which direction Savage was walking in. I knew that Golf and Oscar Kev and Slack Pat would soon start moving up behind me.

There were six or seven cars parked up against the wall of an old colonial building, taking advantage of the shade. I saw Bravo One push his hand into his jacket pocket as he headed toward them. For a split second I thought he was going for the initiation device.

Without checking his stride, Savage focused on one vehicle in particular and headed toward it. I moved slightly to the right so I had a clear view of the license plate.

'Alpha, this is Delta,' I said.

'That's Bravo One now at vehicle Mike Lima 174412.'

I pictured Alpha with the bank of computers in front of him in the control room. He confirmed, 'Roger that, Mike Lima 174412. That's a white Renault Five.'

'It's on the right, third car from the entrance,' I said.

'That's nose in.'

By now the keys were in Savage's hands.

'Stop, stop, stop. Bravo One at the car, he's at the car.'

I was committed to passing him quite close now I couldn't just change direction. I could see his profile; his chin and top lip were full of zits, and I knew what that meant.

Under pressure, his acne always blew up.

Savage was still at the Renault. He turned, now with his back to me, pretending to sort his keys out, but I knew he'd be checking the telltales. A sliver of Scotch tape across a door, things arranged in a certain way inside the vehicle; whatever, if they were not as he had left them. Savage would lift off.

Kev and Slack Pat would be somewhere near the entrance to the square, ready to 'back.' If I got overexposed to the target, one of them would take over, or if I got in deep shit and had a contact, they would have to finish it and we'd all worked together long enough for me to know that, as friends as well as colleagues, they'd let nothing stand between them and the task.

The buildings were casting shadows across the square. I couldn't feel any breeze, just the change in temperature as I moved out of the sunlight.

I was too close to Savage now to transmit. As I walked past the car I could hear the keys going in and the click of the lock.

I headed for a wooden bench on the far side of the square and sat down. There were newspapers in a trash can next to me; I picked one out and pretended to read, watching him.

Savage made a suspicious move and I got back on the net:

'Alpha, this is Delta that's his feet outside, he's fiddling underneath the dashboard, he's fiddling under the dashboard.

Wait...' I had my finger on the button, so I was still commanding the net. Could he be making the final connection to the bomb?

As I was doing my ventriloquist act, an old guy wandered toward me, pushing his bike. The fucker was on his way over for a chat. I took my finger off the button and waited. I was deeply involved in the local newspaper but didn't have a clue what it said. He obviously thought I did. I didn't want to stick around and discuss the weather, but I wasn't going to just blow him off either because he might start jumping up and down and draw Savage's attention.

The old guy stopped, one hand on his bike, the other one flailing around. He asked me a question. I didn't understand a word he was saying. I made a face that said I didn't know what the world was coming to, shrugged, and looked down again at the paper. I'd obviously done the wrong thing. He said some angry shit, then wheeled his bike away, arm still flailing.

I got back on the radio. I couldn't exactly see what Savage was doing, but both of his feet were still outside the Renault.

He had his ass on the driver's seat and was leaning under neath the dash. It looked as if he was trying to get something out of the glove compartment as if he'd forgotten some thing and gone back to get it. I couldn't confirm what he was doing but his hands kept going into his pockets.

Everything was closing in. I felt like a boxer I could hear the crowd, I was listening to my seconds and the referee, I was listening for the bell, but mostly I was focused on the boy I was fighting. Nothing else mattered. Nothing. The only important people in the world were me and Bravo One.

Through my earpiece I could hear Euan working like a man possessed, trying to get on top of the other two terrorists.

Kev and Slack Pat were still backing me; the other two boys in our team were with Euan. They'd all still be satelliting, listening on the net so as to be out of sight of the targets, but always close enough to back us if we got in trouble.

Euan closed in on Bravo Two and Echo One. They were coming in our direction. Everybody knew where they were; everybody would keep out of the way so they had a clear run in.

I recognized them as soon as they turned the corner.

Bravo Two was Daniel Martin McCann. Unlike Savage, who was well educated and an expert bomb maker, 'Mad Danny' was a butcher by trade and a butcher by nature. He'd been expelled from the movement by Gerry Adams in 1985 for threatening to initiate a campaign of murder that would have hampered the new political strategy. It was a bit like being kicked out of the Gestapo for cruelty. But McCann had supporters and soon got himself reinstated. Married with two children, he had twenty-six killings linked to his name. Ulster Loyalists had tried to whack him once, but failed. They should have tried harder.

Echo One was Mairead Farrell. Middle class and an ex-convent schoolgirl, she was, at thirty-one, one of the highest-ranking women in the IRA. See her picture and you'd think, aah, an angel. But she'd served ten years for planting a bomb in Belfast and reported back for duty as soon as she was released. Things hadn't gone her way; a few months earlier her lover had accidentally blown himself up. As Simmonds had said at the briefing, that made her one very pissed off Echo One.

I knew them both well; Euan and I had been working against them for years. I got on the net and confirmed the ID.

Everybody was in place. Alpha would be in the control room with the senior policeman, people from the Foreign Office, people from the Home Office, you name it, every man and his dog would be there, everybody wanting to put in their two cents' worth, everybody with their own concerns. We could only hope that Simmonds would be looking after ours.

I'd met the Secret Intelligence Service desk officer for Northern Ireland only a couple of days earlier, but he certainly seemed to be running our side of the show. His voice had the sort of confidence that was shaped on the playing fields of Eton, and he measured his words slowly, like a big-time attorney with the meter running.

We wanted the decision made now. But I knew there would be a big debate going on in the ops room; you'd probably have to cut your way through the cigarette smoke with a knife. Our liaison officer would be listening to us on his radio and explaining everything that we were doing, confirming that the team was in position. At crunch time, it was the police, not us, who'd decide that we go in. Once it was handed over to the military, K.ev would control the team.

The frustration was unendurable. I just wanted to get this over.

By now Farrell was leaning against the driver's door, the two men standing and facing her. If I hadn't known differently I'd have said they were trying to chat her up. I couldn't hear what they were saying but their faces showed no sign of stress, and now and then I could hear laughter above the traffic noise. Savage even got out a packet of mints and passed them round.

I was still giving a running commentary when Alpha came back on the net.

'Hello, all call signs, all call signs, I have control, I have control. Golf, acknowledge.'

Kev acknowledged. The police had handed over; it was Kev's show now.

The targets started to move away from the vehicle, so I pushed the button four times.

Golf came back: 'Stand by, stand by!'

That was it; we were off.

I let them walk toward the main square, and then I got up. I knew we wouldn't lift them here. There were far too many people around. For all we knew, the players might want to go out in a blaze of glory and start dropping

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