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Excerpt from A Lie to Comfort the Dying

'A Lie to Comfort the Dying'.Parked on the corner of Clerkenwell Road and St John Street, its softly idling engine noise drowned out by the midmorning traffic, the heavy Honda Gold Wing touring motorcycle, with its two leather-clad passengers, drew few glances from the passing crowds. Mashood adjusted his motorcycle helmet, settling it comfortably before adjusting the straps tightly. He wiped his hands, suddenly wet with perspiration, on a rag from beneath the seat. He was glad that Ahmed had warned him this might happen; it was the little things that mattered. Ahmed had done this before, in Stockholm two years ago. For Mashood, it was the first time. His skill in handling a motorcycle had come to the ears of Imam Basra of the Judgement committee and they had given him this mission. He suppressed a ripple of fear that bubbled up from the pit of his stomach. This was a great honour and, as Ahmed had said, one day he would tell his children of his part in this day. Behind him Ahmed was checking the saddlebags. The Velcro fasteners would ensure quick and easy access to the weapon in the bag. Mashood revved the engine slightly, listening for any unusual sounds; today the machine must operate perfectly, they must not fail. Imam Basra was not a man who took excuses easily.

Ahmed thumped him twice on the back and Mashood twisted the throttle, releasing the clutch in one easy movement as he brought his leg up to the footrest, accelerating the heavy Honda away from the curb. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Abbas Salameh holding the cellular phone to his ear and realised that their target was moving at last.

Through the clear visor he searched for the silver-grey Daimler that they had followed every day for the past week. Ahead were two cars, then a large furniture van that blocked his view of the street. He hesitated, weighing the risk of a fast run up the inside to pass the furniture van when it suddenly turned into Clerkenwell Green. At the same time the silver-grey Daimler turned out into Clerkenwell Road heading towards Theobald's Road and the turn into Procter Street. Mashood stayed behind the two cars separating him from the Daimler and did not notice the Rover that pulled into the traffic behind him.

As the small phalanx of vehicles turned right past the Holborn tube station onto the one way traffic of High Holborn the two cars between Mashood and the Daimler continued straight into New Oxford Street while the Daimler followed High Holborn towards Shaftesbury Avenue. Mashood accelerated sharply to bring the Honda alongside the Daimler. He felt Ahmed's helmet bump into his back as his companion bent forward to extract the compact Heckler & Koch MP5-PDW submachine gun from its hiding place in the saddlebag. Time seemed to slow as he held the motorcycle steady alongside the Daimler. He heard the flat metallic click as Ahmed cocked the submachine gun and felt the slight twist in the saddle as Ahmed turned sideways preparing to fire into the rear of the Daimler.

Fifty feet behind the Daimler and motorcycle, Reg Coombes, driving the Rover carrying the rest of the publisher's staff, watched in startled amazement as the Honda roared alongside the Daimler then held it's position. It was unfortunate for Mashood and Ahmed that Coombes had spent two tours in Northern Ireland as an Infantry driver before being invalided out of the service after a nasty crash while chasing a suspected IRA terrorist down a country lane. Such is fate and coincidence. Realising almost as soon as the motorcycle began to move up on the Daimler that something wrong was happening, Reg floored his accelerator while holding his hand down hard on the horn.

Ahmed, lining up the submachine gun, jerked at the sound of the horn. He half turned, hesitated, and then swung back to sight in the rear window. As he did so the Rover smashed into the back wheel of the Honda just as he squeezed the trigger, causing him to empty the full curved clip of 9mm bullets into the rear, front, and engine of the Daimler. The impact catapulted the Honda up and sideways in an uncontrollable slide that ended when the motorcycle smashed into a lamp standard, shearing off Mashood's head. His leg trapped under the still roaring motorcycle, Ahmed was feebly trying to extricate himself when the wreckage exploded into flame.

The Daimler mounted the curb outside a theatre where it came to a full stop, steam pouring from the punctured radiator. For a long moment there was eerie silence, then someone screamed, and people started running toward and away from the wreckage. A policeman mouthing words into his lapel microphone was first to reach the Daimler. He wrenched open the front passenger door and Maggie Crossley's body slid down to the pavement. Quickly, expertly, the policeman felt her neck pulse then barked into his microphone. Before he could reach the rear door it opened and John Farquharson fell to the pavement on his hands and knees, blood running from his scalp. Waving off the policeman, Farquharson pointed inside the vehicle. Leaning over Farquharson the policeman noticed a whimpering figure crouched in a ball on the floor. He shook Ismail Talawi's shoulder gently. "Are you hurt, sir?"

"Get away, get away." Eyes wild and dilated with shock, Ismail Talawi flailed at the policeman's outstretched arm. The policeman pulled back,

"It's all right sir, you're safe, it's over. You can come out." He turned back to John Farquharson and made the older man sit on the pavement. Reaching into his pocket for a large handkerchief, he wiped blood from Farquharson's face, and then balled up the cloth, to press it over a jagged scalp wound. An ambulance screamed around the corner, followed by a police car with lights flashing. Somewhere from the direction of New Bridge and Fleet Streets sirens were adding to the rapidly increasing noise as more police cars arrived.

"Is Maggie badly hurt?" Farquharson tried to get up. "Where's Ismail? Is he ...?"

"Please stay put sir, help is coming. The ambulance will get you to the Middlesex in a few minutes."

"Please help her officer. I can see she's hurt."

The Policeman shook his head. "I'm sorry." He lifted Farquharson's right hand gently and placed it over the cloth. "Hold this down hard. I want to check on your friend in the back. I think he's unharmed." He reached inside the Daimler and gripped Talawi's shoulder. "Let me help you. Are you injured?"

This time Ismail Talawi held on to the policeman's arm as he extricated himself from the Daimler. The policeman wrinkled his nose at the smell of excrement. He shook his head. Hell, who wouldn't shit themselves after being shot at?

Abbas Salameh mingled with curious bystanders as he walked slowly past the wrecked vehicles. A police cordon of yellow crime tape held pedestrians away from the wrecked motorcycle but Salameh saw enough to turn his stomach. He bumped into a woman standing on tip-toe trying to get a better look at the wreckage and blood-splash along the curb and muttered an apology. The adrenaline released into his system when he had activated the hit team had turned to nausea and now he felt real fear. Imam Basra had ordered the strike and he, Abbas Salameh, had hitched his star to the fiery cleric's rhetoric rather than obeying strict orders from Ayatollah Albarrasan to do nothing but keep Talawi under observation. The failure would stir up a hornet's nest, not only here in Britain, but also in Iran. The wrath of Ayatollah Albarrasan was well known. He shivered. He would have to go to ground at once. Praise to Allah that he'd thought ahead. The safe house was unknown to the others.

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The East Wind | To Taunt a Wounded Tiger | A Lie to Comfort the Dying | The Gatekeeper of Lies | The Consequence of Memory | To Seek the Wind of Sorrow

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