“Mistress Bowson?” He was thin, grey haired, bespectacled, scholarly looking, “Abbot Winwaloe wants you to know that the Exarch and Archimandrite wish to meet you tomorrow morning. Please don’t be alarmed. The Abbot will be alongside you, as will the High Steward; they just want to understand you better, your suitability for the mission to the Vatican. You are aware that it is not as open to women as our society is, or that of the Greeks?”
She nodded, said her goodbyes and then raced away: she wanted to catch Thea so the older woman wouldn’t think her rude. She overtook her on the stairs, embraced her to the delight of the old lady and her daughter.
“Theophano, forgive me. How is Georgy?”
Her face clouded, a stab of bitterness, anger, thrusting out and withdrawing in an instant.
“He will make a full recovery, thanks to the doctors, his comrades, Our Lord; sufficient to return and strike down our enemies once more. He is walking again and will return home in a week they say. Thank you for asking. You like all this?” She made a dismissive gesture back up the stairs, “All this talk? When they should be fighting back?”
The younger Thea rolled her eyes at Sally; this was obviously a regular complaint.
“Well, if it helps the cause. I think I am just here to learn, there’s so much I don’t know.”
“Will you come with us to visit Georgy?”
“Not now Thea. I must go for my train; thank you once again for these beautiful robes.”
“Be careful, one of those young Byzantine men may try to steal you away to his home, make you his Greek bride.”
Sir Kenneth McCloud, Permanent Secretary to the Home Secretary, hoped that he had finished for the week. He made his way out of the station into the streets, which in eleven brisk minutes of walking would take him to his front door. He was late, it was dark and, as it was Friday night, there were people about, headed out for the evening. His mind was full, not just with his day job; she was a demanding creature, slippery with ambition, but also their ex-allies and their unknown assailants, destabilising understood dynamics, making events unpredictable, hard to plot ahead.
The police and security services seemed to be making major strides, due to an unidentified internal source they said, breaking up a huge organisation piece by piece. He had never suspected the scale of their allies’ resources, cutting their ties was well overdue. His boss was almost orgasmic; it served her purposes, the media were ecstatic, working as her outriders for ever more outrageous security measures, expanding her following, whetting her appetite for a move on a PM she so clearly detested. Yes, serving her well could get him the top job, Cabinet Secretary, head of the Civil Service. That would make him undisputed leader of their loose network, so he was driving his underlings’ hard, preparing policy measures, option papers, making himself her indispensable right-hand man.
No COBRA meetings were scheduled for the weekend, not even her little sub-committee: the security forces seem to think they were getting things under control, even the street disorders seemed to have stabilised to a level at which the press would soon start to lose interest. Nevertheless, he was uncomfortable despite everything; this unknown force remained unfathomable, had made almost no errors. Perhaps the recovered fragments of DNA from the Chilterns, analysis promised for early next week, might give them a name; nothing else seemed to be yielding anything of use. He sometimes suspected some of the security personnel felt something akin to respect for them, whoever they were, and his latest disciple, Sheena Ellison, was reporting that some of the police were showing signs of covert sympathy. Furthermore, the service chiefs seemed too cohesive somehow, too prepared when they came to their masters with recommendations, their rivalries less apparent. Yes, he increasingly suspected they were behind this new force or at least knew more than they were letting on.
He was striding along the most deserted part of his way home, a small side street, almost an alley really, intermittently lit, large pools of darkness jostling with flourishes of amber light. An attractive woman was hurrying towards him as if headed out for the night, well but casually dressed, a patent black leather bag clutched under her left shoulder as if fearing an attempt to snatch it at any moment. He was passing a parked car, blackened windows as he neared her, she stumbled, knocked into him, apologised.
“Are you alright?”
Before he could react he found himself staring into the muzzle of a handgun, some form of silencer attached, as a door of the car beside him opened and a dark clad masked young man pulled him inside, sitting beside him, covering him with another silenced handgun. It had all happened in three or four seconds, he hadn’t even had time to register what was occurring before the car was pulling away, driven by that same woman.
The man beside him in the back seat stared silently at him, masked and beweaponed, he instilled terror with his unwavering concentration. The man handed him a large plastic tie and gestured to him to attach it around his ankles.
He bridled. “Who are you? You’ve no right… Do you know who I am?”
The woman’s eyes strayed to him in the rear-view mirror.
“We know exactly who, what, you are. Now comply please. We won’t ask again.”
It was an educated feminine voice, evenly toned, calm, no signs of stress unlike his own wavering tones. The man’s handgun was at his chest now, he could see what must be the safety sliding forward to the off position, it was no more than nine niches from his eyes.
The gun retreated as he moved to bind his ankles before removing his watch in response to another gesture, next a black cloth was handed to him, another motion to place it over his head, fear building now: he complied. Was it them, that mysterious new force, the dark arm of the shadowy state? Then he felt his wrists bound forcibly, tightly, he felt his phone taken from his pocket, heard it be switched off and opened, no doubt for the SIM to be withdrawn, then a sharp command from the female. “Silence, now!”
He was pushed low down on to the seat, his knees sliding into the foot-well. There he remained for what seemed hours, the feeling in his legs ebbing away as the circulation faltered, straining for any sounds that might convey something useful to him, but there were none. Only the road noise, the sound of the indicators, braking, accelerating, and finally nothing, the engine ceasing along with motion, a car door opening, a large door closing, his ankle bindings being cut roughly, a stinging sensation in one leg as the knife blade overshot, being dragged out, up-righted, the hood removed. He was inside an unlit garage, the light from an adjacent room’s open door allowing him some vision.
The metal feeling of the gun was back, pressing against the rear of his neck, forcing him to walk forward to the open door and into the light. The room was small, blinds pulled down, a utility room. He was pushed through another open door into a small cottage kitchen, again blinds pulled. On then into another room, what looked like an old beamed dining hall, all curtains drawn, four other doors leading off, one opened onto a low staircase. He was pushed up it, onto a low landing without windows and through another door into a small bedroom. Again, the curtains were drawn closed, the low sloping ceiling told him this was an old hall cottage somewhere in the country. The woman was back, masked now; he was thrust onto the bed, hooded once more, shoes removed, ankles and knees bound, secured to the bed’s headboard on a short chain, his wrists unbound, jacket and tie removed, wrists rebound, elbows too, pushed flat.
“I need the bathroom.”
The next few minutes were some of the most humiliating of his life, dragged out, no concessions made to his bindings, trousers cut away, then dragged back to the bedroom. Her voice returned, almost honeyed with tender menace, the sense of burning emotion barely restrained, truly the female could be deadlier than the male he thought, what does she want?
“Now Sir Kenneth, tell us what we want to know, no evasions, no hesitations, no resistance. You will hear no threats, get no second chances; it will just be the end, a painful one, if you don’t comply.”
That horrible metallic pressure was back, pressing on his heart, almost as if slavering for the life blood circulating there, a slight tremble conveying its thirst. “If this is a case of mistaken identity, it can be resolved. If you are from some part of the state, you must know my position; I’m on your side.”
A risk to say that, but he was feeling the panic spreading through his nervous system now, the adrenalin surging in response to the stress hormones being released into his body. They must be something shadowy, she was English, the man seemed it too, definitely not their ex-allies, some branch of the state which was slipping the leash then; while they might be ruthless in dealing with the Turk’s lot, they must be more circumspect with someone like me.
Her voice was clear, precise.
“Yes, an arm of the state,” she didn’t say which one, but he was past noticing that now, “dealing with the mess people such as you have created. We want names, contact details, those in your little network.” She started to read out a list of names, other members of their senior circle, their network. “Others of the same persuasion, start now; we know others, will know if you are lying or withholding anything.”
The feelings of energy and strength that the adrenalin had been fostering turned to bile in an instant, like an addict coming off a high, replacing them with shaky exhaustion. They knew then, had quoted over a dozen of their names, they must have turned someone very senior: perhaps one of his rivals had betrayed them in a fit of pique.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I recognise some of those names, they’re public figure, that’s all.”
A gag was stuffed under the hood into his mouth, then the most appalling blow on a knee, excruciating pain, he tried to scream, but the gag sank deeper into his mouth on the inhale, threatening to suffocate him.
“I’m not sure that blow broke the knee cap,” her loathsome voice was back, “we will try harder with the next, perhaps a sledgehammer. Let’s try again.”
The gag was removed, he moaned, the pain while still fierce was dulling now, digging in for the long haul.
“Alright, alright, I’ll talk.”
The first ones were easy, confirming those quoted to him, then a few more, rivals and their supporters; maybe some good could come out of this if he survived. That thought caused him to falter, “What will you do with me if I tell?”
“Well your family will survive, we haven’t decided about you. You will certainly have to resign, confess all to the authorities; we’ll decide after.”
© 1642again 2018