MARK FRANKLAND

The picture? Well the picture says that anything is possible. As in anything. The town is Darwen. And of course the guy is Gandhi. And those around him are unemployed cotton workers. When he heard they were all but starving because of his Indian boycott, he insisted on going to see them. Before he got off the train they were all ready to lynch him. By the time he got back on board he was their guy. Like they say - form is temporary, class is permanent.

Monday, July 28, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER TWENTY ONE


33 years. Now he prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Referendum puts the secret at risk. How far might some people go to keep he secret safe….?

YOU CAN FIND EARLIER CHAPTERS OF ‘TOXIC’ IN THE ‘BLOG ARCHIVE’ ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE. CHAPTER ONE WAS RELEASED IN MAY 2014

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

JULY 2014

STIRLING

SCOTLAND

Boy Masters left the rented cottage a little after eight on a fresh, sunny morning. Belfast rules demanded half an hour of driving random country roads to ensure he wasn’t under any kind of observation. Counter surveillance was an ingrained habit and he allowed his mind to wander as his eyes automatically flicked from one rear view mirror to another.

He was about to fire the first shots in a war. Up until now everything had been about planning and preparing. In theory he could still call the whole idea off and disappear from the radar. Would Reuben Westlake come looking for him? He very much doubted it. The 2014 version of Westlake he had met in London had cut a haunted figure. He was in every respect yesterday’s man. Yesterday’s man and yesterday’s news. And before Reuben Westlake had called him up and offered a final mission, Boy Masters had also been one of the yesterday men. Cowed and beaten and hunted and broke.

A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.

He smiled at the thought. They were all so convinced that he was a busted flush. Had anyone noticed that he had disappeared from their radar? Did anyone know he was now on Belfast Rules? Maybe. But he very much doubted that any of them really cared. Maybe they would mention is name in passing over after-dinner port in their Mayfair clubs. Heard anything of Boy Masters? Not lately, old chap. Not lately. He’s been and gone and good bloody riddance if you ask me.

Maybe there were a few who were sighing with relief. Probably. How they would have hated the sight of Boy Masters appearing on the BBC Parliament Channel in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. A living, breathing memory of times everyone was trying as hard as they could to consign to the dustbin of history. It would be so much better for all concerned if he simply vanished into the ether. Into obscurity. Into a permanent fug of cannabis on a distant African shore.

Well sorry chaps, but fuck you. Fuck the lot you.

A hard smile spread across his hard face. Payback time was nigh. Payback for what? He had absolutely no idea and he cared even less. All that mattered was that he was heading back to war. War was all that made any kind of sense. War was the only thing worth living for.

He had always been a keen reader of spy fiction: John Le Carre and Len Deighton and Ian Fleming. Sometimes he had wondered if he had made the wrong life choice in opting for the Coldstream Guards and the Regiment. Maybe he should have chosen the spook option? Would he have been good? Of course he would have been good. He would have been bloody sensational. But they wouldn’t have liked him much. They. The old boys in their favourite tweed jackets with leather patches on the sleeves. A spot of good shooting at the weekends and defending the Realm over roly poly pudding and custard in their clubs.

He had always been fascinated by the whole idea of dead drops. Chalk marks on the wall. Half drawn curtains. A particular coloured beret. An umbrella carried or not carried. A few run of the mill words in the small ads section in a local paper. Signals designed to be forever lost in everyday reality. At times he had indulged in such cloak and dagger ruses whilst undercover in the streets and council estates of the IRA heartlands.

Well that was then. Old methods for old times. The times had indeed a changed. He parked up his car outside a McDonalds on the edge of a sprawling retail park and made his way inside. He ordered a double sausage and egg McMuffin meal with black coffee and took it out to the tables outside. The free WiFi service reached through the walls and into his tablet.

He took a mouthful of coffee and a bite of his hash brown and logged himself on to Twitter.

User name: williamhtyler1959

Password: heartofdarkness1

A homepage.

William H Tyler.

Brighton.

‘Dad, Postie, Seagulls!!!’

Following 257. Followers 126. Tweets 772.

He grinned. 772 tweets. Jesus. What the hell had William H Tyler been telling the world? He flicked down the list. The musings of a man who didn’t exist. A postman from Brighton in his mid fifties. An enthusiast. A devotee of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. A family man. Tweets about a near miss for the Seagulls in their drive for the Championship play offs. Stuff from the World Cup. Pictures of a couple of invented grandkids.

He clicked his curser into the new tweet box and penned his message.

“Big family BBQ tonight. Please don’t rain!”

Left click ‘Tweet.’

He sat back and smiled. He finished his double sausage and egg McMuffin. He finished his hash brown. He lit up a cigarette and watched the cars parking up outside B&Q.

Nobody paid the slightest attention to the guy with the grey hair outside McDonalds. He was just another guy. He was hidden from their view by his Belfast Rules. But already the tanks were firing up their engines and the scouts were breaching the wire. Already the first sounds of small arms fire could be heard like distant fireworks. Soon the air would be filled with the rage of artillery fire and air strikes and the screams of the dying.

He had fired off the first shots. The die was cast. It was showtime.

 
Nine o’clock Stirling time was 2pm Dacca time. One of Saj Khan’s bank of computers made a beeping noise and he filled his screen with the Twitter account of William H Tyler of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.

“So it’s bangers on the barby time is it Billy boy? Course it is mate. Oi! Bashir!”

A reply from the next room.

“What?”

“There’s a barbeque in Brighton tonight. Time to rock n’ roll Bro.”

It was time to switch accounts.

User name : Blackclan2014

Just a purple egg shape for an image. No personal description. Following nobody, followed by nobody. The very barest of bare bones. But that was about to change. Saj took a hard draw on his cigarette and tossed it back into an overflowing ash tray. With dancing fingers he brought the Black Clan 2014 account to life.

First there was a picture to replace the purple egg. Gordy Campbell behind his Saltyre balaclava which had been machine knitted only a few streets away. A man behind a mask. A strap-line of very few words. Four words in fact. ‘Love Scotland. Hate England’.

And now within a handful of seconds BlackClan2014 had 4123 followers. Some of them were every bit as fictional as William H Tyler of Brighton. They were people invented and created out of thin air and given their Frankenstein lives out in the swirling ether. Others were real people who had ‘Yes’ badges on their home pages. Ordinary people who had signed on the dotted line to play their part in the campaign. They were spread far and wide across Scotland posting pictures of meetings and canvassing or links to informative articles. Saj had sneaked through the back doors of their Twitter houses and inserted himself into their online lives. They became followers of Black Clan 2014 without knowing it. They became unwitting foot soldiers. And when they helped to fire the first shots of Boy Master’s war, they didn’t even realise they had guns in their hands.

Saj typed in Black Clan 2014’s debut tweet;

‘If you hate they English wankers you should watch this.”

A link to YouTube which guaranteed any back tracker the prospect of insanity as they picked their way through a million dead ends.

“OK. Let’s be straight here. I’ve never done this shite before, so if you’re expecting Robert De Niro you might as well fuck off. We are the Black Clan, right. And this is our first broadcast. So who gives a shite? Nobody gives a shite. Why would they? Aye. Well that’s the now. You’ll all give a shite soon enough. So. Who the fuck are Black Clan? I’ll tell you. We’re pissed off. That’s what we are. We like the idea of an Independent Scotland. Course we do. We’ve had enough of being shat on by the fucking English. And that’s what they do, right? They shite on us. And they’ve been shiteing on us for hunners of years. Well that’s about to stop. On 18 September we’re going to tell they English to fuck off. The problem is that they fuckers running the ‘Yes’ campaign keep telling us that we’ve got to dead nice to the English. Aye right. And once we kick them oot, we’re all going be the best neighbours in the world. Aye well. Fuck that. The lads at Black Clan see it different. We don’t buy all this play nice bollocks. So we’re not going to play nice. No. We’re going to be a bunch of bastards, so we are. We’re going to give you English twats a taste of how it will be if there is a ‘No’ vote. And you best believe me, it’s not going to be nice at all. It’s going to be a fucking nightmare. So watch this space you smug pricks. Cos the Black Clan will be sending out a few messages. We’re going to show you how things will be if you dinnae fuck off back over the border. And by the time we’re finished with you, youse’ll be building Hadrian’s Wall again. So that’s me done. Like I said. Watch this space…”

Saj took a moment to watch the video again. He really liked it. He had watched it twenty times and more and had been looking forward to the moment when he would send it out into the world.

“OK world. It’s time for you to discover the boys from the Black Clan.”

During the course of thirty finger-dancing minutes, the Black Clan debut tweet was re-tweeted 742 times. Many of these re-tweets came from Saj’s invented accounts. By now all of these enjoyed hundreds and hundreds of real followers. Saj’s made up ‘Yes’ supporters had chosen thousands of ‘Yes’ accounts to follow and those thousands of ‘Yes’ accounts had followed back out of a sense of good manners and solidarity. Other re-tweets came from hacked accounts.

It didn’t take long for the YouTube counter to start to tick over. By 10am UK time, Gordy’s video had been watched 765 times. By 11am the figure was 2075. By 11.45 it was 8973.

By noon Twitter was alive with speculation. Does anyone know who Black Clan 2014 are? Has anyone every heard of them before? What is that accent? Where did he get that crazy mask? All the while Saj added followers. By 10am there were 5498. By 11am there were 8973. By noon there were 10789.

And then Saj sat back, knitted his fingers behind his head and enjoyed the show.

By 1pm the video had been watched over 15,000 times.

The spitting bastard child that was called Black Clan 2014 had carved out a niche in the online world.

Boy had moved on from McDonalds to a pub with a beer garden near Auchterarder. The sun was well and truly out and he chose a table where freshly cut grass met a small stream. He ate a Ploughman’s lunch and washed it down with a better than average pint of lager.

For years he had never paid much attention to the online world. He had used e mails of course and for a while he had focused on The Pro-Active Solutions website. But things had quickly moved on. The thriving War on Terror market place he had become such a part of did not require a fancy all singing and all dancing website. It was more of a word of mouth world. A nod and a wink world. A world where nothing was ever written down.

Over the course of a sunny Scottish afternoon everything changed. He drained pint after pint as he watched the unfolding evidence of the impact of Saj’s dancing fingers. The young Brick Lane exile had given Boy a short crash course on what to watch for once the first shots were fired.

“You need to watch the Followers, right. To start with they will all be bollocks, OK. They will either be completely made up and invented or hacked. But then it will start to change.”

“Do people who follow somebody’s account always like them?”

“No man. Not at all. People follow accounts which they are interested in. They might like the dude, they might hate the dude, makes no odds. They just want to hear what is being said. Got it?”

Boy had shrugged. “I think so.”

“OK. Next. Watch the counter on YouTube. That will show you how many people are watching the video. It will be the same again. To start with all of the watches will be fictional. But then it will change as people get to hear about it and check it out. Just because they watch it doesn’t mean they like it. It just means they have heard about it and they want to check it out for themselves.”

Boy found watching the unfolding process to be surprisingly addictive. He had been intending to return to the cottage for the night, but this was way too much fun. He booked himself a room and ordered crisps to go with the lager. By three, over 30,000 people had become followers of Black Clan and Gordy’s video had been viewed a similar number of times.

By four o’clock he could sense that Saj had pressed a distant button and moved on to stage two.

An invented account holder who went under the name @Billyboy1690 noticed something about the photo on the Black Clan page.

‘Check this out guys.’

BillyBoy1690 had done some investigative work. He had taken the photo of the masked Gordy and blown it up twenty times. The blown up version revealed a key fact, for Gordy hadn’t zipped his tatty old combat jacket all the way to his neck. The magnified view revealed the unmistakable green and white of a Celtic Football Club T shirt hiding underneath.

‘These Black Clan nutters are Fenian bastards!’

A number of fictional hard line Glasgow Rangers-supporting accounts eagerly jumped into the fray and re-tweeted BillyBoy1690’s news.

But the news didn’t remain in the realms of fiction for very long. Within minutes a growing and furious exchange had broken out as the two sides of the sectarian divide piled into each other.

Soon politicians of all colours were using Twitter to express their outrage at the sudden explosion of hate. BlackClan2014 was remorseless in jumping straight back at them. An SNP member from the Highlands pleaded for the hateful minority voices to be ignored.

BlackClan2014 was onto them in a matter of seconds.

“Aye right. Typical English loving bastard.”

Boy chuckled as the outrage mushroomed. By 5 pm he was hopping between Twitter and the online news channels. A variety of experts were wheeled out to express their horror at the sudden explosion of online hate. Representatives of the ‘Yes’ campaign had a haunted look about them as they promised that Black Clan was nothing more than a lone, lunatic howling voice in the wilderness of the internet. But with every passing hour, they found it an ever harder to make their case to make as more and more followers jumped on board.

Representatives from the ‘No’ side of the argument looked like cats who had been presented with a bigger bowl of cream than they had ever dared to dream of. They wore earnest expressions and pointed out that ‘Better Together’ had been warning about the poisonous influence of the CyberNats for many months.

Soon the spotlight moved onto Twitter itself. Surely @BlackClan2014 should be closed down. Voices from the Parliament in Edinburgh demanded immediate censure. But voices from the Parliament in Westminster saw things rather differently. Of course what was being said was nasty and poisonous and hateful. But when all was said and done, it was still free speech. And Britain had a long tradition of defending its treasured free speech. A Tory from the depths of Dorset was the first to speak the words that were as inevitable as rain in November.

“I hate everything about what these disgusting people are saying, but I will defend their right to say it with my life.”

Boy almost choked on a mouthful of lager. The idea of this smug faced little man with his cravat and red drinker’s nose defending anything was truly laughable.

Saj had gambled on the fact that Twitter would be extremely reluctant to shut down @BlackClan2014. The raging media storm represented a massive amount of free publicity and when all was said and done, Twitter was a vast global corporation looking to keep its shareholders happy.

By the time Boy staggered upstairs to his room, the Black Clan phenomenon was dominating the news. At 10.30 the BBC News reviewed the next day’s papers which were united in their outrage what was happening. The 'in studio' experts looked over headline after headline which screamed out to the readers.

Here was the dark side of ‘Yes’ that so many newspapers had been warning everyone about for months and months. These were the kind of dangerous and ugly forces which the campaign had released. It was time for the people of Scotland to send out a clear message and vote ‘No’ in resounding numbers.

Boy smiled.

“Oh you silly bastards. You reckon these are dangerous and ugly forces? Dream on.”

In Cambridge Kathy and Nigel had spent their day in much the same way as Boy Masters, though they had chosen pots of tea for sustenance instead of lager. Kathy had called round to bring her mentor up to speed with her investigations, but they had soon become distracted as the Black Clan story had exploded across the online world.

“Is the reaction real or is invented do you think?” asked Sir Nigel, who was on a crash course. He had heard of Twitter, but never paid it any attention. Now it was catch up time. Kathy set up an account for him and he became one of the thousands of followers of @BlackClan2014.

Kathy was suspicious. “Some of it may be real. My guess is not much. It is very easy to invent fictional Twitter accounts. I think most of these people don’t exist. They are inventions. Someone has put a lot of time in here. They have prepared the ground carefully.”

They watched the video five times and agreed that it was almost certain that Gordon Campbell was the man behind the bizarre mask. Were Boy, Richard and Gordon doing all of this themselves? Kathy doubted it. Her investigations hadn’t showed any of them having the kind of technical expertise needed for this kind of operation.

“So what do you think?” Nigel was a long way from any kind of familiar ground.

“I think they have hired in experts. I very much doubt they will be in the UK. They will probably be in Asia somewhere. Companies use these people all the time. That is why a toilet roll manufacturer can have tens of thousands of friends on Facebook. These are not real people. They are invented for the sole purpose of giving the company some sort of perceived credibility. There will be a room full of computers out there somewhere with a team of smart young people working for a couple of dollars a day.”

“Rather like a digital sweatshop?”

“”Exactly”

“What will happen next? In your view?”

Kathy shrugged. “I think we are already seeing it. Look at the faces from the ‘No’ campaign. They are in clover. This is exactly what they have been waiting for: the chance to paint the ‘Yes’ campaign as dangerous extremists.”

“Yes. How very right you are. And do you think this will be the extent of it?”

“Oh no. These are merely the opening shots. Reuben Westlake wouldn’t have hired a man like Boy Masters if all he had in mind was an online smear campaign.”

Nigel shook his head. “No. Of course he wouldn’t. You never told me about what you have discovered my dear. Not with all of this…”

So Kathy brought him up to speed with the story of how the terror of Shaitan had spread through Al Anbar Province.

“It rang a bell with me. The girlfriend from Goa. Remember? The girl he beat up?”

“I remember.”

“I went back to interview her. Hang on. Let me get it. OK. Here. Listen to this.

 ‘Boy was smoking weed from dawn till dusk. Him and Leroy. I hated Leroy. He frightened me. But Boy? Boy was fascinated by him. He thought he was like some kind of bloody God. They would sit there for hour after hour getting stoned out of their heads and watching ‘Apocalypse Now’. Over and over and over. And you should have seen them. You should have seen their eyes. And that mad old bastard Leroy would go on about all the stuff they had done in Vietnam and Boy hung on every word….’

Kathy hit some keys on her laptop. “I have had a look at the film and I think Boy Masters used it as a blueprint. You’ve seen it?”

Nigel nodded. “Yes. Indeed I have. But it was many years ago.”

“OK. Watch this. This is the part when Willard finally finds his way to Kurtz. This is where Kurtz explains the method in his apparent madness.”

She swung the screen of her laptop round so that they could both watch. And there was the shadowy face of Brando’s Kurtz.

"I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that. These were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it's judgment that defeats us."

Sir Nigel ran a bony hand through his thin white hair. “So you think this was the template Boy Masters adopted when he went to Africa and Al Anbar Province? His adopted Heart of Darkness? Why he created the Shaitan legend?”

“Yes I do. Over the recent years scientists have learned a great deal about the long term effects of strong cannabis. According to the girlfriend from Goa, Leroy and Boy were smoking Kerala grass. I have researched it. The consensus seems to be that it is one of the world’s strongest varieties of cannabis. I think that before he arrived in Goa, Boy Masters was a very spoilt and very capable young man with a nasty streak. The heavy cannabis use must have made Leroy seem like an impossibly compelling figure. My guess is that Boy had already watched Apocalypse Now several times before travelling to Goa. Leroy must have seemed like a real life Kurtz. I think that Boy must have had some kind of cannabis induced psychotic attack without anyone noticing.”

“You mean that he wanted to become Kurtz?”

“I think so, yes. You know that the story behind Apocalypse Now was Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’?”

“Yes. Yes I do. And you think that is why Boy was drawn to Africa once he left the SAS? Of course you do. So, we must look at what he did in Africa in a rather different light. ‘Horror and moral terror are your friends.’ Oh how very clever you have been my dear. How very clever. It means that some very bad things are about to happen.”

Kathy nodded. “Yes. I think they are.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER TWENTY


33 years. Now he prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Referendum puts the secret at risk. How far might some people go to keep he secret safe….?

TOU CAN FIND EARLIER CHAPTERS OF ‘TOXIC’ IN THE ‘BLOG ARCHIVE’ ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE. CHAPTER ONE WAS RELEASED IN MAY 2014

CHAPTER TWENTY

JULY 2014

BEDALE SERVICE AREA

NORTH YORKSHIRE

Kathy was still on the road. So much for the glamorous life of a spook. For over a week her days had started and ended in a series of soulless hotels on the edge of northern towns. Nowhere was familiar any more. She felt as if she had been uprooted. When had she last spent an evening with a friend? It had been weeks. Sir Nigel had cast her into a wilderness of blander than bland hotel rooms where pastel colours ruled supreme.

She now carried a bottle of Gordon’s in her overnight case and most evenings she only found sleep after three or four doubles. Well. Trebles. Why? She couldn’t really explain it to herself. She felt like she was being damaged in some indefinable way. Wherever the trail led her, there seemed to be a feeling of darkness. For days now she had been trying to clear her brain of all thoughts of the patrol of the damned. But no matter how she tried, the images from the desert refused to go away. They had been the very finest men the British Army could put into the field and yet that long forgotten night in the desert had broken each and every one of them. It was as if they had cashed in their souls that night and never managed to find a way to come to terms with the vacuum that was left inside them.

Was her soul being slowly eaten away? It was a ridiculous thought. A stupid thought. An unprofessional thought. Not a Kathy thought. Kathy was organised and smart and level headed. Kathy was a high flier. Kathy was a fast track girl. Kathy did logic and evaluation. Kathy hadn’t been near a church since leaving school and she had no desire to go near one now. She hadn’t been a believer from the age of six. And she had always viewed all superstition with contempt. She believed in neither God nor ghosts. She was a woman of the 21st Century.

Or so she had thought. But now all of her comfortable certainties seemed to be crumbling away. She had been so very sure that the world was a place that could be organised so long as proper logic was applied. Now she saw such certainty as being plain stupid. Maybe the men who set out on the patrol of the damned had thought the same. They were highly trained and motivated. They must have felt that they were ready for anything.

But they hadn’t been ready at all. And they had never been the same again. Instead they had been sucked down into a pit of evil never to re-emerge. Was she entering the very same quicksand?

It felt that way. It felt like the evil that had eaten into the men of the damned patrol was contagious. Virulent. Infectious. Contaminating. The feeling made her lonely nights in lonely hotel rooms seem to go on forever. Hour after hour she forced her forensic brain to absorb overwhelming numbers of facts. Threads. Clues. And every night she felt like she was being pulled further and further into a dark world.

Time? 0545.

Rain on the window of her boxy room. Time to rise and shine. She showered and dressed and swallowed a couple of pain killers to ease the headache from last night’s gin. Today was a day to power dress. She donned black trousers and black jacket and a white shirt. She tied her hair back tight. No make up. Just a pale face and a hint of red in her eyes. Were they really her eyes? Those eyes in the mirror that seemed somehow lost?

0650.

She decided to get ten minutes worth of air. She found a place under an oak tree on the edge of the car park. Over a barbed wire fence, a huge field of wheat was ripening well. Trucks thundered north and south on the A1. A couple of crows picked away at the corpse of an infant rabbit.

And yet again everything was so ordinary that she felt like screaming. But she didn’t. Instead she lit up her first cigarette of the day and pulled in a hard lungful of smoke. Jesus Kathy. Gin for sleep and nicotine to get going again. She couldn’t believe she had started smoking again. It was so not her. But she had and she had no wish to stop.   

0700.

Show time. Another day on Sir Nigel’s road.

She tossed her cigarette and made her way over to the café. A smiling young girl had just unlocked the door.

“Good morning.” An accent from the wide open plains of Poland. Name tag? Magda. Of course it was.

“Good morning.”

“Please. You can take seat. I will bring menu. Too much rain today I think?”

“Thank you.”

She took her seat. She ordered a cheese omelette and a pot of coffee. She read the Guardian. She checked her watch.

0730.

The door opened and a small wiry man stepped inside and cast his eyes around the room. She held her newspaper up to show the front page. He nodded and crossed the room to join her.

“Miss Hepworth?”

She tried out her best smile.

“Yes. Good morning. And you must be Mr Walters? Please. Take a seat. Have you had breakfast?”

He took a seat. He said he didn’t want any breakfast. He said coffee would be fine.

“I’m not happy about this.” And he didn’t look happy at all in his sensible grey slacks and red Pringle golfing jacket. She knew from the files that he was sixty four years old, but his thin white hair and bitter wrinkled face made him look a decade older. His mouth was set in a thin grimace of resentment. What levers had Sir Nigel pulled to coerce this angry little man to drive down from Middlesbrough for a meeting at a service station café on the A1?

“No. I don’t suppose you are. But there really is no need to be concerned Mr Walters. I am merely seeking background. There is no question of any wrongdoing here.”

What a joke Kathy. There was wrongdoing everywhere. She forked a piece of omelette into her mouth. Maybe seeing her in the simple act of eating breakfast might unwrap him a little.

“Please. Maybe it is best that you assume I know nothing. Just walk me through what you saw. I don’t need names and places. Just background. Just a sense of things.”

His thin shoulders seemed to tighten in annoyance and his nasty little eyes seethed with resentment. But it was clear enough that he had been given no choice in the matter. Being here was non-negotiable.

“OK. It was 2005. I was counting down the days to my retirement. I was a Detective Inspector with the Cleveland Police Force. A career man. Twenty five years and sick to the back teeth of it. Anyway. One day I got a call from some headhunting outfit in London. Would I be interested in a potentially lucrative opportunity? Well of course I was. They sent me a first class train ticket to London and I met them for lunch in a five star hotel. All very top of the range. Smooth bastards they were. Two of them. One man, one woman. As corporate as they come. They said they had a client who was in the market for men like me. Men with my skill set. I asked them what kind of skill set they thought I had. They said their client was in the market for experienced detectives. They wanted people who were expert interrogators. They said they represented an American company and the contract would be for two years in Iraq. I was about to tell them where to get off when they told me how much the job would pay. Unbelievable. It was a bloody fortune.  Enough for me and the missus to get a place down on the south coast of Spain and still have plenty of change left over.”

He sipped his coffee and fastidiously wiped at his lips with a paper napkin.

“Well You already know I said yes. I took my retirement and got my clock. The Yanks had latched onto the fact that their efforts at “torture light” were only making things worse. The media were starting to get a whiff about what they were up to and nothing was really working anyway. Some bright spark must have come up with the idea of trying more conventional methods of interrogation. They drew up a profile for the ideal sort of guys to do the job. They wanted older guys. And they wanted a British voice. Nobody trusted Americans. Not bloody surprising. One way or another, they found their way to me. So I worked out of military bases, mainly in the Sunni Triangle. Every day they would bring in the poor sods they had lifted. Most of them had been kicked about. Just kids mainly. Bloody terrified they were about to be shipped out to Guantanamo. My job was to try and calm them down and relax them. I was Mr Soothing. Mr Trustworthy. It was sickening. Anyway. I got there in the summer of 2005 and I left in 2007.”

“And I gather that things changed during that time?”

He sighed. “Yes. Things changed. At first many of the men I interviewed had a defiance about then. Sure they were scared witless, but they still were determined not to be broken. I was rather impressed actually. But then there was a change. Suddenly they were terrified. They couldn’t wait to tell me everything they knew. I just got to hear bits and pieces. They said there were devils. One or two were so terrified they could hardly speak. They would talk of Shaitan and Iblis. That’s Satan, right? They said that Shaitan would come in the night and slaughter whole families. I’ll tell you, I have never seen such fear. It still makes me shudder. I have no idea what was going down, but it certainly had people shitting themselves….”

He poured another cup of coffee and seemed to stare straight through her. “I knew that all the talk of Satan was nonsense, but even so. I don’t know. There was a feeling of something evil in the air. I know it sounds stupid, but that’s how it was. Sometimes I would try to talk about it with some of the Yank officers I met, but they made it pretty clear that it was a no go area. Whatever was going down certainly worked. No getting away from that. By the time I came home, the whole of Al Anbar Province had calmed right down. I don’t know what they did. And I have no idea who they were. I didn’t want to know. I still don’t want to know. But whatever it was, it made people really, really terrified. When I got home I promised myself never to think about it again. But it doesn’t work like that. Oh we got our place in Spain and we go three times a year. But it has never felt right somehow. I didn’t do anything wrong myself. Far from it. I followed exactly the same set of rules I had always followed at home. And my employers were a pleased as punch with me. But I didn’t feel right. I still don’t. I never have. I don’t suppose I ever will. I just can’t get away from the feeling that I was involved in something really bad. And that word. Shaitan. Can’t seem to get it out of my head. Shaitan. You should have seen the look in their eyes when they said it. Never seen men so scared. Never.”

He left her with a weak handshake. An anonymous little man who had allowed himself to be contaminated for the price of a villa in Spain.

I feel a pricking in my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…

Had Shaitan been Boy Masters?

Of course he had. Who else would it have been?

She finished her coffee and paid her bill and said her goodbyes to the smiling Magda. It was just before nine and the rain had clearly made its mind up to stay for the day. She checked out of the hotel and filed away the receipt in her purse. Methodical. Organised. An expenses claim to be submitted in due course. And a payment would be electronically transferred into her account in due course. Everyday transactions. The nuts and bolts of ordinary day to day life.

She struck out west on the A66 and crossed the drenched grey Pennines. On the western side of the hills there was a strong wind to go with the rain. But Kathy was on autopilot. She half listened to her wittering radio and more or less chain smoked. Brough. Penrith. Carlisle.

Welcome to Scotland.

And no matter how ordinary everything appeared, she couldn’t escape a feeling of unease.

An hour north of the border. Shotts. Yet another beleaguered little town. Yet more doomed little shops. She was becoming familiar with these blighted little places that were so very far from the multi million pound mansions of Rickmansworth. Her SatNav took her clear of the town and back out into the countryside. A group of fed‑up looking cows stared balefully over a recently trimmed hedge. A kestrel hovered hopefully. A guy who had the look of a travelling salesman sat in a lay-by and reviewed some paperwork.

And then she turned a corner and the daunting sprawl of HMP Shotts was spread out before her. The sight of the place made her shudder. Acres of bleak, square buildings contained by a giant loop of high razor wire topped fencing. It seemed completely out of place in the gentle rolling hills, as if some vast alien spaceship had appeared from the sky and dropped it.

She parked up for a few minutes to sharpen herself and to smoke a final cigarette. She had never been inside a prison before and she thanked her lucky stars that she would be in and out in a matter of a couple of hours. How daunting must everything have looked to the men who arrived at the gates in the back of vans knowing that these dismal high security acres would be their home for the next decade or two. What an utter nightmare.

She had done her homework on HMP Shotts the night before. Well some things never changed, for Kathy King always got her homework in on time. Shotts was home to Scotland’s lifers. To warrant your place you needed two qualifications. One, you needed to be lined up to serve at least four years before being eligible for any kind of parole. Two, you needed to be sane. If you were down to serve more than four years and you were clinically insane, then you’d be put in the van to Carstairs.

She parked her car and checked her hair in the driver’s mirror. Did she need her umbrella for the two hundred yard walk to the front door? She did.

She introduced herself as herself. Shotts was no place for made up identities. The man on the desk had the kind of well worked tattooed arms that marked him out as having once upon a time served time with the Black Watch. He was all smiles and talk about the weather. Then he glanced over her credentials and he went cold on her. Soldiers and spooks. Oil and water.

“Through that door there please Miss. Someone will come for you”

The door led to a large and very empty waiting room. Posters on the wall advertised support services for families and strict sets of rules for visitors. Ten minutes passed slowly.

Eventually another warder appeared.

“Miss King?”

“Yes.”

“This way please.”

He marched her down endless corridors without speaking once. No doubt the front desk guy had warned him off. How would these guys be voting? Hard to say. The silent treatment suggested a degree of contempt for any representative of the London Establishment. So maybe they were ‘Yes’ men. She realised that she had started to automatically assess everyone she met as soon as she crossed the border. Were they ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? One or the other?

“In here please Miss.”

A bare room with no posters or sets of rules. One window giving a view of some sort of back yard area. One table. Two chairs.

“Wait here please.”

She waited. And she wondered what he would be like. Asif Mohammed. He had turned to the dark side in 2005 and disappeared from the radar. Eavesdroppers collected local whispers that he had made it all the way to Iraq to fight the Jihadist war against the unbelievers. He had re-appeared two years later and hooked up with the wrong types. They finally had taken him at dawn in 2008 and in 2009 a judge had sentenced him to ten years for planning terrorist activities. Then to everyone’s surprise he had asked to speak to someone from the Security Service and he had told everything he knew. Nobody was willing to risk leaving him in Belmarsh. He wouldn’t have survived no matter how hard they tried to keep him safe. So they had moved him hundreds of miles north to Shotts where he was to complete his reduced sentence on the protection wing. Sir Nigel had suggested she should have a chat with him. The records suggested he had been in Al Anbar Province in 2007. Maybe he could help by suggesting a few of the tunes that might have played in the background.

The door opened and he was guided to his seat. A sweat shirt. A pair of non-descript trousers. Trainers. And young. Much younger looking than the twenty seven years in his file.

“Want me to stay, Miss?” asked the warder escort.

“No thank you. I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

The warder departed without further comment.

“I’m Kathy.” She reached out a hand and he shook it.

“Asif.”

Should she start with small talk? Maybe she should. “How are you Asif?”

He smiled. A shy smile. Rather a nice smile.

“Not bad. Dead bored to be honest. They keep me in solitary. I have my own cell, my own time in the yard, my own time in the gym. It’s a bit lonely, but it could be worse. The papers would hate it if they saw my cell. Xbox. Sky Sports. The time passes. At least I got to see Burnley promoted.”

At least he got to see Burnley promoted? Jesus. Alice in bloody Wonderland.

“That’s your home town, Right? Burnley?”

“Aye. Born and bred. Mum and dad are from Karachi, but I’ve never been. I support the England football team and the Pakistan cricket team. When it comes to football, I hate Blackburn and Argentina. When it comes to cricket, I hate Yorkshire and India. Did they tell you about me?”

He had a sing-song cross of an accent, three quarters East Lancashire and a quarter from the Sub Continent.

“They gave me your file. If you don’t mind, I would rather hear it all in your words.”

“Are we on the clock?”

“No. Take all the time you like.”

He did. He told her about his upbringing and working in the family shop. It had been an end terrace and they had sold everything under the sun. He had done well in his exams and he had been offered a place to study Law at Manchester University. He had a season ticket at Turf Moor. He had always wanted to be good at cricket, but he never had been. At primary school he had lots of white mates but then things changed. The BNP came to town and the races split apart. The shop window was smashed four times in 2006 and one morning he found ‘Fuck off Paki bastards’ spray painted on the front door.

It hadn’t been a good time. But not the end of the world. He knew things would be different once he got to university. Burnley was Burnley. The rest of the country wasn’t like that.

Then everything changed. A bunch of BNP nutters jumped his younger brother on his way from school. His brother had been thirteen years old. They kicked him into a coma and after three desperate weeks the family gave their assent for the life support machine to be switched off.

The memory prompted a single tear to climb out from his right eye and wander down his cheek. He didn’t bother to wipe it away.

He had lost it. Completely lost it. He had left home in the night and hitched his way to London. He found the right mosque and the right men. They gave him a place to stay. They gave him books to read and DVDs to watch. They checked his story and checked to see if he ever missed prayers. He hadn’t missed once.

And then they sent him east to a training camp in Waziristan.

And then they sent him to an Al Quaeda group in Al Anbar Province in Iraq.

He ran through all of it in a monotone voice with the air of a man who had told the story many times before. And he had told the story many times before. Over and over again in perfect detail. She had absorbed his story through the file. It had been pure gold dust. His story led to a drone strike on the Waziristan training camp and a morale boosting list of dead bad guys. The Americans had been as pleased as punch.

“At first it felt like we were winning. There was this bloke called Abu Saad in charge. Christ he was one scary guy. But everyone worshipped the ground he walked on. He’d been a colonel or something in the Iraqi army before the invasion and you could tell. He was seriously good. Dead organised. And almost of his operations against the Americans came good. I was loving it. No point pretending otherwise. I felt like I was really a part of something.”

And then he fell into silence for a long moment.

“Then everything changed. One minute we were winning and everyone was all fired up. The next minute it all started to fall apart. One by one the leaders started to get taken out. And it wasn’t like they were just shot or blown up or arrested. It was much worse. They were butchered. And their families. I only saw it once. The day after….. kids and everything…. And the flies….”

More long silence.

“And people started whispering about Shaitan. Or Iblis. The Arabic words for Satan, yeah? Everyone was completely freaked. It was like we weren’t fighting men any more. We were fighting pure evil. Soon we started to fall apart. Blokes deserted or went off to join other units. Even Abu Saad started to fall apart. He legged it off to Syria. But he didn’t take his family. He should have taken his family.”

A much longer silence this time.

“I didn’t see it myself. But I heard about it. Everyone heard about it. It was Shaitan. He came in the night. He killed all of them. Two women and seven kids. Abu Saad’s wife and kids and his sister in law and her kids. Two were just babies. They were beheaded. All of them. And the heads were all lined up. Just lined up. Well that was it. We heard that Abu Saad shot himself when he heard the news. Everything just collapsed. Nobody had the stomach to fight any more. I came back home and you know the rest. I fell in with a bunch of idiots. I was stupid. We would never have managed to actually do anything. But were got caught anyway. They had us bugged in every room. We were just pathetic losers.”

“And what changed for you, Asif?”

He looked up. “My dad. He came to visit every time he was allowed. I’d thought he’d wash his hands of me, but he didn’t. He stuck by me. He said he understood. But he said I’d got everything wrong. Little by little he brought me back. He persuaded me to tell everything I knew to the proper authorities. In the end I did. Mum and dad have moved now. To Rotherham. Got another shop. Maybe when I get out things can go back to normal. Probably not.”

“I really am very sorry to hear what happened to your brother. It must have been a terrible time.”

“It was. But Al Anbar was worse. Miles worse. It was….. I don’t know. I can’t explain. It was like there was evil everywhere. Pure evil. You’ve never seen people so terrified. Nobody could sleep. Everyone was having nightmares. Will you tell me something?”

“It depends. What would you like to know?”

“Are you after Shaitan? Not the Satan of course. There’s no such thing. But the man who did all that?”

“Maybe. I don’t know for certain.”

“So he’s still out there. I knew he was. I get nightmares all the time you know. All the time. Please let me know if you get him.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Don’t arrest him. He doesn’t deserve it. Just kill the bastard. Put him down. Cut his fucking head off…. Sorry. Shouldn’t have said that. It’s just…”

“It’s OK. Really. Thank you so much for being so helpful.”

He gave her a sad nod and she called in the warder. Just before he left, Asif Mohamed turned back to her.

“Be careful. He’s evil. Completely evil.”

She left HMP Shotts in a daze.

She lit up a cigarette in a daze.

She smoked one after another all the way to the M74. There would be no Premier Inn tonight. She was on autopilot all the way back to her soulless flat in Cambridge. And in the morning she would make her way to Sir Nigel’s cluttered room.

Because she was sure she knew.

She didn’t know exactly what was about to happen. But she knew exactly how it would be. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER NINETEEN


33 years. Now he prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Referendum puts the secret at risk. How far might some people go to keep he secret safe….?

TOU CAN FIND EARLIER CHAPTERS OF ‘TOXIC’ IN THE ‘BLOG ARCHIVE’ ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE. CHAPTER ONE WAS RELEASED IN MAY 2014

CHAPTER NINETEEN

JULY 2014

NEAR STIRLING

SCOTLAND

“That’s it! I’ve had it with this shite. Screw you, Boy. You can take your shitey half million quid and stick it right up your arse…”

Gordy jumped up from the stool, ripped off his balaclava and threw it across the room. His face was brick red and every shouted word was accompanied by strands of spittle.

Unfortunately, the more enraged Gordy became, the more it reduced Boy Masters into convulsions of hysterical laughter.

“….Tell you what you bastard, if you dinnae stop fucking laughing I’m going tae fucking….”

“For Christ’s sake Gordy, stop it. I think I’m going to be sick…”

But now the smaller man’s eyes were drawn to the tri-podded video camera which was all set up ready to record him. Boy clocked the direction of Gordy’s gaze and clambered to his feet and positioned himself between the seething Scotsman and the expensively bought equipment.

“OK. Look. No more laughing. Promise. Just don’t smash the bloody camera, OK? Drink? Here. Come on. For Christ’s sake Rich, fix the man a bloody drink will you...”

Richard had been sitting quietly with a careless smile. He shrugged and filled a tumbler with vodka and held it out.

Gordy eyed the camera. Then he eyed Boy. Then he eyed the proffered vodka. Then he took a long breath and decided on the alcohol which he drained in two long swallows. The fiery spirit took him down from boiling point and he wiped at his lips with an embarrassed expression.

“Aye. Well. It’s still shite, Boy. Ah’m no a fucking actor. This is just bollocks.”

The laughter was threatening to get a grip of Boy again and he struggled to keep it in check. “Come on Gordy. Think Bob Hoskins. Think Danny Devito. You’re made for it…”

Once again Gordy’s colour started to rise and Boy took a theatrical step backwards with his palms pointed outwards in an attempt at the universal body language of peace.

Richard shrugged and got up.

“I reckon it’s the script that’s the problem. Let’s try it again with no script. Just say it however you like Gordy. You know, in your own words.”

“But I cannae act Rich. I just cannae.”

“So don’t act. Just be you. Just say it.”

“So forget the script?”

“Yeah. Dump it. Just have another drink and knock it out.”

Gordy shrugged and accepted a refill. He fixed Boy with a ferocious stare. “I’m telling you Boy, any more fucking laughing and….”

“Look. I promise. Scouts Honour and all that.”

“Aye. Well. Fuck it then.”

He crossed the room and picked up his thrown balaclava and pulled it back on. Bashir Khan had commissioned the knitting of the balaclava from a small tailor’s shop two streets away from the Online Solutions International offices. It was a navy blue with a white Saltire across the face.

Their studio was an old stone shed around the back of their rented cottage in the hills above Stirling. A 100 watt light bulb gave the granite wall behind Gordy a stark, unforgiving quality. The camera was set up to frame Gordy from the chest up. The view was of a man in an old combat jacket and a somewhat strange balaclava. It was a bit weird, but sinister enough to do a job. It all certainly had a suitably Al Qaeda feel.

The problem was the lead actor who was not remotely happy with being required to perform the task in hand.

Gordy took a moment to get himself sitting right and then he cleared his throat.

“That look alright?”

Richard checked the view through the camera lens. “Perfect. It’s all yours. Just do it.”

Gordy took a breath and started.

“OK. Let’s be straight here. I’ve never done this shite before, so if you’re expecting Robert De Niro you might as well fuck off. We are the Black Clan, right. And this is our first broadcast. So who gives a shite? Nobody gives a shite. Why would they? Aye. Well that’s the now. You’ll all give a shite soon enough. So. Who the fuck are Black Clan? I’ll tell you. We’re pissed off. That’s what we are. We like the idea of an Independent Scotland. Course we do. We’ve had enough of being shat on by the fucking English. And that’s what they do, right? They shite on us. And they’ve been shiteing on us for hunners of years. Well that’s about to stop. On 18 September we’re going to tell they English to fuck right off. The problem is that they fuckers running the ‘Yes’ campaign keep telling us that we’ve got to be dead nice to the English. Aye right. And once we kick them oot, we’re all going be the best neighbours in the world. Aye well. Fuck that. The lads at Black Clan see it different. We don’t buy all this play nice bollocks. So we’re not going to play nice. No. We’re going to be a bunch of bastards, so we are. We’re going to give you English twats a taste of how it will be if there is a ‘No’ vote. And you best believe me, it’s not going to be nice at all. It’s going to be a fucking nightmare. So watch this space you smug pricks. Cos the Black Clan will be sending out a few messages. We’re going to show you how things will be if you dinnae fuck off back over the border. And by the time we’re finished with you, youse’ll be building Hadrian’s Wall again. So that’s me done. Like I said. Watch this space…”

Boy beamed and gave a vigorous round of applause.

“Bloody hell Gordy, that was absolutely brilliant. You’re the bloody man, as our American friends would say. Come on Rich. Fix him a drink. Fix us all a drink. We’re up and running. Come on wankers. Let’s have a toast. Hear we go. Gentlemen, comrades and warriors, I give you Black Clan.”

They clinked their glasses.

They drained their glasses.

And Gordy was on a roll now. He was the Al Pacino of South Ayrshire. He was the Girvan Gielgud. He was a million miles away from the boy in the playground they used to call Wee Shitey Gordy.

Three hours and another bottle of vodka passed in the blink of an eye and when the dust settled they had another four videos in the can.

And the Black Clan was born  

In the small hours of a fetid Dacca night, Saj Kahn’s fingers were dancing. They were dancing to the tune of the mesmeric beats thundering through his headphones and into his brain. They were dancing to the tune of thirty six hours straight of coke fuelled wakefulness. They were dancing to the tune of Boy Masters.

Boy’s up front payment of a million dollars had funded an upgrade for Saj. He was surrounded by three large screens which made crazy numerical patterns at the behest of his dancing fingers. He felt like a fighter pilot in his first F16. He was a footballer who had been transferred from Millwall to Real Madrid.

Never before had he had such computing power at his disposal. Never before had he been able to soar as he was soaring now. Every secret corner of the planet was at his mercy.

Maybe he would never sleep again. Maybe he would never need to. He was working through Boy’s list with the ease of a Nobel prize-winning mathematician sitting a maths GCSE. It seemed almost insulting to his wonderful new machinery to subject it to such mundane tasks. He dipped in and out of electoral rolls and bank accounts and telephone records and Facebook pages. He picked the locks of the backdoors into the lives of strangers. He invaded their privacy. He teased out their secrets. And it was all so easy that it was almost embarrassing.

But a million bucks was a million bucks and Online Solutions International prided itself on giving value for money.

The sound of a cartoon alarm clock broke in through the wall of dance music.

It was a sound to grab all of his frayed attention, for one of his electronic watchers was reporting in.

Which one?

Ahhh. G Division of Police Scotland. He had inserted his little helper two days earlier with a clear set of instructions. Tell me if anyone enters the name of Charles Letchworth Masters into any computer in the organisation. He had placed similar watchers in the systems of police forces across Scotland.

A trail opened up and he followed it with a hard clatter of hammered keys. Three names. Charles Letchworth Masters. Richard Maltby. Gordon Campbell. Links to CCTV footage from a town called Girvan. A number plate from a Volvo estate. CCTV footage from the East end of Glasgow. A tall man and a short man. A man with a full head of hair and a man who was bald. A sober man helping a drunken man. Two men on the platform of Glasgow Central station. Two men on the streets of Central Glasgow.

And then nothing.

A feel of something unofficial. The name of a Chief Superintendent. No evidence of any of it being filed.

He raced through firewalls and picked the locks of the back doors that gave him access to the life and times of the Chief Superintendent. There was a very unhealthy online gambling habit. And there was an e-mail account that the Chief Superintendent must have thought he had hidden away far from any prying eyes. But nobody could ever hide anything from the dancing fingers of Saj Khan.

A recent e-mail that had hurtled through the forty miles of cyber space that separated the city of Glasgow and the city of Edinburgh. An e mail that had shot through telephone cables and into the heart of the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood.

Emma Hope MSP.

Attachments of the CCTV footage. The kind of brief note written by a man with a full schedule.

“Sorry Em. Cold trail. Will be in touch if they turn up again.”

Now it was the turn of Emma Hope MSP. Further and deeper and all of it protected by the kind of locks that were helpless against his dancing fingers.

A politician’s life. A senior police officer’s life. A house with an affordable mortgage. Regular grocery deliveries from Tesco. Kindle books from Amazon. Two children at University. Car tax. TV licence. Council tax.

And then a surprise. A fortress. A fortress that Emma Hope had stepped into for two years having graduated from university. It was fortress he had spent many hours of his life trying to breach. A familiar fortress. A fortress that was impregnable even to the great Saj Khan.

A fortress that was called Vauxhall Cross.

A fortress in his home city that was home to MI6.

It was journey’s end. He drummed his fingers and soon gave up on the idea of committing any more hours of his life to picking away at the Vauxhall Cross locks. It would have to be enough for Boy Masters to know that Emma Hope MSP was asking after him. Calling in favours from a past life. Sniffing the wind. Putting the word out.

Two days later Richard Maltby hired a white Transit van from an Arnold Clark branch on the outskirts of Dundee using a false set of documents. He collected Boy and Gordy from the cottage and they headed south down the motorway network to an industrial estate in Warrington. They arrived an hour before their appointed time and Boy dropped off the other two men a mile away from their destination. They approached on foot from different directions and gave the non-descript warehouse a thorough examination from all sides. There was nothing untoward. A van sold bacon sandwiches and cups of instant coffee to workers in overalls. Cars came and went. Trucks came and went.

But there was nobody paying any attention to North West Logistics.

When they were happy that all was well with the world, they relayed the news to Boy. He called the mobile number Suleiman had given him and the roller shutter door rolled up seconds after he killed the call. He drove the van in, and the shutter rolled back down.

Two men waited inside. They were ordinary looking men, noteworthy only for the way their casual clothes hung easily on their lean frames. They had the expressionless faces of well trusted hired hands. Suleiman didn’t like Hollywood bad guy types complete with scarred faces and tattooed hands. He liked his men to blend in. He liked his men to dress out of Mark and Spencer’s.

Neither of them spoke. Instead one of them nodded at the wooden box on the concrete floor.

Boy didn’t speak either. Instead he lifted the lid clear and took his time. He checked off items from the list he had given to Suleiman in Istanbul one by one. All present and correct. Of course it was.

There was no money to change hands. Payment had been made already to an account in Lichtenstein. He replaced the lid and nodded. One of the men stepped forward and handed over a small padded envelope. Then the two men lifted the box and slid it into the back of the van.

Boy climbed aboard and the roller-shutter door clanked back open. No words had been spoken. The time of day remained unpassed. Just a routine transaction conducted in silence.

A few hundred yards down the road Boy stopped the van and Richard and Gordy materialised from their hiding places. Nobody noticed them.

The journey back north to the cottage in the hills above Stirling was uneventful.

A few hours later Boy checked his watch and was surprised to find it was past three. Outside the first light of what promised to be a baking day was lightening the sky. They had been working for hours in complete silence. Richard had been obsessively cleaning and oiling the Barratt 50. Gordy had been cutting the C4 explosive into the right kind of bit sized pieces. Boy had been unpacking the detonators and testing them one by one.

“Come on guys. Let’s knock it on the head for the night. We can finish off tomorrow. Let’s get breakfast at nine, OK? I’m going to get some air.”

Outside the air he sought was still pleasantly warm from the day before. He slowly climbed the hill at the back of the house and when he made it to the top he sat and took in the view.

Sometimes he felt he could understand why natural beauty moved people.

Other times he couldn’t care less.

This morning he rather enjoyed the slowly emerging patchwork of fields and hills. The tranquillity helped to ease his racing brain. And man, was it ever racing. It had been racing for hours. The padded envelope from Dacca had contained an unwelcome surprise. The first few sheets of paper had been exactly what he had hoped for. Names and addresses and precise detail. Suleiman had indeed chosen well. Online Solutions International certainly looked like they were going to do what they had promised. Then out came the final sheet of paper and a black cloud passed in front of the sun.

A Chief Superintendent in the police in Glasgow had entered all three of their names into the system. Saj Khan had done a remarkable job. A memory stick delivered the CCTV images from Girvan and Glasgow. There was also a report on Emma Hope MSP. And the whole of Emma Hope MSP’s life had been an open book to the genius from Brick Lane. All except for two years which were shrouded in darkness. Emma Hope had left university and joined the Security Service. But she hadn’t stayed to make a career of it. Instead she had left and chosen the police force instead where she had risen through the ranks with effortless ease. And then she had become an MSP.

So what was to be learned? He cursed himself for taking so much coke. Coke was fine when it came to keeping him firing on all cylinders and feeling like bloody superman. It wasn’t so fine when he urgently needed a clear thinking brain. The problem was that too much coke made him paranoid. Not just him. Everyone. And now he was finding it hard to decide how much of his bad gut feeling was down to paranoia and how much was down to proper concern.

He lit a cigarette and closed his eyes for a moment. Time to slow down. Time to get the ducks in line. Time to work it through.

Who knew from his end? Rich and Gordy? Suleiman? No way was it any of them. No way in a million years. Bashir and Saj? Maybe, but if it had been them, the last thing they would have done would have been to write it all down and send it to him in a padded envelope.

No. There was nothing on his side. It had to be the bloody Americans.

Bloody Westlake.

Twat.

Who was looking for them? Who was calling the shots? He ran through the hacked evidence from the Police. It appeared to be a lone wolf. A Chief Inspector. And he had in turn reported to Emma Hope MSP. Why them? If MI5 or Special Branch were involved, they wouldn’t go within a country mile of some low level cop and back bench MSP from the Scottish Parliament.

So why?

Emma Hope had been in the police. Emma Hope had risen quickly through the ranks before turning to politics. Emma Hope had been with Strathclyde Police. So the Chief Superintendent must have been an old pal from the past. Of course he was. This was a favour. Take a look around for old time’s sake, will you? But who had asked Emma Hope for a favour? Maybe someone she had known during her two years with MI6?

A blast from the past?

Boy Masters knew well enough what off the record looked and smelt like. He had been off the record from the day he had moved from the Coldstream Guards to the Regiment. And now he realised why the scent he had caught when he first read what Saj had delivered seemed so very familiar. Everything was off the record. Off  the books. Discreet. Unofficial. They obviously had some sort of inkling about what was about to go down. But they had no proof. Nothing concrete. Nothing to take up the chain of command.

Now he smiled. Of course they didn’t. They wouldn’t go anywhere near the chain of command unless they had the very purest of evidence. That was their nightmare, whoever they might be. The truth was their nightmare. The fact that a bunch of wacko Americans had buried a suitcase nuke under Britain’s nuke base. It was a truth that would leave the much treasured Special Relationship smashed into a million pieces. And all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpy together again….

Now he had his clarity. Crystal clarity. There were two options on the table. He could cut and run and tell Reuben Westlake to go to hell. Or he could continue as planned. The cut and run option was of no use to him. He had already spent the vast majority of the money the American had paid out on operational expenses. If he were to throw in the towel now, he would be more or less as screwed as when he started. The next payments were the profit. The icing on the cake. His ticket to ride. No way was he about to walk away from the chance of salvation.

Of course the fact that somebody knew meant that they would come and hunt him down. Well, let them come. It would be entertaining if nothing else. It certainly offered a more attractive option than eking out a dismal living in Senegal as a complete loser. Screw that. No way was he about to go out like that.

So yeah. Let the bastards come. Catch me if you can.

Should he tell Rich and Gordy? Maybe. But not yet. He would tell them when they needed to know. He owed them that much. Would they care? He doubted it. They were both so broken that death would come as a blessed relief. How odd that none of the others from the desert patrol had managed to deal with what they had done and seen. He had never suffered so much as a single nightmare. Did that mean he was insane? Probably. It didn’t matter. It would only matter if men in white coats tried to dose him up with drugs and dump him on the floor of a padded cell. And that was never going to happen.

It was all the same as it always had been. Black and white.

Death or victory, Boy.

Death or victory.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


There is a toxic secret buried deep inside the Faslane Naval Base. I has been hidden for 33 years. Now he prospect of a ‘Yes’ vote in the Scottish Referendum puts the secret at risk. How far might some people go to keep he secret safe….?

TOU CAN FIND EARLIER CHAPTERS OF ‘TOXIC’ IN THE ‘BLOG ARCHIVE’ ON THE RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE. CHAPTER ONE WAS RELEASED IN MAY 2014

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

JULY 2014

DACCA

BANGLADESH

Boy Masters took in the mayhem and cacophony of the street with a broad smile. His motor rickshaw driver was cursing the grid locked traffic whilst at the same time attempting to smack the head of a twelve year old beggar boy. From the moment Boy had emerged from the airport into the bursting light and sound of Calcutta thirty years earlier he had been in love with the Indian Sub Continent. The chaotic frenzy of the place made him feel properly alive again. He had spent three long years trapped in the grey prison of his home country and it felt better than good to be free of its grip.

This was a survival-of-the-fittest place. His kind of place. Everyone was scrambling up one ladder or another. Some made it. Most didn’t. And nobody took time to feel sorry for the ones who took a tumble and broke their necks.

It was the kind of place where a man like Boy Masters could be a king. There was no kind of Nanny State here in Dacca. There was barely a state at all. Instead there were millions upon millions of people fighting for the next dollar. The next meal. The next spot at the water pipe. This was life in the raw. Life as life was meant to be.

Sweat was pouring down the back of his neck and the air was thick with flies, but physical discomfort had long ceased to be any kind of inconvenience. The Regiment had taught him how to put such triviality to one side. Heat and flies were easily enough ignored once you learned the knack.

He found it similarly easy to ignore the constant forest of tiny imploring brown hands thrust in his direction. He knew that to give to one beggar would open up the floodgates. So he ignored them and took in the Technicolor street scene. 

There would be no quiet beach house in Senegal once the operation was complete. Instead there would be a whole lot more of the world that swirled around the rickshaw. Britain was yesterday’s country. A sad, grey little island that couldn’t accept that it was nothing any more. But it WAS nothing. Less than nothing. A dreary, uptight illusion. A cross between a museum and a mausoleum.

Soon he would be done with Britain. There were a million better places to be. Places like this. Places where human beings were still a part of real nature. Fighting and scratching and chasing their dreams.

At last, whatever had been causing the gridlock stopped happening. The rickshaw jumped forward in a plume of belched smoke and a hint of breeze momentarily cooled the sweat on his face. Buses and trucks and beat up cars and motor rickshaws and bicycle rickshaws and hand carts and buffalo carts and human beings and stray dogs. Horns blared and hawkers screamed and everyone argued with everyone else. Bollywood music blasted from car windows and shop fronts.

Bring it on.

Ten minutes later his ride drew up to the cracked pavement and his driver pointed at a doorway.

“This is here, Saab. Inside going.”

He paid and tipped and pulled his bag from the seat. Three young boys dressed in rags appeared from nowhere with offers to carry it. He waved them away and brushed by a toothless old guy in a turban who was selling plastic combs of all colours. The doorway led to a sudden silence and a wooden board listing the offices inside.

‘Online Solutions International’

Second floor.

He tried the lift button, but nothing happened. Of course nothing happened. He would have been almost disappointed if anything had actually happened. It would have been somehow wrong.

He took the stairs and found the office.

Inside a heavily made up woman was talking hard and fast into a head set. He dropped his bag to the floor and waited patiently for her to finish her call. After a minute or so she did.

“Good morning sir. Welcome to Online Solutions International. How may I be of assistance?”

“I believe Bashir is expecting me. I'm Mr Haynes?”

“Oh yes. Most certainly. Please. You are coming with me please. It is not far. Just down the corridor here. Very nice office. Very best office. First class accommodations. Very first rate….”

It wasn’t far. It was in fact about eight yards. She knocked and they were summoned inside.

“Please Mr Bashir, sir. Mr Haynes is here to see you…”

“Yeah. Cool. Head in man.”

Bashir Khan looked like man auditioning for the cover of Esquire magazine. A white suit and a red striped shirt.  A $20,000 watch and a fortune spent on his teeth and an accent from many thousands of miles away.”

Boy shook his hand and took the proffered seat. Bashir pulled out a pack of Lucky Strikes and Boy took one.

“Your voice doesn’t sound very Dacca to me, Bashir.”

A lighthouse bright smile. “No way man. I’m a Londoner. Brick Lane. Born and bred.  Came here four years ago. It’s way better here man. I mean, well chilled, right? Well chilled.”

“Suleiman called you?”

“Yeah. He called. We spoke. And everything’s well cool. Suleiman’s a dude, right?”

“Right.”

“Give me a mo. I’ll get my brother in.” He picked up a phone from his desk. “Hey Saj. Our man’s here. Come on in.”

Saj was more of the same Brick Lane. They explained that Saj was the tech guy. Saj could make the net sing. Saj could get through any back door in the world. Saj was a cat burglar of the digital age. Saj could do anything Mr Haynes wanted him to do. As in completely anything. Totally anything. Just so long as Mr Haynes had the right kind of wedge.

So Mr Haynes laid it all on the line and much of the brashness drained out of the Khan brothers.

Bashir whistled. And Bashir pulled out a solid silver snuff box from his designer pocket and set up three lines of coke which were duly snorted.

“I mean this is all seriously heavy shit, right? I mean seriously, seriously heavy man.”

Boy shrugged and smiled.

“Suleiman told me that you guys do heavy shit in your sleep.”

Three more lines.

And Bashir wasn’t for sitting down any more. “They’ll come looking. Big time they will. But what the fuck, right? But dude, this shit is expensive shit. I mean we’re going to have to cover our arses big time here. I mean huge time. Shit man. I mean this is heavy, heavy shit.”

“Of course it is. Amazingly enough I understand that. I don’t haggle. Can’t abide it. So here’s where we are Bashir. I have decided that the going rate for this piece of work is a million dollars. Not more, not less. If you want it, you can have it. You can have it right now. I can put it into any account you please in the next five minutes. It goes without saying that I am not a man to try and screw over. You know that already. You know that because Suleiman has told you that. And you also know that Suleiman is not a man to screw over. Suleiman is my brother. So if you accept my million dollars, you will do the job to the very best of your ability. You will do the job until I tell you to stop. So. It really is very simple. You can have a million dollars right here and right now. Or of course you can tell me thanks, but no thanks. And I will quite understand.”

By now the cocaine was racing around Bashir’s brain like a runaway tube train.

“You know man, that was completely, totally fucking cool. I mean totally. Send the wedge man. Hit those keys. Wing it over. A million bucks gets you Basher and Saj. A million bucks gets you the best seats in the house.”

They shook hands and proceeded to consume numerous lines of 80% pure cocaine with a London street value of well over £1000.

And Boy Masters ticked off another item on his list.

 
It was day three of their plan to resurrect Gordy and things were still in the balance. Neither Boy nor Richard had expected to find their old comrade in great shape, but the actual degree of Gordy’s physical and mental disintegration had come as a rude awakening. Richard had dumped the Volvo in a graffiti covered street in Glasgow’s East end, and almost carried a muttering Gordy to a nearby station where they had taken a train into the centre of the city. Ducking and diving to escape the pursuit of any CCTV had proved to be a Herculean task as the Scotsman had staggered and lurched. Finally they arrived at their rendezvous point with Boy who drove them to the cottage he had rented in the countryside outside Stirling.

It was immediately clear that the original plan to dry Gordy out would have to be radically rewritten. Richard took a tour around several supermarkets and stocked up on miniature bottles of vodka. Then it was down to trial and error for 48 hours until they established the best alcohol level to keep Gordy in a state where his brain was able to function whilst his wrecked body was secure from taking withdrawal fits. As Gordy emerged from his alcoholic Disneyland, he became morose. He told them he wanted no part in anything and they told him not to be so stupid. They told him that half a million dollars for two months of work was a gift horse not to be orally examined. They painted a picture of how that kind of money could ease his path out of existence. And in the end Boy made it crystal clear that saying ‘no’ was not an option that was ever going to be on the table. ‘Yes’ was the only acceptable answer. It was ‘Yes’ or nothing. It was ‘Yes’ or a bullet through the back of the head.

So Gordy said ‘Yes’.

And once he said ‘Yes’, he was kind of glad that he had said it. A degree of mental clarity showed him that his life in Girvan had hardly been tip top. In fact his life in Girvan had been a steaming pile of shite. The lens of a clear brain made it hard to accept the shambling, pathetic figure the kids called ‘Alkie Gordy’. Maybe one last mission was just what the doctor ordered. Maybe he still had just about enough life in him to rediscover his old warrior self.

Once Boy was convinced that the old fighting gleam was back in Gordy’s eyes, he set out on his long journey east. Richard and Gordy settled on an optimum prescription of a miniature bottle of vodka every twenty minutes. It was an alcohol level that meant Gordy was never drunk nor sober. It was the level his body needed to function. For two days he shovelled down bowls of cereal and plates of pasta. He rinsed out his insides with ten litres a day of water. He managed to snatch some fitful sleep and by day three he was ready to go active.

They loaded six 20kg sacks of grain and two Bergen rucksacks into the back of the Discovery and headed for the hills. They filled the Bergens with grain and spent the hours of darkness tramping over rough moorland laying down the cereal in small piles. They rested every twenty minutes and Gordy poured down a rationed bottle of vodka.

Night one was a nightmare.

Night two was even worse.

Night three was slightly better.

Gordy’s body screamed in protest and waves of pain swept through him. But he never uttered a word of complaint. For this was all so very familiar. The scalding agony of his muscles took him back to better days when he had slogged his way over the Brecon Beacons and then been welcomed into the ultimate band of brothers. The day they had handed him his sand coloured beret had been the best day of his life. After a lifetime of being told that he was nothing, he was suddenly something. A big something. A massive something. Gordon Campbell from a scheme in Girvan. Gordon Campbell with a dad in Greenock Jail and an older brother dead of a smack overdose and a mother lost to the bottle. Gordon Campbell with no qualifications and no prospects. Gordon Campbell who had once been called ‘Wee shitey Gordy’ in his High School playground. And now he was trooper Gordon Campbell of 22 Regiment Special Air Service.

The Brecon Beacons forged the new Gordon Campbell. Those unyielding Welsh mountains had refined the rage of his dismal life into something ferocious. Implacable.

The SAS instructors took an emotionally damaged little man from a Scottish scheme and turned him into a killing machine.

The memory of those days of pride enabled him to enjoy the burning pain. For this was familiar ground. Safe ground. Uncomplicated ground. And Richard was the perfect partner. Richard never judged and barely spoke. Richard heaved him up to his feet when he stumbled. Richard passed him a lit fag to go with his rationed vodka. Richard injected strength through silence.

Five days after being collected from the pavement outside 123 Carrick Court, Gordon Campbell was back in the game. Fair enough, he was still a fat little bald guy with a liver that was hanging by a thread. Sure he was only able to function on a drip feed of vodka. But he was still more than capable of playing his part.

For better or for worse, Gordon Campbell was back. Better or worse? He couldn’t care less. It was just good to be back on a mission. Right and wrong had long ceased to be of any relevance. Gordy knew he was going to Hell. Nothing could ever change that. There would never be any redemption. At least he now had the chance of going to hell as a warrior.


After her £40 conversation with the two Girvan hoodies, Kathy left Girvan and headed north up the coast. Slowly but surely the rain clouds started to break apart and the grey waters of the sea became blue. She picked up a sandwich and some takeaway coffee from a petrol station and pulled up in a lay-by to kill some time.

She gazed out across the sea and the spectacular shape of Ailsa Craig stared back at her. Her background research had revealed more secrets from 1981 when BP and three other oil companies had discovered vast reserves of oil under these very same waters. The oilmen had licked their lips and requested permission to sink their drill bits into the seabed. And of course they had expected such permission to be a mere formality.

But it hadn’t been a mere formality.

Instead the government in London had said sorry chaps, but no. The men at the MOD had used their right of veto. The oilmen were appalled, but the decision was final. It didn’t matter that the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. It didn’t matter that the ranks of the unemployed had surged through the three million mark.

All that mattered was that the nuclear submarines operating out of the base at Faslane should have free and unhindered access to the Atlantic Ocean. The men at the MOD were unwilling to allow any pesky oil rigs to get in the way.

The papers had been locked down under the thirty year rule until the uneasy truth had emerged into the light in 2011. Kathy had found out about it whilst trawling YouTube videos of speeches from the ‘Yes’ campaign. At first she had suspected the speaker at a rally in Cumbernauld was some kind of a conspiracy nut, but it only took a few minutes of Google time to establish the truth of his allegations.

He had asked a difficult question of the Westminster Government. If Scotland had been allowed to exploit the oil under the Clyde Basin and use generated funds it generated, would there still be 250,000 children living in poverty?

Would there indeed?

She had allowed herself a small smile as she watched the video. Had Sir Nigel not secured her a sabbatical, then she might well have been sitting back in Thames House and listening in on the very same speaker having breakfast with his kids. Publically telling the story of the undrilled oil was exactly the kind of thing that would earn you the attention of the loathsome Maurice Hemp and his trusted team of eavesdroppers.

There were so many secrets and lies.

But no thirty year rule would ever give up Chad Forrester’s secret from 1981. The Admirals in the MOD had been willing to sacrifice billions of pounds worth of oil income on the remote possibility of one of their subs crashing into an oil rig and at the very same kind Chad had snuck in under their radar and made a mockery of their caution.

Had her investigations given up anything concrete? Not really. Not at all, in fact. Two troubled men had disappeared from the radar. Not that they had been on any kind of radar in the first place. This had been annoying her all day like a stone in her shoe. How many hours had she spent eaves-dropping on the conversations of the most harmless of people? Too many. Dreamers and idealists. People whose only crime was to yearn for a better, kinder world. The only threat such people ever posed was to embarrass the Establishment by exposing uncomfortable truths.

Richard Maltby and Gordon Campbell were no dreamers. They were the most dangerous kind of men. They had been trained to kill and they had killed. No doubt they had killed many times. Had they not done their killing in the name of Queen and Country, they would have been deemed the very worst of serial killers. Instead their killing had been officially sanctioned. And now all the evidence pointed to a fracturing of their sanity. There was nothing remotely harmless about these men. They had the potential to unleash lethal force. And now it seemed that they had once again signed on the dotted line to follow Boy Masters.

The State had made them and then the State had washed its hands of them. They were some of the most dangerous men in the land and they had been swept under the carpet and forgotten. She could sense their anger. Their outrage. And now they were all playing their Belfast Rules and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.

Where is the hard evidence Kathy?

Where is the proof Kathy?

All you have is theory and supposition.

Words from a hill farmer and a couple of cider swilling Neds in hooded tops.

Sir Nigel had asked her to find threads and she had found threads. But as soon as she pulled at the threads they had already been cut.

Belfast Rules.

She finished off her sandwich, drained the last of her coffee and kicked the car back into life.

Three hours later with a shower and a change of clothes under her belt she felt a little brighter. The evening was warm but the streets of Ayr carried a feeling of times lost. She was becoming accustomed to small Scottish town centres with buildings which must have once upon a time been rather fine. But not any more. Ayr, like Dumfries, was home to pound shops and boarded up windows and half hearted graffiti.

A smiling man at the door of the Town Hall watched her approach hopefully.

“You here for the meeting, hen?”

“Yes I am.”

“Aye, I was hoping you were. It’s good to get a few young ‘uns in. Head on up the stairs and we’re in the big hall.”

It was a big hall. It was a very big hall indeed with strutting organ pipes climbing high up the back wall. There were a hundred or so chairs lined up and a clutch of people standing by yet another trestle table laden with ‘Yes’ campaign literature.

Once again she was handed a sheet of paper which this time was less complicated. This time it merely asked if she was yes, no or undecided.

“It’s so we can see how many change their mind by the end of the night love.”

“Oh. I see. Great.”

“Been to many meetings have you?”

“Only one. In Dumfries.”

“Well it’s good that you’ve come back. At least we did’nae scare you away. We’ve got lots of English folk in the ‘Yes’ camp round here so you’ll be right at home.”

“Who is speaking tonight?”

This provoked a wide grin. “We’ve decided to change things. No more politicians. Everyone is sick of politicians. All they do is spout out the same old stuff and send everyone to sleep. We only invite ordinary folk now. It’s miles better.”

Kathy smiled an encouraging smile and took a seat at the back. She had read about this new trend on Twitter. Increasingly, the growing ‘Yes’ campaign was being hijacked by the people. All across Scotland packed halls of ordinary people listened to the impassioned views of other ordinary people. Politicians of all colours were being elbowed aside.

She liked it.

It seemed like a near perfect rebellion.

“Hi Kathy”

She stood and shook hands with Emma Hope.

“I gather you won’t be speaking this evening.”

Emma chuckled. “No. Indeed not. The invitations seem to have dried up. Nobody wants to listen to the likes of me any more.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“Bloody marvellous. The vote should have nothing to do with party politics. This is exactly how things should be.”

Kathy checked the older woman’s eyes and decided that she was indeed telling the truth. Good for her.

“There is a Wetherspoons down the road. Just turn left out of the front door and you can’t miss it. It’s in an old church. After the meeting, OK?”

“Fine.”

By the time the meeting kicked off most of the seats had been filled. A nice lady from CND preached to the mainly converted and Kathy wondered  how angry she would have been if she had known all about what Chad did in 1981. A young playwright from Edinburgh rattled through 25 passionately expressed reasons for saying ‘Yes’. He opened by telling the audience that he hadn’t done anything like this before. Everyone liked him and when he was done he got a cheer. A local businessman lacked the charisma of the young firebrand, but he got a cheer all the same.

Would someone back at Thames House check out the efforts of these good people on YouTube? Would they be deemed to be a threat to the Realm? Would hidden cameras be inserted into their blameless lives? Would GCHQ listen in on their day to day conversations? 

Maybe.

And all the while there was nobody watching Boy Masters and Richard Maltby and Gordon Campbell.

Questions came and went and everyone headed out into the warm night. Kathy arrived at the pub before Emma and took a gin and tonic to a corner table. A young man with arms filled with Celtic Football Club tattoos tried his luck only to be sent packing with a smile.

Emma arrived on her own and brought a tumbler of fresh orange with her to the table.

“Did you enjoy yourself?”

“I did actually.”

“And what did you write on the card?”

“’Yes’ when I arrived and ‘Yes’ when I left.”

“Jolly good. So did I. Shame you haven’t got a vote.”

“How are things looking?”

“Rather good actually. Everyone has high hopes. Do you have any news?”

Kathy brought her up to speed. Emma took the information on board and nodded her approval.

“You have done well. But I quite agree. All we have is conjecture and speculation. Do you think there are more, or is it just the three of them? Gut feeling?”

Kathy had pondered this point endlessly. “My gut feeling says it will only be the three of them. I have no real reason for this. I just have a sense that everything goes back to the desert patrol. That was the moment when everything changed. I am convinced that Boy Masters will only go to the men from the patrol. I cannot tell you why. It is just something I sense.”

Emma shrugged and took a sip of orange. “Nothing wrong with that young lady. All good detectives allow room for instinct. Let me take a few notes.”

She jotted down the bare bones of Gordon Campbell’s disappearance from Girvan and said she would call in a few favours.

“Don’t build your hopes up. My instinct tells me that these men are by now well and truly off the map. We can look all we like, but without some freak stroke of luck we won’t find them.”

“Any ideas about what we should do next?”

“None at all I’m afraid. It will be August before we know it. Less than two months to D Day. Whatever Boy Masters is planning is bound to start soon. I agree with you. I think we know exactly who they are. What we don’t know is where they are or what they are about to do. So we wait. And we watch.”

Kathy drained her gin and made up her mind to have several more before returning to her hotel.

“You are young, Kathy. It is hard to be patient. But sometimes you have to be. I will let you know if I find anything.”

Kathy had four more gins and Mr Celtic cast a few more hopeful glances her way. But he didn’t risk another visit to her corner table.

 
Emma called her two days later. She had asked for favours and they had been granted. CCTV footage from Girvan showed a Volvo Estate leaving town with two passengers. Facial recognition matched the men in the car to old army ID snaps of Richard Maltby and Gordon Campbell. The car had been found abandoned on a street in the East End of Glasgow by the Police. More CCTV footage showed a tall man half carrying a stumbling small man down the steps to the platform of a train station. The same odd couple emerged into Glasgow Central station ten minutes later. More images showed more unsteady progress along the surrounding streets.

And then there was nothing.

Belfast Rules.