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Former Intelligence Operative Richard Tomlinson's Novel Golden Chain Censored By British Government MI6 Released

From Cryptome [cryptome.org]

18 September 2006

See Richard Tomlinson's blog for the source of this novel and for updates on his struggle against MI6 and Metropolitan Police perfidy:

 

http://tomlinsonvmi6.blogspot.com/

  "I am a former officer in MI6, Britain's secret intelligence service. I have   been involved in a long standing battle with them to clear my name after   they illegally dismissed me from the service."

 


[Richard Tomlinson blogs:]

Monday, September 18, 2006

Article about my blog in The Register

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/18/tomlinson_mi6_novel/

posted by Richard @ Monday, September 18, 2006

The Golden Chain - remaining chapters [Chapters 4-8 below, following earlier-published Chapters 1-3.]

Here's the remaining chapters of "The Golden Chain". I want to get them up on the Internet quickly before the police can start tricking the French authorities into arresting me. I've also written to the French police to give them a link to this blog, so that they can look at the evidence themselves rather than relying on a highly exaggerated international warrant from the British police. This is just a draft, and it is not finished yet, so don't start picking holes in it yet! And this is all I have done so far, I have no more chapters.

 


Friday, September 15, 2006

The Golden Chain - Chapter 1

Here's the first chapter of the novel I was writing, which according to the police is in potentially breach of the Official Secrets Act. I've written to the police and Treasury Solicitor and told them that I am not going to answer their letters until they either charge me, or drop their investigation and return my belongings. And if they are going to charge me, then they should also charge Stella Rimington for the same offence.

  Chapter 1

 

The bags had been sitting in the corner of the backroom gathering dust for nearly three months. One smart lockable suitcase, too big for cabin luggage, and a black leather grip she had bought in Paris. She never went anywhere without the grip. The shoulder strap had been repaired at the heel bar down the road at least three times to Delaney’s knowledge, but still she would insist.

“I know it’s old and knocked about, but the leather is good and it’s the perfect size,” she had told him. “I know exactly where everything is in that bag, so you’re wasting your time”, she had countered when he offered to replace it. “Besides which, it doesn’t have a stupid logo.”

That was the clincher. Derry was not one for logos. Nor was she to be dislodged once she had made up her mind. A product of the Architect’s Association at UCL, she had dazzled as a postgrad with a thesis on vernacular buildings within the Ottoman Empire. Her eye missed nothing. They had made countless trips to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, to out of the way dusty towns, guidebook in one hand, camera in the other.

Once, in the late eighties, they had got as far as Baghdad and spent an afternoon in the Shawaka House, a truly sublime residence close to the fish market in the Jadiriyah district, built in the eighteenth century and owned by an old Ottoman family. The visit had been fixed up by a friend at the nearby British Embassy. Delaney remembered the inner courtyard with its fountain, the balcony on the first floor and a cool evening breeze coming off the Tigris as it raced towards the Gulf. They had joked about making an offer for the house. How times had changed. Delaney wondered if it was still standing.

Now, yet again, he contemplated opening the bags. He had dealt with everything else. The funeral had been a nightmare. He’d written to her relatives and friends, planned and attended the memorial service, cleared her clothes – dealt with every aspect of the bureaucracy of death. All that was left of her was in these two rude containers.

Stephen Delaney had not returned to work since her death. A senior partner in a City bank, his colleagues had made no fuss. “Take you time, you’ll know when it’s right to come back,” Jonathan Lyddiat, the chairman had reassured him. Distinctly old school, Lyddiat was proud for it to be known that the bank looked after its own. Discreetly, someone had told him that his annual bonus was safe. Not that it mattered that much to Delaney. He had made enough during his fifteen years in the City never to have to work again.

As he sat there in the first floor back bedroom of the tall London townhouse he felt the emotions well up inside him. It would be easy to put this off again for another day. ‘What’s the point?’ he argued to himself. ‘Where is this taking me?’ But today was different. For the first time since he had received the terrible news of her death in Dubai, Delaney felt strong. The anger and the grief had sublimated and been replaced by a quiet determination to get to the bottom of Derry’s death.

He pulled over the suitcase. She always used the numbers 472 on combination locks and sure enough, the mechanism clicked and the two halves jumped apart under the pressure of the contents. Once again, he felt his stomach heave. It was the smell. It was her, a heady odour cocktail of clothes and perfumes. He stopped for a moment to steady himself before opening the case flat on the floor.

When Fitzgerald, the fellow from the Foreign Office, had come round to deliver the bags, he had told Delaney that they had already been gone through. “I’m sorry, Mr Delaney, but in a situation like this, we had to check everything. The Dubai authorities had seized it all anyway. A few things were taken away, as I am sure you will understand.”

Slowly he unbuckled the straps holding the bulging contents firmly into the two halves. His hands trembled as he carefully lifted out the contents one by one and placed them in a pile by his side – a couple of smart trouser suits, (her preferred outfit when she was travelling in the Middle East), ditto shirts and slips. There was the long blue Chinese silk coat with a vicar’s collar that he remembered buying for her, in Istanbul of all places. He almost smiled to himself. She said it would never fit when she first saw it, but it was perfect.

Suddenly he was back there, in the Sublime Porte. They had stayed at the Yeshil Ev - the Green House, an old Ottoman family home that had been turned into a hotel close by his favourite building in the world, Aya Sophia. Someone had once described the great church-mosque as a giant squatting frog and that appealed to him. The Yeshil Ev’s garden was beautiful, set in high walls around a large fountain. They had sat there planning their routes around the city, taking green tea and Turkish biscuits from superior china off spotless tablecloths.

It was the essence of her that had swept his consciousness out of the room and then, just as quickly, back in again. He realised it himself, almost with a start. He pushed the large case out of the way and reached over to the black grip. Its sturdy zip was locked to a steel ring with yet another combination lock. Click! Click! Click! 4 – 7 – 2. The lock sprang open and he unzipped the bag.

Inside, there was a jumble of bits and pieces – electrical adapters, a torch, three packets of chewing gum (her only vice), a couple of, sunglasses, a make-up bag, a sachet of babywipes, a scarf and a folded desert hat. Once again he smelled her. This time his eyes begin to fill. He let the tears flow and they stopped after a while.

Tucked into one corner of the grip was a familiar face. Mr Brando! Her bloody dolly! (OK, so she had a couple of vices). When she was away she would tease him, telling him at the end of their long distance conversations she was off to spend the night with Mr Brando. In fact, Mr Brando was a knitted sheep. He looked more worn than ever. Some of his stitches were coming undone and had been resewn with white cotton.

He picked up the threadbare comforter and made to place it to one side. He would keep it, he thought. But there was something not quite right. Mr Brando didn’t feel right. He was far too heavy. Delaney began to pull at the loose threads when he felt something slip through his fingers. It was a little blue leather bag. Inside was a heavy gold chain and an expensive-looking business card, its owner’s name boldly embossed, in English on one side, Arabic on the other:

  Dr Omar Haznawi
  CEO
  Gulfport Builders Group
  Dubai, London, New York.

On the back of the card, in a neat hand, was a short handwritten message: ‘Dearest Derry, I hope you find this amusing, Omar’.

Delaney didn’t take it in at first. He was about to put the little bag to one side when suddenly he was hit with the force of a tidal wave. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears. What was some businessman doing giving his wife an expensive piece of jewellery? Nothing was making sense. After nearly 20 years together he couldn’t believe that now, when there was nothing he could do about it, he had discovered an infidelity.

Still reeling from the shock, Delaney made his way downstairs, the little leather bag and its contents in his hand. He sat down at the kitchen table and once again emptied it in front of him. His hands trembling, he held the chain up in front of him. It was a necklace, the gold shimmering in red and yellow. This was no ordinary piece and had clearly come from the gold souk in Dubai, where it must have cost thousands. But it was hopeless trying to understand. The shockwaves of the find were still pulsating through his body and every time he tried to reason it out, his mind began to race.

He desperately tried to put his thoughts in order. It had been three months, almost to the day, since he had received a call at work from someone in the Foreign Office. Derry, his wife of 17 years and an architect with an international clientele, had been killed in Dubai. She had gone to pitch for a contract – fitting out the top two floors of a massive and prestigious new tower block in the oil state. The brief had been very specific – modern, but distinctly Arab. There had been some uncertainty over whether or not the client would accept a female architect, but Derry’s good Arabic, her reputation and, of course, her charm, had won the day.

“It’s going to be a couple of weeks, I’m afraid,” she had told him before she left. Delaney had not been concerned. With no children to worry about, they both lived on the move - he was always too and fro to New York; most of her clients were Arabs, either in the Middle East or in their London and Spanish pied-a-terres.

Ten days later he had received the call from the Foreign Office. Derry had died in a car accident. She had been in a hire car, alone, and had driven off the corniche into a wall at one in the morning. It was as simple as that. Her injuries were not extensive, just a simple bump to the head. But it had been enough to kill her immediately.

The body had been brought back to England, the necessary arrangements made. Delaney had been surprised at the funeral by the presence of a small group of men and women. He recognised none of them. Well dressed, they paid their respects and left just as anonymously as they had arrived.

A week after the funeral he had had the visit from Fitzgerald, who brought the luggage with him. That was the second point at which Delaney’s world began to fold in on itself.

“Look, I know this is going to come as a bit of a shock,” Fitzgerald had told him, “but Derry sometimes did a bit of work for the government. On the side, so to speak.”

Delaney didn’t immediately take in what Fitzgerald was saying. He knew that businessmen were often approached for a friendly word by all sorts of government officials. He too had had the odd approach from suits at the Bank of England or the Department of Trade, asking him if he knew anything about so-and-so. He usually helped if he could, but it was always a bit awkward. Client confidentiality was his bread and butter.

Fitzgerald clocked his indifference, but persisted. “In fact, she was working for us on this trip to Dubai.”

This time he caught Delaney’s attention. “What do you mean she was working for you? Who the fuck are you?”

“Well, it’s a bit difficult to explain in detail. The Foreign Office likes to keep up with developments abroad, particularly when it comes to business opportunities. We asked her to check out a few details about one of her clients. Nothing too drastic, just the usual stuff, you know, associates, that kind of thing. In fact, I have been asked to tell you that Derry has been put up for an honour – a CBE in fact. Would you be willing to accept it on her behalf?”

“Is that why she died? Is that what you have come here to tell me?” Delaney felt his blood begin to boil.

“God no!” replied Fitzgerald. “We have carried out the most extensive forensic tests. The car has been checked over. Blood tests, you know, all that kind of thing. All we can surmise at the moment is that she fell asleep at the wheel, drifted across the road and hit a wall. The Dubai authorities have classed it as an accident.”

At the time, Delaney just couldn’t take it all in. His wife had never mentioned working for the Foreign Office. What was the connection? How long had this been going on? He told Fitzgerald he would get back to him, but today, three months later, he’d done nothing about it.

Now he’d found this chain and the card. What did they mean? What was the “joke”? A thousand thought raced through his mind. Did Omar Haznawi have anything to do with her death? Did he really know his wife? Her death had been hard enough. It had shattered his world. He kept on seeing her face in people in the street. He couldn’t get used to being alone. Every time his mobile rang he checked to see if it was her name on the display. He had withdrawn from his circle of friends. Sure, they still called, anxious to know if everything was alright. Did he want to come to a dinner party? A weekend away in the country? He said no to all of them. First things first. He was going to get to the bottom of what had happened to Derry.

 


posted by Richard @ Monday, September 18, 2006

The Golden Chain - Chapter 2

The British authorities are currently investigating me for allegedly breaking the 1989 Official Secrets Act by writing a novel ("The Golden Chain"), a draft of which they found in my computer which they confiscated from me three months ago.

I have already been prosecuted for breaking the OSA in 1998, when I was convicted of writing a synopsis of my autobiography, "The Big Breach". At my trial, the prosecution witness (John Scarlett, then Head of Operational Security, now CSS) solemnly claimed, in a hushed court with an emptied public gallery, that my synopsis would "gravely damage national security" and "would put agents lives at risk". I was not allowed to call witnesses to challenge these sweeping assertions, and there was no debate as to the veracty of his allegations. As a result, I received a one year sentence in a maximum security jail.

I am not going to let this sort of "secret trial" happen again. Therefore I intend to publish all their "evidence" against me so that a worldwide jury can judge me. Here's chapter two of "The Golden Chain".

 

  Chapter 2

 

Divulje Barracks, Split, Former Yugoslavia, May 1996

 

Kenneth Roberts was well into his third gin and tonic at the bar at Brit Batt HQ in Divulje barracks in Split with a congenial bunch of 845 Naval Air Squadron helicopter pilots when he felt the pager on his belt as it began to buzz.

“Bugger!” What the hell does P5 want at this time of night?”, he thought to himself as slipped the gadget from his belt. Holding the screen up to the light, he could just make out the single word “FLASH”. It was enough to wipe the irritation from his face.

“Sorry boys, I’ll have to buy my round next time”, he announced to his companions amongst a chorus of jeers as he left the bar as hastily as he dared. Making his way through the gloom of Divulje barracks to the block housing his office, Roberts could scarcely prevent himself from breaking into a run. It had been drummed into him on the IONEC more than 20 years before that no matter how urgent the situation, an SIS officer should never run in the office, and it was a hard rule to break, even on a parade ground.

That one word on his pager meant that Roberts was probably in for an unpleasant night. The FLASH message from head office required immediate action. As he flung open the door to the accommodation block he was not in the mood for niceties.

“All right, you lot, get that fucking bag of tricks up and running. Something’s happening.”

Four 602 Troop signallers were gathered around the TV, watching an episode of the Simpsons on Sky. A couple of the SAS sergeants were with them too – they had no satellite in their mess and they would often come around to watch the 602 Troop TV.

“I’ve just got a FLASH” Roberts announced a little breathlessly.

Jon, the 602 Troop sergeant, was straight up on his feet to turn off the television. “I’ll get the comms set up then”. The two SAS guys guessed that they were no longer welcome, and draining the last drops from their tinnies, made for the door.

Roberts didn’t know what would be in the message, but he guessed that it would probably mean a trip up country to Sarajevo. The 12-hour overnight drive through snow, mud and potholes up the decrepit UN “blue route” to Gjorni Vakuf, through the sniper gauntlet in the beaten up frontier town, then onwards to the Bosnian-muslim controlled Sarajevo, was not an appealing thought.

There would be ten minutes while Jon and Tony, the lance corporal, got the satellite locked in, downloaded the transmission and decrypted the message. There was no point in wasting time.

“Bas, Jim, start loading the vehicles – we’ll probably be going up-country.” The station Land Rover Discovery and long wheelbase 110 Landrover Comms vehicle were on permanent standby, fuelled up and with gear for three or four days out in the field. But there were still a lot of extras to load up – light weapons, the “exploding briefcase” that contained the encryption codes, the Trimble GPS sets, comms gear and perishable rations.

Bas and Tony set to work immediately, calling up the armoury to book out their weapons and ammunition. They were loading up their Bergens when Jon came back with the laptop – “It’s received and ready for decryption”. The soldier almost said “Sir” and then remembered who he was addressing. Roberts sat down on the edge of the bunk with the Toshiba laptop and fired up the decryption software. He quickly downloaded the message into a primitive word processing application.

“Shit – we’ve got to exfil HUMBLE from Pale – and by tomorrow night”. Roberts slapped the laptop closed and handed it back to Jon. He was already wishing he had gone a bit easier on the booze in the wardroom with the navy guys. No-one was going to be getting much sleep for the next few days.

Within forty minutes of the FLASH signal, the two vehicles were checking out of Divulje barracks on the exhausting overnight drive up to Sarajevo, arriving at the UNHQ in the old Telecoms building in Sarajevo in the late morning of the following day. Already knackered, Roberts set to work immediately on the most exasperating and difficult part of the plan – getting authorisation from the Bosnian Serbs to cross the frontier just behind Sarajevo airport into their territory to make the half hour journey up to Pale where Karadzic and HUMBLE were based.

This was no small job. HUMBLE was one of the best agents Roberts had working for him. For almost two years he had been an assistant to Karadic, leader of the Bosnia Serbs and up to his neck in a bloody war against the Moslems of Bosnia. These were dangerous times. The Serbs were on the defensive, taking advantage of every opportunity to exact a terrible revenge of the Moslems. But just recently things were not going well for them. They had been suffering defeats on the battlefield. It was the arrival of God knows how many trained Arab fighters from Afghanistan, Chechnya and all over the Middle East that had begun to turn the tide. Already, their death-seeking charges at gun positions had become legendary. The Serbs were finding out the hard way that these sturdy Arab troops, many of whom had seen action against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, were a formidable enemy.

The Dayton peace process was in full swing. The Americans were anxious to bring things to a conclusion in Bosnia. The State Department analysts had done their job well. They knew that the longer the Bosnians fought, the stronger they would get. Already there were disturbing intelligence reports that the Arab hardliners were against a ceasefire. If the Serbs gave up, they would continue to fight against the Americans and NATO.

HUMBLE was Roberts’ eye into the heart of the Bosnian Serb camp. The intelligence he collected had been shared with the US under the terms of longstanding agreements between Britain and the United States and had allowed the US negotiators to outwit the Serbs at almost every turn. His most recent set of despatches were gold dust. He had discovered that Israeli agents from Mossad had been in regular contact with Karadic. There was a deal in place. The Serbian guns that surrounded Sarajevo and daily took a terrible toll of its civilian population would not be trained on the Jewish districts of the city. Serbian troops would be under strict orders not to harm Jewish familes, even if were forced to leave their homes. That’s all Roberts had picked up so far. Now this. Why was HUMBLE calling for an extraction?

All access to Pale, the formerly sleepy farming village perched high in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo that now served as the Bosnian Serb headquarters, was controlled by Major Slobodan Indic, the cantankerous and obstreperous Bosnian-Serb liaison officer. He could usually be found in a smoke-filled ground floor office in the UN PTT building. It was not somewhere to let slip a secret, dripping as it was with covert listening devices from every major intelligence service in the world.

Indic had a direct line to Karadzic's office up in Pale, and nobody could get out of Sarajevo over the entrenched barbed-wire strewn front-lines, past the burnt out hulk of a T52 tank and around the airport and up the road to Pale without his say-so. The power he wielded over the UN was the only way he could survive in the PTT building - some of the locally recruited staff from Sarajevo - mostly Bosnian Muslims - would have slit his throat given half a chance.

Roberts had worked through the HUMBLE exfil plan a dozen times on the drive from Split. He had rehearsed it on the Brecon Beacons in Wales and he knew it by heart. His task now was to convince Indic to let him pass, without unduly exciting him. Indic was not the brightest of fellows, but he was a stickler for the rules. Procedure was everything. That, and a little gift or two usually did the trick.

It was just before 9am when Roberts pulled up in front of Indic’s office. Once again he felt the urge to run as he got out of the Landrover. The sentry gave him a cursory salute and he started down the stairs to the basement.

“Ah Major Indic. Pleasure to see you. Terribly sorry to bother you like this, but we’ve got a bit of a flap on. I need to get through to see Mr Karadzic. It’s an urgent Foreign Office request. I’m not at liberty to discuss with you the nature of the visit, but rest assured it is vital. The Secretary of State leaves for Washington tomorrow morning and we need to seek advice from the President. It’s just me and three of my chaps in two vehicles – for safety. Can’t be too careful can you?”

Roberts raised his eyebrows and Indic smiled wanly in reply. He hoped that Indic would not be smart enough to spot the quiet professionalism of the men waiting out by the vehicles. Two of the 602 Troop signallers were acting as drivers, while the third member of the group was still on his way to Sarajevo. Stan Kovalic was a member of the elite and secretive Increment Unit of highly trained special forces soldiers who provided paramilitary support to SIS officers working in the field.

Kovalich, short and wiry, was an unorthodox member of the Increment. Unlike almost all the others, he had never served in the SAS or the SBS. Instead, he was a veteran 32-year-old member of the Pathfinder platoon of the Parachute Regiment. He had been badly injured in a HALO parachuting accident and had ended up sitting out his convalescence in a senior NCO desk job at RMC Sandhurst. It was while at Sandhurst – overseeing field training for the new officer recruits – that the SIS “spotter” at the college had noticed him and had suggested that SIS take a look at him.

As well as being an excellent tactical soldier, he had rare language skills, ideal for Bosnia. Kovalich's mother was a Serbian nurse who had married a British soldier stationed in Germany in the early ‘seventies. Kovalich spoke Serbian and German to mother tongue standard, and had then learnt Russian at the UK Defence School of Languages at Beaconsfield. Roberts knew Kovalich a little only from the exfiltration plan rehearsals that SIS and the Increment had carried out in the Brecon Beacons. Kovalich would already be on his way out from the UK in the SIS C-130, and Roberts expected him to be on the ground in Sarajevo within the hour.

"So, would you like a drink?", Indic smirked, simultaneously reaching for the bottle of Slivovicz in the bottom drawer of his desk. Even Robert's hardy stomach churned at the prospect of a stiff morning drink of 60% proof cherry brandy after a sleepless night taking shifts at the wheel of the Discovery, but he had to accept the offer or else lose face with Indic, such was the machismo of the typical Balkan male.

"Go on then, make it a double", Roberts replied bravely. Indic’s hand proffered a glass and Roberts tensed his stomach.

"Cheers!".

"Slivoci!", Roberts returned the compliment, and drowned the neat cherry brandy in one gulp. Indic did the same, and nodded his respect to Roberts

"So what can I do for you, my friend". The congeniality was professional. Indic was weighing up the situation.

"We need to get up to Pale - Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, wants to sound out President Karadzic about certain matters relating to the Dayton negotiations. Obviously this is fairly urgent, as he's flying to Washington tomorrow. He's sent out his emissary from London today - what's the chances we can drive up to see the President either this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest?".

"That will be difficult. Very difficult", Indic lied unconvincingly. It was the standard performance, like a ballet almost, each move choreographed and danced to perfection. Roberts knew that Karadzic would grasp at the opportunity for the meeting. He was feeling lonely stuck up in his hill town fortress. He was being frozen out of all the Dayton negotiations and would grasp the chance of a meeting, even with the British.

“I will have to make some inquiries. They could take some time”, Indic lied.

“Listen, Major, I can’t wait about. I want an answer now, if it is not too inconvenient.”

Roberts bent his head closer to the Major’s, as if he was letting him know he was aware of all the bugs in the room.

"It'll all have to done on the quiet if possible”, he continued in a voice just above a whisper. “We don't want news of this contact being leaked to the press - it'll weaken the Foreign Secretary's position with the Americans if they learn he's been in contact with Karadzic".

"Of course, of course, we are always very discreet", Indic lied again, also in a whisper. "But I'm not sure the President will agree to the visit".

Roberts took the hint and reached into his briefcase for the carton of Marlboro Reds and a bottle of Glenfiddich. Indic beamed like a child on his birthday, slipping the gifts in the bottom drawer of his desk. "You are a very honourable man, Mr Roberts. Call back to my office in two hours."

Roberts had plenty to do over the intervening time. The two station vehicles were parked up in the PTT building car park. Jon Downs, the ever-efficient 602 Troop sergeant, already had the thick mud from the overland trip cleaned off and the white vehicles gleaming. No small feat given the paucity of running water in the building. "Do you want the UN stickers off yet?", he enquired eagerly.

"Not yet. I'd better get the French on side before we start plastering Union Jacks all over them. Get me another bottle of whiskey for Captain Chaudron, and set the comms up - I'll need to send a sitrep back to London when I get back.

"Here, take one of the Motorola's with you - give us a shout when we can get the stickers on the vehicles" replied Jon.

Roberts pocketed the portable VHF and set off for the French Ops room in the PTT building. The French army, under UN mandate, controlled the exit from the UN protectorate to the no-mans land before the Serbian positions, and so any transit had to be cleared with them as well as Indic. The French were generally on-side, but inevitably would want to know what two British “UN” vehicles were doing in their sector. It would take some sweet talking with Chaudron - and another gift – to stop too many questions from the UN hierarchy on the passage of a couple of Union Jack-liveried vehicles over the front lines.

Stan Kovalich arrived on the SIS special operations C-130 Hercules just as Roberts was negotiating with Chaudron. Marshall’s of Cambridge had modified the Herc to give it a range well in excess of the standard RAF Hercules’ aircraft, and it would have been easily capable of making the trip from Brize Norton to Sarajevo non-stop. But it had stopped over at the RAF forward operating base in Ancona to load a few palettes of UN aid - mostly bulk foodstuffs such as maize and flour - to give it a UN "cover-story" for the flight into Sarajevo airport.

The elite aircrew - a specially selected RAF Wing Commander and Flight Lieutenant, already expert multi-engine pilots, had also been trained up to full civilian commercial airline standards. They could fly just about anything, civilian or military, in almost any conditions. Just as well, because there was a thick radiative fog over Sarajevo airport. The former civilian airfield had not yet been upgraded to NATO standards, so only Category IIIb rated pilots could hope to land in such poor conditions. It still took the C-130 three circuits before it got in under the 50-foot decision height and 250-foot Runway Visual Range limits. The SIS flight was the only C-130 that was able to land that morning - but a casual observer would have noticed nothing unusual in that.

Kovalich, his wiry frame uncomfortably curled into the webbing seats that ranged down the sides of the aircraft alongside the palettes stacked with UN foodstuffs, certainly did notice the landing. Despite his extensive parachuting experience, he reflected wryly that that he had not experienced a Herc landing more than half a dozen times before. Countless were the times he had shuffled out of the side door on a static-line jump, or for his latter years in the Para’s pathfinder platoon, hurling himself off the back ramp in free-fall. A few times he had ramp-rafted, fixed to the Herc bulwalk by a long line while being dragged along behind the aircraft in the slipstream. He’d won fifty quid in a bet. Fifty bloody quid!

Kovalic still missed the exhilaration of picking himself up off the ground unhurt after a successful jump, but not the stomach-turning dread that every Para suffered - but non admitted to - before going out of the door. Mostly, he missed the camaraderie of the jumps, the good feeling and joking he shared with other members of the platoon after a good operation. His injury had ended that though - he still winced when he thought about it. He'd made a small orientation mistake in a free fall jump, and had got into a brief spin. To his utter amazement, one of his shoulders had dislocated and unable to correct his position, the tumble worsened. Then the second shoulder had popped, leaving him in a head first dive. With no control over his arms, he was unable to release his chute manually and had to wait several agonising seconds before the barometric emergency trigger did the job. He landed with two dislocated shoulders and semi-conscious.

That had been his last jump. He thought he would spend the next few years in a desk job until his career petered out and he became one more slightly soiled ex- special forces hack, doing the tedious rounds as a bodyguard to some spoilt rich kid. But it hadn’t gone like that. After only two years at Sandhurst running the Quartermaster's store, the SIS spotter got to hear about his background and invited him for lunch at an uncomfortably posh restaurant in Covent Garden. He must have passed the knife and fork test, presumably thanks to his mother's annoyingly strict attention to "British" good manners, because induction into the Increment, as SIS's cadre of special operations officers is known, quickly followed. The other recruits were all from the more famous Special Air Service and Special Boat Squadron branches of the British special forces, but they accepted his Pathfinder background without too much ribbing, and indeed he was proud of being being a bit "different". Call it regimental pride, although there was a fair sprinking of Paras in the special forces.

He'd passed the training – four months of learning to use civilian cover, operating with false passports and other ID, learning surveillance skills, anti-surveillance, counter surveillance. He’d enjoyed doing something a little out of the ordinary, being part of the armed wing of MI6. But he had never really felt totally comfortable with all the lies and deception needed to master the tradecraft - the false names, fake credit cards, cover identities. It was all a bit unreal. When it came down to it, the job was usually about getting some prat out of a scrape of his own making. He wondered what his old platoon mates in the Paras would make of him now, decked out in a Savile Row suit and tie, pretending to be a diplomat. Envious probably, he chuckled to himself.

As the Herc came off the brakes and reduced the reverse thrust at the end of its tactical landing run into Sarjevo’s beaten up airport, Kovalich strapped on his helmet and Kevlar vest. The RAF loadmaster had urged him to keep it on for the whole flight, but like most Special Forces soldiers Kovalich couldn’t stand the damned things. Still, it wouldn’t look good for his cover as a supposed desk-bound diplomat if he nonchalantly strolled into the airport without them. As the Herc taxied to a stop, the RAF loadmaster gave the signal to disembark - the roar of the idling Allison turboprops was still too loud for conversation. The loadie would want to get the palettes of rice and flour unloaded as quickly as possible so that the aircraft could get airborne again where it was less of a target for the Serb snipers who enjoyed taking potshots at the planes.

Kovalich grabbed his briefcase and his overnight case containing his field gear and M-16 rifle, sprung agilely off the ramp, stuck his head down and sprinted the few yards for the cover of the airport terminal. Roberts was waiting for him on the apron by the terminal, standing by a wall of sandbags. Good of him to act as decoy for the snipers, Kovalich wryly thought to himself.

“Good to see you again, old boy”, announced Roberts as though they’d been to school together. “I’ve got Indic on side, and Karadzic is expecting us at his office at 1500. The French are playing the game too, and we should have no problems getting through their checkpoints. We’ll get Jon, then have a briefing session over lunch”. Kovalich followed Roberts into the dingy semi-lit bowels of the shell-shocked airport terminal, nodding at the French Foreign Legion sergeant who guarded the airside access, across the sea of mud that constituted the airport car park. Jon was waiting there by the two station vehicles, now both immaculately clean, shorn of their UN decals, and sporting a small Union Jack flag on each wing – just like diplomatic cars.

"Maybe we'll skip lunch", announced Roberts, "I'd rather keep the time in hand in case the Serbs decide to make us wait at the border. Besides, if the French Foreign Legion are still manning the PTT canteen, we won't be missing anything edible - let's roll, we can eat and talk in the car.”

The border crossings both went smoothly - the Legionnaires guarding the airport perimeter did not even come out of their heavily sand-bagged guardhouse to check the leading the small convoy, and raised the barrier remotely without a sign. A few hundred metres later the Serb paramilitaries at the Bosnian-Serb border waived the convoy through with nothing more hostile than a scowl. Once clear of the battle-scarred mud of the airport, the beauty of the countryside around Sarajevo started to reveal itself. The asphalted road wound its way steadily upwards towards Pale, through dripping forest, broken by small unkempt fields and mud tracks leading to unseen farms.

“Not a bad place to live, this", grunted Kovalich, "I'd be happy as a pig in shit here, with my army pension".

Roberts made no comment - ever since he'd met Kovalich on the Increment exercise to rehearse the exfiltration plan, he'd always wondered where his true loyalties lay. Sometimes he seemed to be more Serbian than British. He thought about the old cricket test but realised that Serbians didn’t play cricket.

Despite his reservations, Roberts had learnt to admire Kovalich’s ability and tenacity on the exfiltration rehearsals in the Brecon Beacons. The plan required that Roberts and Kovalic and the 602 troop soldiers get themselves up to Pale with a cover-story. On the way back down to Sarajevo they were to carry out a dead-ground pickup of HUMBLE, and bundle him into the back of the Discovery. It would be too dangerous for HUMBLE to travel in the car across the front lines into Sarajevo, so they would drive him just a short distance to a pre-recced helicopter LZ (Landing Zone). The Increment's long-range Puma helicopter would be on standby on HMS Ark Royal which was on picket duty in the Adriatic. It would come in to the pick-up point at low altitude and take HUMBLE out to the aircraft carrier. Roberts and the rest of the party would then continue down to Sarajevo to complete the charade of their cover story.

The Motorola on the Discovery dashboard suddenly crackled into life: “Look out on the left – Arkan!” squawked Jon from the lead vehicle. Round the next bend, Arkan’s infamous dark green Toyota Landcruiser was parked up in a sideline, instantly recognisable by the skull of a slain Muslim attached to the bonnet. The story was going round that it was the skull of an Afghan Mujahed, who Arkan’s men had capured in a skirmish outside Sarajevo and then tortured to death. Inside the Landcruiser Roberts could just make out Arkan and three other heavily bearded men, glowering contemptuously and suspiciously towards their convoy. When it comes to beards, the Serbs were not to be outdone by the Bosnian Moslems Roberts mused to himself.

He grabbed the Motorola, “Thanks Jon, keep your wits about you – Arkan won’t have been waiting there by chance”.

Tossing the radio back onto the dashboard, he muttered half to Kovalich, half to himself, “That snake Indic must have tipped him off to keep an eye on us – I wonder what else he knows”.

“We’re going to have to watch out for them on the way back down”, Kovalich replied, “especially as this is the pick-up point”. As they rounded a corner, the road suddenly dipped down to cross a rickety wooden bridge over a dirty stream. The bridge would provide cover for the awaiting HUMBLE, and the dip and corners would allow the rapid pickup to take place out of sight of any other traffic that might be on the road. Kovalich reached for the radio and gave a couple of quick taps on the transmit button – the pre-arranged signal to Jon to confirm its identification. The Motorola squawked back two bursts in acknowledgement.

Some twenty minutes later the two white Landrovers swept into the dirty farmyard behind Karadzic’s modest offices in Pale. On this, his sixth journey up the mountain road to Pale, Roberts was surprised to see Karadzic himself waiting in the welcoming party, taller and more distinguished looking than his companions, instantly recognisable from the thick, full head of greying hair, but still your bog standard East European autocrat. Roberts amused himself by imagining Karadzic getting up in the morning and starting to put his hair in order. What a bloody performance!

Standing next to him were two of his advisers. It only took an instant for Roberts to realise that one of them was HUMBLE. He had never met the man, but felt like he had known him all his life. He knew that HUMBLE’s life depended on what happened over the next few hours. The welcoming party was completed by two macho-looking bodyguards clutching Uzi submachine guns.

“He must badly want to see us”, Roberts murmured to Kovalich as they clambered out of the Discovery, “I reckon we must be the only western officials who’ve condescended to meet him for the past two years”.

“I wouldn’t bet on that”, retorted Kovalich gruffly. “Those Uzis look brand new”, he observed astutely. “Somebody has been supplying them”. Kovalich was on the ball, thought Roberts, and it looked like it backed up the CX from HUMBLE about covert Mossad support for Karadzic. He made a mental note to fire that off to P5 in a CX report once he was back down in the office in Split.

As Karadzic led Kovalich into his offices, speaking to him in Serbian, Roberts hung back. He gave HUMBLE a discreet three finger handshake – the agreed signal that the exfiltration plan was on. Both men knew that half an hour after the scheduled meeting, H/BEL – the senior SIS officer in Belgrade – would ring HUMBLE’s mobile phone from a payphone in Belgrade. HUMBLE would use the call as cover to excuse himself from the meeting, citing an important call from a newspaper editor in Belgrade, and make his way to the extraction RV.

Karadzic led Roberts and Kovalich through into his large office which commanded a splendid view over Pale and down the valley.

“That must be an uplifting view for you to see every morning”, Roberts said, hoping to engage Karadzic in small talk.

Karadzic paused, and retorted “I’d rather be in Sarajevo, where I belong”. Karadzic, as Roberts had rightly guessed, was not in the mood for either small talk nor any realistic concessions on the Dayton plan. And so it proved as the meeting unfolded. Karadzic stuck to his wildly optimistic and deeply divisive plans for ethnic partition of Bosnia, which would clearly never be a negotiable solution. Kovalich played along with Karadzic, taking copious notes and asking him to repeat certain points, as if to emphasise their credibility. Like Roberts, he knew the meeting was a figleaf to provide cover for HUMBLE – but he had to seem a credible British emissary, impressing Karadzic with his knowledge of the political and ethnic makeup of Bosnia and listening in sympathy as the Serb railed on about the dangers of Islam and the need to protect the Christian homeland.

The seconds and minutes passed slowly as Roberts waited for the call from Belgrade to HUMBLE’s cellphone. HUMBLE, real name Edin Dmitrovic, was very, very good. Only the slightest of tremors in his hand gave away his desperate circumstances. He knew that within a few hours his betrayal would be discovered. He would be given over to Arkan, whose men would flay him alive or worse. He had seen what they could do to a man. Or for that matter, to a woman.

The call came bang on time. Roberts tried not to give anything away, but could not resist exchanging a glance with Kovalic. He almost immediately regretted it, but HUMBLE had got up from the table and was making his excuses to Karadzic, who waved him away with a hand gesture. Roberts, aware of his own faux pas, watched carefully for any eye contact between Karadzic and HUMBLE – he was not entirely convinced of his loyalty. It was an occupational hazard. Another reason that he wanted out. Noboby was ever what they seemed in this business and it could get to you. He glanced at his watch – the RV would take place in exactly an hour – that would mean half an hour to wrap up the meeting, and half an hour for farewells and the drive down to the bridge.

 


posted by Richard @ Monday, September 18, 2006

The Golden Chain - Chapter 3

When I started to write "The Golden Chain", I wrote to MI6 and told them that I would offer the manuscript for examination before publishing. They didn't reply but have responded by confiscating indefinitely my computers. Indeed, I now wonder whether they themselves posted the obviously fake MI6 lists on the internet, in order to have an excuse to obtain a warrant against me. This sort of sneaky trick is not untypical of them - I suppose I should have considered that they might respond in this way. Anyway, I now think it entirely in my interest to publish "The Golden Chain" as soon as possible on the Internet so that they cannot use leverage with the French police to get me arrested. They can easily get a warrant to arrest me by falsely representing my novel to the French police - but if the "evidence" is on the Internet, the French authorities can judge for themselves. So here is Chapter 3:

  Chapter 3

 

Two days later Delaney received a call. It was Fitzgerald. “Listen, I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but something’s come up. Would you mind if I came round to see you?”

Delaney thought it must be something to do with the CBE. Perhaps it had to be sorted out. He’d done nothing about it and was feeling a little guilty. “Sure, can you make it tonight?” Fitzgerald agreed and they arranged to meet at 8pm.

The shock of the events two days before was still pre-occupying Delaney. Sometimes he would dismiss all speculations and feel that he was content with himself. Derry had died in a tragic accident and that was all there was to it.

Other times he was consumed with doubts. Had she been seeing this Omar? Was she his lover? He went over everything time and time again. He remembered the calls she had made to him. The first time was just after she arrived, when he was in New York. It had been a brief call and she had sounded full of energy. It was a big contract- money no object - and she was sure she would win it. She was going to suggest a near replica of the Shawaka House in Baghdad, built on two floors with a central well and a beautiful marble pond. The rough ground plan and layout had come from that trip to Baghdad all those years ago. She knew where she could obtain some wonderful old Ottoman wooden screens and had brought photographs with her of the fabrics she intended to hang on the walls. It was the kind of thing her Arab clients loved, paying homage to the past, but with all the latest electronic fixtures. And to top it all, it would be built forty-plus storeys in the sky.

The next call had been three or four days later, early in the evening at home. He remembered because she called on the mobile expecting him to be at work. He’d been due to have dinner with a client, but it had been cancelled at the last moment and Delaney decided to get home early for once.

“Well, I’ve not actually met the client,” she had said, “just his bagmen. No request for a backhander yet, but there’s plenty of time.” Derry knew the way business was done in the Gulf. There was always someone to pay off, to grease the wheels of industry.

“Yea, that’s fine,” said Delaney, knowing she had her tongue firmly in her cheek, “but don’t forget this all has to go through your books. When do you get to see the big man?”

“The day after tomorrow. We’ve got a meeting planned for early morning. I’ll call you after that.” That night, she had told him, she had been at an official function, organised by the British business community. “It was dull as ditchwater - you know, expats and diplomats, the usual motley crew of misfits and blaggers.”

Her final call had come as promised. It was Tuesday lunchtime. Derry sounded a little less sure of herself. The meeting with Sheikh Omar Haznawi had gone well, but he wanted a second meeting to discuss details.

“Is everything alright?” Delaney asked, picking up on the tension in her voice.

“Sure, it’s just that…oh, I don’t know, Stephen. I think this place gets to you after a while. I can’t feel anonymous here. Maybe it’s because I am a woman on my own. Perhaps it’s Haznawi’s people keeping an eye on me. It’s probably nothing. Anyway, I’ll be out of here in a few days, probably home on Saturday. I’ll call you when I know for sure.”

Delaney had thought nothing of it at the time. Derry was an experienced traveller. They hadn’t spent a lot time together in recent months and he made a mental note to talk to her about a much-postponed holiday with friends in Brittany. If she got the commission in Dubai, it would be the perfect refresher before she had to get down to the hard work of final drawings and discussions with builders and suppliers.

The final call had never come. According to the Foreign Office she had died on the Friday night. What was she doing out in a car at one in the morning on the night before she was due to leave? Why hadn’t she called? Why hadn’t she mentioned the gold chain? Once again, Delaney could feel his mind beginning to rush in ever tighter circles. He stopped himself for the umpteenth time. Friends had told him that what he was going through was to be expected. An unexpected death of someone very close - nothing ever quite added up.

Delaney was stirred out of his thoughts by the door bell. Looking at his watch he saw it was just before eight. Was that the time already? It must be Fitzgerald, he thought.

“Hello Stephen, thanks for agreeing to see me at such short notice.” Delaney led him into the front room. “What can I get you to drink?” he asked. He didn’t really like Fitzgerald very much. The man was not objectionable. It was just that he couldn’t stand that highly cultivated air of assumed superiority that the Foreign Office seemed to inculcate in its staff. It might be fine for dealing with Johnny Foreigner, but it grated with him.

“Well, a scotch and water wouldn’t go amiss,” replied Fitzgerald. Clearly he had something important to say. This was not just a social visit. Delaney fixed the drinks and when he returned to the room saw Fitzgerald standing in front of one of the pictures. It was an etching by Sir Frank Brangwyn, one of a series he had completed in 1908 in Istanbul. In the foreground was an ornate fountain, while looming in the background was that giant squatting frog, Aya Sophia. He had bought it for Derry years ago. It was one of her favourites.

To Delaney’s surprise, Fitzgerald knew the artist. “Amazing chap, Brangwyn, wasn’t he? Bit of a socialist from what I recall. Have you ever seen the Empire panel paintings he did for the House of Lords in the twenties? Their lordships felt they were a bit too much and they ended up in Swansea town hall from what I remember.”

After a few more pleasantries the two men sat down. Fitzgerald was nervous, sipping his drink and avoiding eye contact. He asked if he could smoke and Delaney fetched an ashtray. “I’ll get to the point, Stephen. Naturally, we were devastated to hear about D…” Fitzgerald was about to say Derry, when he pulled himself up… “Mrs Delaney’s death. We have made extensive inquiries. I’m afraid I have to tell you that we now believe that something isn’t right.”

Fitzgerald looked up, only fleetingly, catching Delaney’s eye for an instant. Delaney caught a flicker of uncertainty.

“Look, I know this is going to come as a bit of a shock,” Fitzgerald continued, “and you already know that your wife was doing some work for us. The truth is that she was a bit more involved than I previously led you to believe. In fact, she was central to a very important inquiry that the Foreign Office has been conducting for some time.”

Delaney braced himself. What was coming? He felt his fingers stiffen against the whisky glass and his stomach muscles tighten up. He wanted to curse, to shout at Fitzgerald. To ask him to explain the necklace, the strange people at Derry’s funeral, the CBE. What was going on?

“This was not the first time she had worked for us,” Fitzgerald continued, apparently unaware of the emotions he was stirring up. “In fact, she had been with us for a number of years…”

“What are you saying – that she was some kind of spook?” Now there was no mistaking his anger.

“I’m sorry, Stephen, please bear with me. None of this is very easy for either of us. Derry” – this time Fitzgerald had no hesitation in using her name – “was a very skilled woman. Her language skills and access to people in the Middle East meant she was ideally placed to assist with some very sensitive inquiries. She was always very helpful and never asked for payment. And she was under strict instruction never, under any circumstances, to reveal to anyone what she was doing.

“For some time we have been working to identify a group of wealthy Arabs who are thought to be major funders of al-Qaeda. Names first surfaced on a list that was found in Sarajevo a couple of years ago. You may have heard about it. It was called the Golden Chain – a bit melodramatic, in my opinion. That original list has turned out to be pretty useless, but we know there is a second list in existence, a real list. These are people who have given millions to Osama and to God knows who else. We have very good reason to believe that Haznawi, the person she went to see in Dubai, is close to the top of that list. Haznawi is known to have spent two years in Afghanistan in the late eighties, fighting against the Russians. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I spent a few months there myself at about that time. But we found out recently that there has been a bit of a bust-up amongst the Brothers, the Islamists. Haznawi has apparently fallen out with some of his former comrades who are now in Iraq. He’s personally opposed to the killing of non-combatants, you know, the dozens of people every day that are being hit by car bombs, random shootings, targeted executions and so on. Our assessment is that under the right circumstances he can be turned. Of course, it’s very delicate. He’s under pressure.”

Delaney listened as Fitzgerald slowly filled in the gaps. His heart had missed a beat when he had mentioned the Golden Chain. Was it a coincidence, the chain in her luggage and the business card with its cryptic message? He decided for the moment not to mention it to Fitzgerald.

“So what are you saying? That she was knocked off because you got your calculations wrong? You’re telling me that you sent my wife to negotiate with a known Islamic nut case, on her own, in a foreign country? Are you fucking mad, or what?” Delaney’s eyes were blazing. He felt betrayed, cuckolded almost.

“The truth is that we don’t know exactly what happened to Derry. We know she was due to meet Haznawi on the Friday night and that she was feeling very good about the meeting. She died on the way back. But the thing we have not yet been able to explain is why it was so late when she was found. The meeting was scheduled for eight in the evening. We have good evidence that she left the building shortly after nine. She got into a car and that, I’m afraid to say, is the last that was seen of her until the blow to her head ambulance service picked her up about four miles away at one in the morning. The police say the car crashed less than 20 minutes before then.”

“There’s one other thing,” Fitzgerald continued, “it wasn’t the blow to the head that killed her. I’m afraid the initial medical assessment was a bit shoddy. But we had a bit of luck in the Autopsy department - the officers noticed that her last meal was a spicy curry, but thought nothing of it since she had just dined with an Arab. But there was new young Indian chap on duty, and his suspicions were alerted. Delaney said nothing, and Fitzgerald continued “He examined some more and under the microscope noticed what looked to him like Cerbera Odollam kernels in the remains of the stomach contents. Apparently the plant – which grows widely on the sub-continent – contains a toxin similar to Digoxin in foxgloves which stops the heart immediately. Our coroners know to test for Digoxin – but we don’t normally check for exotics like Cerbera Odollam. But our young coroner knew all about it, because Indian men often use it to get rid of unfaithful wives.”

“How long have you known this? You wouldn’t have let me bury her if there was any doubt!” Delaney was now resigned, knowing that there were forces at work here much larger than he could contemplate.

“We were almost sure within days. But it wasn’t until yesterday that we knew for sure – the poison can only be detected by by high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry to examine autopsy tissues for traces of the plant – and that sort of stuff takes a while for the labs to complete. Coincidentally, it was not until yesterday that we also found a reliable witness who had seen her leave the meeting with Haznawi at about nine. Under normal circumstances she would have called one of our people within minutes of getting into her car. That call never came. We have to consider the possibility she was abducted, killed somewhere else and that the crash was made to look like an accident. It was very professional.” Fitzgerald took a long swig of scotch and Delaney refilled the glass.

“I haven’t said this before,” Fitzgerald continued, “but I knew Derry. She was very highly respected in the Foreign Office. I have been asked to convey the Foreign Secretary’s deepest commiserations. I know it probably won’t mean a lot to you at this particular moment, but we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this. Haznawi has been interviewed. Of course, we have nothing on him. His alibi is secure and he is very well protected out there. You don’t rise to the top of that particular little shitpile without knowing how to cover your back. Beyond that we don’t have a lot at the moment. It could have been someone looking to damage Haznawi or it could have been one of his henchmen. Either way, we will crack it.”

Fitzgerald had one final request. “Because of the way this has developed, I’m afraid I must ask you if we can have Derry’s luggage back. They want to go through everything from top to bottom. Would you mind?”

Delaney tried not to look concerned. “It’s upstairs. I’ll go and get it for you. You’re lucky, I was going to get rid of most of it”, he said. He had already decided not to tell Fitzgerald about the chain and the card. He felt bitter and angry. Why should he trust these people? Whoever had killed Derry, they had not been able to protect her. They had not told him the truth and who knows if he was now hearing the full story. At least he now knew who those people were at the funeral. He quickly went upstairs, hurriedly packed the clothes back into the cases and brought them down with him.

“Look, I know this has been very hard on you,” Fitzgerald, “and I know a little of what you must be feeling. Derry was a fantastic person and she won’t be forgotten.

“One final thing,” he added as Delaney showed him towards the door. “Everything I’ve said is between you and me. I’d be grateful if you could keep it that way. The last thing we need is the press crawling all over this. I’ll keep in touch and let you know of any further developments. If you need anything, please call me.”

 


posted by Richard @ Monday, September 18, 2006 [Chapters 4-8.]

The Golden Chain - remaining chapters

Here's the remaining chapters of "The Golden Chain". I want to get them up on the Internet quickly before the police can start tricking the French authorities into arresting me. I've also written to the French police to give them a link to this blog, so that they can look at the evidence themselves rather than relying on a highly exaggerated international warrant from the British police. This is just a draft, and it is not finished yet, so don't start picking holes in it yet! And this is all I have done so far, I have no more chapters.

  Chapter 4

 

The hills above Sarajevo, May 1995

 

The drive back down the valley was silent and tense in the gloomy dusk. Tony was at the wheel of the Discovery, Kovalich in the fornt seat, Roberts in the rear ready to bundle HUMBLE down onto the floor of the vehicle. Bas and Steve were in the heavy Comms vehicle, which for once was able to keep up with the more powerful Discovery down the long descent back to Sarajevo. Kovalich was struggling in the front seat to pull on his field boots and his paramilitary webbing, and a waxed barber jacket, throwing his suit jacket and smart shoes into the back of the vehicle.

“Well I tell you something. I won’t forget that in a hurry,” said Kovalich. “Talk about weird. With just a few out of place words, I could have started World War Three in there. You now what, as we were leaving, he told me to do my duty as a Serb! Bloody cheek!”

Kovalich slapped an ammo clip into his M-16 rifle, which Roberts noted had been modified to accept the SUSAT telescopic sight from the SA80. Such hybrid weapons were a popular choice amongst the Increment team. Roberts fingered his Browning 9mm, tucked in its side holster. He’d never been much good at using it on the IONEC training, and he envied Kovalich’s ease with weapons. By now he was very tired and not looking forward to the prospect of a long journey back to Sarajevo, only cheering up at the thought of an evening in the bar once they made it back to the base.

“Shit, we’ve got company!” Tony shouted as he braked urgently to avoid a battered white VW Golf which accelerated out of a side-lane, looming into the Discovery’s headlights.

Kovalich reacted instinctively to the danger, grabbing the Motorola.

“Jon, overtake us, we need you up front – we’ll have to hang back for the pickup”, he barked urgently. Tony slowed to let the 110 catch up and pass. “Hopefully it’s just a farmer whose had too much Slivovics”, Kovalich growled,

“But we’ll not take any chances”. Tony slowed further to drop well back from the Golf and 110 .

“We’ll do the pickup without rear cover”, Kovalich ordered into the Motorola. Jon acknowledged with two bursts.

The team had practised the pickup ad nauseum in the Brecon Beacons – they could get the agent into the backseat barely stopping the car – but nevertheless it was better to have rear-cover to stop any stray passing cars from getting too close. But with the paucity of traffic, the risk was limited.

There was only a few hundred metres to go now. Roberts moved into position ready to throw open the rear door. The Motorola clicked with a double burst from Jon.

“He’s passed the RV – good lad”, muttered Kovalich, ‘Get ready – next corner”. The Discovery swung down, round the steep descending turn, across the bridge, halting abruptly just after the bridge. Tony extinguished the lights as Roberts simultaneously threw open the rear door and Kovalich sprang out of the vehicle, hauling HUMBLE up the bank from under the bridge and throwing him into the back of the vehicle. Roberts pushed him unceremoniously down onto the floor and Tony was underway again in a matter of seconds.

“Get your foot down, we need to be back up behind Jon” ordered Kovalich, simultaneously stabbing a couple of bursts into the radio to let the lead vehicle know that the pickup was successful.

The Discovery was soon back on the tail of the 110, which was still being held up by the slowly meandering Golf.

“Jon, you need to overtake”, Kovalich ordered into the Motorola. But it was too late. Somewhere behind them, further up the hill, headlights from another vehicle could clearly be seen.

“There’s a couple of vehicles behind us,” Kovalich stated as matter of factly as he could. “They’re moving at speed and I think it’s best we assume they are hostile.” The lead vehicle was now no more than 150metres back up the road. Roberts craned his neck to try to pick out its details against the glare from its headlights. He could just make out the outline of a heavy roof rack.

“Shit – I think it may be Arkan”, Roberts said quietly.

“Well, we’re taking no chances”, Kovalich announced. “Jon, take out the Golf!”, he ordered urgently into the Motorola. 602 Troop had been well versed in offensive driving, and Jon knew what to do. Gunning the diesel, he accelerated firmly into the back of the Golf, intending to force it off the road. Suddenly, the rear window of the Discovery caved in under a barrage of shots.

“Get down!’ screamed Kovalich, twisting around in the front seat and opening up over the heads of Roberts and HUMBLE with a deafening burst from his M-16. “Floor it Tony!”, The V8 Discovery accelerated fast, swerving around the 110 which was now half on the road, half in the ditch, it’s nose buried in the side of the Golf. Kovalich continued to give covering fire in short bursts through the back window, as the Discovery accelerated away urgently from the danger.

“Christ! I hope Jon and Bas are ok”. Tony spoke out first to break the silence. “They’ll have to look after themselves”, Kovalich replied tersely. “Our job is to get the passenger out – how’s he doing?” HUMBLE was still huddled face down on the floor – “I’m OK”, he replied weakly after a pause. “Just make sure that bastard Arkan does not get his hands on me.”

“Just hang in there, Edin, we’ve not got far to go until we get to the LZ”, Kovalich replied in a calm voice that exuded confidence.

“OK, OK, but this is very big importance. I got everything. You get me out this fuckin’, bloody mess!”. Roberts’ ears pricked up. What was Dmitrovic talking about?

“I risk my fuckin’ neck for all this. I want you get me out of here. I got everything. I piss on that bastard. You don’t know what they do. They kill, they fuckin’ kill. They kill you, they kill me...”

“OK, that’s enough. No-one’s gonna get killed. Just chill it, we’ll be there soon.” Kovalich switched to Serbian and Dmitrovic began to quieten down.

“What are you saying?,” Roberts said, uncomfortable that he was so reliant on this soldier, for now that he was in his camo gear, that’s what he looked like.

“Don’t worry, He knows the score. My Bosnian's not bad but there's something I don't quite understand. Something about 'Imam Zlatny Lanac'. What’s he on about? Is that a person?”

“No idea. Let’s worry about that later”, said Roberts. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”

Tony was still gunning the Discovery down the gloomy lanes, now with the headlights off to evade the pursuer. He tried the Motorola, but there was no reply from the other vehicle. They were on their own now.

“We should be coming to the turn off in one click from here”, Kovalich announced, studying the waterproof map with a red-dimmed pencil torch. “500 metres after the next bend”.

Tony slowed the Discovery. “Any moment now – here – left here”. Tony swung the Discovery into a mud track, which descended rapidly, then swung round a muddy corner.

“Stop now!” Kovalich ordered abruptly.

“But the LZ is another three clicks’, Roberts quavered.

“Yes, but we’ll never make it if Arkan’s men are right up our arses. They’ll take out the chopper and us too. Get out of the vehicle and up the bank”. Kovalich leapt from the vehicle, deftly slipping another clip into the M-I6.

“Tony, you and me, we’ll take up an ambush position on the bank. If Arkan comes down here he’ll be blocked by the Discovery and we’ll take him out. Roberts – you get the passenger down the lane as far as you can to the LZ”.

Kovalich and Tony quickly settled into a listening watch, lying prone with their weapons cocked and in automatic mode, in a perfect ambush OP on the top of a bank, some fifteen metres from the Discovery. If Arkan came round the blind corner, he would be forced to a halt by the Discovery, and even if he had more weapons and grenades he would have difficulty in escaping their concentrated firepower.

“You take the back seat guys – I’ll take the driver and Arkan”, Kovalich whispered to Tony.

The growl from Arkan’s Landcruiser grew closer. “Good – he’s still gunning after us”, Tony whispered, relishing the action. Kovalich didn’t reply, listening intently. “There’s more than one vehicle – this could be a shitfight”. The growl grew in crescendo, but then the pitch changed.

“They’ve missed the turnoff”, Tony replied hesitantly, “Let’s go and catch up with the others”.

“No, wait!” Kovalich snapped back, “I’ll say when”.

There had been total silence for ten minutes before Kovalich gave the go-ahead to move. Quickly they slithered down the bank onto the path. “Rip the tyre valves out – we’re all taking the chopper home now and the car is better off left blocking the track”. Kovalich and Tony worked quickly to flatten the tyres, slicing into the valves with their bukc knives. Soon the two soldiers were in a brisk trot to catch up with the others.

Roberts and HUMBLE were waiting in the middle of the small clearing some three clicks down the track that had been identified as the helicopter LZ. Kovalich was mildly relieved that Roberts had been able to find the LZ without his help, but irritated that he had so little fieldcraft that he was standing out in the open in the middle of the LZ.

"Get over here under cover, you pricks", Kovalich hissed. Kovalich had far more confidence in Tony, who despite being from the Sig Corps, was proving a switched on soldier. “The chopper RV is at 2000 zulu", he whispered to Tony, "we’ve twelve minutes to set up the NATO T”.

Kovalich and Tony worked quickly to set out a simple T marker pattern on the LZ, using small infrared directional beacons. The Increment pilots would be flying in full night vision goggles and the beacons – invisible to the naked eye – would allow the pilots to judge their final approach.

With the beacons in position, Kovalich and Tony took up a defensive listening watch, lying prone in the damp pine leaves, rifles at the ready should Arkan's men reappear. Minutes passed, the silence broken only by drops of water falling from the fog-laden pine trees. An attempt by Roberts to make small talk to HUMBLE was rapidly silenced by an irate Kovalich. A dog bayed in the distance. Kovalich instinctively tensed, glancing over to Tony. Tony cupped his hand to his ear, to signal that he had heard it too. The dog barked again, this time closer. Kovalich glanced at his Casio – still five minutes to go.

The seconds ticked by interminably. The dog barked increasingly excitedly, and Kovalich guessed that they could only be a kilometre or so away, probably hot on their trail down the muddy lane. If they had not blocked the track with the Discovery, they would probably already be on them. He started to tense, but knew that the Increment pilots would be within a second or so of the RV time - it never ceased to amaze him how they could turn up so punctually. With thirty seconds to go, Kovalich heard for the first time the distinctive thud thud of a heavy helicopter, and turned, cupping his hand to his ear as he did so.

“They’re here”, Roberts hissed excitedly, “Let's get ready on the LZ!”.

“Stay down” Kovalich ordered angrily. His face furrowed as he listened intently to the noise of the approaching helicopter.

“That’s not our Puma – it’s coming from the North, he’s travelling too slow, and there’s only one helicopter that thuds like that - it's a fucking Hip! They’ve got air support – let’s move!!!”.

The AEW Sea King holding over Ark Royal, it's airborne radar scanning the Bosnian Serb territory for any illegal aircraft movements, would have picked up the Bosnian Serb Mi-8 Hip helicopter, and the Increment Puma would have been alerted and immediately aborted the pickup. The crew would have already reverted to the fallback plan to try the exfil again exactly two hours later at the ERV (Emergency RV) LZ. For the helicopter crew, that just meant a few hours sipping tea on the Ark Royal, but for Kovalich and his team it meant a cross country hike around the mountain, scrambling through the undergrowth and fording several streams. The tab would be easy for a fit soldier, but he could see that it would be hard going with Roberts and HUMBLE, neither who looked like they were used to an outdoor life.

Kovalich grabbed HUMBLE by the shoulder, pulling him away from the LZ and into cover. Roberts flung himself down besides them, panting heavily. Tony stayed in his defensive position on the LZ, ready to give covering fire to the others as they retreated into cover, should Arkan make an appearance. As soon as they were on the other side of the LZ, Tony knew that Kovalich would be lying prone, ready to give covering fire for his retreat. Leaping to his feet, he started to run, crouched as low as he could, back to the copse where the others were sheltering. The dogs bayed again, and in a rasp of automatic fire, Tony crashed to the ground, his skull split apart by a Kalashnikov round. More gunfire erupted, the bullets whizzing by into the undergrowth.

“They’ve got at least five or six weapons there! “We’re on the move. Go!” Heavily outnumbered, Kovalich realised that there was no point in returning fire. They would be outflanked. Their only hope now was to turn and run headlong downhill, away from the pursuers. HUMBLE looked panic striken, clutching at his small shoulder bag. Roberts cursed himself and grabbing hold of HUMBLE’s arm, half-pushed, half-dragged him down the steep escarpment. Kovalich brought up the rear, stopping every so often to loose off a few bursts of automatic fire.

As quick as they could they made their way down the mountain, crashing through the undergrowth, branches lashing their faces. The dogs were not far behind. Roberts and HUMBLE slid down a small bank and found themselves in a stream.

“Thank fuck for that!” Roberts exclaimed. He had remembered enough of his training to know that the stream would help them shake off the dogs. The three men waded into the shallow water and quickly moved downstream, slipping off the rocks more than once in the process. The sound of the dogs grew fainter, but they didn’t let up, Kovalich pushing the others as hard as he could, whispering words of encouragement, but never letting up on his guard.

Suddenly the stream seemed to disappear. Roberts pushed ahead to see a huge drop below them. A small pool lay at the bottom, the full spate of the stream cascading over the rocks. Kovalich pushed past the two men.

“OK, it’s simple. It’s about 12 metres. From what I can see, the water is deep enough to absorb most of the fall. We’re gonna have to take our chances.

“Roberts, you go first. Edin, you next. I’ll follow you two.”

“Christ! You know, sometimes I am so fucking sick of this job.” Roberts was more resigned that angry. With that, he leaped over the ledge and crashed into the pool below. It was three or four second before he surfaced and gave the thumbs up.

“Ok, Edin, your turn.” The agent was clearly terrified, but he had done the calculation.

“I rather die like this than with Arkan’s boys,” he said. He crossed himself, muttered something in Serbian and clutching his shoulder bag, he jumped. There was a sickening crunch and Kovalich knew something had gone wrong. He looked down and saw the Serbian’s body lying headfirst in the water. He hadn’t jumped out far enough and one of his legs had caught on an outcrop just above the pool, sending the upper part of his body crashing into the rocks on the waterline. Blood from a huge gash across the top of his head was draining into the pool.

“I think he’s done for,” Roberts shouted. “He’s a complete mess.”

Kovalich jumped immediately. Every excrutiating detail that last parachute jump flew through his mind, his arms twitching involuntarily as he relived the pain. Then there was a crash as he hit the water.

The icy black water momentarily stunned and disorientated Kovalich. As he spluttered to the surface, his first thought was for his rifle which had been ripped from his grip in the fall. It would be impossible to recover it from the deep water at the foot of the waterfall. At least the headlong charge down the stream would probably have thrown the dogs off the trail, and Arkan’s men would not be determined enough, nor equipped, to descend the waterfall.

He was safe. He waded over to where Roberts was standing in front of HUMBLE.

“Right, we’ve got sort this out quickly,” said Roberts. Where’s his bag? He’s dead sure enough. Help me lift him down.”

The two men struggled to pull the Serb off the rocks and lay him out close to the base of the waterfall. Kovalich found his bag after a couple of minutes and waded back to the muddy bank where he had left Roberts. To his surprise and disgust, Roberts was sitting up, delving into his small backpack.

“Thanks for the help”, Kovalich snarled sarcastically. Roberts replied with a long swig from his hipflask, not even looking Kovalich in the eye.

“Put that away, you arse, we’ve got to move from here fast”, Kovalich ordered.

“And hand over your pistol, it’ll be a fat lot of good in your hands”.

“Who the hell are you to order me around”, Roberts turned angrily, wiping his lips on the back of his hand, his sallow face flushed with anger.

“You’re not in charge here, it’s me that takes the decisions”.

Kovalich bristled, but kept his silence - he knew that he would come off worse in any verbal argument with Roberts.

“So keep watch while I work out how to get to the ERV”, he snarled back at Roberts. Kovalich knew it would be unproductive to waste time scoring points with him. His priority now was to try to get to the ERV in time for the second attempt by the Increment Puma. Moving up the bank under the cover of some overhanging branches, he carefully laid down HUMBLE’s bag and swiftly unfolded his poncho from his webbing. Soon he was studying the map, head under the shelter of the poncho to shield the dim red light of his pencil torch. He cursed that in the headlong rush from the LZ, that he had not taken an accurate bearing with his Silva compass. He estimated that they had run about a click and a half before hurtling over the waterfall. But the detail on the map was very poor, and even the stream was not marked.

Kovalich delved into his webbing, and pulled out the Trimble handheld GPS that had just been issued to the Increment. He marvelled at the technical wizardy of the gadget, but was mistrustful of its accuracy. During trials on the Brecon Beacons, the position had sometimes been more than 100 metres out. The boffins from RARDE (Royal Armaments Research and Development) had explained that the yanks had deliberately diluted the accuracy of any non-US military sets). The unit took several minutes to lock on to the satellites. Kovalich read off the position, related it to the map, and made a quick assessment of the route to the ERV. It would take an hour of hard tabbing to make it.

Kovalich emerged from under the poncho, blinking as his eyes readjusted to the dark. Kovalich snapped at the sight of Roberts sitting astride a falling log, with the contents of HUMBLE’s bag strewn in front of him.

“You were supposed to be keeping a look out, you useless bastard”, Kovalich snapped angrily. “Put that gear away – you’ll have time to examine it when we’re back home”. Roberts ignored him, staring intently into his cupped hands. “You and I don’t need to worry about home”, he eventually murmured, “come and look what we have here”. Kovalich was irked to obey even a request from Roberts, but his curiousity got the better of him, and begrudgingly he scrambled up the bank to Robert’s position.

“What was it that HUMBLE was going on about? It it good stuff? Maps, documents?” said Kovalic.

“Close, but not quite,” said Roberts as he drew open a leather pouch he had found in the bottom of the shoulder bag. He pulled back the top and the light caught a shimmering mass.

“Diamonds! Hundreds of bloody diamonds!” Kovalic rubbed his eyes as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

 

 


  Chapter 5

 

The days following Fitzgerald’s visit were not easy for Delaney. He found himself slipping in and out of pointless speculations. Endless questions carouselled around him. He didn’t shave, he didn’t eat properly. Colleagues from the bank called and he tried to convince them that he was on the mend, that he would be back soon. But in his heart, he knew he would never return. His career had died along with Derry.

He thought about going down to the south of France and spending some time on his yacht, the Double Digit, bought on the back of a particularly good bonus. But gnawing away at him were all the unanswered questions about Derry’s death. He was going to find out everything he could about Omar Haznawi - aka Omar Abu Walid - and the Golden Chain.

The easiest place to start was on-line. There was no shortage of references. Interleaved between the websites of motels and jewellery stores were plenty of articles setting out the history of the controversial list. Originally seized by the Bosnian police during a raid on the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation in Sarajevo in March 2002, the list had been part of a file called Tareekh Osama – Osama’s History.

Part of an archive of documents on the formation of al-Qaeda transported to Bosnia by Islamist veterans of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, the Golden Chain document was a single, handwritten sheet of paper. It purported to list twenty of bin Laden’s most important financiers. The list included six bankers and twelve businessmen, including two former ministers. Two of the names on the list have never been identified.

The wealth of these donors was huge, Delaney thought to himself. Their cumulative corporate net work was more than $85 billion. They owned or controlled 16 of the biggest companies in Saudi Arabia. Some of the names were familiar to Delaney. His bank had even done business with a few of them.

The whole archive had been translated and submitted in evidence by the US government in the case of of Enaam Arnaout, who was eventually convicted of raising funds to support terrorism. Delaney, knowing that he needed to get a hold of a set, made a quick call to Tom Jeffries, a city lawyer who acted for the bank.

“No problem, Stephen. I’ll get a copy of the court documents fedexed over to you.”

Delaney parried the questions about when he was going to return to work and promised to fix a lunch with Tom “in a week or two”.

Two days later the massive tome, Re: United States v Enaam Arnaout 02 CR 892, arrived by bike at the house. It was fascinating stuff. There were personal letters written by bin Laden himself, lists of to-dos written by his lieutenants, copies of articles in the English and Arabic press, minutes of meetings, scrawled instructions.

Right at the front was the Golden Chain list. It was a distinctly unimpressive document. No title, no date, no author. Just the handwritten names, alongside which were written another set of names. It was as if the donors had each been allocated to a contact person. This subsidiary list was only five names: Osama himself, Wael Jaleedan, president of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, Abu Mazin, who was brother of one of bin Laden’s father’s wives and tutor to the bin Laden family, Adel Baterji of the Saudi Benevolence Society and Salem Taher, whose identity had never been established.

Prosecutors in the Arnaout case had suggested that these five men had each been responsible for getting donations from the businessmen on the list. But there were problems. Delaney noted that several of the businessmen had successfully sued newspapers that had linked them to al-Qaeda. This list in itself was evidence of nothing. He decided to call Jeffries again.

“Hi Tom, sorry to bother you again, but do you know anyone who could help me decipher the importance of these documents? I’ve got no idea myself.”

Delaney was sure that Tom would not be suspicious. After all, this was a list of bankers, some of whom had had connections with his bank. Tom would assume that Delaney was back on track and involved in putting some kind of a deal together in the Middle East, but wanted to be sure about his potential partners.

“Well, if you want to be very formal about it, we could go to Kroll or someone like that and ask for a full due diligence report on all the names. Very expensive, but usually very thorough. If you simply want a heads-up, there’s a woman I know at the Eurasia Institute who’s pretty clued up on this kind of thing. Do you want me to arrange a meeting? It would be good to catch up anyway.”

They agreed and a couple of hours later Delaney got an email from Tom suggesting lunch later in the week. “She’s bringing someone along who might be of interest,” wrote Tom. “See you there”.

Delaney spent the next two days immersed in the arcane world of al-Qaeda. A trip to Borders armed him with a pile of books on the Afghan jihad and the war on terror. It’s become a major industry, he thought to himself as he went through the shelves stocked with heavy tomes. He worked Google relentlessly, following each lead on the names until his head was in a spin. The internet was brilliant, but was also a curse. For every decent reference, there were hundreds of pages of crap – conspiracy theories, out-of-date material – that slowed him down. As the lunch meeting drew closer, he wasn’t sure if he knew less or more than he had done when he started out.

Tom had suggested meeting for lunch at Joe Allen’s in Exeter Street. A big, busy restaurant in a basement just off the Aldwych, it was popular with literary and theatrical types. He arrived to find Tom already there, along with his guests.

“Stephen! Good to see you! Let me introduce you to Emily Hawkstone from the Eurasia Institute. And this is Sulaiman!”

As the four of them sat down, Delaney realised it was months since he had seen anyone socially. He felt slightly clumsy but Tom was the perfect host for this kind of occasion, ordering the drinks and keeping up a constant banter. Sulaiman, he noticed, ordered only water to drink. Clearly a pious Muslim, he wore a full beard. But there was a lively sparkle in his eyes and he gave out a warmth that was almost tangible. He was a big man, confident of himself, even though Delaney was sure he seldom frequented up-market restaurants in the centre of London.

Emily Hawkstone was in her early thirties. Unlike the majority of terror analysts, she had been studying Islamists ever since she had graduated 12 years before – well before the 9/11 attacks. Her knowledge was encyclopaedic. She’d been a member of the Club de Madrid’s working group on terror finance and was a regular speaker on the ever-growing circuit. Delaney wasn’t entirely sure who financed the Eurasia Institute and it crossed his mind that she was slightly ‘spooky’, but he had nothing to hide. After all, he was simply getting some background on potential clients for the bank.

As soon as the drinks had arrived, Tom was in full flow. He sang Delaney’s praises and delicately mentioned Derry’s recent death in an ‘accident’ in the Gulf. Emily and Sulaiman were both slightly taken aback and offered him their condolences but much to his relief, it didn’t seem to halt the conversation. He even found himself laughing when Tom described a recent case he had handled in front of a notoriously cantankerous High Court judge.

“It was absolutely sweltering in court and counsel for the other side asked if, under the circumstances, he might be allowed to remove his wig. ‘No you can’t,” shot back the judge. ‘I’ve got to wear this bloody thing and so will you”’.

The conversation slowly made its way around to the question of al-Qaeda and the Golden Chain.

“You may have picked up already that there are a number of uncertainties surrounding the origin and meaning of the list,” said Emily. “It has been seized upon as the smoking gun by the right wing in the States and various conspiracy theorists. But the truth is somewhat different. I’ll let Sulaiman explain, because he knows exactly what happened in Afghanistan in the late eighties. He was there.”

Sulaiman gave a mischievous chuckle as he picked up on the startled expression on Delaney’s face. “Don’t worry, Mr Delaney, you are safe! Let me explain. Today, all the people think every Arab in Afghanistan, he is supporter of Osama. Is not true! I live many years in Afghanistan. I come in 1985 and leave in ’92. I know Osama very well. To tell the truth, he was a good man. But he is weak. After the jihad against the Russkis was finishing there was a lot of confusion among the Arabs. What to do? Where to go?”

Sulaiman explained that he was a former Egyptian army officer. Like many of his generation, he had joined the Moslem Brotherhood, the Ikhwan, in his twenties. After the murder of Sadat and the crackdown, he had eventually made his way to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Afghans. In the early years the Arabs really had been a ‘band of brothers’, very much playing a secondary role to the Afghans who were more than capable of fighting the Soviet forces. Nonetheless, they had played their part, especially in the Panjshir Valley just north of Kabul. It had been held by the legendary mujahideen commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was later murdered by Osama’s men, just two days before the 9/11 attacks on America. Sulaiman was one of a small group of Arabs who had withstood all the Soviets could throw at them.

“I remember one time”, he said, his eyes once again sparkling, “maybe four hundred, maybe five hundred tanks, lorries, guns, coming into the valley. None of them returned. We destroyed them all. Massoud, he was a real warrior.”

But as the Soviets withdrew in the late eighties and the factional fighting between the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara grew in intensity, the Arabs were in crisis. The brotherhood of the earlier years evaporated. Rockets fell on Kabul and turned it into a smouldering ruin, killing thousands of civilians in the process. “It was all the fault of Pakistan,” said Sulaiman. “The ISI, their intelligence people. The world turned away as they ran Afghanistan like it was a game for them. Build them up, knock them down. They don’t care.”

“I suppose we did the same in Afghanistan ourselves in the nineteenth century,” interjected Tom. “We even called it the Great Game. Nothing really changes does it?”

Sulaiman explained that he had supported Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian cleric who had been one of the first to travel to fight with the Afghans. Azzam had even been Osama bin Laden’s mentor, teaching him at university in Saudi Arabia and encouraging him to come to Afghanistan to see for himself what could be done to support their Moslem brothers.

Azzam’s idea was that as the conflict with the Soviets was coming to an end, the Arabs should create a new organisation – al-Qaeda did not yet exist – called al-Tahadi - the Challenge – and use wealth of the Gulf states to reconstruct Afghanistan. The fighting should finish, the refugees should return and this magnificent country could once again take its place amongst the civilised nations of the world.

But Azzam had been outflanked, said Sulaiman. “It was my own countrymen, who were responsible. The Egyptians. They are very clever and they saw that Osama, he was a wealthy man. He was not close to them at first, but they work on him. They praised him, told him he was a great man. They could not go home. They would be killed. They had a different idea. Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, he was one of the Egyptian leaders. In the jihad, we never saw this man. He never fighting. He stay in Peshawar to do politics, politics. That is why I say Osama is weak man. Because soon they are staying in his guesthouse and they begin to make plans against Sheikh Azzam.”

Matters came to a head over the formation of the new organisation. Osama’s supporters, jealous of the role of Azzam, accused him of acting without authority. They knew he was very influential with the Saudi and Gulf Arabs who had financed the war against the Soviets and they were determined to take over the new al-Tahadi organisation and use its funds to build a new jihad organistion to take on the West. After all, they had beaten the Russians. Why couldn’t they do the same against the Americans and the British?

“What happened?”, Delaney asked, amazed by this history, none of which he had ever heard about.

“There was a special court, with Islamic judges. There was great danger of a fight among the Arabs. Osama’s people put leaflets in the mosques in Peshawar. They wanted to cut the hands of Sheikh. They wanted to kill him. The court, it was for three days. At the end Sheikh was defeated. The Egyptians, they did good job, they fixed the judges.”

“So what has all this got to do with the Golden Chain.”

Well, that list from Sarajevo, that was list of rich men that Sheikh wanted to ask for money for al-Tahadi. Not for al-Qaeda. But it never happen. After court was finish they all got frightened. They not want to give money to Osama and the Egyptians. So, soon, everything collapse. And few months later…” here, Sulaiman made a gesture with his arms, “they blow up Sheikh and his sons in a car bomb in Peshawar.”

“There’s something else,” said Emily. “It has been known for some time that there is somewhere a genuine secret list of funders for al-Qaeda. In fact, a few years ago it very nearly surfaced. That too was in Bosnia. I heard about it on the grapevine. The Serbs got it out of some poor Arab they tortured to death. It was Karadic’s people. I was told that there was an attempt to get the list but that it all went pear-shaped. People lost their jobs over it, from what I heard.”

“So your telling me that the list found a couple of years ago was not the real list, but that such a list does exist, although it has never been passed on to the intelligence services? Surely Karadic would have been happy to curry favour with the West by handing over the list?” said Delaney.

“That’s just it,” replied Emily. “I don’t know the full details, but a spy working for the West did get the list and tried to bring it out. There was some muck-up, he was killed and the body never found. Now no-one knows where it is.”

“What an incredible story!” exclaimed Delaney. “So as far as you are concerned, the names on the Golden Chain list that have been published are not al-Qaeda funders at all?”

“It’s very unlikely. They are all stalwarts of the Saudi regime, which has disowned Osama. I’m sure they all give to Islamic causes, but international terrorism, that’s something else.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt you here,” said Tom, but time is pushing on. I’m afraid I have to leave shortly.”

“That’s fine,” Delaney answered. “I think I have probably heard all I can take in for the moment. Sulaiman, thank you so much for taking the time to come here today. Can we meet again if necessary? The same goes for you too, Emily.”

“It has been my pleasure, Stephen. Inshallah we will meet again soon. When people talk about Afghanistan and Osama, mostly they talk rubbish. It is important for me to put record right. Sheikh Abdullah, he was a great hero, but his story is not told. This is now my duty.”

“And I will be happy to help you in any way I can,” replied Emily. With that she handed over her business card as Tom called for the bill.

 

 


  Chapter Six

 

MI6 headquarters, Vauxhall Cross, London, July 1995

 

Immediately on his return to London Roberts had spent a glum afternoon in his office on the third floor of Vauxhall Cross, drafting and redrafting his account of the disastrous HUMBLE exfiltration. His immediate superior, P5, had quickly made it clear that he wanted a full report.

“Every bloody detail, David. Right down to the colour of your underwear. There’s a lot riding on this.”

P5 and other colleagues, he noticed, had been noticeably muted in their attitude to him on his return and he knew that his reputation in the organisation had taken a beating. No sooner had he finished the report – eight pages of closely typed explanation - than the Personnel Department had sent him on gardening leave, advising him somewhat nefariously that he “needed time to recover”.

He’d gone back to the small first floor flat he was buying in Pimlico, just along from the tube station, but quickly decided to get out of London for a week or two. His first stop had been Edinburgh to make the obligatory visit to family, before flying on to Dublin. It wasn’t just the scenery. Roberts knew he would find some solace at least in the two or three bookshops in each city that could be depended upon to turn up the odd volume of Byron’s poems. He’d been introduced to Byron by his Director of Studies at Oxford, Dr Noel Casey, and studying his writings and searching out old tomes and letters had become a passion. It was expensive, but rewarding and over the years the collection of early editions had almost filled a shelf in his front room. Roberts often wished he’d stayed on at Oxford to do a PhD – but then one evening Casey had invited him up for a sherry and discreetly suggested that he might like to “do something for his country” instead.

Roberts had been seduced by the intrigue of the invitation, and six months later, after a series of interviews and a rather intrusive vetting procedure, entered the Intelligence Branch of MI6 in the September 1989 intake. Roberts still had mixed feelings towards Casey for diverting him into MI6 – life would have been a lot less complicated if he had just carried on at Oxford.

Roberts had also drunk a great deal of whisky and smoked rather too many cigarettes on his enforced period of leave and he could feel their effects even on the short walk from Waterloo station to the office. His three weeks on leave were up and this was his first day back. He knew he’d be in for a grilling at some point, but he had already worked out his strategy. Kovalic would be the fall guy. He was the one who was supposed to handle the military side of things and he’d fucked up. It was as simple as that.

Roberts began to think about where he would be sent next. They would probably send him to a sleepy outpost in Africa, with nothing much to do except pay the bribes to local officials - something that the regular diplomats were not allowed to do. Or with a bit of luck they might send him to one of the old colonies where working for the High Commission still had some cachet – a spell in India attending cricket and polo matches and cultivating high-ranking Indians would be most agreeable. Anywhere, so long as it wasn’t Bosnia. Not for a while at least. Not until everyone had forgotten all about those diamonds.

It was just before 9am, but even so he was sweating gently in the warm July air, and he knew he had put on even more weight since his last MI6 medical. He noticed that the entrance atrium to Vauxhall Cross had been further reinforced since his last visit – a heavily buttressed wall had been built to protect the glass entrance – presumably to discourage a suicide ram-raid bomber. Swiping his ID card through the reader, he broke into even more of a sweat as he wondered for an instant if the doors would open – he’d heard of other dismissed staff learning of their fate that way. But to his relief, the doors swished open with their familiar sound, ushering him into the airy inner atrium of Vauxhall Cross.

Roberts’ optimism was short-lived. Waiting for him just inside the doors was Barnes, the senior security guard, resplendent in his smart black uniform. Roberts knew little about him, despite seeing him every morning for his seven years in the service. From his stance and bearing, Barnes had clearly been recruited from the military, but it was not the kind of thing you asked questions about at Vauxhall Cross.

“Good morning Sir”, Barnes announced crisply, but without his usual smile. “I’ve been asked to escort you to the interview room. If you could come with me…” Barnes’ sentence tailed off unmilitarily, and Roberts already knew that he was in for a rough ride at the debrief. “Even the bloody staff can smell a corpse,” he thought to himself.

Barnes led Roberts at a brisk pace to E46, the interview room on the ground floor, just to the right of the main atrium. It was normally used for meetings with liaison officers from friendly intelligence services, who needed a secure meeting room, but who were never admitted into the inner sanctity of the MI6 offices. Already waiting inside were P5 - Peter Kennedy, who was Robert’s operational boss - and SBO1, Charles Kidde, the senior operational security officer for the Balkans. Kidde was a widely experienced, semi-retired officer whose job was to oversee the security aspects Balkan operations and to offer guidance to the operational officers. He knew Roberts well and had been intimately involved in the HUMBLE operation from the beginning.

The two men looked up as Roberts entered the room. Roberts quickly noticed that the tables in the room were arranged in a T, the layout favoured by senior managers for debriefs. It kept the interviewee at an impersonal distance from the interviewers.

“Take a seat”, Kennedy didn’t offer a handshake, merely indicating to Roberts to sit down at the tip of the T while he and Kidde sat down facing him at the other end. In front of them was a pile of papers. Sitting on the top, Roberts recognised his own report of the events on Mt Igman two months earlier. An ancient Panasonic tape recorder, the likes of which Roberts hadn’t seen since his schooldays at Harrow, whirred away between them.

“It was the only one that TOS could teach me how to operate”, Kidde said nervously, trying to make it sound like a joke. “I hope you won’t mind if we use it to record the conversation?”

“It looks like I’ve got no choice”, Roberts answered back with scarcely concealed hostility. He did not like the way he had been hijacked by Barnes and lead without warning into what he sensed would be an interview on which his MI6 career depended.

“We’ve obviously read your report on the unfortunate events in Bosnia”, Kennedy nodded towards the papers, “and we’ve also been down to Hereford for a long talk with Sergeant Kovalic. “From what he has told us, there seem to be some inconsistencies in your account”.

“What do you mean by that”, Roberts tensed.

“Sergeant Kovalic told us, or rather I should say ex-Sergeant Kovalic told us, that you behaved in a fairly reprehensible manner on Igman, and did not exactly cover our service in honour”.

“I bet he did. Is that coward trying to blame me? If it wasn’t for him screwing up, we’d all have been fine!”

“That is a very difficult conclusion to draw”, Kidde replied softly.

“You mean that you prefer to believe his account over mine?”, Roberts blustered.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far...”, Kidde replied cautiously. “But there are substantial discrepancies”.

“Well obviously Kovalic is lying – he just wants to save his career”, Roberts protested, unable to disguise his irritation.

“Kovalic had no chance of saving his career”, Kennedy replied calmly. “Even for the regular SAS guys, there is a sword of Damocles hanging over them – if they mess up an operation, they lose their place in the Regiment. With the Increment guys, they are just expected to resign if one of their operations fails. There is no room for failure. Kovalic knew his career was over as soon as HUMBLE died – so why would he try to shift the blame onto you?”

Roberts stared stonily at the casssette recorder, its mechanical sound amplified by the silence in the room. “Go on then, tell me what he said”.

“All in good time, David,” answered Kennedy, reasserting control for a moment. “First things first. What we all want to know, and what your report conspicuously fails to answer, is why HUMBLE asked for the extraction. Do you have any idea of the consequences of his death? He was our major asset in the region. It was HUMBLE that gave us an edge with the Americans. They were desperate to know how time and time again we were able to get such high quality information. For a while at least, your CX reports were read by everyone who mattered. Now we are absolutely in the dark. Quite frankly, David, it would have been better if none of you had got out alive. Instead we are one asset down and no explanations.”

Roberts could feel Kennedy was needling him. He was trying to be provocative. Still he was not sure where this was all leading. He had expected a hard time at the debrief, but this was turning nastier than he could had ever imagined.

“Look,” he replied combatively, “everyone knew this extraction plan. We rehearsed it, we were all familiar with every element of it. What we couldn’t factor in was Arkan and his gang. And as far as I can see, that’s why Kovalic was there, to sort out that particular problem. He failed and our man got hit. What else is there to say?”

Kidde sifted through the papers, and pulled out a folder bearing the Ministry of Defence crest. He read carefully and deliberately from the file, the short and crisp military writing style not coming easily to his lips.

“It says here that you refused to accept his authority, that you questioned his decisions and that’s why things went wrong.” Kidde was calm, but certain of his ground and for the first time during the debrief Roberts began to feel the tide turning against him.

“He adds that you should at least have got something out of him before he died. As things stand, and as Peter has so clearly explained, we know nothing about why HUMBLE called for the extraction. What we do know is that all hell broke loose in Pale after the incident, that Serbian tracker teams spent days searching those forests looking for HUMBLE, unsuccessfully it appears. It stands to reason that he had something of importance to hand over, if only verbally, don’t you think?”

Roberts now knew he was fighting for his career. It was too late to mention the diamonds now, even if he had wanted to. That would only add to his woes. At least if he was thrown out over a failed operation he would still in all likelihood get the usual facilities – a cosy sinecure somewhere and a nice little pension. If he told them the truth, he knew they would never leave him alone. He might just as well put a gun to his head and pull the trigger. He looked up to see both men staring at him intently.

“Do you anything more to add, David?” said Kennedy, making it clear the debrief was drawing to an end.

“Not really, it’s all in my report. I’ve told you, as far as I’m concerned, HUMBLE’s death is down to Kovalic. He was the insurance policy and he failed to deliver. Why are you trying to take all this out on me?

Kidde solemnly reached over to the tape recorder, pushed a button and the infernal whirring came to a halt with a solid clunk.

Roberts knew too that there was nothing more to add – it was the end of his career too. They had chosen to believe Kovalic, the service no longer trusted him, and he would never work again for SIS.

“I’m really sorry”, Kidde spoke with genuine sympathy, knowing that to say more would just be an unnecessary humiliation for Roberts. “Barnes will show you to the door. We’ve arranged with Personnel Department to come and visit you at your home to discuss your resettlement options”.

In five minutes Roberts was back out in the warm July air, minus his ID card. Turning his back on the imposing MI6 HQ for the last time, he couldn’t conceal a wry smile as he briskly walked towards the tube station. Nowhere in his account had Kovalic mentioned the diamonds….

 

 


  Chapter 7

 

Things were now beginning to make more sense to Delaney. The lunch at Joe Allen’s had been a revelation, particularly the information provided by Sulaiman. What an incredible guy! It was hard to imagine that this jovial, engaging man had been one of the top mujahideen commanders, involved in the hottest battles in Afghanistan.

And Emily Hawkstone’s comments about the existence of a second, genuine Golden Chain list confirmed what Fitzgerald had told him. But Fitzgerald certainly was not revealing everything he knew. What was this earlier attempt to bring out the list? What had happened? If he was going to find out more about Derry’s death, he was going to have to get to the bottom of this mystery.

A couple of days later, after a fruitless search to find more information, he called Emily. She must know more than she had said so far. She was delighted to hear from him again and he quickly moved the conversation on to the Bosnian operation.

“There’s not a lot I can say,” she replied, slightly hesitantly. “Nobody likes to talk about their failures. I heard that someone close to Karadzic had managed to get hold of the list and agreed to hand it over to the Brits. The problem was that he was on the other side of the lines and someone had to go and get him out of Karadzic’s headquarters, probably in Pale. It seems that the team sent in to get him messed up somehow. The informant was killed and those sent in to get him were disgraced.”

“Who were they? Do you know what happened to them?” Delaney tried not to sound too interested. To know as much as she did, Emily must have some pretty special contacts and he didn’t want Fitzgerald or anyone else from the Foreign Office warning him off.

“Listen, do you mind me asking you what your interest is in all this,” she said. “It’s a bit off the beaten track for a banker, isn’t it?”

“Not at all,” he responded defensively. “I’m involved in some very delicate banking negotiations and I really need to be sure about my information. I can’t really tell you the details, but there’s a lot of money at stake.” He felt a twinge of guilt about the lies he was having to tell her, but what else could he do?

“OK, I’ll tell you what. I’ll see if I can find out anything else, but I’m not promising anything. Like I said, no-one likes to wash their dirty laundry in public. Give me a few days.”

“You’re a star, Emily. Call me if you can. If not, call me anyway.” He liked this woman and for a moment he wondered if what he had said had sounded like a come-on. She was good fun and after the lunch he had felt relaxed for the first time since Derry’s death. But even though she was a very attractive woman he was still too raw emotionally to be thinking about relationships. With that, he had hung up, determined to find out all he could about Omar Haznawi.

Fitzgerald had been very careful about what he had said concerning Haznawi. He was believed to be close to the top of the list of al-Qaeda funders, but appeared to be having second thoughts. That made him sound something like a good guy. Yet the coincidence of Derry’s death so soon after meeting him suggested that the Foreign Office had got it wrong. From Delaney’s experience, that would not be a surprise. He’d never had much faith in the chinless wonders who liked to think of themselves as the elite of the civil service. Pro-Arab almost to a man – increasingly to a woman, these days – they were reluctant to believe the truth, even when it was staring them in the face, if it contradicted long-held doctrine.

Finding the official story of Sheikh Omar Haznawi proved to be fairly straightforward. The eldest son of a prominent merchant family from the Emirates, he had built on his father’s business to create one of the largest cargo-handling companies in the world. Not quite rags-to-riches, it was still a great success story. His company, Gulfport Global, not only handled 30 per cent of cargo landed in the Emirates, it had already branched out with major operations in Saudi Arabia and at Jordan’s port of Aqaba. Further afield, it ran wharves and cargo handling in Karachi in Pakistan, Chittagong in Bangladesh and throughout the Indonesian archipelago. All Islamic states, Delaney noted. Borrowings to the family-controlled company from western and international banks were zero, with money coming from Islamic banks in Saudi Arabia that charged no interest on their loans.

Little was known about the family itself. Unlike many other prominent families in the Gulf, Omar and his six brothers had not been western educated, instead earning their degrees – mostly in engineering – in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Omar himself had married well to a junior princess in the Saudi Royal family. Whether or not there was more than one wife, no-one seemed to know, or care for that matter. He was clearly a very well connected man. Other than that, information was scant. Not being a traded stock, no-one was that interested in the family. Only a brief ‘message from the chairman’, accompanied by a standard picture of Omar in traditional Arab headdress and robes, appeared on the company’s website.

Delaney remembered Fitzgerald’s reference to Omar’s time in Afghanistan. Once more he hits the phone, this time to Sulaiman.

“Of course, everyone knows the Haznawis,” said Sulaiman, delighted to be hearing so soon from his new acquaintance. “They are very big family in the Gulf. But I never met this man myself. His brother, Ali Hassan, he was martyred in the fighting against the Soviets in 1987. It was at Maro, south of Jalalabad and was a famous fight, with many Arabs fighting with their Afghan brothers. I was in charge of the Makhtab al Khidamat, the organisation office for the Arabs at that time, so I remember very well.

“The Afghans, they had been fighting for many days in their base, close to Pakistan border. They were beaten and they fled to Bazar in the Tirah Agency in Pakistan. We sent our fighters and also many talibs came from the religious schools to make big counter-attack. It was very fierce fighting, hand-to-hand. After three days the Soviets, they pulled out in their helicopters. Many were killed and the mujahideen, they lost more than 70, Allah-u-akbar!”

Sulaiman certainly had no time for bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but he was still faithful to the memory of the Arabs who had died fighting the Russians.

“One thing I know about these Haznawis,” said Sulaiman, almost as an afterthought, “they love to hunt with hawks. Always they talk about houbara. It is big bird who runs on the ground. Osama too, he loves this hunting. In the south of Afghanistan there are many of this bird. They love this more than their wives! Later, after Osama come back to Afghanistan from Sudan, many sheikhs from Dubai come to hunt this bird with him.”

The reference to houbara, the great bustard, intrigued Delaney. As he put down the phone he thought back to one of the many books he had read over the past week or two. Something about a failed assassination attempt on Osama in the late 90s. Back in his study, he feverishly rummaged through his notes. There is was! A reference to Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars on the history of the CIA in Afghanistan.

According to Coll, in early 1999, the CIA station in Islamabad received a report from an agent in Afghanistan that bin Laden had travelled to the west of the country to join a desert hunting party organised by wealthy sheikhs from the Gulf. Although miles from any town, it was close to an isolated landing strip big enough to handle C-130 cargo planes. The camp was well provisioned with generators and freezers.

It was well known that the leaders of the Gulf states regularly flew to Pakistan to follow the houbara bustards during their winter migration. From there, during the Taliban days, they moved on to Afghanistan, sometimes for weeks at a time. This suited the Pakistanis, whose intelligence chiefs were keen to foster close relations between the Taliban and the Gulf Arabs.

CIA trackers had marked the camp with invisible beacons before withdrawing to the nearby hills to watch the hunting party, unsure if Osama was amongst them. It was less than a year after the al-Qaeda suicide attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, in which hundreds of people, mostly innocent Africans, had died and President Clinton was out for revenge.

Back in Washington security officials monitored the satellite images and began firing questions back to Islamabad. They wanted to know every possible detail, right down to which tent Osama was staying in. So detailed was the imagery that they were able to identify the camouflage patterns and tail numbers on a C-130 parked up on the runway. It was from the UAE air force, making it more than likely that some of Osama’s visitors were members of the Emirates’ many royal families. The CIA’s bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorist Center in Langley, Virginia, pushed strongly for a missile attack on the camp. Who cared if a few Arab sheikhs were blown up in the process? Other, not necessarily wiser, counsel prevailed. In May 1998 the UAE had signed an $8 billion contract to buy dozens of F-16 fighter planes and the prospect of half-a-dozen sheikhs from its most prominent families being blown to pieces in a cruise missile strike that could not even guarantee that bin Laden was present was too much for the political advisers. Having just carried out a controversial missile attack on the Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, they were not in a mood to take risks.

Delaney had no idea if Omar Haznawi had been amongst the hunting party, but even if he hadn’t been there on that occasion, everything pointed towards his close association with bin Laden. His brother’s death at the hands of the Russians would have sealed a bond between the two men. Osama lived by the Arab bedouin code of honour, reinforced a hundred-fold amongst the mujahideen. And the Haznawi family’s wealth would have been a major factor in ensuring he kept their most prominent son close to his inner circle.

Suddenly, Delaney had a thought - Derry’s office. He could hardly believe his own stupidity. After her death, he’d told the two other architects in the practise and the four support staff that he was in no position to make a decision over what to do. The business had some work on its books, enough to last them for six months or so, even though they had told Haznawi’s people they were not in a position to continue the project in Dubai. There was no money to pay severance but he said he would be willing to consider an offer for the whole business, on very reasonable terms. If they wanted to leave, he would understand. To their credit, with the exception of one of the admin workers, they had decided to stay.

Delaney was quickly on the phone to Bill Rockett, one of the two architects.

“Hi Bill, sorry to bother you. I wonder if you still have any of the files on the Dubai project Derry was working on?”

“Of course,” said Bill. “You know what we architects are like. We never throw anything away.”

“Would you mind biking over whatever you’ve got? I want to check out a few things.”

“Sure. There’s nothing wrong is there?”

“Not at all. And by the way, we should arrange at some point soon to talk over the future of the practise.”

“Actually, I was going to call you about that anyway. I think we are just about ready to come to you with a proposal. Give it another week and I’ll be in touch.”

The bike arrived within the hour. The office was only a couple of miles away, in new offices close to Chelsea Harbour. It was a large set of files. Delaney sat reading them late into the evening, looking for anything that would give me some kind of a clue. He didn’t really know what he was looking for and he had no idea about how to read architectural drawings, but he persevered.

Right at the front were Derry’s original sketch drawings from all those years ago in Baghdad. Her neat architect’s handwriting annotated the drawings, highlighting the different materials. There was a beautiful little sketch of the alabaster fountain with its brass fittings and another showing the detailed construction of the wooden screens that they had found throughout the house. Delaney suddenly found himself weeping copiously. What a woman he had lost in Derry. What a truly wonderful woman.

He got up and made himself a cup of strong coffee before going back to studying the files. There was a letter from someone at Gulfport Global in excellent English saying that they were seeking an architect for a prestigious project in the Gulf and asking if she would consider tendering for the job. The letter’s author signed himself ‘personal assistant to Sheikh Omar Haznawi’.

Next was a detailed specification for the two-floor apartment on top of the nearly completed Gulfport Tower in Dubai. The project would start from bare walls and girders. No budgets were mentioned, but it was noted that “completion of the project should take place not more than 15 months from the date of agreement of plans.” It was emphasised that this was a “prestige project, commensurate with the highest standards” and that it would receive international attention. It would have to be distinctly Arab in character, but clearly 21st century and not 19th. Delaney thought of the airport terminal in Dubai, that he’s passed through on half a dozen occasions. It was designed to feel like a collection of billowing Arab tents in the desert, although to him it felt parochial and was already too small for the ever-increasing number of travellers. And now that they were building massive artificial islands in the Gulf in the shape of palm trees covered in boxy villas and making a bid to become an exotic (and tax-free) weekend leisure haunt, it would feel even smaller.

There were copies of Derry’s letter expressing an interest and correspondence to supply companies over the possible availability of fabrics and materials. There was even an upcoming auction catalogue with one or two items marked for possible purchase – a pair of huge candelabra from Egypt, 14th century and estimated at £750,000 and a large 18th century carpet from Nain in Iran, another £75,000. There was certainly no skimping as far as the Haznawis were concerned.

Delaney worked his way through the spec, not really knowing what he was doing. He could barely understand the architectural jargon. But one thing stood out that caught his eye. As well as the main central lifts in the tower that arrived at a lobby onto which the main entrance of the apartment opened, there was also a note about another entirely separate lift that descended without stopping directly into the basement carpark. Even the car storage area contained room for six cars and had its own set of electronic doors. Incredible what money can buy you, he thought.

As he looked up, he noticed the time. It was just past 10 in the evening. No sooner had he reopened the file in front of him than he heard his mobile begin to ring in the room downstairs. As he crashed down the stairs two at a time he wondered who it could be, phoning so late.

“Hello”

“Hi Stephen, it’s Emily here. I’ve got something for you. Can you meet me tomorrow?”

 


  Chapter 8

 

A cold, grey February morning buffeted Delaney as he made his way down the Charing Cross Road in central London. It was 9.30am and he was running late. He’d arranged to meet Emily at Gaby’s, a deli famous for its salt beef sandwiches and barley soup. Finally he got there and pushed his way through the heavy door. As he walked past the long counter filled to overflowing with the day’s offerings, he could see her sitting at the back, beneath the signed theatre posters that testified to the eatery’s popularity with the acting profession. Most of the tables were empty.

“Hi Stephen. What a funny little place! What made you choose here? Not quite the usual stamping ground for the banking fraternity, is it.”

“Not really, but I’ve been coming here for years. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“No worries. I thought I could meet you before heading into work. I’ve got about 20 minutes or so.” She’d already ordered coffee and a pastry and he quickly did likewise.

“So, I’ve been busy since we met. And Sulaiman has been incredibly helpful,” Delaney told her. “Doesn’t it drive you crazy, the complexity of it all, the shifting allegiances, the nuances. I thought banking was a complex, technical business, but all this leaves me standing.”

She laughed. “You’re doing fine.” She put down her coffee cup and looked straight into his eyes. Delaney found it slightly disconcerting, but at the same time flattering. She looked down for a second then looked at him again. “I managed to speak to someone yesterday. It was a bit tricky, because these kinds of things are always sensitive. Anyway, I must have done or said the right things because he gave me a name. The person who was in charge of getting this Bosnian guy out of the clutches of Karadzic was called David Roberts. It was in 1995. Apparently he went in with a small team, but they were rumbled and had to make a run for it. They got out, but the Bosnian was killed, so there was no chance to debrief him. Not long after that Roberts left the service.”

“What service? Was he a soldier?”

“No, not a soldier. He was an intelligence officer. I think you can safely assume he was working with MI6. That’s the kind of thing they do.”

“Are you saying he was forced out?”

“That’s about the size of it. The Bosnian was their top guy in the Serb camp. Very messy indeed losing him. It later emerged that he was supposed to be carrying important information, but Roberts came back with nothing. Hard on him, I guess, but that’s the way things work. Who knows, perhaps there were other things in the background we know nothing about.”

“So where is he now?

“It’s not that easy to ask questions like that,” she replied, with just a hint of a smile on her face. “But I did anyway. I’m afraid I can’t be very precise. All I can tell you is that he’s living abroad somewhere. ‘Down Under’ to be as precise as I can.”

“Oh, that narrows it down a bit,” he joked. “So he’s somewhere in Australia. I guess I can check out Spies Anonymous or the Association of Failed Spies.”

Emily laughed. “You could put an ad in the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Wanted: former spy. Must have reputation for botched jobs.’ Oh, I know it’s not funny really. He’s probably had a really shit time.” Looking at her watch, she realised it was time for her to go.

“Sorry Stephen, I’ve got to rush. I wish I had more for you, but that’s it. The person I spoke to knew Roberts and didn’t like him very much. He was glad to see the back of him. I’ve got a strong feeling that there’s a lot more to his. Oh! There is one other thing. When my informant said he was Down Under, he said he was sure he would be happy with his child Harold and Don Juan. I’ve no idea what he meant. I didn’t even know he was married.”

“I don’t think he was talking about marriage,” said Delaney, trying not to sound too superior. “I think he’s talking about Lord Byron. It’s the names of two of his poems, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan.”

“Oops!” she replied, theatrically. “English lit. was never my strong point. Anyway, must go. Speak to you soon. Don’t get up.” With that she was on her way, stopping only to pay for the coffees and cakes at the till. Delaney watched as she did up her coat and disappeared into the shuffling morning crowds.

He ordered another cappuccino. It was the first time he’d been into the centre of town for weeks. He ran over in his mind everything Emily had told him. Roberts was a spook. He’s been tasked with pulling his most important contact out from under the noses of the Serbs and it had all gone wrong. He’d lost his main asset and had been booted out and was now living in Australia, or somewhere in that part of the world, at least.

He knew next to nothing about Roberts, other than he was probably now in his early forties and that he had a penchant for Byron. What an irony. Byron, he recalled, had championed Greek independence against the Ottomans. Poor Roberts had been fighting Serbs, traditional Orthodox Christian allies of the Greeks, on behalf of Bosnian Moslems. Wasn’t it Marx who’d said that history repeats itself – the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce?

He was sure that there was something about this odd little incident in the Balkans a decade ago that linked directly to Derry’s death. How had Roberts failed to get the information out of his man before he was killed? What had really happened? Already, he was beginning to realise that he had no choice but to find Roberts. What else could he do? Even if Omar Haznawi was involved in her death, he was hardly going to admit it.

As he left Gaby’s, he thought he’d potter around in the bookshops along the Charing Cross Road. Why not? He had nothing better to do. Better still, why not make a few inquiries about Byron first editions. Roberts sounded like the kind of person who would go for that kind of thing. He dived into the first shop he came to and spent the next two hours straining his eyes in the dusty interiors of a dozen of the strangest shops in London, those run by the honourable brotherhood (mostly) of secondhand booksellers.

It wasn’t a cheap hobby. One after another he’d seen the booksellers’

eyes gleam at the prospect of finding an unknown buyer of Byron first editions, almost as much as they would gleam to find a first of Don Juan itself. The gleam was followed by the merest of sighs as almost all of them admitted they had very little in the way of first editions in stock. To a man (literally, in this case) they had offered to obtain something special for him. Any particular titles? Bindings? Did he mind second or third impressions of first editions? How much was he thinking of spending? Only one of them, a short fellow, wearing a cardigan and peering over the top of a pair of half-frame glasses at Dilley & Co, had a Byron first, a comparatively short poem called The Prisoner of Chillon (1816), bound together with Manfred (1817) in a half calf over marble boards. Less than a hundred pages in total and yours for £300. The dealer looked surprised when he didn’t take it. “I’m terribly sorry,” Delaney lied, “I’ve already got them.”

Later, back at home, he carried on his quest for Byromaniacs – as he christened them - the obsessive, almost fanatical fans of the club-footed Anglo-Scot. There were hundreds of websites dedicated to the great Romantic poet. He found an on-line version of The Prisoner of Chillon and read it out of curiosity, finding himself moved by the sad tale of the sixteenth century Swiss nobleman, Francois de Bonnivard, who spent six years incarcerated in a castle dungeon on the edge of Lake Geneva for his republican views. He’d never really been a fan of the Romantics, finding it hard to wrestle with all those Classical allusions and dramatic sentiments. And he had always been slightly revolted by Byron’s decadence. But he could see how it would appeal to someone like Roberts - perhaps searching for moral certainties in a confusing and immoral world.

As he trawled the sites, not quite knowing what he was looking for, he dipped into one of the Byron discussion forums where the seriously infatuated discussed everything from the reason his friends burnt his memoirs to the fan mail he received. It was already early evening when he next looked up and he began to think about food. He’d eaten nothing since the morning and was thinking about sending out for a takeaway when something caught his eye.

It was a discussion on the ‘most moving lines’ from any Byron poem. There were thirty or forty contributors to the thread, which was several years old. Someone had suggested “The love which my spirit had painted, it never hath found but in thee” from the Stanzas to Augusta and there was a lively discussion on its relative pros and cons. Half-way down was another suggestion, from ‘Lines written beneath an elm in the churchyard of Harrow’, written in 1807 when the great poet was only nineteen:

  'Oft have I thought, twould soothe my dying hour-
  If aught may soothe when life resigns her power-
  To know some humble grave, some narrow cell
  Would hide my bosom where it loved to dwell''.

It was almost a cry from the heart, the yearnings of an exile for return to his native land. And it was signed David Roberts. “I’ve always loved these lines”, wrote Roberts. “Who can better them?” Delaney let out an involuntary whoop. Could it be his man? He was sure it was. There was no location listed for the author, just a button for sending an email. The thread dated back to mid-2003, and he searched in vain for a more recent posting by the same author. There was nothing.

What to do? He could hardly write to him directly and ask him if he was the same David Roberts who had been chucked out of MI6. What if it was simply coincidence? The name was common enough. He would have to approach this carefully. He left his desk, picked up the phone and called the local Indian takeaway.

Later, as he digested the chicken biryani and peshwari nan washed down with a cold beer from the fridge, he called Emily. She was in town in - from the sounds of it - a very noisy bar. He immediately regretted the call, but she was fine, telling him to hold on while she found a quiet spot where she could hear him properly. Delaney had no idea if she was married or seeing anyone and worried about the reaction from any putative partner. But the warmth of her reaction persuaded him that he was not transgressing.

“Hi Stephen. Sorry about the noise. I’m in a sports bar. We’re watching the Champions League. We’re winning…” suddenly there was a collective groan in the background. “I stand corrected, we’re drawing. I’ve always been a bit of a Chelsea fan and we usually get together once a month or so to watch the live matches in a bar.”

“Do you want me to call you back?”

“No, it’s fine. Really. I hope I was of some use to you this morning”. She sounded as if she was not convinced she had been able to help very much.

“You were fantastically useful!” he reassured her. “In fact, I think I’ve bloody well found him! Well, to be honest, I can’t be sure, but I’ve certainly found a Byron fan called David Roberts.

“Christ, Stephen! That was quick.” There was another groan in the background, presumably at a Chelsea miss on goal.

“Look, this is clearly not a good time. If you don’t get back too late tonight, give me a call when you get in. I’ll be up till late,” he told her.

“Maybe that’s best,” she replied. It’ll be about an hour or so. Speak to you then. Ciao!”

Delaney got up to pour himself a scotch before sitting back down in the armchair beneath the etching by Brangwyn that Fitzgerald had so much admired. He wondered where all this was going. Derry’s death seemed more distant somehow. It was becoming a fact, not an emotion. He wondered if he had done the right thing in not handing over the gold chain and business card to Fitzgerald. Perhaps it was a crucial clue? Maybe that’s why he had come back to collect the bags? Well, it was too late now. He’d made his decision. Anyway, what guarantees did he have that the Foreign Office would get any kind of justice for him? Their concern was international relations, keeping things smooth, not rocking the boat. Derry was now an embarrassing incident about which the less that was said the better. What did it matter that she was someone’s wife?

The phone rang just before 11pm. “Sorry if this is too late,” Emily had begun to apologise.

“No, it’s fine. I had to speak to you. I’ve had a very strange day. If I start babbling and quoting Byron at you, tell me to shut up.”

“God, this is exciting,” she replied. “Tell me everything.”

He explained his tour round the bookshops and the lucky break with the discussion forum. “I know it’s not a lot to go on, a three-year old email from someone, somewhere with the same name. But it’s something. The question is, what do I do now? Do I simply write to him directly and hope to tease out of him something about his background or location? Should I send him a comment about his posting and try and persuade him I am a fellow Byromaniac? I haven’t really got a clue.”

“Why not write back to him and tell him that you too have always found those lines to be sublime. Tell him that you have an early edition of the poem and ask him if he wants to see it.”

“He’ll probably think I’m some old poof trying to get him into bed.”

“Well, let me write to him then.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure. What harm can it do? I’ll use an old hotmail account that doesn’t include my full name. Now tell me, what do you really want to know?

“Very simple really. Just where he is right now. Nothing else.”

“OK, well email me the URL for the page with his comments and I’ll take it from there. Don’t worry. It’s very straightforward.”

“I really appreciate this, Emily. It may all be a waste of time anyway. I have no idea if this is even the right guy. But make sure you are very cautious. This kind of person, if it is Roberts, is not to be messed around with.”

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. I’ll contact you if and when I get a reply. Oh, we lost by the way.”

“Lost what?”

“The bloody match! Look, it’s getting late. I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.”

“Alright Emily. My commiserations or whatever. Remember what I said. Be careful.”

She laughed and hung up.

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September 27, 2006 in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Martin Ingram Aka Ian Hurst is a liar.[Soldier of Fortune.Mercenary.Only interested in making money.He is a con-man who will sell his lies to anyone who will pay for them ]
The person who calls himself Martin ingram but is in fact ex Int Corps SSgt Ian Hurst (known as rocky) is a liar of the highest order. His book STEAKNIFE is almost complete fiction, as are his assertions that Martin McGUINNESS was an agent of the state. He is dementedly lying completely about his past service in FRU. He only ever served in sleepy backwaters of the Province and never came face to face with anyone except low level eyes and ears agents. He never ran STEAKNIFE or even met him. In short, his book is a complete fabrication based on god knows what. He endangers the lives of serving and former soldiers as well as civilians with his ridiculous fairy tales. Hopefully he will appear in court at some of the current inquiries and investigations so he can be shown to be the liar he really is.

This message comes from http://jackgrantham.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Jack Grantham | Oct 16, 2006 5:33:39 AM

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