Stage four, my left hand was still pulling my jacket out of the way and the pistol was now just by my belt buckle. There was no need to look at it; I knew where it was and what it was pointing at. I kept my eyes on the target, and his never left mine. I pulled the trigger.

The weapon report seemed to bring everything back into real time. The first round hit him. I didn't know where I didn't need to. His eyes told me all I wanted to know.

I kept on firing. There is no such thing as overkill. If he could move, he could detonate the bomb. If it took a whole magazine to be sure I'd stopped the threat, then that was what I'd fire. As Savage hit the ground I could no longer see his hands. He was curled up in a ball, holding his stomach. I moved forward and fired two shots at the head. He was no longer a threat.

Kev ran over and was searching inside Savage's coat.

'It's not here,' he said.

'No weapon, no firing device.'

I looked down at Kev as he wiped the blood off his hands onto Savage's jeans.

'One of the others must have had it,' he said.

'I didn't hear the car go up, did you?'

In all the confusion I couldn't be sure.

I stood over them both. Kev's mother came from southern Spain; he looked like a local: jet black hair, about five feet ten inches, and the world's bluest eyes. His wife reckoned he was a dead ringer for Mel Gibson, which he scoffed at but secretly liked. Right now his face was a picture; he knew he owed me one. I wanted to say, 'It's OK, these things happen,' but it just didn't seem like the time. Instead I said, 'Fucking hell, Brown, what do you expect if you have a name the same color as shit?'

As I spoke we put our safety catches on, and Kev and I swapped weapons.

'I'm glad I won't be at any inquest.' I grinned at Kev.

'You'd better start getting your shit together.'

He smiled as he got on the radio and started to send a situation report. It was all right for him and the others, but Euan and I shouldn't have been here. We had to vanish before the police arrived. We had been flown in from doing undercover work in Northern Ireland with Fourteen Intelligence Group;

it was illegal for its members to operate anywhere else. If either of us were caught in Gibraltar, there would be a shit storm.

The ops room at HMS Rooke was about fifteen minutes away on foot. I tucked Kev's weapon inside my jeans and started walking fast.

The mood was subdued aboard the C-130 as it lifted from the tarmac at 11 p.m. that night.

Spanish police had found PIRA's car bomb in an under ground parking garage in Marbella, thirty miles away, across the Spanish border; 145 pounds of Semtex high explosive and an unattached timing device preset at 11:20 a.m.' the time the Gibraltar guard-changing ceremony ended and the soldiers dispersed in the square. The white Renault had been a blocking vehicle after all.

When Simmonds came over. Pat said, 'As far as we knew, they had the means to detonate a bomb big enough to separate Gibraltar from the mainland. All it would have taken was one press of a button. If there's going to be an inquest, fuck it.

Better to be tried by twelve, I say, than carried by six.'

Deafened suddenly by the roar of the C-130's engines, I glanced at Kev, Pat, Euan and tried to forget what I was going back to. A house isn't a home when there are no pictures on the walls.

Back when we were in the Persian Gulf, Pat had a battle cry: 'All for one and one for all.' We'd laughed when he used it, but he was right on target. Any one of us would put his life on the line for the others. I cracked a smile; with these guys around me, who needed family? Without a doubt, I thought, this was as good as it was ever going to get. NINE YEARS LATER

If you work for the British intelligence service (also known as the Firm) and get formally summoned to a meeting at their headquarters building on the south bank of the River Thames at Vauxhall, there are three levels of interview. First is the one with coffee and cookies, which means they're going to give you a pat on the head. Next down the food chain is the more businesslike coffee but no cookies, which means they're not asking but telling you to follow orders. And finally there's no cookies, and no coffee, either, which basically means that you're in deep shit. Since leaving the SAS in 1993 and working on deniable operations, I'd had a number at every level, and I wasn't expecting a nice frothy cappuccino this particular Monday. In fact I was quite worried, because things hadn't been going too well.

As I emerged from the subway station at Vauxhall the omens weren't exactly with me, either. The March sky was dull and overcast, preparing itself for the Easter holiday; my path was blocked by roadworks, and a burst from a jackhammer sounded like the crack of a firing squad. Vauxhall Cross, home of what the press call MI6 but which is actually the Secret Intelligence Service, is about a mile upstream from the Houses of Parliament. Bizarrely shaped like a beige and black pyramid that's had its top cut off, with staged levels, large towers on either side, and a terrace bar overlooking the river, it needs only a few swirls of neon and you'd swear it was a casino. It wouldn't look out of place in Las Vegas. I missed Century House, the old HQ building near Waterloo station. It might have been 1960s ugly, square with


loads of glass, net curtains, and antennae, and not so handy to the subway, but it was much less pretentious.

Opposite Vauxhall Cross and about two hundred yards across the wide arterial road is an elevated section of railway line, and beneath that are arches that have been turned into shops, two of which have been knocked through to make a massive motorcycle shop. I was early, so I popped in and fantasized about which Ducati I was going to buy when I got a pay raise--which wasn't going to be today. What the hell, the way my luck was going I'd probably go and kill myself on it.

I'd fucked up severely. I'd been sent to Saudi to encourage, then train, some Northern Iraqi Kurds to kill three leading members of the Ba'ath party; the hope was that the assassinations would heat everything up and help dismantle the regime in Baghdad.

The first part of my task was to take delivery in Saudi of some former Eastern bloc weapons that had been smuggled in--Russian Draganov sniper weapons, a couple of Makharov pistols, and two AK assault rifles, the parachute version with a folding stock. All serial numbers had been erased to make them deniable.

For maximum chaos, the plan was to get the Kurds to make three hits at exactly the same time in and around Baghdad.

One was going to be a close-quarters shoot, using the Makharovs.

The idea was for the two boys to walk up to the family house, knock on the door, take on whatever threat presented itself, make entry into the house, zap the target, and run.

The second was going to be a sniper option. The target saw himself as a big-time fitness freak; he'd come out and have a little jog around a track, all of about four hundred yards. He emerged from his house every day in a lime green, fluffy velour tracksuit, did one lap, and that was his training for the day. The boys were going to hit him just as he started to sweat and slow down--which by the look of him would be after about a hundred yards. I would be on this one to coordinate the hit so that both fired at once.

The third target was going to be taken out on his way to the ministry. Two bikes would pull up at stoplights and give him the good news with their AK-47s.

I landed up in Northern Iraq without any problems and started the buildup training. At this stage not even the Kurds knew what their task was going to be. The Draganov sniper rifles were a heap of shit. However, the weapon is never as important as the ammunition, which in this case was even worse, Indian 7.62mm. Given a free hand I would have wanted to use Lapier, manufactured in Finland and the best in the world for sniping because of its consistency, but Western rounds would have given the game away.

The Indian ammunition was hit and miss mostly miss.

On top of that the Draganovs were semiautomatic rifles. Ide ally, you need a bolt-action weapon, which is not only better for taking the hit, it also doesn't leave an empty case behind because it stays in the weapon until you reload. However, it had to be Russian shit that they were zapped with, and it had to be deniable.

Once all three jobs went down, the weapons were to be dumped and destroyed. They weren't. On the AK there is a forward leaf sight, with a serial number scratched underneath it. I had been told that all serial numbers

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