WEDNESDAY, THIRD MORNING AFTER EASTER
He’d left the smuggling party behind on the way down to the valley, racing despite his heavy load, dawn was just arriving, a grey cloudy day, typical West Country Spring morning, promising mild showers: it was good to be back. A few early risers were about, country folk living with the available daylight, some waved to him as he jogged past, starting to blow hard. There it was, St Leonnorus’ church, the station and warehouse, the small but growing cluster of houses and farms. Yes, there was Martha and Iltud’s; they’d be up too, about somewhere. He went around the back, wet, dirty, tired, happy.
Martha jumped as he came in through the back door.
“Oh Sam, my love!” Enfolding him in her arms, “I prayed, I feared… What did we do wrong? Sit down, tea and breakfast are on; dump that kit, your boots”.
She shouted out the back to the outbuildings of their smallholding.
“Iltud, Sam’s back, safe!”
The farmer was there within seconds, wanting to hug him, but beaten to it by a young Kurdish woman who stood there with tears in her eyes, shaking. Martha looked at her; she was teetering between misery and ecstasy, so like me then.
“Come here Narin, it’s alright; he’s come back to us all.”
Slowly, tentatively, with the gravest, most hesitant smile on lips moistened with running tears, she approached him. He stood there, not knowing what to do; she embraced him, trembling. Martha looked at Iltud, who was smiling, shaking his head, then at Sally who had come down to see what all the noise was about.
“That’s enough now, plenty of time for that later. Breakfast, tea, talk, that’s what we need.”
Over her cup of tea Sally noticed that the boy and girl, as she still instinctively thought them, sat side by side, eating one handed, the others hidden beneath the table. It’s a long hard road ahead of you both, probably several thousand miles, but at least you can see it; mine’s still hidden.
After eating, Sam turned to her.
“Miss Sally? I have to tell you. I met your husband, spoke with him. He could have arrested me, knew some of what I had been doing, but he let me go, helped me get away. He’s a good man, I’m in his debt. I’ll tell you more later.”
The head of the Counter Terrorism Command left the COBRA meeting accompanied by Gerald and the Director of GCHQ. These three had drawn closer, forging ties of renewed trust in the fires of horror and politics. Manchester was over just eight hours ago, it looked like a scene from the Apocalypse up there, burnt out and collapsed buildings, hundreds of corpses, hundreds more wounded, thousands more facing shattered lives, exhausted, harrowed security forces.
But, somehow worse, was the rippling effect across the nation and overseas. Faith in the country’s institutions had been declining for years of course, but this marked a new low. Sectarian conflict was becoming endemic, arsons, assaults, even murders and kidnaps, rabble-rousing calls for jihads and crusades. In some areas the authorities had lost all control, hopefully only temporarily. Most people were confused, bewildered, stunned, but such things had a habit of evolving into either rage or passivity, who could tell which? For him though the worst was the refusal of the political and intellectual establishment to face facts; they were still wittering on about community cohesion and other modern shibboleths, in total defiance of reality.
Today he felt like resigning, admitting failure, but had been dissuaded by the other two accompanying him out. They said they needed to talk, openly, when the emergency was over, calibrate their approach, ignore their masters if required; he must stay on, there was no one else they trusted. What about the military, the Chief of the General Staff? A good man, we can work with him. Sounds like a coup in the making he had said. Not at all, more like a side-lining in particular operational matters. Surely, he realised that others were already at work with very different aims, who had grown strong?
Tell me more. Later. Intriguing enough to continue, at least for a while.
EPILOGUE, LATE MAY
Chief Inspector Andy Bowson was shown into the flat by a well-dressed woman. This address, place, was far beyond him, but at least it wasn’t flash like some of the foreign owned places he’d had to raid in his career. Restrained, elegant, reflecting its owner he thought. She showed him through to where ‘John’ was sitting, looking a hell of a lot better than when he’d seen him in hospital, leg still in plaster, arm in a sling which had been cast aside.
“Hello, good to see you Andy. I can call you Andy still, can’t I?”
“Doing fine, on the way back, more than well cared for, as you can see.”
He smiled at the woman who returned it with real affection, triggering a pang of loss in himself.
“As you’ve probably guessed, I’ve been keeping busy, not surprising given everything that’s been going on, but you must be frantic. I’m also looking further into the disappearance of your wife and son, unofficially you understand. All I can say is that you shouldn’t lose hope. I can’t say more, but we may be on to something. At some point I may need you to join me at short notice, come with me, in utmost confidence. Could you do that, do you trust me enough?”
He returned the man’s look, shocked, not expecting anything like this. Can I trust him? What’s he withholding, must be more to it? Do I trust anyone these days? Yes, George now certainly, some of the others, but less so, but a spook, even one who has always been decent to me?
“What aren’t you telling me?”
“Some of it, until I have more of substance and no, before you ask, I haven’t seen either of them, I don’t think they’ve come to any harm or are in danger, and she certainly hadn’t left you. I promised you I’d help you find her and I mean to, but you have to cut me a little slack, be patient a little longer, it could be months yet.”
“I suppose I’ve no choice, but I warn you, if you are misleading me, trying to use me…”
The woman interrupted.
“He isn’t, he’s trying to help you in his own way, like he does others. He doesn’t lie about things like this.”
“Okay, have it your way. I can be patient if I need to, but won’t be strung along.”
What other choice do I have?
“I understand. So, why’re you here, other than a social call to a recovering spook?”
“To catch up, talk things through, as we agreed. Everything’s upside down, but those at the top don’t seem to care or want to recognise it, just going along like before. The chief isn’t though and there are rumours that a few in the various security services are getting together, are frustrated beyond measure, are keeping things to themselves.”
“I know. What do you think, how do you feel, about it? You can’t be surprised?”
Do I trust him, really trust him? Who else is there? I must, to have approached him that time? He reddened.
‘John’ was watching the policeman carefully, sympathetically. He’s trapped, but there’s something that he’s nerving himself to say, but doesn’t know how, if he can. Wait, no, save him the trouble.
“Is this about you and a colleague letting a young man go from Broadcasting House without reporting it? A man sought by the authorities, who was filmed shooting two terrorists dead and, it is claimed, killed several more in the building, someone all the various security agencies adamantly deny was one of theirs’?”
Bowson looked at the older man in astonishment.
“How did you know?”
“Part of my job to know, remember? The bits that fall between the cracks, the things no one else wants to look after, the future for those to come? Don’t worry, I won’t turn you in.”
“He was English, definitely, sounded like a Bristolian, he more or less admitted being one of those behind the killings in Birmingham, Swindon and Reading. One of the hostages who met him apparently said he did the strangest thing: he showed him he was wearing a Celtic cross around his neck, said he was with them.”
Then the realisation, the dawning light in his eyes.
“You, he’s working for you; all of this, it’s you!”
“Not quite, but close. So, what’re you going to do, turn me in? How do you know this isn’t official? There are parts of the secret state even the Cabinet doesn’t know about, defending the nation from the more insidious threats, within and without.”
Silence, the man was thrown by his unexpected revelation, hardly surprising, came here for a chat, some sympathy and suddenly I’ve dynamited his assumptions. Which way will he land? I’m pretty sure I know.
“Why’ve you told me this, now?”
“Because I think you’ve arrived at the same conclusions some of us have, and more are coming to, otherwise you wouldn’t have disregarded your ostensible duty for something deeper by assisting the escape of that insanely brave young man. For that, I’m heavily indebted to you, and have redoubled my determination to reunite you with your family.”
“What do you want of me?”
“To work with us, quietly, to defend our way of life, our civilisation, the things being forgotten or surrendered, the things that gave us everything. We think you’re one of us, have proved yourself, you just need to prove it to yourself.”
“How do you mean?”
“Join us, our little informal band of brothers and sisters, confronting things the normal authorities won’t, searching out threats, going the extra mile to protect the things we love. Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to kill and, as you know, we are highly selective and our people are effective. How many do you think we’ve saved by our actions of the last few months, found things out that you couldn’t? Thousands?”
He just looked at him, then the woman.
Henry could read the debate within, communicated by his facial expression.
What they were asking… but hadn’t he already crossed the line? That’s why they’d revealed themselves to him, reckoned he was already there. George was, he knew, would sign up in a flash, possibly some of the others.
“So, what’s the end game, the objective, a coup?”
“Certainly not. No, to build an outer ring of informal defence, drive the threat from our shores, from others who share our civilisation, to protect the innocent, to watch the frontiers like the old Roman Limitani, to seek out those who would betray us. There’s no pay, no status, no glory, just service, and risk of course.”
“These rumours about people higher up getting together, is it related?”
“No, they’re not there yet, but they’re worried, near despair, but too high profile, too official. Maybe some in time, but this is about ground up people with the right mettle, one-by-one. We think you’re ideal.”
© 1642again 2018