Sing Like You Know the Words, page 42
-So just another bunch of extremists with crazy ideas you might think; but when you start to look at it with a professional eye, you notice some interesting things: like the weapons that were used; Ingham MAC10’s. That’s a machine pistol famous for the silencer that comes with it. Kind of ideal for the job, but not so easy to get hold of, except that for some reason units of the Spanish police were issued with them in those days.
-Then again, the gentlemen responsible made no real effort to escape; they just walked away like Chicago gangsters who know they are protected. Our friend said they were heroes who were betrayed, and I guess they never expected to be arrested. It turned out that even though they were caught, two of the three main men managed to escape not many years after they were sentenced. I guess it was made fairly easy for them to get away.
-So yes, it was another conspiracy, but you’ve disappointed me Mitchell, you are not listening very carefully. This happened seventy seven, on the calle Atocha. Where did you see our friend again?
-Outside the station. Atocha station in the square, where he was making the salute. You think he planted the bombs?
-It doesn’t work that way anymore. You don’t need to plant your own bombs; there’s plenty of idiots queuing up to do the job for you: and generally speaking they are happy to blow themselves up in the process, which is convenient in the way of not leaving much evidence. All you have to do is make it easy for them.
-The bombs were on the train before they set off for Atocha remember. Our friend couldn’t have planted them; but he and his friends could easily have helped the people who did to plan, to get the materials and so on. It seems that the bombers would have needed quite a lot of help; they were such a bunch of amateurs. It was a gang of Moroccans running a mobile phone shop. They used their own phones to detonate the bombs, making it easy enough to find them. Our friend was probably watching to make sure they got on the right trains on the right day.
-But to continue, you’ve been living here, so you know all the fuss it caused, three days before the election, both main parties accusing each other of lying about it. The government claimed it was ETA, the evidence pointed to Islamists. Now the left says the right lied to win the election, and the right says the left stole the election by making everyone terrified of Al Qaeda.
-Well our friend, when he was in his foaming and ranting phase, talking about sacred missions and old betrayals, he just didn’t see any difference between right and left in the main parties. He said he wanted to see the back of them and of all the other queers in the Cortes. It sounded like he hoped that the result of whatever he was planning would be for Spain to bomb Morocco back to the Stone Age, but he’d be content if the people took to the streets and beat some Arabs to death for starters. It’s the same basic idea, I’m afraid, the country descends into violence and chaos and then the strong men step in. The country’s grown beyond it you might think, but these people are depressingly short on imagination.
-If what you say is right, then he must have been pretty disappointed.
-Yes, it’s nice to think that, just occasionally, ordinary people can see that both sides are feeding them bullshit and decide to make up their own minds. Gives you some hope for the future in a generally disappointing world. Of course I have a hedge against that kind of disappointment, since my business tends to prosper most when people are intent on killing one another. It’s win win for me.
-Anyway, it’s obvious that all of this mess was not the work of one deranged police colonel who wanted to drive the Moors out of Christendom. And you might show a little more interest; given this has a personal bearing on you.
-I’ll go on, shall I? It turned out that two of the bombers were on the police payroll as informers. When you look closely, you see other black ops signs. One of the bombs fails to blow up because it’s not connected, and the trail leads so clearly back to the Moroccans that even Inspector Clouseau could have tracked them down and made the arrest. The bombs turn out to be made from local dynamite which was obviously the best our man could do. It checks back to some Madrid gang who use it for blowing safes or fishing, who knows. Certainly there was no reason for the gang to draw attention to themselves by helping radical Muslims to make bombs. They only want to be left alone to do crime. But it would be easy for certain people to twist their arms up their backs to help. It’s supposed to look like ETA and to look like Jihad as well, you see. Maybe at a stretch you can even argue that the two are in league. It’s about creating confusion and panic, and distrust.
-So the government first claims the separatists are responsible, and after they lose the election they destroy all the records in the files. They even wipe the electronic data and leave the bill for the job behind for the new lot, who claim that this proves they knew it wasn’t separatists and chose to lie. I think it’s more likely they just realized, too late, that they’d been had, and wiped the records to cover their embarrassment.
They drove on without speaking for some time. Finally Mitchell spoke, sullenly.
-You haven’t explained why any of that puts me here.
-You were unlucky enough to see our friend at the scene of the crime, out of uniform, probably off duty, but certainly where he was not supposed to be. Very difficult to explain and if you were persuaded to remember when you and I first met him, that would create complications for me, but also for some important people who know me.
-They might be more worried about you than about me.
-That’s possible, but I don’t have your unfortunate knack of turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The car stopped.
-We’re here. Get out.
Outside, the afternoon was shading to evening. The air was very still. The road was deserted. It ran straight along a little ridge for a way before dipping out of sight. To their right the land fell away into steep, thickly wooded ravine.
-I don’t want to get out. I know what happens next.
-You certainly know what happens next if you don’t do as I tell you.
Walcott exited the car, as commanded. He had to lean on the door, not able to trust his shaking legs. Ray held the gun in his pocket, not pointing it anywhere in particular. He motioned for Walcott to get off the road. They walked a little way down a rough track that led into the trees: Walcott had to go first. Then Ray commanded him to stop.
-By the way, he remarked conversationally. I tracked down our friend the policeman. He was well. Seemed in good spirits. Wasn’t put out about seeing me at all. Said he expected I would be meeting with you in the not too distant future. Sit down on that rock a moment, you look like you’re about to fall over.
Walcott half collapsed onto the boulder, but he could not turn his eyes away from Ray’s.
-I did ask him about some of these crazy ideas I’ve been having, just out of curiosity. He couldn’t stop himself confirming most of what I told you. Not really a professional you see; too much pride and passion – an enthusiast. He was right though, he did his part even a little too efficiently, and the boys weren’t as useless as he feared when it came to actually blowing things up. Regrettable loss of life, he said, but that is the nature of war: the priority must always be to achieve the objective. I said I understood completely; then I shot him four times in the back of the head. I never liked policemen and the fascist ones are worse.
-So now all that links me to any of this is you. And I have a theory about you?
My theory about you, I’ve told you before, is that you’re harmless and good at forgetting. You’ve done it before, remember?
-That’s the spirit. But do remember this: you’ve lived through enough parts of this story to see that it could have different endings. The happy one for you is where you follow this path down the hill, get in the old red Seat that fits these keys, pick up the pocket money that’s in the glove compartment, and drive to somewhere very quiet where no-one knows you and you’re never heard from again. And rememb
Ray tossed the keys in Walcott’s direction. The other made a feeble reflex attempt to catch them. The keys fell to the ground in front of him.
-Will the car explode when I turn the key?
-Why would I waste a perfectly good Seat, when I could shoot you here? It’s high mileage but it runs fine. And I don’t like waste. Your idea is messy and stupid. Me giving you the car is better; another business expense. It’s deductible against something, though god knows what. But I have to say you’re trying my patience standing there arguing about it. Frankly at the moment you are proving to be a troublesome expense.
-Maybe you’ll shoot me in the back when I start walking down the path.
-Could be, but even though you seem to be a sleazy coward, I sort of like you, I don’t know why. People I like, I generally shoot in the front. And some important people want you dead, so maybe this is my statement for them.
-What kind of statement?
-Think of it this way. I’m a soldier, not a murderer, and you’re very much a civilian. It’s an imaginary distinction, but I’m not so stupid I don’t know that a man has to invent a code and live by it. On the other hand I’ve got places to be. Watching you clinging to that rock like the world was spinning so fast you might fall off is starting to bore me. I think you’d be wise to piss off now before I change my mind.
Hawkins stood unmoving in the blazing sunlight. He watched Walcott bend and reach for the set of keys he’d fumbled and finally drag himself upright. Ray smiled as Walcott stumbled away, never looking back; into the cool welcoming shadows between the trees.
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martin sowery, Sing Like You Know the Words