had been removed at the source, and had taken the information at face value. I didn't check I fucked up.

The only way to save the situation as far as London was concerned was to kill the Kurd teams I'd been training. It was damage control on a drastic scale, but it had to be done. De tail counts. If the Iraqis could trace the weapons, they might make the UK connection. If they then captured the Kurds, who just happened to mention that they had been trained by a Westerner called Nick, it wouldn't take a mastermind to figure out which country he came from. It actually pissed me off to have to kill them, because I'd gotten to know these guys really well. I was still wearing the G Shock watch one of the snipers had given me. We'd had a bet when we were on the range, and he lost. I knew that I could beat him, but still cheated because I had to win. I'd really gotten to like him.

Back in the UK there had been an internal inquiry; every body was covering their ass. And because I was a K, they could land it all on me. The armorers and technicians from the intelligence service said it was my fault for not checking.

What could I say? I didn't even exist. I was bracing myself to take the hit.

I entered Vauxhall Cross via a single metal door that funneled me toward reception. Inside, the building could be mistaken for any high-tech office block in any city--very clean, sleek, and corporate. People who worked there were swiping their identity cards through electronic readers to get in, but I had to go over to the main reception desk. Two women sat behind thick bulletproof glass.

Through the intercom system I said to one of them, 'I'm here to see Mr. Lynn.'

'Can you fill this in, please?' She passed a ledger through a slot under the glass.

As I signed my name in two boxes, she picked up a telephone.

'Who shall I say is coming to see Mr. Lynn?'

'My name is Stamford.'

The ledger held tear-off labels. One half was going to be ripped off and put in a plastic badge container, which I would have to pin on. My badge was blue and said escorted


The woman came off the phone and said, 'There'll be somebody coming down to pick you up.'

A young clerk appeared minutes later.

'Mr. Stamford? If you'd like to come with me.' He pressed the elevator button and said, 'We're going to the fifth floor.'

The whole building is a maze. I just followed him; I didn't have a clue where we were going. There was little noise coming from any of the offices, just people bent over papers or working at PCs. At the far end of one corridor we turned left into a room. Old metal filing cabinets, a couple of six-foot tables put together, and like in any office anywhere, the cups, packets of coffee and sugar, and a milk roster. None of that for me, though--in free-fall talk, I'd just stand by and accept the landing.

Lieutenant Colonel Lynn's office was off to one side of the larger area. When the clerk knocked on the door, there was a crisp and immediate call of 'Come in!' The boy turned the handle and ushered me past him.

Lynn was standing behind his desk. In his early forties, he was of average build, height, and looks but had that aura about him that singled him out as a high achiever. The only thing he didn't have, I was always pleased to note, was plenty of hair. I'd known him on and off for about ten years; for the last two years his job had been liaison between the Ministry of Defense and SIS.

It was only as I walked farther into the room that I realized he wasn't alone. Sitting to one side of the desk, obscured until now by the half-open door, was Simmonds. I hadn't seen him since Gibraltar. What a professional he'd turned out to be, sorting out the inquest and basically making sure that Euan and I didn't exist. I felt a mixture of surprise and relief to see him here. He'd had nothing to do with the Kurd job. We might be getting the coffee after all.

Simmonds stood up. Six feet tall, late forties, rather distinguished-looking, a very polite man, I thought, as he ex tended his hand. He was dressed in corduroy trousers the color of Gulden's mustard, and a shirt that looked as if he'd slept in it.

'Delighted to see you again. Nick.'

We shook hands and Lynn said, 'Would you like some coffee?'

Things were looking up.

'Thanks milk, no sugar.'

We all sat down. I took a wooden chair that was on the other side of the desk and had a quick look around the office while Lynn pressed the intercom on his desk and passed the order on to the clerk. His office was at the rear of the building and overlooked the Thames. It was a very plain, very functional, very impersonal room save for a framed photograph on the desk of a group I presumed were his wife and two children. There were two Easter eggs and wrapping paper on the windowsill. Mounted on a wall bracket in one corner was a television; the screen was scrolling through world news headlines. Under the TV was the obligatory officers' squash racquet and his jacket on a coatrack.

Without further formalities Lynn leaned over and said, 'We've got a fastball for you.'

I looked at Simmonds.

Lynn continued, 'Nick, you're in deep shit over the last job, and that's just tough. But you can rectify that by going on this one. I'm not saying it'll help, but at least you're still working. Take it or leave it.'

I said, 'I'll do it.'

He'd known what I was going to say. He was already reaching for a small stack of files containing photographs and bits of paper. As a margin note on one of the sheets I could see a scribble in green ink. It could have been written only by the head of the Firm. Simmonds still hadn't said a word.

Lynn handed me a photograph.

'Who are they?'

'Michael Kerr and Morgan McGear. They're on their way to Shannon as we speak, then flying to Heathrow for a flight to Washington. They've booked a return flight with Virgin, and they're running on forged Southern Irish passports. I want you to take them from Shannon to Heathrow and then on to Washington. See what they're up to and who they're meeting there.'

I'd followed players out of the Irish Republic before and could anticipate a problem. I said, 'What happens if they don't follow the plan? If they're on forged passports, they might go through the motions just to get through the security check then use their other passports to board another flight and fuck off to Amsterdam. It wouldn't be the first time.'

Simmonds smiled.

'I understand your concern, and it is noted. But they will go.'

Lynn passed me a sheet of paper.

'These are the flight de tails. They booked yesterday in Belfast.'

There was a knock on the door. Three coffees arrived, one in a mug showing the Tasmanian Devil, one with a vintage car on it, and a plain white one. I got the impression Lynn and Simmonds were on their second round.

Simmonds picked up the plain one, Lynn picked up the car, and I was left with the Tasmanian Devil running up a hill.

'Who's taking them from Belfast to Shannon?'

Simmonds said, 'Actually, it's Euan. He has them at the moment. He'll hand over to you at Shannon.'

I smiled to myself at the mention of Euan's name. I was now out of the system and basically just used as a K on deniable operations. The only reason I did it was to finance the other things I wanted to do. What they were I didn't know yet;

I was a thirty-seven-year-old man with a lot on his mind, but not too much in it. Euan, however, still felt very much part of the system. He still had that sense of moral responsibility to fight the good fight whatever that meant and he'd be there until the day he was kicked out.

Simmonds handed me the folder.

'Check that off,' he said.

'There are thirteen pages. I want you to sign for it now and hand it over to the air crew when you've finished. Good luck,' he added, not meaning it at all.

'Am I going now?' I said.

'I don't have my passport with me -fastball isn't the word.'

Lynn said, 'Your passport's in there. Have you got your other docs?'

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