Aldershot, September 23, 1988
The lime green ford cortina, stolen in Liverpool the day before, had already cruised past Buller Barracks in Aldershot twice on that grey, damp and drizzly autumn afternoon. The soldiers guarding the gate were far too busy to notice anything out of the ordinary. They were gawping at a squad of fresh female recruits as they pounded the drill square in their brand new barrack dress uniforms and shiny black shoes.
The driver spat his chewing gum through the half open window and onto the damp pavement. "There s no fence! This is going to be easy." Patrick Riley smiled with nervous anticipation. "Where do you want to go now Jack?" He asked.
Patrick wasn t just scared he was terrified. Weakness was no option for this apprentice, any sign of fear and the job would be scrapped. This was his first time on mainland Britain and he had to get it right, he d witnessed kneecappings before and didn t fancy a similar fate. He glanced over at Jack Mckay, a simmering cauldron of anger who could explode at any second and often did. He seemed relaxed for now though as he sat there scraping dirt from under his finger nails with an old pen knife. Patrick guessed Jack to be about thirty years old, although it was hard to tell. He was small and very stocky with thick arms and a bear barrel for a chest. An unkempt mop of greasy jet black air fell lazily across his forehead, as if trying to hide the pale scar which started on his right eyebrow and extended beyond his hairline.
"For crying out loud look at these boys, they re not even armed." Jack Mckay growled fiercely and shook his head in disbelief.
"What? Soldiers without guns..?" Patrick asked and frowned. Back in Belfast that would have meant suicide for them. "Look, that one s only got a pick elf..!" He laughed and suddenly felt a little less scared. "Why can t we do a drive by on the gate and then bugger off home? Just give me a shooter right now…!"
Jack remembered his own eager youth and the joys of a simple petrol bomb. "No the plan stays the same Patrick. You ll need to turn around and go back to the crossroads, then turn right and follow the signs for a place called Ash Vale."
"I ve never seen so many Brit Army camps this close together in one place." Said Patrick, his eyes wide with excitement. "…And so unprotected It s going to be like taking sweets from a baby..! So it is…" He paused to unwrap another stick of chewing gum and put it in his mouth. "And what s at Ash bloody Vale then?" He asked and instantly wished he hadn t.
Jack rolled is eyes in anger and answered through clenched teeth. "Do you ever stop talking? All you ever do is ask stupid bloody questions Pat. I buried some equipment, if you must know." He paused and turned to face his apprentice, his eyes sparkled mischievously as a toothy grin revealed several gold fillings "On an Army range..! How about that!"
"You re joking? Right!" He said and allowed himself to relax as the threat of violence temporarily subsided.
Jack laughed. "It s the one place they d never look, fer sure."
"Shite! The lights are turning to red..! Come on." Patrick cursed at the slow moving van in front.
"Shush you idiot! Don t do that." Jacks voice took on a vicious edge. "You ll attract attention. He rolled his eyes skyward and shook his head. "I know this is your first time out so I ll put it down to fecking stupidity. But you ve got to learn to blend in and live amongst them." He smiled and waved at an oncoming car. "You tip your cap, you smile politely and you say hello sir, good day sir, kiss my arse sir!."
"And then?" Patrick asked as if he didn t already know the answer, he glanced in the mirror and changed down gear.
"And then... You fecking moron..! You blow the buggers up!"
After half a mile the car turned right and then left over a gated rail crossing. By this time it was almost dark and the street lights had begun to flicker and switch on casting an orange glow on everything below.
"Pull in just over there by that big old oak tree!"
Patrick slowed down and indicated. As he did so Jack reached across and switched the flashing amber light off. "Idiot!" He growled. "You want to put up a big fecking sign and tell everyone we re here?"
"Sorry." Patrick mumbled.
The car came to a halt in front of some old gates. Jack immediately got out and ran the short distance to the fence on the left hand side of the gate. This entrance had obviously not been used for decades. A rusty old chain which had once held the gate locked lay discarded on the crumbling tarmac. A climbing plant had weaved its way in and out of the chequered steel mesh through the years making the gate almost invisible to the naked eye.
Jack cursed aloud. The last time he was here he could just about squeeze through the gap between the gate and the fence, either he had put on some weight or the gate was growing.
His head snapped back when he heard the car door slam. "Jesus H Christ!" He snarled. "Get back in that car and turn those fecking lights off! Jesus H Christ..! Idiot..!"
Jack painfully made his way through some stinging nettles. Swearing every time a part of his body felt the burning touch of the tall green weed. Eventually, he found a week spot on the fence where the steel mesh had all but rusted through. Easily kicking his way past, he soon found himself on the inside. Crouching low against a moldy old stump he slipped his pistol out and quietly pulled the working parts back allowing a bullet to slide forward in to the breach. These places always had minimal security but it was always best to play safe. He strained his eyes against the darkness watching for the slightest movement, and listened, but all he could hear was the strong beat of his own heart. Turning, he carefully made his way back to the gate. "Pat ..." He called and then again. "Pat ..."
"Yeah, what?" Came a shaky reply.
"Don t go anywhere!"
"What s up Jack? Don t you trust me or something?"
"Not for one fecking second.... Dick head..!"
Ten minutes passed before Patrick heard the sounds of someone noisily trying to scale the fence. "Is.... Is that you Jack?" He stammered, almost too afraid to speak in to the darkness.
"Who the feck else....." Came the hoarse reply. "...Ouch..! Could it be?"
Suddenly there was an almighty crash followed by a thud and a cry of pain.
Jack lay still for a moment while his mind raced around his body checking for damage. As he tried to stand the car roared to life and its headlights illuminate the whole area.
"Wait! Don t you go anywhere?" He cried painfully trying to wipe the blood from his eyes. Eventually he slid on to the passenger seat dragging a bulky old sack with him and slammed the door shut.
"My God Just look at yer sen in the mirror." Cried Pat horrified at the amount of blood Jack was loosing from several gashes on his face and hands. "Seriously mate, you need a doctor!"
"I m not yer fecking mate!" He snapped and tossed the sack on to the back seat. "And you can forget the Doctor. It was only a wee bit of razor wire… Now get this heap of a car moving!"
"Hello Zero, this is Alpha one zero, radio check over." The Lance corporal spoke in to his Motorola handset.
"Zero OK over." A crackly voice replied.
"Alpha one zero OK. At moment on perimeter, everything s quiet over."
"Zero roger out."
The soldier smiled and threw the radio onto the nearest bed. "See. I told you it would work." He said as he unbuttoned his combat jacket and slid onto a chair. "You can turn the TV up now..! Give us a cigarette."
The other soldier, a lot younger and lower in rank did as he was told and produced a packet of cigarettes from his combat jacket pocket. "I don t know about this Smudge..!" He complained and flicked a cigarette in to his mouth. "If the Guard Commander comes in and catches us, we re dead meat."
"What, that Sergeant Askew ..? He s a total knob head!"
"Yeah I know but ..!"
"It s dark and it s cold out there..! And I m not freezing my bollox off for anyone! Now put that film on."
The young Private did as he was told and pressed play on the remote control. "I suppose it s better than wandering around like dickheads in the dark!"
Jack looked at his watch again and stretched. Having had no sleep for the past eighteen hours, he was tired. The drive from Belfast had taken its toll on energy reserves. He rubbed his eyes and looked closer at his digital watch. "Patrick." He shouted. "Patrick, wake up it s time."
He continued to snore.
"Wake up." Demanded Jack and slapped Pat viciously on the back of his head. "Come on get this car moving...? Now!"
Pat jumped violently from his dreams, banging his head on the window. "Jesus Christ. What did you do that for? I was dreaming about this really fit blonde!" He whined and rubbed his head.
Jack was desperately struggling to keep a grip his ferocious temper. "The only blonde you ever had was that flea bitten old Labrador yer Ma made you take for a shite every night! Now let s go." He growled.
It took three attempts before the car engine ignited. "Which way are we going then?" Patrick asked selecting first gear. "If you told me a bit more maybe I wouldn t have to keep asking for directions."
Jack pulled a small notebook from the pocket of his Barbour jacket and started flicking through the pages. "If you told me a bit more...!" Jack whined imitating his accomplice "…If I told you a bit more you d only be more confused than you already are..! Now shut the feck up and drive, go out of here and turn right. When you get to the roundabout....." He turned the pages. "... You go up... Where the feck is it?" He said angrily and turned the page once again. "Ah here.... We go to the top of Gun hill!"
Patrick laughed. "And by feck is there going to be a bang up there tonight."
Jack had to smile, he couldn t help it. The moron was showing signs of a hidden sense of humor at last.
The two men crouched by a bush. Somewhere in the distance they could hear the shrieks and shouts as a couple argued, and the rhythmical beats of a disco making its way to their ears. Jack grimaced at the sound of the music; he guessed it was coming from a public house called The Royal Exchange . Situated at the bottom of Gun hill, was their first choice target but there was just too many bouncers on the doors. Not only that but the street had been full of men from the Parachute Regiment depot up the road. You can spot them a mile off in their jeans, burgundy t-shirts and desert boots. Jack didn t mind taking the odd risk but he wasn t one of those idiot suicide bombers that he d been hearing about in the Middle East.
The night is the guardian of the Terrorist. Its shadows hide them, Its full moon guides them when priming their version of carnage and its gloom covers their retreat to safety. The night his ally, Jack pressed onward toward his target.
"Right, come on, it s clear." He whispered.
Patrick moved slowly forward, steadying himself for the short sprint across the car-park behind Buller Barracks. They must have been near some sort of military hospital because they d hidden in bushes a couple of times while chattering groups of Nurses passed by. He was scared, his legs felt heavy and there was a strange numbing sensation in his left arm. He gripped his stomach and breathed deeply, forcing oxygen into his lungs.
"What s the matter?" Asked Jack and smiled. "Butterflies... Don t worry that s just you being scared shiteless."
His face drained of blood and limbs chattering with fear Patrick forced himself forward . "Come on let s get this over with!"
"Stag me down to the tree line."
Then Jack was gone, sprinting towards a broken wooden fence which marked the rear boundary of the camp. The same fence which the Soldiers used to sneak out and go down town on a Friday night. Patrick was close behind struggling with the heavy bag containing the explosives.
"Ok then." Said Jack kneeling between two cars and breathing heavily. "This is our RV point, whatever happens you wait here..! You wait here, right… You hear me?" He waited for a nod. "And keep a lookout, I ll be back soon." He was up and over the small fence in a second, taking the bag with him. Down a grassy slope, across a concrete path and still no sign of trouble. By now he was beside the target building on his knees listening for patrols. There was nothing but an eerie silence, it was as if the whole place was already dead. Nothing but Winters dead trees, Autumns dead leaves and soon thought Jack, the Queens dead men.
Kneeling beside one of the grey accommodation buildings he watched and waited for any signs of trouble, there was none. After satisfying his nerves that he was alone he opened the bag and pulled out the three One Gallon containers which had been modified into bombs, he checked each set of wiring in turn.
The explosive was called Semtex. This new stuff had its advantages, it was lightweight so you could carry more and it produced a greater explosion which meant more damage. The only disadvantage was that it cost a fortune, not only in money but also in favors. Only two months previous Jack had killed an Arab businessman in London by order of some rag head Middle Eastern Freedom Fighters. He wasn t that bothered about topping an Arab but he d missed the rugby international, they had lost anyway.
He checked the wiring on all three bombs once again, just to be sure. Then he set the time on the clock face to Zero Two Thirty hours and carefully lifted the alarm mute button. He placed the first bomb just inside the foyer and the other two evenly spaced along the outer wall.
"Gotch ya." He quipped as he checked his watch. Then sprinted back up the slope not even bothering to see if anyone had noticed him.
"Go Pat.... Go… Run! They ll go up in five minutes."
Jack needn t have said a word, as soon as Patrick had seen him he was away and running. Both men were back at the waiting car within a minute.
"Take me to a telephone, and then we can both go home."
"Sure..." Patrick gasped still trying to get his breath back.
"Well that film wasn t up to much, was it? Even when there was a picture, there wasn t much action." The Lance Corporal said and laughed into his mug of tea as he gulped the last dregs down his throat.
"I think I need a new video recorder."
"That was the worst porno I ve ever seen and what about those nails. The dirty bitch must have cut herself to shreds. Who did you get it off of any way?"
Private Jones laughed and turned the television off. "Driver Tyler in the stores, he s got loads of films… Ah well, I think we d better get going now."
"Another five minutes won t hurt Jones."
"Come on Smudge, the Motorola isn t even switched on. What if they gave us a radio check or something?"
The Lance Corporal lit another cigarette. "Nothing ever happens, chill out mate and put the kettle on!"
The Private braced himself. "No, I want to go...! Now..!"
The building suddenly shuddered and then shook violently as three massive explosions tore through the structure. Flames, hungry for oxygen, leapt fifty feet or more into the air engulfing the glowing night sky. While a blazing inferno incinerated everything in its path a super heated blast tossed soldiers and furniture around like tissue paper in a fire storm.
Walls suddenly cracked and then buckled as entire floors collapsed into rubble, burying any soldiers unlucky enough to remain alive. Debris, Unrecognizable and flaming dropped from the sky like meteors starting smaller fires all around. The shock wave shattered windows in all the neighboring buildings as screams of the dying echoed amongst the moans and cries for help. A stench of charred death seeped throughout the ruin as an eerie silence finally descended.
Like a spirit with a mind of its own the black smoke drifted off on the current of a winters breeze. Revealing more carnage, more misery and death.
"Is that the Police?" A Muffled Irish voice said into the handset. "As a representative of the Provisional Irish Republican Army I hereby except full responsibility for the blowing up of Buller Barracks in Aldershot. The code word is Green Dragon."
He hung up quickly, no telling how fast calls can be traced these days, he thought. Then he put another coin in the slot and dialed the number for his Irish contact.
"It s Jack... The job s done!"
"Wait a minute Jack; for God s sake don t put the phone down." Pleaded the voice at the other end.
Jack sighed heavily. "What is it this time? If it s another job you know what you can do! We re coming home!"
"No." Interrupted the contact. "....It s really bad news. It s your wife mate...! She s been killed… You need to come home!"
Jack thought and prayed that he had heard it wrong. "What?" He whispered incredulously, hardly believing the words he was hearing.
"The fecking Brits killed her mate..... She was on a job! I heard she was shot by some feking Para!"
Jack felt faint and suddenly he was on his knees, the phone dangling by its cord. "Job? What Job? She works in a corner shop for Christ sake! Oh God..... No... No." He sobbed. "Bastards…!"
He stood and stumbled backwards, collapsing on to a wooden bench. "You bastards." He screamed at the top of his voice. ".....You British murdering bastards." And then tears streaming down his stubbly cheeks and sobbing quieter. "You killed her, you killed my girl!"
Jack Mckay was still slumped on that bench three hours later, sobbing and mumbling incoherently, when he came to the attention of a passing police patrol car.
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One is a Paratrooper, the other a convicted terrorist both seek vengeance.
After a failed attempt on a Paratroopers life leaves his wife dead and family ripped apart, Staff Sergeant Danny Stone swears revenge. He sets out to hunt down the man who pulled the trigger and hurtles headlong into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
A game which he discovers not only threatens his life but also the entire peace process in Northern Ireland.
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