Heartbreak, by John Righten. Preview of Chapter 1, Rogue Operator

Chapter 1: Rogue Operator

3pm, 16 July 1995, Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, (formerly part of Yugoslavia)


‘Captain, the Cheshire Regiment have reported that there is a truck on the road to Tuzla,’ said the radio operative.

      ‘We’re witnessing the largest exodus of civilians since World War II. Did you expect them all to be riding donkeys?’ Captain Carlisle stepped forward. ‘Still no reports of any males among the families?’

     ‘Only young boys and old men.’

     ‘The Bosnian Serbs may have promised safe passage, but that bastard General Mladić is up to something.’

     The sound of rotor blades grew louder, as one of HMS Chatham’s Lynx helicopters landed on the helipad.

     ‘Who’s on it?’ asked Captain Carlisle.

     ‘Maximum security, no names,’ replied Lieutenant Cole, who was standing beside the captain.

     ‘Thankfully, not the admiral then. Royalty I expect. With any luck the Queen Mother; superb company. Check that we’re OK for gin, Lieutenant,’ said the captain.

     The radio operative lowered his voice. ‘Sorry Captain, the truck . . .’

     ‘What of it?’ snapped his superior.

     ‘It’s parked on a bank . . . ,’ he said and turned to look up at his commanding officer, ‘. . . pointing in the opposite direction, towards Bosnian-Serb-held territory.’

     ‘What!’ said the captain, peering at the screen in the communications room of the naval frigate. The grainy, black and white aerial footage was transmitted by a US Tomcat monitoring the train of refugees and NATO trucks fleeing from the town of Srebrenica. ‘Jesus, who the hell is mad enough to enter a war zone? The MiG-29s will descend on it like vampires.’ He glanced across several screens on the control panel. ‘Where are the two MiGs now?’

     ‘They’re continuing to harry the refugee convoy,’ continued the radio operative.

     ‘If they open fire right in front of us, it’s World War III,’ said the captain.

     ‘The Bosnian-Serbs are not crazy enough to give that order with UN troops all around, are they?’ said the lieutenant.

     ‘Whether they give the order, or one pilot has an itchy finger, the outcome will be the same,’ said the captain.

      The radio operative monitoring the truck zoomed in, then spoke again: ‘Captain, smoke is starting to pour from the exhaust.’

      ‘That’s all we need,’ said Captain Carlisle.

      ‘Could it be one of the Rogues?’ asked the lieutenant.

      ‘Leave conjecture to the pen-pushers in Whitehall,’ replied his superior.

      Another radio operator turned her head. ‘The vehicle is registered to a charity, Nurses Abroad, and said to be carrying insulin for a children’s hospital in Mostar.’

     Captain Carlisle paused. ‘It can’t be a Rogue. They’re either dead, in straitjackets, or on the run.’ He leaned further forward to view the live feed. ‘It has to be some other kind of lunatic.’

     A woman strode over to the two men and peered at the screen. ‘One Rogue retired,’ said Commander Stanford.

     Sunlight entered the room, causing the officers to turn towards the open door.

A dapper-looking rotund man in his fifties, with wild grey hair, entered.

      ‘Bloody hell!’ said Captain Carlisle. ‘We really are on the edge of Armageddon if you’re here, Foxy.’

      ‘I’ve had friendlier welcomes,’ said Viscount ‘Foxy’ Foxborough. ‘Captain, Commander,’ he nodded as he strode over to the control panel.

      ‘I take it you know the driver?’ asked Commander Stanford.

Foxy said nothing, and peered anxiously at the screen.

      ‘It’s edging forward,’ said the radio operative, sitting up.


The engine of the twelve-wheel Roadrunner T45 truck roared angrily, as its gears began to stir its pistons into life. The driver eased the engine into second gear as it crawled along the bank at an angle to the crowded road. The driver worked the accelerator and gear stick smoothly changing it up to third gear and then fourth within a distance of 100 metres.


Hundreds of weary heads began to lift, as the gleaming unmarked truck quickened its pace as it thundered up the bank towards the makeshift roadblock. Dutch UN troops began to shout, ‘Hou op!’ (stop!), and a few refugees waved their arms. The truck was deaf to their pleas.

A little boy’s hand slipped from his mother’s, as he stumbled down the bank into the path of the climbing truck. The driver pulled sharply to the left, hitting a branch and shattering the windscreen.

The truck ploughed through the field, before turning right to once again scale the bank.


In a troop carrier parked 300 metres ahead, the commotion alerted two Serbian troops who were lighting their cigarettes. The truck was coming right at them. They leapt from the vehicle towards the abandoned field of rapeseed. The baying roar of the on-coming truck’s horn startled the Serbian soldiers as they fumbled to find the triggers of their submachine guns. Now only metres away, the two soldiers disappeared into the yellow-carpeted fields. The truck steered to the right as it finally burst onto the road. It punched arrogantly through the barrier of the road block, as if it were balsa wood. The two soldiers scrambled back into view and ripped back the triggers of their sub machine guns as the vehicle sped past, releasing their deafening rage.


Bullets ricocheted off the armour plates that shielded the truck’s wheels but continued upwards shattering the driver’s side window. UN troops and civilians dropped to the ground or disappeared into the fields of yellow to the right. With the road a hundred metres ahead packed with refugees, the driver kept the accelerator flush to the floor while veering the truck left at the fork in the road and onto the empty road leading towards the Gradina Hills. The MiGs veered away from the exodus of civilians and UN troops towards the barren road, before screeching directly over their next target.


‘The MiGs are turning full circle heading towards the train of refugees again,’ said the radio operator. ‘Even lower this time. They’re practically scraping the ground.’

      ‘Anti-aircraft missiles?’ asked Foxy, solemnly.

      ‘We’re too far away,’ replied the captain. ‘Even if we weren’t, No 10 would have to sanction it.’

      ‘Only after they talked to the White House,’ added Foxy, shaking his head. ‘Can you remove their warheads?’

      ‘We have dummy missiles for range practice, Sir,’ added the lieutenant.

      ‘They still have guidance systems?’ asked Foxy.

      The lieutenant nodded.

      ‘But if they’re unarmed and can’t reach their targets what’s the point?’ said the captain.

      Commander Stanford interjected, ‘The missiles may not reach them, but their guidance systems will lock on to the MiGs. When they do, it will send the aircrafts’ defence systems in the cockpit into orbit. They will withdraw, we can abort the rockets and let them fall into the sea.’

      Captain Carlisle frowned. ‘High risk. If the MiGs shoot them down first, or if anything blocks our signals to the guidance systems, we’ll all be sitting on the bottom of the sea.’

      ‘Once the truck is destroyed, I have no doubt they will turn on the refugees,’ said Foxy. ‘Launching your missiles may be our only hope of averting war, Captain.’

      ‘The MiGs are zooming in on the truck now,’ said the radio operative.

      ‘Load dummy missiles,’ ordered Captain Carlisle.

      ‘Four MiG fighters are reported to have taken off from Belgrade’s Surčin Airport,’ said another radio operative.

      The ship’s blaring tannoy scrambled the crew to their stations.

      ‘Missiles loaded. Green light!’ said one of the operators.

      ‘Launch missiles,’ ordered Captain Carlisle.

      Within seconds, two Sea Wolf anti-aircraft missiles were screaming through the skies towards land.

      Everyone in HMS Chatham’s control room watched the game of death played out on the black and white screen in silence.


Counting down the seconds behind the cracked face of the Rolex watch, the driver of the truck kept the accelerator flat into the pool of blood on the floor.


‘The MiGs are less than a thousand metres from the train of refugees,’ said the radio operator, swallowing quickly.

      The British officers stared at the two advancing Russian-built grey-winged insects on screen, while Foxy squinted at the grainy small black box in their flight path. He lifted his hands and clasped them in front of his face, resting his fingertips on his nose.

      ‘Captain, the MiGs are rising,’ the radio operator said, reading the rapidly increasing numbers by each speeding insect.


As the caravan of refugees began to disappear into the horizon, the two swooping silhouettes became more distinct. The driver peered up at the broken rear-view mirror to be met by glacial-blue eyes. The first strafes from the MiGs’ autocannons ripped through the abandoned fields and tore up the road ahead. The roar of the aircraft above the truck’s cabin was deafening. The MiGs had missed, but now they had their line. The driver ripped the scarlet bandana wrapped around the Redfield telescopic sight on the dashboard and pressed it against the shoulder wound. The accelerator pedal disappeared beneath the bloodied boot.


‘They are coming around again. Both MiGs are locked on the truck,’ said the radio operator. The calm demeanour of the officers in the control room was exposed by their still, grey faces.

      ‘Both missiles have entered Bosnian airspace. Two minutes to impact,’ said the radio operative coolly. ‘90 seconds. 80 . . . Sir! One MiG’s broken off.’

      ‘Abort!’ ordered the captain, calmly.

      The ship’s klaxon fell silent, as both Sea Wolf missiles fell from the sky into the sea. With the convoy of refugees edging off the black and white screen, all eyes returned to the small white rectangle and the single lethal grey fly heading towards it.

      ‘The guy in the truck is ploughing ahead,’ said the captain, shaking his head.

      ‘The truck is heading for the mountains, but the forest is not dense enough and it will still be visible from the air,’ said the radio operative.

      ‘God help him. Whoever he was, he had the biggest pair of balls on the planet,’ said Captain Carlisle crossing his arms.

      Commander Stanford shook her head. ‘Balls?’

      Foxy gripped the top of the chair in front of him.

      ‘That’s one cooked goose,’ noted the captain, as he watched the final attack on the screen. ‘At least he saved those poor bastards on the road, though.’

      Commander Stanford turned to the British diplomat. ‘I guess that was the plan, Foxy, but at what cost?’

      Foxy pressed his hands against his face and closed his eyes. ‘MiG’s missiles launched!’ said the radio operator.


The truck’s driver breathed slowly, to ease the flow of blood seeping into the bandana as the MiG reappeared above the Majevica Mountains to the right. It began to turn towards its easy prey, covering the exposed valley in seconds. The driver watched as two flashes obscured the MiG’s wings as it released its lethal cargo. Two S-24 rockets raced towards their target. The blistering sun was replaced by darkness.


All was silent inside the control room on the HMS Chatham. The radio operator looked up at Captain Carlisle, who turned to Commander Stanford, who was shaking her head and staring at Foxy.

Foxy slowly dropped his hands from his face, slipping one inside his tweed jacket to retrieve a silver flask. Slowly, he unscrewed the top and raised his trembling hand to take a long swig of Talisker single malt.

Captain Carlisle turned to Foxy, and to the surprise of his exhausted crew, he began to clap slowly. ‘A tunnel! A bloody tunnel!’

The Lenka Trilogy

“1990. A young teacher volunteers for an aid mission and finds herself in the company of rogues - and the target of mercenaries.”

Heartbreak, the first novel in The Lenka Trilogy, by John Righten, release date 29th November 2019.

This completes my trio of trilogies that covers the most tumultuous century in our history. The second novel, Blood Money, will be released in 2020. The last novel in the trilogy, Stand Alone, will be released in 2021. My final novel, The Englander, a separate novel based on one of the key characters in The Lenka Trilogy, will be released 2022.


Chronology of John Righten’s novels:

The Rogues Trilogy, 1930’s pre-war epic:

Churchill’s Rogue, shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Inaugural Adventure Awards. Released 2013.

The Gathering Storm released 2014.

The Darkest Hour released 2015.


The Lochran Trilogy, 1960’s adventure thrillers:

Churchill’s Assassin released 2016.

The Last Rogue released 2017.

The Alpha Wolves released 2018.

The ‘Pane’ of Rejection, a short play that takes a wry look at writing though the acerbic encounter between the author and a critic. Released in 2017.

The Benevolence of Rogues, a humorous autobiography covering the “Rogues” I met before and during my humanitarian aid missions. Released 2012.

Free chapter from the final novel in The Lochran Trilogy, "The Alpha Wolves", which is now available from Amazon

Chapter 3 Flight of the Raven


New Year’s Eve 1965, Canadian air space


‘A coded message from New York, Mistress,’ said Keitel, handing the woman a note.

The woman was sitting down, with her long legs were resting on the backrest of the seat in front. She said nothing as she snatched the note, before waving her bodyguard away to his seat in the cockpit.

The Learjet 23 continued its ascent having taken off from Toronto thirty minutes earlier, carrying one passenger, its owner. The woman, who was dressed in black, apart from a white, linen blouse with a high, unyielding, starched collar, began to type the message into the cypher on the seat beside her. Minutes later, it began to print:

‘Lochran Ryan located . . . Alpha Wolves engaged . . .’

Involuntarily, she lifted her painted fingernails to run them across her thickly glossed lips as she read the following, final two words.

Adrestia Brooks lifted her head and turned to the window. The final words of the last sentence brought back memories from three years earlier, when she had first negotiated the curtains of rain sweeping across Whitehall.

30th November 1963, London

The young woman, six foot in height, with black hair bordered by a schoolgirl fringe, wore a dowdy beige raincoat over her drab cream buttoned-up blouse and overly-long black skirt as she skipped to avoid the shower’s desperate embrace. She hoisted a large umbrella, as her flat, matt-black Woolworth’s shoes raced through the puddles along her path from the Embankment to Whitehall Gardens Building, or as it was better known, the Ministry of Defence.

Once again, she found the exertion of dodging the city’s red buses, or any sudden movement, painful as her innocent, unthreatening look was reliant on wearing a corset to flattened her curves.

Having reached the corner just before the Ministry of Defence, she examined her recently issued identity card, tapped furiously by raindrops as if to draw attention to its lies. Her pass stated that she was an employee of the Metropolitan Police, which was true, but every other detail was a fabrication. Her date of birth stated 1943, making her two years younger than her real age. The name on the card was Jane Brück, rather than Adrestia Brooks. These errors would have been compounded, if it stated her position as it was written in her contract, ‘a specialist knowledge of international criminal organisations’.

When she applied for the post three months earlier, she was confident her deception would not be discovered as her colleagues would not listen to a woman on such matters, let alone one so young.

The head of the interview panel, Commander Daniel Macleod, was the only one she viewed as a threat, for she assessed that only he would call on her services. Later, she would learn it was his idea to create such a position, as international criminal organisations were becoming increasingly prevalent in the capital. The Tong had taken control of the protection rackets in Soho’s Gerrard Street, or as it was commonly known, Chinatown – Macleod’s first beat, when he joined the Metropolitan Police thirty-one years earlier.

Adrestia had done her research on the panel prior to the interview. Macleod had a teenage daughter. In the weeks leading up to the interview, she shadowed and began to adopt Janet's image and mannerisms.

On the day of the interview, the chair of the panel directed his questions in an avuncular manner as the candidate was strikingly like his daughter. Adrestia knew she had the job before it was official, as the Commander admonished another member of the panel when he asked, ‘Why should we offer such a position to a bit of skirt?’

Once she secured the post, she quickly befriended Janet and within weeks became her flatmate – the previous one had been pushed under an underground train by a person or persons unknown.

Having adopted Janet's appearance, Adrestia added the traits of naivety and gullibility to continue to nurture patriarchal feelings towards her in her new employer. This would provide her with time to develop her knowledge of her specialist field of which she could cover the broad questions posed by the interview panel, but no more. However, over the next two years her intimate knowledge of the crime bosses and their networks would surpass that of the best of accredited experts in the field of criminology.

The young woman had applied for the position, following a comment from her father. This was after his arrest, and later release, for the murder of Millicent Regan, the head of a notorious East London criminal family: ‘If only I had someone in Scotland Yard who could get me close to Macleod, then can I kill him too.’

It was only once she had secured the position that she realised her father’s lack of ambition. Now she had access to the secrets and files of the most famous enforcement institution and neighbouring government departments, the murder of the Commander of New Scotland Yard was the last outcome she desired. Despite her father’s initial protestations, rather than setting her father on his quarry, she convinced him that by keeping the compliant Macleod alive they could discover who released her father from the asylum, and why – though she secretly held far grander ambitions.

Her first act in her new post was to make a formal request to the Ministry of Defence to examine their files, on the pretext that many international criminal organisations originated from the military. Again, it was a lie, but as the authorised specialist in the field of international crime, no one was in a position to argue.

A month later, an official letter from the Ministry granting her access to the archives landed in her in-tray. She fought hard to suppress her excitement from her colleagues sitting at their desks on the other side of the glass partition.


At the corner of the Ministry of Defence building, she lowered her umbrella and placed it in her satchel to ensure she was thoroughly soaked. It was bound to secure a sympathetic, rather than an inquisitive response from those managing the building’s records department.

Minutes later, she was led into the basement of the building and confronted by Mrs Granger, the severe-looking, middle-aged manager of the archives. The young woman introduced herself, holding out a trembling wet hand. ‘You poor girl, please call me Gladys,’ said the woman, who hurried off to secure the ‘poor girl’ a towel to dry her hair.

Now alone, Adrestia walked purposefully along the various aisles and shelves of ledgers filed in date order. When she found the section she was after, she ran her severely clipped fingernails along the walls of box files. Having selected several ledgers marked The Alpha Wolves covering the years 1933 to 1939, she set to work. Moments later Gladys returned, still breathing deeply as she was not used to doing things in haste. She placed a towel, a mug of steaming tea and a generous assortment of custard creams and chocolate digestives on the desk beside the ‘poor girl’.


For the next six months, Adrestia meticulously went through each file, slipping anything signed by Major Klaus Krak, infamously known by his enemies - he had no friends - as Cerberus, into her satchel. Over those months, her giddiness at analysing every paper from the Alpha Wolves files was unabated, with most days stretching into the night.

First thing each Monday morning she checked Commander Macleod’s diary and if he were attending an evening function, she would leave the archives earlier than usual and return to New Scotland Yard. If Macleod were to return to his office to collect his overcoat or to sign a document, he would find the young woman, who was known throughout the building as Plain Jane – a name she coined having let slip on many an occasion that this was her nickname at school – working studiously at her desk. On these occasions he would open the door to her office to say goodnight and shake his head and sigh, ‘Poor Jane. You work far too hard. You should get out and let your hair down.’

On her last visit to the Ministry of Defence building, her long, thin fingers trembled as she lifted the leaves from the last file marked September 1939. She inhaled, expecting it to contain details of the final hours of the person she worshipped, Cerberus. The file held pages of train logs from Berlin’s Anhalter Bahnhof train station, once the route to the East. The station was in the American sector. However, it was the British who commandeered the files before the city was effectively divided between them after the war and the other two occupying powers the French and the Soviets. One narrow folder recorded the arrivals and departures of Cerberus’ death train for that month. A telegram fell from between the logs. Like a serpent, Adrestia snatched it before it reached the floor. She knew what it was, as her teeth drew blood from her naked lips. It was, indeed, the final communiqué from Cerberus’ train before Sean Ryan delivered it at full speed into the heart of Himmler’s Fortress. The great man, and his legion of Alpha Wolves, were all killed, while the whore, Lenka Habermann, and several worthless families, mostly Jewish, lived.

The sentence in her hand began ‘. . . death count high . . .’ but ended with two fateful words.

New Year’s Eve 1965, United States airspace

The woman, with carefully drawn black eyeliner and brutally swept-back lacquered hair, as black as the furious clouds battering her plane, sat still and in silence. She continued to stare at nothing out of the portal, as lightning attacked neighbouring clouds and the wind ferociously rocked the jet while rain battered the windows as if seeking refuge.

Adrestia Brooks lifted her fingers and began to stroke the end of her sharp nose, as she recalled the telegram she discovered on her final visit to the Ministry of Defence. She had slipped it beside the other mementoes in her leather satchel. She opened her Coco Chanel crocodile skin handbag and lifted out the black leather folder. Resting it on her thighs, she undid the gold silk ribbon, which once, supposedly, had secured Cerberus’ collection of personally adapted instruments of torture.

She withdrew the final telegram sent from Cerberus’ train. It ended with the same words as the message Keitel had handed her:

‘. . . Fierce resistance . . .’

Review of The Last Rogue, Self-Publishing Review (US)

"John Righten ratchets up the tension quotient tenfold in The Last Rogue, a continuation of his no-holds-barred political thriller series, the Lochran Trilogy.

It seems as though Lenka Haberman’s closely guarded world has gone to hell. Katalina, a gentle Russian woman hidden in her orphanage, is brutally murdered and her son’s lover, Kirsten Brett, has been arrested in her murder. A bomb has devastated Scotland Yard and Lenka’s son, Lock, has been arrested for instigating the attack. Then there’s also the attempted assassination of her good friend, Winston Churchill. With the clock ticking, Lenka is determined to track down the mastermind behind the chaos and to do so will require keeping her friends close and her enemies even closer…

The strong personal convictions of Righten’s protagonists, Lenka and Lock, are what make The Last Rogue so compelling. Both characters are tough and abrasive to a fault, yet are fiercely protective, and both are willing to die for their cause. Thanks to the novel’s strong characterization, steadfast narrative, and solid emphasis on historical relevance, Righten makes his story an irresistible read.

Although the reader is likely better served in having read the first book in the series, The Last Rogue can easily be enjoyed as a standalone, but historical political thriller fans will most certainly want to start from the beginning of this dynamic series."

Editor, Self-Publishing Review August 2017

The Last Rogue

Chapter 6: Dead on Time


12th January 1965, County Dublin

The clock on the ferry terminal wall said ten o’clock; it was either one hour fast or more likely eleven hours slow. Lochran assessed the man at the back of the queue of travellers at Dún Laoghaire ferry terminal. He was immaculately dressed in a herring-bone tweed tailor-made suit, a knee-length black Crombie overcoat, a wide-collared silk shirt and an almost phosphorescent canary-yellow hand-woven knotted tie secured by a gold tie-pin, with matching gold wristwatch and a pocket watch on a chain. Beside him sat an unusually large dark blue Samsonite case.

Lochran knew that no one would take the cattle-boat to England unless that was all they could afford, they were entering the country under the radar like him, or were in search of someone.

As the assassin – for it was clear to Lochran that that was his profession – made no attempt to be inconspicuous, it meant his kills were usually from a distance or from behind. Time, at least on this mission, was also his master, as the man checked his Rolex watch twice and the one in his waistcoat pocket once before reaching the ticket inspector.

On the ferry, Lochran took a seat in the far corner of the food hall with his back to the wall. He observed the two entrances at the far end of the room. The windows all around him were thick and secured to their frames. He took a sip from the polystyrene cup that despite the Maxwell House label on the tin it came from had not the slightest flavour of coffee.

He sat there and observed adults developing sea-sickness or falling asleep on their bags and cases, drained, no doubt, by their journeys from across Ireland. Like balls in a pinball machine, children ran between tables, luggage and relatives, giddy with excitement in their new playground until the combination of the rocking of the boat, and the odour of stale beer and blocked toilets caused them to retch.

Lochran smiled as a young couple on a far table bent their ears in earnest to a small battery-operated Philips transistor radio. In between the piercing crackles you could hear fragments of The Beatles, I Feel Fine, broadcast from the Radio Caroline pirate ship.

Two little boys ran up to Lochran’s table and began to weave models of Thunderbirds 1 and 2 in the air in front of him. The big Irishman did not smile, though he wanted to, but snarled at the boys causing them to run back to their parents. When they reached them, two males in the party looked menacingly over at Lochran after the boys related what had happened. Lochran met their gaze and the two men averted theirs. Lochran took another sip of his tasteless drink – that corner of the room would soon be no place for children.

Lochran retrieved the book he had brought in Foyles in Charing Cross Road from his holdall and began to read. Twenty minutes later, the immaculately dressed assassin entered the restaurant and removed his black Panama hat as he strode purposefully towards the serving counter. The man, who was in his mid to late thirties, took his place at the far end of the weary queue and checked his pocket watch. He was fit and powerful, matching Lochran in height and build. His free-flowing, bottle-dyed wavy blond hair was countered by small rat-like brown eyes set deep in a granite-grey face. This was a man who in any other business would be viewed as a diligent operative as he was clearly fully focused on his objective: in his field, he would be viewed as lethal.

He picked up a plastic cup that contained a spoonful of Brooke Bond tea and a similar amount of Marvel powdered milk. Lukewarm water sent the contents on their separate ways, as the powder congealed into sediment and the leaves floated on the top. He glanced at it with revulsion, and set off towards his target.

When he reached the table, he extended his right hand towards Lochran. ‘May I join you?’

Lochran ignored the outstretched hand. ‘Fuck off!’

The man withdrew his hand and sat down on a cracked plastic chair facing his quarry, separated only by a plastic table with a fractured top.

‘Oh dear, such hostility. We Irish are renowned for our hospitable nature. You’d better watch your manners. In these troubled times people have been murdered for less.’ Lochran stared at the man who was checking the time on his pocket-watch before placing it back in his waistcoat. The man continued. ‘Look around at these poor bastards. All trying to start a new life in the land of “the old enemy”. But, unlike you, they have a future.’

The immaculately dressed man produced a 1964 Charter Arms .38 Special under the table and aimed it at Lochran’s crotch.

Lochran heard the ratcheting back of the trigger one notch. He reached for his beverage.

‘Ah, ah! Carefully now, someone might get scalded,’ said Kerrigan, as he tapped the inside of Lochran’s knee with the barrel.

‘Not if they bought a drink on this bucket,’ replied Lochran, taking a sip of the tepid brew.

‘Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it. Slowly put it back down.’

Lochran took a gulp before doing so. ‘I take it you’re trying to panic me, so that I’ll run off and then you’ll track me down to a quieter part of the ship and finish me off?’

‘It would be easier to kill you here.’

‘There are fifty people in this room and with the gun at that angle you’ll castrate me, and if the shock doesn’t kill me I promise you that I’ll scream like a bitch.’ The other man eased his finger off the trigger. ‘Mind you, to turn up to an assassination dressed like the oddments dummy in a Moss Brothers window, you might be stupid enough to try and kill me here.’

The assassin smiled. ‘It was worth a try. I was going to look away at one point and turn the revolver towards the counter in the hope that you would seize the moment to flee. But I see that I will have to do this the hard way.’

‘I’m pleased to hear that I’ve ruined what’s left of your day.’

 ‘I gathered this would not be a smooth process. Once you spotted me at the ferry terminal, the element of surprise was lost.’ The assassin offered Lochran a filtered cigarette from a packet of Embassy with his free hand.

‘Shove it,’ replied Lochran.

 ‘A bit late to be worrying about your health. I still have a gun on you.’ He smiled and then shrugged, as he slipped the revolver back into his coat. ‘Let me introduce myself: I’m Kerrigan.’

‘Who sent you?’

‘I received a call from my paymasters in the “Provos”.’

‘Anyone in particular? You can say, as you clearly believe I will be pushing up daisies tomorrow.’

‘Néall Quincy, chief Irish Republican fundraiser in the United States. I take it you know him.’

‘We only met once; pissed his pants.’

‘He’s an old man, but that is something you will never have to worry about,’ Kerrigan said without expression, though he glanced again at his watch. ‘Did you know Mickey Flynn? He was a runner for the “provos”.’

‘My mother shared a drink with him on a couple of occasions.’

‘I put a bullet in the back of his head last week. The order came from the top, The General himself. You’d think my paymasters would have saved themselves a shilling in the phone box and ordered both hits in one call.’

‘Perhaps the left hand did not know that the right hand was also on the trigger.’

‘Quincy acting on his own; that could severely damage his health.’

‘It has.’

The assassin looked quizzically at his latest assignment as he clearly didn’t know that Quincy was dead. Lochran knew that there was no point in telling him this, as Kerrigan would only think he was making it up in an attempt to save his life.

‘Strange, I must say.’ Kerrigan spread his hands out on the table. ‘But it is not my concern to understand the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’. I have my assignment and, as always, I will complete it,’ he said matter-of-factly.

 ‘However, I must say that all this is a very unusual experience for a professional such as myself, as I never get to engage with my marks. But here we are, having a civilised conversation over this. . .’ He held the thin plastic container up and assessed it with disgust, as if it were a urine sample.

Kerrigan placed the brittle plastic container back down untouched. ‘How many people have you killed, Mr Ryan? Ten, maybe a few more? I’ve killed ten times that, and maimed many more; bombs can be so indiscriminate.’ He removed his hands from the table. ‘I’d say you are around twenty-five, maybe twenty-six; I have ten years more experience in these matters.’

Kerrigan rested his hand on his jaw as if he were contemplating a chess move. ‘Yet, it would be foolish of me to underestimate you, as I would say that those you killed were up close and face to face. Mine were mostly by a bullet from afar, or a knife into the neck or a wrench to the throat, always from behind. I may beat you on quantity but yours are what I may call . . . quality.’

Lochran continued to assess his opponent, whose free hand hovered over a pocket of his Crombie, which probably contained a short-handed automatic pistol, rather than a knife, which Kerrigan would have to extract first.

‘Now that I no longer have the element of surprise, I would say that, if we were betting men, you would be the favourite to win our duel – would you agree?’

Lochran took a sip from the polystyrene container that had lost more of its instant coffee from the crack in its side than from the top.

‘Stay dumb while you weigh me up, Mr Ryan, I don’t mind. I like the book you are reading by the way, Joyce’s Ulysses. A complex book, though at times I felt he must have had a number of debtors at his door; I got the feeling his publisher was paying him by the word.’

Kerrigan reclined on the plastic chair that had two legs screwed to the wooden floor; the mounts of the other two were broken. ‘Not easy to read at the best of times, yet you covered eight pages whilst you waited for your assassin to appear. I take your lack of regard for my skills as an insult, by the way.’ He grinned, betraying that he was impressed by the man’s calm composure.

He looked again at the beverage before deciding to rest it back on the table.

‘I’m a great lover of books. Some say it is a sign of being cultured, but in this line of work it helps to bury yourself in a good novel. There is no point engaging with anyone in this business – as you will probably have to kill them one day.

I carry out executions for the “Provos” Mr Ryan, not because I hate the English, or for the cause but because I have no idea what I would do in polite society. I can’t see myself working in a bank, or as a librarian for that matter. Can you?’

‘Perhaps a fancy-dress shop?’

Kerrigan ignored the jibe and lifted the tea to his lips, but stopped when he smelt it.

‘Disgusting bilge water. Anyway, I’m sure it’s the same for you; a normal existence is not for us. That is why you seek trouble. Women, children, the infirm, you see it as your patronising mission to protect those in danger, a respectable cloak of morality under which you can exercise your violent nature.’

Lochran said nothing, leaving Kerrigan to continue. ‘You no doubt see this as elevating you above me, a fellow killer, as you convince yourself that your claim to the moral high ground justifies your propensity towards violence.’ Kerrigan glared at Lochran. ‘We are both killers. The only difference between us is that you’re a hypocrite, whereas I am honest about who I am and why I kill.’

Lochran said nothing.

Kerrigan grinned, ‘Even now you are sizing me up so as to know how to defend yourself and then counter-attack when we shortly try to kill each other. We know that only one of us will reach land alive, whilst the other will end up as bird food on a Welsh beach in the morning.’

Lochran continued to stare at Kerrigan, without saying a word.

Kerrigan continued. ‘Your poor conversational skills are not worthy of our country’s reputation – let’s get down to business. If we fight here, you risk the death of many of the families asleep around us.’

‘You care little for those around us, but outside there’ll be no witnesses.’

‘Agreed,’ smiled Kerrigan. ‘So up on the top deck in ten minutes, where in the midst of the storm we will have no fear of intrusion and I can convey you to your God.’

Lochran nodded, knowing only one thing for sure, that when Kerrigan attacked it would not be in ten minutes. He sat back, leaving the book open on the swaying table, and was reminded of a time he was having breakfast in the orphanage nearly twenty years earlier.


5th December 1947, Cork


‘A fight can be lost before the first blow is struck,’ repeated Lenka to her seven-year old son.

‘Unless you shoot your opponent,’ replied the little boy, cocking his hand like a gun before shouting ‘Bang!’ in her direction.

Lenka shook her head. ‘No.’

‘So, you can’t shoot someone first.’

‘Well, yes you can, but that’s not what I mean.’

The boy’s Aunt Marisa slammed down two bowls of porridge in front of them. ‘This is not a conversation to be had at the breakfast table.’

‘Is it OK for any other table?’ asked the young Lochran.

‘Don’t get smart with me young man, save the lip for your mother.’

The young Lochran smiled at his mother, before blowing on a spoonful of steaming oats. ‘I’m all yours, Lenka.’

His mother looked knowingly at him, but continued. ‘I’m talking about where and when to fight. If you’re challenged to a fight, your opponent has already secured the advantage by having picked the time and the place. If you can, delay the fight, it will unnerve them.’ The boy swallowed the porridge, as his mother placed the tin salt cellar on top of the teapot, raising it above the pepper. ‘Remember, select your ground. On the battlefield, the army that is first to dig in on the highest point,’ she said, pointing at the salt, ‘has the advantage. The opposing army,’ looking down at the pepper pot, ‘will have to fight uphill with only a partial view of the terrain.’

Lochran scooped another spoonful from his bowl. ‘There’s always another option, Lenka.’

‘Which is?’ said his mother dubiously.

‘Sugar,’ he replied, as he sprinkled a teaspoonful from the bowl onto his porridge.

Marisa plonked another ladle of porridge into the boy’s bowl. ‘Father Harahan would not be impressed if he were here.’

Lenka was unperturbed. ‘Oh, he would. All my trousers are in the wash, so I’m wearing a skirt.’

‘Dear God Lenka, have you no respect for anything? Father Harahan is a man of the cloth.’

‘He’s a man first,’ responded Lenka.

Lenka turned back to look at the giggling Lochran. ‘It’s the same with time. If you can delay the encounter, and keep your opponent waiting, even the bravest will grow anxious as they will not know when you will attack. You have then turned the tables and have surprise on your side.’

Marisa returned to the table and placed a glass of milk in front of her nephew. She scowled at Lenka. ‘Well, at least you’re not filling his head with images of exploded brains and gouged-out eye sockets.’

‘No need, you just have,’ retorted Lenka. 

The teenage Estelle entered the kitchen and lowered her forehead towards the boy. ‘Morning Lock, my favourite little man. Have I missed much?’

Lochran pressed his forehead against hers – their special greeting. ‘Lenka is teaching me the importance of patience, keeping calm and picking your moment when being pushed into a fight.’

Estelle looked at Lenka. ‘I’m impressed; you used those words?’

Lenka ignored Marisa’s satisfied expression. ‘Not exactly, but he’s got the gist of it.’

Lochran lifted his head up and looked at Estelle. The young woman smiled back, winked and whispered, ‘I don’t think my little man needs any lessons on how to use his wits.’


12th January 1965, The Irish Sea


Twenty minutes later Lochran was familiarising himself with the outline of the boat, as he rechecked the diagram outside the purser’s office. The boat was rocking violently, leaving its halls and corridors splattered with vomit. The purser came out of his office.

Sur don’t worry, if we all breathe in we just about have enough lifeboats to go around.’

‘That’s good to know,’ replied Lochran. ‘Do we have contact with either mainland?’

‘Not in this thunderstorm, though there’s little they could do if we went down except inform next of kin. There’s a chapel down the end of the hall if you want to have a word with the big man upstairs though.’

‘We’re not on speaking terms,’ replied Lochran.

‘Ah, there’s plenty of time to get insurance in place near the end, that’s the good thing about being Catholics; a quick repentance right at the end and the slate is wiped clean.’

The tipsy purser walked off laughing and then shouted back. ‘If ya bored we’ve got one of those shooting games in the amusement arcade on level one by the bar.’


Two hours later, making it around a quarter past four in the morning and having seen the lights of the port of Holyhead in the distance, Lochran left his book, opened flat on pages 50 and 51, on the table. He made his way through the swarm of passengers that lay contorted in unnatural positions on the floor, desperately trying to sleep.

Lochran had assessed that the professional sniper had set himself in position and would not move until his target appeared. He also hoped that Kerrigan would be a little uneasy as the clock was now against him. He not only had to kill Lochran, but also throw his body overboard well before he could be spotted as the ship entered the dock.

Lochran had the exact same plan. He didn’t want to be involved in any incident as they landed nor draw attention from the authorities. He also hoped that his opponent would have formed the view that with the delay, he was either a coward, or was hiding and waiting to inform the police as soon as they landed.

Even if he had failed to unnerve Kerrigan, with the storm, the assassin would be cold and wet making his reflexes heavy and a little duller than usual as a result.

Lochran made his way up to the exits in the middle of the ship, as the diagram had the outline of lifeboats on either side. If Kerrigan was lucky enough to pick the one of the six exits that Lochran would emerge from, as least he would not be able to get a clear shot from a distance.

Lochran removed the towel he had taken from the bar from inside his black leather jacket and used it to remove the bulb above the exit door on the starboard side. Having done so, he turned and walked over to the door on the portside and edged it open in the hope that Kerrigan would be making his way towards the now unlit door.

Before he opened the metal door, he ignored the Welrod ‘suppressor’ that Lenka had given him, which was jammed inside his leather belt; it would be waterlogged within seconds. Instead, he crouched down and pulled out the Italian spring-loaded stiletto switchblade taped to his shin. He rose, and pushed down the heavy handle and pressed his shoulder against the door.

As he stepped on the deck Lochran was met with a furious torrent of water, as if the sea were as angry as his opponent at having been kept waiting. He turned in search of the crew ladder that, according to the diagram, was directly behind the lifeboat to the left of the exit. He saw it, gripped onto it and began to lift his sodden body up the iron ladder. At the top, another cold blast of water slapped him hard in the face. He dragged himself up onto the roof where one of the two slightly sloping twenty-foot funnels was arrogantly braving the storm.

A huge blast of wind carrying ocean spray leapt over the roof and smashed directly into him, nearly ripping him from his moorings and sending him far out into the Irish Sea. He locked his hands onto the top of the ladder, only to be met by the flash of a Fairbairn-Sykes double-edged dagger slicing to the left of his carotid artery.

Kerrigan was dressed completely in black, his face covered by a black balaclava. His small, rat-like, brown eyes confirmed it was him. 

The blade in Kerrigan’s left hand swiped again towards the left side of Lochran’s neck. It was immediately followed by the flat of an army boot on his chest. Lochran swung around on the ladder. Kerrigan aimed his Walther PP semi-automatic, which was wrapped in a transparent bag, at point-blank range at Lochran. Nothing happened. Kerrigan’s cold, wet hand couldn’t secure traction on the trigger. Lochran grabbed the ‘suppressor’ still inside his leather coat, and pulled back the trigger. Nothing happened.

Lochran swung back to secure both hands on the metal ladder. But the blade of Kerrigan’s knife sliced across his cheek, before an inch of it disappeared into the chest of his jacket.

Lochran released his grip instantly and dropped the ten feet to the tilting deck, landing on his back in the sluice.

Kerrigan leapt down aiming both boots at his chest. Lochran stabbed his blade upwards. The assassin, who had not been fooled by Lochran’s diversionary tactic to lure him to the wrong door, landed directly on Lochran, fracturing a number of ribs. But he fell back screaming as he did so, as Lochran’s steel had ripped apart his left thigh and was now embedded in his groin.

Lochran rolled over and fell on the assassin. He grabbed Kerrigan’s wrist that held the knife and began to deliver a series of short, sharp but powerful upward punches to his opponent’s scrotum and the tip of the handle of the knife. As his testicles were pummelled to paste and the naked blade sliced through his colon, Kerrigan screamed in pain and dropped his knife.

Lochran spun around on the rain-slashed deck and leapt up behind Kerrigan. He grabbed the man’s soaking wet blond hair and threw his head into the space between the horizontal bars of the ship’s railings. The man’s neck landed on the rail. Lochran followed up slamming his boot down as hard as he could onto the nape of Kerrigan’s neck, snapping his larynx in two as it smashed against the metal bar.

Lochran turned the dead man over onto his back on the streaming deck. Lochran’s still glacial-blue eyes scanned the grey face for any sign of life – so he could quickly extinguish it. Rain continued to pound Kerrigan’s face, as Lochran lifted the top eyelid of the assassin’s left eye. It had popped. Lochran did the same with the other. It was surprisingly clear, which confirmed what he thought: no drugs – Lochran nodded; the man was indeed a professional.

Lochran lifted the man’s legs up and pushed the body through the railings, out into the merciless fury of the night.