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The demonstrations, strikes, and student uprisings that punctuated Paris during the late 1960s only served to hide a more devious presence lurking on European soil. A dangerous terror group took root amidst the Paris barricades, a well-trained group of assassins and spies known as the Crystal Faction. Trained in Italy and funded by Moscow, these Cold War killers have made their way to England, and Nick Ryder of Special Branch feels alone in identifying and infiltrating the sleeper cell.
This thriller of espionage and murder runs a fast pace as Ryder works diligently, despite resistance from his superiors and a complete lack of cooperation from MI5, to track down the terrorists before they can strike again.
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By Clare Francis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1985 Clare Francis
All rights reserved.
Gabriele Schroeder chose her clothes thoughtfully.
What did one need for such an occasion?
Running-shoes certainly. Jeans. A top which wasn't so bulky that it would impede her arms. At the same time it would be cold waiting outside the hotel. She pulled on a sweater and took a scarf from the hook on the back of the door. With a leather jacket, that should be enough to keep her warm.
She made a half-hearted attempt to tidy the area around her bed, stuffing some clothes into a holdall, and then gave up.
A broken mirror sat on the mantelpiece. She looked at her reflection. Hair dark, shoulder-length, slightly wavy, parted severely in the middle; skin pale; eyes dark and hollow. She still wasn't used to herself without make-up – she'd worn it for years: the pale white foundation, the thick eye-liner and heavy mascara. A slave to fashion. But who needed make-up? That was for manufactured women who didn't know who they really were. She could see that now. But it had taken her long enough to realise. She was twenty-five.
Finally, the hat. It was a woollen one that came down over her forehead. After a moment's thought, she removed it, fastened her hair to the top of her head with a pin and replaced the hat. Better: now her hair wouldn't get in her eyes.
The complete political activist.
A small tremor of nervousness tugged at her. She'd never done anything like this before. Nor had the others. Nor had anybody. Demonstrations in Britain were usually orderly, good-humoured, well-behaved. Passive.
This was going to be different.
She ran downstairs to the kitchen.
The others were there. Eight in all, including Max and Stephie.
They were sitting round the room, drinking and smoking joints. No one looked worried. They seemed to think it was rather a lark. Gabriele relaxed a little.
Someone asked, 'Do we know who'll be there, Max?'
Max's thin, intense face was expressionless behind the wire-rimmed glasses. 'The American ambassador. A whole collection of dons —'
'A disgust of dons.' It was a boy with bright red hair. Gabriele recognised him from meetings on the campus at Essex. His name, she remembered, was Paul Reardon.
'– and maybe someone from the Foreign Office.'
'No cabinet ministers?'
Max shook his head. 'They didn't say so.'
Gabriele knew that Max's information came from his friends at Oxford, the organisers of the demonstration. The occasion was the Oxford Anglo-American Society Dinner.
Someone said, 'Pity.'
As they collected their banners and placards, Reardon came over to Gabriele. 'Linda, isn't it?'
She gave it a second to let her annoyance pass, then said firmly, 'No, it is not. The name is Gabriele, Gabriele Schroeder.'
He stared at her. 'Sure. Sure ..."
To ease the moment along, she added, 'It's my real name. Linda was ... Linda was just something I called myself for a while. Okay?'
At five they set off in a single mini-van. It was rush hour and it took half an hour to get from Kentish Town to Paddington and on to the Westway. Gabriele began to worry about being late. But then the traffic improved and they were clear, bowling along the A40 towards Oxford.
There was plenty of time. She should have realised. Max, for all his apparent vagueness, was an efficient organiser. In their undergraduate days at Essex, it was Max who'd arranged transport to Ban the Bomb marches, who'd joined the International Socialists, and made the first demands for student rights. Now he and Stephie were two of the six permanent residents of the house in Kentish Town. It was more of a community than a shared house, really. There were always people coming and going. Every two weeks meetings of the Kentish Town Housing Action Group were held in the living-room, and sometimes homeless people stayed on mattresses on the floor. Victims of oppression, as Max called them. Gabriele was proud of helping the homeless; it showed that one really cared. It was the practical application of one's beliefs: praxis.
At twilight they came into the centre of Oxford, and turned north on to the Banbury Road. After half a mile, Max pointed to the right. There was a sign: The Linden House Hotel.
They looked in through the gates. Already there was a large crowd outside, chanting loudly. There were also some blue uniforms.
They did a U-turn and parked. Everyone was silent. Gabriele got calmly out of the van and slid her placard out of the back. It read: US MURDERERS – OUT OF VIETNAM.
Max said, 'We'll give it till eight-thirty. Then they'll all be in the dining-room. And the pigs might have gone away.'
Someone giggled nervously. 'They won't even realise what's happening.'
The tension eased. There was a flutter of conversation, and they walked jauntily through the gates to join the crowd of shouting demonstrators. Gabriele hoisted her placard and took up the chant of the crowd – Fascist killers! and Win, win, Ho Chi Minh! She began to feel high, as if she'd been drinking, yet her mind was perfectly clear.
Although the crowd numbered at least two hundred, Gabriele counted only six policemen keeping the doorway to the hotel clear. As the dinner guests arrived, prominent in their evening clothes, the crowd waved their banners and roared abuse. But it was all very good-natured. No one tried to press against the police or jostle the guests.
After ten minutes a large limousine drew up. The American ambassador. A faint mask-like smile on his face, the ambassador walked quickly into the hotel, professionally oblivious to the screams of the crowd. The cool indifference was irritating.
The stream of guests trailed off. The demonstrators looked bored and started talking in groups. Gabriele saw Max slip away, towards the van.
She followed and found him sliding a long metal crowbar from under a seat. 'To get in with,' he murmured.
Gabriele viewed it with surprise. She hadn't thought anything like that would be necessary. The idea of using a weapon-like object made her feel uneasy.
As they walked back towards the hotel she decided not to say anything. After all, a new strategy required new tactics. She wasn't going to be the one member of the group to be faint-hearted.
Stephie, Reardon and the others were waiting, with about fifteen of the Oxford contingent. Silently, they slipped away from the other demonstrators in ones and twos until they were gathered at the side of the building. Gabriele took a quick look back. The police were hidden from view by the remains of the crowd; they had seen nothing. But then they weren't really looking.
A high wall with a closed gate barred the way to the floodlit hotel garden beyond. However the gate was unlocked, and they filed straight through into the garden and hid behind some large shrubs. The diningroom looked out on to the lawn and the diners were clearly visible through the tall french windows. The top table, Gabriele noted, was to the right. She decided to make straight for it when the time came. She gripped the handle of her placard more tightly. She wanted to wave it right under the ambassador's nose.
Max ran forward, followed by Stephie and Reardon, and pressed himself against the wall to one side of the windows. He seemed to be examining the door locks. He reached out and tried a handle. Clearly it was locked.
He strode out in front of the windows. With a slight shock Gabriele realised what he was going to do. He was swinging the crowbar in a great arc. It came forward and hit the glass with a bang. A small hole appeared in the window with cracks running in several directions.
Max twisted his head to look questioningly at Stephie, as if he couldn't understand why the glass hadn't shattered. Then Stephie stepped in front of the window and lobbed something heavy from her shoulder. A brick-like object hit the window with a great crash. Max put his hand through the glass and the next moment the window was open.
The sound of protesting astonished voices swelled out from the dining-room. The next moment the rest of the group were running forward, whooping and yelling. Gabriele caught the exhilaration. She pulled her hat further down over her face and, letting out a great shriek, ran for the window.
Inside, Gabriele almost fell over a huddle of people bent over something on the floor. She side-stepped them neatly and made for the top table, passing behind a long line of angry, startled, bemused faces. A man rose up in front of her, shouted 'Outrageous!' and put out his arm. Fending him off, Gabriele dived past, rounded the corner of the room and, placing herself behind the ambassador, held up her placard and began to shout: 'US out! Hands off Vietnam!'
There was uproar. She saw Reardon on top of a long table, stepping none too carefully across the china. Stephie was running round the far side of the room, waving her placard like a maniac. The others were parading up and down, shouting their slogans above the din. Some held chairs in front of them, herding startled guests into a corner. But most of the guests sat stunned, waiting in impeccable British style for somebody to do something.
The surprise was total. Gabriele almost laughed at the guests' incredulous outrage.
The noise rose to a crescendo. A table was turned over; there was the crash of breaking china and cries of alarm as the diners shot to their feet and examined their clothes, dripping with wine and hot greasy food.
Gabriele danced along behind the top table, enjoying the sight of the appalled faces. A shout rose above the din. Reardon, his hair flaming red under the lights, stood on a table, a wine bottle held high in his hand, and slowly, solemnly tipped the bottle until the red wine spilled in a long stream on to the table and splashed up at the diners, who hastily withdrew, wiping at their clothes with their napkins.
'The blood of the Vietnamese!' Reardon screamed. 'Murdered by the US aggressors!'
Gabriele cheered loudly. She saw Stephie force her way past Reardon and approach the top table. Stephie raised her placard in front of the ambassador who was getting to his feet in an attempt to leave. Seeing her, the ambassador turned his back. With a yell of anger, Stephie raised the placard and, reaching across the table, brought it down on the ambassador's head.
Gabriele saw the ambassador clap a hand to his head, then a sudden movement to the right caught her eye. Uniforms had appeared: three of the policemen from the front door. They went for Reardon, pulling him down from the table head first. Another grabbed Stephie, but she swung at him and clipped him smartly in the eye. He fell back, his hand to his face, and Stephie sprinted away.
Gabriele hesitated: should she fight or run? Through the pandemonium she saw Stephie and Max moving across the back of the room towards the windows.
Time to retreat then. Gabriele turned to run, but stopped dead. A group of guests were standing in the aisle, blocking her way. They looked angry and obstructive, and she had the unpleasant feeling they would try to prevent her from passing. She felt a moment's fear, a clutching claustrophobia.
She fought it and, calming herself, gritted her teeth and rushed them.
All but one, an obese round-faced man, fell back. The man made an attempt to grab her, but she struck out, shooting an elbow sharply into the obscenely large stomach. She heard him gasp.
Now the way was clear and she raced to the end of the long table, rounded the corner and made for the open window. The huddle of people she had stepped over were still intent on whatever lay on the floor. She paused and glanced down. It was an elderly man, his eyes closed, his head cradled in a woman's lap. Gabriele had a vivid image of the woman's lap, bright red, a vast pool of wetness that was obscenely bright against the pallor of her dress.
She hesitated, but then people were bumping past her and Max was dragging her away, yelling. 'Come on!' Dropping her placard, she ran for the garden gate.
She arrived panting at the van to find the others clambering in. As the engine fired with a roar, Stephie reached out to pull her up into the front seat. The van shot off and swerved round a corner, the open passenger door swinging wildly on its hinges. Gabriele clung to Stephie, shaking slightly, not yet brave enough to reach out for the door and pull it closed, thinking only of the pale man with the closed eyes and the white dress covered in blood.
But then Stephie laughed, a wild hoot of triumph, and Gabriele realised that she was right to be exhilarated: the demonstration had achieved everything they had hoped for, and more. It was the end of passivity, the beginning of a new movement. She – they – were part of it.
But what really astonished Gabriele was that it had been so easy.
They rounded a corner, the door of the van swung shut. She was safe. Catching the mood, she hugged Stephie and began to laugh.
Nick Ryder frowned in concentration and read the passage again. 'Underneath the conservative popular base is the substratum of the outsiders, the exploited and persecuted of other races and other colours, the unemployed and the unemployable. They exist outside the democratic process ... Thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.'
Ryder wondered if he was really understanding all this correctly. Did Marcuse mean that the underprivileged could be revolutionary without knowing it? Seemed highly unlikely. Or did he mean that their opposition justified other people being revolutionary for them?
He put the book down and yawned. He was too tired to read this sort of stuff tonight. It was difficult enough at the best of times. Although he was finally beginning to understand some of it. He opened his eyes and looked at the line of books on the mantelpiece. Marx, Engels, Fanon, Guérin ... In two months he'd accumulated quite a library.
He marked his page and slid the copy of One-dimensional Man back among the other books.
Nine o'clock. It was the first time he'd been home before ten that week. It was a pity that nice girl Anne hadn't been free. She was a social worker and about the only one he'd ever met who didn't burst with good intentions or look like the back of a bus. In fact Anne was rather attractive. She'd said she had a meeting that night. He hoped that she wasn't feeding him a line.
He thought: What a suspicious mind you have. But then it went with being a policeman.
A nice hot bath was what he needed. He put on a record – Traviata, with Moffo and Tucker, and stood for a moment, letting the soft notes work their magic. Italian opera never failed to move him. His love of music had been the most amazing discovery of his life.
He never let on to the lads, though: they'd find it very curious.
He went into the bathroom and ran the hot water. The gas geyser hissed and roared and finally spat out a minute trickle of steaming water. From bitter experience he'd learnt that the hot water cooled off considerably during the twenty or so minutes the bath took to fill, so he added no cold.
The steam rose in wet curtains. It reminded him of the freezing bathroom at the back of the house in Barrow and his mam yelling at him to get the hell in before the water got cold. He hadn't been home in months, and probably wouldn't get round to it until summer. It was a bit of a chore now anyway. After four years the north seemed a lifetime away.
He went to the kitchen, which was so small you could reach everything while standing in one place, and poured himself a beer. He returned to the bathroom. It wasn't far. The flat consisted of a hall, bedsitting-room, kitchen and bathroom. For some time he'd been meaning to find himself something better. But, being in Lambeth, just across the river from Westminster, it was handy for the office. It was also very cheap.
Though the bath was only half full he was impatient and, undressing quickly, got in. Shivering, he lay back and felt the hot water creep slowly up his body. In another five minutes, when the water covered his legs, it was going to be very pleasant indeed.
The phone rang.
Ryder breathed, 'I don't believe this.'
For a moment he lay still, considering whether to answer it. If it was the office they could go to hell. On the other hand, it might just be Anne ...
He got out, grabbed a towel and padded wetly across the bedsitting-room to the phone.
A cheery, horribly familiar voice echoed down the earpiece. 'Hello, sport. Didn't disturb anything interesting, I trust?'
'Sod you, Conway. What is it?'
'Oxford. That Vietnam demo. A real fracas. Rampaged round the dining-room waving placards. About thirty or forty of them.'
Ryder sighed. 'The Oxford lads were warned, for Christsake. Several times ...'
'I don't doubt it, mate, but the fact remains that it was a right cock-up. The ambassador got hit on the head. And there was an injury caused by a brick. Geezer's all right, but it could have been nasty. There's mutterings about bringing serious charges. Trouble is, they're short of customers —'
'Didn't they nab any of them?'
'Two, I think.'
'God, how many lads did they have on the job then?'
'They're not saying, but can't have been many, can it?'
Ryder was silent for a moment. 'I suppose they want some names tonight.'
'You got it.'
Wearily, Ryder went back to the bathroom and got dressed again. He should have known. This had happened before. It was the fault of the structure. There was no national police force, just a large number of county and borough forces, each, Ryder sometimes thought, more stubbornly independent than the next. You could give them all the information you liked, but you couldn't force them to act on it.
Names, they wanted, did they? Well, they were asking a lot. All the same, he was already turning some ideas over in his mind.
In 1968, as much as now, the work of Special Branch was deliberately unpublicised – not to say shrouded in secrecy – and the police liked to keep it that way.
Excerpted from Red Crystal by Clare Francis. Copyright © 1985 Clare Francis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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