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"Captivating." — The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Shocking." — Booklist
"McKinty's literate, expertly crafted crime novel . . . confirms his place as one of his generation's leading talents. . . . Dennis Lehane fans will definitely be pleased." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Chapter 1: A Riot on Tenerife
Dawn over the turquoise shore of Africa and here, under the fractured light of a streetlamp, brought to earth like some hurricaned palm, I woke before the supine ocean amidst a sea of glass and upturned bus stands and the wreck of cars and looted stores.
The streets of Playa de las Americas were flowing with beer and black sewage and blood. Smoke hung above the seashore and the smell was of desolation, decay, the burning of tires and fuel oil. The noise of birds, diesel engines, a dirgelike siren, a helicopter, voices in Spanish over a loudspeaker -- all of it more than enough hint of the breakdown in the fragile rules of the social contract.
I was sitting up and adjusting to the light and the growing heat when a kid hustled me under cover and the riot began again.
Five hundred British football hooligans, three hundred and fifty Irish fans, all of them on this island at the same time for a "friendly" match between Dublin's Shamrock Rovers and London's Millwall.
I wouldn't say I'd been expecting that but I wouldn't say I was that goddamn surprised either.
Some people go through their lives like a mouse moving through a wheat field. They're good citizens, they pay their taxes, they contribute to society, they have kids and the kids turn them into responsible adults. They create no stir, cause no fuss, leave no trace. When they're gone people speak well of them, sigh, shrug their shoulders, and shed a tear. They avoid chaos and it avoids them.
Perhaps most people are like this.
But not me.
You'd notice me in the wheat field. You'd notice me because the field would be on fire or the farmer would be running after me with a gun.
The Bible says that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Well, trouble followed me like sharks trailing a slave ship. Even when I tried to get away it was there swirling in a vortex around me.
Even when I tried to get away. Spain. Tenerife, to be exact, the largest of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. It's a hell of a long flight from Chicago but the FBI won't let me go near Florida or the Caribbean. Seamus Duffy, the head of the Irish mob in New York City, has had a contract out on me for five years for killing his underboss Darkey White and testifying against Darkey's crew.
With that in mind you can't be too careful about where you take your vacation. So O'Hare, JFK, and seven hours to Tenerife for a wee bit of R & R and of course this is what bloody happens.
"Brian, are you all right?" the English kid asked. Pale skin, sunburned, wearing a Millwall shirt and white jeans.
I stared at him. My name had been Brian O'Nolan since I'd moved to Chicago in January. It still didn't seem right.
"I'm ok," I said. "I must have fallen asleep. What the hell is happening?"
"The riot's starting up again. Those Irish bastards have all gotten ball bearings from somewhere."
I gave him a look.
One of those looks.
"Oh, by Irish bastards, I meant, uh, I meant no offense by the way," he stammered.
I didn't say anything. I almost felt more American now than Irish. I ducked as stones and ball bearings landed in the shop fronts. Pieces of dark lava and Molotov cocktails flew back from the English side.
The London lads were drunk and the Dublin boys had taken off their shirts, looking like ghosts flitting nervously behind the barricades.
The riot progressed. A shop window caved in under a big rock, a roof collapsed, a car went up in flames. A big English bruiser trundled along a wheely-bin filled with gasoline and halfway down the hill, he burned some scrunched-up newspaper and tossed it after. The bin exploded and he caught fire. He rolled on the ground and the cops grabbed him and dragged him off to a police car.
The colors fused: green banana skins, inky smoke, crimson blood, the blue Atlantic and iodine sky merging in the west. Over by the dunes amazed surfers were wondering if the town was on fire, and later it was, as the hotel burned and the surfers and the other noncombatants decided to be long gone.
At dusk the Spanish police finally got their act together and turned fire hoses on the two sides. The Micks started an out-of-date football chant: "Francisco Franco is a wanker," and the English side trumped that with "What Happened to the Armada?" Singing was general over the lines now and each song was echoed back and as full night fell, everyone got teary-eyed and guilt-ridden and we had a truce, the impromptu leaders meeting up in one of the main squares under a flag of armistice.
The shadows lengthened and there was a toast. A drink. A parley. And it was agreed then that whatever differences existed between the Irish and the English soccer fans, here, fifteen hundred miles from the British Isles, the story wasn't terrorism or the Famine or Enniskillen or Bloody Sunday. It was August 1997 now, there was a new British prime minister, and a new IRA cease-fire brewing that extended even unto football hooligans. Aye, we could see that out here with our fresh perspective. Here in Tenerife under the black sky of Creation, where Columbus set out to enslave half the world, where Darwin came on the Beagle, where Nelson lost his arm, and where they still made the same dark Canary drunk by Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch. Where we were all away from gloomy Albion and we could accept a new vision of a new Earth with sunshine and cheap food and Swedish girls and where we could see the folly of doing evil unto one's brother. The drunken leaders deciding that harmony would reign forever between kinfolk and that the riot between the Brits and Paddies was over; and from now on we would concentrate on the real enemies: German tourists and the Spanish police.
So began the second phase.
This time, though, I wanted no part of it, especially when I saw the big NATO war helicopters landing beyond the cliffs and out of them pouring scores of paramilitary cops from Madrid -- tough bastards who came with machine pistols and gas and billy clubs that they used up in the Basque country against the ETA guerrillas. Me and the kid, an eejit called Goosey, slipped away from the drunken insurgents under the cover of darkness. We negotiated our way through the abandoned holiday villas and the half-built outlying hotels and the pink-shaded small pensions where a few British expats hid in the dark, having retired to Tenerife to escape the bad weather and (ironically) the growing yob culture of England.
Goosey, it turned out, was a bit of a mental case from some East London shitehole who wanted us to do a Clockwork Orange-style burglary on some of the pensions, nicking things and hurting people and generally raising a bit of hell, but I would have none of it. They might have shooters, I told Goosey, and Goosey thought this was entirely plausible and got discouraged from the idea.
Instead up we went into the lava fields and through the mangrove and the palm trees until we'd climbed a thousand feet above the town. We slept in a barn among guano and baked hay and the sleep was the best since the riots had begun two days ago when three Millwall supporters had attacked some guy from Dublin and the peelers had allegedly beaten the near life out of them down at the cop shop. It had grown like a tropical storm, stores being looted and cars set ablaze and the climax came when the local jail had been stormed and the Millwall boys and a team of time-share crooks were let out and one person got himself shot in the shoulder by a peeler.
The town beneath us five thousand feet and four miles to the west and the paramilitary police taking no prisoners, using dogs, whips, CS gas, and water cannon and this time the rioters were being rounded up like sheep. Fires burned and the helicopters came and went and it was ending now, we could tell.
"Agua," we asked a herder and he showed us a stream and we followed it another thousand feet up into the hills where, at a stone wall, it formed part of the boundary of a hacienda. We vaulted the wall, got about a quarter of a mile before a man in a suit appeared on a three-wheeled motorbike and asked us what the hell we thought we were doing. And not about to let Goosey do the talking I explained that we were innocent kids fleeing a riot down in Playa de las Americas. The man adjusted his sunglasses and said something into a walkie-talkie. He escorted us up to the hacienda, where a beautiful woman in her forties sat us down at an oak table under pine beams and gave us water and brandy.
"Muchas gracias, bella señorita," I said and the woman laughed and muttered something to the man in sunglasses and he went back outside and then she said to me in English that she was married and was no señorita anymore and not even beautiful either. To which I sincerely disagreed and she laughed again and asked me what exactly had been going on at the beach and I told her, leaving out our part in the proceedings.
She fed us and gave us directions to the town of Guia de Isora.
By the afternoon our supplies were gone and we were lost in a region that had an uncanny similarity to the place the NASA robots keep landing on the planet Mars. Rocks, stones, thin red soil. It grew unbearably hot. Goosey started swaying a bit, and all around us desert, black lava, and the baking sun. We sat under a rock and decided to move again at night. The sun set, it grew cold, above us we saw what God had made when he was getting things ready for the Earth. A million stars. A billion. Blue and red and Doppler-shifted ultraviolet.
I thought for a minute that we were toast, but we fell in the backbone of the night and its spell guided us safely through the wilderness. The sun rose over the sand hills and in the morning we were at a wire fence surrounding a banana plantation. We broke in and with comedy climbed a tree and gorged ourselves on green fruit. Nature was a civilizing influence and Goosey had given up plans for Clockwork Orange rampages and was now all for staying here forever in the great outdoors. We could build canoes and trade to Africa and be self-sufficient in meat, fruit, clothes. We could be outlaws and fish and roast our catch over charcoal fires. Live on the beach and dream our canoes out over the ocean. Steer by wave and swell and the stars like the Polynesians. His vision more Coral Island than Lord of the Flies and I said I'd write a letter to The Times suggesting a scheme whereby lager louts could be turned into Byronic pacifists just by letting them camp out a few nights in the wilds of Tenerife. Plutarch had called this place the "Fortunate Islands," Darwin had raved about it, and two hundred years ago Alexander von Humboldt had had the same thoughts: "Nowhere in the world seems more able to dissipate melancholy and restore peace to troubled minds than Tenerife." That's the real reason I'd come here. Five years in the purgatory of the Witness Protection Program. The FBI and federal marshals dogging my every movement. I needed a vacation. I needed out of North America. And I'd been to Tenerife before and liked it, it was mellow and I even spoke Spanish.
Nice move. I'd been deciding between Spain and somewhere completely off the wall like Peru. I'd flipped a coin. Heads.
A lot of people were going to get screwed because of that coin flip.
There's only so many bananas you can eat and outside the plantation we flagged down a car which unfortunately had three undercover cops inside. Our football shirts and accents were a bit of a giveaway and before I could say, "I want to see the British ambassador," we were separated and driven to a cell block in an underground bunker near the airport.
The riot at Playa de las Americas all over now and the rioters being held under Spanish antiterrorism laws. A guard cheerfully told me that we were all going to get ten years.
The cell was deep underground, a yellow bulb in the ceiling giving off a little light. Cold, damp. Impossible to tell if it was day or night. But I'd been in worse. Much bloody worse. They fed you three times a day, there was a bog that flushed, and the fauna situation was manageable.
I was sitting on the cot reading How Stella Got Her Groove Back for the third time when the cell door opened.
A man and a woman. A tall man carrying a chair and a water bottle. He was wearing a linen jacket, white shirt, Harrow tie. It was difficult to see in the dark but he looked about thirty-five, forty at the outside, hard-faced, blond-gray hair. He held himself like a high-ranking army officer: straight spine, shoulders back, stomach in. He unfolded the chair and sat down. A revolver peeked out next to his armpit. Interesting. The woman also had a chair. She was late thirties, wearing a sundress and sandals with red hair tied behind her in a ponytail. She was heavy but attractive -- Rubens plump, not lesbian-biker plump. She took out a notebook and sat back in the shadows. He was the man and she was the assistant. They fell immediately into their roles, which wasn't smart, but despite that I still didn't like the look of either of them.
"You're British," I said to the man.
"That's right, old boy," he said in a plummy public school voice. Not for him the attempt to tone down the upper-crust accent and give in to the increasingly common Estuary English pronunciation. It told me a lot about him -- arrogant, proud, the Harrow tie not a joke but a reminder of a birthright. A wanker, more than likely.
"I suppose you're from the embassy," I said. "I'm completely innocent, you know. I wasn't involved in anything. I was on holiday. First bloody holiday in years."
"Beastly piece of luck, I'm sure. But the Spanish don't care, you will be tried, you will be found guilty, you'll get five to ten years, I suppose. The new prime minister, Mr. Blair, has said that he supports fully the Spanish government's intention of making an example out of the soccer hooligans who once again have blighted the good name of England," he said breezily.
"I'm not English," I told him.
"It doesn't matter," the man replied quickly.
"It matters to me."
"Well, it won't make any difference. You will be convicted," he said.
"Listen, mate, if you came here to give me a lecture you can piss off," I said, lifting up my trouser leg and scratching under the straps that held the artificial foot to my calf. I'd lost the foot five years before in a lovely piece of jungle surgery in Mexico. It had saved my life and I was thoroughly unself-conscious about it now.
The man smiled, picked at a piece of fluff on his shirt, looked behind him at the secretary, cleared his throat.
"I imagine, Brian, that you do not want to spend the next ten years in some ghastly prison on the mainland," he said softly.
"No, I bloody don't," I said, trying to conceal my surprise with passion.
He pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
"Do you smoke?"
I shook my head. He lit himself a cigarette, offered one to the woman, who also declined. But he had me now. It was an interesting situation and I had to admit that I was intrigued. No guard had accompanied the two Brits. They did not appear flustered, angry. There was no pompous talk. Something was going on. Were they releasing me? Maybe Dan Connolly from the FBI had heard about my predicament and pulled a few strings.
"You've been living in America?" the man asked.
"What the hell is your name?"
"Jeremy Barnes," he said, blowing a Gauloise in my direction.
"Oh, and I'm Samantha Caudwell," the woman said in an even more upper-class accent than Jeremy's. The sort of snide Queen's English Olivia de Havilland used when she was badgering Errol Flynn in those films from the 1930s.
The smoke from the cigarette drifted over. Only pseuds and poseurs smoked Gauloises. Jeremy, however, seemed not to be either of these.
"You've lived in Paris," I said, surprising Jeremy with a good guess. Jeremy looked a little taken aback but quickly recovered his poise.
"Yes, yes indeed. They told us you were good," Jeremy said.
"The FBI. The U.S. Marshals Service. We've read your file, Brian, or should I say, Michael. We know everything about you."
"Aye?" I said, trying to appear casual.
"Yes. Shall I tell you what we know?"
"Maybe you should tell me a wee bit about yourself first," I said.
"No, I don't think so, old chap. Would you like a drink?" Jeremy asked and threw a flask onto the cot.
"I'd like water."
Jeremy tossed me the water bottle.
"Good idea. Water first, then the brandy," Jeremy said.
I drank the half-liter bottle of water, unscrewed the hip flask, and took a sip of brandy. I threw the flask back.
"Your name is not Brian O'Nolan. Your real name is Michael Forsythe. You went to America in 1992 to work for Darkey White. You ended up killing Darkey White and wiping out his entire gang. You turned informer and the American government set you up with a new identity. I gather that recently you've been living in Chicago," Jeremy intoned placidly.
I said nothing.
"You speak fluent Spanish. That, and only that, can possibly account for your desire to take a vacation in the Canary Islands," Jeremy mocked.
"I'll ask again. Who the hell are you?" I demanded.
"Mr. Forsythe, I am the person who could get you out of this cell, today. Right now in fact. In the next five minutes you will have to make a decision. That decision will be either to come with me or stay here, get tried, get convicted, and then spend the next few years in the Columbaro Maximum Security Prison in Seville. Perhaps you'll choose the prison. Miguel de Cervantes began Don Quixote there. A fascinating place, apparently."
"Who do you work for?" I insisted.
Jeremy finished his cigarette. Slowly lit another.
"What do you see?" Samantha asked from behind Jeremy.
"What do I see?" I repeated.
"Yes. Tell us," Jeremy said.
I sighed. Leaned back. What game were they playing?
I looked the two of them over. They were relaxed, confident, obviously serious. This was a test.
"Ok, I'll play if you want to. I guessed Paris because of your fags. Easy," I said to Jeremy a little warily.
"What else?" he asked.
"You went to Harrow. Not on a scholarship, your father probably went to Harrow and his father before him. Your granddad probably used to tell you stories about how Winston Churchill was in the remedial class when he was there."
Jeremy laughed and choked on his cigarette. I continued.
"You're wearing a linen jacket. Expensive, but more than that, a kind of uniform. You knew you were going to have to go to Spain to see me, but you took the time to change from English clothes into something more sartorially suitable. Why? Why not shorts and T-shirt, or a polo shirt, or a cotton shirt and chinos? Hmmm. You feel you have to wear a jacket because you're on duty. You look like an army officer but you're in civvies. Maybe you were in the army or maybe the RAF, you don't seem like a navy man anyway. . . . So why are you here? You work for the government. You and your wee secretary have flown all the way to Spain. You don't have a tan, you're not even red, you came here right from the airport. To see me. Huh. Why? A job. You need me for a job. You've come to make me a job offer."
Samantha whispered something to Jeremy. He nodded. I was impressing them with this bullshit.
"Who do I work for?" Jeremy asked.
"I don't know."
"Think about it."
"Why should I?" I asked petulantly.
"Why indeed?" Jeremy said, smiling.
"Ok, let me see. . . . Christ, I have it, it must be the Old Bill. You work for the cops."
"Not the police, why would the police want you?"
I sat forward on the edge of the bed. Yeah, he was too much of a patrician for the cops. He was a highflier, he worked for --
"British bloody Intelligence," I said.
Jeremy's jaw opened and closed. Samantha moved a little closer. Jeremy turned round to look at her.
And then I saw I was being dicked. I'd been wrong. Samantha was the superior officer. Jeremy was the underling. She was watching both of us, using him as a barrier to assess me, seeing if I was right for whatever it was they wanted me for.
Well, enough of that for a game of soldiers.
"Hey, Sammy, why don't you do us a favor, get your boy out of here and we can talk business," I said.
Jeremy looked startled. Samantha tried not to appear nonplussed.
"We do think we're clever, don't we?" she said, mispronouncing her Rs in that way they teach you at only the most elite of English boarding schools.
I said nothing.
"You may leave, Jeremy. Please wait for me outside," she ordered. Jeremy stood, winked at me, and knocked on the door. The guard opened it and let him out. Samantha moved to Jeremy's seat and picked up the file he had left on the chair.
British Intelligence. Well, well, well. I suppose they wanted someone with insight into the workings of the rackets in Belfast. If the peace deal everyone was talking about came off, then they'd want to make sure all those bored paramilitaries in Ulster didn't move into organized crime and drugs. I could be very useful on that score. Or maybe they wanted someone to spruce up their training programs for undercover ops. I could probably do a job like that. I was army trained and I'd interrogated the shit out of people before. Might be a nice little earner if I played my cards right. The FBI kept me safe but they didn't exactly keep me flush.
Samantha skimmed through the folder, pretending to notice things for the first time.
"I don't have all day, you know. I'm very anxious to find out if Stella can learn to love herself again," I said, holding up my novel.
Samantha smiled and continued to thumb my file.
"You've been quite the naughty boy, haven't you, Michael?" she said, her tone as condescending as if she were a Victorian missionary and I, a recidivist cannibal chieftain caught with a hut full of human heads.
"Depends what you mean by naughty."
"Killing several unarmed people in cold blood."
"You want to tell me my life story or you want to get on with it?" I said, irritated.
"Don't get cross. I'm here to help you," she said.
"You're here to bust me out of this joint," I sneered.
"That's right," she said, crossing her legs and accidentally hitching up her skirt a notch.
Really not a bad-looking chiquita if you liked that sort of thing and, if truth be told, I did like that sort of thing. You could tell that underneath the prim, proper, repressed, King and Country exterior . . . the rest of the sentence is cliché, but I'd bet money it wasn't far off the mark.
"Michael, first of all, I feel that it's very important that I'm honest with you. You're obviously too smart to fall for a line, so I'll tell you how it is. Although it looks like we have all the cards, in fact I have a poor bargaining position. If time were not a factor, you would need us much more than we would need you. But, alas, time is a factor," she said in that roundabout diplomat way again.
"Honey, if time is a factor, you better be a bit less oblique," I said, leaning back on the cot and noting that from this angle I could see right up to her panties, which were white cotton and soaked with sweat.
"I do apologize. Of course you're right. Let me explain, Michael. Jeremy and I work for MI6, British Intelligence overseas, which, in case you don't know, is the equivalent of the CIA and a --"
"I know who you are," I interrupted.
"Good. Well, I am in charge of a section within MI6 called SUU -- the Special Ulster Unit. MI5 deals with Irish terrorism in the United Kingdom, but SUU looks at Irish terrorism in Europe and the Americas. We report directly to the home secretary. We largely bypass the MI6 bureaucracy. We have had many successes. Well, several successes . . ."
"Ok. Where am I supposed to come in?" I asked.
"For the last six months or so, Her Majesty's government has been in not-so-secret negotiations with the IRA to resume their cease-fire agreement. The election of Mr. Blair has changed little except for speeding things up. The negotiations have been going well. The IRA's Army Council is becoming convinced that this is the right thing to do at the right time. The Clinton administration has been helpful. Things are moving quickly now and the IRA seems to be on the verge of announcing a complete cessation of hostilities and a resumption of the cease-fire."
"I read the papers," I said.
"Well, yes, it hasn't exactly been the best-kept secret in the world. And we're jolly well hoping that it's going to come off. The problem is that the IRA's Army Council is worried about causing a split in the IRA. IRA splinter groups are not uncommon. The council wants to eliminate the hard-line elements before they announce a cease-fire. We believe this announcement is going to come by the end of the month, perhaps even in the next few days. In Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, the British and Irish governments will turn a blind eye to a purge of IRA extremists. This is not the case in America. As you may be aware, the IRA has several well-organized cells in the United States. Most will abide by the Army Council's decision. Disband, disarm, sleep. But one, we know, will not. The IRA would like to wipe out the extremist SOC, Sons of Cuchulainn. The FBI and the American government will not permit such a purge to take place. They would rather go the legal route of evidence gathering and prosecution."
"Cuchulainn, love. It's pronounced KuckKulann, not Cushcoolain," I said with a smug grin. Samantha ignored me and soldiered on.
"It's a tiny group, almost a cell really, but, we believe, extraordinarily dangerous. And well off. Neither we nor the FBI have any agents at all with the Sons of Cuchulainn. None. We are desperately short of manpower. And for reasons I'll explain in a moment, time is of the essence. We have agents within the IRA, the INLA, the UVF. But we urgently need an agent, someone to go to America to join or spy on the Sons of Cuchulainn, to gather evidence and help in their prosecution, if of course they are doing anything illegal."
"I have an ominous feeling that I see where this is going. That someone, that poor bastard -- let me guess who you have in mind."
"Michael, your folder only appeared on my desk the day before yesterday. It was handed to me by someone in the Foreign Office. But I have to say I was jolly impressed."
I wasn't really listening now. Whatever financial package they were going to offer wasn't worth the risk. An IRA cell. They had to be kidding. Samantha continued as I stared up her skirt and contemplated her oddly seductive voice.
"Yes, Michael, your handlers speak very highly of you and you were in the British army, which is good and although, um, unfortunately you were asked to leave Her Majesty's employ rather prematurely, you completed a reconnaissance course and received some special operations training."
"I failed that recon course, and the special ops course ended with me in the brig for assaulting a civilian," I said blithely.
Samantha was not to be put off.
"That's neither here nor there. The fact is you were in the army, which is good, and you were also a low-level gangster in Belfast, which is even better. And you worked for the Irish mob in America, which is best of all. You could be an ideal person to infiltrate the Sons of Cuchulainn for us. Dan Connolly of the FBI says that you're one of the best that he's ever seen. Proficient, merciless, bold, surprisingly disciplined."
"You talked to Dan, huh? Nice of him to sell me down the river."
"No, no, Dan was very complimentary. . . . Michael, I have to tell you, I'm going out on something of a limb here. Dropping everything, flying to Spain, talking to you. But now that I've met you I honestly think you could be the one to do this job for us. To infiltrate this cell and gather information and help put them away before they ruin everything. If they manage to do a bombing campaign in America, the Protestant terrorists will have to respond, the IRA will have to reply to that, and oh my goodness the whole cease-fire and all our hard work will be jolly well up the spout."
"How jolly sad," I said, irritated enough to take the piss.
"And naturally if you did do this for us, we would convince the Spanish government to drop all charges against you," Samantha said with a satisfied wee grin. She sat back in her chair, crossed her legs, blocking the crotch shot.
I also smiled. Who the hell did they think they were dealing with? Did they think I was some eejit Paddy just off the bloody boat?
"Why don't the FBI infiltrate this group of yours? It's their country," I asked for starters before moving on to the main course.
"The FBI won't touch it with a ten-foot pole," Samantha said, her eyes narrowing.
"Our plan is to insert an agent as soon as possible. Before the Sons of Cuchulainn begin their campaign, which we strongly believe will commence once the cease-fire announcement comes. In other words, we have to have an agent in their ranks in the next couple of weeks. The FBI feels that an attempt to hurriedly insert an agent in this manner and in this climate would be too rushed and too dangerous," Samantha said calmly.
"The FBI, in other words, thinks it might be a bit of a suicide mission," I said, my smile broadening.
"Er, yes," she muttered, embarrassed.
"And just to be clear, if the operation weren't dumb enough already, of all the people in the world, you want me -- a man who has a contract on his head from the Irish mob in New York -- to attempt to infiltrate an IRA splinter group," I said and laughed at her.
"Mr. Forsythe, I don't think --"
"Don't Mr. Forsythe me, Samantha; thanks for thinking of me, thanks for taking the trouble to fly out, but I think I've heard just about enough. Run along now. I'll do my time quietly in Seville. I've been in a lot worse places than that. Nice to have met ya," I said.
I leaned back on the cot and put my hands behind my head. I closed my eyes. Let them sweat for a bit. Let me think.
Samantha considered the situation.
"Perhaps I have oversold the problems. All we want you to do is gather evidence that would lead to a prosecution. The fact that you are from Belfast but have experience in America, the fact that you've been in the British army, the fact that you come highly recommended by the FBI. All this is to your advantage."
"I think, Samantha dear," I said with sarcasm, "you're barking up the wrong tree, love. As I've patiently explained, I'm already wanted by the Irish community in America. Seamus Duffy has a million-dollar bounty on my head."
"I am perfectly aware of that, Michael. But you must understand that the Sons of Cuchulainn are a separate entity from the Boston Irish mob. The mob dislikes and distrusts anyone whose motives are political rather than fiduciary. They have very little time for fanatics. And the Boston mob itself is a rival to the New York organization and they maintain few links. There will be at least two layers of separation between you and your former associates. You'll be quite insulated from Seamus Duffy and his agents in New York. And in any case, from what Dan Connolly tells me, Duffy is more than occupied with his own internal problems rather than looking to settle old scores. You're yesterday's news, Michael. It's been five years. No one remembers you. That's not to say that you won't be taking any risks. No, we must be clear from the get-go. Oh, good God, no. This will be extraordinarily risky indeed. Even if they never found out that your real name is Michael Forsythe, they would kill you at the drop of a hat if they discovered that you were linked to Her Majesty's government in even the remotest way."
She paused, ran her hand through that peachy auburn hair. No rings on any finger. Not married, not engaged.
"Did you hear what I said, Michael?"
"I heard. You're doing your case no good. What you're basically saying is I'd have to be mad to take this job, because I could get killed in half a dozen ways," I said, leaning back on the cot again and resting my arms over my eyes.
"Well, I'm not one for odds, but yes, I'd say that even a competently trained professional agent with years of experience would have a rather higher than average chance of being compromised in a time-imperative operation such as this one," Samantha said.
I yawned in the face of her candor.
"And compromised means killed," I said.
"I'm terribly sorry but I have to be frank. I feel it's only fair that you appreciate the risks. Of course I do not think you will be killed or compromised in any way. It's very unlikely that McCaghan would bring you into the inner circle. We just need tidbits of information, anything that will help prevent a potential bombing campaign. And yes, ordinarily, I'd do something dramatic, I'd leave the cell, give you a day or two to think it over, maybe get the Spanish to rough you up, hector you a bit, but as I've said time is a factor here. An ideal opportunity for an insertion has presented itself. If my plan is going to work at all you absolutely have to be in Revere tomorrow."
"Revere Beach, Boston? You must be joking, honey. If I go near a Paddy neighborhood like that, I'll be killed."
She shook her head and gave me a brilliant smile.
"No, you won't. I wouldn't send you if I thought that. The Sons of Cuchulainn are beyond the pale in Irish American republican circles and after the IRA hit tomorrow, they're going to be even more beyond the pale. They'll be pariahs."
"Michael, please don't worry about your former problems. We'll dye your hair black, give you dark green contact lenses, something like that; that's not my field exactly, but we'll gussy you up so that your own mother wouldn't recognize you."
"You'll only have to be in Boston for one day. Then we'll fly you to an FBI field office in a secure location. And then in a week or so your formal assignment will begin. The most difficult part of an operation is the entry. Believe me, I've done dozens. And what we have going tomorrow is a perfect entry for you. It's an opportunity not to be missed. Instead of months of preparation, we can get you buckets of credibility in a single night. Indeed, if we pull this off, I'd say the risks of being compromised are considerably reduced."
"What exactly do you want me to do in Revere?"
"You're going to save a girl's life," Samantha said with a cough.
"The IRA is going to try to kill her father, and you're going to save her," she said, looking at the floor.
"That sounds bloody risky to start with."
"Not really. Look, Michael, we need you. We had one other person in mind but . . ." her voice trailed off.
"Let me guess. He's turned you down," I said.
"Well, yes. That's why this whole Spanish angle has been particularly fortuitous for us. You know, not everyone agrees with me, I'm taking a bit of a risk flying here to see you. There are some within the department who don't agree with the idea of recruiting outsiders. Especially a potential loose cannon such as yourself."
I was fed up with her now and I'd thought about it enough.
"While I really appreciate the faith you have in me, Samantha, thanks but no thanks. Now I think I've been pretty polite with you; if you would do me a favor and tell your pal in the Foreign Office that I still haven't seen a lawyer and could they please arrange for me to see one ASAP I'd be much obliged."
She looked disappointed.
"Aye. I want to plead and get this shit over with."
Samantha frowned, undid her ponytail, and let the hair hang down her back. She started doing her hair up again, glancing at me with what could almost be described as pity.
"Michael, obviously I haven't made the entire situation transparent. You're caught between a rock and a hard place. The Spanish government will see to it that you go to jail. And what's more, when your time is up, the Spaniards will extradite you to Mexico, where I believe you are a fugitive from justice."
That was her trump card. The one she'd been saving.
I sat up on the bed. Horrified.
I'd been arrested in Mexico on a charge of drug smuggling but I'd escaped from the remand prison before I'd come to trial. I could be looking at twenty years there for the drugs, plus God knows how much for bloody jailbreaking.
Cold fear ran down my back. I'd been so cavalier with Samantha because I knew the Spanish angle was bullshit. Who gets ten years for being a football hooligan? Even if I got convicted they'd sentence me to three or four and I'd do two at the most. Probably less. The Sun and the Daily Mirror would quickly be filled with horror stories about all the poor Brits and their mistreatment in Spanish jails. Even the worst offenders would never serve close to ten years. And me, a side player with zero physical evidence to back up the police case, I'd be out in easy time and probably well on my way to winning damages at the European Court of Human Rights.
But Mexico, that was another matter completely.
I was in a world of shit if I went back there.
"The FBI won't let you send me to Mexico. We have a deal. I'm a protected witness," I said, trying to keep the tension out of my voice.
Samantha read from the file in front of her and shook her head.
"You have been given exemption from the crimes you committed in the United States. You certainly could not have been given exemption for criminal acts committed in a third country. Last night I called up my counterpart in the Mexican intelligence service. He would be more than happy to have you back in Mexican custody and the Spanish government would be delighted to extradite you. They have excellent relations with Mexico, as you can imagine."
I stared at her.
Any residual lust evaporated, replaced pound for pound with enmity. There was no way I was going back to Mexico. The place where Scotchy, Andy, and Fergal all had died in horrible circumstances. The thought of returning to that prison at all was like an ice dagger in the heart. You know what they do to gringos in Mexican prisons? Let your imagination do the work and then add a little on top because I'd already goddamn escaped.
But I didn't want to work for her. Suddenly I felt trapped. Panicked. My mind sprinting through scenarios. Not Boston but not bloody Mexico, either.
Aye. Maybe there was another way.
What was it that Goosey had said? We could live out in the wilds of Tenerife forever. Fish, eat fruit, maybe escape by boat.
I formulated a tiny, desperate, pathetic plan.
Last thing anyone would be expecting.
Up, run at her, kick her off the chair, grab it, smash it down on that ponytailed skull. Jeremy hears the commotion, comes rushing in, let him have it with the goddamn chair too. Grab his piece, cock it, point it at the guard, put the gun in my pocket, but keep it on him, and get the guard to march me right out of the prison, telling everyone that I was being transferred or released. Walk right out, casual as you please. Take his money, steal a car, go back up into the volcano country. Wait out the search.
In von Humboldt's book I read that the indigenous people kept going a guerrilla war against the Spanish for over a hundred years. Easy, up there on the mountain fastness. Hunt out a cave, lay low until the heat cooled down, come back into town, find some drunken German tourist, mug him, steal a passport, money, plane ticket, Tenerife to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to New York. Get back to safety in the good old USA.
Not a great plan.
Not even a good one.
But this bitch wasn't going to threaten me.
"Since you put it that way, I suppose I have no choice," I said, readying myself.
"Oh, I am pleased. I'm sorry about the coercive aspect of all this, it's just beastly that Her Majesty's gov. has to be in the blackmail business, but there it is. Indeed, it couldn't have worked out better. Jeremy was right, what made you come to Tenerife in the first place, don't you know it's notorious for riots and disturbances? Vulgar, awful place," she said with an amused expression.
"I was reading Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin and they paint it in a different light," I replied and offered her a conciliatory hand and a big broad smile of acceptance.
"Well, bad for you, but good for us, old boy, Sword of Damocles, Scylla and Charybdis, call it what you will," she said and gave me her hand too.
I grabbed it and pulled her violently off the chair, she screamed, dropping her pen, folder, and water bottle. I threw her to the ground, kicked her to one side, and grabbed the chair. I lifted it over my head and positioned it to bring it down on her spine.
A terrible pain in my right foot -- which was not the one I'd left behind in a jungle village in the Yucatán. A searing explosion of nerve endings and when I looked down I saw a penknife sticking out of my Converse sneaker.
Before I could react, she'd kicked me behind the right knee and I fell to the cell floor, banging my head on the edge of the metal bed.
I groaned. Jeremy opened the door and looked in.
"Good heavens, what on earth is happening? Need any help, Samantha?" he asked.
Samantha picked up the dropped file, righted the chair, and sat down. She moved herself away from me so I couldn't pull the penknife out and threaten her with it.
"I'm fine, darling, but young Michael is going to need medical assistance," she said softly.
Jeremy called for the guard, produced his gun, and pointed it at me.
I pulled myself back up onto the cot.
I breathed deep, swore inwardly, pulled out the knife, and sent it clattering to the floor.
"What I'll need," I began between clenched teeth, "is a letter from the Spanish government stating that all charges have been dropped. So you won't be able to hold that over me indefinitely."
"I'll get our lawyers working on it immediately," she said.
"And I'll want a document from the Spanish, British, and United States attorneys general that I will not in the future be extradited to Mexico under any circumstances," I said.
"I will get working on that, too," Samantha said. "Is there anything else?"
"Aye, a guy called Goosey who was picked up with me, him out as well," I gasped.
"I'll also see to that."
"I have your word?"
"You have my word," she assured me.
"Fine, in that case. I'll do it."
"Good," Samantha said and snapped my folder shut.
Within an hour, I was stitched, sutured, shaved, and sitting on a taxiing RAF Hercules transport plane that would be taking me to Lisbon. From Lisbon, the direct flight to Boston Logan.
Samantha sat beside me, organizing her briefing notes.
The big Hercules taxied down the runway. A military aircraft, tiny slit windows and you sat facing backwards.
Samantha passed me earplugs. I put them in. Looked out.
The harsh volcanic mountain, the outline of banana plantations, the aerodrome. The propellers turned, the transport accelerated, lift developed over its wings, and we took off into the setting sun.
The blue water. The other Canary Islands. Africa.
We flew west over Tenerife, and through the safety glass and smoke I could see what the hooligans had wrought on Playa de las Americas and what the concrete-loving developers at the Spanish Ministry of Tourism had done to the rest of the island. Humboldt for one would have been displeased. Samantha saw my grimace, patted my knee. Her big pouty red lips formed into a sympathetic smile.
"Don't worry, darling. It's going to be all right," she soothed and, of course, as is typical when someone in authority tells you that, nothing could have been further from the goddamn truth. Copyright ©2006 by A. G. McKinty
Posted February 2, 2009
Gerard Doyle, a seasoned actor who has toured with the English Shakespeare Company and appeared on Broadway and London's West End, gives a compelling reading to this sometimes terrifying always compelling tale of the IRA. His trained voice with a hint of Brit to it perfectly suits protagonist Michael Forsythe. In this sequel to McKinty's stellar debut 'Dead Well May Be,' Forsythe is at last enjoying a much needed vacation in Spain. As luck would have it he finds himself caught in the middle of football riots and is quickly put behind bars. In addition there are now some mighty tough laws regarding involvement in such a fracas, and he may find himself shipped off to Mexico to do time. However, there is one way to avoid a prison sentence - he's approached by British Intelligence agent Samantha with a proposition. Will he infiltrate an IRA sleeper cell in the U.S.? At the time it seems an easy choice, and an easy out of a Mexican jail. Little did Forsythe know the violence and terror that would ensue. 'The Dead Yard' is the apogee of crime writing and listening. It's intelligent, tense, and fast-paced. Enjoy! - Gail Cooke
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Posted January 24, 2006
Gerard Doyle's reading of The Dead Yard is another hardboiled treat. Doyle brings a laconic cynicism to Michael Forsythe as he confronts murder, betrayal, loss, seduction and revenge in an ever decreasing circle of tension and fear. I listened to Doyle's reading of Dead I Well May Be and as good as that was (it won the Audofile Mystery of the Year) I think this is even better. Enjoy.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Leaving Chicago on vacation Michael Forsythe, using the name Brian O¿Nolan as he is in the federal witness protection program, goes to Spain¿s Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. He selected the spot because his choices are limited with the head of the NY mob wanting him dead and the FBI insuring he does not visit the Caribbean. Though Michael afterward realizes he should have known better, he attends a football (soccer) match between Dublin¿s Shamrock Rovers and London¿s Milwall in front of five hundred British hooligans and fifty Irish fans. A riot breaks out and Michael is back in jail reading once again How Stella Got Her Groove --- Two Brits, Jeremy Barnes and Samantha Caudwell visit Brian to inform him he will be convicted as Blair supports the Spanish government no nonsense policy. Jeremy offers him a choice between five years in a Seville maximum security prison or work with them undercover. Michael tells ¿Sammy¿ to send her boy toy packing so they can discuss what British Intel wants. She explains that she runs the Special Ulster Unit that works cases of potential Irish terrorism outside the United Kingdom she needs him undercover obtaining information on a dangerous faction, the Sons of Cuchulainn, planning something in America. --- THE DEAD YARD, the sequel to the magnificent DEAD I WELL MAY BE is a terrific tale starring an ¿operative¿ who always is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Michael remains his rascally self though he is softened a bit when he meets Kit, the daughter of the Cuchulainn leader he must bring down. Fans of tense thrillers similar to the Bourne tales will want to read about Michael¿s latest woes (above description is only the first chapter). --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2012
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