THE CONSTANT TASTE OF SAFFRON.
By David Richard Graham
I have been writing thrillers for thirtysix years. Fortunately for myself, my family and my agent, my novels have sold in their millions all around the world.
I have made my living writing fiction. But what you are about to read is fact.
To begin with. My name is not Daniel Speare. I created him.
My real name is Edward ‘Shack’ Shacklton and forty years ago I was serving as a trooper in the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment on a tour of duty in Londonderry.
At 02:05 on 1 February 1972 during a freezing torrential downpour myself and Trooper ‘Swan’ Vesper were in a Land Rover heading back to Company HQ. ‘Swan was behind the wheel when he instinctively stopped for a red light. He was twenty years old. I was nineteen.
We were both cold hungry and tired and caught completely off guard when the doors of the Land Rover were wrenched open. My senses barely had time to register this fact before I was struck between my eyes with such incredible force that the sound of my breaking bone was like a banger exploding inside my skull.
My world turned black. Hot blood filled my mouth like running water. I did not lose consciousness.
Cruel hands dragged me from my security.
A hood was yanked over my head. I gasped in pain.
I was carried by my armpits.
I cried in fear when I was thrown forward. I landed hard on metal.
An engine vibrated beneath me.
Something heavy fell on me. I heard a gasp. ‘Swan’?
I screamed in agony when something solid struck my broken nose. I retreated from the white hot pain.
I returned when the hood was wrenched off my head.
I was lying on cold damp concrete.
Bright light tried to penetrate my swollen eye sockets.
I saw several pair of booted feet.
A pair of boots moved towards me.
‘Youse two are gonna die, for what ye’s did yesterday’, a voice said in a matter of fact tone. ‘Ye’s are gonna t’die bad. Ye’s are gonna die bad, slowly’.
I heard a metallic click.
I heard an explosion.
I felt a terrible impact above my right kneecap.
I heard another explosion
I felt a terrible impact above my left kneecap.
I voided my bowel and bladder.
My clothes were ripped off.
Something sharp struck my right shoulder. Spikes of pain dug deep into my shoulder blade, then wrenched away.
Something sharp struck my right thigh. Spikes of pain dug deep into my flesh, then wrenched away.
Something sharp struck my right arm. The vibration of snapping bone exploded inside my head. I felt spikes of pain tearing through my deltoid muscle.
Again and again the spikes tore into my flesh.
Again and again I bellowed in an agony of the deepest terror.
Then I slid down a long black chute and left the pain far behind me.
Our naked bodies were left on waste ground.
The RUC were called when some local children saw several dogs sniffing round what looked like piles of meat.
Trooper Vesper was pronounced DOA at the hospital.
I was rushed straight into the operating theatre.
Fifteen hours later. I was on life support.
Fortyeight hours later. I was breathing unaided.
Seventytwo hours later. I was conscious.
Twentyfour hours later. I learned that ‘Swan’ had been beaten to death with spiked clubs and shot twice through his forehead. I also learned that I had been struck by six .9mm bullets. One of the bullets fired into my forehead had passed straight over the interhemispheric fissure of my brain and left a fifteen millimetre exit wound in the back of my skull. The other bullet entered my head just above my left eye: scored a three millimetre groove round the outside of my skull and left a ten millimetre exit wound in the back of my head. One of the bullets fired into my chest passed over my heart, missed my aorta, missed my pulmonary artery, missed by trachea and exited my back thirty millimetres from my seventh cervical vertebra. The other bullet shredded the costal cartilage of my fifth rib: careened round the inside of the rib; ricocheted off my sixth rib and left a twelve millimetre exit wound fiftytwo millimetres from my twelfth thoracic vertebra. A fifth bullet had shattered the base of my left femur and a sixth had drilled a neat hole straight through the base of my right femur.
In addition to these gunshot wounds. I had sustained a broken nose, a broken right arm, a fractured right scapula, seven broken fingers and one hundred and ninetytwo puncture wounds.
By dumping me naked on the waste ground, my potential killers had unwittingly saved my life. The cold had slowed my heart rate and prevented me from bleeding to death.
Eight weeks later. I was allowed home.
Eight months later. I embarked on my first novel.
Eight years later. I was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for my one work of non fiction A Study in Human Brutality.
Eighteen months ago, soon after a man was arrested following a foiled bank robbery in Edinburgh, my private past became my public present. In exchange for clemency a robber revealed the name of the IRA gunman who had organised the abduction of two paratroopers in Londonderry in 1972 and fired the shots that had killed one trooper and left the other for dead.
Trooper Vesper’s killer was named as Michael ‘Sig’ Lamb. At the time of the murder, Lamb had been the top gun for the Londonderry Brigade of the IRA.
The case against Lamb was heard in the Crown Court in Belfast. He was sentenced to life imprisonment after the RUC found he was still in possession of the prized Sig Sauer P226 .9mm automatic he had used to kill Trooper Vesper.
Bizarrely, to this day the only lasting effect of my terrifying ordeal is the constant taste of saffron.