foyer.

     Mick stood. ‘Where’s the bog, ladies?’

     They shot him disapproving looks, but pointed towards the foyer. Mick stepped ou= t.

     The mark reached the second corner before a fist robbed him of further thought = on the reported shooting. Mick rolled him into the gutter, shielded from the r= oad by parked cars and from behind by a closed concession. With a wallet retrie= ved, Mick put the man’s foot on the curb, and for the second time inside t= he hour broke an ankle.

     Back in the bar, Mick collected Jim. ‘C’mon, you look like you’= ;ve had enough.’ He lifted Jim up, said goodnight to the ladies, and head= ed to the lift. With the lift doors closed, Mick said, ‘Make the bed in = your room look slept in, muck up the bathroom, towels on the floor and a bit damp.’ Jim nodded as Mick produced the wallet. ‘The guy was Austrian.’

     ‘And when will he wake up?’ Jim knowingly asked.

     ‘Waking up won’t be the problem, figure skating will be the problem. OK ̷= 0; we have Steffan G. Marzt of Vienna, aged fifty-eight, no sign of employment.’

     In Jim’s room, Mick tossed three hundred Euros onto the bed. ‘You’re having a good day so far, Jim.’

     Jim pulled back the covers and sheets, and hit the pillows. ‘You worry me, Mick.’

     ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ Mick softly asked, a heavy frown taking hol= d.

     ‘Something?’

     ‘At first glance, and to anyone outside of Austria, this would seem normal. But= his driving license is a year out of date, he has a voting card for the Zurich canton of Switzerland, a medic alert card for a home address in Karlsbad, a= key pass to a few Austrian slopes that would kill me - let alone that old twat.= No, this has been cobbled together to make our friend appear Austrian.’

     ‘Why?’

     ‘Well, this wouldn’t stand up to police scrutiny. It may fool the old ladies downstairs, but not someone looking hard. So, it’s not there to fool = the pro’s.’

     ‘Why fool others?’ Jim thought out loud. ‘Wouldn’t achieve anything.’

     ‘I’d say our friend here was a scam artist. You sure he was interested in Sayeed?’

     ‘I clocked him in the reflection of the glass case down there. And you saw his reaction downstairs; he wanted to see the body!’

     Mick stood, pocketing the wallet. ‘Let’s go. We both need some kip.’

     ‘We’re not going to do a round-the-clock job?’

     ‘Tonight, of all nights, we don’t need to attract the police by sitting in a ca= r in the dark. Besides, I’m not sure just who’s out there.’ In= a quieter voice, Mick added, ‘Or what the fuck is going on.’

 

* *= *

 

Thirty minutes later they = sat in Jim’s Irish bar, closed to the public, fresh beers pulled.

     ‘It don’t make sense, Jim.’

     ‘Then there’s more going on here than you were told. You trust Colette?R= 17;

     ‘Yeah, yeah; guy’s backed me up a few times.’

     ‘Then what’s really going on?’

     Mick took a moment. ‘Sayeed’s brother is a big fish, but Sayeed hims= elf is of no interest; he has a clean record. He flies into Rome then down here= . So … why not stay in Rome, it’s lovely this time of year? But then= he books into two different hotels, the other watchers already knowing that he’s booked into the Metropole, and not the Hilton.’

     ‘No, no,’ Jim said, shaking his head. ‘When I booked in he had no reservation.’

     ‘No?’

     Jim adamantly shook his head. ‘They never heard of him.’

     ‘But the Russian had a note, saying that Sayeed was at the Metropole.’

     ‘Did he … get the note after Sayeed booked in?’ Jim wondered.=

     ‘How? He was outside on the street when Sayeed booked in.’

     ‘Maybe he wrote down the name of the hotel afterwards, to stop him forgetting it.’

     ‘Jim, who the fuck would put a note like that in their fucking wallet? May as well wear a t-shirt that says “spy” for fuck’s sake.’

     ‘He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box though, was he?’

     ‘Well, in fairness … no. Neither were the two goons, or your Austria friend.= The only thing that makes sense is the lone Interpol agent, keeping an eye on Sayeed; that fits perfectly. The rest of the odd bunch, they don’t fi= t at all.’

     Jim rubbed the sweat off his face.

     ‘You OK?’ Mick asked.

     Jim blew out. ‘Yeah.’ He smiled, shaking his head. ‘Bloody he= ll, Mick. We tailed the mark, found his bolt holes, took out the competition – and collected our petrol money!’

     ‘Tell me you didn’t love it.’

     ‘It’s not something I’d want to do every day.’

     ‘Rubbish, you’re wasted here. You were one of the best field agents they produced.’

     ‘That was twenty years ago, and I feel like I’ve aged fifty!’<= /p>

     ‘Not active enough - not using your brain, that’s why.’

     ‘So, what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?’ Jim asked.

     ‘I have a feeling that we’ll be pulled off it,’ Mick reluctantly informed his old friend. ‘I’ll call Colette in the morning, then … well, we’ll see.’

     Jim took a moment. ‘What happened, Mick? What was it that gave you the sh= ort fuse?’

     Mick didn’t answer.

     Jim continued, ‘You could have got a first at Oxford, you pissed through officer college, and you were top dog in Interpol. Being with SIS … t= his is the longest job you’ve held down.’

     ‘Seven years, almost,’ Mick said without looking up.

     ‘So what went wrong in the wiring, Mick?’

     ‘Who says there’s anything wrong with me?’ Mick countered with a gri= n.

     ‘You’re not exactly in a steady job,’ Jim carefully stated.

     Mick sipped his beer. ‘Maybe I found my calling, and this is it.’ He took another sip. ‘I like it. And most of the time I like it a lot. I= get time off to do whatever the fuck I want, I travel –’

     ‘You drink, you fuck prostitutes, and you live out of a suitcase…’

     ‘Don’t over-glamorise it too much. Besides, you told me it was a good career when I joined.’

     ‘It is – for the rest of them,’ Jim pointed out. ‘They sit be= hind computers, fill in forms, and have families. And they live to collect Civil Service pensions; we’ve not lost an officer killed in the line of duty forty years!’

     ‘Yeah, well … that wasn’t enough, obviously. With all due respect, Jim= , I don’t want to end up like you.’

     ‘I haven’t done too badly out of it. I have this place, some cash, and t= he pension. And if … if she hadn’t passed then we’d be in Cy= prus and … happy.’

     Mick made firm eye contact. ‘But that’s it, isn’t it: best laid plans…’

     ‘You can’t go through life expecting the worst.’

     ‘It’s my life to screw up, and so far I’ve done a very good job of screwing= it up,’ Mick countered. He sighed. ‘You were my mentor, Jim, but you’ve become a symbol of what might be – what I might become a= fter twenty-two years of pension qualifying time on the job. I love you to bits, Jim, but I don’t want follow in your footsteps.’

     Jim took in the bar. ‘When Jill went I … I thought about ending it.’ Mick looked across, Jim adding, ‘It was just me, fifty-six years old, bit of money, grown family, and the big wide world. And to tell = you truth ... I was terrified.’

     ‘Why did you settle here?’

     ‘I went to Cyprus as planned, but everything there reminded me of her; we̵= 7;d been holidaying there for thirty years. I tried a little golf, and I sat on= the porch a lot. If I’d stayed … well, I would have ended it.

     ‘When you’re by yourself in an apartment … it’s always clean, nothing to do. You use just the same plate every day, sit and watch TV. No,= if I’m honest, this place has kept me so busy - and so damned annoyed a = lot of the time, that it’s helped.’

     ‘There’s other work I could get you, Jim. But you’d have to … get your h= ands dirty.’

     Jim took a moment. ‘Not sure I’d want to end my days in a cell somewhere, Mick.’

     ‘When I get the safe work I think of you.’

     ‘And I appreciate it, I do.’

     Mick eased back. ‘Tell me, Jim, how do I compare to the best field agents you’ve seen?’

     ‘To be a good field agent you need to be comfortable doing it. And if you can e= njoy it and not be afraid, then you’re there. Agents need to be cheeky, and you have that in abundance. And what you did today … Jesus. You thoug= ht on your feet, you saw the opportunities and you went for them. And paging t= hat Russian in the hotel – that’s the kind of attitude we’d l= ike to instil in new recruits, but you can’t teach that. They either have= it or they don’t.’

     ‘I learnt from the best,’ Mick offered.

     ‘No, we just brought it out of you. That first survival course – you had a girl pick you up the other side of the hill, and spent the week with her. W= hen we found you, you were in the same clothes and stinking – but we trac= ked your credit card to a nice restaurant in the local town.’

     Mick laughed. ‘Good days, Jim. Good days.’

     ‘The rest of your intake sat in the bushes for a week feeling cold and hungry, no fucking initiative at all.’

     Mick finished his beer. ‘C’mon, let’s at least try and do a respectable job of it in the morning.’

 

 

 

 


 

Out= of retirement

 

1

 

Colette stopped Chambers i= n the corridor, requesting a return to Chambers’ office.

     ‘Problem?’ Chambers asked as he took to his desk.

     Colette opened a file. ‘First, Sayeed was twitchy, and then he goes and books into a second hotel. We spotted the Russians, and now others, our man lifti= ng the Russian’s wallet without being noticed.’

     ‘Good work,’ Chambers commended.

     ‘Then our people spotted two oversized East European goons, and armed!’

     ‘Armed? In Malta?’

     Colette nodded. ‘And watching Sayeed. Our people tipped off the local police,= the men being picked up. Then our people … well, they lifted the wallet o= f a third watcher, this guy with a fake Austrian ID.’

     Colette turned a page. ‘The two goons were Hungarian, and on Interpol’s watch list – so no idea how they managed to board a flight to Malta. = They have links to known Russian gangs, some nasty people.’

     Chambers eased forwards, resting his arms on the desk. ‘If they went to the trouble to get the goons into Malta, and the weapons, then the weapons were meant to be used, presumably on Sayeed. Could the Russians have thought that Sayeed was the other brother?’

     Colette shrugged. ‘Hard to say. But I doubt the SVR would use these goons, they’re better than that. And the Russian couple? Rank amateurs, not = SVR in my opinion. So there’s a link between Sayeed and Russian gangs involved in weapons smuggling.’

     ‘But are they angry at Sayeed for doing something, or for not doing something?&#= 8217; Chambers posed.

     ‘Only other possibility … is that the goons were there to keep people off Sayeed. The amateur couple, staying close, could have been there to spot the tail, and then the goons … well.’

     ‘I hope you’re wrong,’ Chambers stated. ‘Because that would = mean Sayeed was meeting someone to work a deal for his brother, and that deal is inside Europe’s borders!’

     ‘The Russian gang in question supply small arms, often to Africa. Sanction busting.’

     Chambers nodded. ‘Put a big red flag on Sayeed, put a researcher on it, and ke= ep your people on him. I want regular updates, and use what resources you need.’

     ‘Sir, am I stepping on anyone’s toes by running this operation? Our Russian Section -’

     Chambers offered Colette a flat palm. ‘Until we have more, I won’t invol= ve others. And … it’s on our turf. You run it for now.’   

 

2

 

‘Mick, it’s Co= lette. Anything new?’

     ‘He’s had breakfast in the Hilton, now wandering around the shops in Silema.̵= 7;

     ‘And the tails?’

     ‘Just us, not a soul to be seen showing any interest, not even any interest in the expensive jeans on sale.’

     ‘They’re looking for their wallets!’

     ‘They paid for our fuel.’

     ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that. Update me later.’

     Mick put his phone away.

     ‘Well?’ Jim expectantly asked.

     ‘We’re still in a job, for now.’

     ‘The others have gone, so it’s just babysitting,’ Jim enthusiastical= ly suggested as they weaved through the shoppers.

     ‘Tomorrow should see some reinforcements arrive,’ Mick cautioned. ‘Theirs, not ours.’

     ‘Well, we’re a few quid better off anyway, thanks to your pilfering ways. Te= ll me, Mick, honestly: that vase you recovered.’

     Mick took a moment. ‘I got it out of Russia, all the way to Vienna and to a fence, dropped it and smashed it.’

     ‘You dropped … two million pounds worth of vase?’

     Mick shrugged. ‘I took the pieces back to the rightful owner, who had it identified. Turns out their insurance paid for damage.’

     ‘And?’

     Mick grinned. ‘I’ve got a few quid tucked away.’

     ‘And I’m guessing that neither Colette, nor the taxman, knows about it.= 217;

     Mick smiled widely, balancing an unlit cigarette on his lip.

     Half an hour later they were sat at a busy café eating lunch. Jim noted, ‘He’s not exactly trying to keep a low profile. He’s sat = in the street, plain view, back to the road.’

     ‘It’s as if he wants to be followed,’ Mick commented.

     ‘Why would anyone want to be followed?’

     ‘Distract us from something else.’

     ‘Hey, we’re the bottom of the barrel. Distracting us pair will achieve nothing.’

     ‘Our boy’s done eating,’ Mick said. ‘I’ll go first.̵= 7; He placed a cap on and stood. ‘Pay for the meal with our ill-gotten gains.’

 

* *= *

 

At 4pm, Sayeed was back in= his room, Mick tired after the very lengthy meandering stroll around Malta̵= 7;s shops. Sat next to the door, he folded his arms and closed his eyes. At 7.3= 0pm a door slamming alerted Mick, who jumped up in time to see Sayeed on the mo= ve. As the mark left the Hilton, Jim was sat in the car at the base of the step= s.

     ‘Got him,’ Jim reported a few minutes later. ‘Heading back up to the bars. I’m going on foot, next road over.’

     Sayeed claimed the same seat in the same restaurant as the night before, Mick and = Jim again at the same bar they used the night before.

‘Take a bit of a wander if you like,’ Mick suggest= ed. ‘See if you can spot anyone familiar.’

Fifteen minutes later they swapped, Mick soon seated again. ‘It’s quiet,’ Mick noted. ‘Well, is rammed and loud, but I can’t see anyone watching Sayeed; no static positions.’

     Jim gently shook his head. ‘It is odd behaviour; he’s presenting himself like a peacock in heat. But why? And if he’s on holiday, why = is he just wandering around? He hasn’t been near a lap dance bar.’=

     ‘Maybe he’s a good Muslim boy that doesn’t do that kind of thing when alone in Europe,’ Mick lightly suggested.

     ‘Yeah, right.’

     They watched the mix of locals and tourists wander up and down the sloping thoroughfare, listening to the latest pop songs, but unfortunately several = at the same time. The smell of cooking kept them hungry, burgers eventually ordered from the bar and washed down with beer.

     ‘Very healthy,’ Jim complained. ‘Burger and beer.’

     ‘It’s genetics,’ Mick said with his mouth full.

     ‘What is?’

     ‘Your fat belly is. I eat this crap all the time, I live out of a suitcase in hot= els, and look at me.’

     ‘It’ll catch up with you, that’s how cholesterol works; it hides away for ye= ars and then multiplies like a rampant virus when you least expect it. This time last year … I looked like you.’

     Mick laughed, coughing up a little cheeseburger. ‘So, this time last year, were you any better looking?’

    

Ten minutes later, and wit= h the cheeseburgers washed down, the rubbish cleared away, two attractive ladies = in their thirties took the next table, blocking the view to Sayeed, the first = lady smiling nicely at Mick when she sat.

     Mick turned back to Jim. ‘So, do you reckon you might get an apartment down here some day?’

     ‘Apartment?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘You know, instead of a hotel each winter. Get a little apartment, home from hom= e; live in that instead of hotels.’

     Jim caught up. ‘It’s an idea, but I was looking at Cyprus.’

     ‘Cheaper here, much cheaper,’ Mick encouraged. He balanced a cigarette on his = lip. The first lady leant across and offered to light it, smiling nicely. ‘= ;No, thanks, I’ve given up. Again. I just hold them and chew them.’<= /span>

     ‘Ah. I tried that, but it didn’t work for me,’ she said with an acce= nt.

     ‘I can’t place your accent,’ Mick told her, even though he could.<= /span>

     ‘Deutsche.’

     Mick switched to German. ‘I work for Interpol.’

The lady’s eyes betrayed her reaction, but just for a se= cond. ‘Sounds glamorous.’

‘No, I just sit behind a computer checking car number pl= ates all day. Very dull.’ He gestured towards Jim. ‘This is Old Jim, I’m Michael.’ That earned a glare from “Old Jim”.

Old Jim greeted the ladies in German. ‘I used to be his = boss in Interpol, Brussels, but I retired a few years ago. Mick hurt his back, he’s been off work for a year.’

‘They don’t need to know that,’ Mick gently scolded. ‘I could dance the night away.’

     ‘You are here on holiday?’ the lady asked, lighting her own cigarette and switching back to English.

     ‘Yes, scuba diving,’ Mick replied. ‘This is the second day, and I’ve been catching up with Jim. He’s in the Metropole, I’= m in the Hilton. How about yourself?’

     ‘We are at the St. George, but we don’t like it. Is the Hilton nice?̵= 7;

     ‘Very,’ Mick answered. ‘And not expensive; hundred and ten Euros a night with breakfast.’

     ‘I think we’ll move, we made a mistake.’

     ‘Can’t let a bad hotel spoil your holiday,’ Mick suggested. ‘You here a week?’

     ‘Five days; a short break away from the cold weather. I’m Gird, this is Suzy.’ The second woman nodded and smiled.

     ‘First time here?’ Mick enquired.

     They nodded. ‘You?’

     ‘No, we’ve been down here many times for the diving, sometimes in the wint= er, but it’s never really cold here.’

     Jim put in, ‘I usually come down for two months in the winter, nice and cheap, warm as well.’

     ‘Could you show us around?’ Gird asked.

     ‘Sure,’ Mick quickly answered. ‘We’ve hired a car. It’s OK, but a= bit beaten up.’ Jim glanced at Mick from under his eyebrows.

     ‘All the cars here are like this, and covered in dust,’ Suzy noted.=

     Mick wrote his number inside a beer mat that he had torn open, and handed it ove= r. Gird took out her mobile and entered the number, but placed the beer mat in= her bag anyway, Mick noticing that Sayeed had now stood up.

     ‘I have to call home,’ Suzy told Gird. ‘From the hotel, a clear line.’ She stood, Mick and Jim following them up.

     ‘We’ll be around here somewhere, dancing the night away,’ Mick informed the ladies. ‘And call in the morning if you want a look around the island.’

     As Sayeed walked past he glanced their way, simply seeing two men and two women stood chatting. He plodded on. With the ladies gone, Mick and Jim sat.

     ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Jim said, staring wide-eyed at Mick.

     ‘They’re as fake as plastic tits, and right now they’re following our mark<= /i> up the road and wondering why we’re not.’

     ‘How the hell do we follow Sayeed without that pair seeing us? We’ll be tripping over each other.’

     ‘That would have happened with or without us making friends, but this way at least I’ll get to identify them. And, for starters they’re not German; they’re Swiss. And … they’re onto us.’

     ‘They’re onto us?’ Jim asked in a whisper.

     Mick nodded, looking disappointed. ‘They must have made us this afternoon.’

     ‘So why are they snuggling up?’

     ‘Come on, Jim, you taught me that.’

     ‘Honey trap?’ he asked in a strained whisper, lifting his eyebrows.

     ‘Do you think you could … you know … keep Suzy busy for a few days?’

     Jim’s eyes widened. ‘You mean … you know?’

     Mick burst out laughing, then shook his head. ‘No, so don’t get your hopes up. A move on you would be too obvious. As well as a cruel and unusual punishment for Suzy.’

     ‘She wouldn’t have to ask twice.’

     Mick forced a breath, and took in the busy street. ‘Jim, let’s stay focused, and not wake up dead, huh; their boyfriends are probably the two g= oons with guns. Tonight: check the car, put some scuba gear in it, a map, some tourist crap. Stay the night at the Metropole, but jam the door with a chai= r, chain lock on, lock the windows. I’ll stay at the Hilton, because the ladies will check. And, when Sayeed is tucked up in his room, they’ll be back for us.’

     Mick lifted his phone and dialled Colette. ‘It’s Mick. Can you talk?’

     ‘Hang on … OK, go ahead.’

     ‘Jim and I just pulled.’

     ‘Pulled…?’

     Honey trap pulled, a pair of lookers pretending to be German. They’re actually Swiss.’

     ‘They made you?’

     ‘Somehow. And we were careful.’

     ‘What’ll you do?’

     ‘Bore them to death, and convince them that we’re not who they think we are. Or, at the very least, convince them we’re who we want them to think = we are.’

     ‘And Sayeed?’

     Mick put a finger in his other ear, trying to hear Colette. ‘Is not going anywhere, doing anything, or even meeting anyone; he’s wandering arou= nd with a sign on his head.’

     ‘Same routine?’

     ‘Like clockwork.’

     ‘Those two goons the Maltese police nabbed, they were charged and released for a m= inor offence in Switzerland five years ago, damage in a hotel, a drunken fight.’

     ‘That’s hardly a link to Switzerland, but at least there is a link. I’ll call= you tomorrow.’

     ‘So what now?’ Jim asked, sounding worried. ‘We … still on the job?’

     Mick nodded. ‘Check your wallet and pockets. Anything that doesn’t b= ack up the tourist story?’

     Jim checked. He had his key to the hotel, a receipt for beer deliveries at the = bar - which he threw away, and in his wallet a few other receipts that suggeste= d he lived here.

Mick checked the wallet when Jim was satisfied. ‘Good.&#= 8217; He handed it back. ‘I’ve got my old Interpol ID, an Interpol parking voucher, and an Interpol photograph, Hilton hotel bits and pieces, = and my boarding pass stub. But, hidden behind my driver’s license is an American Department of Defence ID, and that will confuse the ladies no e= nd … if they find it.’

     ‘Where did you get that?’ Jim asked, adopting a disapproving and suspicious look.

     ‘From a nice lady forger in Amsterdam. She got me an Air Marshal’s ID and b= adge as well, which got a few free rides.’

     ‘Jesus, Mick. They don’t take stuff like that lightly.’

     ‘What was it you told me last night – about good field agents?’

     ‘Be cheeky.’

     Mick smiled widely. ‘I haven’t been caught yet.’

     Jim offered Mick a puzzled frown. ‘You were caught in Germany last year.’

     ‘That doesn’t count; I was in character. The character was caught, not me.’

     ‘Ah, right. I see. The character.’

     ‘Hey, I was dressed like the character, using the character’s ID, and meeti= ng a contact that was a sting – as the character would have done.’

     ‘You play the role to the very end.’

     ‘Let’s talk about Serbia, huh,’ Mick challenged. ‘You tailed the wrong= guy for six weeks, tying up an entire six man team!’

     ‘We got the wrong intel, not our fault.’

     ‘Of course,’ Mick agreed with a false smile.

 

3

 

Forty minutes later Gird c= alled, enquiring as to where their eligible bachelors were located, the ladies soon walking back to the same bar. And both ladies were now booked into the Hilt= on, they reported.

As a foursome, they sat chatting for an hour in the busy bar, = the pounding music of the nearby nightclub shaking the table, Mick going up to = the bar to order doubles for the ladies when they asked for singles. Jim made h= is excuses at 11.30pm, suggesting he’d get a taxi to the Metropole. Gird then suggested they walk down the hill together, to the main square, where = they and Mick could turn left to the Hilton, Jim getting a taxi for the very sho= rt ride to his hotel.

     Leaving the bar, the four of them slowly negotiated the crowds moving up and down t= he bustling thoroughfare before turning down a side street. At the first corne= r, Mick saw the same two local police officers, the officers now in their path – and no avoiding them.

Approaching, he said, ‘Back on duty again?’ and ex= tended a hand. They shook. ‘Bit of excitement here last night I heard.’= ;

Jim and the ladies drew level, stopping on the curb about six = feet away and waiting.

‘Yes, we had more problems last night than in the last y= ear. Two Hungarian gangsters were stopped, up in the square, just here.’

Mick gestured towards the ladies. ‘I have visitors and l= ady friends.’ He stepped away. Turning back, he said, ‘If you need = any help, don’t call Interpol; you do a better of it job yourselves.̵= 7;

The police officers waved goodbye, smiling, Gird and Suzy look= ing a little puzzled.

‘You know them?’ Gird asked.

‘Yes, met them scuba diving a few times,’ Mick sai= d as they progressed down the hill. ‘The one guy used to be Interpol, but = not in my section.’

At the square, Jim peeled off and headed for a taxi. Out of si= ght of the ladies, he walked around the bay, not least because no taxi on the rank would have given up its valuable slot for such a short journey.

Mick led the ladies along the cul-de-sac and into the Hilton, noticing now the man who had first booked him in. In German, he asked of the ladies, ‘Coffee in the bar?’

     The receptionist offered, in German, ‘The bar has stopped serving coffee, sir, but you can order room service.’

     ‘Danke,’ Mick offered, leading the ladies to the bar.

     Suzy made her excuses, and headed up to their room with the girl’s only ro= om key, Mick ordering drinks for two at the hotel bar. As they sat in the quiet bar, just one other couple present, Sayeed walked down the steps and across= to the bar, ordering a drink whilst glancing around. Mick had been sat side-on= to Sayeed, and had ignored him totally. After sitting by himself for ten minut= es, Sayeed climbed the steps again, Mick never having glanced around.

     Gird, on the other hand, was a bit worse for wear, and had glanced casually towar= ds Sayeed twice. ‘So, you can teach me some diving?’

     ‘I can show you how to go down on an old wreck, certainly.’

     Gird lifted an eyebrow, and tried to suppress an amused grin. ‘You’ll hold my hand underwater?’

     Mick reached across and held her hand. ‘I won’t let go. And if any b= ig sharks come, I’ll put myself in the way.’

     ‘A real hero.’

     ‘Only for a pretty girl.’

     ‘Ah, but now I’m thirty-five, not so pretty.’

     ‘You’re doing OK, and you look younger than thirty-five.’

     ‘Can I have my hand back?’

     ‘No. There’s a rule in this hotel: if you buy a pretty lady a drink, she h= as to hold your hand till midnight.’

     ‘Ten minutes to go. And then, do you turn into a pumpkin?’ she toyed.

     ‘No, I’ll always be prince charming.’

     ‘So, you’re one of the good guys, yes?’

     ‘And good guys always finish last, especially after a few beers.’

     She cocked an eyebrow. ‘What floor are you on?’

     ‘Six, up two from here.’

     ‘We are the same, but no view of the water.’

     ‘Ah, well I have a nice view of the marina if you want to see it.’<= /p>

     ‘And you can order room service. I’m hungry.’ They eased up. =

Still holding hands, the happy couple walked to the lift, taki= ng it up just two floors, hardly time to enjoy the pleasant music. Mick turned le= ft, and led her along to his room, fumbling for the key card. The little green = light came on, the door clicking open. Pushing the door, he allowed her in first.=

     Once inside, the door slamming shut, Mick opened the curtains and the balcony do= or, fresh air entering. ‘Have a look.’

     She stepped past him, rubbing her breasts past his elbow, and onto the balcony, soon peering down at the boats, the pontoons lit from below. ‘Beautiful.’

     Mick closed in behind her, his arms enclosing her. Sniffing her hair, he put his hands on top of hers as she gripped the top of the balcony wall.

     ‘I think you are hungry too,’ she muttered.

     Mick slid his right hand to her waist, slowly under her cardigan and up to her r= ight breast. She didn’t react at first, but Mick soon felt a hand on his groin.

     ‘No money in there, I keep it around the back,’ Mick whispered.

     ‘I don’t expect payment if the job is done well.’

     Mick cupped her other breast with his left hand, rubbing his cheek against hers. Turning, she knelt down, undoing Mick’s belt

     A light flicked on, the next balcony. ‘Do you mind!’ an old Briti= sh man called. Gird dived into the room and stood, a hand to her mouth.=

     ‘Not English … German,’ Mick told the man.

     ‘Bloody typical.’

     With his dick hanging out, and firm, Mick closed the balcony door and swished the curtain, Gird laughing hard, but silently. ‘Where were we?’ He pushed her onto the bed and kicked off his shoes. Dropping his trousers, he took out his wallet and placed it on the bedside table, Gird pulling her cardigan over her head.

     Forty minutes later, Mick headed to the shower. Stood under the water, he sang ou= t of tune for ten minutes, long enough for Gird to rifle through his wallet. His suitcase was an issue, in that the contents could not be explained, but it = was secure and locked.

     Out of the shower, a towel around his midsection, Mick ordered sandwiches and coffee, two sandwiches and two coffees, thirty-six Euros worth.

     ‘You are a considerate man,’ Gird noted, lying in bed on her side, a hand supporting her head.

     ‘Only for pretty girls.’

     ‘And the ugly girls?’

     ‘They don’t get a sandwich afterwards, I sneak out before they wake.’=

     ‘Where is your name from?’

     ‘Canuck? My father was Canadian, but since they’re all immigrants anyway ̵= 1; I have no idea. But I did come across it in Sweden, so maybe my ancestors came from Sweden.’

     ‘They are alive, your parents?’

     Mick sat on the bed. ‘My mother is still alive, but I haven’t seen my father since I was five. Depending on who you talk to in the family, either= he was hit by a car and killed, or ran away back to Canada with his secretary.’

     When the sandwiches had been finished, Mick collected the rubbish, opened the balcony door quietly and dropped it onto the next balcony.

     When back inside, Gird puzzled, ‘Did you throw it in the water?’

     ‘No, onto the old man’s balcony.’

     She smiled and shook her head. ‘Come, it’s late. Some sleep.’=

 


A b= right new day

 

1

 

At 7am, Gird woke to a pen= is trying to find a happy home. She moaned as it found its way in.

     ‘The morning alarm cock,’ she muttered.

     ‘Alarm cock?’ Mick whispered.

     ‘Not to be woken by the alarm clock, but by the alarm cock.’=

     ‘Ah.’ Mick rolled her face down. ‘I’ve woken a few girls that way.= 217;

     ‘Why bother to wake them at all,’ Gird said into the pillow, Mick thrusting from behind.

     ‘I’ll have you know I’ve given some of my best performances while the girl = was still asleep.’

 

* *= *

 

Going down for some breakf= ast, they met Suzy sat alone and joined her, Gird a little worse for wear, Mick awake and alert. Suzy avoided any direct questions as to where her friend h= ad stayed the night, and buttered her toast.

     ‘So, what do you do today?’ Gird asked Mick.

     ‘We can show you around the north of the island if you like, have lunch out, si= t in the sun.’

     ‘Sounds good,’ Gird approved. ‘I’ll get some clothes from my room, and a bag.’

 

Jim arrived at 9am, differ= ent clothes to the day before, so Mick figured he’d been back to the bar. Everyone dumped their bags in the boot, moving aside wetsuits and masks.

     ‘This … is a hire car?’ Suzy questioned, stood with her arms folded as she studied it.

     ‘Yes, it … er … was cheap,’ Jim explained.

     ‘It is safe?’ she queried, taking in the damaged panels.

     ‘Oh, yes. But most cars around here have a few dents.’

     ‘Is that blood?’ Suzy asked, bent double and peering at the top of the bonnet.

     ‘I … er … hit a bird, big bird, a sea bird,’ Jim explained.<= /span>

They set off through the congested roads of Paceville, soon on= the dual carriage and ultimately joining the coast road north, a pleasant view = of the inviting ocean on the right as they progressed.

     Passing St. Paul’s Bay, Jim said, ‘This is where I normally stay each winter, hotels around here, very cheap.’

     Beyond St. Paul’s Bay they stopped briefly at an inlet and admired the numer= ous small boats, locals fishing off the sea wall, before driving up a steep hil= l, descending into Mellieha Bay. Today, a few local surfers were trying to make the most of modest waves, the local sailing school out in force. Jim pulled= up.

     Piling out, Mick commented, ‘This is the best beach, rammed in summer. The o= nly other decent beach is Golden Sands, but that gets packed in summer.’<= /span>

     After walking across the sand to the water’s edge, the ladies removed their sandals and paddled for ten minutes - whilst whispering comments. Jim rever= sed course to a pizza restaurant below a hotel; it was time for some lunch. When both of the ladies went to the toilet, one of their bags remained on the ta= ble, Mick pointing a finger towards it.

     Jim focused on the bag, glancing over his shoulder. ‘You’re …= a fast mover,’ he told Mick.

     ‘Nice girl, might have a few days together. Better than diving.’

     ‘Well, why not. You’ve been a bit down since you hurt your back. When do you reckon they’ll return you to normal service?’

     ‘I’ve got a medical in two months, and then we’ll see. You … er ̷= 0; you not unhappy that I’ve hitched up.’

     ‘Oh, hell no – you enjoy yourself. I’m beyond all that.’

     ‘She’s great in bed, but when she was asleep she farted a lot.’

     Jim resisted laughing out loud. ‘Some girls are like that after a drink. = You know, bubbles in the beer,’ he said towards the bag.

     ‘You never know, they might like each other,’ Mick suggested. ‘Maybe= a threesome. I could get a video camera.’

     After a meal of late-arriving and already cooling pizzas, they again set off north and to the ferry terminal, boats leaving for the Island of Gozo. Approaching the sea wall on the left, they sat with bottled drinks and observed divers entering the water from the rocks. The day remained warm, but with a cool w= ind off the sea, a few clouds threatening to spoil their excursion.

     When the ladies went to the toilet together, bags taken this time, Jim said, ‘Should we … be watching Sayeed?’

     ‘No, because he … is not the main event here. He’s the honey,= but it’s the flies we should be more interested in. And I’ll bet you anything he just wanders around again like yesterday.’

     ‘So what the hell is he up to?’

     ‘He’s here to see who comes out to play,’ Mick suggested. ‘But so far= , I can’t figure out why, or how anyone would benefit. If the other broth= er wants to waste our time – he’s doing that. But what good is tha= t to him? Besides, I was asked to check out the Russians. But, since they’= re just amateurs, I really can’t be arsed. They’re not SVR anyway.’

     ‘So who sent them?’

     ‘That, my friend, is why I’m here with the ladies; because maybe they know, = and maybe they’ll throw us a clue. I know she went through my wallet last night when I was singing badly in the shower, so she saw the fake Interpol = ID and the American ID underneath.’

     ‘What if they’re from a friendly agency?’ Jim cautioned.

     ‘Then they would have run the Interpol ID already, and the American ID, and now they’d be right confused as to who I am. But they haven’t, not = yet, because Colette would get the note to say my name went through Interpol.= 217;

     ‘Why give her your real name?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘Because I use it the least. I have ID cards and passports in many other names, and I use those so often I sometimes forget my real name. If she runs my real nam= e, then she’ll think I haven’t set foot outside the UK in six year= s, that I have no credit cards, not even a driver’s license – and = then she’ll be even more confused.’

     ‘White hire car,’ Jim suddenly said.

     ‘I see them.’    <= /span>

     ‘How’d they know we were here? The girls?’

     ‘Or … it could be because it’s a small island with just a few roads= . Or … they lost us earlier and just found us. I doubt it’s linked to the girls. What do they need a tail for, they’re with us?’

     ‘Could they be more interested in the girls … than us,’ Jim posed.

     They exchanged looks.

     The girls reappeared, walking over chatting. ‘So, what is next?’ Gi= rd asked.

     ‘Silema? Shopping?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Yes, sounds good.’

     As a group they casually walked back to the car, a tourist bus of pensioners hissing to a stop, the bus providing an effective barrier between them and = the tail. Jim started the car, but Mick asked he wait a moment, flicking through old text messages, suggesting there may be something from a friend. Two min= utes later, two men stepped to the ferry-side café and sat, their table affording them a view of Jim’s car.

     ‘OK,’ Mick said. ‘All good. Let’s go.’

     Jim pulled around in a tight circle, throwing up dust and stones, and sped off south down the coast road. At St. Paul’s Bay, Mick said, ‘Take = the road towards the airport, it’ll be quicker.’

     Jim shot him a look, knowing the road was a nightmare. Five minutes later they = were in heavy traffic, buses tooting.

     ‘These houses, they are very dirty,’ Gird noted.

     ‘Some are nice,’ Mick commented, glancing out.

     ‘Always the yellow sandstone walls,’ Gird observed.

     ‘Local quarry stone,’ Mick informed her as they stop-started through heavy traffic, Mick certain no one could follow them, not least because there wer= e a dozen cars on this road that were also dusty white Puntos.

     Finally reaching Silema, they took a place in a multi-storey car park, a very short walk to the start of the shops. Gird and Suzy turned into shopping mode as = the group strolled, Malta’s select shopping district consisting of little more than three small streets, the shops climbing up steep side streets. Th= irty minutes later, and the girls were asking if this was all Malta had to offer, just a handful of boutiques. It was.

     Re-claiming the car, they risked heavy traffic to reach Valetta, halting at the dockside near Barrakka, the docks a natural canyon covered in climbing fortification= s from a thousand years of occupation, the walls again local yellow sandstone.

     Suzy suddenly decided she was tired, and asked if they could go back to the hote= l, the group arriving back at the Hilton twenty minutes later, at 3pm.<= /p>

     Jim said, ‘If you’re tied up, Mick, I have some apartments to go lo= ok at.’

     ‘No, no, I’ll come with you,’ Mick quickly offered. ‘Gird?R= 17;

     ‘No, I need a small sleep.’

     ‘Sure. Call me if you … want anything.’

     They waved goodbye to each other, Jim pulling off. At the main square he said, ‘Tail’s behind us again.’

     ‘Then let’s go somewhere where I can … mix it up a bit. Head back to = the docks.’

     ‘They have the registration of this car, and it’s in my name, Mick.’<= /span>

     Mick took a moment. ‘What address is it registered at?’

     ‘Ah, the flat next door to the bar; I was living there first. Still, it’s close.’

     ‘If they’re from a regular agency then they’ll check out that flat, which is fine, because we’ll be waiting.’

     ‘Am I going to have to leave the island?’ Jim asked as they negotiated he= avy traffic.

     ‘Do you want to leave the island?’ Mick quickly countered.

     ‘It was getting that way, if I’m honest.’

     ‘Then maybe all you needed was a nudge, and this is it.’

     ‘I figured I’d pack up and go, not in cuffs, or in a box!’<= /p>

     ‘Relax. What could go wrong?’ Mick said, hiding a grin.

     At Valetta docks, Mick directed Jim to a road leading around the waterfront, halting near a set of steps that cut into an almost sheer cliff face, the w= all shading them from the sun.

     ‘They’re halfway back,’ Jim said. ‘Ducked in behind that small building.’

     ‘Stay here,’ Mick said as he jumped out. He stood peering at a large grey n= aval vessel, docked across the water, a cigarette balanced on his lip. After a minute, and certain that he had been seen, he turned and crossed the road, = soon bounding up a steep flight of steps, out of breath at the top.

     Turning away from Jim’s car, but following the line of the waterfront, Mick jogged along a road that ran parallel to their own, soon seeing the tail car sat behind a small building built into the rock face.

Leaning over the wall and staring down twenty metres, a group = of giggling youths said, ‘Hey, mister, don’t jump.’

Mick stepped across to them. ‘You want to make two hundr= ed Euros?’

‘For what?’ they asked, closing in, the youths aged twelve to sixteen.

     ‘See that white car below us.’ They peered over. ‘The man inside is following me, because I fuck his wife.’ They giggled, Mick producing a hundred Euros. ‘A hundred now, a hundred after you drop that metal bi= n on the car.’

     ‘OK,’ the tallest youth agreed, a small argument breaking out as to whose deal it was. ‘Wait till I get back down to my car, and I’ll meet you at= the end of this road.’ Mick flashed the second hundred Euros before turni= ng to run.

     Getting in the car, panting, he said, ‘Turn, quickly. Go.’

     Jim turned the small car around. Just past the tail car they heard an almighty bang, Jim almost crashing his car.

     ‘Keep going!’ Mick urged. ‘Faster!’

     Looking through his rear view mirror, Jim could see a metal bin embedded in the roo= f of the car, the windows smashed. ‘Jesus, Mick, that could have killed them!’

     ‘Dangerous game, spy work.’

     At the top of the road, the youths were running down to meet Jim’s car. =

     ‘Stop here, hard left.’

Mick handed over the hundred Euros. Pointing at a girl in the = group of errant youths, he handed over a twenty Euro note. ‘Walk down to th= at car, nice and slow, speak to them, ask them if they’re alright, find = out what country they’re from.’ She trotted off. ‘You lot, scatter before the police get here.’

     With their money in their hands, still arguing about whose deal it was, the yout= hs ran off.

They waited, Jim breathing hard and shaking his head.

     The girl returned ten minutes later. ‘They are from the France country. T= hey have blood on their faces.’ She held up a wallet. ‘What money?’

     Mick produced a twenty Euro note, exchanging it for the wallet. Shaking his head again, Jim started the car and pulled off, soon in heavy traffic and crawli= ng along.

     ‘What do we have here then? A … French private detective, a resident of = 230; Paris. Driver’s license ... genuine, credit cards … look OK, th= ey match the driver’s license. A metro stub from … two weeks ago, a cinema stub from … three weeks ago, photograph of the wife and kids, three hundred Euros.’ He handed the Euros to Jim. ‘ID card for = some … association of detective agencies. Credit card receipt from …’ Mick laughed. ‘From the favourite haunt of officers fr= om Interpol’s Paris office.’ 

     ‘They’re Interpol?’

     ‘No.’

     ‘No?’

     ‘Favourite trick of the French DGSE is to make themselves appear to be Interpol agents= in hiding. You peel back the layers and think you’ve discovered that they’re not private detectives but Interpol, when they’re really DGSE.’

     ‘Their tailing skills need work,’ Jim scoffed.

     ‘No, they did alright. They’re off their patch, they don’t know the roads, and they didn’t have a team – it’s just them. So t= hey did what they could, not expecting trouble. I was watching them in the mirr= or and I thought they were OK. And they hired a dusty white car to blend in.’

     ‘And now they’ll be in the local hospital with the others.’

     ‘Do you think we should send flowers, drop in some grapes,’ Mick asked, s= till studying the wallet.

     ‘You should ask Colette to contact their bosses,’ Jim suggested.

     ‘That would mean Colette having to rattle the cages of those a few pay grades hig= her, and he’s not about to do that.’

     They pulled up in Paceville, in a side street, and took seats in a corner café, cold drinks ordered – and much needed.

     ‘So why are the French interested in us?’ Jim posed.

     ‘It’s possible that the guy on the bike wasn’t Interpol, but one of theirs.= It would be normal to send someone else down to investigate the incident.̵= 7;

     ‘So how did they pick us up, that biker didn’t see anything?’

     ‘No, he didn’t,’ Mick pondered, easing back with his beer. ‘But our ladies could be DGSE.’

     ‘If they are, then they would have reported that you’re more interested in shagging - and drives to the beach - than tailing Sayeed!’

     ‘Which was the idea – to throw them. They must be certain by now that we’re not the bad guys, and if they think we work for Her MajestyR= 17;s Government, well … they’re not going to be aggressive.’

     ‘Not till they get out of hospital, no,’ Jim quipped.

     Mick sipped his beer. ‘Heads up. Top of that road.’

     ‘It’s Sayeed, wandering again. Do we follow?’

     ‘Not if the French are on his tail. And I’m still waiting for Colette to g= et a kick from above, asking us to pull back.’

     ‘Moped.’

     ‘I see him,’ Mick confirmed.

     They sat and observed the street as Sayeed wandered past on the opposite side of= the road. Checking behind Sayeed, they could see no one obvious.

     Mick’s phone trilled. ‘Here we go; it’s Colette.’ He answered the phone. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘What’s happening your end?’

     ‘Quiet day, we spent it with the girls, but they quit an hour ago.’

     ‘And Sayeed?’

     ‘Just walked past, still walking around in circles, moped following him.’

     ‘And the girls?’

     ‘They say they’re German, but they sound Swiss. They followed Sayeed last night, so we sat on our arses, and today we took them up the coast instead = of tailing Sayeed and tried to bore them to death. Anyone searching my name or aliases?’

     ‘No, nothing, I just looked.’

     ‘No?’

     ‘Not so far, and Sayeed is booked onto a flight to Malaga, Spain, day after tomorrow.’

     ‘Are we still on the job?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Yes. But Martin Davies from the Russian Section will be with you shortly.’=

     ‘Did you get a nudge from above?’ Mick teased.

     ‘He’s interested in the Russians. Be nice.’

     ‘Always, boss. Always.’ He hung up.

     ‘You know Martin Davies, Russian Section?’ Mick asked Jim.

     ‘Sounds familiar.’

     ‘He’ll be here shortly. We’ll have a professional in our midst, so I might t= ake notes. Anyway, pack a bag tonight, we’re off to Spain tomorrow.’= ;

     ‘Spain? You want me…?’

     ‘Why not? Sayeed is moving on, and Colette has sanctioned the money for you. And once Sayeed moves, the rest of this lot will move as well. Malta will go ba= ck to being a quiet backwater.’

     ‘I’d have to close the bar,’ Jim noted.

     ‘And how much revenue would you lose?’

     ‘Well … about ten Euros a day.’

     ‘You’ve made that already, and there could be a bonus. C’mon, it’ll be fun.’

     ‘If the French see us there…?’

     ‘The only people who can eyeball us won’t be there, unless they send the girls. And as soon as the girls see us they’ll bug out.’=

     ‘I’d be using my own ID to fly.’

     Mick shook his head. ‘Remember the ID I had made up for you?’=

     ‘That was just a driver’s license.’

     ‘No, I had a passport made up as well.’

     ‘Jesus, Mick.’ Jim shook his head.

     ‘Use your own ID into Heathrow, switch when we buy tickets for Malaga.’

     Jim sighed and nodded.

     Ten minutes later, Mick’s phone went, an unknown number. ‘Hello.= 217;

     ‘Canuck, it’s Davies. I just booked into the St. Georges hotel.’<= /p>

     ‘We’re sat in Paceville, one road down from the main drag, café with a yell= ow awning.’

     ‘Ten minutes.’

     Mick put his phone away. ‘The professionals are here,’ he carefully mouthed.

     When Davies finally arrived he sat without saying anything, scanning the street.= The waitress stepped out, Davies ordering a Fanta orange. He appeared to Jim to= be in his late forties, a slim and fit looking man with greying hair. He wore a light beige jacket and beige slacks.

     Taking off his sunglasses, Davies said, ‘So, what’s new?’=

     ‘Our boy just wandered past, moped tailing him,’ Mick reported.

     ‘And the Russians?’

     ‘No sign of them since yesterday,’ Mick answered.

     ‘The details you gave us led nowhere, other than to the conclusion that they were good fakes, and expensive.’

     ‘That couple were Laurel and Hardy,’ Jim baulked. ‘No way in hell they were SVR – unless standards have dropped a hell of a lot!’

 &nb= sp;   Davies took a moment to study Jim. ‘The two gunmen are not talking, as expec= ted, but their weapons were traced back to Bulgaria – so they came in by b= oat, the weapons that is. The two men had fake passports with Shengen visas, aga= in – good fakes and expensive. But there is a tenuous link between the f= ake IDs and the gunmen; both seem to have holidayed in Marmaris, Turkey, at the exact same time.’

     Jim eased closer to Davies. ‘The two gunmen were six foot five, dressed in black, wearing boots, and their pistols were noticed. I bring your attention back to the aforementioned Laurel and Hardy.’

     ‘He’s right,’ Mick put in. ‘Good fakes, expensive, yet the hired help were crap. The paymaster knows what he’s doing, but his hiring skills= are sadly lacking.’

     Davies regarded Mick coolly, almost arrogantly. ‘It’s a work in progress.’

     Mick turned to Jim. ‘Go back to the bar, but check the area first. Sort yourself, pack, eat; you can handle the nightshift tonight – so get f= our hours kip.’

     Jim nodded and eased up. To Davies he said, ‘See you later?’=

     ‘I’ll be around.’

     Mick paid for the drinks. ‘Why don’t we walk, I need to check the ar= ea anyway.’ They stood. ‘Never know, that couple might still be around.’

     They turned down the hill, slowly ambling along.

     ‘Jim seems a little … old for fieldwork,’ Davies delicately mentioned.

     ‘That’s my call. Besides, people ignore him, especially when he has his blazer on a= nd a walking stick.’

     They walked on, and to the next corner. Taking the long way around, they scanned= the main square, Mick not noticing anyone of interest.

Entering the start of the cul-de-sac, Mick asked, ‘How&#= 8217;s your fitness – for fieldwork, Mister Davies?’

‘I keep myself in shape.’

‘Good. Don’t look around, but we just picked up two goons. Are you good with your fists, Davies, or better with your legs?̵= 7;

‘It’s a public street, they won’t do anything.’

‘Really. And if the two goons now in prison were behind = you, would you like to put their shyness to the test?’

‘I see your point.’

‘I know where we can lose them, and get a good look at t= hem. And, if the Gods are smiling down on me, I’ll get their wallets.̵= 7;

‘You … aim to go head to head with them?’ Da= vies asked, sounding nervous now.

‘That’s what I’m paid to do. Turn down here.’ He led Davies down the steep marina steps. ‘Quickly,R= 17; he whispered.

At the bottom of the steps they turned left and walked quickly= to the wooden bridge, over and towards the dock visited by the courier, Mick glancing back as they reached it.

‘Shit, they mean business. Run!’

Mick led Davies along the edge of the square dock, Davies fast= on his feet. ‘When we reach that end, quickly up and around!’

At the sea wall, reached a few seconds later, they clambered up steps and hugged the wall as they ran along a wet concrete path, the waves pounding the rocks to their immediate right. Ten yards in, Mick reached in between two rocks and pulled out a pistol wrapped in a white plastic bag. Turning, he could see a face peeping around the wall. Mick stepped out brazenly, holding the pistol at his side. The face pulled back.

Turning back to Davies, Mick could see Davies studying the pis= tol in Mick’s hand, seemingly more concerned and disapproving of that, than = the men following. With a smile, Mick dropped the pistol and stamped on it. ‘Plastic. It works well enough at night, and from a distance.’<= /span>

A dull crack behind Mick caused him to turn, and he saw the two faces peeking around the wall. ‘That was cheeky. They fired a round towards us.’

Davies collapsed in a heap, heard before being seen.

‘Christ,’ Mick let out as he spun around. He tore Davies’ jacket off, tearing open his bloodstained shirt. ‘Take = it easy.’

Davies was in shock. Not through blood loss, just the shock of= being shot. Mick glanced over his shoulder, the rocks and the wall now clear.

Turning back to Davies, holding him now with a knee to Davies&= #8217; back, Mick inspected the wound. ‘It’s still in there, but it hasn’t hit an artery,’ he urgently got out. He lay Davies down = and placed an ear to his chest. ‘Breath as deep as you can, but slowly.’

After Davies had complied with three large breaths, Mick lifte= d up. ‘Your lung hasn’t been hit, there’s no major bleeding, so you’re in no immediate danger.’

Davies had not uttered a sound since being shot, a look of sho= ck and abject terror etched into his face. Mick lifted him to the sitting position= , a knee at his back. ‘Listen, that wound is going to hurt, but you’= ;re not going to die, or lose the use of the arm. You were lucky, real lucky, so just hang in there.’

Mick dialled Colette. ‘Colette, it’s Mick. Davies = has been shot.’

‘Shot?’

‘He’s got a slug in his shoulder, fired by two goo= ns following us near the Hilton, but he’s in no immediate danger. I can = take him to a hospital, call an ambulance, or you can extract him. But if I take= him to a hospital then the authorities here will be all over us, and not at all happy that you didn’t tell them earlier!’

‘Christ!’

‘How long to get a private medical plane with the right paperwork?’

     ‘Four hours, probably six,’ Colette reported.

     ‘He’ll make it that long, but I’m not sure I’d like to take the chance= , so it’s your arse on the line … and your call.’

     ‘I’ll call you back. If he gets worse, or you think he needs it, get him to a hospital.’

     Mick dialled Jim. ‘Jim, Davies has been shot. Get a first aid kit, water, towels, and meet me in that little lane between the Hilton and the Dragonar= ra, we’re on the rocks below the Hilton. And be quick.’

     Mick stared out to sea at the surreal scene, a few boats in the distance, a few cruisers heading into Silema, the day warm and pleasant. ‘Take it easy,’ he softly told Davies, checking his pulse. ‘Breath slowly.’

     ‘It’s gone numb,’ Davies whispered.

     ‘That’s normal. Look, if you want an ambulance we’ll get one in three minutes. Well, the goons might get to us first, and they’re not shy about shoo= ting in public. When Jim gets here we’ll get you patched up and to the car= . If necessary, we’ll drop you at the hospital - you can tell them you were mugged. You got your ID on you?’

     Davies nodded.

     ‘If you want me to take it and hide it I will, then I can drop you around at the hospital. Given the goons with guns they caught the other night … you won’t have to explain much.’

     Mick eased Davies up slowly, placing Davies’ arm around his shoulder before directing him across the bleached white rocks and away from the marina. They expending a good four minutes negotiating a narrow path above crystal clear water, before reaching a low wall, the other side of which lay a road. Mick peeked over. A few dusty cars sat at the end of the road, but no one was ab= out.

     Sat against the wall, checking Davies’ pulse intermittently, Mick stared = out to sea. ‘Need a fucking boat.’

     The afternoon was warm, the excitement and the exercise making them both sweat,= but the cooling breeze off the sea was most welcome.

     ‘Boat,’ Mick repeated a moment later. ‘A ruddy great boat.’

     He dialled Colette, who now sounded as if he was in a car. ‘Colette, it’s Mick, I’ve got an idea. Trust me, I’ll have Davies i= n a surgical ward in no time – and no one will know!’ He hung up. ‘OK, I need to get you down that street, but first I need to check it. Don’t go anywhere, sit and enjoy the view.’

     Mick was soon running along the road to the first corner, ducking his head aroun= d. It was clear. Returning, he said, ‘Right, other side of the wall is a road, easy to get along it. C’mon.’

     At the corner, he tidied Davies’ appearance as best he could, closing his jacket and doing up two buttons. A car drove past, a single occupant that showed them no interest, Jim pulling up with a screech ten minutes later.

     ‘Christ, Mick, what the hell happened?’ Jim got out in a strained whisper as t= hey eased Davies into the back of the car, Mick easing into the back as well.

     ‘More goons with guns,’ Mick replied.

     ‘Where to?’ Jim asked as he took the wheel.

‘Valetta Docks, south side. Quick.’

     They sped off. ‘Why the docks?’ Jim asked.

     ‘HMS Exeter,’ Mick said with a grin.

     ‘HMS Exeter? Jim repeated. ‘Christ, aye. They have a surgical bay, and they could get him out unseen.’

     ‘You listening, Davies?’ Mick asked, Davies sat with his eyes closed.

     ‘I served … seven years as … an officer aboard … HMS Newcastle.’

     ‘There we go then,’ Mick encouraged. He dialled Colette.

 

‘You’re talkin= g him where?’ Colette asked.

     ‘HMS Exeter. She’s in the dock! Talk later.’

     Before they reached the dockside, Mick grabbed Davies’ Military Intelligence= ID. At the Maltese police check, on the main gates, Mick handed over that ID.

     ‘We’re expected by the Captain. We’re ex-navy, but now Military Intelligence.’

     The police officer puzzled the ID’s for a moment, but allowed the car through. Fifty yards short of the ship, British Royal Marines diligently stopped the car, their rifles ready.

     Mick said, ‘We’re Military Intelligence officers, and I want your du= ty officer right now, or you’ll be back at Lympstone Base doing press-up= s in the mud! Move it, mister!’

     The young Marine let them through, using his radio to alert the ship. Halting, = Mick faced Davies. ‘I need you to walk up that gangplank without looking l= ike you’ve been shot. Can you do that?’

     Davies nodded, looking now like death warmed up. ‘I can do it.’=

     Between Jim and Mick, they eased Davies out, curiously observed by another young Marine. After a slow climb of the gangplank, a third Marine and a Commander stood waiting.

     ‘Who the hell are you?’ the Commander demanded.

     Mick handed over Davies’ ID. ‘He was a naval officer, now military intelligence. One of our operations down here went badly wrong and he’= ;s been shot in the shoulder. You, Popeye The Sailor, are going to get him to = your doctor, patch him up and get him off the island without any fucker noticing= , or I’m going to take a very personal interest in your career development= . My boss … will call your boss … very soon. Till that ti= me, he’s one of yours, and he’s bleeding all over your nice clean deck.’

     ‘Inside. Quickly,’ the Commander requested, not looking happy.

     Davies was taken one way, Mick and Jim led another way, and to an empty mess hall = to wait in, guarded by a vigilant young Marine.

The ship’s Captain turned up a minute later, stepping in= and sitting. He gave Mick and Jim a look over. ‘You’ve got a damned cheek bringing your man here.’

‘He’s ex-Navy, so he’s your man as well,R= 17; Mick curtly stated.

     ‘If the Maltese authorities knew … there’d be hell to pay!’

     ‘And if we take him to a hospital … there’d be hell to pay!’ M= ick countered.

     ‘I have to send this up the line, and they’ll decide what happens.’= ;

     ‘Fine, go fill in a form,’ Mick said. ‘Just save his life first.’= ;

     The Captain took a moment. ‘What the hell happened?’

     ‘We were tailing the brother of a Pakistani nuclear scientist, but the Russians showed up, plus a few other party-poopers, and some east European goons with guns.’

     ‘Here, in Malta? Gunmen? That’s outrageous.’

     ‘We think so too. Want to lend a hand?’

     The Captain forced a breath and took a moment. ‘We’ll look after yo= ur injured man, we have a surgeon onboard.’

     ‘Yeah, well our guy is probably going to be happy as fuck to be back on the ocean wave; he served aboard HMS Newcastle.’

     ‘I’ll arrange some food and drink for you while I wait a response from London.= 217; He stood.

     ‘Captain,’ Mick called. ‘There’s an on-going operation out there, and we’re losing it. If you want to be helpful, I have a request, and some rules to bend.’

 

2

 

Colette slowly stood up as= he got the detail about Davies. To his secretary he barked, ‘Find Chambe= rs. Quickly!’

     A moment later, she said, ‘He’s over in Vauxhall, in a meeting.’

     ‘Damn. Get me a car, quickly.’ He grabbed his jacket. ‘Call operations= and then the Russian Section, tell them Davies has been shot in Malta.’ He rushed out.

     In the car, he took the second call from Mick, puzzling what Mick meant about a secure surgical unit.

     At SIS headquarters, Vauxhall, the driver showed his ID, followed by Colette. = At the main entrance, Colette showed the police his ID, then again at the front desk.

     ‘Where’s Chambers?’ he asked at the desk.

     The staff on duty checked the sign-in book. ‘In a meeting, third floor, C10.’

     Colette strode towards the lifts, his future career prospects upper-most in his min= d. On the third floor he scanned the signs and arrows, finding C10. Approaching it, he could see a meeting in progress through the room’s tinted clas= s, the Director himself chairing the meet. At the door, a pale wood, Colette forced a breath, knocked and entered, despite the sign to the contrary.

     ‘Sorry, sir, gentlemen, but there’s been an incident.’

     Chambers looked horrified.

     Colette turned to the head of the Russian Section. ‘Your man, Davies, has been shot in Malta.’

     ‘Shot?’ the Director asked. ‘Dead?’

     ‘No, sir, alive and quite well according to our people, a lucky hit in the shoul= der, no immediate danger.’

     ‘He only got there an hour ago!’ Chambers put in.

     ‘Would you … like a briefing on the operation, sir?’ Colette asked the Director.

     ‘When one of my officers gets shot, yes I damn well would! But first, what’s happening on the ground? Is Davies on his way to hospital?’

     ‘No, sir, but our people say they have a secure surgical facility.’=

     ‘Secure … facility?’ the Director puzzled.

     Colette’s mobile went. ‘Sorry, sir, that might be them. Yes, it is.’ When Colette ended the call, he informed the room. ‘HMS Exeter is in dock = in Malta and … our people are taking Davies to it.’

     The Director lifted a phone on the table. ‘Get the Admiralty, duty officer.’

 

Thirty minutes later, Cole= tte had briefed the managers of the complete situation, using a white board.

     ‘Thank you, Martin,’ the Director offered. ‘And although that was thorough, we’re no further forwards in understanding what’s goi= ng on. We know what’s happened, but are yet to understand objectives, motivations and associates. Opinions, gentlemen?’

     ‘Has Sayeed upset someone in Eastern Europe?’ a man asked.

     ‘Sayeed … is alive and well and wandering around,’ the Director pointed out. ‘Whilst our people get fired at.’

     Chambers put in, ‘Any attempt to try and scare us off – would have the e= xact opposite effect.’

     ‘And why would anyone want Sayeed surrounded by armed and nervous agents or police?’ a man asked. ‘The most likely outcome would be Sayeed being picked up, or at risk of being shot.’

     ‘And if he was…?’ the Director posed.

     ‘The agency responsible would feel the fall out,’ another man put in.

     ‘Are we saying … that someone desires a tussle in public, and the resulting bad publicity?’ the Director posed.

     ‘Sayeed’s brother has accused The West of harassment, and of threats to kill.’<= /span>

     ‘And if we increment our interest in his brother he gets a small victory in the press,’ Chambers added.

     The Director focused on Colette. ‘Your men, they’re freelancers?= 217;

     ‘Yes, sir.’

     ‘Have them keep a discreet eye on Sayeed. I want no one else near that man.’= ;

     ‘Might I ask, sir, if any of the steps I took were … inappropriate?’

     ‘No, Mister Colette. Your people found, identified, tracked, and lifted the IDs = of the opposition. As for using the Exeter? Well, that was cheekily brilliant; we’ve kept this out of the papers and contained it. As for Davies, there’ll be a formal inquiry, the question one of threat level and briefing. And I for one would never have expected someone to take pot shots= at our people in Malta.’

     ‘Davies was responsible for his own conduct on the island,’ the head of Russi= an Section admitted. ‘As well as senior to the freelancers. He also knew about the armed men who were arrested.’

     ‘Keep me informed through Mister Chambers,’ the Director told Colette. ‘Thank you, Martin.’

     Back in the car, Colette blew out so loud the driver was worried for him. ‘Tough meeting, sir?’

     ‘No, it … it went OK.’

     ‘You look like you need a beer, sir.’

 

3

 

At 9pm, the two gunmen responsible for Davies’ condition ambled along the street that led to= the steps, the street affording them plenty of dark corners to wait in, wait in= and observe the approaches to the Hilton. From behind, they heard raucous singi= ng, turning to see a gang of young men with flags walking along singing and chanting. The two gunmen eased into a darkened porch and waited the passing= of what appeared to be football fans.

     From the middle of the gang, Mick said ‘Now!’ the Royal Marines and = Navy ratings pummelling the two gunmen with dozens of blows and kicks. When down, the gunmen were stamped on, weapons and wallets removed, hands and feet bou= nd with plastic ties. The singing started up again, flags waved, and the gang moved off, having stopped for less than twenty seconds.

     Around the corner, Mick jumped into Jim’s car, two naval officers sat in the rear in civilian clothes. ‘As a respectable British tourist, I’= d to take this opportunity to complain about the conduct of your drunken ratings.’

     ‘Noted,’ came from the men in the rear. ‘What have you got?’

     ‘Your lads have two pistols, unloaded and cleared, and I’ve the wallets belonging to those two gentlemen.’ Mick passed back five hundred Euro= s. ‘Beer money for the lads.’ He checked the wallets. ‘Czeck identity, probably a forgery like the last lot. Oh, for fuck’s sake.’

     ‘What?’ Jim asked.

     ‘They have a note as to which hotel Sayeed will be at in Spain.’

     ‘How the hell could they know?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘Because someone … told them.’ He handed Jim the wallet. ‘C= all Colette, give him their details.’ Mick craned his neck around. ‘Ready for some leg work, gents?’

     The officers opened the car doors.

In the main square in Paceville, Mick and the two officers nav= igated through the tourists and locals, the numbers swollen by more than eighty sailors, the sailors mostly ignoring each other. Some were in pairs, others= in groups of four, a few waving flags. The area appeared busy, but no one would have ever considered that through the seemingly random crowd a single group= of eighty people now worked together.

     Two ratings approached. ‘Got a couple of likely lads, sir, speaking some language I can’t figure. Big lads, padded jackets, in the bar opposite the one you said to check.’ &nbs= p; 

     They all faced Mick. ‘When I attract their attention, let them follow me to the base of the steps, then we’ll have a quiet word – in the be= st traditions of the Royal Navy.’

     The two officers followed Mick a few steps behind, many ratings nearby but invisible in the crowd. At the bar that Mick and Jim had used to observe Sayeed, Mick stopped and stared at the two men for two seconds before moving off. He had their attention, the men up and following.

     At the base of the steps, weaving through revellers and bombarded by loud musi= c, Mick stopped and turned at street level, no police visible. The men kept coming, now just two flights of steps away.

     ‘Run ashore!’ Mick shouted.

     The goons were thrust forwards, flying over a set of steps and landing hard, rolling to a stop whilst being kicked repeatedly. Flags went up, ratings cl= osed in, and loud singing broke out, the goons getting a good beating.

     A rating walked past and dropped a wallet into Mick’s hand without stopping, a second wallet a few seconds later. A third rating said, ‘= Guns in the bag, sir,’ the chanting and flag waving ratings moving off, Mi= ck using them as cover as locals attended the two semi-conscious and bound men= .

     Back in Jim’s car, Mick turned his head to the two Naval officers, handing over a further five hundred Euros. ‘The lads did well, so be a love a= nd buy them all a few beers on me. Well, on the goons actually.’ He turn= ed back to examine the wallet. ‘And you took four armed men off the stre= ets of the very peaceful island of Malta.’

     ‘They Czeck again?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Yep, carbon copies.’ Mick swivelled around. ‘We’re out of here tomorrow. So, we were never here, you never saw us and … thanks.̵= 7; They shook, the officers jumping out.

     With the doors closed, Jim said, ‘I still can’t believe you just did that.’

     ‘Drop me at the Hilton, I’ll check out. I certainly don’t fancy spend= ing the night in there.’

     As Mick passed through the Hilton’s automatic doors, the German-speaking receptionist waved Mick over. In German, he said, ‘We have had a complaint about you, sir, about activities on your balcony.’

     ‘Really? Well my boat’s fixed, so I’m sailing tonight, checking out now. Kindly prepare my bill for the dry and expensive sandwiches that were washed down with lukewarm coffee. Thank you.’

     Mick checked the foyer and the seating area, not noticing anyone of interest. Outside his room he put an ear to his own door and listened before knocking= on his own door. Nothing. He swiped his key, moving inside.

     The room was as he left it, the balcony door closed, the bathroom cleaned and no one hiding under the bed. His case was still locked, no sign of being force= d.

     Having paid for the expensive stale sandwiches, Mick jumped into the car and they = left the cul-de-sac, checking every face as they progressed along the road. ‘Another day, another hotel room,’ Mick sighed. ‘Oh, did Colette sound OK when you spoke to him?’

     ‘Yeah, fine; we’re still on the case.’

     ‘That’s odd.’

     ‘Why?’

     ‘Should be a full-scale sphincter enquiry over Davies getting shot.’

     ‘You think … you were at fault?’

     ‘Well,’ Mick sighed as they stop-started through the traffic. ‘Maybe. We could have walked to the hotel, and they could have shot at us later. I led Davies down into the marina so I could jump the two goons, but you won’t see that go in any report.’

     ‘And if Davies wants to bury you?’ Jim posed.

     ‘Then I’ll be … looking for work. Do you need a barman?’=

     ‘Hah.’

     Outside Jim’s bar they circled the block three times before parking up for ten minutes, finally walking the block both ways. Inside the bar, Jim locked the door, both men checking rooms and cupboards, even the till, finding everyth= ing in order.

     ‘As I left it,’ Jim noted.

     They blocked narrow steps from within and claimed the flat above, drawing the curtains before putting on the lights. With cold beers in hand, they sat opposite each other on dated and worn sofas.

     ‘Listen,’ Mick softly began. ‘If you … think this is all a bit too much.’

     Jim took a moment. ‘The last few days has taught me one thing – how much I loathe this damn bar!’

     Mick laughed. ‘You needed someone to shine the light of illumination on the problem.’

     Mick’s phone went. ‘Mister Colette, you’re on the job late.’

     ‘Just wanted to let you know that Davies had an operation to remove the bullet, a= nd he’s doing well. They don’t expect any complications. We have t= wo doctors flying down tomorrow to double check, but it all looks good.’=

     ‘Is he … going to try and bury me?’

     ‘His section head has already taken responsibility for Davies’ actions, and Davies is five grades up from you; he knew what he was doing. If anything, = you should have been seen as being under his guidance.’

     ‘Fine, stick that in the report. Oh, I know what hotel Sayeed is going to in Spain.’

     ‘How?’

     ‘Let’s just say I found a wallet in the street, belonging to a few goons.’

     ‘They knew ... in advance? About Spain?’

     ‘Yep, they had his itinerary and his favourite toothpaste.’

     ‘The Director thought as much.’

     Mick sat upright. ‘The Director … is following this case?’

     ‘I gave him a full briefing today. We think Sayeed is baiting the service.R= 17;

     ‘And … I’m not about to have my balls cut off?’

     ‘No, he’s happy enough.’

     ‘Oh. Well … yeah, good.’

     ‘What’ll you do tomorrow?’ Colette asked.

     ‘Let you buy me a cup of tea in Heathrow.’

     ‘Send me the landing time, Mick. Goodnight.’

     ‘What was that?’ Jim asked after Mick lowered his phone.

     Mick made a face. ‘Davies’ section head is taking responsibility for= his man’s actions – like standing in the way of a bullet, and Colet= te briefed the Director about us.’

     ‘I’ll take a wild guess here, but I think Colette gave them the sanitised version.’

     ‘I’ve not told Colette half of what we’ve done, so it must have been,’ Mick pointed out.

     ‘And we’re still on the case?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘They think Sayeed is baiting the service – which might be right, so who be= tter than us.’

     ‘Plausible deniability,’ Jim said.

     ‘So why is Sayeed baiting the service?’ Mick thought out loud. ‘And, more importantly, did my sexual technique impress Gird?’<= /span>

     ‘Have the girls called?’

     Mick shook his head. ‘I asked at reception, and they checked out five minu= tes after we dropped them off. Which can only mean they’re not interested= in us. And Jim, no one has run my name through the computer.’

     Jim’s eyebrows lifted. ‘Then the girls were not Interpol, or French.’=

     Mick shook his head, looking worried. ‘If they don’t have access to Interpol’s computer, then they’re not working for the good guys= . We clocked them, but they were cool and professional.’

     ‘You figuring any of this out?’ Jim asked.

     ‘We’re being paid to follow Sayeed. Figuring it out is Colette’s job.’=

     ‘No one in their right mind baits the service. Maybe the Iranians, but certainly not Sayeed. He neither wants, nor needs, the publicity,’ Jim argued.<= /span>

     ‘Someone does. Someone wants the agencies to flock around Sayeed like flies around s= hit, and mix it up whilst they’re at it.’

     ‘Do you think Sayeed knows?’ Jim posed. ‘Maybe he’s just doing what he was asked to do. He couldn’t have seen any of the incidents.&= #8217;

     ‘He’d have to be daft not to have seen the tails on day one,’ Mick scoffed before sipping his beer.

     ‘Given the goons with guns, I’m starting to think that Sayeed might not be a= ware of all that’s going on around him. He’d have to be crazy to put= himself near Czecks and Bulgarians with guns.’

     Mick gently nodded his head. ‘If any goons turn up in Spain I’ll rem= ove them, and they should be getting low on warm bodies by now.’

     ‘Whoever hired those men must be crapping himself by now!’ Jim loudly pointed = out. ‘Two in jail, four in hospital - and with their weapons and IDs taken! The guy must be on the run already.’

     Mick shook his head. ‘To get the guns on the island cost money, and took g= ood organisational skills – so the paymaster is not stupid. The goons he sent, however, were crap.’

     ‘They were set-up to fail?’ Jim questioned.=  

     Mick raised a finger. ‘What would have happened … if I wasn’t here?’

     ‘The watcher would have glimpsed Sayeed a few times a day and reported little mo= re than the chosen hotel, restaurants used, time in and out – and would = have run a mile from those two ladies! You go over the top.’

     ‘Therefore…’=

     ‘Therefore … you took out the watchers, so they sent more, and more aggressive ones?’

     ‘Do you think … I upset someone?’ Mick posed.

     ‘Mick, you’d only need to turn up to do that.’

     Mick smiled widely. ‘So was the heavy mob even related to Sayeed, or was it emotional?’

     ‘You think … one of the people you took out had a paymaster that took exception to his front man being jumped on?’

     ‘Can’t be the Interpol guy on the bike, or the fake Austrian, and the two Russians were too stupid to even join the dots.’

     ‘So which group is pissed at you?’

     ‘Best bet would be the two fake Ukrainian-Russians, the happy couple you bumped,’ Mick suggested, now yawning. ‘But, the best bet is Spa= in, to see who turns up. Let’s get some kip, eh. Last night’s shagg= ing session is catching up on me.’

     ‘You got the couch. And no, I don’t have a balcony.’

 

 

 

 


Tou= ching base

 

1

 

Landing at Heathrow, Mick presented a Russian passport with a correct visa, Jim in the queue for Euro= pean citizens.

     ‘Thank you, sir,’ the lady passport controller said as she checked the passp= ort carefully. ‘And the nature of your visit, sir?’

     ‘Business,’ Mick said with an accent.

     ‘And the nature of that business?’ she pressed, still checking the passpor= t.

     ‘Not … good English.’

     ‘You won’t get much business done without speaking English, sir,’ she noted without looking up, still studying the passport.

     ‘My business … Russian peoples … London.’

     ‘What business?’

     ‘Future gas.’

     She looked up. ‘Future … gas.’

     ‘Yes. Future gas.’

     The lady glanced over her shoulder, two men stepping forwards. ‘Would you mind following these gentlemen, sir.’

     They led Mick to a room. Scanning his passport, a Russian speaker was called in,= who in turn scanned the passport.

     In Russian, the man asked, ‘What’s the nature of your visit to Gre= at Britain, sir?’

     In Russian, Mick replied, ‘I’m a futures trader, gas and oil. I ha= ve clients here, and I’ve been here many times before.’

     ‘Don’t they trade futures on the stock exchange, people sat behind computers?̵= 7;

     ‘Yes, of course, but some contracts are privately negotiated if they are recurring contracts.’

     ‘And if your English is not very good, how will you arrange such deals?’

     ‘They are Russian customers, but based here in London.’

     ‘And do these Russian customers have large houses to heat with all the gas they buy?’

     Mick produced a business card and headed notepaper. ‘Call my boss, or the office here in London, check to your hearts content.’

     The man glanced briefly towards Mick, lifting the business card. He asked Mick = his name, telephone number and address. ‘If I call this number … who will I get through to?’

     ‘To Olga at reception. She’s a big girl ... you know.’ The man star= ed back for a moment, then returned to the headed notepaper. ‘My boss is Mikhail Lubov. Call.’ Mick checked his watch. ‘Yes, he will sti= ll be in work. May I ask, is something wrong with my passport?’

     ‘No, your passport is in order, but Russian businessmen and gas traders all spea= k a reasonable amount of English, whilst members of criminal gangs don’t.’

     ‘I have a letter from my mother that says I am not in a gang.’

     The man inspecting the passport glanced at his colleague. In Russian, he said to Mick, ‘I think we may have to look into your background in some detai= l, sir.’

     In English, Mick said, ‘Take your fucking time, Knob Head, just get me a cuppa, I’m drying here.’

     The two passport inspectors glanced at each other with peeved looks. ‘Wou= ld I be right in assuming that this is a wind-up?’

     Mick produced his SIS pass. ‘How was my Russian?’

     ‘Your Russian was perfect, and this passport…?’

     ‘Like Pamela Anderson’s tits.’

     ‘I couldn’t fault it.’

     ‘You won’t, not unless you visit the eighty-year-old man in Moscow whose identity I pinched, and confirm that I’m not him. Is Dolan on duty?’

     The second man stepped out, back three minutes later with Dolan.

     ‘Mickey!’ Dolan loudly greeted. They shook. He thumbed towards his colleagues. ‘= ;Did they pick you up?’

     ‘No, but the lady on the desk figured my English was not up to scratch.’

     Dolan examined the passport. ‘Good work, real good work, Mick.’ He ha= nded it back. ‘Tell them about the vase.’

     ‘Ah, not that old story,’ Mick mock complained.

     Dolan faced the men. ‘He snuck into Russia, went right across the country, = took a priceless stolen vase off an armed gang of fifty men, got it out, all the= way to the owner and dropped it.’

     The men laughed.

     Dolan continued, ‘Turns out the owner’s insurance pays for damage or theft, so Mick pretends he found it already broken. They collect the insurance … and everyone is happy.’ He faced Mick. ‘And d= id they … slip you a few quid?’

     ‘They bought me a beer,’ Mick admitted.

     ‘That passport...?’ Dolan nudged.

     ‘Issued in Russia; it’s genuine apart from the fact that I’m not me. Listen, Colette is upstairs if you want a cup of tea.’

     ‘Martin Colette? Sure. Go grab your bag and I’ll see you at the gate.’<= /span>

     ‘Don’t want to shine a torch up my bum?’ Mick teased.

     ‘Not your bum, no.’

     Mick addressed the other two men. ‘Sorry about that, but I like to give yo= ur staff a live one every once in a while.’ They shook.

     With suitcases retrieved, Jim followed Mick through the gate, Dolan following as they headed for the Costa Coffee shop. Colette was sat waiting.

     Standing, he Colette said to Dolan, ‘He didn’t come through on a fake passport, did he?’

     They shook. ‘Passport was a brilliant fake, but he wound the guys up.̵= 7;

     Colette shook Jim’s hand, catching up on old times and common friends as Mick= and Dolan grabbed trays and bought drinks and food. Twenty minutes later, with Dolan heading off, Colette asked, ‘Anything fresh?’

     ‘I left the Hilton last night, and we didn’t go back,’ Mick report= ed. ‘And the honey-trap ladies … they booked out without so much as= a call.’

     ‘Then they were … who you suspected.’

     ‘Oh yeah, and very professional with it,’ Mick confirmed. ‘But I th= ink I figured something out.’

     ‘What’s that?’ Colette asked.

     ‘I think, I mean I suspect, that after I … liberated the wallet of one of the people around Sayeed, that the paymaster got mad about it. The g= oons were to teach someone a lesson and return the status quo.’

     ‘The Russian couple?’ Colette puzzled.

     ‘They’re the only logical choice,’ Mick said. ‘Nothing else makes sense.= And last night we took down four armed goons, so that was six armed goons in to= tal. Some fucker was upset, real upset to send that many.’

     ‘That’s a serious worry, Mick,’ Colette cautioned.

     ‘More so for him, because he’s lost six men; the four from last night endin= g up in custody with the first two idiots. He’s got to be crapping himself right now.’

     ‘Be careful in Spain, you two,’ Colette urged.

     ‘I will,’ Jim offered. ‘Don’t know about him.’<= /p>

     ‘We’ve alerted other agencies to the fact that Sayeed is trying to bait the securi= ty services. You may have a quiet run at it.’

     ‘The Spanish won’t back off from Sayeed,’ Mick suggested. ‘But, then again, it’ll take ten days for the Spanish paperwork to reach the right people, and even then they won’t give a fuck. Did Interpol get a note?’

     ‘They did.’

     ‘And still no searches on me?’

     Colette shook his head as he sipped his tea.

     Mick faced Jim. ‘Those ladies were definitely not agency then.’

     ‘Private?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘Yes, and a worry, because private individuals don’t mind cutting the balls= off sleeping men.’

     ‘You put your heart and soul into it, Mick,’ Colette quipped. ‘Liste= n, you’re not authorised to come through here with fake passports. Some = day –’

     ‘I have to practise,’ Mick insisted. ‘Besides, you’ll bail me out.’

     ‘If Chambers knew…’

     ‘Look, a few months back you sent me to Libya with fake details, and I flew back in with them!’

     ‘And they were duly handed in,’ Colette noted. ‘And … they were for just that job. Your other fakes … God knows where they com= e from, and I won’t ask.’

     ‘You … getting heat about Malta?’ Mick nudged.

     ‘No, not at all. I even had some praise, I’ll have you know,’ Colette informed them, his nose in the air in a mocking gesture.

     Jim put in, ‘What Mick did, was to shake the tree on day one, and damned fast. What we know, we knew early, otherwise we could have tiptoed around f= or weeks. Something is going on. For someone to send those six goons – a= rmed in Malta? He has money, connections, channels, and a bad temper to go with = it.’

     ‘As I said, be careful in Spain,’ Colette cautioned. ‘First sign of trouble, call.’

     ‘How will Davies get back?’ Jim asked.

     ‘They sail for Gibraltar in three days, he’ll fly from there.’=

     ‘Has he … said anything?’ Jim asked.

     ‘He spoke to his section chief this morning, who reported him doing well. Why?’

     ‘Just wondering if he blames us?’ Jim admitted.

     ‘I … sent you to do that job, Davies’ section chief sent him, and = none of us could have predicted armed idiots running around Malta – itR= 17;s unheard of.’

     ‘C’mon,’ Mick said to Jim. ‘Best collect our tickets. I booked them online this morning, so it’ll be a headache.’

 

2

 

On the flight to Malaga, M= ick and Jim ignored each other, sitting apart. Collecting their luggage at Mala= ga airport they exchanged looks, but kept apart. Safely though passport control and customs, Jim followed Mick as they took a shuttle-bus the short distanc= e to the railway, catching a train down to Fuengirola.

     They both checked the people getting on and off at the various stops, the train trundling slowly down the coast and eventually passing under Torremolinos t= own centre, into the sunshine again at Arroyo, soon in tunnels again before arriving in Fuengirola, halting in an underground station. At street level, Mick grabbed the first taxi, waving Jim over.

     ‘Where we staying?’ Jim asked as they jumped in, Mick handing the driver an address.

     ‘With friends,’ Mick enigmatically stated. ‘But we’re booked in= to a local hotel as well, just in case.’

     The taxi followed a main road out of the town, soon climbing a gentle rise, the hills in the distance dotted with houses.

     ‘This is Mijas,’ Jim noted. ‘I holidayed here once.’

     At the small and picturesque mountain town of Mijas, its square the local tour= ist trap, Mick said to the driver. ‘My friend, first Benalmadena Pueblo, we’ll have a look.’

     The taxi driver shrugged. They cornered around steep bends with equally steep drops, arriving at the pueblo five minutes later. Mick directed the taxi pa= st uniform white houses, a fountain, and to a small square.

     Handing the taxi driver fifty Euros, Mick said, ‘Wait please.’ He led J= im to a viewpoint.

     ‘Expensive ride,’ Jim complained.

     ‘Around here they’re pricey.’ They halted at an iron railing, the chosen spot affording them a panoramic view of coast some two miles below.<= /p>

     ‘I remember this view,’ Jim noted. ‘Think we came up here once. You follow that road down to Benalmadena Beach.’

     Mick placed a cigarette on his lip and nodded. ‘Yep. Right, let’s go= say hello.’ He turned and started down a set of steps.

     ‘Say hello?’ Jim repeated as he followed, glancing back at the waiting tax= i.

     They found a small bar built into the cliff, tables and chairs outside, no patro= ns visible. Stepping in, the barman looked up. The man looked to Jim to be aro= und fifty-five and of Mediterranean appearance, five eleven tall and with a bit= of a potbelly, now wearing a purple jumper.

     ‘Roger, this is Jim. Jim this is Roger.’ They shook. ‘Jim, Roger is a former Interpol officer who doesn’t mind stretching the law. And Roge= r, Jim is a retired former Circus officer who thinks twice about stretching the law.’

     ‘Backup,’ Jim realised.

     ‘Drinks?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Nope, expensive taxi sat up top. We’ll be up at the villa, I’ll call = when we need you.’ Mick led Jim out, and back up the steps to reclaim the taxi.

     ‘He British?’ Jim asked.

     Mick nodded. ‘But can pass for Mediterranean.’

Back in Mijas Square they carried on the way they were facing,= along a quiet road and to a villa. Halting at a large wooden gate set in high sto= ne walls, Mick jumped out, pressing a buzzer several times. The gate clicked o= pen, but Mick had to manhandle it aside. With the taxi through, Mick jumped back= in and directed the taxi fifty yards down a slope and to a huge and sumptuous villa. A pink villa. A white-haired lady in her seventies stood with small = dog in her arms, the strong wooden doors behind her ajar.

     ‘Flora, you old slapper,’ Mick called.

     The taxi driver unloaded the cases as Mick closed in to the lady and kissed her= on the cheek.

     ‘Flora, this is Jim. And no, you can’t bed him, he has more taste than that.’

     ‘Charming,’ she complained.

     ‘Hello,’ Jim offered.

     With the taxi pulling away, Flora led them inside.

     ‘Wow!’ Jim quietly let out, a look exchanged with a smirking Mick.

     ‘Your rooms are upstairs, I put sticky notes on them,’ Flora announced with= out turning around.

     A maid in uniform stood waiting, drink orders taken. With cases left in the hallway, they all sat.   <= /span>

     ‘Jim, Flora here is an … old customer –’

     ‘A friend, Mick. We’re friends,’ she insisted.

     ‘I … handled Flora’s divorce.’

     She laughed, tipping her head back. Jim shot Mick a puzzled look, a request for further explanation.

     ‘I … befriended her late husband, got him drunk, gave him some Viagra, a= nd got him a nice eighteen year old Romanian hooker who...’

     ‘Gave him a blowjob and a heart attack,’ Flora squealed.

     Jim shot Mick a disapproving frown.

     ‘Flora got the full sixty-eight million quid,’ Mick explained.

     ‘Bloody hell,’ Jim let out.

     ‘So Mick’s my favourite man in the whole world,’ Flora added.

     ‘And a year ago some conmen took Flora for half a million,’ Mick explained= as their drinks were placed down. ‘So I … recovered it.’

     ‘It wasn’t the money, it was the principle!’ Flora insisted. ‘They conned me, and Mick got it all back when he could have legged it with the money.’

     ‘He’s good that way,’ Jim mockingly approved. ‘When he finds a wallet= in the street he hands it in.’

     ‘What’s the job, Mick?’ Flora asked.

     ‘Couple of Russian gentlemen, Flo.’

     ‘Stay as long as you like, I could do with the company.’

     ‘Still playing bridge?’

     ‘No, I gave that up.’

     ‘Got some work for you if you want it,’ Mick told her, Jim surprised by the offer.

     ‘I love a bit of intrigue and sneaking about; you just give me an hour’s notice.’

     Mick faced Jim. ‘Tomorrow: eye patch, blazer, walking stick – and Fl= o on your arm. And don’t worry, Flo’s excellent at ad-libbing and watching people. She also spills her drink on people like a pro.’  

     Jim smiled widely, shaking his head.

 

* *= *

 

Dinner was cooked by a vis= iting chef, served by the maid and of five star quality, the wine a hundred pound= s a bottle.

After the meal, Jim was both full, and impressed. ‘That = was damned good,’ he let out.

     ‘He comes up twice a week, the chef,’ Flo informed them.

     On the patio, the three of them sat watching the twinkling lights of Fuengirola below.

     ‘So, what’s the game plan?’ Jim asked, easing back and relaxing, sip= ping a nice red wine.

     ‘Sayeed will book into the hotel some time after noon, so you two can confirm that.= My guess is … we’ll see watchers in the hotel before he gets there.’

     ‘What hotel?’ Flora asked.

     ‘Granada Star.’

     ‘God, what a dump. Does he travel cheap?’

     ‘He was in the Hilton in Malta,’ Jim put in.

     ‘I’ve been there. Didn’t like it much.’

     ‘What’s the Granada like?’ Jim asked her.

     ‘It’s on a busy main road, two blocks from the promenade. It’s one of them = tall towers, but the rooms look over apartments with TV aerials. Ghastly.’=

     ‘It has the Italian restaurant opposite the main entrance?’ Mick asked wi= th a frown.

     ‘Yes, that’s it,’ Flora confirmed. ‘But that restaurant closed = for a year and then re-opened, back as it was – same people.’

     ‘It’s easy to watch,’ Mick commented, taking in the view. ‘Pack a sma= ll case, Flo, we’ll get you a room there for nap time.’

     ‘If I catch an hour at 4 o’clock I’m fine,’ she said defensiv= ely.

     With Flora off to bed, it was just Mick and Jim, under the stars with a good red wine. It was chilly, but not cold.

     ‘You got this place sewn up,’ Jim noted.

     ‘Spent a lot of time working down here. And when I make a contact … I try and keep hold of them.’

     ‘A gregarious spy,’ Jim idly commented.

     ‘To do the tail work well you need the structures and the people, the contacts = and the places. I can tail people down here from in front and know where they’re going. I can guess where they’ll eat out, and where they’ll shop. And I can tell the difference between a tourist, an ex-= pat, an ex-pat gangster, or a mark.’

     ‘The paymaster worries me.’

     ‘He worries me as well,’ Mick admitted. ‘But so long as he keeps sending idiots … well, we’ll see tomorrow.’

     ‘Should we pick up Sayeed at the airport?’

     ‘Roger will, it’s a days work for him. And I’d like to see the look on Sayeed’s face when he gets the taxi bill down here.’

     ‘He may get the train like us. That was two Euros.’

     ‘Maybe.’

     ‘And if I spot certain ladies tomorrow?’ Jim posed.

     ‘Then I’ll have to stay back, and you’ll need the patch and sunglasse= s. I doubt they’ll recognise you.’

     ‘If they think we’re tailing Sayeed, they’re bound to think we̵= 7;ll be here,’ Jim posed before sipping his wine.

     ‘I’m not so sure. If we we’re of interest to them they’d have stuck = with us.’ Mick’s phone trilled. ‘Yeah?’

     ‘It’s me, can you talk?’ Colette asked.

     ‘Sure, just sat with a good red wine enjoying the view.’

     ‘Someone died at the Metropole Hotel in Malta today, and they can’t identify h= im. Aged around sixty, dark hair. He had a leg in plaster, but fell and broke h= is neck.’

     ‘Doesn’t sound like anyone we saw.’

     ‘Well, I’ll try and get you the details. Night.’

     Mick faced Jim, taking a moment. ‘Fake Austrian guy had his neck broken in= the Metropole today. Police think it was a fall.’

     ‘That would be too convenient. So, who pushed him?’

     Mick took in the view. ‘Whoever pushed him is private, not an agency. And = our dead man was not agency, or they’d know. So, private agency one kills private agency two’s man.’

     ‘Which makes a complete nonsense of the idea that Sayeed is baiting the security services,’ Jim put in.

     ‘It does, kind of.’

     ‘So, tomorrow we can expect a bunch of squabbling kids, all either trying to fol= low Sayeed - or trying to stop others following him!’

     ‘You and Flo go static at the hotel tomorrow, I’ll go mobile with Roger.’

    

3

 

Wearing a beige eye-patch, glasses and a blue blazer, Jim helped Flora from the taxi and into the hotel foyer, a booking made by phone the night before. With the room checked, cas= es dumped, they took the lift down and settled in the hotel bar for a coffee, a clear view of the foyer from where they sat.

     ‘The couple,’ Flora said. ‘Fakes for definite.’

     ‘Yes?’ Jim studied the couple as best he could. ‘Why?’

     ‘Why are they sat in here, young couple like that? And she has a wedding ring, b= ut he don’t.’

     ‘Maybe they’re cheating,’ Jim said with a grin.

     ‘Then they’d be upstairs and at it, not here. They have one coffee cup each= and three dirty coasters, so they’ve been there an hour.’

     Jim smiled, shaking his head. ‘Mick said you were good.’

     ‘Mick said you lost your wife.’

     Jim lost his grin, and took a breath. ‘Yes, of thirty years. She … developed cancer just as I retired and … before we moved to Cyprus.’

     ‘I had a lot of friends out here when I came. Half I buried, the other half ha= ve gone do-lally in the head. Some don’t even know their own names anymore.’ She sipped her soda water. ‘Mick took me on a job a w= hile back, to Nice.’

     Jim’s eyes widened. ‘Mick? Took you … on a job?’

     ‘Aye. I sat in the hotel, spotted the mark and his buddies - and his slapper, then Mick got their documents or something. It was great fun. And you’re n= ot so young either, my lad.’

     ‘Well … no.’

     ‘If you don’t use your body, you lose the use of it. If you don’t u= se your head, you go do-lally like the rest. Make the most of it, Jim. I got a= ll the money in the world, and no one pays me any notice, or any respect. If I= sat in that house till I died no perisher would notice.’

     Jim focused on the foyer and its reception desk, alone with his own thoughts fo= r a full minute. ‘I’ll go to the room and call in. You OK there?= 217;

     ‘Fine, I’ll watch the watchers.’

     In the room, Jim called Mick. ‘How we doing?’

     ‘Sayeed is taking the train. Roger is with him because Sayeed has some close compan= y, and I’m not sure if they were in Malta. How’s it your end?̵= 7;

     ‘Flora spotted the watchers before I did; couple in reception chain-drinking coffee.’

     ‘Go passive: no tails and no interest shown. Let’s bore them to death, eh?’

     ‘No problem.’

     Downstairs, Flora now had a handful of tourist leaflets on the table, Jim picking one u= p as he sat.

     ‘I had a word with the watchers,’ Flora discretely mentioned. ‘Ask= ed them to read the small print on this. They’re east European of some sort, broken English.

     ‘That fits. Mick has a man on the mark, who’s not alone.’

     ‘I know Roger; runs the little bar in the pueblo. I used to pop down there for Sunday lunch, but his steps up and down are a bugger on my legs.’

     Twenty minutes later, and with sandwiches being nibbled at, Jim whispered, ‘That’s the mark.’

     Flora did not react. ‘Car outside, three men in it,’ she said whilst picking bits out of her sandwich.

     Two men walked in, through reception and to the bar, sitting behind Flora and J= im. The first man made a call in German.

     ‘We’re at the hotel, the Granada. He’s booking in. No, nothing so far. Yes, they’re sat in reception, I’ll talk with them soon. OK, I’= ;ll call Muller later.’

     Flora lifted a tourist guide. Placing it close to her eye, she lifted her glasses= for a better look. Swivelling, she glanced at the first man. ‘Do you speak English, love?’

     ‘Yes.’

     She offered the flyer. ‘Can you see what it says at the bottom?’

     The man smiled and took the flyer. ‘Thirty-five Euros each, no refund. Mu= st book one day before.’ He handed it back.

     ‘Thank you.’ She turned to Jim. ‘Thirty-five for the bus trip.’<= /span>

     Jim put a hand to his ear. ‘What?’

     ‘Thirty … five!’

     Jim nodded, accepting the flyer.

     From behind, he could hear in German, ‘If I ever get like that, fucking sh= oot me.’

     With Sayeed in the lift, the men left the hotel.

     ‘Did you get any of that?’ Flora asked.

     ‘Yes, they’re our boys alright. I even got a name, maybe the paymaster.R= 17;

     ‘Sloppy boys. They never respect the old, or think we’re listening.’

     ‘Let’s walk down to the beach, or we’ll look as suspicious as that couple.’

Jim eased up, a hand for Flora, and hobbled out. At the main entrance, Flora exaggerated her difficulty with the steps before Jim led her towards the promenade, the car’s number plate noted.

     At the beach he called Mick. ‘Three goons at the hotel in addition to the couple, and they have a car; I’ve got the plate. They speak German, b= ut I can’t tell regions as well as you. Got a potential name for the paymaster: Muller. And Mick, the amateur couple in reception are part of the team.’

     ‘Then the amateur Russian couple were with them all along.’

     ‘And we bumped them, taking the guy’s wallet.’

     ‘That pissed off someone,’ Mick commented. ‘They probably made the fa= ke Austrian and killed him.’

‘And the honey trap?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Not part of that group. Anyone there you recognise?’

     ‘Not so far,’ Jim reported.

     ‘Anyone with a bruised face?’

     ‘No,’ Jim said with a grin.

     ‘Bore them rigid, Jim. Tonight, leave Flo there, meet me at the villa for 8pm.= 217;

    

Mick put his phone away, l= ifted his binoculars and focused on the street outside the hotel, and the car in question.

     ‘Well?’ Roger asked, the two of them now on a high roof, wedged between a lift hous= ing and a large satellite dish.

     Mick lowered his glasses and faced Roger. He made a face, taking a moment. ̵= 6;If they’re true to form, then they’ll be carrying … and read= y to use them.’

     ‘So what are they after?’

     ‘We don’t know. The mark is wandering around Europe, possibly to try and = bait the security services for the bad publicity, and this lot … they foll= ow him around and play at watchers, shooting at people taking an interest in t= he mark. Some of those that turned up in Malta are behind bars.’<= /p>

     ‘Mick, if their buddies are behind bars, then that lot down there either have a de= ath wish … or they don’t know.’

     ‘Don’t know?’ Mick queried.

     ‘Don’t know a fucking thing about Malta.’

     Mick took in the view from the roof. ‘Sacrificial lambs?’

     ‘Mick, if that lot thought for a moment that someone like you was on their case … they’d fuck off.’

     ‘They were all amateurs in Malta…’ Mick thought out loud. ‘But what does that achieve? We can work around them and still follow= the mark; he’s all over the computer and using his own ID.’<= /p>

     ‘Why do you think they’re baiting the police?’

     ‘His brother has a long-running row with the press in various countries, accusat= ions of harassment and death threats,’ Mick explained, focusing the binoculars. ‘If we pull in the mark for nothing … they get more publicity.’

     ‘Any publicity from Malta?’

     ‘Not a thing, I kept it that way.’

     ‘Mick, could this be about you?’ Roger let float.

     Mick faced him with a curious frown. ‘Me?’

     ‘I can think of a few people that would spend good money on trying to catch up with you,’ Roger warned.

     ‘No one could have figured I’d get this assignment. And those I’ve fucked off over the years … they don’t know who I work for.R= 17; Mick re-focused the glasses. ‘Besides, they’d send a pro, not a dozen amateurs. When the time came my head would explode, a high velocity r= ound making a nice hole, and I’d know nothing about it.’

     ‘Just a thought.’

     Mick lowered the binoculars, staring across at Roger for several seconds.=

 

4

 

At 8pm, Jim drove past Mic= k in Roger’s car on the mountain road to the villa, Mick and Roger now par= ked up and waiting. They remained a further five minutes, checking the road, be= fore joining Jim.

     ‘Well?’ Mick asked as he slumped down onto a sofa in the huge lounge, the maid stood waiting.

     ‘We’re boring them,’ Jim answered as Mick asked the maid for three beers. ‘Sayeed has come and gone, and we saw him sat at a café, back = to the road as usual.’

     ‘Like he’s trying to be followed,’ Roger noted.

     ‘Thought I spotted someone with a big lens,’ Jim mentioned. ‘If Flora hadn’t been with me I could have been sure.’

     ‘Could just be Interpol watching Sayeed,’ Roger put in.

     Mick held his hands wide. ‘We’re being paid to baby-sit, London requ= ires nothing more.’

     ‘But…’ Jim nudged.

     ‘But … there’s something more going on, and I’d like to know w= hat it is,’ Mick answered. ‘Either that, or we simply baby-sit for = five days.’

     Roger eased forwards. ‘From what you’ve told me, the paymaster is alr= eady twenty or thirty grand out of pocket and down six men. This is a high stakes game, not just to piss-off the police in the press, no matter how much the brother might want to.’

     ‘I’m tempted to follow this all the way up the tree,’ Mick told Jim. ‘And, if we find a few half-decent professionals on the way, London w= ill pay us. If we catch a big fish, we’ll get a good bounty.’

     Roger told Jim, ‘Mick and me, we hunt around the coast when we can. We̵= 7;ve picked up four individuals, a total bounty of over two hundred grand.’= ;

     ‘If one of the key players has a bounty on him, we’ll make a few quid,= 217; Mick told Jim, a gentle encouragement, a bit of carrot dangling.

     ‘Is that why you took the wallets in Malta?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Partly - I checked the names, but you won’t catch a big fish playing at bein= g a watcher.’

     ‘But the paymaster may have a few quid on his head,’ Jim noted. He shrugge= d. ‘I’m not averse to some extra income. What about Colette? And n= ow that Davies has been shot, London is paying attention.’

     ‘They don’t care about us looking for bounties, they pay them themselves of= ten enough,’ Roger emphasised.

     ‘When Sayeed flies home we’re off the case,’ Mick pointed out. ‘Best make use of the time while they’re paying us our costs.’

     ‘So what’s the plan?’ Jim asked before sipping his beer.

     ‘We try and get their wallets and mobiles,’ Mick said. ‘That may le= ad us to the next guy up the chain. The room you have in that hotel, does it f= ace the street?’

     ‘Yes.’

     ‘Then we need a few condoms.’

     Jim raised a flat palm. ‘Excuse me?’ he loudly asked.

     Mick and Roger laughed. Mick explained, ‘Condoms full of paint. You’= ll see; it’s a tried and tested routine.’

 


Gre= en gloss paint

 

1

 

Flora picked up the newspa= pers from the bathroom floor, being careful to get them all into a plastic bag. = With the air squeezed out, she put the bag into a second. That was squeezed into= a third, placed finally into Flora’s suitcase.

     Jim slid the window open and peered down, the car five yards to the right. Pull= ing his head in, he whispered, ‘Lights, Flo.’

     With the room dark, newspapers laid out on the dresser and Jim wearing plastic gloves, “Operation Condom Paint” began.

 

Sat in the car in below, t= hree men rested elbows out of open windows, smoking and chatting quietly. The fi= rst condom hit the windscreen with a bang, the paint covering a wide area, splattering across the road and pavement. Startled, they jumped out, the se= cond condom hitting the roof and exploding a second later, the men’s faces, hair and clothes covered in bright green gloss paint.

 

Jim closed the window with= an elbow, Flora swishing the curtain before knocking on the lights. She held a plastic bag, Jim’s plastic gloves carefully taken off and placed insi= de. Flora squeezed the air out of the bag, placing it in a second, then a third= and inside her case as Jim washed his hands, checking everywhere for paint.

     With Flora spraying Channel No. 5 around the room, Jim checked his face and hair= in the mirror, his shirt, then his hands and arms front and back. Flora looked= him over, Jim checking her. The newspapers on the dresser were folded, bagged a= nd placed in the suitcase, the empty tins already inside.

     They diligently checked the dresser, rubbing toilet paper across it just in case, Jim dropping to his knees to check the carpet. They were good to go.=

 

In the street, the men sto= od staring at each other, soaked in sticky gloss paint, people stopping to wat= ch. Reception called the police.

     When the police arrived the men were rubbing their hair with clothes and rags fr= om the boot, but succeeding in only making it worse by spreading the sticky pa= int around. The police were not too keen to approach, the Germans pointing upwa= rds, the police trying to figure where the paint condoms had come from.

     With the lead German wanting to drive away, the police were not keen on that ide= a, the windscreen blocked, even after rubbing newspapers over it. They forbid = the men from driving it, leaving them only one option - since no taxi would take them. The men started walking.

 

2

 

Roger laughed hard, follow= ing a trail of small green dots along the pavement. He pointed, ‘I think th= ey went this way.’

     ‘You’re good,’ Mick commended. ‘You could have Red Indian blood in you.’

     Four blocks over, the men stood outside a cheap and rundown hotel, the porter not wanting to let the men with green hair and sticky fingers inside the hotel.=

     ‘OK, here we go,’ Mick said.

     Approaching the complaining men, Mick adopted German. ‘Guys, what the fuck happened?’

     ‘Someone threw paint.’

     ‘Nail polish remover will help, from the corner shop. Come.’

     The Germans willingly followed Mick and Roger towards the beach, and a brightly= lit shop on a corner, people stopping to stare. Mick went inside, soon back with several bottles of surgical spirits and household dusting rags, the Germans most grateful.

     ‘The beach,’ Mick said, gesturing to the sand across the promenade. They m= oved off as a group, shuffling down a smooth and sandy ramp to the sand itself a= nd a low wall to sit on. The wall was lit from the promenade, but the area was q= uiet and shaded. ‘Sit, sit.’

     Mick poured the surgical spirits onto sticky hands, the men rubbing the paint of= f, rags applied, more praise heaped on Mick and Roger, talk of a financial rew= ard or a few beers.

     Next, Mick and Roger tackled the hair. ‘Don’t – whatever you do – get this in your eyes,’ Mick cautioned. With the Germans sat = in a line, eyes tightly closed, hair was dabbed with the surgical spirits.

     Mick exchanged a look with Roger, the promenade checked at length, both ways. He nodded. With kind words being issued, heads being dabbed, Roger pulled a truncheon out of his jacket.

     Mick nodded. With a cloth around his hand, he hit the first man in the jaw, the punch unseen, Roger whacking the end German in the nose, knocking him backwards. The middle German opened his eyes in time to see Mick hit him in= the jaw. It was all over, additional blows and kicks added for good measure, sa= nd kicked over the German’s sticky faces. With Mick grabbing wallets and phones, Roger smashed ankles, the two of them across the promenade six seco= nds later and into a side street.

     At the first corner, Roger headed to the main road, Mick to the car, Roger flagging down a police car and reporting a fight on the beach. When Roger e= ased into the car, Mick pulled off, back at the villa fifteen minutes later.

     Jim called. ‘How’d it go?’

     ‘As expected: taxis don’t take people covered in paint, and hotels don’t like to admit them.’

     ‘Got what we need?’ Jim nudged.

     ‘Yes. Clean up, check for paint everywhere, then sit in the bar and see what happens.’

     ‘On it.’

     The maid fetched paint cleaner for Mick and Roger, Flora’s decorators hav= ing left some behind. Sticky fingers were cleansed, washed down with soap afterwards.

     In the lounge, Mick sat with a beer, calling the duty officer at the MOD. ‘It’s Michael Canuck, I work for Martin Colette, P2. I need some details taken down and traced. Thanks.’

     A full fifteen minutes later, names, driver’s license numbers and recen= tly dialled and received numbers were logged.

     ‘They look like genuine German IDs,’ Mick commented, handing them over to R= oger, an expert on fake IDs.

     One of the phones began to play a musical call. Mick picked it up. ‘Yah?’

     ‘How goes it?’

     ‘Nothing.’

     ‘Nothing?’

     ‘Nothing.’

     ‘OK.’ The line went dead.

     ‘Paymaster?’ Roger asked, still studying the IDs.

     ‘Maybe.’ Mick made a note of the number on a pad. Recalling the last number dialled,= he could see it was not the same number. He asked the maid for a small radio, which she fetched. Turning on the radio, and turning up the volume – = the station deliberately off-tune - Mick dialled the number.

     ‘Yah?’

     ‘Heinrick has been shot.’

     ‘Shot?’

     ‘Maybe a sniper.’

     ‘And the police?’

     ‘They have the body, and his pistol.’

     ‘Have you been seen?’

     ‘No.’

     ‘Leave your hotel, go to another.’

     ‘The police will trace the hotel through Heinrick. We are booked in, they have o= ur passports.’

     ‘Ditch the IDs, I will have new identity brought down in a day or two. Sleep on the beach or in the hills if you have to. I will call when we have them.’= The line went dead, Mick turning down the radio.

     Mick pointed at the IDs. ‘Fakes.’

     ‘Bloody good ones,’ Roger noted. ‘Expensive.’

     ‘Courier coming down with extra IDs in a day or so; he can tell us where he hails from.’

     ‘They all have the issuing city as Munich - the driver’s licenses.’

     Mick selected another number and turned the radio back up.

     ‘Hallo?’ came a woman’s voice, a young woman. ‘Klaus?’

     ‘It’s me.’

     ‘Are you in a bar?’

     ‘Yes. Listen, Heinrick has been killed.’

     ‘My God! I told you not to get involved with them. You’ll end up dead, or= in prison!’

     ‘Muller pays well.’

     ‘Who is this Muller? Does he work for Lodz?’

     ‘Yah, he’s the big boss.’

     ‘Money is no good in prison!’

     ‘It will be OK, a few days and I’m back.’

     ‘You sound different.’

     ‘I have been shot, but not bad.’

     ‘Klaus!’ she screamed. ‘To hell with Brim Lodz!’

     Mick wrote the name down and ended the call, knocking off the radio. ‘Amateurs, hired by a Brim Lodz, no idea who Muller is, but the girlfriend probably doesn’t know.’

     The phone went, the same number, but was ignored, the volume turned down. Scann= ing the text messages of each phone, they found nothing interesting.

     ‘There’s one common number,’ Mick noted. He turned the radio back up and selec= ted the number. ‘Lodz?’

     ‘Yah? Hallo?’

     ‘Heinrick is dead, shot, maybe a sniper. I’m hurt, but not bad.’

     ‘And Steffan?’

     ‘I don’t know where he is, he ran.’

     ‘Idiot!’

     ‘I just had a call, from a Muller, asking about you.’

     ‘About me? Muller asked about me? What did he ask?’

     ‘How much you paid us.’

     The line went dead.

     Mick knocked off the radio. ‘Lodz works for Muller, and Lodz is afraid of Muller. Lodz is semi-pro, and these three were amateurs with a bit of form. This Muller – he might be a big fish.’

     ‘If he was pissed before, he’ll be somewhat vexed now,’ Roger cautioned.

     ‘Let’s get some food. We can try that Italian.’ Mick dialled Jim. ‘Jim, we’re heading to the Italian, so we’ll cover the street. You co= ver the bar.’

     ‘No problem.’

     ‘Oh, and Jim, you come back up here at 11pm, I don’t want you taking advan= tage of Flo.’

     ‘Sod off.’

     ‘How’re the kids?’

     ‘They legged it in a hurry after receiving a call. Looks like they checked out.’

     ‘You’ll have a quiet night then.’

 

3

    

Three hours in the Italian restaurant produced no sightings, but the food was good, the wine appreciat= ed by Mick, Roger now the designated driver.

     Back at the villa, they halted and watched the road for five minutes, no tail visible.

     ‘How’s Flo?’ Mick asked in the lounge.

     ‘Fine, she’s loving it.’ Jim reported.

     ‘And the hotel bar?’ Mick asked, he and Roger now easing down opposite Jim, Roger checking the German’s mobile phones for missed calls, the phone= s on silent.

     ‘Just old English couples, not a sign of anyone else,’ Jim reported. ‘Police went through the hotel, even had a look in our room at one point.’

     ‘And the car with the nice green bird shit on it?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Towed away,’ Jim reported.

     ‘Twelve missed calls on this one,’ Roger put in. ‘Same number. Eight on this one, two on the last. Oh, and a text message: go to Villa Los Hermanos, Capalenia.’

     ‘Capalenia?’ Mick repeated. ‘That’s a mile from your place!’

     Roger nodded. ‘Must be a safe house.’

     ‘Coffees,’ Mick carefully mouthed. ‘We have a visit to make.’

     ‘Tonight?’ Roger complained. ‘We just sat stuffing our faces for three hours.= 217;

     ‘Hence the coffees, some water, some fresh air,’ Mick listed off.

     ‘You’re a slave driver, you know that,’ Roger complained.

     ‘I’m good to go,’ Jim offered.

     ‘You can bloody drive then,’ Roger told him.

 

* *= *

 

Twenty minutes later they = wound around tight bends, turning off the main road and descending past a bar, winding around the estate whilst being directed by Roger - who figured he k= new where the villa was. Climbing back up the estate, they passed a sign for the villa and kept going, halting behind a large rocky outcrop.

     Binoculars in hand, Mick walked back along the road fifty yards, across scrubland and = to the rocks. Climbing slowly, and gently, a stiff breeze cooling his face, he reached the edge of the rock and peeked over. The grey moonlight revealed a pair of boots about eight feet further forwards. Whoever was there, they we= re covered in camouflage netting and holding still. Mick dropped down, climbing slowly back down, inch by inch and as quietly as he could.

     At the car he looked back before getting in. ‘Drive, but keep the lights off.’

     Jim pulled away up the hill, only putting his lights on when they reached the m= ain road.

     ‘There’s an OP on that rock, someone under camouflage netting, and professional enou= gh to lie there all damn night long.’

     ‘Did they see you?’ Jim asked.

     ‘No, I just popped my head over.’

     ‘Interpol?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Not camouflaged like that,’ Mick said, shaking his head. ‘It’= s a government agency.’

     Back at the villa, Mick picked up one of the German’s phones and dialled t= he police. ‘Hallo? Polizei? Speak ... German?’

     ‘Moment.’

     ‘Hallo?’ came a man’s voice.

     In German, Mick said, ‘This is villa Los Hermanos, estate Capalenia, bet= ween Mijas and Benalmadena Pueblo. A man came to the door, with blood on his face and hands, a German man saying he had been shot.’

     ‘Where is he now?’

     ‘I don’t know, we did not open the door. He looked like he had a pistol.’

     ‘And you are?’

     ‘I rent the villa with my wife. I am Brim Lodz.’

     ‘There will be units with you soon. Don’t go outside.’ The call ended.=

     ‘What will that do?’ Jim asked.

     ‘If someone at the villa is arrested or questioned, Colette can get the details. It’ll also seriously screw with their heads, and give the guy = on the rock something to report. Besides that, it’ll make them tired for= my dawn visit. Roger, crash here – we’ll need your car in the morn= ing. Jim, set your alarm clock for 5am.’

     Mick made a call. ‘Duty officer, please.’

     ‘Hello?’ came a few seconds later.

     ‘It’s Michael Canuck, P2 under Colette. Run a check on villa Los Hermanos –’ He spelt it. ‘Capelenia estate, near Mijas. It’s linked to an armed German gang currently under observation by a professional agency.’

     ‘Which agency?’

     ‘Don’t know, we’re not on speaking terms, just dark shadows in the night. Mi= ck out.’

     After showering, and cleaning his nails at length to remove any signs of green pa= int, Mick climbed into a sumptuous king size bed and sighed. His phone went. Reaching across, it was a London number. ‘Hello?’

     ‘It’s the duty officer. What’s your interest in that villa?’

     ‘It’s linked to the case I’m working on, Mohil Sayeed.’

     ‘How?’

     ‘German gunmen were following Sayeed, who led us to the villa,’ Mick explaine= d.

     ‘German? It’s owned by a Russian with a red flag.’

     ‘And is this Russian motivated by politics or money?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Money. Drugs and guns, nightclubs and brothels.’

     ‘Is that our only interest?’ Mick pressed.

     ‘I can’t say, but the Russian section head will be getting a note in the morning.’

     ‘Oh dear. And is there a team watching him?’

     ‘I can’t say, and you shouldn’t even be contacting us directly, you should go through Colette.’

     ‘Yeah, but if I ring him he just rings you. Why wake him at night, eh?’

 


Pro= fessional company

 

1

 

At 5am, Jim was awake and dressed, knocking on Mick’s door, Roger up and ready, but bleary eyed= .

     ‘Forget it,’ Mick told them, stood in his pants and yawning. ‘I had a c= all, and the guy in the rocks might be one of ours.’

     ‘Ours?’ Jim repeated. ‘You sent the Spanish police around!’

     ‘Yeah, well they don’t know that, do they. Anyway, give me another hour or t= wo, I’m not fully cooked.’

     When Mick was finally ‘fully cooked’ he accepted fresh pancakes from= the maid, sipping a coffee.

     ‘More missed calls on those phones,’ Jim reported. ‘And Roger’s gone back to check his place.’

     Mick nodded. When his phone went it was Colette. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘Senior figure on his way down to you today, Mick. What happened last night?’=

     ‘We lifted the phones and wallets of three German goons, and they tracked back = to a villa. Had a look at the villa and noticed an OP on a rock.’

     ‘Then it wasn’t a very good OP.’

     ‘No, in fairness it was, but I snuck up from behind. Is it ours?’

     ‘Yes.’

     ‘Are we in trouble?’ Mick asked.

     ‘No, but the two projects are now interlinked, and other departments have seniority. I’ve been asked that you not call directly, and go through channels.’

     ‘I didn’t want to wake you, boss.’

     ‘I know. But try and call me in future.’

     ‘My wrist has been slapped.’

     ‘Spanish police arrested three armed German men, beaten and covered in green paint a= nd sand. Do I want to know if you had a hand in that?’

     ‘No, you don’t want to know. But we now have their boss, and his boss.R= 17;

     ‘Brim Lodz is German, minor offences, ex-military, whereabouts unknown, believed = to be in the Czech Republic. The numbers you gave are for women in the Munich area, some of the numbers are pre-pay, so no trace.’

     ‘And Muller?’

     ‘Nothing in the computer of anyone by that name being of interest,’ Colette informed Mick.

     ‘Listen, when the middle boss thought that his men were hurt, he sent them to that v= illa for help. It’s a definite and strong link between them.’=

     ‘That villa is out of bounds to you. You can brief the people coming down and then … well, stay with Sayeed.’

     ‘I hear and obey.’

Mick checked his watch, sending Jim back down to Flora. Jim ca= lled back at 1pm, nothing to report, the hotel quiet, Sayeed wandering again.

     At 2pm Mick’s phone went. ‘Canuck?’

     ‘Yes?’

     ‘Davies works for me.’

     ‘I understand where you sit in the grand food chain, and the queue in the canteen.’

     ‘Where are you?’

     ‘Go to Benalmadena Pueblo, to the viewpoint. Look hard left and down, small and discrete bar. I’ll be there within thirty minutes.’

     ‘About the same for us.’

 

Roger picked Mick up ten m= inutes later. ‘The heavy mob are down,’ Mick explained as they drove a= way. ‘When they get here, you’re just a barman.’

     ‘You under investigation?’ Roger asked.

     ‘No, they’re here to ask questions, and to tell me that villa is out of bounds.’ Mick shook the bag of phones and wallets. ‘I come bear= ing gifts of appeasement.’

     Mick was sat outside Roger’s bar, alone and enjoying the view, when two fa= ces he recognised descended the steep steps, one named Tiller. They sat. ‘Drinks, gentlemen?’

     ‘Soft drinks,’ Tiller requested.

     Mick handed over the bag. ‘For you if you want them.’ He ducked insi= de and ordered drinks, soft drinks, returning to the table with two orange jui= ces.

     ‘What are these?’ Tiller asked, peering into the bag.

     ‘Three large – and armed - German goons were watching Sayeed. I liberated th= eir wallets and phones.’

     Tiller stared back at Mick for several seconds. ‘Three Germans, who were arm= ed, were arrested down here last night, found beaten senseless and covered in g= reen gloss paint and sand.’ He waited.

     ‘I have … no information about that … to offer you. I found their wallets and phones in the gutter.’

     They stared back. ‘And the link to that villa?’

     ‘I called some of the recent numbers from the phones, pretending to be the Germans, said that I’d been shot. A text message came back, telling me – the shot German – to go to the villa.’

     The men exchanged looks.

     ‘The Russian couple in Malta?’ Tiller nudged.

     ‘Ukrainian ID, Russian accents.’

     ‘They’re off our radar; they’ve disappeared,’ Tiller admitted. ‘Se= ems they left Malta by boat.’

     ‘Another couple turned up here, possibly Russian speakers. They disappeared quickly after a call, immediately after I faked the call home to the German middle man.’

     ‘And the link between Malta and here?’

     ‘Only Sayeed, no familiar faces hanging around. But when we lifted the wallet of = the Bulgarian goons in Malta, they had Sayeed’s itinerary; dates, times, hotels … and the time he likes breakfast.’

     Tiller seemed most put out. ‘This whole thing with Sayeed … was planne= d in advance,’ he realised.

     The second man said, ‘The goons in Malta were all beaten senseless, at le= ast four were. But I’m not seeing marks on your hands.’

     ‘That … is because I like to abstain from violence. I’m a professional – I keep a low profile.’

     They again exchanged looks. Tiller admitted, ‘Your … results are und= eniably impressive. We might just want to pinch you away from Colette.’

     ‘I’m a whore at heart; whoever pays best, and treats me best.’

     They smiled. ‘And the villa OP. How did you spot that?’

     ‘I snuck up on the villa, close enough to smell your guy, who – by the w= ay – did a good job. But I’m also quite good.’

     ‘The police turned up at the villa. Any clues as to why?’

     Mick shrugged. ‘Maybe the Germans gave it up. You going to tell me about t= hat villa?’

     ‘No,’ Tiller quickly said. ‘What I will say … is that the link to Say= eed set-off alarm bells.’ He shook the bag. ‘And we appreciate this, and the link. All we have to do now is figure the link, and Sayeed’s rather odd behaviour.’

     ‘I’m still authorised to follow Sayeed, so please don’t put anyone near my mark,’ Mick urged.

     ‘Why? Would they get beaten up and covered in green paint?’

     ‘It’s always a possibility,’ Mick suggested with a firm stare.

     ‘The team watching the villa are ex-SAS, so don’t try and beat them up - you’ll get a good kicking yourself. Their job ends at the villa walls= , so you’ll not overlap.’

     Mick slowly nodded. ‘What happened … when the police went to the villa?’

     ‘That … is not your concern. Stay … away.’

     Mick sipped his beer. ‘How’s Davies doing?’    

     ‘Doing well and … singing your praises, oddly enough. He was not looking for= ward to a Maltese hospital and a Maltese enquiry, the press all over him. What y= ou did … was a move that has the community chatting over coffee, and not= one you’d find in the manual.’

     ‘I am resourceful,’ Mick quipped. ‘And if I turn up anything around Sayeed I’ll let you know. But, could I ask a favour?’

     ‘What’s that?’

     ‘I’m not allowed to call the duty officer directly, I have to call Colette ̵= 1; even in the middle of the night. Maybe … you could send a memo?’= ;

     They stood. ‘Maybe. We’ll be here two days.’

     Mick followed them up. ‘Which would suggest that there’s something of more interest to you down here than little old me.’

     ‘If … it’s relevant to you, we’ll call. Thanks for the drinks.’

     Inside the bar, Roger asked, ‘How’d it go?’

     ‘Fine, but they didn’t come down just to see little old me. I think they’ll move on the villa and see what’s in the safe. They have= an SAS team on the villa, and they didn’t bring the boys down just to si= t on a rock and watch lizards.’

     ‘Whoever’s in the villa … is a big fish,’ Roger posed.

     Mick sighed loudly. ‘I know, buddy. And I’m tempted to have a go at = the villa, but … but I’m in their good books for a change, and I don’t want to spoil it. I might get the key to executive toilets if t= his goes off OK.’

     ‘You want back in?’ Roger puzzled.

     Mick shook his head. ‘No, but it can’t hurt to have a little back up.’ His phone trilled. ‘Yeah, Jim?’

     ‘Where are you?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Roger’s bar.’

     ‘I’ll be five minutes.’ He hung up.

     ‘Jim?’ Roger asked.

     Mick nodded as he put his phone away. ‘Coming here.’

     When Jim arrived, Mick asked about Flora.

     Jim rolled his eyes. ‘She’s befriended another woman, and they̵= 7;ve both befriended Sayeed.’

     Mick laughed. ‘Good old Flo.’

     ‘Yeah, well she’s convinced Sayeed that I’m some sort of bounder after= her money, and that my eye patch is a fake!’

     Mick laughed louder.

     ‘Sayeed bought them lunch around the corner.’

     Mick’s phone went. Still smiling widely, and shaking his head, he stepped out to answer it. ‘Yes, boss?’

     ‘How’s it going?’ Colette asked.

     ‘You’ve rung me more on this job than in the last year, you know that.’

     ‘I have Chambers and others asking every day, twice a day,’ Colette reported, making it sound like a complaint. ‘The Club-Med department = has never been so high profile.’

     ‘I have a watcher on Sayeed, he’s not going anywhere, and no one is tail= ing him.’

     ‘He is going somewhere, he’s going to Turkey in three days; Dalaman.̵= 7;

     ‘He’ll have to connect,’ Mick noted.

     ‘He originally booked via London, then changed to Zurich.’

     ‘At last, the main event,’ Mick loudly exclaimed.

     ‘Main … event?’

     ‘He’s been leading us around by the nose, Malta and here. But this is just the wa= rm up to see who’ll come out to play. How long is his stop-over in Zurich?’

     ‘What makes you think he has a stop-over?’

     ‘How long?’ Mick pressed.

     ‘He flies in at noon, leaves at noon the next day.’

     ‘He’ll go visit the paymaster and a bank,’ Mick suggested.

     ‘Why do you say that?’

     ‘One, because all of the goons were from around central Europe, and two – t= his has to be more than just a walk in the sun. Sayeed is accepting payment for= his brother and stuffing it in a Swiss bank.’

     ‘Well, there’s little we can do about that. But I have a link between some of the goons. They weren’t just in Turkey at the same time, they were in= the same damn hotel. It’s part owned by a Russian with a red flag.’=

     ‘Where is this hotel?’

     ‘A place near Marmaris called … Icmeler.’

     ‘I know it well, lovely spot. Listen, do me a favour: see if our Russian frien= d owns any other property and get me a list.’

     ‘I have it here somewhere, I’ll text you the list.’

     ‘Thanks, boss.’ Mick hung up and entered the bar. To Jim he said, ‘Three days and we’re off to Turkey via Zurich. Sayeed is heading to the main event.’

     ‘Zurich?’ Roger repeated. ‘You … need a third wheel?’

     Mick regarded Roger for a moment then glanced at Jim. ‘We’re paid for this trip, and expenses. There’s not a budget for you, mate.’

     ‘Still, there may be a bonus in Switzerland,’ Roger floated.

     Mick glanced at Jim again.

     ‘We have extra money to play with,’ Jim suggested. ‘They’ll s= tand for hotels, car hire, subsistence for this; that’s at least a thousan= d. We’ve been staying with Flo and using Roger’s car, so we’= re quids in.’

     Mick pulled out four hundred Euros and handed it to Roger. ‘From the Germa= ns, one careless owner. Fly to Munich with Jim, hire a car and drive down, book into a shitty hotel in the centre of Zurich.’ Mick took a moment. ‘Guys, the paymaster … he may throw a net around Sayeed in Zuri= ch.’

     Roger and Jim exchanged looks. ‘We’ll be careful,’ Roger reassu= red Mick, Jim nodding.

      ‘Pre-book your tickets on to = Rhodes from Munich, book into a hotel in Rhodes Town, some crappy little bed and breakfast. That’ll be your base of operation, Turkey will be a day tr= ip, but I’ll have a room there if you need to crash for the night.’=

     ‘Should one of you watch Flo?’ Jim asked.

     ‘No,’ Mick adamantly stated, grinning. ‘Right now I feel sorry for Sayeed, because he’ll be getting an ear bashing!’ He faced Roger. ‘Close up, we’ll do a drive around then have some lunch.’=

 

Sat at a bar at the top of= the Capalenia estate, having lunch, they noted faces and cars, patrons and pass= ing vehicles, Roger well known to the bar’s owner. When Roger explained a= way Mick and Jim as father and son looking to buy some property, the bar’s owner brought out another man.

     ‘You guys interested in property around here?’ the new man asked, a portly fifty year old.

     ‘Yes,’ Mick agreed. ‘Do you have property on the estate?’

     ‘Just down the road, I’ll get the map and show you,’ the man offered.=

     With the map held up, Mick could see the villa in question. ‘Does it have a view?’

     ‘They all do, more or less. Mine has a great view down to the coast. I could show= you around right now if you like.’

     ‘Give us five minutes to finish this –’

     ‘Sure, sure, no hurry. I’ll get my car, and we can go in that.’=

     With the man walking down the hill, Mick said, ‘His villa is right below … you know what.’

     ‘Will we be seen by the OP?’ Jim whispered.

     ‘They have no idea what we look like,’ Mick emphasised. ‘And it’= ;s all above board and genuine; people looking around a property for sale.R= 17;

     A Range Rover pulled in a few minutes later. Drinks were downed, the bar tab paid. They piled in, soon winding down the estate a short way to the villa = for sale. Jumping down, Mick could see that Los Hermanos itself prevented them = from being seen from the OP in rocks above.

     The villa owner walked them around the side of the house and onto dark green sp= ongy grass. The view that the villa offered of the coast was very good, and from= the far corner of the garden Mick could glimpse the rocks with the OP.

     Inside, the owner showed them around the five bedroom two-storey house, decorated t= o a high standard. At the top of the marble stairs, Mick was last in line and stopped to peer out of the window at Los Hermanos. Hurried activity across = the way signalled rapid packing.

     ‘Guys,’ Mick called. ‘You look around, I just got a text from the wife. Be ba= ck in a second.’ Mick quickly negotiated the marble stairs and entered t= he garden. He called Colette. ‘It’s me. Get hold of Tiller, urgent, and get him to ring me right now.’

     Mick paced up and down the soft grass, holding his phone. A full two minutes lat= er Tiller called, an unknown number showing.

‘Canuck?’

     ‘Listen, I’m at a villa below your target villa, pretending to be interested in buying it -’

     ‘You were asked to stay away -’

     ‘Be glad I didn’t. They’re packing in big hurry.’

     ‘What!’

     ‘They’re moving like they’re about to be raided, but there’s fuck all you can do in daylight.’

     ‘Are you in a position to follow?’ Tiller urgently got out.

     ‘Funny you should say that. Call me back later.’

     Mick ran into the house. ‘Jim, Roger?’ They appeared at the top of t= he stairs. ‘She’s just landed at the fucking airport! C’mon. Sorry, fella, but we will be back.’

     ‘Oh, no problem. Ask at the bar,’ the man offered.

     Clattering shoes on marble steps signalled three men descending, the owner slamming the door as he followed behind them. Pulling away in a hurry, the man dropped h= is three guests back at the bar, Jim’s hire car retrieved.

     ‘What’s up?’ Jim asked as he took the wheel.

     ‘The people in the target villa are packing up like the house is on fire,’ Mick explained. ‘We’ve been tasked with following – taske= d by Tiller himself. Roger, wait here and see which way they go, they have to co= me past here. If you can borrow a car, do so. We’ll be up the road and parked up, so keep your finger on my number.’

     Roger jumped out before Jim pulled off, soon grabbing a set of car keys off the bar’s owner. He took charge of a dusty Fiat, and parked it around the corner from the bar, a clear view of the estate’s access road. He wai= ted.

     Fifteen minutes later a car passed, packed full of cases and boxes. It pulled strai= ght out and headed towards Mijas. Roger had pressed the green button as soon as= the car had appeared, and now said, ‘Mijas direction. I’m behind in= a white Fiat.’

     Jim pulled straight off, heading slowly toward Mijas, soon glimpsing the target= car in the mirror. He increased his speed a little.   

     At the junction, Jim said, ‘Signalling left.’  

     ‘Down the coast,’ Mick suggested. ‘Stay well ahead, I can see Roger behind them. Ten Euros says it the highway west.’

     ‘Marbella?’

     ‘Could be.’

     At the base of the hill, and passing through the inshore and less attractive a= reas of Fuengirola, Mick asked Jim to speed up and put the car across a roundabo= ut. They halted the other side. The target car, a black Mercedes, joined the highway west, Roger behind but not crowding.

     ‘Go!’ Mick urged, Jim pulling around hard to rejoin the roundabout before joining= the slip road. He floored it.

     ‘It’s OK,’ Mick calmly said. ‘Be easy for a two car tail on this road. Give him two hundred yards.’ He dialled Roger. ‘Tuck in behind = us.’

     Thirty minutes later they approached Marbella.

     ‘Marbella,’ Jim wistfully stated. ‘More villains live here than you could poke a stick at.’

     ‘He’s coming off.’ Mick dialled Roger. ‘Take over when you can, but don’t crowd him.’

     Ten minutes north of Marbella they lost the car in a large estate of uniform whitewashed walls and uniform red tiled roofs.

     ‘He ducked in somewhere,’ Jim said.

     ‘Yep, and now behind a high stone wall,’ Mick said with a sigh. ‘Back= to the bar we passed, it overlooks a petrol station. Tonight we’ll go ha= ve a look over a few walls.’

     Tiller called. ‘Canuck, do you have them?’

     ‘Yes, in a villa north of Marbella. We’ll have a close look after dark.R= 17;

     ‘Thank you, Canuck, I owe you one.’

     ‘No problem, I’m happy to help, boss.’ He hung up. ‘Dickhead.= We just got his arse out the ringer; fucker didn’t have a tail car ready.’

     ‘Sloppy,’ Jim noted.

     Roger pulled into the bar, the three of them taking a table inside with a window overlooking the petrol station. ‘I think I know where they went,̵= 7; Roger reported. ‘I had a nose over two gates, and they have families = in, so it was the first large villa on that road back there.’

     ‘We’ll take a peek after dark,’ Mick said. Only now did he notice a text mes= sage from Colette. Opening it, he found a list of properties linked to the Russi= an who owned the hotel in Turkey. ‘Didn’t happen to get that villa’s name, did you?’

     ‘Tosher, tosker…’

     ‘Tishkent?’

     ‘That’s it,’ Roger confirmed.

     Mick smiled widely. ‘It’s owned by the Russian linked to all this, w= ho may just be the paymaster.’ Mick dialled Colette. ‘It’s m= e. Listen, the villa Tishkent on that list, we’re babysitting it for Til= ler, after a lengthy and difficult car chase.’

     ‘He commandeered you?’ Colette asked, not sounding happy.

     ‘We volunteered to be helpful little servants of Her Majesty. Besides, we have eyes-on on Sayeed, and this villa is linked in. Tiller won’t give me = his fucking number, so ask him to call me.’

     When Mick lowered his phone, Jim repeated, ‘Long and difficult car chase?’

     ‘If we don’t sing our own praises, who the hell will?’ Mick quipped= .

     They ordered drinks, teas and coffees, but now ignored the petrol station.

     Tiller rang. ‘Canuck, you after me?’

     ‘Villa is called Tishkent, owned by a Russian on your watch list, linked to the Bulgarian goons from Malta.’

     ‘Good work, our team will have a sniff around it later, pull back. Did they see you?’

     ‘No, we had a two car system going. We were careful.’

     ‘Thanks.’ Tiller hung up.

     ‘We’re to pull back,’ Mick said. ‘Their lads will go over the wall later.’

     ‘We should get a bonus for this,’ Jim complained. ‘We saved Tiller’s arse!’

     ‘I’ll be asking for a larger budget, don’t you worry,’ Mick assured t= hem. ‘We’re persona grata right now. Right, after this, Jim – = you back to the villa, Roger and me will check on Flo and do a walk-by around t= he hotel.’

     ‘My case is in Flo’s room,’ Jim pointed out. ‘It’ll look odd if I don’t return.’

     Mick text’d Flora. ‘She has a mobile that she carries it, but – you know – she’s not quite with the technology.’

     Five minutes later, Flora came on. ‘That you, Mick?’

     ‘Yes, how you doing?’

     ‘Mohil is in his room, I’m in mine.’

     ‘You on first name terms now?’ Mick joked.

     ‘Oh, yes, getting on well. And I’m doing a good job at seeming a bit slow.’

     ‘Has he said anything interesting?’ Mick asked.

     ‘A lot about Pakistan and their customs and growing up there, but nothing that pricked up my ears. Oh, wait a mo – he has a credit card in another n= ame, I had a quick look. It’s Gander, or something like that. My eyesight = is better than he thinks.’

     ‘You’re a star, you know that.’

     ‘You keeping my villa clean?’

     ‘Haven’t been there much, been tailing all day. Listen, what will happen with Sayeed= if Jim returns?’

     ‘Ah, well, I made up a story and got quite carried away -’

     ‘That’s OK, it was a good story, but what if he returns?’

     ‘Sayeed might think it a bit odd if I take Jim back, I said a few bad words.’=

     ‘We’ll grab Jim’s case late tonight.’

     ‘Mohil is always in his room for ten o’clock, evening meal at 7.30pm,’ Flora reported.

     ‘Jim will pick it up at 8pm then. Be awake, eh.’

     ‘I’ll be with Mohil at that time.’

     ‘Then put Jim’s things in reception when you go out, we’ll be watchin= g, you old two-timer. Call me if you need anything.’ Mick hung up with a grin. ‘Jim, you’re dumped. She’s found someone younger, a= nd darker.’

     ‘Thank god for that,’ Jim quipped.

     ‘If he’s lucky, she’ll take out her teeth and give him a good blowjob.’

 

2

 

At the hotel, Mick strolled past, cap on, finding Roger at the promenade and walking towards him. They passed without acknowledging each other.

     Five minutes later, Roger called. ‘Main road, man walking east with a red = cap on, big zoom lens inside his jacket.’

     ‘On it,’ Mick confirmed, turning about and walking briskly along the promenade. At the third block from the hotel, Mick caught sight of the red = cap, adopting a parallel course and glimpsing it again at the next block.

     The target was now moving away from the hotel, and away from the tourist area, = the buildings passed being drab, the streets littered, the cars dusty. And the streets were quiet. At the next block, Mick ran two blocks over and around = the corner, now putting a hand in his pocket and strolling towards the target h= ead on.

     Reaching either side of a road at the same time, both Mick and the target checked it= was clear to cross. Mick crossed the road without looking directly at the targe= t; he was checking the street, the windows and the closed up shops.

     Two strides from the man, Mick lunged, a blow to the jaw knocking the surprised= man back and spinning him around. Camera equipment clattered as it impacted the road. Mick delivered a good kick the ribs before bending down, grabbing the= man by the wrist and dragging him between two parked cars.

     With no time to waste, he unclipped the camera strap around the man’s neck, patted down the man’s jeans - grabbing his wallet, a phone from the jacket pocket, all done in six seconds. Standing, and holding the booty, Mi= ck could see an old lady staring right at him. Spinning around, he ran two blo= cks over and to the beach, turning the corner so as to be out of line of sight = of the local woman.

     Slowing, and stepping down onto the sand, Mick tucked himself against the promenade wall. No one was visible on this part of the beach, two old boats with flak= ing paint helping to hide him. Dropping to his knees, he released the stolen bo= oty and dug furiously, soon placing in the camera, wallet and phone - plus his = own cap - into the hole, covering them over with sand. Looking up whilst still kneeling, Mick could see the tops of nearby buildings, but no windows offer= ed anyone a view of him.

     Easing up, and furiously trying to get the sand off his hands, he edged the high promenade wall for thirty yards, climbing the next set of steps to the walk= way. With a hand in his pocket, he strolled slowly to the first café, sit= ting two tables in from the promenade and picking up a menu.

     ‘Hello?’ the waitress offered.

     ‘Beer, and … tuna mayo sandwich, please.’

     She took the menu and disappeared into the back of the café, a man bring= ing a beer over a few seconds later. Sirens preceded a police car driving past, down the promenade, a second one soon following.

     Munching on his sandwich, beer half drunk – and much needed, Mick observed two police officers walking along, the men seemingly moving with a purpose, checking faces and descriptions. They glanced his way, took a lingering loo= k, and moved on.

     A full hour later, and after a plate of chips and two more beers, Mick finally stood, paying for the meal. ‘Thank you.’ He turned right once on the promenade, away from where the incident had taken place, and walked casually along.

     Roger called. ‘OK?’

     ‘I got his goodies, they’re in the sand on the beach, but there’re police everywhere. I’ll meet you at the car in five minutes.’

     Two blocks over, the police approached him. ‘English?’

     ‘Yes,’ Mick answered with a smile. ‘But I work in Germany. Interpol.’<= /span>

     ‘Interpol?’

     Mick took out his wallet and handed over his fake Interpol ID.

     ‘Thank you, sir. Sorry to stop you, but we had a robbery.’

     ‘No problem, I hope you catch them.’ He plodded on.

     In the car, Roger asked, ‘What happened?’

     ‘I decided not to wait; I jumped him in a side street. It went well enough, bu= t an old granny saw me and called the police. The stuff is buried in the sand, s= afe enough, so we’ll get it later.’

     ‘Was he armed?’

     ‘No.’

     ‘Could be one of ours then,’ Roger cautioned. ‘Or agency.’

     ‘I think he was a snapper.’

     ‘Press?’ Roger puzzled.

     ‘They might have got whiff of a story,’ Mick suggested, but did not sound c= onvinced of the idea.

 

Back at the villa, Mick ca= ught an hour’s sleep, sleeping off the beer and food. Jim set off with the= m at 6.30pm, the car positioned across the street from the hotel, a hundred yards away. Flora appeared with another woman, Sayeed following, the trio walking over the road to the Italian.

     ‘Off you go, Jim,’ Mick said. ‘Or should I say – you cad and bounder!’ Jim opened the door, Mick shouting after him, ‘You ab= user of old ladies!’

     With the suitcase recovered, Jim walked slowly back towards them, eye-patch and = blue blazer.

     ‘Mick,’ Roger urgently called.

     ‘I see them. Pull off!’

     Roger pulled off, Jim noticing the sudden departure. Without reacting, he reached= the main road and flagged down a taxi, soon heading towards the airport.=

     Once inside the taxi, Jim called. ‘Mick, I got company.’

     ‘We saw. Where you headed?’

     ‘Airport was all I could think of.’

     ‘And it was good thinking too. Walk around, sit and wait, bore them to death, th= en lose them. Buy a book and read it.’

 

At the airport, Jim called= back. ‘Mick, they turned around and gave up at departures.’

     ‘Just a run past then. But do a good job, change clothes, buy a cap – take = an hour. Then get the train to Arroyo Station and we’ll pick you up.R= 17;

 

Mick hung up and faced Rog= er as they sat in the villa’s lounge. ‘They tailed him to the airport= and gave up.’

     ‘Amateurs?’

     ‘I don’t know,’ Mick said, his brow pleated. ‘They werenR= 17;t there before I clobbered the photographer. And they didn’t just fly in when I did clobber the guy.’

     ‘They were holding off?’

     ‘Or invisible; maybe a room overlooking the hotel. Did you see their faces?R= 17;

     ‘They looked like Brits,’ Roger noted. ‘Not Bulgarians.’=

     Mick nodded. ‘Can’t be Tiller’s department, not this quickly.’

     ‘Agency?’

     ‘Maybe,’ Mick let out. ‘And the timing suggests the photographer is linked in. Fuck it, let’s get that camera.’

 

Arriving at the beach, the= light fading fast, Mick said, ‘I’ll stay, just in case that old lady = is around. Walk straight down to the beach, left till you see two old boats wi= th the paint coming off, one red one blue. Six foot beyond the boats, two foot from the wall, dig in with your foot. And be careful.’

     Roger checked his empty backpack before easing out, his diminishing image observe= d by Mick. Fifteen minutes later, Roger appeared from a side street, walking slo= wly, Mick checking the dark street carefully.

Sat in the car, Roger now driving, Mick opened the bag. ‘= ;Nice piece of kit; digital SLR, top of the range. This baby takes video as well,= so we’ll be keeping this – if we can get the bloody sand off it.’

He switched it on, selected ‘menu’, and flicked ba= ck through the images. ‘Hotel, Sayeed, Sayeed with Flora, Sayeed again … Sayeed with Flora, some unknowns, more unknowns just walking down t= he street, Flora with Jim – that’s naughty, but you can hardly tell it’s Jim. And … Tiller.’

‘Tiller?’

‘Tiller and his mate having a coffee, again walking, get= ting into a car, meeting two men, leaving two men, arriving at the pueblo, us leaving the pueblo –’

‘Us?’ Roger loudly queried.

‘Us leaving the pueblo, Tiller arriving at the pueblo.&#= 8217;

‘That fucking idiot led them straight to us!’ Roger barked.

‘Tiller arriving at the airport,’ Mick finished.

‘Have we been compromised?’ Roger asked as they dr= ove.

‘No, we look like locals,’ Mick calmly stated. ‘This guy was doing a good job and snapping everyone.’ Mick pul= led out the wallet, trying to read the detail in the flickering yellow light gi= ven off by streetlamps as they passed by. ‘Herts Garten, German, driver’s license looks real. Five hundred Euros, thank you very much, Herts. A piece of paper with … Sayeed’s hotel name on it, and street name. A … journalists pass to some building.’

‘He’s press?’ Roger puzzled, glancing over.<= /span>

     ‘If he is, he’s in trouble.’

     Mick continued to examine the wallet. ‘Nice photo of the girlfriend, anoth= er photo of her giving him a blowjob – you keep your eyes on the road. Credit card receipt for the plane tickets from Munich, another for a hire c= ar – with the registration printed on it, make and model. And … a receipt for a meal for two at a restaurant right around the corner from the= CIA building in Berlin.’

     ‘That’s all we need,’ Roger complained.

     Mick dialled Colette. ‘Boss, it’s me, can you get Tiller to call urgently. Thanks.’

     They pulled into the villa after a sweep of the pueblo and some doubling-back.

     Mick’s phone went. ‘Canuck, you after me?’ Tiller asked.

     ‘Got a problem, boss, a serious problem.’

     ‘What’s that?’

     ‘I just relieved a photographer of his nice camera, and his wallet and phone. German fella, CIA I think, and his camera is full of shots of you – a= nd every step you’ve made since arriving down here.’

     There was a long pause. ‘Of … me?’

     ‘And everyone you met. You need to double back a bit more, boss.’

     ‘You have it?’

     ‘All yours, anytime you like.’

     ‘Meet us at the pueblo later, I’ll call first,’ Tiller instructed, en= ding the call.

     ‘That could cost him his career,’ Roger cautioned.

     ‘We won’t tell, and he … sure as hell won’t tell,̵= 7; Mick said as he grabbed the photographer’s phone, accessing the last dialled and received numbers, writing them down.

     ‘There’s a Berlin number here, so let’s stir the crap. If it’s what I th= ink it is, it’ll divert to a mobile.’

     ‘Mick…?’ Roger cautioned.

     Mick smiled, selecting the number.

     ‘How’s it going down there?’ came an American accent.

     ‘Not as well as you might like, old chap,’ Mick said with a posh English accent.

     ‘Who the hell are you?’

     ‘We – old chap – are Her Majesty’s Government, and we have a message. The next time you American gentlemen try and photograph one of our senior staff, we will most certainly not be as polite as we were today. You= may send your man a few flowers and some grapes, to the hospital. Thank you, an= d I think the phrase I’m looking for is … have a nice day.&#= 8217; Mick hung up.

     ‘What’ll that achieve?’ Roger asked, not impressed.

     ‘If I’m right, it’ll pull those two men off the hotel – they won’t risk a scene. And I’m starting to think that the nice lad= ies in Malta were CIA. They would have seen my Interpol ID, knew it to be fake – and assumed I was with Her Majesty’s Government.’

     ‘Are the CIA watching Sayeed?’

     ‘Of course, and they’d be more interested in him than we are. If only the nice gentlemen would coordinate these things.’

     ‘What will you tell Colette?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Nothing. Camera, what camera?’

     ‘Tiller will owe you.’

     ‘Really?’ Mick quipped. ‘The thought had never entered my mind.’

 

* *= *

 

Jim appeared at Arroyo sta= tion, but waited ten minutes to check for a tail. In the car, they circled the bl= ock a few times before driving up the hill. Peering down darkened side streets, they again swept the pueblo at length before heading to Mijas and the villa= .

     Just pulling in, Flora rang. ‘Yes, Flo?’ Mick answered.

     ‘Come down, I drugged him, he’s asleep.’

     ‘Don’t go having your way with him, we’ll be right down,’ Mick said wi= th a grin. To Roger he said, ‘Turn around, back to the hotel, she’s drugged him.’

     ‘Drugged him?’ Jim repeated.

     ‘She’s probably got her teeth out already,’ Mick added. He shuddered.=

     At the Granada Hotel, they circled twice before parking around the corner in a dark spot. Mick jumped out, walking around the corner and into the hotel fo= yer. He found Flora sat waiting with a few pensioners.

     ‘You alright, Aunty Flo? He helped her up.

     ‘Yes, yes. All ready for the confounded aeroplane.’

     She said goodbye to her new friends, Mick waving and smiling, assisting Flora i= nto the lift. She handed over Sayeed’s room key. ‘Floor number four= , on the left.’

     ‘Got bored of him did you?’

     ‘He tried to slip me a stiff drink in the restaurant,’ she complained, a = hell of a face pulled. ‘I ditched it when he went to the toilet, and slipp= ed him some ground up sleeping pills.’

     ‘That’s what you used to do to your late Charlie.’

     ‘I brought some ready, I sometimes put it my cocoa.’

     The lift doors opened, Flora leading the way and pointing out Sayeed’s ro= om. Mick dunked the card in and out of the lock, the green light coming on. Ope= ning the door, he dropped the card into the slot, the room’s lights coming= on, controlled by the presence of the card. Sayeed was in a heap on the bed.

     ‘They helped me get him in while he was drowsy,’ Flora explained as Mick cl= osed the door.

     ‘Grab a seat, love, this’ll take ten minutes.’

     The curtains were already drawn, so Mick got to work. Taking out Sayeed’s wallet, he used his phone camera to snap each part in turn, ID and credit cards, everything replaced as found, plastic items held by the edges. Sayeed’s pockets revealed little, his phone checked, recent numbers a= ll noted before being replaced.

     The suitcase was not locked, lifted to the bed and sifted through carefully. ‘Cold weather clothing,’ Mick noted. ‘He’s off to Zurich.’

     ‘Told us he was off to North Africa. Tunisia someplace.’

     The case offered no documents, no secret compartments, and was left as found, carefully checked that it appeared the same and replaced where first notice= d, wiped down with the side of a hand. Mick pulled out all of the dresser draw= ers and checked each in turn, peering inside. The bathroom revealed nothing of interest, the clothes hung in the closet free of anything of interest. A bedside notepad offered promise, the top two blank pages torn off and pocke= ted.

     ‘That’s it, love. All done.’

     Flora eased up.

     ‘Wanna have some fun with him before we go?’ Mick asked.

     ‘I never liked him,’ Flora stated with a curled lip.

     ‘Got any nail polish?’

     She opened her bag, handing over a pink nail polish applicator. Mick painted st= rips into the hair on the back of Sayeed’s head.

     ‘Lipstick?’ Mick asked, handing back the nail polish. She handed him a lipstick. ‘Close your eyes, love.’

     Mick undid Sayeed’s belt, unzipped him and tugged down his trousers.

     ‘I’ve seen a lot better than that,’ Flora scoffed.

     Mick gently scribed a lipstick mark around Sayeed’s penis. ‘That’ll give him something to think about when he wakes.’= ; He handed back the lipstick.

     ‘What I’m supposed to do with that?’ Flora protested.

     ‘Bin it, just not here.’ He led her out, leaving the room card in the slot= .

With Flora’s suitcase and bag retrieved from her room th= ey descended in the lift, settling the bar bill at reception, paid in cash. Th= ey left the hotel, but very slowly, no tails apparent, Mick helping Flora as s= he pretended to be infirmed. Around the corner, the car’s headlights came on, pulling forwards and stopping.

     Pulling away, Mick said, ‘Don’t go up the hill till we’re sure we clean. Circle the block.’

     Flora was glad to be home, a tea ordered from the maid as Mick examined the phone images, zooming in on various sections, Jim gently scraping the notepad pag= es with the side of a pencil.

     ‘Nothing,’ Jim said after ten minutes of effort.

     ‘Sayeed has three alternate credit cards, two alternate IDs,’ Mick put in.

     ‘He didn’t fly in with those,’ Jim insisted. ‘He wouldn’= ;t take the risk of a search.’

     ‘Then he was handed them later,’ Roger noted.

     Mick nodded. ‘Question is … why would someone who wants to be follow= ed need an alternate identity?’

     ‘Because he’s about to drop off the radar,’ Jim suggested.

     ‘Now that we know he’s him … and of no interest,’ Roger sugges= ted.

     ‘Hardly,’ Mick scoffed. ‘He’s got most of the world’s agencies on h= im; us, Interpol, and the CIA.’

     ‘Then he thinks he can give us all the slip,’ Roger suggested.

     Mick eased back, deep in thought. ‘Where? Where could he go … that we can’t?’

     ‘Middle East?’ Jim floated.

     ‘CIA would have no problem there, and they’d put Mossad on him,’ Mick reflected. ‘He’s off to Zurich next, then Turkey. So … ma= ybe the paymaster thinks he can stretch a good net around Sayeed in Zurich.R= 17;

     ‘Meaning…?’ Jim nudged.

     ‘Meaning … that it will be lively,’ Mick confirmed. ‘We’ll n= eed to be careful.’

     ‘We’ve been careful up to now,’ Roger said defensively. ‘We’ve d= one a better job than Tiller!’

     ‘If we’re careful … we’ll be fine,’ Mick insisted. ‘No risks, everything double checked.’ He took a moment. ‘Jim, nothing wrong with you opting out of this next bit, you still g= et paid.’

     Jim glanced at Roger, his pride clearly hurt. ‘Someone has to keep an eye= on you, sonny.’ Mick hid a grin, Jim adding, ‘Besides, there’= ;s nothing on TV for the next few days.’

     Colette called, Mick checking his watch. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘Anything new?’

     ‘We got a peek at Sayeed’s room, suitcase and wallet – and no, he won’t suspect a thing. He has fake IDs and credit cards, a whole new identity in his pocket, and he didn’t fly in with them.’=

     ‘So he is dirty,’ Colette noted.

     Mick rolled his eyes. ‘We’ll keep an eye on him, then get to Zurich ahead of him.’

     ‘Good work. Nothing else?’

     ‘No, all quiet and smooth.’

     ‘Talk in the morning.’

     Mick had just ended the call when Tiller rang. ‘We’re just heading to the pueblo,’ Tiller announced.

     ‘We’ll be as quick as we can.’ Mick stood. ‘That was Tiller. Grab the = bag of goodies. Jim, we’ll drop you at the start of the pueblo, walk towa= rds the bar and scout around.’

     Mick found Flora. ‘We’ll be forty minutes, love. But don’t wait up.’

     ‘OK, precious.’

 

* *= *

 

At the start of the villag= e they eased to a halt, the car’s wheels crunching gravel on the side of the road, Jim jumping out. Inside the small hillside village they circled twice – it didn’t take long, parking up for five minutes before walki= ng towards the bar and finding Tiller and three men sat in car, a hired BMW. J= im observed from a hundred yards away, ducking into a dark doorway.

     Roger led Mick, and the two men he had seen earlier, below and to his bar, opening up, the final two men remaining with the BMW. With the bar’s lights n= ow on, Mick handed over the backpack. Tiller sat, grabbed the camera and flick= ed through images, aghast at what he found.

     ‘Mister Tiller, sir,’ Mick began. ‘They had you at the airport. So an outside observer might wonder if they were watching Sayeed, or your good se= lf. Since Sayeed is all over the computer, and they had you at the airport, we’d have to conclude that the nice men from the CIA were as interest= ed in you – personally - as much as anyone else.’

     ‘We’ll look into that,’ Tiller insisted, seemingly greatly embarrassed. ‘If, indeed, it is the CIA.’

     ‘And the villa Tishkent?’ Mick risked.

     ‘A work in progress.’

     ‘Before you ask, Mister Tiller, sir, I’ve not reported that camera - or its images - to Mister Colette, and I’m a very forgetful man.’

     Tiller stared back for several seconds. ‘Why would you not report it?’

     ‘Because you, sir, are further up the food chain, and you did hint at some work for = me earlier.’

     Tiller seemed to relax a notch. ‘Your … actions here have been noted.’

     ‘Can’t ask for more than that,’ Mick said. ‘In addition to the photographer, there were two others guys, but we gave them the slip. I call= ed the number on that phone, a Berlin landline, but it was answered by an American. You’ll also see a receipt for a restaurant around the corner from the CIA building in Berlin.’

     ‘You don’t miss much,’ the second man noted.

     ‘I try not to.’ Mick’s phone went. ‘Yes, Jim?’<= /p>

     ‘Company. Men in a car with a tracker.’

     ‘Oh dear. Distract them if you can.’

     ‘Problem?’ Tiller asked.

     ‘Yes. Your car has a tracker fitted - and we have company.’   

     Tiller called the men in the car. ‘Do you see anyone?’

     ‘A car passed, can’t see it now. A man walking quickly past, towards you, sixties, white shirt.’

     ‘Check under the car for a tracker!’

Jim appeared, out of breath. He forced a smile toward Tiller, = then addressed Mick. ‘I hit that car with a flowerpot to the windscreen.’

     ‘Crude, but effective,’ Mick commended.

     A fit looking man stepped down to them, handing a small tracker to Tiller bef= ore withdrawing.

     ‘What did you say about the CIA, boss?’ Mick risked. He faced Roger. ‘= ;Car keys?’ Roger handed them over, Mick passing them on to Jim. ‘Ma= y I, sir?’ Mick asked Tiller, extending a hand for the tracker.

     Tiller hesitated before handing over the tracker.

Mick gave it to Jim. ‘Drive down the hill, dump that in = the town centre, and back.’ Jim hurried out, Mick sitting and facing Till= er. ‘Anything ... more that I can do to help?’

     Tiller forced a breath, exchanging a look with his colleague. ‘If I gave you= the lads up top could you sweep our hotel, and Sayeed’s, and … clear the whole damn area?’

‘I have a place you can stay the night,’ Mick offe= red.

‘No, thanks,’ Tiller replied. ‘I want a sweep.’

The second man said, ‘And should anyone end up in the hospital, covered in green paint and sand … well, we also have poor memories.’

Mick took a moment. ‘Send the guys down, take the car. D= o they know your hotel?’

The two men nodded.

‘Then might I be so bold as to suggest that you go back,= tuck in, and we’ll sweep the area, boss.’

The ex-SAS men appeared two minutes after Tiller’s depar= ture, all eyes, carefully checking the bar, Roger and Mick.

     ‘Grab a seat, guys. I’m Mick, that’s Roger, and the other man you saw= is Jim. Roger, beers please.’

     The men sat. ‘Beers?’ they questioned.

     ‘Yes, because we’re not going anywhere, certainly not to do what that idiot Tiller just asked us to do.’

     ‘Come again?’

     ‘Mister Tiller is one step away from a formal enquiry,’ Mick explained. ‘And with what he just asked us to do … half a step away from a formal enquiry and disciplinary action. He’s also an idiot.

     ‘Down the hill are a bunch of armed and trigger happy Germans who’re not av= erse to loosing off rounds in public. Also down the hill is a CIA team with an interest in Tiller. Now, Tiller wants us to go down there, walk around dark streets unarmed and beat the crap out of anyone we don’t like the look of.

     ‘If we run into the Germans they’ll shoot us. If we clobber the CIA there’ll be an enquiry, and some arse kicking, Tiller denying all knowledge of it. You and I, gentlemen, will take the rap. Now, hands up all those in favour of going down the hill?’

     The two men exchanged looks, remaining silent.

     ‘Hands up those in favour of a few beers, a sofa to crash on, and no formal enquiry?’ Mick asked.

     Roger placed down two pints. The ex-SAS lads glanced at the drinks, lifted them a= nd said, ‘Cheers.’

 

An hour later, and with Jim back, Mick finished the story with: ‘So I put lipstick around the end= of his dick and left him like it.’

     Everyone roared with laughter. Jim recalled stories from Northern Ireland, Roger tal= es of Interpol operations gone badly wrong.

     In the morning, Roger woke everyone with cups of tea, Mick and the soldiers ha= ving made good use of the bar’s cushioned benches.

     Mick eased up and rubbed his face. ‘Never drink with soldiers.’

     The two troopers stared back, bleary-eyed. ‘What do we tell Tiller?’= ;

     ‘That you were out all night, saw fuck all – and can we have some kip time, boss.’

     ‘Sounds good,’ the troopers enthused.

     ‘We’ll drop you down the hill in a bit,’ Roger offered.

 

Back at Flora’s vill= a, and enjoying a large cooked breakfast, Jim faced Mick. ‘You think Tiller = is … worth the CIA watching him?’

     ‘They have an interest in him for some reason,’ Mick offered. ‘And they’re risking an incident by tailing a department manager, so it mu= st be worth it.’

     ‘Are they interested in his handling of Sayeed?’

     ‘Tiller is not supposed to be handling Sayeed, P2 is. But now that there’s a = link between Sayeed and something that Tiller is working on … he may just = try and grab the whole show.’

     ‘Those amateurs, Malta and here, I still can’t make sense of them,’ Ji= m complained.

     ‘Me neither. I think the honey-trap girls might have been CIA – not Frenc= h, but the goons were definitely not CIA.’

     ‘The girls didn’t turn up till you took down some of the watchers,’ = Jim posed. ‘So … was one of the watchers CIA?’

     Mick gave it some thought. ‘The guy on the scooter with Interpol ID …= ; he could have been.’

     ‘As you said, he couldn’t have identified us.’

     ‘No,’ Mick sighed. ‘It’s a puzzler. I was expecting some of them to t= urn up here and label themselves for us. Maybe … maybe the ladies sat wit= h us because I was at the hotel, and we were in the best spot to observe Sayeed. Then, when I said Interpol, they stuck at it because – like them R= 11; we all use Interpol as a cover. I think the girls were convinced that we we= re working for Her Majesty’s Government and, like here, they didn’t want an incident.’

     ‘And the angry goons?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Well, we bumped the Russian couple and nicked the guys wallet, which pissed off t= he paymaster. His reaction was emotional; typical Russian gangster.’

     ‘That’s not what I mean. What were they doing there in the first place?’

     ‘That, my friend, is still keeping me awake,’ Mick admitted. ‘But R= 30; but Sayeed has fake IDs, and he’s off to Zurich, so all this bollocks - of him wandering around - is a build-up to the real deal. And … and I think he wanted to attract our attention, shout to the agenci= es and say this is me, wandering around doing fuck all.’

     ‘So why the goons?’

     ‘That’s a puzzle, because they should have brought the agencies down on him like a = tonne of bricks. They were less than subtle.’

     Jim sipped his tea. ‘You said in Malta, that you caused this react= ion, using your charm on the watchers. So, if you … hadn’t be= en assigned this, Sayeed and the watchers would have wandered around Europe be= ing observed passively by the agencies.’

     ‘Which would have achieved … what?’ Mick posed with a big shoulder shr= ug. 

     ‘That Sayeed is clean, until he’s proven otherwise. Back in my day we’= ;d have given the mark a week, and dropped off if nothing interesting happened. Can’t spend money for nothing.’

     Mick nodded as he chewed. ‘Could Sayeed be daft enough to think we’d= get bored after a week and go home?’

     ‘What was your deal with Colette?’

     ‘Pay for a week or two, just passive monitoring.’

     ‘I’ll get you a dictionary, show you what the word “passive” means,’ Jim offered.

     ‘Are we making the mistake … of judging Sayeed by our standards? Are we gi= ving him more credit than he’s due? Could he be daft enough to think we’d ease off, and then he could use his fake IDs to do something?= 217;

     ‘Stranger things have happened,’ Jim put in. ‘I would have sent someone d= own for a twenty-four watch, and pulled the guy off if nothing showed up. IR= 17;m sure the CIA would do the same, and Interpol would sanction less time than = that. You altered this game by beating the crap out of the players.’=

     ‘Question is, does Sayeed still think he can use the fake IDs? And, more importantly, what the fuck for?’

     ‘We’re paid to watch and report…’

     ‘You should know me better than that by now, Jim. Besides, there may be a vase l= ying around someplace in this deal. An … opportunity.’

     ‘You worry me, Mick,’ Jim said, shaking his head, but with a hint of grin.=

     Mick checked over his shoulder. Whispering, he said, ‘Worry for Sayeed; he’s walking around thinking that Flo sucked him off last night. Bet = he skips breakfast!’

     Shaking his head, Jim asked, ‘We flying out today?’

     ‘Yep. Roger booked a ticket for you; 3pm flight up to Munich. Call me when you get there, but after 7pm. You should get to Zurich around that time. We’ll take a drive down to Sayeed later, and have a nose around. I’ll give Colette the aliases Sayeed has before we leave.’

     Flora stepped in carrying her small dog. ‘You alright there, boys?’

     ‘Great, Flo,’ Mick said. ‘And good work on Sayeed, love.’<= /p>

     ‘A bit of fun, be dull otherwise. You off later?’

     Mick nodded as he chewed. ‘Be all gone by 1pm.’

     ‘I could help in Zurich if you like,’ she risked.

     ‘After what you did to the mark!’ Mick mock complained.

     ‘What? What did I do? He was the one trying to give me a stiff drink, that bloody foreigner!’

     Mick and Jim laughed. Mick told her, ‘You were supposed to watch him, not = get your lipstick on his knob!’

     ‘That was your filthy mind,’ she said as she turned on a heel.

 

* *= *

 

Driving around Sayeed̵= 7;s hotel, they spotted no one of interest, but noted Sayeed sat at a caf&eacut= e;.

     ‘What’s wrong with his hair?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Hair?’ Mick repeated, avoiding eye contact.

     ‘He looks like he’s had a chunk of hair cut out.’ Jim faced Mick. ‘Did you cut a chunk of his hair off?’

     ‘No.’

     Jim waited.

     ‘What?’ Mick asked. ‘I may … have put some nail polish in his hair.R= 17;

     ‘For God’s sake, Mick.’

     ‘You got to have some fun on the job.’

 

At 3pm, Roger and Jim, sit= ting apart, took off for Munich, a two-hour flight. Roger opened a magazine, Jim= a thriller novel bought at departures. An hour later, Mick boarded a flight to Zurich using a Russian passport.

    


The= main event

 

1

 

Landing at Zurich, Mick was questioned on his purpose, and his trip to Spain, giving lengthy answers in English and Russian. They allowed him through. In the airport’s public area he hired a car for cash, using a British passport and driver’s license, just not his own.

     Seat adjusted, case in the back, Mick pulled away from the car-hire compound in a silver BMW 5 Series, soon going around in circles, filling up with just ten Euros of fuel at three separate petrol stations, finally secure in the knowledge that no one was following.

     Pulling away from the final petrol station, Jim called. ‘Right, Jim?’ M= ick answered.

     ‘We’re just outside a suitable looking hotel, northwest of the city, and we’= ll be booking in now. You?’

     ‘I’m on my way to a pre-booked room in a bland hotel full of business travellers. Get yourself to the city centre for 9pm and I’ll give you a location.= And don’t forget the double-back.’

     ‘Yes, dad.’

     Mick parked his BMW in the hotel’s underground car park, taking the lift up one floor to reception, his case being dragged. He wore a long black coat, a dark suit underneath, and was suitably wrapped up against the chill. At reception, he used broken English to book in, handing over his Russian passport, the receptionist swiping a Santander credit card with Mick’s Russian cover name on. He was soon on the sixth floor, and staring out at t= he dark and the rain.

     ‘Why couldn’t Sayeed go to the fucking Maldives?’ he muttered. He selected Colette’s number. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘You in Zurich?’

     ‘Yeah, all booked in, chocolates on the pillow.’

     ‘I checked the flights from Malaga to Switzerland, and none of your names were= on the passenger manifests.’

     ‘Must be a glitch, you know what computers are like.’

     ‘What’s your plan?’ Colette asked.

     ‘To pick up Sayeed at the airport and to tail him.’

     ‘I ran those aliases you gave me, and he has bookings in three separate hotels= .’

     ‘He did that in Malta, and I still don’t know why. My guess is he already knows where he’ll stay, so we’ll have to tail him. Text me the hotels anyway, I’ll check the map. Listen, boss, we went over-budget = in Spain, hire cars and hotels. And Tiller may have … borrowed us for a = few things.’

‘If Tiller wants to engage you, then he checks it with t= his department first!’

     ‘We were trying to be helpful, and we’re all on the same side. Could you transfer some money to my principle account?’

     ‘Fifteen hundred?’

     ‘That should cover Spain. Thanks.’

     ‘What’ll you spend in Zurich?’

     ‘Two hotels for the night, two hire cars at a hundred Euros for twenty-four hour= s, lunch, and a Dan Brown novel at the airport.’

     ‘OK. Let me know when you have Sayeed. Goodnight.’

     Mick pulled his room key from the wall slot and headed down. He avoided scanning= the people in the foyer and grabbed a taxi waiting outside. ‘Mars Club, bitte.’

     The taxi pulled away as Mick sent a text message to Jim. Fifteen minutes later,= Jim and Roger - both wrapped up warm, entered the Mars Club, found Mick and joi= ned him at a table.

     Jim took in the red upholstery and the crimson velvet wallpaper. ‘This a nightclub?’

     ‘Of sorts,’ Mick answered, a waitress taking orders for drinks.

     ‘It’s a brothel,’ Roger realised.

     ‘Ah,’ Jim let out.

     ‘It’s safe,’ Mick emphasised.

     Jim rubbed his cold hands, giving the establishment a disapproving once over. ‘So, what’s the game plan?’

     ‘In the morning I’ll hire three cars using my fake British ID,’ Mick began. ‘From the airport, it’ll be a three car tail. I have the details of the fake ID’s that Sayeed’s using to book rooms in separate hotels, so if we lose him we’ll each take one of those hotel= s. I’ll text you those details tonight - so look on the map, and memorise the city layout; lake and river, train tracks. Then, when we have him, the = job is to keep him from doing anything, anything at all.’

     ‘Blocking routine,’ Roger said. ‘Stop the deal going down.’<= /p>

     Jim asked, ‘Are you sure it’s not just a simple stop-over?’

     ‘I checked the flights. He could fly today and not need a stop-over, same for = the day after tomorrow. So he’s either crap at choosing flights, or he wa= nts the stop-over.’

     The waitress placed down the drinks for Jim and Roger, Mick handing her a twenty Euro note. She placed a single Euro on the table and withdrew.

     ‘Expensive drinks,’ Jim complained.

     ‘The drinks make money for the poor orphaned girls who live upstairs,’ Mick explained. ‘OK, in the morning we’ll need phones on conference = call and loudspeaker, and I’ll buy you each bicycle helmets.’=

     ‘Bicycle helmets?’ Jim queried.

     Roger turned to him. ‘Wear them driving. Just in case.’

     ‘Just in case … what?’ Jim asked.

     ‘If you’re in the car tomorrow and someone wants to stop you, don’t= let them,’ Mick told Jim. ‘The cars will have no comeback, so don’t worry about damaging them.’

     ‘It’s been a while since I was in a car chase,’ Jim cautioned.

     ‘Drive the hire car around for a while tomorrow, and get a feel for it. And you won’t be chasing anyone, it’s … just in case. And donR= 17;t forget, they drive on the right here, left in Malta.’

     Jim sipped his drink. ‘How’ll you disrupt him?’

     ‘Disturb his night’s sleep, maybe try and get into his room,’ Mick explained. ‘Then crowd him with the cars. I have a few ideas. To start with, I’ve booked a car for him at the airport, in fact two. When he leaves the airport there’ll be two chauffeurs with signs, expecting to take him to hotels he’s not booked into. One has his real name, one an alias.’

     ‘Spook him at the start,’ Roger approved.

     ‘Would it not be the case … that Mister Colette wants to see who he meets, w= hat bank he goes to?’ Jim asked.

     ‘But then he wins,’ Mick said with a shrug. ‘He gets to do whatever = it is he came for, and all the crap we’ve been through means nothing. Besides, he if can’t do whatever it is he wants to do…’

‘He’ll get desperate and sloppy,’ Roger fini= shed off. ‘He’ll make a mistake.’

     ‘And maybe shine some light on what he’s really up to,’ Mick added. ‘Anyway, that’s tomorrow.’ Mick handed Roger five hundred Euros. ‘Colette sanctioned extra money.’

     ‘Don’t mind if I do,’ Roger offered with a smile.

     Mick called over a lady, and she handed over three menus, Polaroid photographs of the poor orphan girls upstairs.

     ‘I’m not hungry,’ Jim told Mick. ‘But don’t let me stop you two eating.’

     ‘Number fourteen,’ Mick said as he stood. ‘Jim, watch the drinks, I’ll be ten minutes.’

     Roger stood. ‘Twenty-two has a set of jugs to die for.’

     Jim found himself alone with his thoughts, sipping his drink. ‘I used to = have a life.’

 

Mick was shown to a room, = money handed over to a matriarch before entering. Inside, he found his chosen lad= y in a fine see-through negligee; five-eight, skinny, modest breasts, Russian and cute. And nineteen years old.

     She offered a hand to shake after Mick had taken his jacket off. ‘Drink?’ she asked in English.

     ‘I’m Russian,’ Mick explained.

     ‘Ah. What … would you like?’

     ‘I’d like you sat on the toilet seat, dressed like that will be fine.’

     ‘Oh.’ She made a face and led Mick into the bathroom, sitting on the toilet seat without disrobing. ‘Like this?’

     ‘Yes, that’s great.’ Mick unzipped, quickly washing his end in the si= nk and drying it off.

     ‘Very considerate,’ she noted.

     ‘Always,’ Mick insisted. He stood in front of her, offering his hardened member to su= ck.

 

2

 

Sayeed stopped and stared = at the name board, his own name displayed in large letters. He took a step, halted, and stared at the man holding it. Ignoring the sign, he moved off, soon noticing a sign for Mohil Ghanda, one of his aliases. Now staring wide-eyed= at every face in the arrivals hall he walked briskly on, and with the flow of passengers leaving the airport.

     ‘The mark is leaving the airport,’ Jim said into his phone.

     ‘Copy,’ Mick acknowledged. He started his engine, placing on his bicycle helmet, th= en his driving gloves.

     ‘Copy,’ Roger acknowledged, mirroring Mick’s actions.

     ‘Roger, try and get in front of him, or parallel,’ Mick loudly called, his ph= one plugged into the BMW and on speaker.

     ‘He’s in a line for the taxis,’ Jim said, his words crackling. ‘Standby.’ Jim announced, ‘Black Mercedes taxi, plate November-Papa 1476, number 132 on the yellow sign. That’s 1-3-2. Stan= dby … ten seconds … ready … he’s pulling off. I’m= out of visible, going for my car.’

     ‘Roger?’ Mick called.

     ‘I’m at the main exit.’ A toot could be heard. ‘Yeah, fuck you as we= ll. Here he comes, moving off, 1-3-2 on the top, I’m in front, heading for the main flyover towards the city, joining the main road south … now.= ’

     ‘I’m moving in behind,’ Mick called. ‘I think he’s one car in front of me.’

     ‘Keep it that way,’ Roger suggested.

     ‘I’m moving off,’ Jim called.

     ‘Roger, all the hotels he’s booked into are west of the river, within half a = mile of the lake. Take that turn. Hang on.’ Mick checked his rear view mir= ror. ‘We got company, Silver Mercedes, two men in it, passenger on the pho= ne. Jim, we’re on the main road south.’

     ‘Next exit,’ Roger called.

     ‘Go right off that exit,’ Mick called. He indicated, moved into the corre= ct lane, coming off the main road a minute later.

     ‘Yeah, he’s going right,’ Roger confirmed.

     ‘Mick, I’m not too far behind you, just did a quick hundred miles an hour do= wn that road, so probably tripped a speed camera.’

     ‘Passing the red building on the right,’ Roger called. ‘Three lanes comi= ng up, heading west.’

     ‘Take the middle one,’ Mick encouraged. ‘I’m still one car behi= nd him. I think I can see you now, Roger.’

     ‘He’s going straight on,’ Roger said. ‘Good guess. Lights coming up.’

     ‘Roger, when the lights change, reverse and hit him, then pull off. Go to one of the hotels and wait.’

     ‘If you say so.’

     ‘Mick, I’m close now, passing red building,’ Jim called.

     A bang signalled Roger hitting the taxi before pulling off.

     ‘He’s damaged,’ Roger called. ‘I’m going left up ahead, I’= ;ll wait at the hotel by the lake, the Monte Carlo.’

     ‘The taxi driver is getting out,’ Mick reported. He tooted his horn for realism. ‘My tail has moved around, now one car behind Sayeed and parallel to me. Oops, got another pair behind me as well. That’s two = chase cars, guys. Jim, stay with Sayeed, I’m going to shake things up a bit.’

     Mick selected reverse and floored it, smashing into the vehicle behind with forc= e. ‘Sorry!’ He selected Drive and pulled forwards, ramming the fir= st chase car at an angle and nudging it into the car in front. Pulling out into the oncoming traffic, he edged around two cars and back in, now making use = of the green light to speed through.

     ‘Mick, it’s Jim, they’re not following you.’

     ‘Jim, get out and offer to help, speaking English. I’m going to ditch this = car and get eyes-on the second hotel. Oh, and Jim, take the bicycle helmet off first, eh.’

 

Five minutes later, Jim transmitted, ‘Mick, the two sets of men knew each other, German speak= ers, refused assistance. Sayeed is on the side of the road with the taxi and the police. And Mick, those chase cars – the drivers are not afraid to sh= ow the police some sort of ID.’

     ‘Agency,’ Mick said.

     ‘I’m parked up and watching it all in the mirror,’ Jim reported.

     ‘Stay with them,’ Mick called.

     ‘Mick, it’s Roger. Should I ditch this car yet? My rear end is attracting attention.’

     ‘Give it half an hour, see who turns up at that hotel,’ Mick encouraged. ‘Re-position yourself if you need to.’

Ten minutes later, Jim said, ‘Sayeed is in another taxi. Moving off … turning towards the lake … straight over … I= can see the lake … turning right … pulling up.’

     ‘I got him!’ Roger said.

     ‘Go on foot,’ Mick called. ‘Jim, pick me up at the second hotel, tu= rn right and straight on.’

     ‘On my way.’

     ‘Mick!’ Roger called. ‘Car pulled in behind Sayeed, two men.’

     ‘Can you hit it and leave?’

     ‘I can try. Hold onto your hats.’

     Mick and Jim could hear the crunch.

     ‘I demolished the side of it, moving off … turning left … left aga= in … lights are green … straight over … left again. I’m ditching in a side street.’

     ‘Cover your face, there are cameras,’ Mick called. ‘I’m ditching mine now. Fortunately, it’s fucking raining!’

 

Sat in Jim’s hire ca= r, the three of them faced Sayeed’s hotel, the Monte Carlo, as the rain pelt= ed the windscreen, the car steaming up. Mick dialled a number. In German, he s= aid, ‘Could you page Mohil Ghanda for me, he should be in reception. Thanks.’ They waited. ‘No response? Can you try Hasim Ali Sayeed.’ They waited. ‘No response? OK, thank you.’

     ‘That should screw with his head,’ Roger noted.

     ‘He’s probably in his room,’ Mick said. ‘That was for whoever’s= sat in the damn lobby.’ He took out a piece of paper, and dialled the num= ber. ‘Hi, it’s Mickey. Yes, from last night. Listen, my friend has j= ust arrived from Pakistan, long flight, and needs the services we agreed. Yes. Hotel Monte Carlo, by the lake. Ask at reception for Mohil Sayeed. No, t= hank you.’

     ‘What’s that?’ Jim asked.

     ‘That, my friend, is the oldest, roughest, and most frightening looking hooker you’ll never want to meet in a dark alley or with a full stomach. She makes Flo look like a babe.’

     ‘And the hotel will not be best pleased with Sayeed,’ Roger noted.<= /p>

     ‘OK, Roger, you’re the only one whose face is unknown, so go book in. But = don’t … take any chances, and don’t look at anyone. There’s a c= ase full of crap in the boot.’

     ‘What ID?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Use your Norwegian.’

     ‘Norwegian?’ Jim queried.

     ‘I worked there for two years,’ Roger informed Jim. ‘I can fool everyone apart from a Norwegian.’ He stepped out, cold air and rain getting in before the door slammed shut.

     With Roger dragging a case along the pavement towards the hotel, Mick said, ‘Once around the block, new position.’ Jim moved off.

     Fifteen minutes later, Roger called. ‘I’m booked in, same floor as our = boy, who had to explain the old slapper to the management. And Mick, more watche= rs in this hotel than guests. When I booked in, they did a bad job of standing next to me to glimpse my passport.’

     ‘It’s a wide net, we knew it would be. Stay in your room till meal time, then try= and join someone else and chat.’ Mick hung up. ‘Probably find there’s a convention of Norwegians in there.’

     ‘Sayeed must be terrified by now,’ Jim noted. ‘The name signs at the airport, the car smashes, the hooker. And those car smashes will make him t= hink he’s in the firing line. I wouldn’t leave my bloody hotel room.’ He faced Mick. ‘This … this is all getting a bit lively, Mick.’

     ‘I’m on top of it,’ Mick insisted. He held his gaze on Jim.

     Jim peered out of the misted, rain swept window. ‘If we get caught, Mick,= how much support would be get from Colette?’

     Mick gave it some thought. ‘Some. He sent us to follow, and we can prove t= hat. The cars? Well, they rammed us whilst we were doing what we were asked to d= o. Look, Jim, no one is going to think any less of you if you want to do a lit= tle static work, something a little less risky. You’re a good mate, a men= tor, and someone I look up to. I don’t want to see anything happen to you.’

     ‘The student has taught the mentor a few things lately, you’re way ahead of where I was.’

     ‘Rubbish, you were just more stealthy.’ Mick took out a pre-pay mobile and swit= ched it on. Entering Sayeed’s number, Mick called, but opened a window fir= st for background noise.

     ‘Hello?’ Sayeed said.

     ‘Meet us at the café on the corner, turn left out the hotel.’ Mick h= ung up.

     ‘Do you think he’ll do it?’ Jim wondered.

     ‘He might not know the contact, and there’s no way he speaks German or Russian, so they’d have to converse in English.’

     Two minutes later, Jim said, ‘There’s our boy. He’s not the brightest tool in the box, is he?’

     ‘Wait till he’s inside that café, then drive past and get its phone number. It’s on the fascia, but I can’t see it from here.’= ;

     Jim read out the number after driving slowly past, Mick entering it to a pre-pay mobile. ‘How many of those do you have?’

     ‘I picked up eight in Spain. Move us back to where we were.’ As Jim pull= ed off, Mick dialled. In German, he said, ‘Police. There is a Arab man in Café Marina, opposite the Monte Carlo Hotel, and he has a gun.’= ; He hung up.

     ‘You’re a complete bastard, you know that,’ Jim lightly said as they circled = the block, pulling in at their previous spot.

     Less than a minute later, sirens announced the approach of the police.

     ‘Subtle,’ Jim complained. ‘The idiot Zurich police would tip-off a real gunman.’

     Three police cars pulled up, officers running through the rain, weapons to hand, Sayeed marched out a minute later and bundled into a car. As it pulled away, patrons of the establishment left in a line.

     ‘Aye, aye,’ Mick said. ‘Man in the trench coat.’

     ‘Watchers?’

     ‘I know his face; he’s CIA - and quite senior. His name is … somet= hing to do with a nut.’

     ‘Walnut?’ Jim offered, getting a look. ‘Hazelnut?’

     The men in question jumped into a car and sped off.

     ‘Well, that woke them up,’ Mick commented.

     ‘Brazil nut?’

     Mick shot Jim another look, wagging a finger. Turning away, he said, ‘Small nut … that you eat.’

     ‘Peanut?’ Jim quietly risked.

     ‘Pistachio!’ Mick exclaimed. ‘That’s the fucker. Only spelt with an “e” I think. Shit, by now he’d have to be a section chief= at least. I met him on a job when I was in, and that was a million years ago.’

     ‘Yeah, well he’s back.’

     ‘That the same car?’ Mick puzzled.

     ‘Yep. Once around the block, standard sweep.’

     ‘Follow it.’

     Jim pulled off slowly, the windscreen wipers working furiously in the rain. ‘He’s stopped outside the hotel,’ Jim noted, halting.

     ‘Picking up, or dropping off?’ Mick wondered. ‘Get in front of him, ten yards, and stop.’

     Jim pulled around Pestichio’s car. ‘Mick…?’

     ‘Don’t think; act. Stop here. Select reverse. Now floor it!’

     Looking over his shoulder, his view hampered by rain-speckled windows steaming-up, = Jim powered their BMW backwards, a startled look coming from the driver of the = car behind. The rear of the BMW demolished the front of the other car, a bang a= nd a hell of a jolt.

     ‘Forward!’ Mick said.

     Jim pulled forwards. ‘Do you think we should get his insurance details first?’ Jim quietly asked. ‘Swap our details?’

     ‘Turn right, forget the lights! And again, go right around the block. Quickly.= 217;

     ‘Mick…?’

     ‘Just go right around the block, they won’t be expecting it.’<= /p>

     ‘I wasn’t expecting it either!’

     Turning back onto the hotel road, advancing slowly, they could see two men stood ne= ar the car, the car doors open.

     ‘Advance at a normal pace, indicate and pull around them, then take his door off,= 217; Mick requested.

     Shaking his head, Jim increased speed, indicated and then pulled around, but not far enough. As he did so, Mick grabbed his own door handle. As the nose of their BMW drew level with the rear of the target vehicle, the man in the trench c= oat jumped back and flattened himself against his car. Mick shoved his door open and hit the man, a door sheared off a second later.

     ‘Turn right. Go around that car, up on the pavement, quick.’

     Jim mounted the pavement, jolting the two of them, and turned, tooted at as he nearly sideswiped another vehicle.

     ‘Right again, back around.’

     ‘We won’t get a third time!’ Jim complained.

     ‘Don’t want one. Here, right again, then into the hotel’s underground car park.’

     Jim halted at the barrier and took the automatically issued ticket, pulling into the car park as Mick stuck a goatee beard onto Jim’s face. ‘There’re cameras, so cap on and face down. There, park in the = far left corner, next to the lifts.’

     Mick fixed his own goatee, sunglasses and cap. Jumping out, he rushed to the sma= shed boot and forced it open. Jim appeared at the damaged rear of the car, looki= ng very suspicious in his get up. Mick said, ‘Those double doors, try and wedge them open with something.’

     They both looked over their shoulders as a car screeched, but the vehicle pulled away normally and left the car park, Jim heading to the doors. He took out a pen and jammed it under one of the doors after opening it.

     Mick grabbed the spare tyre, uncoupled earlier, and a large plastic bag. He threw the tyre onto the back seat as Jim returned. ‘Walk slowly out the way= we came, I’ll be one minute. Go!’

     As Jim walked off, looking like a peeping tom in disguise, Mick opened the pla= stic bag and pulled out a bottle full of petrol. Cracking open the top, he let it pour out onto the driver’s seat, the fumes soon filling the car. A se= cond bottle was opened in a hurry, poured over the tyre and rear seat, finally l= eft inside the tyre hollow.

     Mick looked up, Jim now just about to the barrier. Opening all four of the car’s doors, he struck a roadside flare and tossed it in. Spinning, t= he flash illuminated the underground car park as Mick sprinted forwards for al= l he was worth. A long sixty-yard dash preceded a gentle climb up the ramp, a bu= rst of cold air and rain signalling the street.

     Jim was halfway across the road, head down and collar up against the rain as Mi= ck pulled level. ‘Keep walking,’ Mick said, putting his hands in h= is pockets. At the next corner he ditched his gloves, both men ditching their = damp goatees at the end of the street.

     ‘Follow, talk Russian.’ Mick grabbed a handful of Euro coins, hopping on the f= irst tram and paying for both of them. Stood shoulder to shoulder with damp commuters, Mick whispered in Russian, mostly complete nonsense about hotel menus, but the people next to them had no doubt as to Mick and Jim’s nationality.

     Three stops later they hopped off, crossed a square and joined another tram. Again stood next to damp commuters, Mick adopted an American accent, talk of the hotel Monte Carlo. Four stops, and they left the tram, getting a taxi back = to Jim’s Munich hire car, conversing again in Russian.

     Sat inside the hire car, Mick said, ‘Anything on you, anything at all lin= king you to that car?’

     Jim checked his pockets. ‘I had gloves on, and you handed the car to us. = Why, what did you do?’

     ‘I may have accidentally set fire to it.’

     ‘Jesus, Mick. We’d get ten years for that!’

     ‘No, we won’t,’ Mick calmly, yet firmly insisted. ‘It was hired with a fake ID, and all the witnesses have different descriptions and nationalities. There’s no link, no prints, no facials on the cameras.’

     Jim blew out. ‘Bloody hell.’

     Mick’s phone went. ‘Roger?’

     ‘Mick, the fucking hotel is on fire! I heard police cars earlier as well, they nab= bed someone outside.’

     ‘They picked up Sayeed after an anonymous tip off.’

     ‘He’s in custody?’

     ‘He’s clean, so they’ll let him go in an hour. Or three.’

     ‘We’re all outside the hotel in the rain, doing a guest register check. And Mick, there’s some right dodgy looking fuckers here, most scurrying away.’

     ‘Stay at it. We’ll go static back at your hotel later. Out.’

     ‘The police will be all over that hotel for hours,’ Jim cautioned, red cheeked, now damp, and now looking worried.

     ‘Exactly,’ Mick said with a smile. He waited.

     ‘The watchers will fuck off, at least those without a good cover story. And right now, Sayeed must be shitting himself.’ Jim wiped steam off the window= s. ‘Mick, you’ve been taking huge risks, more than would justify w= hat Colette is paying you, and more than any bounty would cover.’<= /p>

     ‘You never know, a vase worth two million might fall into my lap. There’s always a bounty to be had in this game.’

     ‘Do you have another agenda, Mick?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Agenda?’

     ‘I thought I knew you, but after what I’ve seen in the last week –= no, I don’t know the person sat next to me. I thought you were just reckl= ess, but you’ve shown some flashes of brilliance, cool professionalism, and ice cold cunning.’

     ‘Was there a compliment in there somewhere?’ Mick asked without taking his gaze off the street.

     ‘You make Colette look like a pen-pushing amateur.’

     ‘He is.’

     ‘And you also showed up Tiller. And when Tiller asked you to jump on any CIA watchers – you showed a level of maturity and professionalism that I wouldn’t have credited you with. I’ve worked with a lot of field agents, Mick, but what I’ve seen from you in the past week puts you w= ay up there.’ He waited.

     ‘Maybe I’ve improved.’

     ‘Mick, is someone other than Colette pulling your strings?’

     Mick glanced at Jim, offering a soft and apologetic look. ‘Layers of an on= ion, old friend, layers of an onion. And if I was working for someone else, you = know I couldn’t say. But … but I would hope that you consider I̵= 7;m one of the good guys, and on the side of right, law and order, tucking the = kids in at night.’

     ‘I haven’t seen much law and order from you lately.’=

     Mick’s phone trilled. ‘Right, boss?’ he offered Colette.

     ‘Swiss police are running Sayeed’s name through the computers, all of them.’

     ‘Maybe Sayeed appeared on their radar for some reason.’

     ‘What’s been happening?’

     ‘We followed him from the airport, he’s at the Monte Carlo Hotel, Jim boo= ked in and static. I’m static outside, but lots of goons, so we’re keeping our distance.’

     ‘The Russian section believes that a Russian gangster called Constantine is involved.’

     ‘Constantine, eh. Not sure I’m up to speed on the guy. Oh, hang on, police cars hea= ding to the hotel. I’ll call you back.’

     ‘Coming back to what I said about Colette not pulling your strings,’ Jim pose= d.

     ‘He means well.’

     ‘Who’s this Constantine?’

     ‘Someone who’s definitely not involved, and someone who’s missing a vase.’

     ‘Him?’ Jim queried, wide-eyed.

     ‘Constantine never uses anyone unless they’re Russian, from his hometown, and rela= ted to him somehow. He also hates Asians, and has no interest in Malta or Spain. And he hates the Germans more than he hates Arabs.’

     Mick selected a number. ‘It’s me. Get me Constantine’s phone number. Yes, I am crazy.’ A minute later, Mick wrote the numbe= r on his side window, into the condensation. Taking out another pre-pay, Mick punched the number in, glanced at an expectant Jim, and pressed the green b= utton.

     In Russian, Mick said, ‘I want to speak to Mister Constantine.’

     ‘Who are you?’

     ‘I’m the man who took his vase.’

     There was a long pause. ‘Wait.’

     ‘Yes?’ came a few seconds later.

     ‘I’d like to speak to Mister Constantine.’

     ‘You’re a dead man walking, my friend.’

     ‘Yes, but in the mean time I have something of interest for Mister Constantine.’ Another pause preceded, ‘Wait.’

     ‘This is Constantine. And you, you are the rat who took my vase?’

     ‘Since you stole it, it was never yours. I returned it to its rightful owner. Well= , I dropped it in Vienna -’

     ‘You dropped it?’

     ‘Dropped it and smashed it a few kilometres from the rightful owner, but I took it around to him. His insurers proved it was the right vase and paid out.̵= 7;

     ‘And are you the kind of sewer vermin who thinks for himself, or works for others.’

     ‘I try not to think for myself.’

     ‘And are you going to offer to sell me the name of who it was who sent you?̵= 7;

     ‘What would that achieve? Besides, I did you a favour; I showed you how poor some= of your men are at protecting you and your possessions.’

     ‘I killed them myself, with a sword!’

     ‘Good enough for them. No, I’m calling about another matter, and I hope to = even things between us.’

     ‘I’m listening, rodent.’

     ‘Got a paper and pen?’

     ‘Yes.’

     ‘A Pakistani nuclear physicist called Mohammad Sayeed has a brother, Mohil Say= eed. Mohil flew to Rome and then onto Malta last week. There was trouble in Malt= a, people hurt - killed and arrested, the intelligence services clashing with others. Sayeed then flew to Spain, to the Coast del Sol, where there was mo= re trouble, the Russian sections of British Intelligence and the CIA investiga= ting Russian gangsters in the region. A villa named Los Hermanos near Mijas, ano= ther called Tishkent near Marbella.’

     Jim lifted his hands in silent protest.

     Mick continued, ‘Sayeed then flew to Zurich, where World War Three is now going on. And the CIA have just labelled you, my friend, as being behind so= me deal with Sayeed, and responsible for the problems.’

     ‘Me?’

     ‘Check the detail, all of the detail, I’ll call you tomorrow.’ He hung= up.

     ‘Jesus, Mick; our own people would shoot you for telling a Russian gangster that!’

     ‘They’d have to prove it first,’ Mick scoffed. He opened a window an inch to de-mist the car.

     ‘What’ll that achieve?’ Jim pressed.

     ‘First, it will identify for me the real Russians in touch with Sayeed, since Constantine’s not involved.’ Mick balanced an unlit cigarette on his lip.

     ‘Is London running this show, or are you running it?’ Jim loudly asked.

     ‘I run my own game. That way … no screw-ups. Do you think Colette could fathom this out?’

     ‘Colette would pass it up the chain of command –’

     ‘And by then it would all be over. Sayeed will make his deal here, and today. Te= ll me, Jim, is anyone up the chain of command taking this seriously? Sayeed’s brother is a nuclear scientist, and he’s up to no good. Don’t know about you, but I smell a huge rat.’

     Jim forced a large breath. ‘There is something big going on; I never saw = this many players or this much action in ten years of walking the pavements.R= 17;

     ‘Have I failed to report the facts?’ Mick posed.

     Jim took a moment, and then shook his head. ‘No, they got the core details.’

     ‘And still no turn-out of the cavalry.’

     Jim reluctantly nodded.

     ‘So we’re it. Anyway, around to my hotel for a bite to eat, and we can di= tch these two coats. There’re bins in the underground car park of my hote= l. C’mon. And drive carefully for a change, huh.’

    

3

 

Sat eating in Mick’s= hotel bar, the local TV news showed the mayhem at the Monte Carlo Hotel, a sea of flashing blue lights. When Mick nodded Jim towards the TV, Jim could see an image of two men the police wanted.

     ‘Poor images,’ Jim noted.

     ‘Very poor. Relax.’

     Mick’s phone went. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘Where are you?’ Colette asked.

     ‘We pulled back, at my hotel, having lunch.’

     ‘All hell breaking loose at that hotel, and Interpol are searching a name that cropped up in Malta.’

     ‘One of the goons?’ Mick asked.

     ‘Must be.’

     ‘Has … Tiller shared anything with our department about what the link was?’ Mick risked.

     ‘No, nothing.’

     ‘Between you and me, boss, he had a team or two down there, and they weren’t on the coast for their health. His project overlaps Sayeed.’

     ‘Well, he’s not sent anything over, and their department is senior,’ C= olette pointed out.

     ‘Still, a little professional courtesy…’

     ‘Office politics.’

     ‘Which is why I avoid working in offices,’ Mick quipped.

     ‘What’s your plan?’

     ‘Follow Sayeed to the airport tomorrow, then onto Turkey. Any … changes to the plan?’

     ‘No, stick with him. Talk soon.’

     Mick noticed a missed call from Roger and called. ‘After me?’=

     ‘I’ll get the flu from this! Been stood outside in the cold and rain, without a jacket.’

     ‘What’s happening there?’

     ‘Sayeed just came back, just as they allowed people back in. Brought back in a poli= ce car. And Mick, I noticed a camera snapping Sayeed as he got out the police car.’

     ‘And the other goons?’

     ‘All those I noticed earlier have legged it, not least because there are six pol= ice officers sat in reception. I think two were taken in for questioning.’= ;

     ‘Good. That fire cleansed the place.’

     ‘Do I want to ask … what I want to ask?’

     ‘No, you don’t!’

     ‘I got his room number; 410.’

     ‘Good, because he’ll get a visit later. Have a meal in the bar. Talk soon.’ Mick entered a number from a piece of paper. In German, he sai= d, ‘Yes, I met you last night, about my Pakistani friend and his … needs. Yes, that’s the one. He’s at his hotel now, Monte Carlo, room 410, Mohil Sayeed. Yes, five hundred Euros. Thanks.’

     ‘You’re a complete bastard, you know that,’ Jim pointed out as he cut up his food.

     ‘And the lobby is full of police,’ Mick mentioned with a grin. He dialled again and ordered a pizza for Sayeed, flowers, and a taxi – or ten.

     ‘You think he’ll change hotels?’

     Mick nodded. ‘Whatever he came to do, he won’t risk it where he is.’

     ‘Is he crazy?’ Jim thought out loud. ‘Why is he still here?’<= /span>

     Mick took a moment. ‘Probably following instructions from his brother. Eit= her that, or what he’s up to is very profitable.’

     ‘It would have to be, to stay there with all this going on around him.’

     Mick nodded towards the TV screen. ‘They’re looking for two Russian = men and … they’ve arrested two Bulgarians at the hotel.’

     ‘You hit that man, Pestichio, with your car door. Something … personal goi= ng on there?’ Jim risked.

     ‘If he’s injured, it goes up the line, and people start asking questions. And, if they ask enough questions, maybe they’ll figure out what Saye= ed is up to.’

     ‘Do you … know what Sayeed is up to?’

     Mick shook his head. ‘But given who his brother is, there’s only one possible outcome: the spread of nuclear technology.’

     Jim’s brow pleated. ‘In Europe?’

     ‘No, and that’s the puzzler,’ Mick admitted. ‘And if the deal = is with a third world country, why meet here?’

     ‘Switzerland has … Swiss banks,’ Jim floated.

     Mick lifted his eyebrows and nodded. ‘My thoughts exactly; a pay off, witnessed by a reliable family member. After all, who else could the brother trust?’

     Colette called. ‘Mick, just thought I’d let you know, but the Interpol computer is alive with enquiries about Sayeed, Malta and Spain – from= a variety of police forces.’

     ‘Must be more going on than we realise. We’ll keep a discreet distance. Tha= nks, boss.’

     ‘What was that?’ Jim asked.

     ‘Constantine is bribing police officers to check out the story. Computer searches are showing up.’

     ‘And then…?’

     ‘Constantine will be helpful. He wants something, we want something, so we’ll swap details.’

     ‘Will he send people here?’ Jim wondered.

     ‘No, and we’ll be gone tomorrow.’

     ‘He could get boys over from Prague in a few hours,’ Jim cautioned.

     ‘To do what? They would just make him look even more guilty.’

     When Mick’s phone went, it was Roger again. ‘Mick, the police just g= ave me a ten minute once over, including the full legend.’

     ‘Do you think they suspect you?’

     ‘No, I’ve been using that ID and story for years. But you can be sure that there’re no armed goons in this hotel, or anyone without a rock solid legend. They’re checking cars outside as well.’

     ‘Good, you’ll sleep safer.’ 

     ‘Sayeed has been in reception twice, police asking him questions. Oh, hang on, our = mark is checking out.’

     ‘We’re moving now,’ Mick said as he stood, Jim putting down his drink and grabbing his coat. At the car, he said, ‘He’ll go to one of the other hotels, but he’ll want to lose any tails first. You take the ca= r to the Plaza, I’ll take a taxi to the Italiano Hotel.’

    


Mix= ing it up

 

1

 

A full hour later, night c= oming on, Sayeed arrived at the small Italiano Hotel with his case, keenly observ= ed by Mick. Mick raised his phone.

     ‘Jim, he’s here. Go static outside.’ Mick dialled Roger. ‘Check out, ask for a refund for all the hassle, book into the Plaza and go static inside.’

     ‘On it.’

     When Jim turned up, Mick jumped into the car. ‘Street is clean,’ Mic= k commented. ‘And our boy is taking a big risk. He’s in there under another name, a false ID used. If I called the police…’

     ‘He’d be deported, or in a cell,’ Jim finished off.

     ‘But then we’d be no better off in getting to the paymaster.’=

     ‘So what’s the plan?’ Jim asked, rubbing the windows with a cloth.<= /span>

     ‘If he goes to meet his contact, and we miss him … well, I think we’= ;ll just disrupt him tonight, keep him awake.’

     ‘The contact must have missed the meeting already. Banks are closed, and Sayeed’s booked on a flight tomorrow.’

     ‘Noon,’ Mick reflected. ‘Which gives him an hour and a bit in the morning. Bu= t I aim to make him miss the meeting, get jittery and make a mistake. Besides, = his contact will probably arrive here tonight for a quiet chat, and a few quest= ions -’

     ‘Like … what the fuck is going on?’ Jim finished off. ‘If I was= the contact, I would have seen the news and driven away.’

     ‘Again, it depends on who it is, and how important this deal is.’

     Colette called. ‘Any news?’

     ‘Our boy has moved hotels, were static outside, all quite so far.’<= /p>

     ‘Two armed Germans were arrested outside his hotel; the Swiss police have them. I’m still in work, notes coming in thick and fast.’

     ‘Are we likely to get pulled off in preference to a few professionals?’ Mi= ck asked.

     ‘Hell no, we want deniability,’ Colette loudly stated. Then quieter, and apologetically, ‘If you know what I mean.’

     ‘I do, I’m a freelancer.’

     ‘Talk later.’

     Mick lowered his phone as Jim pointed towards the hotel. A car pulled in, its li= ghts off before it parked. A cigarette was lit, revealing two faces. ‘There goes the neighbourhood,’ Mick commented.

     ‘How did they know he was here?’ Jim asked. ‘Sayeed took an hour get= ting here, so he shook the tails.’

     ‘It could be the other team, here ahead of a meeting.’

     ‘If the paymaster knows what he’s doing, why doesn’t he advise Saye= ed on a how to lose the tails?’ Jim posed.

     ‘For the simple reason that Sayeed and his brother don’t fully trust the paymaster; it’s a deal to be agreed, not a marriage made in heaven.&#= 8217;

     Mick fumbled for the pre-pay mobile. He dialled the police. In German, he said, ‘Hello, police. There are two suspicious men in a black Mercedes in L= itz Strasser, outside Anna’s Bakery. They have been sat there for hours, = just smoking.’ He hung up,

     A police car pulled in two minutes later, and slowed alongside the suspect ca= r.

     ‘They won’t suspect us,’ Jim commented as he and Mick observed the exchange. ‘They’ll think it a nosy neighbour.’

     One of the men in the car handed over an ID. The police turned on their internal light and used their phones. A minute later they handed the ID back and dro= ve off.

     ‘That’s naughty,’ Mick noted. ‘Not agency, but maybe agency with Interp= ol IDs that check out.’

     ‘Which could mean CIA,’ Jim suggested.

     ‘And they knew he’d be here, or at least they think he might come here,= 217; Mick considered. ‘They’re two steps ahead of London.’

     ‘Ha!’ Jim let out. ‘London sent us pair here; the CIA have senior staff and agents with good legends. They’re six steps ahead of us!’

     ‘Ahead of London, not ahead of us,’ Mick insisted.

     ‘If Sayeed goes for a walk with them there, we’ll have a hard time following,’ Jim warned.

     Mick eased forwards and studied the nearby buildings, in particular their upper floors. ‘No vantage points. Drop me at the back of the hotel, then pa= rk around the corner from that car, watch the front of the hotel.’

     At the rear of Sayeed’s hotel, Mick jumped out, opening a bag in the boot and retrieving six golf balls. He tapped the roof, Jim pulling off through puddles. The rain had eased, but everything remained soaking wet, Mick̵= 7;s hands, coat and trousers soon wet from climbing a wall. Stepping carefully around the top of the wall, and balancing precariously like a tightrope wal= ker, he reached across and grabbed the fire escape structure, clambering onto it= .

     Climbing the fire escape slowly, so as to not clatter on the metal steps, he ascended all the way to the roof, finding a sloping slate roof with numerous loft apartments - probably for staff, one with a light on. Clambering awkwardly = over a stone balustrade, Mick’s shoes sank into three inches of cold water. Cursing softly, he put one foot carefully in front of the other, his left h= and on the cold wet stone of the balustrade, his right hand on the cold wet sla= te of the roof.

     Turning the corner whilst staying low, he edged towards the front of the hotel, soon glimpsing the street where they had been parked, and the opposition’s tail car. ‘Shouldn’t have parked there, lads,’ he muttere= d.

     Two yards in from the corner of the hotel, Mick crouched down, a foot in the waterlogged guttering and a knee on the sloping roof. He peeked over the balustrade, and smiled. With a golf ball retrieved from his pocket, he took careful aim, lifted up and threw the ball with all his strength, lying back= on the sloping roof a second later.

     A reassuringly loud crack echoed about the nearby buildings, a glimpse of the= car through the balustrade, it’s windscreen now white. The men were out, their heads darting every which way, including upwards; every which way apa= rt from the hotel their mark was located in.

 &nb= sp;   Mick folded his arms and waited, just a pigeon for company. Ten minutes later, a second car pulled up, the first abandoned, the second vehicle now occupied = by four men. It pulled forwards and parked even closer to the hotel, Mick shak= ing his head. Easing up, the pigeon flew off. With a knee against the sloping r= oof, a golf ball was launched down, a resoundingly pleasing noise created by the impact.

     All four men were out, running in four different directions and scanning this q= uiet side street, some of the men now on the corner. Mick’s phone went. Cursing, he quickly grabbed it and knocked it off. Seeing that it was Jim’s name, he called back. Whispering, he said, ‘Yeah?’<= /span>

     ‘There are men on the corner running about.’

     ‘I know, I just wrote-off two windscreens for them,’ Mick whispered.

     ‘There’s Sayeed!’

     ‘Where?’

     ‘Coming out the hotel, taxi pulling up.’

     ‘Get ready to follow.’

     ‘Wait, he’s eyeing the men on the corner … he’s … paid the= taxi and gone back inside, taxi moving off. They spooked him.’

     ‘Watch the front of the hotel, I’m coming down.’

     Mick edged slowly along the roof, his feet in three inches of freezing water, his coat soaked. It took a good six minutes to get back to the top of the fire escape, Mick easing himself down and ruining his suit in the process. On the second landing, a door below burst open. He froze, his back against the doo= r on his own landing.

     Someone noisily descended the fire escape, sounding as if they were dragging a suitcase. Mick peered down, unsure who it was, but took a good guess at Say= eed. Step by step, he slowly crept lower, being very careful not to make a noise= .

     When Sayeed hit the alley, Mick raised his phone. ‘Jim,’ he whispere= d. ‘Sayeed is in the alley at the back. Pull off, go left and left and w= ait, I’ll follow him.’

     Mick continued down as quietly as he could, till Sayeed was a good fifty yards a= way. Landing in a puddle in the alley, Mick slammed his back against the wall and waited, Sayeed still progressing along the alley. He lifted his phone. ‘Jim, go left again, along and stop where you can, he’ll emerge close to where you were parked before.

     Sayeed turned right.

     ‘Hang on, he’s turned right, moving away from where you were before, towards the shops.’

     ‘Standby … got him. He’s just ducked into a small hotel. Hold on, itR= 17;s … the Neapolitan. I’ve got eyes-on the main entrance and I̵= 7;m well placed.’

     ‘On my way.’ Mick ran down the alley, splashing through puddles, frantica= lly trying to select Roger’s number.

     ‘Mick?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Get a taxi to the Hotel Neapolitan, behind the Hotel Italiano; Sayeed’s inside. You’ll see the hire car outside.’

     At the car, and a little out of breath, Mick ducked in and slammed the door. ‘I’m fucking soaked, my shoes full of water.’

     ‘I can’t see anyone else,’ Jim noted.

     ‘He gave them the slip, and nearly gave us the slip,’ Mick said as he tes= ted his wet socks.

     ‘We have him, no one else does,’ Jim realised.

     ‘CIA will track his mobile,’ Mick said. He exchanged a look with Jim, pull= ed out the pre-pay mobile and dialled Sayeed, opening both windows first.

     ‘Hello?’ Sayeed answered.

     ‘Turn off your phone till you want to use it, the CIA will track you.’ Mick hung up, exchanging a look and a shrug with Jim.

     Roger pulled up in a taxi, soon jumping into the back of their car, umbrella in h= and.

     ‘OK,’ Mick called. ‘Jim, do the walk by, check on a rear exit.’ Jim e= ased out. ‘Roger, that bar over there: see if you can get an eyes on.̵= 7; Roger stepped out.

     When Jim returned, he reported, ‘There’s a fire escape, but unless you’re in the SAS you won’t be scrambling over that back wall.’

     Roger called. ‘I can see our friend moving around. First, no second floor, one-two-three-fourth room in from the right.’

     ‘Excellent. When his light goes out, go mobile.’

     ‘Mick, this bar, it’s a bit … gay.’

     ‘Don’t put-out unless you get a drink and a meal first.’ Mick hung up. ‘He’s sat in a gay bar.’

     Jim peered across at it, smiling, Mick still struggling with his wet feet. Jim said, ‘Here, take them off.’ He started the engine and adjusted= the heater as Mick took off his socks and shoes, wringing out the socks through= the window, a strange sight for passing motorists. With the socks placed direct= ly on the car’s vents, the shoes being held, Mick’s footwear slowly dried.

     An hour later, Roger called. ‘Lights off.’

     ‘Get ready,’ Mick told Jim, damp socks back on, his feet inside damp but w= arm shoes. ‘Start the engine, lights on – or we’ll look suspicious.’   

     Sayeed appeared on the street, well wrapped up, and immediately put up his umbrell= a, walking left and away from the car. Mick wound down the window, pointing towards Sayeed as Roger crossed the road in front of them. Roger fell into = step behind Sayeed, a good thirty yards back, his own umbrella up.

     ‘Get in front of him,’ Mick said. ‘Hundred yards at least.’ Th= ey pulled off.

 

2

 

After a damp ten-minute wa= lk, Sayeed entered a café, Mick and Jim positioned across the street, Ro= ger now getting into the back of the car.

     ‘Give me your brolley,’ Mick asked Roger as he eased out of the car, soon walking back along the road and across to the other side. With the umbrella= up, the rain cooperating by starting up again, Mick walked past the café, getting a glimpse of Sayeed sat with another man. After a meandering stroll, Mick eased back into the car.

     ‘He’s met a contact, looks East European, about fifty, black hair. When they leav= e, all eyes on him, forget Sayeed.’

     ‘Bounty time?’ Roger asked from the back.

     ‘Bonus time at least, because no other fucker knows about this meeting; the street= was clean.’

     Fifteen minutes of staring at the café finally resulted in Sayeed leaving, walking back towards his hotel. Roger eased out, umbrella ready, and walked= to the corner as traffic threw spray up off the road. The contact emerged alon= e, and turned up his collar, walking in the opposite direction to Sayeed.

     Two hundred yards along the road, the car now in front of the mark, the mark du= cked down a dark alley.

     ‘Dark alley!’ Jim noted. ‘He wants to see if he has a tail.’

     ‘Go around,’ Mick urged, lifting his phone. ‘Roger, don’t fol= low the mark down that alley - go around. Run ya lazy git!’

     Jim was stuck in lights when the mark appeared, the mark jogging across the wet street and into a pedestrian precinct. With the lights green, Jim pulled up next to the start of the precinct.

     ‘Other side,’ Mick said. He lifted his phone as they pulled off. ‘Roge= r, go into the precinct, but stay well back. Look for a parking structure, or = go straight through.’

     At the opposite side now, they waited. ‘There, going left. Get in front = of him, right to the end of that road. Turn right and stop, lights off.’=

     Looking over their shoulders after halting, they could see the man enter a small ho= tel.

     ‘Does that sign say Martzt?’ Mick asked. He opened the door and eased out. = At the corner, he could see Roger and Roger could see him. Mick walked over, getting the name and phone number of the hotel, a quick glance inside as he walked past. Roger met him around the next corner.

     Mick said. ‘Go join Jim in the car, keep an eyes-on for this place. I̵= 7;m going to call them and try and book in.’

     Roger walked off as Mick asked for a room in German, finding a single room availa= ble. He would arrive in thirty minutes, he told them. Back at the main road he flagged down a taxi, a quick trip back to his hotel to grab a part-filled suitcase and return, soon stood in front of a small reception desk, no sign= of anyone in the foyer.

     Booked in, he found his allocated room, small and pokey, and dumped his case. Back= at reception he asked about food, being directed towards the bar. In the bar, = he ignored the patrons and closed in on the bored looking barman.

     ‘English … not good. Eat … food.’

     The man pointed towards a glass cabinet of sandwiches, baguettes and cakes. Pul= ling out two sandwiches, Mick pointed at the beer pump before offering a handful= of notes and coins to the barman, who picked out what he wanted.

     Sitting, Mick took off his jacket and opened the sandwiches, soon cursing in Russian= and throwing them down.

     A Russian voice said, ‘Not so good, eh?’

     Mick turned to the man, who was not the mark. ‘Russian?’

     ‘From Moscow? You?’

     ‘Rostov-on-Don. Just outside.’

     ‘I can hear it in your accent, almost Ukrainian.’

     Mick pretended to be offended, straightening.

     ‘No, no, my friend, I don’t mean to insult you, but they are similar accents.’

     Mick shrugged, tackling the second sandwich. ‘You are working here?’=

     ‘Yes, construction manager. You?’

     ‘Gas futures, stock market.’

     ‘What are you doing in this dump? Besides drying out.’

     Mick looked at the mud speckled onto his trousers. ‘I book into a good hot= el, get the paperwork, cancel, and then claim it.’

     The other man laughed loudly. ‘If your company pays, so be it; I get forty-five Euros a day for room and food.’ He edged closer.

     Mick said, ‘I’d offer you a sandwich, but I’d insult you. Or poison you!’

     They got into a debate about hotels in Odessa they both liked, brothels in Moscow and Prague, they even realised they may have liked the same girl. Two beers= were downed before the mark appeared, ignored by Mick.

     The Russian called to the mark, in Russian, inviting him over. To Mick, he whispered, ‘Ukrainian. Be nice.’

     The mark sat with a beer, facing Mick, introductions given, soon back to Odessa= and hotels, a loud debate.

     ‘Your accent?’ the mark asked Mick.

     ‘Rostov-on-Don,’ Mick replied.

     ‘Ah…’ the mark let out.

     That led to a debate about the Sochi Winter Olympics; a lengthy and heated debat= e. That, in turn, led to an argument about the Russian fleet based in Sebastop= ol.

     ‘Give it back to the Ukrainians,’ Mick said, his Russian friend not impress= ed, the mark - a Ukrainian, obviously wanting the port back.

     With a debate about European visas for Russian tourists starting up, Mick took o= ut his passport and opened a page, arguing that Russians were not fairly treat= ed in Europe. The mark read the passport stamps at length – Europe, Turk= ey and Egypt - before handing it back. Next, Mick showed three photographs, the images of himself with a woman and a young child at landmarks near Rostov-on-Don; the happy family.

     ‘Are you working tomorrow?’ the mark asked Mick.

     ‘Tomorrow? No, that’s why I can drink. Two days off!’

     ‘A young family is expensive. If you want some work, I am short-handed here, l= et down by two men.’

     Mick gave a big shoulder shrug. ‘Doing what?’

     ‘I have some files to deliver, some to pick up and sign, then the lawyer signs= and it goes back – you know what Europeans are like. It will take a day of taxis and waiting. But we start at 7am.’ He gestured towards the beer= .

     ‘I can sleep it off,’ Mick said. ‘And the pay?’

     ‘Three hundred Euros a day.’

     Mick shrugged again. ‘It all helps.’

     ‘How’s your English?’

     ‘Not good, just enough to get by.’

     ‘You can read English?’

     ‘Some. I know some German, some French, some Spanish.’

     ‘So long as you can tell the taxi driver where to go,’ the mark explained= .

     ‘We have a driver,’ Mick explained.

     ‘Who … has a driver?’

     ‘My company does; old Swiss man who takes us back and forth to the airport.R= 17;

     ‘He speaks Russian?’ the mark asked.

     Mick shook his head. ‘We use English or German.’

     ‘Do you have his number?’

     Mick tapped his pockets. ‘I have it on an email. I can call him in the morning.’ He checked his watch. ‘Now, the old fucker is asleep,= but he’s always up early for the airport run.’

     ‘Fine. If you can get him it will save on taxi fare. I will see you here at 7am, yes?’

     Mick nodded as he stood. He thanked his Russian drinking buddy and set off for h= is room. In the room, he put an ear to the door for two minutes before lifting= his phone. ‘It’s me.’

     ‘All OK?’ Jim asked.

     ‘The mark just hired me to run errands in the morning, delivering files to be si= gned and back.’

     ‘How the hell...?’

     ‘I’ll need you to pretend to be an old Swiss driver in the morning, so put things= in the car to back that up, memorise a home address here, and study the map tonight for an hour. Be here for 7.30am, and dress like a local, full tank = of gas, put a boarding pass or two on the floor in the rear. Oh, check the car= for hire tags. And try and grab a nametag, maybe a name sign like at the airpor= t. Ask Roger to hire a second car, I don’t think Sayeed is flying off at noon somehow.’

     ‘And when am I supposed to sleep?’ Jim quipped.

     ‘It’s ten thirty now, so plenty of time. Don’t worry about a static on this place for now, go back and get ready.’

     Mick checked the door, wedged a chair-back under the handle, put the chain on and settled down.

 


The= big day

 

1

 

At 7am, Mick met the mark = in the hotel’s small restaurant, the mark claiming his name to be Bogdan. The breakfast bar offered cereal, hot food having to be ordered from a bored looking old man.

     Mick explained, ‘The Swiss man will be here in half an hour. He will work = till 3pm for three hundred Euro, local stops, all in with fuel.’

     ‘Good, good. Have breakfast and a coffee. You only have this suit?’

     ‘And jeans and t-shirt?’

     ‘No, no, the suit is fine,’ Bogdan offered, a glance at the dirty trousers= . He and Mick occupied just one of six available tables, Mick placing his mobile= on the table, its picture-background that of a woman and child.

     When Mick’s phone went, he tapped it, set for speakerphone. ‘Hello?’

     ‘Did I wake you?’ a woman asked.

     ‘No, no, I have some work today, some papers to deliver and be signed. A little extra money.’

     ‘Olesya lost a tooth.’

     ‘Lost it?’

     ‘It was loose. She asked me to pull it, but I didn’t, so she pulled it out.’

     ‘Which tooth?’

     ‘At the front. Now she has a big gap and pokes her tongue through it.’

     Mick smiled at Bogdan. ‘I’ll call you later, I have to leave soon. Bye.’ He ended the call.

     ‘Your first?’ Bodgan asked.

     Mick nodded. ‘And not planned. We’re not married, it … was a party, she fell pregnant, but we stayed together because we like each other – not just for the child.’

     They munched on toast covered in jam, stepping outside at 7.25am.

Jim was waiting. He clambered out, dressed in a black jacket, = grey waistcoat, and he even had a nametag. ‘Morgen,’ he offered.

Bogdan handed Mick a file. ‘Go to this hotel, that room number, wait while the man reads it – he’s from Pakistan, so he= has no Russian. Take him to the second address, where documents will be waiting, and then to the bank at the third address. He will give you a receipt to br= ing back to me. I’ll then give you a document to take to a forth address, they will give you a document to return to me. That last document is a ship= ping certificate, in Russian, so look that it is OK, containers from Dubai to Ukraine, factory parts, to be delivered within the month. Call me if it does not look in order.’

‘No problem. And later I get paid, yes?’

‘Yes, yes, I’ll be here.’

Mick clambered into the car, Jim pulling off – and now t= hree hundred Euros better off.

‘How the fuck did you wangle that?’ Jim asked as t= hey rounded the first corner.

‘My Russian is good. He’s Ukrainian, and he’s shipping something from Dubai to the Ukraine, Sayeed being paid for it at a Swiss bank, so it’s probably only be one thing: fissile material.R= 17;

‘What?’ Jim gasped.

They exchanged looks. ‘We have a … bit of situation,’ Mick stated, opening the thin plastic case that held the documents. ‘And I need you to trust me.’

‘Trust you? Why?’

‘Because I won’t be reporting this straight away.&= #8217;

‘Are you mad?’ Jim asked in a forced whisper.

‘I don’t want to scare them off, because they̵= 7;ll just try again later. We need to catch them.’

‘That’s not your choice, Mick,’ Jim firmly p= ointed out.

‘Check our rear, and slow down while I video this.’= ;

Mick lifted each page over in turn, the writing English, most = of the pages concerned with technical details. He held his phone over each page for two seconds before advancing, soon through the twelve pages as Jim checked = for tails. All pages were put back as they had been before they pulled up outsi= de the Neapolitan.

‘We’ll see if Sayeed knows my face.’<= /p>

‘You’re going to meet Sayeed?’

‘Yep. I’m his gofer today, and he thinks I canR= 17;t read this.’ Mick opened the door and eased out. ‘Wait for me, a= sk Roger to tail us as we go. Oh, and sit with the doors locked and leave at t= he first sign of trouble.’

Mick passed through reception and climbed the stairs to the se= cond floor, finding the room in question. He knocked. Sayeed opened the door and waited. Mick handed over the file and stepped in. Tapping the file, he said, ‘Look, look.’

Sayeed pointed Mick to a chair, before sitting on the bed. Ope= ning the file, he raised his mobile and began a lengthy conversation in Urdu, a = full twenty minutes. When done, he collected the pages together and slipped them back into the plastic case, standing and getting his coat.

Mick stood, stretching and yawning before leading Sayeed out. = At the car, Mick opened the rear door for Sayeed, easing into the front seat. He displayed a post-it note to Jim and tapped it.

‘Bahnhoff Strasse?’ Jim queried as they pulled off= .

Mick nodded and gestured forwards, a five-minute journey throu= gh thick traffic. At least it had stopped raining. When Jim pulled up, Mick ea= sed out and opened the car door for Sayeed. Checking the address several times, Mick led Sayeed into a tower building and up to the tenth floor.

 At the indicated= door, Mick knocked and entered, finding the office of a law firm, a receptionist = sat waiting. He showed her the post-it note, the lady immediately gesturing the= m to an inner office.

‘Morgen,’ a well-dressed man offered; sixty and gr= ey, tall and thin.

Mick showed him the post-it note, to which he simply handed ov= er a large brown envelope. Mick turned, leading Sayeed out. In the corridor, he offered the envelope to Sayeed, who simply shrugged. He didn’t know w= hat to do with it either. Either that, or he didn’t want to carry it.

Back in the car, Mick showed Jim the third address, a bank, but helpfully pointed towards the lake. Jim found it, eventually, Sayeed and Mi= ck jumping out again. It was now 8.45am, and Sayeed checked over his shoulder = as they entered the building. Inside the bank, Mick glanced around at the seated tellers and the windowed tellers. Shrugging, he handed Sayeed the envelope = and gestured him to a seated teller, grabbing a chair to wait and picking up a magazine.

Sayeed produced his passport and driver’s license when prompted, all checked carefully, before a document was accepted, a counter-= foil signed and stamped, handed to Mick. In the car, Mick tapped the first post-= it note, the hotel, and they set-off again. At the Neapolitan, Mick gestured Sayeed out with a smile and a pointed finger.

Pulling off, Jim blew out loudly. ‘Fucking hell, Mick.&#= 8217;

‘Sayeed’s brother just got paid, so back to the mark.’ He grabbed his phone and took an image of the document, the receipt. ‘Six million dollars.’

‘Not a bad day’s work,’ Jim noted. ‘And Sayeed can make his flight. We’re packed ready, but we’d be luc= ky to make it to Munich in time.’

‘Call the airline and try and move to a later flight, or= the morning,’ Mick suggested. ‘Oh, and check this car thoroughly for prints before you return it, and trackers after you finally drop me off.= 217;

Back at Bogdan’s hotel, Mick said, ‘Wait here.R= 17; He found Bogdan in the bar, the receipt and original file handed over.<= /p>

‘All OK?’ Bogdan asked.

‘Sure, but I didn’t say a word to the Asian guy.&#= 8217;

‘That’s OK. Take this file to the address on it, a= nd bring back the documents they give you.’

‘Be done in time for lunch,’ Mick told Bogdan befo= re he left. In the car, he opened the file, finding shipping arrangements for sec= ond-hand solar panels, from Dubai to Odessa. ‘They’re using a third-party shipper to avoid any evidence, and using me for this gofer work because they don’t care if I get twenty years in a Swiss prison cell.’

‘Roger is a few cars back,’ Jim mentioned as they = drove.

‘You might make your flight.’

‘Roger moved them back two hours.’

‘Good.’

     The next address took a few attempts to find, Bodgan’s documents handed o= ver, a receipt issued. Back at Bodgan’s hotel, Mick handed over the receipt with a smile. ‘What’s next?’

     ‘That’s it for today, more tomorrow, we’ll speak later tonight.’ Bogdan handed over three hundred Euros.

     ‘And the driver – send him off?’

Bogdan handed over an envelope with another thirty Euros in, b= oth men stepping outside. Mick paid Jim the bonus and thanked him, Jim pulling away.

‘Drink?’ Mick asked Bogdan.

‘No, I must meet friends at the airport. We’ll talk later.’

In his room, Mick watched through a crack in the window as Bog= dan left with a case, walking towards the shopping precinct. He hurriedly packed what few things he had removed from his case, and left by the back door, forcing a gate open.

When Roger picked him up, he said, ‘Back round the corne= r, watch that hotel from a distance for a bit.’

‘Jim didn’t sound happy earlier,’ Roger ment= ioned.

Mick took a moment. ‘The Ukrainian gang is buying radioa= ctive material from Sayeed.’

‘Then it’s a big stakes game, with a big reward somewhere.’

‘There’d better be after all this effort.’

‘Heads up,’ Roger called.

They observed as a car pulled up, three burly men in padded ja= ckets getting out, scanning the street as they entered the hotel. They left five minutes later, screeching off.

‘That was my execution squad,’ Mick noted, peering towards the hotel, his eyelids heavy. ‘The mark was making sure I wou= ldn’t speak.’

‘Wonder what he’d do if he knew you photographed a= ll his documents.’

‘He would be … vexed. OK, back to my hotel, but triple-check our rear. Take this car back, and get yourselves up to Munich. I’ll see you in Rhodes. And … try and do a good job of reassuri= ng Jim; tell him I’ll call Colette with the news.’

‘Will you?’ Roger asked, glancing across.

‘Something here doesn’t add up, and I’m not = sure if reporting this will make it better, or worse. What was Pestichio doing here?’

They stopped at lights.

‘Monitoring Sayeed?’ Roger offered.

‘Pestichio would only monitor an operation if it was a b= ig operation, and babysitting Sayeed wasn’t.’

‘But what you found out was big, fucking huge.’

They moved off.

‘So who knew about it in advance? CIA, Tiller, none of t= he above? For Pestichio to be here, they must know. Which begs the question … why not stop the pay-off? I just set the wheels in motion for somet= hing big.’

‘Just hope you didn’t get seen doing it,’ Ro= ger quipped.

‘What did you say?’

‘I said … I hope you didn’t get seen doing it.’

‘Whoops.’

‘Whoops? What the fuck is whoops, Mick?’ Roger ask= ed, clearly concerned.

‘There’s no way they could have predicted I’= d get Bogdan’s confidence. So, if they have my face in a camera… I’d just say I was undercover for London.’

‘And what would London say if they saw your face with Sa= yeed, handing over six million dollars?’

‘They’d be confused. But if the CIA have my happy smiling face, then it begs the question as to why the CIA didn’t stop Sayeed, why they used a camera instead of a toe up my arse. They’re hardly innocent in this.’

‘They’ll wait for the shipment to arrive and grab it,’ Roger suggested.

‘The good old US Navy will board the ship at sea, a CNN = crew in the chopper,’ Mick quipped. They pulled into Mick’s hotel. ‘Anyway, see you in Rhodes. Be careful, and check that hire car for trackers, every inch.’

Collecting the remainder of his belongings, and grabbing a qui= ck shower, Mick made ready to leave. When his phone went it was Roger. =

‘Mick, our hire car has … two things it shouldn’t.’

‘Oh dear. Get into a concrete parking structure and swap= them over to another car; sunglasses and caps on. Swap the plates as well. Write down any numbers you want from your mobiles and then ditch them. Then get t= he hell out of Dodge City.’

 Mick lowered his= phone and walked to the window, peering out at a grey sky, raindrops racing each other down the window, collecting others as they slid down the pane, leaving more behind. ‘Hope I was photogenic.’

When his phone went, it was Colette.

‘Right, boss?’

‘Mick, your name is popping up all over the computer, se= arches in the last few hours.’

‘I must have been recognised by someone in the CIA.̵= 7;

‘CIA?’ Colette repeated.

‘Yeah, there all over the city. I even recognised some of them.’

‘What’s … been happening?’

‘We got close to Sayeed, who tried hard to lose us ̵= 1; and anyone else following him – and he led us to a Ukrainian, some gang leader. I posed as a Russian in his hotel, got his confidence, and he asked= me to do some gofer work for him. I readily agreed, and I read the documents a= nd photographed them.’

‘Excellent work.’

‘I posed as the gofer and dropped documents to Sayeed, t= ook Sayeed to the bank –’

‘The bank?’

‘Yeah, I don’t know what Sayeed did inside, but I = ran him around for a while. Anyway, I photographed all the documents, so we can analyse them later.’

‘You off to Turkey now?’

‘Yes, flying later. Any … change to our directive = on this job?’

‘No, stick with Sayeed. Turkey is not my patch, but the = Mid East section kind of regards it as our patch now; they won’t complain.’

‘I’ll call you tomorrow.’

Lowering his phone, Mick rubbed the bridge of his nose. ‘= ;What are you doing, Mick?’ he softly asked of himself. Sitting on the edge= of the bed, he stared at the trouser press attached to the wall. Sucking in a = big breath, his stood. ‘Fuck it.’

Packed and ready, he took the lift down to the basement, leavi= ng via the access ramp, umbrella up. Flagging down a taxi, he negotiated a rate up= to Bern, hopping on a train to Rome with a Canadian passport. Watching the raindrops on the window being blown backwards, dark and sodden countryside blurring by, he closed his eyes.

 

2

 

‘Mister Constantine, please, it’s the vase thief.’

     ‘Vase thief,’ Constantine said a minute later. ‘Do you have a name?’

     ‘Mikhail will do.’

     ‘OK, Mikhail, I’ve been searching the police computers, and what you said was true; Malta, Spain and Zurich. I even found a source in the SVR who confirms the CIA are interested in me for this … whatever this is.’

     ‘I can help you, sir, I can help you a lot, and I hope that it will square the books. I’m just a paid individual, so you have no reason to be mad at= me for the vase.’

     ‘How can you help me?’

     ‘First, I need your help to try and find out what’s going on, and who the peo= ple are behind it. The CIA doesn’t know, that’s why they blame you – you’re just someone to conveniently pin the blame on. But = 230; when this gets out, all of Russian will be against you as a traitor.’=

     ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

     ‘I discovered part of what’s going on, and I have the evidence to show y= ou – to prove it. I will text you pictures and video in a few minutes, examine them carefully, zoom in.’

     ‘And what will they show?’

     ‘That a Ukrainian gangster has paid millions of dollars to buy low grade Uranium = from Sayeed, and that it will be shipped to Odessa in two weeks.’

     ‘And what does this gang want with Uranium?’

     ‘They aim to put the Uranium in Sebastopol, near the naval yards,’ Mick lie= d. ‘Beyond that, I don’t know.’

     ‘Irradiate the naval yards?’ Constantine puzzled. ‘What will that achieve;= it won’t harm our fleet? It will be found and dealt with.’<= /p>

     ‘We’ll have to ask the men when we catch them. And Mister Constantine, how will you feel when all Russia reads that the west blames you for the attack on your = own navy?’

     ‘When I catch-up with the dogs behind this I will personally slice off their skin!’ he growled.

‘Can you … allocate some men to help me, some mone= y to work with? I need them in Turkey, in Marmaris.’

     ‘You want to work … with my men?’

     ‘I have people to call on, but they won’t … interrogate anyone, if= you know what I mean. And we’re unarmed, taking great risk working undercover. If we need to storm a building ... I don’t have the resources; I work by stealth, not firepower.’

     ‘How many men?’

     ‘Maybe six. And twenty thousand dollars to cover our expenses.’

     ‘You work very cheaply, my friend.’

     ‘I won’t ask you for money till I’ve earned it.’

     ‘You have already earned some by warning me.’

     ‘As I said, a gesture of reconciliation. And, in the future, I’m available for hire for certain types of work.’

     ‘You would hire yourself out to me?’ Constantine puzzled.

     ‘Yes. For work around Europe; tailing, infiltration, research. I have contacts in= the western agencies, I’m a useful man.’

     ‘So it seems. I will send six men to Turkey today, and money. They know people = in Turkey to get weapons off.’

     ‘Can you see this number on your phone?’

     ‘Yes.’

     ‘Use this number to contact me, and for your men to contact me. I’ll email= you the pictures now, you’ll have to zoom in on them or download to a computer and print out. Oh, and the man pinning the blame on you – he’s is a senior CIA manager called Pestichio – like the nut. He was in Zurich, and was involved in a car accident. Perhaps that information= is of some use to you. And may I suggest that you not mention the Urani= um to anyone yet, not even your own people. Secrets are for bosses, not staff.’

     ‘Very well, Mikhail. My men will be in Turkey.’

     ‘And if the men could have a few ladies with them – we don’t want to arouse suspicion when tailing people. Oh, that villa in Spain, Tishkent. Who owns it?’

     Constantine coughed out a small, derisory laugh. ‘It is owned by that dog, Brabos.’

     Mick took a moment. ‘Brabos? Mister Constantine, is there any bad blood between you?’

     ‘Yes, I took his nightclubs in Prague.’

     ‘When the Germans in Spain were shot and wounded – the one’s watching Sayeed, they went to the villa, Tishkent.’

     There was a long pause. ‘What?’ Constantine asked in a whisper.

     ‘I think, maybe, we know why the CIA chose your name. The idiots following Say= eed around are linked to Brabos.’

     ‘You’ve earned yourself a few more dollars, my friend. And I have some thinking to do.’

 

 

 

 

Rho= des

 

1

 

Mick landed in Rhodes at n= oon, a morning flight from Rome after a restless night in a cheap hotel. Jim was waiting outside the airport in a hire car, Roger inside the terminal and checking faces. Mick clocked Roger as he walked out of the airport and towa= rd the taxi rank, but did not acknowledge him, getting a taxi to a modest hote= l in Rhodes town, just outside the walled part of the medieval citadel.

     Booked in, Mick lay on the bed and dialled Jim. ‘I’m at the Hotel St. John, just north of the wall. Meet me in half an hour, old town, central square, eyes in the back of your head.’

 

In the square, Mick found = the guys inspecting the tempting tourist trinkets on display; brass metal-works, beaten plates and silver ornaments. He made brief eye contact, the guys following him ten yards back and up through narrow and winding streets cram= med with shops selling cheap tourist crap; Arabic or Turkish carpets, jewellery= of all sorts, t-shirts and sports shirts, and ceramics. Beyond the tourist tra= p, Mick turned into a non-descript courtyard, took a table and ordered three beers, no other tourists utilising the small bar at the moment. The guys stepped in a moment later, glancing back at empty alleyways.

‘You’re being cautious,’ Jim noted as they s= at.

     ‘After I played Gofer for Bogdan, I think the CIA ran my name through the computer.’

     ‘Ah,’ Jim let out. ‘They made you. Colette will not be best pleased.’

     Mick waited, staring back.

     ‘What?’ Jim asked. ‘What has Colette said?’

     ‘Nothing.’

     ‘Nothing?’ Jim queried. ‘If the CIA clocked you, they’d talk to London. So … why haven’t they?’

     ‘That, my friend, is worrying me as well,’ Mick commented. ‘If they haven’t gone through channels, then they don’t want London to k= now about their operation around Sayeed.’

     ‘Or their embarrassment,’ Roger said. ‘If they think you infiltrated the gang dealing with Sayeed - they’d be right pissed!’<= /p>

     ‘Normally, yes,’ Mick agreed, appearing tired. ‘But I would expect a high-level discreet chat about what I know … that they may not know.’

     ‘And … nothing?’ Jim puzzled.

     Mick shook his head, the drinks placed down. They paused for the waiter to withd= raw.

     ‘Sayeed landed in Turkey yesterday, so the trail will go cold,’ Jim suggested= .

     ‘It’s off-season in Marmaris, so we may get lucky and spot him. Besides, he may b= e at a place Colette linked to the Maltese goons, a hotel owned by a Russian gangster. It’s a solid lead.’

     ‘Has Colette joined the dots on all the goons in Malta and Spain?’ Jim ask= ed.

     ‘Not to any reasonable conclusion,’ Mick replied. ‘Jim, that photographer in Spain, the one that I relieved of his camera – it loo= ked more like he was interested in Tiller than Sayeed. And if the CIA picked Ti= ller up at the airport, then they’re keeping tabs on him.’

     ‘They think Tiller is dirty?’ Jim puzzled. ‘That’s naughty, bec= ause they should hand over anything they have on Tiller to London.’=

     ‘I think Tiller is too stupid to be dirty,’ Mick commented, Roger agreei= ng. ‘So they were watching Tiller because of an overlap of operations, the Yanks not wanting to share – as usual.’ He took a sip of his be= er. ‘Guys, there’s one very undeniable conclusion about why the CIA= are keeping quiet, and that’s because they don’t want Sayeed’s plan interrupted.’

     Jim and Roger exchanged concerned and puzzled looks. Jim said, ‘If they w= ant it kept quiet, then there are three reasons sat right here why it can’= ;t be kept quiet.’

     ‘And as such, they may wish us to … remain silent about the operation,’ Mick pointed out.

     ‘Oh, hell,’ Roger let out.

     Jim stared at Roger for a moment, his mouth opening. ‘They wouldn’t dare come for us.’

     ‘Really?’ Mick posed. ‘You’re retired, Roger was never in, and I’m a freelancer with a poor discipline record. There’ll be no major incide= nt if we disappear, nor tears shed, nor wake held.’

     ‘They’ll kill us,’ Roger wistfully stated.

     Mick took another sip. ‘I have a safe house here, so you could both use it crash for a while, a little apartment in Lindos. I also have an idea about = how to fix this, but it’ll take a week or two.’

     ‘Why are you keeping this from London?’ Jim quietly, yet forcefully demand= ed. ‘They could help!’

     ‘Because I want to know what’s going on first,’ Mick answered. ‘Re= ally … going on.’

     ‘And isn’t it enough that this Ukrainian gangster is buying fissile materi= al from Sayeed’s brother?’ Jim whispered, glancing over his should= er.

     ‘Six million dollars could buy you a shit load of fissile material in the Ukraine itself,’ Mick pointed out. ‘They’ve already had a few security breaches, and lost a few kilograms. And if Sayeed and his brother wanted to keep it secret, then just what the fuck was that stupid arse doing wandering around Europe being followed by goons? This deal – the Ukrainians buying fissile material from Sayeed – has been fed to us w= ith a spoonful of sugar.

     ‘We investigated, we followed, we saw people shot, a guy killed, goons arrested, and got lucky in Zurich. But I think the whole thing was to make us, or someone, think what they wanted us to think, find out what we were supp= osed to find out – and not easily. It had to look genuine.’

     ‘A set-up?’ Jim puzzled.

     ‘Jim, in thirty years, have you ever … seen anything like those goon= s in Malta, and Sayeed’s behaviour?’

     Jim reluctantly shook his head.

Mick added, ‘We watched the show, we had a little audien= ce participation – as we were supposed to, but I think I fucked it up by getting the gofer job. That … was a brilliant piece of luck, but not = part of the plan for the puppet master, whatever the fucking plan is.

‘I don’t think any fissile material is heading for Odessa from Dubai. And why from Dubai? Is the material Iranian or Pakistani= ? If so, Mossad would be all over it. The Iranians are not about to lose fissile material, or sell it, and neither are the Pakistanis.’

     ‘Then what was the six million dollars for?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Something else, somewhere else, for somebody else,’ Mick listed off. ‘And we’re in great danger till we work that out.’

     ‘You’ll go over to Marmaris tomorrow?’ Roger asked, Mick nodding. ‘Coun= t me in.’ He faced Jim. And waited.

     Jim coughed out a laugh. ‘Why didn’t I stay in my bar?’

     ‘Because this gives you a hard-on,’ Mick told him. ‘And a little respect from the world.’

     ‘Respect is not much use if you’re the most respected corpse in the whole damn graveyard!’

     ‘You could die tomorrow,’ Roger told him. ‘Or in a year, or maybe twenty. And I want to make some money from this gig. Pity we couldn’t have got the six million.’

     ‘Never say never,’ Mick commented.

     Roger wiggling his eyebrows and smiled.

     ‘But first, we need to have a poke around Marmaris, and to keep Colette sweet for future work, and to end the job we were paid to do when Sayeed flies off, t= hen … then find out what the fuck is really going on and make a few quid. Jim, we’re outsiders; if we uncover something interesting then London will reward us – so too others. Information, secret information, is always valuable, and as much as I love Queen and country the price of fuel = is going up.’

     ‘We have to pay the bills,’ Roger quickly added.

     Mick offered Roger a mock-serious nod. Facing Jim, he said, ‘My game plan … is to make use of Constantine’s men tomorrow – theyR= 17;re bringing us some money – and then to set a filter-trap to see who com= es out to play.’

     ‘You’re going to use this Constantine?’ Jim queried.

     ‘Someone has fingered him for all this, and he’s not a happy chappy. He wants = to know what’s going on as much as we do, and he has money, men and resources. Right now, the enemy of my enemy –’

     ‘Is my friend,’ Roger finished off.

     ‘And I guess you’ll not let Colette know about Constantine,’ Jim said with a curled lip.

     ‘Hell no,’ Mick confirmed. ‘I’ll make it look like Constantine = is after us … and that we need more money to go to ground.’ He sip= ped his beer. ‘What do you say, Jim?’

     ‘I’d say … that I dare not just go back to my bar, not till I know that Lo= ndon has my back, and that I can move from Malta. And even then I’d like to know that the paymaster is not after me personally. However this got starte= d, it needs an ending – preferably with the main players in jail.’=

     ‘That’s my aim, Jim,’ Mick emphasised. ‘But no one is going to argue wi= th you taking to the safe house and reading a book for a week.’

     Jim studied Mick, long and hard. ‘I asked you a few days ago if you were working for someone higher up than Colette. And what I’ve seen this p= ast week … well, you’re not the man I thought you were, Mick, and w= hether you deny it or not, I think you are working for someone higher up th= an Colette, and that you’re the best field agent I’ve ever seen. <= /span>

‘Getting that gofer job wasn’t a brilliant acciden= t; it was sheer brilliance. So I’m going to work on the assumption that you know what you’re doing, and I’ll assist. The only thing that confuses me is your desire to part people from their money. But, to help me sleep at night, I’m going to assume that you’re working for the good guys.’

     ‘We all have our crutches,’ Mick quipped. ‘I still believe I’= ll meet the right girl, settle down and have kids, and live in a small cottage.’

     Roger laughed loudly.

     Mick checked his watch. ‘We may as well make a start. We can get the ferry across now, book into a cheap hotel and do a passive sweep. Make your beds = look slept in, carry just a small bag over. I’ve got some back-up arriving= , so … don’t be alarmed by big Russian goons helping out.’

     ‘Bloody marvellous,’ Jim let out.

 

2

 

The afternoon ferry from R= hodes to Marmaris docked at 4pm, passports checked, visa stamps purchased and then stamped. Mick grabbed a taxi to a hotel, Roger and Jim a second taxi, meeti= ng at the harbour side an hour later.

     ‘Nice spot,’ Jim offered, the three of them sat in café overlooking = the moored tourist boats, large Turkish flags flying off each. ‘But a bit quiet?’

     ‘It’s not high season,’ Mick put in. ‘But it gets rammed in July and August. This time of year it’s just nice; you’ve got the weathe= r, but not the crowds.’

     ‘We’re in the Dolman Hotel,’ Roger said.

     ‘I’m in the Ockotan, on the front. You’ll see a big picture of a cockerel = on the side.’

     ‘Who’s the statue of?’ Jim asked, pointing.

     ‘Ataturk; the founding father of post-Ottoman secular Turkey,’ Mick explain. ‘He moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara so that it was central = to all Turks. There’s also a statue of a spaceman, which looks like a de= ep sea diver, and a mermaid.’

     Jim looked out over a huge enclosed bay, a bay that he had examined in great de= tail as their ferry had entered via a cliff-backed channel. Icmeler itself had b= een pointed out by Mick as they had cleared the channel, the small resort locat= ed to the west of Marmaris and nestled into a valley. ‘Seems a bit ̷= 0; oddly quiet and pleasant for espionage work.’

     ‘You wouldn’t say that on a hot August night down here,’ Mick commen= ted. ‘Then you’d have to watch your wallet, and your watch.’

     ‘So what’s first?’ Roger asked.

     ‘You guys can scout Icmeler for Sayeed.’ Mick handed Roger an address. ‘Find that hotel without approaching it - ask the taxi driver to go n= ear it, but not to it. If you can’t get a good OP on the hotel, split and walk the sea-front streets and bars, see if Sayeed is sat with his back to = the road again. And guys, the opposition around here is probably armed.’<= /span>

     ‘They were everywhere else!’ Jim unhappily noted.

     ‘Call me if you find anything,’ Mick said. ‘I have some Russians to go meet.’

 

* *= *

 

Roger and Jim explained to= the taxi driver that they wanted to go to a certain place in Icmeler, explaining that they didn’t know exactly where it was, but that it was near the hotel in question. The taxi dropped them a quarter mile past the hotel, hav= ing helpfully pointed it out first.

The area they had arrived at consisted of small hotels and lar= ge houses, no substantive hotels to be seen, the various properties well spread out and most offering large gardens and empty pools. It could have passed f= or an urban area, not a tourist area, little in the way of tacky neon hotel si= gns, screaming kids, or holidaymakers.

     Hats and sunglasses on, map in hand, Roger and Jim strolled back along the road = that led eventually past the target hotel, crickets chirping loudly all around, = the afternoon hot, little breeze evident in the valley. Passing the hotel, Roger said, ‘There’re goons sat around the pool. That ain’t no = spot to take the kids paddling.’

     At the first junction in the road they found a café just big enough for three tables, and sat. Their position allowed them a partial view of the top floors of the target hotel through a row of trees, no sight of the pool now, but they could view the hotel’s access road.

     Roger lifted his phone. ‘Found the hotel – its goon central. We’= ;re up the road, static, eyes on the approaches.’

     Sipping his drink, Jim said, ‘They probably eat out. That small hotel had no kitchen vents that I could see.’

     ‘Sayeed will walk past here later, heading for a bite to eat in a tourist restaurant,’ Roger agreed. ‘But we can’t stay here too lo= ng, it’s a bit obvious.’

     Ten minutes later, their orange juices downed, they picked up the map and strol= led down towards the beach, passing postcard stands, shops selling colourful be= ach towels, trinkets, and ceramics again - distinctive Turkish blue and white plates. The quiet beach was scanned, no middle-aged Pakistani men seen to b= e swimming, sunbathing, or chatting up the girls in bikinis.

     Walking left, they passed over a gentle stream heading into the bay, reached the en= d of the tourist trap and reversed course. Back in the centre of the small touri= st area they selected a café with a commanding view of the main drag, w= hat it was, and settled in for a long static.

     Food ordered, Jim pointed. ‘It’s Sayeed,’ he whispered, putting his cap back on. ‘He’s just wandering again. There, he’s sitting in that café, one over.’

     Roger lifted his phone, his back to Sayeed. ‘Got Sayeed, sat in a café.’

     ‘We’re interested in who he meets, so tail the contact, not Sayeed,’ Mick requested.

 

Lowering his phone, Mick e= dged around the same corner for the second time and entered a beachfront bar. Si= x of Constantine’s men sat about with three ladies, all of the Russians suitably dressed for summer. Each of the men looked both as if they could handle themselves, and had taken a few knocks in their time. They were not a handsome bunch.    

Mick stood in the bar’s entrance and took off his sungla= sses. And waited. A man stepped forwards, the others eyeing Mick suspiciously. ‘I’m Mikhail, the vase thief.’

     ‘Yuri. I’m in charge.’

     ‘Are you good at taking orders, Yuri, because we have a lot to do and not much time?’

     Yuri reluctantly nodded.

     Mick led him back inside, opening a map at a table and letting it rest on the to= ps of glasses and bottles. The group closed in. ‘This is where we are, Marmaris. Anyone been here before?’

     They all had.

     ‘Excellent,’ Mick said. ‘This is Icmeler. There’s a small hotel here –’ He pointed on the map. ‘- and it’s full of men l= ike yourself; big, tough and handsome. We don’t know yet if they’re armed. On the beachfront, here, is a café, and sat in it is Sayeed, a Pakistani. He doesn’t speak any Russian, but his English is good.R= 17; He faced Yuri. ‘I want the first couple to go and find the café= ;, sit and have a meal.’

     Yuri called two names.

     Mick faced them. ‘Act natural, don’t do anything other than observe, don’t look directly at him, and talk like you’re married and ha= ppy, eh?’

     Yuri dispatched the couple.

     Mick said, ‘Ten minutes from now, send a second couple to sit at the café next door, same routine exactly. But remember, we’re interested in Sayeed’s contact more than him.’

     The couple were selected.

     ‘The rest of you, apart from Yuri, walk from here to the harbour and the town, w= alk around, look and listen for other Russians - tough Russian men, or anyone suspicious. Be careful when following any of them. Report any suspects to u= s, I’ll take a close look. And … have a nice day.’

     With just Yuri left, Mick said, ‘The hotel in Icmeler is part-owned by Bra= bos, I found a link.’

     ‘Then we burn it down.’

     ‘Sounds good, but first we look for evidence; documents, photographs – someth= ing to prove that Brabos is behind this and not your boss. But there’s another small problem; I have the CIA looking for me.’<= /p>

Yuir’s eye’s widened.

Mick continued, ‘In Zurich, I got close to the Ukrainian= gang and infiltrated their group; they hired me as a deliveryman then kindly sen= t a team to kill me afterwards. While I was with them I was seen, my name run through the computer afterwards.’

     ‘The CIA know your face?’ Yuri puzzled.

     ‘They do. We have … crossed paths a few times.’

     ‘Why have the police and CIA not arrested the men involved with this?’

     ‘That, my friend, keeps me awake at night. It may be because the CIA like to catch people in the act, and I think they’ll board the ship bringing in the= illegal items – US Navy, big show of force, claim all the credit.’<= /span>

     ‘Pah!’ Yuri let out. ‘Americans. And I know about the Uranium.’=

     ‘And the others?’

     Yuri shook his head.

     ‘There may be another reason.’ Mick waited.

     ‘What?’

     ‘What happens if the Uranium caused a problem at Sebastopol docks?’<= /p>

     Yuri shrugged.

     ‘Your fleet will be affected. Maybe, if the people blame the Russian fleet for a nuclear leak, they’ll kick your fleet out. That will make the Ukraini= ans happy.’

     Yuri’s brow slowly pleated. ‘The CIA will never stop this plot,’ he snarled. ‘They will assist!’

     ‘I doubt they would assist; they wouldn’t take the risk. But, turning a blind eye to it … well, that’s different. They can see whatR= 17;s about to happen, so they’ll let it.’

     ‘But if they stop the ship…?’

     If … they stop the ship, my friend. C’mon, let’s go look at = this hotel.’

 

Noticing a small hotel dir= ectly behind goon central, Mick and Yuri approached the hotel’s small recep= tion desk.

‘Do you have any rooms?’ Mick asked the lady clerk= in English.

‘Yes. Single, double?’

‘Double, for more friend and his wife, they don’t = speak much English.’

‘I have one. One hundred Lira with breakfast.’

‘Can we have a look at it?’ Mick asked.

The lady on reception called over a lazy fat porter, who shuff= led along and up the stairs, the four-storey hotel not offering its residents a convenient lift. The porter opened a room and allowed Mick and Yuri inside,= not entering himself. From the balcony, Mick could see goon central clearly, a = look exchanged with Yuri, who nodded.

Back at reception, Yuri paid for the room, showing his passpor= t. Leaving the hotel, he said, ‘I will put a girl in here with me.’= ;

‘Lucky you. But first, go buy a good digital camera with= a zoom lens from one of the cheap shops in the town; we need faces. Sayeed’s hotel is key, so take charge of watching it yourself, coordinating the others from here. Call me if anything interesting happens today, I’ll coordinate my people to see who we recognise.’

‘I have money for you at my hotel.’

‘Well, let’s go get it then; I can pay my people,&= #8217; Mick enthused. ‘When will you have weapons?’

‘Tomorrow, they are coming from Istanbul.’<= /p>

‘So, for now we watch … and we wait.’=

 

3

 

Back in his hotel room at = the Ockotan, Mick called Colette. ‘Right, boss?’

     ‘Where are you?’

     ‘In Marmaris, Turkey, and we found Sayeed and the hotel he’s at.’

     ‘Good work, very good work.’

     ‘We’ll watch him and see who he contacts.’

     ‘You didn’t send the documents you said you had.’

     ‘I tried to download them to a computer in an Internet café,’ Mick lied. ‘But the cable wouldn’t work. I’ll try again later.’

     ‘OK. Keep me posted.’

‘How’s Davies?’ Mick enquired.

‘Back here, flew back from Gibraltar. The Director has b= een to see him.’

‘That can’t have been good for my reputation.̵= 7;

‘Quite the opposite; the Director asked me about you.= 217;

‘What did you tell him about the shining star of your department?’ Mick lightly asked.

‘Only the good bits.’

‘Well, let’s hope we wrap this up soon with a good conclusion, eh. What’s our good friend Mister Tiller up to?’

‘Rumours of an enquiry,’ Colette said.

‘Enquiry … about what?’

‘Don’t know, can’t pry. Let me know if anyth= ing interesting turns up.’

Mick lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, the afternoon wa= rm, the sun beating through a gap in his curtains and highlighting the amount of dust in the room.

When his mobile went, it was a London number. ‘Hello?= 217;

‘Michael Canuck? It’s the Director.’<= /p>

‘I haven’t fiddled my expense claims, boss,’= Mick joked as he sat up.

‘Tiller is under investigation, and I’m going to a= sk you a question. What was on that camera, the one you handed him?’<= /p>

‘Boss, I’m just a low paid helper, I don’t w= ant to get anyone into trouble.’

‘The camera. What was on it?’

‘Pictures of people around Sayeed, taken by the CIA.R= 17;

‘You know it was the CIA?’

‘Yes, we found a few things in the photographer’s = wallet that pinned him to the CIA.’

‘And the pictures included Tiller?’

‘The sequence started with them picking Tiller up at the airport.’

‘At the airport?’

‘Afraid so, boss.’

‘Let me ask you a simple question, since you met Tiller = down there. Did he take reasonable precautions?’

‘In technical terms … he wandered around with his = thumb up his arse and a tracker on his car; he led them right to me.’

‘They were actively following him?’

‘Till a flowerpot went through their windscreen, yeah. W= e then checked his car and found the tracker.

‘And the pictures on the camera?’

‘Showed that they were dogging him all the way, and snap= ping everyone he met.’

‘But you yourself spotted the tail and liberated the photographers camera?’

‘And his wallet and phone, boss. I was thorough.’<= /span>

‘And what happened to those items?’

‘Mister Tiller has them.’

‘Did he ask you not to mention this?’

‘I’ve slept since then boss, and had a few beers.&= #8217;

‘Did he ask you to cover it up?’ the Director pres= sed.

‘You might think that, I could not possibly comment.R= 17;

There was a pause. ‘Your handler, Colette…?’=

‘None the wiser. Mister Tiller offered me a job … = and, you know…’

‘Pressured you to keep quiet.’

‘We’re all on the same side, boss. I didn’t = think I was doing anything wrong.’

‘You’re motivated by who pays you, so dangling car= rots has an appeal. Which brings us to my next point. Zurich: what the fuck went on?’

‘Can you keep a secret, boss?’ Mick toyed.<= /p>

‘I am the head of the secret service,’ the Director toyed in turn.

‘Zurich was the culmination of Sayeed leading us around = by the nose, whilst being snapped by the CIA step by step. I enjoyed a very nice h= oney trap in Malta - CIA again I’m sure, and bored the girl, but thereR= 17;s no doubting that she figured who I am. In Zurich, Sayeed did what he came to Europe to do and met a few people, then went to a Swiss bank for some reaso= n. I know for definite, because I drove him there.’

‘You drove him?’

‘My Russian is prefect, so I posed as a Russian working = in Zurich who needed a few quid - after I tracked Sayeed’s contact. He w= anted a gofer because he didn’t want to be seen, or caught, himself. So he hired me for three hundred Euros for the day, plus a local driver – w= ho was one of ours as well, and we took Sayeed around as he completed his deal – whatever it is.

‘But I’m sure that we were snapped by the CIA as w= e went back and forth, so they now have my happy smiling face. They must have made= me and linked me to Malta because they were searching my name in the computer,= and our hire cars picked up trackers.’

‘And Colette knows this?’

‘Most of it yes, I reported it, it’s in the file. I photographed the documents that I transported as well. May I ask … if you’ve had an approach from the CIA?’

‘I’ve met them twice this week, and they’ve = said nothing. I’m due to see them again tomorrow.’

‘And yet … they knew Sayeed’s itinerary in advance, I found it in a wallet.’

‘When can we get those documents you photographed?’= ;

‘I’m having trouble downloading them; I’ll t= ry again in a bit. And boss, when you meet the nice men from the CIA, keep in = mind that they now fully believe you’ve blown open their little operation - and know more about it than they do. They have my details, and must think I’m more than just the dog’s-body we both know I am. You’= re in a strong position at the poker table, boss.’

‘I would be if I knew what Sayeed had been up to. Study = the pictures yourself, see if anything stands out, zoom in on them then call me straight back. I’ll tell switchboard to await your call.’

‘OK, boss.’

Mick lowered his phone, staring at the crack of light penetrat= ing the room, dust mites rising and falling. ‘Ah, fuck it. Tiller, you arsehole.’

He closed his eyes and lay back. ‘I could lose the phone.’ Blowing out hard, he called Colette. ‘Right, boss?̵= 7;

‘Something new?’

‘Just had a call from the Director.’

‘He … called you himself?’

‘Yes, problem with Tiller.’

‘Tiller?’

‘When I was in Spain, Tiller pulled rank, offered me a j= ob. Then me and Jim, well … we did a few things for Tiller, the kind of things that would get you into trouble if it got caught. I didn’t say anything because Tiller ordered me not to, and he offered me a job.’<= /span>

‘And the Director found out?’

‘Yeah, somehow. You’re not in trouble, he knows I = kept you in the dark about Tiller.’

‘So that’s why Tiller is under investigation,̵= 7; Colette realised.

‘You’re not mad at me, boss, are you?’

‘You’re a contractor. It’s up to us to keep = our own house in order.’

‘Anyway, the Director asked me to study the images I too= k and to call him back. I guess I’ll have to please him first.’

‘Of course.’

 

Mick walked the very short distance across to the beach, grabbing an orange sun lounger and laying back under an orange shade. The afternoon was hot, the calm water inviting, litt= le disturbing his peace apart from the rhythmical sound of gentle waves caress= ing the sand.

In the distance, he could see tourist boats returning to harbo= ur after a day out enjoying the ocean and the mountain views. Mick put his han= ds behind his head and took in the beautiful scene, a scene of surreal calm, m= uch in contrast to the thoughts going through his mind.

Back in his room, forty minutes later, Mick flicked through the images. ‘Got no fucking choice, buddy,’ he told himself. He selected the number that the Director had called from.

‘This is Michael Canuck, the Director is expecting my ca= ll.’

‘One moment.’

A long sixty seconds later came, ‘Canuck?’<= /p>

‘Yes, boss.’

‘What’s on those documents?’

‘More than someone like me should be reading.’

‘Meaning?’

Mick took a breath. ‘Sayeed was paid six million dollars= to arrange the transport of fissile material from Dubai to Odessa, to be hande= d to a Ukrainian gang.’

There was a long pause. ‘You have dates, times and details?’

‘On the images, boss, if you believe them.’=

‘What do you mean – if you believe them?’

‘I know the difference between discovering something, and being nudged towards discovering something. We’ve been led around by = the nose from the start, chased and shot at, and discovered for ourselves things that the CIA knew from before Sayeed set foot here.

‘If I was you, boss, and I didn’t want to look lik= e a complete idiot in front of the Prime Minister, I’d take what we’= ;ve been fed, use it, but put a peg over my nose to keep the smell of rat out. = Then I’d ask myself what the CIA agenda is, what it really is, because I d= on’t believe for a second that there’s fissile material heading to Odessa.’

‘Mister Canuck, why am I getting better advice from you = than my own departmental heads?’

‘They’re pen pushers, boss. Those of us out in the= field have a better feel for things.’

‘Where are you now?’

‘Turkey. Sayeed is down here, surrounded by goons with guns.’

‘Why are you still on him?’

‘My remit was to watch him till he left Europe. We stret= ched it a bit with Turkey, but its European at heart. Besides, I’d like to find out what’s really going on.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning … never believe a good story when it̵= 7;s handed to you. And … why the fuck is Sayeed still here, surrounded by armed goons, when he’s six million dollars better off and should be b= ack home?’

‘Do you need extra resources?’

‘No, boss, there’s a few of us. We’ve got it covered.’

‘If you turn up anything interesting, I want to know bef= ore Colette.’

‘Can I ask a favour, boss?’

‘I think you’ve earned one.’

‘I’d like to keep my nice working relationship with Mister Colette as a nice working relationship.’

‘Understood.’

Mick lowered his phone, and sighed. ‘Just have to avoid getting shot, or jailed, or shot then jailed, or jailed and stabbed in prison…’

 

4

 

Still laying on his bed, M= ick answered his phone to Jim. Jim reported, ‘Sayeed has been wandering a= bout aimlessly – again, now back at his hotel. Thought I clocked a Russian couple watching him.’

‘You did; they’re with me.’

‘Oh, I see.’

‘Come back over here.’

‘On our way.’

When Jim and Roger arrived back, Mick led them to a small bar = in a side street.

‘Same old bollocks,’ Roger said. ‘He’s wandering again.’

‘Did it look like he was killing time?’ Mick asked= .

‘Maybe,’ Roger agreed.

‘He’s here for a reason,’ Mick pointed out. ‘A meeting; maybe with the paymaster.’

‘And then?’ Jim nudged.

‘We hand the paymaster to the nice Russian gentlemen, an= d they ask him a few questions. Oh, almost forgot.’ Mick reached into his po= cket and produced a wad of notes. He handed Jim six thousand Euros, the same for Roger.

‘It all helps,’ Roger quipped.

‘Not a bad day’s work,’ Jim agreed.

‘There was one small wrinkle,’ Mick began. ‘= The Director called me.’

‘The Director?’ Jim repeated, sitting up straight.=

Mick nodded. ‘Tiller is under investigation for somethin= g. The Director asked about Spain, and Tiller’s behaviour over there, but I doubt they’d be investigating him for just that, and not so soon. Til= ler must have done something else to upset the boss.’

‘He asked us to jump on the CIA,’ Roger noted. ‘Which was a bit naughty. It’s OK when we do it for our own reasons, but to do it for him…?’

Mick smiled, getting a disapproving headshake from Jim. ‘= ;Go back to your hotel and scrub up. Have a meal out, somewhere in the harbour where you can see people walking past. After that, pick a bar and watch for passing trade. This place is one long drag, and people walk up and down it,= so let them come to you.’

    

After the sun had tucked i= tself behind the hills, Mick checked his pockets and set off out, circling his ho= tel twice. In the taxi to Icmeler he called Yuri. ‘I’ll be at that hotel in five minutes, meet me downstairs.’

At the hotel, Yuri led Mick up to the room, the room lights ou= t and the curtains open twelve inches, a girl sat in the bathroom and using its l= ight to read a book.

‘What have we got?’ Mick asked Yuri.

‘I have all their faces. They lounge around and play like children, even shouting. I have some names to go with faces. They’re Russian.’

‘Not Ukrainians?’

‘No, Russians. They sound like Moscow born.’

Mick scanned each image in the camera, the pictures backlit and giving his face a blue tinge. ‘I don’t know any of these; they weren’t in Europe.’ He handed the camera back.

‘I know one face, we were in the army together. He works= for Brabos.’

‘Then we have the right hotel. All we need now – i= s for some important people to show up.’

‘You think … Brabos, he will come here?’

‘Maybe.’

‘I would kill him, and get a good bonus!’

‘Finger’s crossed then,’ Mick said with a sm= ile. He grabbed a pair of binoculars and scanned the hotel, seeing movement in r= ooms with their curtains open. ‘How many men?’

‘Eight in total, one Turkish man, an old man. And the Pakistani man.’

‘Is he alone?’

‘Yes. His room faces us, top left corner.’<= /p>

‘And no one else?’ Mick asked, focusing on Sayeed’s room.

‘Just them.’

‘Have your people go back to their hotels, wash and chan= ge, come back here for a meal at … 7pm, and try to see who Sayeed meets. = Have most of your people sat at various bars and restaurants here, just two at t= he harbour in Marmaris. That way, your people will be seated before he arrives= . My people will check the harbour.’

Mick lowered the glasses and turned. ‘Tonight I’ll= let the CIA know where I am. Tomorrow, we’ll see who turns up.’

‘Why let them know where you are?’

‘So that I can meet the nice gentlemen when I cho= ose, not when they choose. I’d rather have our meeting on my terms.’=

‘You’ll kill them?’ Yuri puzzled.

‘I … won’t be shooting first.’ Mick ge= stured towards the girl in bathroom. ‘Who is she?’ he whispered.

‘Just a hooker.’

‘You and her…?’

Yuri shook his head. ‘No.’

‘Do you mind … if I do?’

‘No, help yourself. Masha! Do what this man wants.’= ;

Mick stepped into the bathroom as she marked her page. ‘Don’t get up, you’re in the right position as you are.’ He unzipped, pulled out his penis and pushed forwards into her mouth.

Five minutes later, Mick said, ‘Good girl, you didn̵= 7;t miss a drop. Nice clean dick to put away.’

Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, she lifted her boo= k.

In the bedroom, Mick said, ‘Tonight we watch. But if not= hing happens tomorrow, maybe we’ll stir things up a bit over there. Oh, and Yuri, if you know that man’s face, he’ll know your face. Stay h= ere and avoid being seen, or they’ll have the drop on us – instead = of the other way around.’

Back in his hotel room, Mick grabbed the mobile he had used to= call Sayeed. He switched it on and allowed it to find its network. Sat on the ed= ge of the bed, Mick selected the last number, Sayeed’s, and dialled. When Sayeed answered, Mick cut the line. Forming a text message, Mick sent Sayeed the message: “golf balls do make a mess of windscreens”, and attached an image of his dick.

Outside his hotel, Mick turned right onto the promenade, the p= athway now hosting just a sprinkling of tourists, and ambled along to The Beach Ba= r. Ducking in for a drink, just one other couple in attendance, Mick wedged the phone in a hole in the bar’s wooden structure. To anyone scanning for= it, it might have seemed that the phone’s owner or user was sat at the ba= r.

Drink downed, he lifted up and walked slowly back towards his = hotel, past bars desperate for some trade, just a handful of people in each. Some remained closed till full season, others struggling along. The beach beds w= ere all stacked up, lonely pedal boats waiting some attention, and the sunshades looked like they had seen better days.

Beyond his own hotel he passed a fragrant kebab house, an ice = cream parlour, a burger bar, and continued on as the main road through the town touched the promenade, no bars or cafes till the harbour. Five hundred yard= s on the shops began, brightly lit jewellery shops hoping for couples about to be engaged or married, a few optimistic shops hoping to sell beach towels and inflatable toys to tourists that had not even packed their cases yet, let a= lone arrived.

The double-deck tourists boats were all now at anchor, bobbing= in the gentle swell, a few scuba diving boats sat optimistically awaiting some trade as Mick ambled past, nodding at two of Yuri’s men coming the opposite way. Where the noisy road ended the harbour’s sedate pedestr= ian precinct began, restaurants with many tables but few patrons, waiters stood waiting for the days of the calendar to tick over. Mick’s phone went.=

‘Look up,’ Jim said.

Mick could now see Jim waving from a rooftop bar and walked in= side, up the stairs and to them, increasing the number of people the waiters had = to tend by thirty percent. He sat and ordered a beer. ‘Good position.= 217;

‘Anything new?’ Roger idly enquired.

‘I switched on the mobile I used to call Sayeed, so the = CIA definitely have it,’ Mick reported. ‘It’s in a bar over there, so we’ll see who turns up. And, more importantly, we’ll = see how … friendly they are when they do turn up.’

Jim lowered his drink. ‘Remind me again: the reason we’re not asking London for help … is?’

‘Not much London could do, even if they thought we were = at risk from the CIA – which they would never buy,’ Mick pointed out. ‘Besides, if there’s an incident here then Pestichio will have = to explain it higher up.’

Jim focused on the promenade. ‘Hey, lover boy,’ he softly called in a mocking tone. ‘See what I see?’

Mick peered over the side, Gird and Susy walking along. He let= out a sigh. ‘They must have been here on the assumption that we’d fol= low Sayeed. But why are they walking along in plain view? If they bumped into us face to face … how would they explain it? Oh, hello boys, we just slipped away without saying anything – and here were are.’<= /span>

‘Are they bait?’ Jim thought out loud as he studie= d the girl’s diminishing images. ‘To tempt us out? To see if you can’t keep it in your trousers?’

Roger laughed, getting a look from Mick.

‘They … are the only ones that could make a positi= ve ID on us,’ Mick commented. ‘Jim, tail them - but well back, I̵= 7;m going to arrange an intercept. Go, quick, but stay well back.’=

Jim jumped up and headed downstairs, Mick calling Yuri. ‘= ;Listen, we’ve spotted two girls, CIA, and we need to intercept them. They’re walking through the harbour, towards the beach. Green jumper = and a blue jumper, five feet ten, slim, good looking. When your boys spot them,= get them to call me.’ Mick lowered his phone and grabbed Jim’s unfinished beer.

‘Take them out of the equation?’ Roger asked, none= too concerned.

‘They didn’t call me back after sex,’ Mick s= tated, feigning hurt. ‘And that’s just so … rude. Besides= , I don’t dare leave my hotel with that pair wandering around. It’s= a bit like having your ex-girlfriend in a bar when you’re trying to pull.’

When Mick’s phone trilled it was one of the Russians. ‘We see them.’

‘Follow them, and look for a dark place with not too many witnesses. If you can, hit them on the knee with a stick, stamp on an ankle= or just punch on the nose as a last resort. We want them away, but not hurt. Understand?’

‘Yeah, yeah.’

‘You’re not much of a caring lover,’ Roger d= ryly noted. ‘More like a spurned lover.’

‘The Russians have brought three hookers with them. I ha= d a blowjob earlier.’

‘Wanna swap details?’ Roger complained.

Jim called five minutes later. ‘I’m heading back, = not least because our nice young ladies just got punched and kicked and left in= the bushes.’

‘Double back first,’ Mick requested. They watched = from the rooftop bar as Jim deliberately walked right past, Jim eventually enter= ing the restaurant from the rear.

Jim reclaimed his seat. ‘That was subtle. Not!’ He checked his beer with a frown, now almost gone.

‘Now we can move around freely,’ Mick commented, n= one too concerned. ‘Besides, she didn’t call me. So, what’s t= he food like in this place?’

‘As good as my beer,’ Jim complained.

 

 

 

 

The same old routin= e

 

1

 

Still at the convenient ro= oftop bar an hour later, Yuri called. ‘The Asian man, he ate alone, now in a taxi to Maramaris.’

‘Tell us where he stops, then drive off, we’ll pic= k up his trail.’

Five minutes later, Sayeed was reported getting out at the sho= ps at the start of the harbour.

When Mick lowered his phone, he said, ‘Our boy is headin= g this way.’

‘He got the money,’ Roger puzzled. ‘What the fuck’s he still doing wandering around?’

‘Final piece of the deal,’ Mick said. ‘The r= eal deal, not the one we think it is – the one we were meant to th= ink it is.’

‘Aye, aye,’ Roger said a few minutes later. ‘= ;The wandering Pakistani returns.’

‘Behind him,’ Jim said.

‘I see them.’ Mick said. ‘Four of them, two groups.’

‘What was that?’ Jim gasped.

‘What?’ Mick asked.

‘That was a hand-off, a piece of paper. Guy in the pink = shirt with the lady.’

‘Stay here, Jim,’ Mick called as he and Roger stoo= d. They exited the side of the bar and ran up a steep flight of steps, turning left at the top and down narrow side streets backed by an ancient stone wal= l, dropping into a pedestrian area and walking briskly towards the shops.

At the start of the brightly lit shops, Mick said, ‘Five= steps back.’ With Roger inspecting jewellery, Mick put a hand in his pocket= and ambled around the corner. Pink shirt and wife were nowhere to be seen, Mick advancing along the road and back towards Jim.

The couple were not on the promenade, they didn’t have t= ime to grab a taxi, and they could not be seen peering into shop windows. Advancing along the shops, Mick checked the inside of each brightly lit establishment= till the shops ran out. Two restaurants were checked before Mick and Roger circl= ed their previous restaurant, eventually re-joining Jim on the roof.

‘Did he double back?’ Mick asked Jim as he sat.

‘No.’

     ‘Fuck it, we just lost the main player.’

Roger approached and sat. ‘Where’d he go? We had h= im dead.’

‘Maybe into a shop and out the back,’ Mick suggest= ed. ‘But he could only do that if he knew them, and had arranged it prior= to tonight. Fuck it he’s good.’

‘And cautious,’ Jim noted. ‘A hand-over inst= ead of chat, that takes coordination and practice. He looked like a Brit, certainly not east European.’

‘So, Sayeed has a note,’ Mick thought out loud, reclaiming his beer. ‘To do what? To … meet someone? A place an= d a time?’

‘A quiet country villa, hard to tail,’ Roger sugge= sted.

‘Problem with quiet country villas,’ Mick began. ‘Is the armed goons. I wouldn’t want to meet at a quiet spot, n= ot with that lot behind Sayeed.’

‘The guy wasn’t carrying anything,’ Roger pu= t in. ‘No case.’

‘Good point,’ Mick agreed. ‘If all he wanted= was a chat, they’d use the damn phone.’

‘Could Sayeed be handing the contact access to that Swis= s bank account?’ Roger wondered.

‘Oh, now you are giving me a hard-on,’ Mick said. ‘A six million dollar hard on. Normally, you’d need ID, photoco= pied when you set-up the account. So maybe … maybe Sayeed has a bankerR= 17;s draft for him, or something that would let him get access to the money.R= 17;

‘And could let us … get access to it in our fight against terrorism,’ Roger lightly suggested.

Mick focused on Jim. ‘I know you don’t approve of = such things –’

‘Hey, for a share of six million … my morals can be bought. And, it’s dodgy money, so better off in a safe home with us, = out the hands of terrorists.’

‘Here, here,’ Roger agreed.

‘The guy doing the handoff is a worry,’ Mick said. ‘A pro. And an old school handoff.’

‘He’s Russian era,’ Jim suggested. ‘We= used to practise those in Hyde Park. The CIA used them at one point, but preferr= ed the dead letter drop. So he could be British.’

‘So what’s an old ex-Circus pavement basher doing here?’ Mick asked of himself. ‘It’s not an official operation.’

‘Tiller!’ Jim said in a whisper. ‘Under investigation!’

‘Tiller?’ Mick repeated with a frown. ‘Worki= ng for the bad guys?’ He shook his head. ‘No way.’

‘That looked like a British hand-over,’ Jim insist= ed. ‘And the only reason I spotted it was from years of trying to see how well my lads were doing, which was usually pretty poor. That guy was good at it.’

Mick sipped his beer and took in the view of the bay, the twin= kling line of lights clearly delineating the curve of the bay as it surrounded and defined the water. ‘We’ll see how it pans out tomorrow.’<= /span>

‘Here’s our boy again,’ Roger commented. ‘Could I just smack him in the face – just the once?’

‘Trust me, I’ve been tempted,’ Mick admitted= with a sigh.

‘I could hit him with a bottle as he walks past,’ = Roger offered. ‘Right from here.’

‘Goons are still with him,’ Jim noted.

Mick lifted his phone and called Colette. ‘Right, boss? Listen, when does Sayeed fly out?’

‘Three days?’

‘Exactly when?’

‘Today is the twentieth, he flies out on the twenty-seco= nd at 3pm.’

‘Thanks, boss.’ Mick hung up. Facing the guys, he = said, ‘Sayeed is here tomorrow for a full day, then he flies out the next d= ay at 3pm. If I wanted to meet and swap documents, I’d do it that final = day, in the morning, then scoot.’

‘Giving the hand-off guy all day tomorrow in which to se= t a scene for a meeting,’ Jim warned.

Mick lifted his nose and peered over the side. ‘Do peopl= e live on those boats?’

     The guys examined the line of boats.

     ‘I can see a couple on one, they just boarded,’ Mick added.

     ‘Maybe you can hire them for a day or a week,’ Roger suggested.

     ‘Or maybe you can hire one, live on it, and sail documents in and out on it,= 217; Mick stated. ‘We lost that fucker right where those boats are.’=

     ‘There’re fifty of them!’ Jim noted.

     Mick coughed out a short laugh. ‘Where better to hold a meeting? Close to everything, yet private.’

     ‘And no one can see in, or follow, or get close,’ Roger noted. ‘With= the goons on the promenade we’d never get close.’

     ‘And afterwards … they weigh anchor and it’s straight out to sea, wh= ere they can meet another boat,’ Mick noted.

     ‘Short trip across to Rhodes,’ Jim reminded Mick. ‘Not that far to northern Cyprus.’

     ‘Whoever he is, he’s done his homework,’ Roger admitted.

     ‘First person we’ve come across who has,’ Mick scoffed.

     ‘New game plan?’ Roger asked.

     ‘Only way to deal with a boat, is another boat,’ Mick commented. ‘Jim, you have a Yachtmaster license. Tomorrow, see what you can hire for the next morning. If necessary, see what you can hire with a captain.’<= /p>

     ‘If Sayeed is handing over documents,’ Roger began. ‘Then they̵= 7;re in his room at that hotel.’

     ‘True,’ Mick agreed. ‘But what is he selling? He got the money for the Uranium.’