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«Brute force», Andy McNab

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Lynn had his binos up too as forklifts hummed around us, laden with yet more crates and what looked like a consignment of dustbin lids. A group of dockers leant against walls smoking, waiting for the next job to come along or some German to bollock them for being Arabs.

'You see the man on the gangplank now?'

I nodded.

'Black leather jacket? Papers in his hand?'

'Yeah, I've got him.'

'That's Mansour.'

I knew plenty about Mansour from Lynn's briefing. He was in his forties and worked for Libyan intelligence. He was medium height and stocky, with brushed-back hair and a very neat moustache.

'He calls me Leptis.'

'Leptis?'

'Just a name he gave me.'

'You two mates?'

'Hardly.' He dropped his binos for a moment and turned to me. 'Need-to-know, Nick – and you don't need to.'

He was right. I didn't need to know – I didn't even want to. All this spookery was way beyond my pay scale.

'You sure that's him? He looks fatter than in the pictures.'

'Absolutely certain. He's over-indulged the falafels, that's all. A sign of privilege. He's overpaid.'

Mansour pointed and shouted, and generally seemed to take over the show as he walked up the gangplank. Two bodies emerged from the hold, headed for Mansour and started talking.

'Stand by – that's Two Cells.'

Lynn confirmed. 'Yes, that's Lesser.'

2

Benjamin Lesser – it didn't sound quite hard-core or Republican enough to belong to PIRA's top bomb-maker. I'd only just got over the Nelson history lesson when Lynn embarked on a lengthy explanation of the origins of the name. It boiled down to the fact that Benjamin was a Celtic name as well as an Eastern European one. It meant favourite son. Benjamin was also a Catholic saint, which qualified it for a place in The PIRA Book of Baby Names. In the year 424 he was tortured by the king of Persia for preaching. Reeds were thrust under his nails and into all the tenderest parts of his body. After this torture had been repeated several times, a barbed stake was shoved up his arse as a show-stopper. PIRA still did much the same thing to its victims fifteen hundred years later, so the history lesson wasn't a total waste of time.

I'd nicknamed Ben Two Cells. It suited me to think of him as stupid. It cheered me up.

'I suppose need-to-know means you can't tell me who the woman is?'

'I don't know her, actually.' Lynn took a couple of seconds to check out the hauntingly beautiful, dark-skinned face. 'Probably one of Mansour's people checking the cargo.'

Two Cells' dark brown wavy hair was a bit longer than it had been in the briefing pictures, down to his shoulders and centre-parted, but it was definitely him. He towered over the Libyan, and probably everybody else aboard. He was at least six four, and built to build. I expected a bomb-maker's hands to be like a pianist's, but Benny Boy's were the size of shovels.

'Remember, you've got to make it look like an accident. And the ship must be preserved at all costs for the Spanish to capture.'

'Yep, I've got it.'

He'd told me enough times over the last few days. This had to be the best-briefed job I'd ever been on. But all the briefing in the world wasn't going to help me drop Two Cells without it looking like exactly what it was. I might be able to channel him into the killing ground, but if anything went wrong I'd have to contend with a good eighteen stone of seriously unsaintly Two Cells throwing one of those super-sized fists at me. If it made contact, I'd be over the side.

Mansour and the woman made their way back to the quay and disappeared into the maze of warehouses as Two Cells went onto the ship and started chatting with the skipper.

Liam Brian Duff was a lot more than a sailor boy. He'd been caught up in the events of Bloody Sunday, and joined the IRA the very next day. He was just sixteen. The following year, he was caught trying to bomb a government building.

Sentenced to six years, he shared cells in the Maze prison with some major league Republican icons. By the time he was released, Duff was quite the rising star. He came back onto British radar when he was arrested by the French police five or six years ago. He'd been travelling with a false passport on his return from a Hezbollah training camp in Lebanon – evidence of his role in fostering the international ties the IRA and Sinn Fein were building with the Middle East, and most particularly with Gaddafi's Libya.

I kept my binos trained on the ship as Duff checked the crane was lowering the boxes into the hold correctly. Then Lynn gunned the engine and I put them in the foot well as he drove us out of the port and along the coast road.

'Take a different route. We don't want to get stuck at another checkpoint.'

Lynn nodded.

We'd had a close shave on the way to the docks. Gaddafi's boys had set up a checkpoint where there hadn't been one on our dry run a few hours earlier. Our papers were good and our cover story had held – we were Dutch oil-workers in transit, a couple of guys making an honest dollar in Colonel G's workers' paradise. After scrutinizing the papers and turning them round a few times, the sentry had waved us on our way, but I wasn't in a hurry to risk an action replay. We had far bigger things to worry about.


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