A leaky old ship has reliably ferried tons of important freight from America to the Old Country in its decades of service to the Irish Republican Army, from automatic rifles to deadly assassins. Now it is berthing with especially precious cargo: couriers holding briefcases filled with millions of crisp American dollars. In one blinding firefight, the shipment is hijacked. The terrorists trust only one man to go after their money—Jig the dancer, their most reliable assassin, who kills without harming the innocent.
Hot on Jig’s trail is Scotland Yard’s renegade detective Frank Pagan, who suspects an inside job. The dark path of hunter and hunted takes the two men through the minefields of the IRA’s war and across the Atlantic to America, where Pagan and Jig are forced to postpone their duel and work together to solve a savage puzzle.
Jig is the 1st book in the Frank Pagan Novels, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
About the Author
Born in Glasgow and educated at the University of Sussex, Armstrong worked as a book editor in London and taught creative writing at universities in the United States.
Read an Excerpt
A Frank Pagan Novel
By Campbell Armstrong
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Campbell Armstrong
All rights reserved.
Latitude 40 N, Longitude 60 W
Captain Liam O'Reilly didn't enjoy the crossing whenever the Courier was on board. A funereal man who spoke in monosyllables, the Courier rarely moved from his tiny cabin all the way from the coast of Maine to the disembarkation point in the west of Ireland. He had no fewer than three briefcases this trip, each locked and chained to a single bracelet on his wrist. Usually he carried only one, which he clutched throughout the entire voyage. Three brief-cases threw the man off balance. When he'd come aboard by launch eleven miles off the coast of Maine, he'd looked very clumsy, his skinny body listing to one side.
Why did he carry three this time? Liam O'Reilly turned the question over in his mind as he stood on the bridge and listened to the rattle of the ship's engines. He wondered how many more Atlantic crossings the two-thousand-ton Connie O'Mara was going to see unless she was completely stripped and refurbished. A rotting old tub, she'd begun her career in 1926, hauling various ores round the Cape of Good Hope.
When O'Reilly had won the old biddy in a drunken game of cut-throat poker with some dubious shipbrokers in Panama City in 1963, his first thought was to offer the ship to the Cause. Initially the Cause had been reluctant to accept O'Reilly's generosity because of the costs involved in maintaining the vessel. But a ship was a ship, even if it did look like a great floating turd and leak like a colander. In twenty crossings she had carried automatic weapons, explosives and – when the Courier was on board – considerable sums of operating cash for the Cause. She'd done all this without mishap and O'Reilly was proud of the fact.
He smoked a small black cheroot. A moon appeared briefly, then the night was black again. O'Reilly wondered about going amidships to look in on the Courier, but it was an unwritten rule that the man was to be left alone, except when he needed cups of the weak Darjeeling he habitually drank.
The bloody man! O'Reilly thought. He had a detrimental influence on the small crew of the Connie. He carried doom around with him the way some people always have a supply of cigarettes. Or maybe it was just the way the Courier put people in mind of their own mortality. Somehow you just knew that a man who looked exactly like the Courier was the same fellow who'd greasepaint your face when you were dead and comb down your hair before you were suitable for boxed presentation at your wake.
O'Reilly strolled on the deck. The March night was very cold. He sucked icy sea air into his lungs. He looked at the black Atlantic. Friend, enemy. Wife, mistress. Life, death. Its dark, amorphous nature had a symmetry that only a man like Liam O'Reilly could understand. He tossed his dead cheroot overboard. There were footsteps along the deck.
O'Reilly recognised the young seaman Houlihan. This was Houlihan's second crossing on the Connie. Liam O'Reilly preferred age and experience, but there were times when you had to make do with what you got.
'The man just asked for some tea,' Houlihan said.
O'Reilly placed the young seaman's accent as that of a Galway man. 'Make it weak. It's the only way he'll have it. The closer it looks like piss, the better he likes it.'
Houlihan vanished quietly along the deck. O'Reilly picked flakes of tobacco from his teeth and listened to the steady throb of the engines. He might have been listening to his own heartbeat, so well did he know the noises of his vessel. He walked a few paces, the engines seeming to throb inside his head, and then he understood there was something not quite right, something amiss in the great darkness around him.
The second engineer was a small, sharp-faced man called Waddell. He wore an oil-stained pair of very old coveralls and a woollen hat pulled down over his ears. Although it was hot in the engine room, Waddell didn't feel it. He checked his watch. It was two minutes before nine o'clock, United States Eastern Standard Time.
At nine o'clock exactly, Waddell was going to cut the Connie's engines.
He ran one dirty hand across his oily face. He listened to the chug of the engines. He made a pretence of checking various valves and pressure gauges. Brannigan, the chief engineer, was drinking coffee out of a tin mug and flicking through the pages of an old copy of The Irish Times. From the pocket of his coveralls Waddell took a large wrench, which he weighed in the palm of one hand.
Brannigan, his back turned to the other man, slurped his coffee and remarked on something he was reading in his newspaper. Waddell wasn't listening to him. He was thinking about piracy, which was a word he didn't much care for. He had spent much of his life in the engine rooms of ships and, like a physician who must kill his own patient, so Waddell disliked the task of shutting down the very system he was paid to keep running. He looked at the back of the chief engineer's head, thinking that he'd always got along well with Brannigan. It was a terrible pity.
Waddell stared at his wrench.
He lowered his head, ducked under an overhanging pipe, and hit Ollie Brannigan once right behind the ear. The chief engineer moaned but didn't go down. Instead, he twisted his face round in shock to look at Waddell.
Waddell grunted and struck Brannigan again, this time hammering the wrench down on the man's nose. Brannigan's face suddenly spurted blood. He dropped his tin mug and the newspaper and went down on his knees, groaning, covering his face with his hands.
Jesus God! Waddell had to hit him a third time.
He heard metal crush Brannigan's skull, then the chief engineer was silent, stretched back across the oily floor. Waddell, sweating now, dropped the wrench.
It was one minute past nine o'clock.
To pass time during a crossing, the man known as the Courier often sang quietly to himself. He had a decent baritone voice, though this wasn't a fact known to many people since the Courier maintained a façade of strict anonymity. He came from a long line of men who could carry a decent tune. Hadn't his grandfather, Daniel Riordan, toured the music halls at the turn of the century, thrilling all Ireland with his voice? The Courier, who knew he'd never be in the same class as the Great Riordan, was proud of his voice all the same.
Just as there was a knock on the door of his cabin, the Courier was halfway through one of his personal favourites, She Moved Through The Fair.
'Then she went her way homeward with one star awake
'As the swan in the evening moves over the lake.'
The door opened. 'Your tea, sir,' the young seaman said.
'I don't recall asking for tea,' the Courier answered. He wondered if the young man had heard him singing. The possibility embarrassed him a little. He watched the seaman place a tray on the bunk-side table.
'Captain's orders, sir. Will there be anything else?'
The Courier didn't reply. With a nod of his head he indicated that he wanted to be left alone. He noticed how the seaman – Houlihan, wasn't it? – let his eyes drift across the three brief-cases just before he went out of the cabin. The chains tethered to the Courier's wrist jingled as he reached for the tea mug. Those bloody brief-cases made him nervous. He was never happier than when he was rid of them. He didn't feel good until Finn took the brief-cases from him in Ireland.
The Courier sipped his tea. He thought it was a little strange that O'Reilly had seen fit to send the tea in, because O'Reilly wasn't exactly Captain Congeniality.
It tasted odd. Was there too much sugar in it?
He took a second sip and he felt blood rush to his head and his eyeballs filled with moisture and his heart was squeezed in a painfully tight vice and his balance went all wrong. He felt he was going to explode. He couldn't breathe and there was something hard and very hot rising in his throat. He tried to stand up but his legs were a thousand miles away from him. He slithered from the edge of the bunk to the floor, hearing the tea tray clatter past him.
He lay gasping for air, trying to undo the knot of his dark tie even as he realised two things.
One, he was dying.
And two, the ship had become deathly quiet all around him and the sound of the churning engines had stilled.
This same sudden absence of noise chilled Captain O'Reilly. His first response was automatic. The fucking engines had broken down, which he'd been expecting to happen for a long time now. But then he realised something else.
Out there, a hundred yards or so from the Connie the ghostly shape of a white yacht had materialised. It showed no lights and O'Reilly had the weird impression there was nobody on board the strange vessel, that it had come up out of the black like some kind of spirit ship bearing the bones of dead sailors. It lay in the darkness in a menacing way, seeming barely to move on the swell. O'Reilly could see no flag, no identifying marks, no name on the bow, no sign of life anywhere. It had appeared out of nowhere, hushed and anonymous. O'Reilly peered into the dark. The vessel looked to him like a sixty-foot diesel yacht, but he couldn't be sure unless the moon broke the cloud cover and gave him enough light so he wouldn't feel like a blind man. There was a knot of tension at the back of his throat.
Be careful, O'Reilly. Be cautious.
He went inside the bridge and opened the gun cabinet, which contained ten pistols and six semi-automatic rifles. He took out one of the semis. He saw the yacht drifting closer, as if whoever manned the damn thing wanted a collision and wouldn't be satisfied with anything else.
He rang the alarm. Within moments he heard the sound of his crewmen scurrying along the deck. Some of them, just wakened from sleep, wore only long thermal underwear. O'Reilly passed out his supply of weapons to the crewmen, urging them to hold their fire unless he gave them a signal. Then he went on watching the movement of the white yacht.
The appearance of the yacht might simply be accidental, some hapless nautical tourist veering too close to the Connie, a fancy Dan with a white cap and a double-breasted blazer and a fat wife in a bikini, except this wasn't the weather for casual seagoing. You couldn't be certain. O'Reilly had lived a long time with the fear that one of these crossings would end badly, terminated by either British or American authorities or some godless mixture of the two.
It was floating closer.
Fifty yards –
O'Reilly narrowed his eyes. Momentarily he thought about the Mary Celeste. Maybe this yacht was something like that. An empty vessel. All signs of life inexplicably gone. One of the mysteries of an ocean that already had so many and all of them impenetrable.
He raised a hand in the air. There was no option now but to open fire. What else could he do, given the importance of the Courier's brief-cases and the fear he suddenly felt, which made him so cold to his bones? And what had happened to the bloody engines?
Even before he could lower his hand to order his crew to fire, there was a white blaze of searchlights from the yacht. Blinded, O'Reilly turned his face away from the glare.
As he did so, the gunfire began.
It lit up the Atlantic night with the brilliance of a thousand flares, slicing obscenely through the body of the Connie, smashing the glass of the bridge, battering the hull – and it went on and on, an indiscriminate kind of firing that seemed to have no end to it, as if whoever fired the guns did so with utter abandon. O'Reilly lay face down on the floor of the bridge, listening to the air whine above his head. All around him he could hear the moans of those of his crewmen who were still alive. As for the rest, they had been cut down brutally and were in that place where only God or a good undertaker could help them.
O'Reilly, whose only wound was a glass cut in his forehead, lay very still. He was thinking of the Courier now. There was only one reason to attack the Connie like this – to steal what the Courier had in his possession. What else was worth taking on this big tub of rust? Madness, bloody madness.
Christ in heaven, how could he help the Courier when he couldn't even help himself? What was he supposed to do? Crawl down from the bridge and smuggle the Courier away in a lifeboat?
The gunfire stopped.
The silence filling the night was deep and complete.
O'Reilly blinked into the harsh white searchlights. He could hardly see the vessel because of the intensity of the lights. But he knew what it was – a ringer, a viper in swan's feathers, a gunboat disguised as a very expensive pleasure craft.
He rose to his knees. Here and there, blitzed where they'd come on deck, crewmen lay dead. One or two, wounded beyond medical assistance, crawled like rats across the deck. O'Reilly felt a great sadness for them. He thought about the widows and orphans this fucking yacht had suddenly created, and his sorrow became rage. The hell with it! The hell with it all!
He levelled his rifle and was about to spray the white boat with gunfire when he heard a voice from behind and something hard was pushed against the side of his skull.
'I'd be putting the gun away, sir.'
O'Reilly turned, saw the young seaman standing behind him.
'Well, now,' O'Reilly said. The young man's pistol was pressed directly at his head.
The seaman smiled. 'It's all over.'
'Houlihan. You double-crossing bastard.'
Houlihan said nothing.
O'Reilly put his rifle down. 'Do I have time to pray?' His mouth was very dry. Somewhere nearby, one of his crew members screamed out in agony. The awful sound of a man dying. Dear God.
'Of course you do, if you're a praying man,' Houlihan answered, and he shot Liam O'Reilly twice in the skull.
Houlihan stepped inside the Courier's cabin. The dead man lay beside his bunk. His eyes were wide open and his mouth contorted in an expression of pain. One hand was at his neck and his face was a bright blood-red. His legs had been drawn into a foetal position and Darjeeling tea stained his white shirt.
Houlihan bent over the body. He examined the briefcases. Each had a combination lock. He fingered the chain that was shackled to the dead man's wrist. Then, from a pouch on his hip, Houlihan drew out a long, serrated knife.
He went to work.CHAPTER 2
Frank Pagan stepped out of his 1982 Camaro and surveyed the dark street of terraced houses. Televisions flickered in windows, throwing out pale blue lights. Now and again he could see a shadow pass in front of a curtain. It was a grubby street on the fringes of the Hammersmith district of London, and it reminded Pagan of his origins. He'd been born and raised on a street almost exactly like this one, except that in his memory the house where he'd been brought up didn't seem so small and grim as the houses facing him now. Terraces of narrow dwellings. A triumph of working-class architecture.
He closed the door of the car quietly and walked in the direction of number 43 Eagleton Street. He paused once and stared towards the end of the street, where an unmarked car of Scotland Yard's Special Branch was parked. Ostentatious bugger, Pagan thought. Nothing looks so much like a police car as one trying to appear inconspicuous. It was in the vicinity officially to provide what was called 'back-up', as if its occupants were gunslingers and Pagan an agent of the Wells Fargo Company.
Pagan found 43, a two-storeyed terraced house that had been built in the late 1930s. He walked up the driveway and rapped on the door. There was a shuffling from inside and the door opened about two inches. A red face, which had the raw look of a badly peeled potato, appeared in the space.
Pagan stepped forward, shoving the door back briskly. The potato face scowled.
Pagan wandered inside a small living room that smelled of damp. A TV was playing. He switched it off at once, and the room was suddenly black.
'Find a light, Charlie,' he said.
Charlie Locklin, in shirt sleeves and grey flannel pants, turned on a lamp. Its base was of yellow ceramic in the form of a mermaid. Pagan sat down, crossing his legs.
Charlie Locklin remained standing. With his TV dead, he looked uncertain about everything, a man who had lost his only map to reality. He shoved his hands inside the pockets of his flannel pants which were held up by a frayed leather belt.
Excerpted from Jig by Campbell Armstrong. Copyright © 1987 Campbell Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very interesting plot, well developed characters, and quite humorous as well!