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The Negotiator

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Chapter 2: New Blood

In the weeks following the death of Frank, I had given evidence to the court of enquiry. Colleagues were not surprised by my lack of sympathy or of my not attending his funeral. It was well known I hated the bugger. Frank was not well liked by anyone under him. His ruthlessness may have been appreciated by his superiors, and yes, he got the job done, but always at the cost of those who worked for him. His snobbery, too, got up the noses of a lot of people.

His death was recorded as murder by a person or persons unknown and the Army moved on. Frank was now history and rarely mentioned in the unit. Did I feel any remorse for what I’d done? Hell no, the bastard had it coming.

My new boss was one Major Harriet Balance. She was thirty years old, very young for a Major, which meant she was bloody bright. She was tall, around five feet ten with the figure of a goddess, large, luminous green eyes and dark red hair. Her nose was retroussé over full lips with a big cupid’s bow. Her legs went on forever and her tits were great, too. God, she was stunning. It was only when I studied her eyes that I saw the no-nonsense glint that told me she was no soft touch. I reminded myself that she was my boss. Any sort of sexist remark or behaviour would put us on the wrong footing. I wanted to stay in her good books, my life might depend on it. She had a mild Oxford English accent with none of the ‘cut glass’ harsh overtones. That she was highly educated seemed to radiate from her.

‘I’ve been briefed that we are to be on first name terms only’ she said.

I thought that an odd opening statement. ’Does that make you feel uncomfortable, Harriet? I asked.

‘Yes, a little, but I suppose I’ll get used to it.’

At least she was honest about it.

‘Please do’ I said, ‘I will always obey your orders and address you respectfully, of course, but if we are ever on operations together and under stress, our lives may depend on my not calling you ma’am. Me showing deferential body language is something I have to guard against, too.’

She smiled, showing a beautiful set of gleaming white teeth. Her daddy must have spent a fortune at the orthodontist while she was growing up.

‘Thank you, Jack, I’ll be fine’ she said, but she still had the tone of a superior officer talking to a ranker. She’s would lose that in time, she would realise that herself soon enough without my prompting her.

She changed the subject to operational matters and we became all business. That didn’t take long as I’d not had any recent assignments except for the court of enquiry into the demise of Frank. The rest of our brief meeting and greeting went pleasantly enough. I told her I was looking forward to working with her and that was that, meeting over.

All seemed fine but then, the next day, she ordered a meeting in a room in which we normally interrogated suspects. She pulled yet another surprise on me, I was to wear uniform. Most odd I thought, what the hell kind of stroke was she pulling? She kept me waiting, sitting with nothing to distract me for an hour. This was a tactic designed to make me impatient, agitated even. It failed. I am into meditation, I have been since I was sixteen. I simply went inside myself, all thought stilled. That she was watching me through the one-way mirror I had no doubt.

Then she came in, walking briskly, making eye contact, her face set like stone. She paused. I saw the momentary flash of annoyance in her eyes because I didn’t get up. Her Major’s uniform fitted her perfectly and I had a hard job not looking at her beauty in an obviously appreciative way. I was not about to hand her any advantage.

I’d sat in the interviewer’s seat deliberately, putting myself in the psychologically superior position, daring her to ask me to move. She thought about it, I could tell, but then she set a file on the table between us with a dramatic flourish. She came straight out with it. ‘Did you kill Frank?’ she said, looking me in the eye.

I paused, that was a damn good tactic on her behalf. Make me wait to get me impatient, then hit me hard and watch for my reaction.


My one word answer made her pause. If she thought I’d show shock or protest at the question, she was mistaken. The fact that she’d kept me waiting had warned me there was something very strange afoot. The hour’s meditation had calmed my mind, so her intended shock was minimised.

‘You see, you were the last person to see him alive’ she said. She reached for the folder which she opened and pretended to read ‘you were in the car with him moments before he was killed. Forensics say the bomb that killed him was detonated inside the vehicle not underneath where the Provos usually plant them.’

I made no response, my expression of polite interest remained unchanged.

She looked at me quizzically, ‘Well?’

‘Well, what? Harriet.’

‘Major Balance, if you don’t mind, Sergeant Major’ she barked, ‘this is a formal enquiry and I find your attitude disrespectful.’

She was trying to rattle me, ‘I do mind Harriet, I mind very much.’ I said, keeping my voice even, ‘if this is a formal interview as part of an official investigation, then I demand legal representation before we continue.’

‘You know we don’t work like that Sergeant Major, and if you’ve nothing to hide then why would you want legal representation?’

It was the standard bullshit response to that request, I’d used it myself occasionally. It usually sparked argument and argumentative people hand you the perfect opportunity to wind them up still further. People who get mad make mistakes. We seized on those mistakes like gold dust.

‘Is this a formal interview?’ I asked again. I felt my hackles rising, but I’d be damned if I’d show her my annoyance.

‘No’ she admitted, ‘but it could lead to one.’

‘So, there’s no one in the other room filming this through the mirror?’


She was lying. She was good, yes, but she was lying. I was within my rights to refuse to answer any more questions, but that would only fuel her suspicions. I liked my job and wanted to stay in this department, so I wanted to allay her suspicions rather than amplify them.

Shock is a two-way street as I was about to demonstrate.

The interviewee’s chair is bolted to the floor so it cannot be used as a weapon. The interviewer’s chair is not. I rose swiftly without a word and grabbed my chair swinging it hard at the mirror. It shattered, revealing two shocked corporals who were operating the camera and recording equipment.

I left my broken chair and, ignoring the corporals, walked slowly back to her. I sat on the edge of the table holding my fury in check.

She sat, pale faced, looking stunned, not knowing what to do next. I looked her coldly in the eye, saying nothing.

She recovered fast. ‘OK,’ she rasped, her cheeks flushed, ‘if you want to play this the hard way, Sergeant Major, we can apply some Green Slime Therapy.’

She was referring to the Army Intelligence Corps nickname of The Green Slime given to us by other units of the British Army because of the deep snot green colour of our berets and the slimy methods we used to gather intelligence. The ‘therapy’ she mentioned was torture. Stress positioning for hours on end, electric shocks applied to delicate body parts or waterboarding; a trick we’d picked up from the Americans.

‘I don’t think so, Harriet. This interview is your idea alone. You’d never get the authority.’

I had to admire this woman, though, she had thought this through carefully, not arousing my suspicions when we first met. If she was unsure of me she wouldn’t want to have me working for her.

To do this interview then watch my body language on film afterwards, going over it again and again, listening to my voice, even have it analysed for stress, which was a new technique in The Slime. That would have gotten her to the truth, even if she couldn’t prove it. She wouldn’t want a murderer working for her. Well, I didn’t consider myself a murderer. I simply solved a problem that was a festering sore in the unit. An overly ambitious officer who got people killed to further his ambitions was to be eliminated at all costs.

American soldiers had a way of dealing with such officers in Vietnam; they threw grenades into their foxholes in a practice known as Fragging. Many a glory seeking, gung-ho officer wound his neck in PDQ. It was justice at basic level. It may not be a civilised way to administer it, but then, war isn’t a civilised occupation.

Hers was a great idea. I might have done the same in her position only I would have done it slightly differently, informally. She should have known that a soldier of my experience wouldn’t be so easily rattled. That pointed to a lack of experience on her part. A flaw in the accelerated promotion system is that there is not enough time to gain experience. Being a bright Oxbridge type has its limitations.

‘Shall we retire to your office, Harriet?’ I said, kicking away a shard of mirror, ‘I believe your predecessor kept a bottle there.’ I’d beaten her at her own game, but I kept my voice neutral, no crowing, no smart-arsed remarks.

She stared ice crystals, making a new assessment, then she got up without a word and led the way.

In her office, she poured two large whiskeys before she spoke. When we were comfortable she finally said, ‘that was quite a performance you put on, though if you think I’m intimidated by it you’re mistaken. You’ll have to pay for that chair and mirror, too.’

I smiled, so, now she’ll try the charm offensive, I thought. I knew she hadn’t finished with me yet. She tasted her drink, rolling around her mouth like a true connoisseur.

‘What do you think?’ She asked, holding up her glass.

‘I think you’ve got a bloody nerve’ I said, ‘accusing me of murder with bugger-all evidence.’

‘I meant the whiskey’ she said, ‘and I haven’t accused you of anything, I merely asked a question.’

I knew what she’d meant but there was no way I was going to respond to this clever woman in a friendly, or informal way, not yet anyway. ’I prefer Bushmills myself, I told her, taking a sip. It was a fine, fifteen-year-old Islay, deeply peaty and silky smooth.

She went on to ask several seemingly casual questions about how I found the job. Did I feel the need for a counsellor? How did I think we were doing in the province? Did I have a girlfriend? All sounded like polite enquiry, almost an apology for putting me through her mill, showing me her human face. I knew different.

Most people we interviewed listen to our questions, not to understand us and why we were asking them, but simply to formulate an answer that will get them off the hook. They often answer before we’ve finished asking the question. This often led to their undoing.

I tired of her probing, so I cut to the chase. ‘Look, Harriet, if I did kill Frank then I would have had to have had a damned good reason, don’t you think?’ I watched her eyes carefully. The canthus of her eyes contracted slightly, she was forming her next statement without fully appreciating why I’d asked the question.

‘The rumour is you hated each other’ she said, ‘also, there are certain things in your file that suggest to me you might be capable of doing it.’

‘Like what?’ I asked.

‘Like the fact that you hate betrayal, or that you’re borderline psychopathic. Declan Dooley turned out to be a woman and that information was deliberately withheld from you. A bloke like you might read that as a betrayal.’

‘It was a betrayal’ I stated bluntly ‘and surprise damn near got me killed. It was the cause of some anger at the time. Frank and I had some harsh words, I shouted at him as you must know. Every bugger in the building must have heard me.’

She looked at me long and hard. ’Your psychological makeup would suggest…’

I jumped in harshly ‘So, you’re a fucking shrink now as well as an intelligence officer, are you?’ I wanted to shake this woman up a bit, make her mad, find out what she really believed and not just suspected.

‘Psychologist actually, graduated Oxford 1969’ she showed no anger at my abrupt interruption, she simply stated her qualifications. I’d bet even money she’d got a first, too. She was good, this woman.

I had to get her off my back. She was the only one who had even a flicker of suspicion about me. Everyone else connected to the case had congratulated me on my narrow escape. I liked her. Not because she was sexy, although that had its effect, but because she had an incisive mind. She also had the balls to follow through on her suspicions. She’d do for me.

I drained my glass and held it out for more; she poured me a large one. I placed it on the desk untasted and sat back. ‘You and I have got to work together, or not if you don’t trust me’ I said, watching her carefully for a reaction. I got none. ‘Frank was snob, an arrogant, elitist bastard and bloody difficult to work with. He got several people killed, including my predecessor, with his ruthlessness.’

She raised an eyebrow but stayed silent.

‘This base is full of people who hated him for one valid reason or another. Yes, the bomb was inside the car, I attended the court of enquiry and read all the evidence. The Provisional Irish Republican Army aren’t stupid, they know that even inside the base we check underneath our vehicles before we get in. This is primarily a police station. If you’re naïve enough to believe that every copper in the place is straight or is a dyed-in-the-wool Loyalist, then you’d better think again.’

I watched her as she watched me, reappraising our positions. ‘His car was in the compound and locked’ she stated.

I nodded. ‘Locked? Yes, that’s Standard Operating Procedures, but you know damn well the keys were kept in the open key locker in the corridor where anyone can get at them.’ All this was established SOP’s and she knew it, so what was her angle?

She stared hard at me ‘yes, that’s what the report said. You were in the car with him, so it looks like you had a narrow escape. But you know very well the road between here and where you got out is level. Even If you set the device as soon as you got into the car, the tilt switch wouldn’t have detonated the explosive before Frank went either up or down a hill. Furthermore, I’ve watched the camera footage overlooking the car pound. Apart from a seventy-year-old cleaner, no one went near his vehicle.’ Her voice remained matter-of-fact without a hint of accusation.

I refused to get outraged or even defensive. ‘The footage was not continuous, though, was it?’ The bloody system was always breaking down, sometimes for days on end.

She stared at me for almost half minute unblinking, ‘you’ve studied it yourself, then?’ she asked.

’Why would I? We had the Special Investigative Branch doing that job, those Military Police lads and lasses are good. If they’d seen I ’d been near that car they would have asked me why. They didn’t.’

She went to say something else, but I’d had enough of her bullshit. ‘Look, Harriet, you’re clutching at straws, it’s time you either put up or shut up. Piss, or get off the pot’ the last phrase wasn’t necessary, it was designed to needle her.

I picked up my drink and sniffed it appreciatively before taking a sip, ‘I’m not going to confirm or deny killing him, Harriet. Whatever I tell you, you’ll doubt, so, I’ll leave you to make up your own mind. Either report your suspicions to HQ and make it official or drop them and let us work together.’ I paused to give her chance to answer but all she did was give a shrug. ‘If you can’t trust me, then please get me posted out.’

She shrugged again, her shoulders almost touching her ears, then she took a long drink whilst she thought this over. If she had thought I’d be easy meat, some dumb killer, a blunt instrument to be used only for the dark deniable stuff, she now knew better.

She sighed ‘Whatever. I’ll have to consider this further, I’ll let you know tomorrow.’

I grinned now, trying to lighten the atmosphere ‘personally, Harriet, I think we’d make a damned good team, you’re as sharp as a shit house rat.’

She didn’t respond to my flattery. ‘Like I said, Jack, I’ll let you know.’

So, at least I was Jack again. I considered that progress. I swallowed my drink in a single gulp, ‘fine,’ I said, I got up and headed for the door. Turning, I gave her my broadest grin ‘and you can pay for that fuckin’ chair and mirror yourself.’

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