Extract: Betrayal by Stewart Binns
Betrayal is the explosive new thriller by Stewart Binns. Set in the 1980s, Special Forces soldiers, Jim Dowd and Maureen O’Brien are on the run, facing the deadly consequences of a mission that’s gone desperately wrong…
January, 1981. Jim Dowd is a British Special Forces soldier, highly-trained and loyal. With his colleague, army intelligence officer, Maureen O’Brien, he enters a bitterly divided Belfast with a mission: to go undercover with new identities, infiltrate one of the city’s most dangerous Catholic communities, and help change the course of a war that nobody is winning.
The Ardoyne is a perilous world, cut off from the law and run by dangerous men, where even a hint of Jim’s and Maureen’s true identities will prove fatal. But it is also full of pride, courage and loyalty, and Jim realises he admires this community – and as relationships form, his guilt at his deception grows ever stronger. When they receive shocking orders, Maureen knows they must act swiftly and ruthlessly, but can she rely on Jim? And if they rebel, are they betraying their country, or are they being betrayed?
Read on for an extract from Betrayal…
3. Not a Belle Vue
After a dinner in the pub and enough booze to knock me out, Maureen, sleeping on my careworn sofa, stays the night. The next morning, we’re off. Maureen has a plan.
I don’t want to go wherever she’s taking me. She talked about getting out of London, but I wasn’t really listening. I want to retreat into the warmth of a boozer, where I’ll find a sanctuary of convivial loneliness far removed from the world’s woes and my own sad sorrows.
I’m trying to keep up with her loping strides. I feel like I’m a little lad again, being taken by my mum to Burnley Bus Station to catch a ‘chara’ to Blackpool. It’s hard to keep up when you’ve only got little legs.
We cross the road towards the clock tower and the glass rotunda that is Clapham Common tube station. There’s a scruffy pub on the opposite corner called the Belle Vue. My last chance? Bugger! It’s not open yet.
Maureen’s a yard in front of me and almost at the entrance to the station. As I take a final glance at the little part of South London that has become my home for the last few months, I catch sight of a moped racing towards us. It doesn’t look right; it’s going too fast, and the driver’s only got one hand on the handlebars. Even though it’s a dull, grey day, he’s wearing sunglasses and has a baseball cap pulled down over his forehead.
A switch is thrown inside me. Is it the training or instinct? It doesn’t matter; everything slows down. I look at Maureen. She hasn’t seen the moped. She’s focused on getting me down the stairs to the tube.
‘Mo! Get inside, move!’
My warning has hardly registered when, with a burst of acceleration, the moped bounces on to the pavement and heads straight for us. The rider puts his hand inside his jacket. I know what’s coming next. I begin to freeze. Lassitude and alcohol have dulled my reactions and allowed fear to surface. I don’t even reach for the pistol that Maureen rescued from under my bed. She’s at the top of the steps that lead down into the station and has turned to see what’s happening. Her reactions are better than mine. She’s already reached into her bag and crouched down on one knee.
The stubby black outline of the silencer of a small pistol is now pointing right at my chest. Maureen raises her weapon, but she won’t be able to aim and fire in time. I look into the black void of my assassin’s sunglasses; shoot straight, you bastard!
My saviour is a baby’s pushchair. Propelled by a young mother, the front wheels of a navy-blue pram emerge at the top of the steps, making the rider of the moped swerve wildly. In a cacophony of screeching tyres and crashing metal, my assailant topples off his saddle and rolls across the pavement, leaving his moped to smash against the wall of the station. I hear mother and baby screaming at the tops of their voices.
The bullet that was intended for me has left its muzzle but must have missed by a distance. The rider panics, gets to his feet and runs away without even glancing back. Maureen has taken aim with her weapon, but not at the moped rider. She pulls at my arm and yanks me down behind her.
‘Let’s go, Jim! Come on, quickly! Three men in a Merc on the other side of the road. Move it.’
She fires three quick rounds as she pushes me down the steps. At the same time, a hail of bullets comes our way. We cower, several flights down the steps, as the bullets – at least a dozen – smash into the wall above us.
We’re on the platform in seconds. Without appearing to run, we move as quickly as we can. When we reach the far end of the platform, God smiles on us for a second time; a northbound train careers into the station. When it stops, we step into the front carriage, but notice that, just as the doors close, three men wearing sunglasses, dark clothes and baseball caps manage to jump into the last carriage.
It’s commuter time and our carriage is almost full. We have to stand by the doors. Several people are staring at us in our agitated state. I double-check that my weapon is well concealed in my belt and that Maureen’s is out of sight. She’s breathing heavily and her face is flushed as she peers down the carriage, checking for anyone suspicious.
It’s a peculiar feeling, being on a tube with London’s commuters at the beginning of an ordinary working day, knowing that three armed men, hell-bent on putting several rounds in you, are only a few carriages away. Trying to look normal, I smile at Maureen. She smiles back, but it’s a thin, forced smile. It’s obvious that at every stop our pursuers will move along the train to find us. They may even be trying to open the connecting doors between the carriages. We have to get off. Maureen looks anxious. She doesn’t know the area as well as I do. She leans towards me and kisses my cheek. It’s not a sign of affection, but an opportunity to whisper in my ear.
‘What do we do?’
‘Where are you taking me?’
‘That’s Victoria. We get out at Clapham North, leg it to Stockwell and jump on the Victoria Line; assuming, of course, that we get past the three stooges at the back.’
It’s only a couple of minutes to the next station, but it seems like an eternity. At Clapham North, we wait until the doors are about to close before jumping off the train. As we do so, we see that our shadows, pistols in hand and peering into every carriage, have covered half the length of the train. They’re creating screams of panic with every step, and our hunters are between us and the platform exit.
Then they see us.
In an instant, they point their weapons towards us and open fire. The crack, crack, crack of several volleys echo around the confined space of the platform like thunderclaps. Fearing for their lives, a mass of terrified people rush towards us. I push Maureen to the ground. Several people fall. I hope that they’ve tripped rather than been hit. The crowd is another godsend.
‘Down the tunnel, Mo!’
‘Jesus! Are you serious?’
‘No choice. Go!’
Seconds later, we jump on to the track by the driver’s window. I glance at him; he’s probably been driving for years. There’s a look of abject horror on his face. The tunnel is in almost total darkness, illuminated only by an occasional grimy light bulb.
‘Keep moving, Mo, and stay to the right; the live rail’s the far one. The driver won’t leave the station with us in the tunnel, and they’ll soon switch off the power.’
‘I hope you’re right! What about the three fuckers behind us?’
‘I don’t think they’ll risk following us. Given the commotion they’ve caused back there, they’ll leg it, realizing that they’ll likely be nabbed at the next station.’
‘Same applies to us, doesn’t it?’
‘Not if we’re quick.’
‘How far is it?’
‘Half a mile, perhaps a bit more. A piece of piss; four minutes.’
‘Like buggery! Not in the dark, with a live rail right next to us.’
‘Less talk, more speed. Come on!’
We move rhythmically; short, rapid steps.
We manage to get to Stockwell but alarm several travellers as we emerge, dirty, hot and bothered, from the bowels of the Northern Line. When we reach the street, all the buses are full and there are no taxis to be seen, so we decide to run to Victoria; it’s only a couple of miles, and the run will help get rid of the adrenalin.
Several police cars and ambulances scream past us as we run across Vauxhall Bridge. Despite my diminished fitness, we’re soon at Victoria Station, where Maureen buys tickets for Tunbridge Wells. We’ve a few minutes to wait for the train, so we sit down and order coffee and a cold drink.
My heart’s racing and my hands are shaking. My weapon’s digging into my flabby belly, which was once as hard as marble. It makes me all too aware of how I’ve let myself go over the past few months. Maureen takes several deep breaths. We both look around; all seems calm, but we can hear multiple sirens in the distance.
‘Mo, let’s take our drinks and get on the train. I reckon the bobbies will be here in a few minutes to close the station.’
Once we’re seated, I feel better, especially when the train begins to pull away. A smile breaks across my face as we sit down in the carriage.
‘The phones will be red-hot in Gower Street. It’ll be pandemonium; the spooks will be running around like blue-arsed flies!’
Maureen also smiles at the thought of our lords and masters in a mad panic.
‘Who do you think the shooters were?’
‘A boy on a bike isn’t their usual style, and neither is firing wildly into a crowd. Whoever it was, we got lucky; very lucky.
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