Mark Greaney: On target

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Mark Greaney On target
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    On target
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Mark Greaney


On target

PROLOGUE

Dark clouds hung low above the Irish Sea, fat in the moist morning air, and tracked slowly over the assassin as he stood on the wooden foredeck of the fishing boat. A few screeching herring gulls had encircled the vessel while it was still miles offshore; now that it had entered the harbor channel, a flock one dozen strong swarmed above and around, churning the mist with their white wings.

The seabirds shrieked at the vessel, bleated warnings to the Irish coast of the arrival of a killer to its shores.

But their warnings were lost in the vapor.

The boat docked in its harbor slip just before eight a.m. The assassin climbed off the deck and onto the quay without a glance at the two crewmembers. Not a single word had been exchanged in the three hours since the forty-foot Lochin had picked its passenger up from a Lithuanian freighter in international waters. He remained on the deck, moving fore and aft, vigilantly scanning the roiling sea around him, his black hooded raincoat protecting him from the salty spray and the occasional shower, as well as the curious eyes of the father and son who operated the boat. The crew remained in the wheelhouse during the journey, following strict instructions. They had been told to pick up a passenger and then keep away from him, to return with him to Howth Harbor, just north of Dublin. After delivering this odd catch of the day, they were to enjoy their payment and hold their bloody tongues.

The assassin walked through the seaside village to the tiny train depot and bought a ticket to Connolly Station in central Dublin. With half an hour to kill, he stepped down the station steps and into the basement pub. The Bloody Scream served a full Irish breakfast for the fishermen in the harbor; the long narrow room was more than half-full of men wolfing down plates of eggs and sausage and baked beans, washing it all down with pints of ink-dark foamy Guinness Stout. The assassin knew how to assimilate in unfamiliar surroundings; he grunted and gestured to hide his foreign accent, and ordered the same as those around him. He dug into his plate and drained his beer before leaving the Bloody Scream to catch his train.

A half hour later he trudged through Dublin. He wore his brown beard thick and a blue watch cap down over his ears and forehead, a scarf tight around his neck, and a dark blue peacoat into which his gloved hands dug deep to hide from the frigid air. Hanging over a shoulder, a small canvas bag swung with his footsteps. He headed south away from the train station, then turned right at the quay of the River Liffey and followed it as chilled rain began to fall.

The assassin walked on.

He looked forward to getting this errand behind him. He had not been comfortable at sea, nor was he comfortable now in the morning crowd growing around him as he neared O'Connell Street.

But there was a man here in Dublin who, it had been decided by someone with money and influence, should cease to exist.

And Court Gentry had come to see to that.

ONE

At a pharmacy he bought a pack of acetaminophen tablets and a bottled water. He'd been injured a few months back, a bullet through the thigh and a knife blade into his gut. The pain had lessened by the week. The body had incredible power to heal, so much greater than that of the mind. Court had grown dependent on the pills and injections: Vicodin and OxyContin, Demerol and Dilaudid. A surgeon in Nice had kept him supplied since the operation to clean and close his abdominal wound, and Gentry had popped pills each day since. But he'd purposely left them behind when he boarded the freighter; he'd gone over a week now without his meds, and this self-imposed detox was making him miserable.

The acetaminophen was no substitute for a heavy narcotic, but his mind found comfort in the ritual of swallowing the tablets nonetheless.

Three hours after leaving the boat, he checked in to a Chinese-run budget hotel in a narrow alley off Parnell Street, a half mile north of the river. His room was dark and dank and smelled of mold and frying grease; the restaurant two floors below him blew the stench through the vents. A near-horizontal rain beat steadily on the dirty window but failed to clean it; the oily grime covered the inside of the glass.

Gentry lay on his back on the sagging mattress and stared at the ceiling, his thoughts unfocused. He'd been on a boat for over a week; it felt odd not swaying back and forth, rising slowly up and down.

It took hours to drift asleep, the cold rain unceasing on the pane next to his head.

In the mid-afternoon he sat at the Chinese restaurant in the tiny hotel, ate noodles and pork, and used a store-bought mobile phone to log on to the Internet. He accessed a bulletin board on a Web site that sold adventure tours of the Ural Mountains, entered a password to log on to a forum for employees; with a further code he gained entry to a thread with one other viewer.

Court typed on his phone with his thumb while he drank tepid orange juice.

I'm here.

A few seconds later the tiny window in the phone refreshed. Someone had replied on the forum.

In Bangkok, I trust? This was the code that confirmed the identity of the other party. Gentry's identity was established with his reply.

No. Singipore. Only by the misspelling was the identity check complete.

Nice journey, my friend? came the next reply. Court read it, bit into a fried wonton as greasy as the window in his upstairs room.

He tried not to roll his eyes.

It had not been a nice journey, and Gregor Ivanovic Sidorenko was not Court Gentry's friend. Court had no friends. And it was unlikely Sidorenko, or Sid to all those in the West who knew of him, had any himself. He was Russian mob, an overboss in Saint Petersburg. He ran an organization that controlled illegal gambling and drugs and hookers and hit men and… out of desperation on the part of the American assassin, he now ran Court Gentry, the Gray Man.

While ostensibly in the same line of work, Gregor Sidorenko was no Donald Fitzroy. Sir Donald had been Court's handler for years, ever since the CIA had chased Gentry out of the U.S. with a burn notice and a shoot-on-sight directive. Fitzroy had taken him in, had offered him good jobs against bad men, had paid him fairly for his work, and had even once hired him to protect his own family. But then Fitzroy had been pushed into a corner, had turned on Court, and though he'd apologized profusely and even offered up his life to his American employee in recompense, Gentry knew he could never trust him again.

He would never trust anyone again.

Sid was scum, but he was a known quantity. Court knew he couldn't trust the forked-tongued Russian fuck as far as he could throw him, but Sid could supply access to some of the most lucrative contracts in the industry. And Sid agreed to Gentry's caveat that he would only accept those hits he deemed righteous, or at least those that tipped slightly to the good side of the "morally neutral" category.

Which had led Court here to Ireland.

This trip to Dublin was Court's first op for Sid. He'd read the dossier of the target, agreed to the job, argued online about the low wages offered for the contract, and then reluctantly accepted.

He needed to stay operational. The downtime and the wounds and the drugs were softening him, and he was a man who absolutely could not afford to soften.

Court had memorized the relevant portions of the target's dossier. Standard operating procedure before a wet operation. Name: Dougal Slattery. Age: fifty-four years. Nationality: Irish. Height: big. Weight: fat. He'd been a boxer as a young man but couldn't break out of the thick midlist of local pugilistic talent. Then he found work as a tough guy, a bouncer in Dublin nightclubs. He branched out, did some rough stuff for a local syndicate, slapping around lazy Polish hookers and knocking Turkish drug dealers' heads together for not making quota. He graduated to some low-level killings: gang versus gang stuff, nothing fancy till he was sent on an errand to the Continent. In Amsterdam he'd made the big time, killing his boss's rival in a hail of bullets after using his gnarled fists to bash in the faces of two of his bodyguards.

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