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.’
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.