JANUARY 23RD 1991;
The grave was no more than three feet deep.
It had taken over an hour to dig with the small shover they'd given him.
They'd watched him toiling in the frost-hardened earth, pausing every now and then to catch his breath.
When he'd done so they urged him on, forcing him to finish the task quickly. They were anxious to be out of the freezing night. They wanted to be back in the warmth. Away from this place.
Despite the chill of the night he was sweating. And not all of it was due to his exertions.
A wreath of condensation clouded around him like a shroud.
Perhaps he would have been able to dig more quickly had one of the bones of his right forearm and several of his fingers not been broken.
His other injuries were invisible in the impenetrable blackness of the winter night.
The cuts and bruises on his face. The cigarette burns on his arms.
He paused for a second, after hurling another shovelful of earth onto the pile he'd already created.
Nearby he could see them moving about agitatedly in the gloom. One of them visible only by the glowing tip of his cigarette.
The other was pacing back and forth in an attempt to keep warm. He stopped every so often to stamp his feet, trying to regenerate the circulation.
Christ, it was cold.
The sky was cloudless.
There'd been the odd snow showers during the last twenty-four hours. The powdery whiteness was still lying thinly over the ground, hardened by the frost that dug icy barbs into everything.
The man standing in the grave had seen little of the snow.
The blindfold that had been secured over his eyes had prevented him seeing anything.
It had only been removed an hour or so earlier. Then they had pushed the shovel at him and told him to dig.
One of the men wandered to the edge of the hole and peered down into the depths.
His companion glanced in too.
They murmured something about it being deep enough.
Three of four feet would do.
One of them snatched the spade from him. The other told him to stand still.
He looked up momentarily but couldn't make out the features of the other two in the blackness.
Not that it mattered anymore.
He heard the slide on the automatic being worked.
A metallic click in the freezing silence.
He knew a round had been chambered.
The shot came seconds later.
It caught him in the back of the head.
So did the second.
And the third.
The fourth was hardly necessary.
Of the fifth.
The muzzle flashes erupted vividly in the blackness. The boom of the discharges were deafening in the stillness.
They waited until the sound had died on the wind then one reached for the shovel and the other began kicking clods into the freshly dug grave.
It would take a lot less time to fill it.
Twenty or thirty minutes tops.
For that they were thankful.
It was so cold.
One of them hawked and spat on the body then they continued covering it with the earth.
The other flicked a spent cigarette butt into the crude resting place.
Three or four feet would be deep enough to hide the smell from carrion creatures.
Foxes wouldn't dig down that deep.
And, even if one did, who cared?
At least the job of filling in the grave warmed them up a little.
One of them glanced at his watch.
Soon be done.
In places, blood had sprayed several feet across the road and pavement.
it radiated from the gutted remains of the bus, its coppery odour mingling with the stink of petrol, burned rubber, incinerated metal and, worst of all, the sickly sweet stench of seared flesh.
As well as the remains of the bus chassis, shattered glass, both from the vehicle itself and also from nearby shops, was spread all over the thoroughfare like crystal confetti. Twisted lumps of metal hurled in all directions by the murderous blast were also strewn over a wide area.
Cars caught in the explosion stood abandoned. Those closest when the bomb had detonated, almost as completely pulverized as the bus itself. Windscreens, obliterated by the massive concussion blast, looked as if they'd been staved in by an invisible hammer. A wheel lay in the road. Close by was a scorched air freshener in the shape of a pine tree. Near it the head a figure from SOUTH PARK, ripped from the foam filled body by the force of the detonation.
Every one of these pieces of debris had blue and white or yellow tape around them. A larger piece of tape had been tied around everything within a twenty yard radius of the bomb blasted bus.
It bored the legend;
POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS
Uniformed R.U.C. men moved back and forth, some charged merely with keeping ever curious passers-by from stopping too long to gaze at the scene of carnage.
For every man dressed in the familiar blue serge uniform of the local constabulary, there were plain clothes officers.
Bomb squad members. Forensics men.
The full complement of experts needed in the aftermath of such an event and God alone knew their expertise had been needed often enough in the city during the past thirty years.
Several police cars, their blue lights turning silently, were parked at both ends of the street.
Further barriers to those who could bear to peer at the devastation.
All of the dead and injured had been ferried away by a fleet of ambulances more than two hours ago.
Those that remained within the cordoned off area had a purpose.
All those outside looked on with a mixture of revulsion and relief.
There but for the grace of God...
Sean Doyle brought the Orion to a halt close to one of the R.U.C. cars and swung himself out.
He dug a hand into his pocket of his leather jacket and retrieved a packet of Rothmans, glancing around as he lit the cigarette, shielding the flame of the Zippo with his hand. He sucked on the cigarette then walked purposefully towards the blue and white tape, his long brown hair blowing in the breeze that had sprung up in the last half hour.
Doyle ducked under the tape and looked impassively at the remains of the bus.
There was a huge hole in one side of the chassis and most of the roof was missing. What remained was blackened and twisted.
He stepped over the remnants of a double seat as he advanced through the maelstrom of activity.
He heard the voice but didn't stop walking.
Heavy footsteps behind him.
"You're not allowed in here," said the same voice close to his ear.
He turned and saw a tall R.U.C. constable looming before him.
Doyle sucked on his cigarette and slipped one hand into the pocket of his jeans. He pulled out a slim leather wallet and flipped it open allowing the policeman to see the I.D.
"Alright?" said Doyle, flatly. He held the mans gaze.
The tall man nodded and watched as the leather jacketed newcomer made his way among the dozens or personnel, occasionally stopping to speak with one of them or examining one of the pieces of wreckage himself.
Doyle stopped beside a piece of twisted metal and ran one index finger over it.
He sniffed at the digit. The oily residue smelled of marzipan.
"Semtex," he said to a suited man with round glasses who joined him.
"About three pounds of it," the man told him, removing his glasses and cleaning the lenses on his tie.
"Remote control or timer?"
The man looked vague.
"How did they detonate the fucking thing?" Doyle snapped.
"Remote control as far as we can tell. There wasn't too much to go on as you can see."
Doyle took a drag on his Rothmans.
"Who are you anyway?" the man wanted to know.
"Sean Doyle. Counter Terrorist Unit."
The man looked him up and down.
"Where's the boss?" Doyle wanted to know.
The man hooked a thumb over his shoulder.
"So am I now," Doyle said and walked off in search off the man he sought.
© Shaun Hutson 2002