Gunther Ruhr, a.k.a. the Claw, is a terrorist responsible for hundreds, possibly thousands, of deaths. A passenger jet, a busload of soccer players, and an entire hotel full of tourists have all been targets of his extravagant, almost artistically designed explosions. He will kill anywhere and for anyone if the price is right.
Now it’s up to Detective Frank Pagan to track down the depraved killer and escort him to prison. Along the way, from Glasgow to London and on to Miami and Havana, Pagan will have to shore up a leak in Scotland Yard; get reacquainted with his old flame, Magdalena; and uncover a plot involving a cruise missile, Fidel Castro, and an international banking syndicate.
Mambo is the 3rd book in the Frank Pagan Novels, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Born in Glasgow and educated at the University of Sussex, Armstrong worked as a book editor in London and taught creative writing at universities in the United States.
Read an Excerpt
A Frank Pagan Novel
By Campbell Armstrong
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Campbell Armstrong
All rights reserved.
On a cold October night, two vans and three cars moved in slow procession down a narrow street of terraced houses. The street, already poorly lit, was darker in those places where Victorian railway bridges straddled it.
Frank Pagan, who rode in a blue Ford Escort directly behind the leading van, had the uneasy feeling that this neighbourhood, perched on the farthest edge of Shepherd's Bush, was about to fade into nothing. The houses would give way to vacant sites, half acres of rubble with perhaps here and there some forlorn allotments on which stood broken-down greenhouses. It was not a picturesque part of town, but its drab anonymity and sparse traffic made it as safe a route as any.
It was all theory as far as Pagan was concerned. He knew from his own experience what every policeman knew: there was no such thing as complete security. What you had at best was an illusion of safety. You created diversions, surrounded yourself with some heavy protection, and kept your fingers crossed that good fortune, at best a fickle administrator of human affairs, would be on your side. Tense, he gazed at the small houses, the television lights thrown upon curtains, the half moon over the roof-tops dimmed by pollution, and he had the thought that in a few years this decrepit neighbourhood, like so many formerly dreary London districts, might even be on the rise, resuscitated by estate agents, the terraced houses refurbished and sold to young professionals who did one thing or another in the City or at the nearby BBC.
For the present, though, it was a labyrinth of slum and shadow, exactly the kind of place through which to transport the monster who sat alongside Pagan in the back of the car, and whose name was Gunther Ruhr.
Pagan glanced at Ruhr for a second. He was uncomfortable being this close to the man, uneasy at the touch of Ruhr's leg against his own. Ruhr had one of those faces that suggest flesh long buried in damp earth, a maggot's pallor earned the hard way, hours killed hiding in cellars or somebody's attic. You might imagine that if you cut Ruhr's skin something as viscous as transmission fluid would seep from the veins. Certainly not blood, Pagan thought. Whatever connected Ruhr, with his enormous capacity for brutality, to the rest of the human race, wasn't immediately apparent to Pagan.
The German press, with its unbridled sense of melodrama, had been the first to call Gunther Ruhr Die Klaue, the Claw, a reference to the peculiar prosthetic device Ruhr had been wearing on his right hand at the time of his capture and which had immediately been confiscated from him. Ruhr's right hand was missing both middle fingers. The other two fingers, the first and the last, appeared abnormally distant from each other and unable to move more than a quarter of an inch in any direction and then only stiffly. The deformity, exaggerated by the perfect curve of the thumb, was compelling in its way. Like a morbid man enticed against his better judgment by a freak show, Pagan found himself drawn reluctantly back to it time and again.
Some said Gunther Ruhr had accidentally blown his hand up with one of his own homemade explosive devices back in the days when he was still learning his trade, others that the deformity was a birth defect. Like everything else connected to Ruhr's life, neither story had any supporting evidence. Ruhr was a mythical monster, created in part by the screaming excesses of the European tabloids but also by his own pathological need for secrecy and mystery. Without these qualities, nobody could ever have become so successful a terrorist as Gunther Ruhr had done. Nobody, saddled with such a recognisable disfigurement, could have carried out so many atrocities unhindered for so long unless his life and habits were so deeply hidden they couldn't be quarried even by the best specialists in terrorism, who had tracked him for fourteen frustrating years.
The explosion of a Pan Am airliner over Athens in 1975, the mining of a crowded cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 1978, the bombing of a bus carrying teenage soccer players from Spain along the Adriatic Coast in 1980, the destruction of a resort hotel on the shore of the Sea of Japan in the summer of 1984 – the list of atrocities which Ruhr had supposedly masterminded was long and bloody. The hotel had been destroyed on behalf of a group of anti-American Japanese extremists; the Spanish boys were said to have died at the command of a violent Basque coalition; the cruise ship had been mined because its passenger list consisted mainly of Jews and Ruhr's employer was rumoured to have been a Libyan fanatic. What Ruhr did was done, plain and simple, for money. He had no other master, no political position. His services went to the highest bidders at those secret places where Ruhr's kind of labours were auctioned.
And now Frank Pagan, through one of those small accidents that sometimes brighten a cop's life, had him under arrest and was transporting him through the back streets of London and on to Luton, where he was to be flown to the maximum security prison of Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. Under arrest, Pagan thought, and scanned the street again, seeing TV pictures blink in rooms or the door of a corner pub swing open and shut.
Under arrest was one thing. Getting Ruhr – with all his connections in the violent half-world of international terrorism – to his destination might be something else.
Pagan stared at the two men in the front of the car. The driver was a career policeman called John Torjussen from Special Branch, his companion a thick-necked Metropolitan cop who had once been a prominent amateur wrestler known as Masher. Ron Hardcastle was the man's real name and he spoke with that peculiar Newcastle accent. There was something menacingly comforting in Hardcastle's presence.
Pagan looked at the van ahead, which contained four officers from Special Branch and an assortment of rifles and communications equipment. Turning, he glanced next at the two cars behind, then the van at the very back – each vehicle was manned and armed and alert. Menacingly comforting, Pagan thought again. All of it. Everything designed to keep Gunther the Beast safe and secure until he could be firmly caged on the Isle of Wight.
And yet Frank Pagan felt a strange streak of cold on the back of his neck, and the palms of his hands, normally dry and cool, had become damp. He shut his eyes a moment, conscious of the odd way Ruhr breathed – there was a faint rattle at the back of the man's throat as if something thick had become lodged there. The noise, like everything else about Ruhr, irritated Pagan.
The puzzles of Gunther Ruhr, Pagan thought, and looked briefly at the German. Why had he come to England? What was he doing in Cambridge, of all places? Planning a doctoral thesis on atrocities? Giving tutorials on bloodletting? Ruhr had been interrogated for three days after his capture but he had a nice way with his inquisitors: he simply ignored them. When he condescended to speak, he contradicted himself three or four times in the space of half an hour and yet somehow managed to make each version of his story equally plausible. What Gunther Ruhr did was to surround himself with fresh fictions, re-creating himself time and again. Even if there were a real core to the man, nobody could ever gain access to it, perhaps not even Ruhr himself.
The Claw, Pagan thought with disdain. He hated the way such nicknames took up residence in the public imagination. After a while they exerted a fascination that often had nothing to do with the acts of the villains themselves. Jack the Ripper was still good for a shudder, but how many people brought to mind the images of disembowelled girls, intestines in tidy piles, hearts cut out, everything bloody and just so? How many really pictured the true nightmare? The tabloids had a way of taking a scumbag like Ruhr and elevating him to a celebrity whose name alone doubled circulation for a time. And somewhere in the course of the international publicity circus the real nature of Ruhr's deeds would be lost and a patina of myth drawn over the man, as if he were some wildly appealing combination of Ripper and legendary terrorist, somebody who made pulses beat a little quicker. It was the wrong side of fame, Pagan thought with some resentment. Ruhr deserved another fate altogether: total oblivion.
In the front seat, Ron Hardcastle lit a cigarette and the air in the car became congested.
Ruhr spoke for the first time since they'd taken him from his cell at Wormwood Scrubs. "You will have a decoy column, of course?" he asked. He had impeccable English, a fact that irked Pagan, who wanted Ruhr's English to be broken and clumsy and laughable.
Pagan didn't answer. Ruhr blinked his very pale eyelids and said, "Personally, in your position, I would have a second column somewhere close at hand. Perhaps even a third, although I would put that one on the motorway, I think, and have it travel at high speed. Then my friends – assuming I have any – would be very confused. 'Where is Gunther? Where can he possibly be?' " The German was silent for a second. "Of course, deception's a highly personal thing," and here he smiled, as if he were making some polite little joke for Pagan's benefit. But there was a supercilious quality in the look that caused Pagan to bunch his hands tightly in the pockets of his overcoat and turn his face back towards the street. Ruhr was partly correct. A decoy convoy was travelling in the vicinity of Paddington and Marylebone, but there was no third parade.
"Your voice gets on my bloody nerves, Ruhr," Pagan said, then immediately regretted this unseemly display of hostility because it gave Gunther Ruhr obvious satisfaction, which took the form of a smile as crooked as his bad hand.
There was a miserable silence inside the car, broken only by the hiss of the radio and the message Nine-twenty, all clear. Proceeding due east on Elm Avenue. Ah, the dear banality of Elm Avenue, with its dim shabbiness, a small broken-down corner of what had once been another England. Now heroin and crack replaced tea and crumpets of an afternoon.
Pagan opened the window a half-inch, releasing some of Hardcastle's smoke. The small houses were misshapen by moon and shadow. The occasional pub or fish and chip shop looked unnaturally bright.
"You are so very tense," Ruhr said in a soothing voice. He might have been a physician calming a nervous patient. "Surely you don't expect somebody is going to rescue me, do you?"
Pagan said nothing. It was best not to be drawn, to stay aloof. There were levels to which you could descend, places where all you ever encountered was your own worst self, and Frank Pagan had no desire to slip that far down. His temper had a sometimes abrasive edge and he was getting a little too old to keep cutting himself on it. Do the bloody job, get this scum to Luton, go home. But just don't let it get personal. You hate a man like Gunther Ruhr, and you loathe the forced intimacy of this small car, and breathing the same damned air is repulsive – but what did feelings, those expendable luxuries, have to do with it?
"Such people would have to be mad," Ruhr said. "Or very clever and daring."
Pagan shut the window. Ron Hardcastle turned in his seat and glared angrily at the German. "Just say the word, Frank, and I'll do this bastard for you. Be a right fooking pleasure."
There was a generous quality in Masher Hardcastle's offer of violence, and Pagan didn't doubt that big Ron would enjoy inflicting physical damage on Ruhr. Despite some temptation, it was a sorry equation all the same. Pagan couldn't see Ruhr's taste for violence matching with that of Ron Hardcastle, law enforcement officer and former wrestler. There was increased tension in the car now, as if it had found its way in from the darkened street like a thin vapour. It had a name, Pagan thought: impotence. You might want to unleash the snarling dog inside Hardcastle, you might even want a piece of Gunther Ruhr for yourself, but the laws Die Klaue flouted so viciously afforded him some protection from brutality.
Pagan put a weary smile on his face and looked at the German. It was an amusing consolation to think of the circumstances of Ruhr's apprehension in Cambridge, how the elusive terrorist, whose newspaper reviews had called him "the man without a shadow" and "the phantom beyond human needs and desires", had been captured in a bedroom in a lodging-house near St Andrew's Street. The memory was a perfect diversion from stress.
"I've got you, Gunther," Pagan said quietly now. "And that's what it comes down to in the end. I've got you, and all because you couldn't keep your pecker in your trousers." He waited for Ruhr's expression to change to one of discomfort, perhaps even wrath, but Ruhr was too good at this game to give up control of that awful white face. He merely looked at Pagan with a raised eyebrow.
"Was she worth it, Gunther?" Pagan asked. "Was she worth the risk? Or can you only get it when you pay for it? Too bad she didn't want to go the rest of the way with you – you wouldn't be here now if she'd kept her mouth shut, would you? You wouldn't be here if she'd been a sicko like you."
If these were low blows, if they were supposed to vent some of Pagan's annoyance, they certainly weren't causing the German any pain. Ruhr, whose hands were cuffed in his lap, laughed and said, "I never have to pay for anything, Pagan."
"Until now," Pagan said. Christ, he was feeling vindictive and petty.
"Die Reise ist nicht am Ende bis zur Ankunft." Gunther Ruhr spoke quietly. Pagan, whose grasp of the German language was poor, recognised only a couple of words. He had no way of knowing that Ruhr's phrase fully meant the journey is never over until the arrival, nor did he intend to ask for a translation. He wasn't going to give Ruhr even the simplest kind of satisfaction.
There was a pub on a corner, a place called The Lord Nelson. A voice came over the car radio. Proceeding west along Mulberry Avenue. All clear. Pagan looked at the pub, then saw some modern blocks of flats rising beyond, where thin lawns and stunted trees grew under pale lamps, many of which had been vandalised and cast no light. It wasn't a good place. It looked wrong and it smelled wrong and the extended reaches of darkness bothered him. He sat forward in his seat, anxiously studying the unlit areas and thinking how vandalism was a way of life in a neighbourhood like this. Public phones, shop windows, anything that was both motionless and fragile was a target for a kid with a stone in his hand and nothing in his mind save breakage. But then the high-rise buildings receded and there were more streets of 1930s terraced houses and the voice on the radio was saying Proceeding due east along Acacia Avenue and Pagan felt the quick little tide of unease ebb inside him. If there was going to be an attempt made to rescue Ruhr, the dark places back there would have been eminently suitable. Acacia Avenue, narrow and comparatively well lit, was benign by contrast.
He sat back again, observing the parked cars along the kerb, and hearing the sound of what he took at first to be a light aircraft. But it was louder than that, and close, a throbbing that had its source two or three hundred feet above the rooftops. Ron Hardcastle turned his big red face around to look at Pagan questioningly.
"What the bloody hell's that?" he asked.
Pagan tried to see through his window, but his angle was bad. Then the voice came over the radio again: There's a helicopter above at approximately one hundred and fifty feet and descending rapidly.
The sound of the low-flying chopper became thunderous now, deafening, vibrating with such intensity that the car shook as if it were travelling over ruts. Pagan leaned forward and shouted into the radio. "What the hell does it want?"
The pilot won't identify himself. I've asked for ID three times and he doesn't bloody answer, Frank.
Pagan had briefly entertained the hope that the chopper might belong to Scotland Yard, something the Commissioner had finally decided to add to the convoy at the last moment. Now he was worried. He looked at Ruhr, who shrugged and said, "I know nothing about it."
Excerpted from Mambo by Campbell Armstrong. Copyright © 1990 Campbell Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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