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Excerpts - Both Sides of the Coin.



The man who calls himself Norman wipes at the moisture that is on his glasses, exposing his sad eyes. He says, ‘So, you kill the pregnant wife but not the operative. Can you speak to that?’

‘Not to you,’ Mathew replies.

‘Let’s not waste time. I can ring straight through to Downing Street and get her on the phone, if you’d prefer.’

Mathew considers this a moment and then says, ‘It was a hard op., with bad intel. It happens. Although I’m beginning to suspect a set up.’

‘Tell me why you did not shoot McGee.’

‘Momentum. In my mind, the use of lethal force is justified when there is a degree of uncertainty about outcomes. When there is certainty, such as in this instance when Sean’s wife was dead and he was stuck on the settee with a bowl of cornflakes on his lap, it isn't lethal force. It’s murder. I’m a soldier, not an assassin.’

‘I see. You knew it was the wife?’

Mathew nods slowly. ‘Once she was down, I noticed her cardigan, and I could see the outline of her belly. Two things that were obscured from my vision as we entered the room.’

‘Why a set up?’

‘My uncle is high up in the RUC. It’s just like him to manipulate me. I was assured I’d never be deployed in Belfast…'

‘That was before Mountbatten,’ Norman interrupts.

‘There are a thousand and one soldiers out there itching to get revenge for that and Warrenpoint, all of them happy to do your dirty work.’

Norman considers his words for some time before asking, ‘Do you know how many operatives were involved in those two atrocities?’

‘Probably ten times more than you think,’ Mathew snorts, derisively.

‘We know that. Do you know how many we’ll arrest?’

Mathew doesn’t bother to guess.

‘Maybe six,’ Normal informs him. ‘Maybe six more will disappear…’

‘And the rest, you want me to kill,’ Mathew sighs.

‘You are uniquely trained for this operation.’

‘Then why not just ask me? Why let me loose on a young woman and her unborn baby?’

‘I’m not suggesting that was the plan…’

‘But it works out perfectly for you, doesn’t it,’ Mathew interrupts him. ‘Now, I don’t have a say in the matter. It’s do or disgrace time,’ he adds.

Sean McGee: (Text edited from the original version of the book).


Sean stands on the hillside, overlooking Belfast.

The slate-grey drabness of the vista belies the trauma that grips his beloved city. The guns and the bombs and the ideals that tear its occupants apart. The extreme love and hatred that shapes the streets and twists the compassion of the people who reside in its convoluted heart. Turning many into something grotesque. Something ugly.

Even his own mother had been ugly.

His Da had spent months at sea at a time. Ma had filled the emptiness, and her purse, by bringing men back to the house. Men that would abuse her. Men that would abuse him. Men, who would make him watch while they (abused) his Ma in every conceivable and filthy fashion possible.
And then, once the house was empty, she’d come to his bed.

She’d hold him. She’d sing him soft songs. She’d make him promise not to tell Da.
And then, she’d grab him by his wee throat, and she’d throttle him until his head would spin. She’d bite his face. His cheeks. His nose. And his screams would never make her stop.
In the mornings, as he dressed for school, he’d look at his bruised and scratched face in the steamed-up bathroom mirror, and he’d blame himself.
Reluctantly, he’d go down to breakfast where Ma was frying bacon. And she’d feed him an egg and bacon sandwich and a cup of hot, sweet, milky tea.
As if nothing had ever happened.

It’s raining.

Sean welcomes it as it slaps at him on his face and head. Because he’s free. Free of the Maze. Free of the oppression. Free of his mother. Yet he knows he’ll never be free of his hatred. There is bile in his blood. It’s the first taste of every new dawn. It’s the final flavour as he turns out the light of every endless day of agonised yearning.
For there were only two things that could have saved him. His wife, Kathleen, and their unborn child. A girl that they would have called Isla. They are buried, side by side, on this foreboding hillside that overlooks the dogged wetness of Belfast.
Sean doesn’t pray for them. They are gone. He allows his tears to mingle with the rain on his cheeks. He thinks it’s the last time he’ll ever cry for anybody.

Abdul - Cairo.


'Mr Sean, this is not a typical tourist destination,’ Abdul points out.

‘I’m not a typical feckin tourist,’ Sean growls.

‘Senior government officials live in this complex. Is that why you have a gun?’

‘Not that it’s any business of yours, Boyo, but I’ve heard that Cairo’s a dangerous place, and I happen to have a keen interest in politics.’

‘Are you a journalist?’

‘No, I’m a feckin teacher.’

‘What do you teach?’

‘I teach people how to mind their own, feckin business.’

‘Oh,’ says Abdul.

Sean hopes that the kid might shut up while he’s wondering how he’s going to Identify Asabi. He knows roughly where the man lives. He’d hoped to clock him leaving his house, but without a direct line of sight, he couldn't see the house, and he therefore had no idea what Asabi actually looked like.

‘What is the meaning of feck, sir?’ Abdul won’t be silenced so easily.

‘It’s a word designed to stop good, God-fearing Catholics from having to confess to profanity,’ Sean tells him.

‘Now you have me, sir. I do not understand the words catholic and profanity.’

‘Well you should. The world is full of the both of em.’

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