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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER THIRTY


 
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 THIRTY

AUGUST 2014

HERTFORDSHIRE
 
When he had arrived into the world on a cold morning in February 1972, nobody would have predicted that Philip Titmus would go on to live any kind of stand out life. That being said, he was a big baby at a touch over nine pounds and he was able to out scream the fellow infants on the maternity ward of Luton Hospital.

His formative years were non eventful in the extreme. His dad was a signalman for British Rail and his mum was a dinner lady at the local primary school where Philip became a pupil in 1979.

At first glance there was nothing remotely special about his first two decades. Teachers at parents’ evenings spoke of a middle of the road boy who was unlikely to get the grades needed for university. He was seldom in any trouble and he was reasonably popular with his peers.

However three separate things laid the foundations for his future life.

Every summer holiday would see him on a train north for a three week stay with his grandparents in Glasgow. During these stays he discovered that he had the ability to absorb different accents and by the age of fourteen his Glaswegian twang had become something of a party piece among his mates in Luton.

Throughout his teenage years he grew strongly until he eventually made it to six foot three. He filled out as well and by the age of sixteen his powerful shoulders were enough to see him fast tracked into the second row of the school rugby team. He lacked the innate aggression to cut much of a dash on the rugby field, but the game was to leave a lasting legacy on his life. Early in 1985 a high tackle around the neck saw him hospitalised for four days and when he was finally allowed to return home, the consultant told him that damage had been done to his vocal chords. His voice had been changed forever. For here on in he would speak with a deep and gravelly tone.

It was in this year that he surprised himself by auditioning for a part in the school’s production of ‘Oliver’. He was even more surprised when he was awarded the opportunity to play one of the lead roles as his size and voice made him a shoe in to be Bill Sykes.

Most surprising of all was the fact that he was given rave reviews by one and all for his performance. He liked that. He liked that a lot. Especially when Trish Dawson who had played Nancy said yes to his offer of a night at the cinema.

So it was that the failed second row forward with the growling voice set out his stall to become an actor. For the next ten years it looked like it was going to be a pretty bleak life choice as he scratched a miserable living out of bit parts and advertising work.

In 1993 he decided that being called Philip Titmus wasn’t helping his career prospects any and so he decided on a name change. After much careful consideration, he tapped into his Scottish roots and re-branded himself as Cameron Laing.

And nothing changed.

Then in 1995 he went along for an audition for the part of a bad guy in a three part drama set in the East End of London. It wasn’t any kind of lead role, but it was the kind of part that he had never managed to land for himself in the past. As he stepped out to give his reading, a sudden impulse made him change his planned performance.

So it was that he read in the hard tones of the east side of Glasgow. The ominous accent coupled with the gravel voice won him the role. And when that role was done, there were more offers of other roles, all of which required the Glasgow hard man voice.

By 2002 he was playing the lead in a moderately successful cop show set in mean streets of a Glasgow where the rain fell every day and somebody got murdered every five minutes.

The maverick detective he portrayed was a hard drinking type complete with designer stubble and a willingness to stretch the law to snapping point in order to prevail against a succession of scar faced bad guys.

People over in Hollywood noticed him and flew him out to take a closer look. They liked what they saw and turned him into a star. Over the next ten years he became a permanent member of the A list. Sometimes the part he played still required him to speak in the voice of the Glaswegian tough guy, but more often than not he spoke in excellent American.

But whenever he carried out any kind of media work he stuck with his trademark Scottish twang. The old Luton accent was quietly consigned to the dustbin of history along with all memories of a quiet boy called Philip Titmus who had lacked the aggression to cut it for the school rugby fifteen.

By 2010 he had become ‘A’ list in every way. When he moved into his multi million pound Hertfordshire mansion with his ‘B’ list actress wife, OK magazine had run a three page spread to celebrate the event.

Thanks to his uniquely threatening voice, there was no need for him to ever be involved in bar brawls or drunken rampages to rubber stamp his tough guy credentials. But he was keen to take another step up. He was convinced that he had more in his locker than merely being the go-to tough guy. He fancied a shot at Macbeth and King Lear. He wanted to be seen as a serious player.

So it was that in 2013 he saw the up-coming Referendum as a big opportunity to give himself some extra gravitas. The cool and edgy Cameron Laing seemed like a perfect fit to front up the radical end of the ‘Yes’ campaign. But that was never going to get him where he wanted to go. He studied the whole thing with great care and soon worked out that the most of the people who held the keys which would unlock the doors to him becoming a serious actor were well and truly rooted in the ‘No’ camp.

Cameron Laing was determined to become a regular in the flagship BBC dramas of the years to come. And so it was that he stepped out into the limelight and used his world famous growling tones to implore the people of Scotland to vote ‘No’.

He enthusiastically threw his hat into the Better Together ring and they absolutely loved him to bits. What was there for them not to like? All of a sudden they had a Hollywood ‘A’ lister on their books who was happy to put the Unionist message over in the authentic voice of East Glasgow.

It took no time at all for him to be front and centre of the ‘No’ campaign. It wasn’t all plain sailing of course. The social media up in Scotland picked over his Luton roots and his life as Philip Titmus. His involvement in a sprawling tax avoidance scheme was also dug up from where he had tried to bury it and put out into the light.

For a while, he spent a few sleepless nights worrying that he had made a monumental error of judgement. In a matter of months he had gone from being seen as being dangerous and edgy to being seen as signed sealed and delivered man of the Establishment.

And then one morning his agent called to say that the BBC were desperately keen for him to take on the role of Heathcliff in their upcoming period drama.

Job done.

The emergence of Black Clan put him even further into the limelight. Everyone wanted to hear what the tough guy cop from the mean streets of Glasgow thought of the man behind the Saltire mask.

He became the number one voice of angry outrage as he toured the TV studios. He gave a masterclass in how to play the determined tough guy role as he promised that the antics of the Black Clan terrorists would never work.

He called them cowards hiding behind silly masks.

He called them filthy terrorists.

He promised them that a life rotting away in prison was all they had to look forward to.

And then his agent called to tell him that the panicky director from the National Theatre had been in touch. The National treasure who had been scheduled to play King Lear in a month’s time had fallen from a horse and shattered a hip. Would Cameron Laing be willing and able to step into the breach at such short notice?

You bet he would.

And he did.

And every morning his driver would pull up his Bentley in front of the front door of his magnificent Hertfordshire home at exactly 6.00 am to take him into the rehearsals.

It was a routine.

The Bentley would draw up and the driver would jump out and open the back door.

Then the front door of the house would open and Cameron Laing would step out. If it was raining, he would dart straight into the back seat.

If it was sunny, he would pause for a few seconds and enjoy the feeling of the early morning glow on his chiselled face.

Richard Maltby and Gordon Campbell had witnessed this early morning routine for five days straight from their hiding place in a hawthorn thicket on a low hill four hundred yards away.

Two days had seen driving rain and a scurry to the back seat.

Two days had seen a pause to enjoy the sun.

This morning it was sunny again.

This morning they were ready to end the watching phase.

So very predictable.

5.59 am clicked to 6.00 am and the Bentley appeared from where it had been parked at the rear of the property.

Richard had his scope lined up on the bottom half of the fine front door which was 100% seasoned oak.

The door opened and now the scope gave him a zoomed in view of Cameron Laing’s sturdy legs in their designer jeans. And the legs were perfectly still as the man who had made it all the way from a terraced street in Luton to the National Theatre paused to enjoy the sun.

It could not have been an easier shot.

Richard caressed the trigger of his Barrett 50 and a heartbeat later the bottom half of Cameron Laing’s right leg disappeared in a blur of red.

Gordy recorded the prone screaming figure and the frantic driver jumping about in a panic and waving around his frenzied arms.

He gave it a minute and then snapped the camera closed. Richard had packed away his rifle in 45 seconds. They exchanged a nod and moved clear of their bush in a gentle jog.

This time they followed a new routine which Boy had told them was necessary. They drove ten miles to a service area where they donned wigs and hats. They ordered coffee and made use of the free Wi-Fi to send Gordy’s video to Dacca and the care of Saj Khan.

They left after five minutes and drove through ten miles of country roads to the place where they had parked up a second car. They thoroughly cleaned car number one and transferred all their gear into car number two.

Then they set out on the long drive back to Stirling.

 
Once again Saj experienced a sinking feeling as he watched the video footage of Cameron Laing having the lower half of his right leg being blown off by a high velocity bullet.

He felt like throwing up.

He felt like running away.

He felt like bursting into tears.

But he didn’t follow any of these courses of action. Instead he thrust a cigarette into his mouth and did what he did.

Within minutes the latest Black Clan offering was the biggest show in town in both the online world and the real world.

The same figure in the same mask. So very familiar. The same bricks in the same wall. So very familiar.

Aye well, there’s not a whole lot to say, right? This fucker isn’t even Scottish. He’s just a sad English prick pretending he’s fae Glesga. Take some advice pal. Just shut the fuck up.’

And next came a minute’s worth of crystal clear footage. A fine front door of a Hertfordshire home of a member of the super rich. A glowing early morning light. A rural idyll. A shining Bentley. A young driver opening a back door. A fine oak door opening. A handsome man standing on the step and smiling at the start of another day. A puff of crimson and the handsome man is changed. The bottom half of his right leg has simply disappeared. He keels over as in slow motion. And for a few desperate seconds, his face is almost comical as his expression wonders why on earth he is sprawled on the front steps of his OK Magazine house. But then his expression changes from bemusement to abject horror as he registers the fact that the bottom half of his leg is no longer there. The camera zooms in ever closer to his screaming face and frantic eyes.

Click.

End of show.

Every news channel on planet earth dropped everything and chased the story. Within minutes the footage was being beamed out to a gasping world with a careful blurring which spared the viewer the grisly reality of what it looked like when a high velocity bullet met with a human leg.

Those who viewed the event online were not spared the reality. Millions gaped in horror at the sight of the blood pumping stump.

Soon updates were flooding in.

There was confirmation from the local police. A forty two year old man had been the victim of a shooting incident.

An air ambulance had attended the scene.

A forty two year old man had been flown to a nearby hospital where his condition was described as stable.  

Three helicopters provided aerial views of the house as police vehicles gathered. News vans hurtled out of London to get up to the minute reports of the unfolding story.

Some headed to a patch of ground outside the hospital where the now stabilised ‘A’ lister was being treated.

The majority headed to the scene of the crime to set themselves up to send constant breathless up to the moment updates back to their studios.

Not that there was a great deal to say. A famous actor had been dismembered by Black Clan. An air ambulance had taken him to hospital to be treated. An online video of the event had broken all online records.

Nobody had been caught.

Experts were rushed into studios to analyse what had happened.

The Prime Minister appeared outside Number 10 to describe what had happened as a wicked and cowardly act.

The First Minister appeared in the Parliament in Holyrood to describe what had happened as a wicked and cowardly act.

A procession of actors from both sides of the Atlantic turned out to agree that it had been a wicked and cowardly act. They told the world what a great guy Cameron Laing was. They shared quality time they had spent with him spent on film sets. They told favourite Cameron stories. They wished him a speedy recovery. They told him they were with him every step of the way.

The director of the National Theatre’s upcoming King Lear felt like smashing his office up, but managed to control his temper to give an interview where he wished Cameron the very best in his recovery.

First a shattered hip. Now a blown off leg. For Christ’s sake….

Cameron Laing’s property was the last house on a two mile long cul-de-sac which was home to thirty houses with a net worth of well over £100 million. At the end of the cul-de-sac was a car park which gave local dog walkers access to a popular woodland walk. The car park was home to an information board and three picnic tables and it had the capacity to park eighty vehicles.

It provided an ideal home for the growing collection of TV vans to set up a base and send regular updates out to the watching world. By ten o’clock seven vans were up and running.

Boy Masters had been watching them arrive for an hour and a half. He had taken up station on top of a low hill three miles away a little after eight o’clock and his high powered binoculars gave him a good view of the frantic activity that was happening in the normally sleepy cul-de-sac for the super rich.

His hard face was home to a constant smile.

It was all so utterly predictable. The sight of a celebrity having his leg removed by a sniper was always going to make this the greatest story in the lifetimes of the men and women of the media. And whenever such a story erupted onto the airwaves, they always followed the same playbook. They would mobilise their news vans and send them to the place where whatever had happened had actually gone down. And then the highly made up newsreaders would endlessly regurgitate the same facts to a watching world. The fact that nothing was happening any more mattered not a jot. All that mattered was that they showed the viewer that they had managed to get themselves to the nearest available spot to Ground Zero to give their constant updates. They could have done every bit as good a job from the studio, but that wasn’t how things were done.

They needed to be THERE.

They needed to be SEEN to be THERE.

And here they were.

Seven of them. Loving the limelight. Feeding off all the voyeuristic attention. Breathless with the delicious horror of it all.

Christ he hated them. Leeches feeding on blood. Maggots feeding on putrefaction. Hyenas ripping at the carcass.

Scum.

Always watching. Never doing. Always judging. Playing God.

Holier than thou.

Full of themselves.

Flies on cow shit.

And so pathetically predictable. He had played them like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn had played his rats. He had made them dance to his tune and it had been so pathetically easy.

He had fed their voracious 24 hour news cycle and they had taken what he had offered with the unquestioning lust of junkies helping themselves to hits of free heroin.

They were the dumbed down mouthpieces of a country he had come to despise. It was time that they became the news. Time they paid the price. Time they felt the pain.

The idea for his final masterpiece had come during one of his long walks over the hills around the cottage in Stirling.

And once the idea arrived in his imagination, it had grown and evolved. It was why he had headed across the water to Ireland and driven down to stand by the glistening waters of Carlingford Lough.

Back in the classrooms of Sandhurst, a young 2nd lieutenant Charles Letchworth Masters had absorbed the story of the greatest British Army calamity since Suez.

Warrenpoint.

And it had all been down to two crucial failings.

Predictability and carelessness.

The men of the second battalion of the Parachute Regiment had made the mistake of travelling along the same stretch of road at more or less the same time on most days. They created a predictable pattern and the planners of the Provisional Irish Republican Army loved nothing better than a predictable pattern. The IRA parked up a wagon loaded up with bales of straw in a lay by opposite the impressive gates of Narrow Water castle. Two men hid themselves on the far side of Carlingford Lough which was also the border between British Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. When the convoy of one Land Rover and two four tonne trucks drew level with the parked lorry, the hidden trigger men detonated a 500 pound fertiliser bomb. The last truck took the full force of the blast and was blown many feet up into the air.

Six paratroopers dead. Two critically wounded.

The Army reacted quickly. And the Army reacted predictably. They reacted the way they had always reacted before in the wake of a major incident. They set up an incident command point in the area immediately behind the gatehouse of Narrow Water Castle. They flew in a senior officer to take command of the situation in a Gazelle helicopter. They flew in a Wessex helicopter to evacuate the wounded.

They followed the agreed procedure to the letter. In fact, they followed it very impressively. The rapid reaction force reacted rapidly.

Just like the IRA planners had predicted they would react.

It meant that the two trigger men on the far side of Carlingford Lough had to wait a mere 32 minutes before detonating their second bomb: 800 pounds of fertiliser hidden in milk churns by the castle gates.

Twelve paratroopers dead. Two men of Queens Own Highlanders dead. Another six wounded.

It had been the blackest day the British Army had lived through since the Second World War. It wasn’t merely the fact that they had lost eighteen men that made it so bad. And it wasn’t merely the fact that there were celebrations in every republican bar in the Province that retribution had finally been metered out to the hated Parachute Regiment for the massacre on Bloody Sunday. The worst of it was the fact the IRA had made such complete and utter fools of them.

They killed no civilians. In fact the only civilian to lose his life that way was an English birdwatcher who worked in Buckingham Palace who had been shot in his hide as the panicking soldiers had fired wildly across the water in the wake of the first bomb.

And not only had the IRA killed 18 soldiers. 16 of them had been the right soldiers. Paras. Their most hated enemies.

It had been a PR triumph for the IRA Army Council.

And Boy Masters had been secretly thrilled by the audacious brilliance of the attack, though he had kept such thoughts to himself.

And now it was time to take that old IRA playbook and dust it down. He had guessed exactly how the media would react in the wake of Cameron Laing having his leg shot off.

And he hadn’t been wrong.

And now here they were. Seven vans parked up exactly where he had known they would park up.

And today it was the 27th of August. It was the 25th anniversary of the IRA’s finest hour.

Just perfect.

He allowed his binoculars to hang from his neck and pulled a mobile phone from his pocket.

The number was all ready to be called.

He called it and several pounds of C4 explosive duly responded to the ensuing electric signal.

There was a difference between his bomb and the second IRA bomb at Warrenpoint.

Nobody survived his bomb.

Fourteen minutes after the blast, Saj Khan watched as a one line message appeared in the drafts folder he was watching.

‘POST’

Every instinct in his body screamed at him to just get out of the building and run and run and keep on running.

But he didn’t. Instead he posted.

It was the shortest of the Black Clan videos by some degree. Just a handful of seconds. A figure in a Saltire balaclava. A stone wall. A harsh light.

Not many words.

“Main stream media? Fuck the main stream media. That’s what we think of the main stream media…”

Click.

Fade to black.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

THE GRASSROOTS REALLY NEEDED A WN LAST NIGHT ALEX. WELL, YOU WON. BLOODY GOOD ON YOU.


Dear Alex

Well there’s no point in pretending. I was one of those who gave you a tonne of grief after the first debate. And I don’t regret that. Well. Maybe a little bit. Anyway. Having had a rant about how you let the grassroots down by resorting to petty party political squabbling, it is only fair to give you a major thumbs up for your efforts last night.

I cannot begin to imagine the kind of pressure you must have been under when you stepped out onto into that Glasgow goldfish bowl. Serious, gut churning pressure. The five footer for the British Open. The first serve at ten games all in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final. A penalty in a shoot out for the Champions League. Like they say on the other side of the pond, it was the bottom of the ninth.....

Years and years and years of hard work and slog to arrive at a very particular moment in time when everything is suddenly on your shoulders and nobody else’s. And when you arrive at such a moment of truth, it must be horribly apparent that there will be nobody in the world to blame if you screw up.

A lifetime’s work can go flying out of the window in the blink of an eye as the putt lips out or the serve goes long or the weakly hit penalty nestles into the goal keeper’s chest.

One minute you stand on the very cusp of greatness.

The next minute you are yesterday’s man. An occasionally played insert in the archive footage building up to the main event.

Christ, you must have been sick with yourself after the first debate. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the first time in your whole career that you have ever failed on that particular stage. All those times before when it hadn’t mattered all that much, you had always taken the day with ease. But when it really counted, you lost the winning touch. The Mojo went west.

And once you’ve missed one of those five footers….

And once you’ve double faulted on match point….

Once you’ve mishit a penalty…..

Oh yeah. It’s bloody hard to get back on the horse and step back up to the plate. Not Surprisingly, Churchill came up with a masterful quote which kind of sums it up.

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”  

Too right it is.

I guess you must have spent quite a while in front of the mirror yesterday taking a long hard look at yourself. The point of no return. The moment of now or never. Cometh the hour and all that.

Christ, you must have been nervous! Bloody terrified. But you managed not to let it show and for that you have my complete respect. Taking Alistair Darling to the cleaners was no more than you should have expected of yourself. But it still had to be done and you did it.

And if you hadn’t? Well that wouldn’t have born thinking about.

It seems that the media is frantically trying to tell us that even though you won, it still wasn’t the kind of game changer that was really needed.

Well, they would say that wouldn’t they? They’ll spin the thing for Better Together no matter what happens. If David Cameron were to call in an air strike on the Holyrood Parliament, the Daily Mail would still claim it is absolute proof of the PM’s unbridled love for the Jocks. You only bomb the ones you love and all that.

The ground level reality is a million miles from the propaganda of the press. I did a meeting in Portpatrick last week and all the guys who were out and about knocking doors were completely buzzing. They told me how everything has changed over the last couple of weeks. Those on the doorstep who a month ago said the dinner was on the table now want to stand and chat. And everyone is saying it’s going to be 'Yes'. And not just plain old 'Yes'. It’s 'Hell Yes'! 'Bring it on Yes'! 'Kick their sorry London arses Yes!!!'

The tectonic plates are shifting. The sound of a subterranean grinding is making its way up from the centre of the earth. Louder and louder and louder. This must be what a rebellion feels like. Growing from distant voices on the edge of town to a vast sprawling mob crashing through the doors of the palace.

They all will keep on pretending that ‘No’ is still going to win of course. Remember that PR guy working for Saddam Hussein when he gave a press conference saying the Americans had been stopped in their tracks whilst an Abrams tank appeared in the street outside the window behind him?

I think that is how it is now. Every day the momentum is getting ever greater. The grass roots didn’t need you to be Mandela last night, Alex. We just needed you to recover your nerve and put him away.

And you did.

You stepped right up the plate and it must have been a hard thing to do.

And you did it.

So hats off.

Respect.

Now it’s on the rest of us to get out there and win this bloody thing.

Oh and by the way. If you are reading this from anywhere in the South West of Scotland, then try and make it along on Friday night to listen to Tommy Sheridan do his stuff in Moniave. One day you will really enjoy telling your grandchildren all about it. Telling them all about those heady days in the summer of 2014 when Scotland cut the cords and stepped out into the world.

One day you’re going to want to say those most treasured words of the old when talking to the young about mighty times gone by.

You’re going to want to say ‘I was there.’

So be there.

The Memorial Institute.

Moniave

7.30pm 

Monday, August 25, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER TWENTY NINE


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 NINE

AUGUST 2014

LONDON
 
Giles Penworthy was just in from a thoroughly dreary day at Vauxhall Cross. The usual empty evening stretched out ahead of him and he was considering how to spend it. The idea of a plate of pasta and a bottle of Chianti at his favourite Italian restaurant was tempting, but he decided against. One bottle would almost certainly lead to three and he didn’t fancy the idea of flying east to Moscow the next day with a thick head. He decided it was a night to rest up and ready himself for the fray. Beans on toast and a couple of bottles of Pilsner.

As he reached down into the cupboard for a tin of beans his phone trilled.

No caller I.D.

Who? Not many had this particular number. He activated the call and frowned in momentary surprise when the sound of a very poorly sung version of the Internationale entered his left ear. Then a puzzled expression was replaced by an amused one.

“And good evening to you to comrade.”

Andrei Malenkov chuckled. “You don’t call. You don’t write. I was beginning to think you’ve forgotten you’re old friend Andrei”

“Actually I was going to be calling you tomorrow. Are you in Moscow? I could do with a meet.”

“So I can save you some air miles. It is your lucky day comrade. We can meet tonight. Eat food. Drink vodka. What is it you British say? Chew fat?”

“Chew ON the fat. You’re in London?”

“Sure I’m in London. In case you hadn’t noticed we own this fucking town.”

“Which hotel?”

“No hotel. I got a house. All Russians have a house. London on Thames, OK?”

Giles collected a pad and pen. “Address?”

Surprise, surprise. Mayfair. Mafia chic.

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

“So I think you can drink a pint of milk. Line your fucking stomach. There is pepper vodka in fridge.”

Of course there was. Giles killed the call and sighed. The joys of working with the Russian Bear. It was time to get prepared for a bout of semi suicidal drinking which would inevitably end with copious tears and talk of Boris Pasternak and silver birch trees in the snow.

A taxi dropped him off a little after eight.

“Ruskie?” asked the cabbie as he pocketed his fare and tip.

“What else?”

“Strewth.”

A predicable dead eyed type with cropped hair opened the door and showed Giles into the front room without feeling the need to speak.

Malenkov heaved himself up from a leather sofa and wrapped Giles in a crushing embrace. Then he poured two glasses of ice cold vodka which they duly drained dry.

Giles took a seat and scanned the room.

“This is surprisingly tasteful Andrei. I was expecting something gaudy.”

The Russian shrugged. “Sure. Why not? My wife hires fucking interior designers. Total assholes.”

“It’s a far cry from that little KGB flat of yours in Berlin.”

“Different, yes. Better, no. I think I would be happy to swap. Money is shit I think. I liked the old days better.”

Giles accepted his refill and smiled. “I can’t disagree. However I have some more shitty money for you. Same again. Five million. Rather hoping you will be able to help out some more.”

“OK, OK. But later. First vodka and we talk about the old times.”

They drank vodka and talked about the old days. Steaks were brought in by a Phillipino chef with an expressionless face.

Finally Giles deemed it time to get to the matter at hand before his brain was incapable of proper function.

“Do you have any news on the people we discussed?”

“Sure. We found them. Couple of assholes from London. Call themselves Online Solutions International. They’re in Dacca. You can tell me what you want? I can give you one address. Or I can shut them down. Is not problem.”

“I would like you to leave them for now. We are waiting for Black Clan to make one more move. They can have another fifteen minutes of fame and then we will switch them off. Could you do it please?”

“Sure. Why not? You want us to whack the assholes?”

“No. And no broken bones either. I’m sure they are perfectly harmless. Just give them the word please. No doubt your chaps in the leather jackets with scare the living daylights out of them.”

The Russian shook his head in bemusement. “Typical British. But sure. No problem. You can tell me when it needs to happen.”

By now they were working their way down a bottle of very old malt whisky. The Russian topped up glasses.

“So I have some news as well. You can give me one account number and I will send back the first five million. This is all on the house.”

Giles raised an eyebrow. “On the house?”

“For sure on the house. I made some calls, OK? Discreet calls. I covered my back. People can get the wrong idea if they get to hear that I am playing nice with some fucking British spook.”

“So you covered yourself?”

“Sure I covered myself. You think I’m stupid or something? Russia is Russia, OK?”

“OK.”

“So. These people I talk to like the game you are playing. They like it plenty, OK? They say “Andrei, you can tell these people that this one is on the house. A gesture of goodwill. A mark of brotherly love. So give them their money back Andrei. Pat them on the head Andrei. Tell they have big friend in Mother Russia.”

“How big a friend?”

“Very big.”

Giles’s brain was racing fast. A very big friend in Mother Russia? A £5 million bill torn up? Jesus.

“Mind if we play twenty questions?”

“Sure. Why not? Maybe I give you answer. Maybe I tell you to go to hell.”

“The money. Did it by any chance come out of some dark corner of the oil industry?”

“Maybe.”

“A corner of the oil industry owned by the State?”

“Maybe.”

“Because people in Moscow are not happy about the Westminster Government threatening sanctions in response to all the naughtiness in Eastern Ukraine?”

Malenkov grinned. Said not a word.

Giles grinned back. “All of which seems to have put certain people in the mood to help the good people of Scotland kick the Westminster Government in the balls?”

“I think Russia likes Scotland. We like whisky. They are our friend. And we don’t like it when our friends get pushed around.”

“Is this a secret or do you want people in Scotland to know? The right people of course. Discreet people.”

“Why not? When they get their Independence they can know they have a friend in Moscow. Big friend.  So now you can tell me what else we can do. Then we drink. OK?”

“Fine.”

Reuben Westlake wasn’t drinking with anyone. Reuben Westlake was drinking alone. He hadn’t stepped out of his office in days. For hour after hour he had been glued to the extraordinary events which were unfolding on the other side of the Atlantic. He was furious with himself for not doing the right thing and closing Boy Masters down when the time had been right. What the hell had he been thinking of?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

For a wonderful moment, his most magnificent victory had been in his hands. All he had needed to do was to write one lousy word in the drafts folder of an e mail account.

‘Enough’

Six letters. Three consonants and three vowels.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what Masters was capable of. The man was a complete lunatic. Jesus.

And now everything was going to shit. Pints of milk for Christ’s sake. Who would have thought that everything could be undone by lousy pints of milk?

The media were playing the First Minister like he was some kind of new Mandela. So far there hadn’t been any new polls, but Reuben could feel them coming in his bones. The ‘Yes’ campaign was about to do a Phoenix and rise up from the ashes of certain defeat.

All because he had been a dumb schmuck and let Boy Masters make crazy.

He got up from his chair and started to pace the room. It was time for black coffee and a clear head. It was time to start thinking smart. It was time to get a grip.

He went back to the beginning and his meeting with Robert Jordan in Battery Park. The airborne man had demanded clear evidence that something was happening. Well. There could be no problems on that score. Black Clan had become the biggest story on planet earth. Jordan could have no complaints. Reuben had whistled up a worldwide shit storm on a complete shoestring. Sure things had got out of control, but what the hell could the man expect?

And it wasn’t like a ‘Yes’ vote was guaranteed or anything. The pints of milk had put things back in the balance. It would be a fifty- fifty affair. Too close to call. Sure Jordan would be pissed about things going too far, but what was he going to do about it? The last thing he would want would be to be roped in. It would mean the end of his career at best and Federal Prison at worst.

No. Robert Jordan would be as desperate to keep the whole thing secret as Reuben was. Hell, the man was a soldier when all was said and done. He knew full well that things hardly ever played out as planned. Shit happened. And some shit had indeed happened. But there had been good stuff as well.

And now?

Well the answer was clear enough. Now it was time to cut and run. It was time to pay over the rest of what was owed to boy Masters and close everything down. It was time to cover tracks and bury evidence.

It was time to withdraw from the stage.

He sat back down and opened up the e mail account and entered the drafts folder. His fingers hovered over the keyboard for a few brief seconds.

Then he typed six keys.

“ENOUGH”

All day sir Nigel had been bouncing around the room with the energy of a man of half his venerable age. His constant pacing was in danger of making Kathy dizzy. Once again the rolling news channels had dominated their attention for hour after hour. Three days had passed since the First Minister had taken to the airwaves to encourage the people of Scotland to take pints of milk round to their English neighbours. Not only had there not been a single attack north of the border, but attacks in England had also faded to nothing.

Early indications suggested that the milk initiative had not only halted the decline in support for ‘Yes’, but a fully fledged bounce was beginning to take shape.

The coming vote was now the biggest story in the world by a huge margin and news teams were landing at Scottish airports every hour.

The bookmakers were now viewing the race as a neck and neck affair, having only a week earlier been on the verge of refusing to take any further bets for a ‘No’ vote. The social media was filled with pictures of reinvigorated public meetings where all seats were filled. The ‘Yes’ campaign was once again fully energised and confident.

The consensus among a frenzied media was that the First Minister of Scotland had hit the ball out of the park whilst the Prime Minister in London had endured his worst week in office. The general view was that the man in Downing St had completely misread the situation and he had shown a critical error in judgement by waiting more than two days before he could stand to offer any public praise of the actions of his Scottish counterpart.

Endless interviews were aired where English residents in towns and villages across Scotland explained that they would now be voting ‘Yes’. Many said they were ashamed at the way that Scots had been attacked for their nationality and they wanted to disassociate themselves completely from such hatred.

The ‘Better Together’ campaign was at a complete loss about how to react to the dramatic events. All of a sudden there seemed to be a great shortage of spokesmen and women who were willing to appear in front of the cameras. Those who did went out of their way to praise the swift and decisive action of the First Minister. Once it became clear that the attacks were not going to continue either north or south of the border, the defections started.

At first it was two back bench Labour MSPs from Holyrood who stepped forward to tell the world that their consciences no longer allowed them to support the Better Together campaign. They stood side by side with grave faces and ‘Yes’ badges on their lapels.

They started what looked like it might prove to be the beginnings of an avalanche.

On the third day after the Peterborough attack, a further 9 Labour MSPs jumped ship along with 123 councillors. And now Sky News was hinting that there were a growing number of rumours doing the rounds that the Scottish Sun was preparing to throw its weight behind an Independent Scotland

Sir Nigel clapped his hands at the news and grinned like a mischievous elf.

“It is all about how he will react to adversity my dear. That will be everything. And I fully expect it will be his downfall. First came the mud and now the temperature is plummeting.”

Kathy looked out of the window and saw a vivid blue sky and a glowing warm afternoon.

“Sorry? Temperature plummeting?”

Telford grinned. “I think we can be very confident indeed about two things when it comes to Mr Charles Letchworth Masters. All of the evidence is compelling when it comes to his insanity. In the decades since those cannabis fuelled hours on the beach in Goa, his mental health has become steadily worse. However he has never had to deal with too many setbacks. Of course the things he did were appalling, but as far as he was concerned he always prevailed. He won his victories. He vanquished his enemies. How he must have felt like one of Nietzsche’s supermen. He took on some of the most implacably violent men in the world and he defeated them with the terror he was willing to deploy. I believe that Boy Masters will have lost any ability to accept the possibility of defeat many years ago. And of course there have been many good reasons for this. Of course he is quite mad. But he is also quite brilliant. He achieved victory in Al Anbar Province where the combined might of the American military had failed after years of trying. What he did to secure his victory was beyond despicable. In his desire to become Kurtz, he plumbed the very depths of bestiality. But that doesn’t change the fact that he won. It is what Boy Masters does. He wins. And he will do absolutely anything to ensure victory. He is a man without any boundaries whatsoever.”

Kathy nodded but was not yet any closer to understanding what plummeting temperatures had to do with anything. Sir Nigel noticed and decided it was time to put her out of her misery.

“OK. December 1941. Operation Barbarossa was nearly eight months old. And for eight months everything had been exactly the same as it had been in Czechoslovakia and Poland and Holland and Belgium and France and Norway. The Wehrmacht had continued to prove that it was an unstoppable force. The Stukas and the Panzers seemed impossible to resist and in the areas behind the front line troops the death squads of the SS Einsatzgruppen killed by the thousand. But for the first time there were problems. The offensive had been delayed by a month when Hitler diverted resources to invade Greece. The German High Command knew full well that all major operations would have to be completed before the rains came in November. Well. The rains did indeed come and the unpaved roads of Russia were turned into impassable mud. The Generals advised Hitler of the impossible situation the front line troops faced. There was no way they could continue the advance. It was time to dig in for the winter and gather themselves for a renewal of the offensive in the spring. But Hitler was having none of it. He had decided that there would be German soldiers strutting through Red Square before Christmas and a bit of rain wasn’t about to change anything. His disintegrating mind was incapable of seeing that failure could be a possibility. He was immune to failure. Germany was immune to failure. So he sent his armies further and further into the sea of mud until they inevitably ground to a halt. Morale was desperate. Supply lines were over stretched. And once again the generals pleaded for a halt to be called.

‘And then the temperature started to plummet and the German Army started to freeze to death. The Generals were now quite desperate. A retreat to a fortified line was imperative. The whole army was at risk. But still Hitler was having none of it. Retreat! How could the racially supreme Germanic forces even consider retreating from a sub human rabble of Slavs? It was inconceivable to him. And so he threw his half frozen forces at the newly reinforced Soviet lines and they were slaughtered. Operation Typhoon. He fed his beloved Wehrmacht into the mincing machine. He went from being an insane genius to being simply insane.

‘And then on the morning of December 7th the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. Technically as an ally of Japan, Germany was required to join them in their war with the United States. But nobody expected them to. Why on earth would they? Especially at the very moment when the previously unstoppable Behemoth of the Wehrmacht had finally hit a brick wall. The diplomats and generals were united in their advice to their Fuhrer. Stay out of it. Right out. Did he listen? Of course he didn’t. He was seething with anger. The sub-human Slavs he so hated and despised were shredding both his supposedly indestructible army and his supposedly cast in stone theories of racial superiority. His insanity meant that he could not see the United States of America as the mightiest nation on earth. All he could see was a rag bag mongrel mix of racially inferior immigrants. How could they be a threat to the Aryan might of the Germans? He batted away all advice and screamed at his diplomats and generals. He berated them for their cowardice and weakness. How could Germany fear a pathetic country like America with all of its Jews and Negroes? He told them that there were over 300 opera houses in the Reich. How many opera houses were there in America? One! How could they fear a nation with only one opera house? And so he lost the war in course of a month when he ceased to be an insane genius and became simply insane.

‘Right now Boy Masters is trying to deal with his first ever setback. At the very moment when yet another victory seemed to be certain, everything has changed. Will he be able to blame himself and see that the attack on the fishermen was a colossal mistake? Of course he won’t. He cannot comprehend making a mistake. He is superman. He is Kurtz. And he will not retreat, even if he is told to retreat. To retreat would mean accepting defeat; that is a thing that Boy Masters will never, ever accept. I can feel his racing brain. Right now he is agitated and angry. He is about to succumb to his insanity. I can just feel it.”

“And then?”

“And then my dear we will have him. Then we will release our reserve forces from Siberia and we drive him back. We must wait, but it won’t be for long now. Not for long at all.”

Richard had been quietly watching Boy Masters for three days. He watched him in the same way that he had once upon a time watched Lazar Boric from the side of a steep sided Bosnian valley. He watched him in the same way that he had once watched suspected volunteers of the Provisional Irish Republican Army from ditches and parked cars. He was discreet. He was dispassionate.

Once upon a time in a previous lifetime when he had been studying for his English Literature A level, he had found his way to Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Goodbye to Berlin’. On many occasions in the years that followed he had recalled a line from the beginning of the book.

‘I am a camera with its shutter open. Quite passive. Recording, not thinking.’

It was who he was. What he had become. What they had made him. All of the soft edges of his humanity had been stripped away like the flesh from a battlefield corpse. All that was left was a functioning machine.

For some reason he had managed to avoid the doomed road of spiralling addiction that had claimed so many of his former comrades. Instead he had withdrawn into himself. He had cut himself off from the rest of humanity and focussed on the very basics of life. Many years earlier he had given up on trying to find any point to his existence. He was a mammal, nothing more and nothing less. He breathed, he drank, he ate, he ran, he slept. He worked his way from one day to another without thinking about it.

And whenever Boy Masters came a-calling, Richard Maltby packed his bags and followed. Why? He didn’t bother with why. He just did.

He functioned.

He was the sliver of metal and Boy was the irresistible electro magnet. It was straight forward physics. It had been that way for years.

And Boy had always stood apart from the rest of them with his blazing energy and certainty. Richard had never given much consideration to Boy’s sanity. What was the point? Nobody was sane.

Nothing was sane.

But for the last three days he had quietly observed a very different Boy Masters. Little by little the certainty seemed to have drained away from him. At first Boy had been amused and hyper when the news channels reported the attacks which had started in Peterborough. But it did not last long. Soon he was angry and brooding. Then he seemed washed out and depressed as the First Minister’s milk initiative turned the tide. Sometimes he paced the room and muttered to himself. Other times he sat in a chair in a near catatonic state of stillness.

They were staying in a nondescript hotel in Hertfordshire among a guest list of travelling salesmen and accountants. For the last three mornings Rich and Gordy had left the room at 4.30 am to prepare the next Black Clan target having slept for six hours. On two occasions when they had arrived back in the early evening they had found Boy pacing the room with eyes glittering with cocaine. On the third occasion the room had been empty and Boy hadn’t returned until the early hours of the morning.

And now Boy had been out again and he had returned with a face like thunder. He hadn’t uttered a word when he stormed into the room. Instead he set up three lines of coke and hoovered them.

“Want some Gordy?”

“Aye. Might as well.”

Gordy snorted and resumed his place in front of the TV where an old Stallone movie filled the room with the sound of gunfire.

Boy raised an eyebrow to Rich and Rich shook his head. Boy shrugged and poured himself a tumbler of scotch.

“We’ll do it tomorrow. Like we planned. OK?”

Richard shrugged.

Gordy was too engrossed in the TV.

And Richard continued to watch Boy as he paced the claustrophobic space like a caged lion. Agitated. No longer the master of his universe. Something had changed. Something had pushed him closer to the edge.

“Small change to the plan, OK? I took a look at the ground. You two follow the plan. But I’m going along as well. I’ve found an alternative laying up point. I am going to film as well. I’ll get a different angle. Once it’s done, both of you disengage as per the plan. Make the RV with Sulieman’s guy and head back to Stirling. I’ll make my own way. Right?”

Richard gave another shrug.

Gordy raised a hand in acknowledgement.

A die was cast. Once again they would drive down the dark road that had become the story of their lives. Would this be the last time? Richard had no idea. Maybe it would be. Maybe it wouldn’t. But there would be a last time. For everything came to an end eventually. They were the only ones left from the SAS patrol that had headed out into the Iraqi desert so many lifetimes earlier.

Was their time about finally run out? It didn’t matter.

Nothing much mattered.

 
Boy tried not to look at Richard. Richard was starting to freak him out. How the hell was he always so calm? Like a machine. Like some kind of robot. Christ. He knew that he really needed to ease back on the lines of coke, but he couldn’t manage it somehow. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Only a week earlier he had been on top of the mountain and laughing at the world below. Laughing at all the little people.

But it had changed.

Things had slipped out of control. There had been unintended consequences. Events had turned. And Reuben Westlake had sent out the abort. The piece of shit. The lousy little coward.

Oh sure Westlake had paid up to the last penny. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that he was telling Boy Masters to retreat. And Boy Masters had never retreated in his whole life.

Retreat.

What was the point in retreating? Take the money and run? Live to fight another day? Strike it up to experience?

Make the smart call?

Exit stage left?

Find a bolt hole on an African shore?

Retreat.

Give in. Raise a white flag.

He closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply. He tried to slow his racing brain. He tried to find a sense of equilibrium.

It didn’t have to be seen as a retreat. Instead it could be seen as a professional job and an orderly withdrawal.

But it didn’t feel that way. It felt like defeat. It felt like running.

And should he tell the others that their employer had called a halt and settled their account in full? Should he tell them that he had already transferred all of their cash into their offshore accounts?

Of course he should.

But he didn’t know what they would say. Would they still want to complete the next operation for the simple pleasure of completing it? Or would they simply pack up their bags and leave?

He didn’t know.

And he didn’t want to know. Neither of them had any idea that the mission had been shut down. He could tell them tomorrow once it was done. Then they could all go their separate ways.

Would that be the right thing? Jesus. What the hell was a right thing supposed to be? There were no right things. There were no wrong things. There was just winning and losing. Victory or defeat. And tomorrow meant a chance of victory.

Payback.

More than that, tomorrow represented the chance of a grand finale. A masterpiece.

A permanent legacy for the old country to remember him by.

Was he about to give it up? No way. Not a million billion years. Boy Masters was going to leave his country with a bang.

Of course he was. How could it be any other way?

He smiled his frightening smile and met Richard’s steady staring eyes.

And for some inexplicable reason, Boy Masters felt a flicker of fear.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT


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 EIGHT

AUGUST 2014

ENGLAND

In the weeks, months and years that followed what was a hot and humid night in August 2014, a huge number of experts tried to establish if there had been a single trigger moment that had released the mayhem. Historians love a single event which unleashes a whole new era of history. Of course the daddy of them all was Gavrilo Princip, the legendary wild eyed lad who managed more by luck than judgement to assassinate the Archduke Ferdinand on a baking hot Sarajevo day in July 1914. With one lucky shot he flicked over the first domino in a vast line which kept rattling each other over for the next eighty five years.  By the time the last exhausted domino finally toppled over into empty space, well over a hundred million souls had been wiped off the face of the earth.

Was there a 2014 version Gavrilo Princip? The fact that it was almost a hundred years to the day made it enormously tempting to look for one.

In fact there was no single individual. And there was no single event. However, the timing of the police reports typed at the end of that hot and eventful night more or less conclusively proved that Peterborough was where the starting shots were fired.

At 9.33 pm, two men walked into a pub. The pub was the Red Lion on the edge of Peterborough town centre.

There was nothing particularly special about the Red Lion. It was home to two main rooms and a well used beer garden. On the night when the pub made it to the top of the news, the two rooms were quite well populated and there wasn’t a seat to be had in the beer garden.

There was nothing particularly special about the two men who walked into the Red Lion at 9.33 pm. They were brothers. Donald and Peter McNeil. Donald was a resident of Peterborough and had been so for twenty three years. He was the elder brother and he was 47 years old. He was a fork lift driver in a distribution warehouse located on an industrial estate by the A1. He was married and he had three teenage children, two sons and one daughter.

His younger brother Peter had never moved away from the family’s home town of Motherwell. He was 42 years old and he worked as a salesman for a company that produced spare parts for ventilation systems. The next day Peter was due to attend a training session at the company’s head office in Colchester. He had decided to break his journey south and stay the night with his older brother who he hadn’t seen since a family gathering at Christmas.

Peter arrived in Peterborough at 6.30 and enjoyed a meal of sausage and mash with his brother and his in laws. Once the table was cleared of plates and cutlery, the two brothers left the house and walked a quarter of a mile to the nearest watering hole, the Red Lion.

They were talking animatedly as they entered the pub and made their way to the bar. Both men reached for their wallets having both ordered pints of lager. Donald tried to insist, but Peter was having none of it and was adamant that he would be able to lose the cost of a few rounds on expenses.

A nineteen year old girl called Laney was in the act of pouring the first pint when a customer a little along from the two brothers decided to give her some advice. The customer in question was a thirty three year old HGV driver called Tommy Dean. It emerged over time that Tommy Dean wasn’t enjoying the happiest period of his life. The agency he relied on hadn’t come up with any work for him in five months and his wife had recently finalised a divorce after enduring years of domestic abuse. On that very morning, a solicitor’s letter had arrived at the residence of Tommy Dean’s parents informing him that the family home was henceforth to be used by his wife and two children. He was required by law to make an alimony contribution which he considered to be a scandal. Over the course of eight pints of lager on an empty stomach, he had told anyone he could find to tell the story of what a complete and utter bitch his wife was and how in his opinion all lawyers should be put up against a wall and shot.

Over the years Tommy Dean had build up a modest criminal record. On five occasions he had appeared in front of the local magistrates to answer charges, all of which involved violent behaviour under the influence of alcohol. He had been fined four times and been given 200 hours of community service.

When he appeared in court for a sixth time a few weeks later, he explained that it had been a really bad day, what with the divorce and no work and everything. And he admitted to the fact that he was more or less completely pissed. He said it was the accent that did it. For days the news had been filled with stories about what those Scottish nutters had done to the English fishermen. Well. When he heard this bloke ordering drinks with his Scottish accent…well… he just saw red.

Like.

“Hey Laney. Don’t you be serving those twats. We don’t want their kind in here.”

Laney had flinched at the words and continued to fill up the pint glass in her hand.

Peter McNeil turned to the man in the tight T shirt who was propping up the bar.

“Have you got a problem mate?”

Donald put a hand on his shoulder.

“Leave it Pete. He’s just pissed.”

Tommy Dean stood up from his stool with the gleam of violence in his eyes.

“Yeah. I’ve got a big problem as it happens. I reckon wankers like you should stay at home in your shitty country and not be allowed in pubs down here. That’s what I reckon.”

At this point things didn’t play out as Tommy Dean had expected. The Scotsman smiled at him, but it wasn’t a nice smile. Then he turned to Laney with a question.

“You going to serve us love?”

She didn’t look up from pouring the lager. She didn’t speak. She just gave a tiny nod.

Peter McNeil kept his smile in place.

“Seems like the pub is happy to take our money. So if you reckon we shouldn’t be here then it looks like you’ll have to sort it out yourself. Dickhead.”

It was more than enough for Tommy Dean to see red and surge forward. The Scotsman evaded a hopeful haymaker with ease and dropped the younger man with a sharp punch.

And that might well have been that. As things turned out the fight was never going to be much of a fight. Tommy Dean was a drunken bully with a violent temper. Peter McNeil had been a pretty decent amateur boxer in his younger days and he was never going to have a problem with such an uncontrolled assault.

However his did have a problem when Tommy Dean’s five mates launched themselves forward.

Witnesses spoke of a few seconds of utter chaos. Nobody could say for sure who hit Donald McNeil. They just saw him fall. And they saw the way his head hit the sharp corner of the table behind him. And they heard the sound that his head made when it hit the sharp corner of the table.

And they saw the blood.

And all of them spoke of how the fight stopped as quickly as it had started. And all for them spoke of the realisation that something really bad had happened.

Really bad.

There had been an A&E nurse enjoying a few drinks with her pals in the beer garden and she had been summoned to try to give CPR to the man on the floor. But Donald McNeil was beyond CPR. Donald McNeil was beyond everything. Donald McNeil had become the first fatality in Boy Masters’ war.

At 9.45 pm David Kingan was walking his Labrador dog in a suburb of Dagenham. He had been a resident of Essex for forty three years having moved south from Falkirk. For thirty five years he had worked in the town’s huge Ford car plant and his face was well known in the neighbourhood. His wife had died in 2010 and his daughter had emigrated to Australia in 2013.

He lived alone with his dog Jinky who was named in honour of the legendary European Cup winning winger of his beloved Celtic Football Club. There was never a day when David didn’t wear some sort of Celtic club wear. On formal nights it would be a tie. On wet days in winter it was a warm quilted coat. Tonight it was a first team shirt.

The local police later concluded that it was the shirt that proved to be his undoing. A group of bored boys were killing long hours on a low wall outside a Chinese takeaway. Witnesses stated that they started to shout abuse at David when they clocked the green and white hoops of his shirt.

Maybe if David Kingan had carried on walking and ignored their shouts, things might have been OK. But he didn’t keep on walking. He stopped and lectured them on their disrespectful behaviour. This didn’t sit well on that hot and humid night. The group leader, a fourteen year old boy called Roger and nicknamed ‘Zed’ stepped forward and pushed the pensioner hard in the chest calling him an ‘old Scottish twat’ and David Kingan lost his balance and fell to the pavement.

He landed hard and the shock caused a massive heart attack.

He was well and truly dead by the time the ambulance arrived.

At 10.48, a fight broke out in a pub in Barnsley which left a 38 year old man in critical condition in the local hospital. His name was Callum Peterson and he was a resident of Ayr who was in Yorkshire as part of a team upgrading the surface of the A1. Police reports confirmed he was attacked when he ordered a round of drinks in a strong Scottish accent.

The midnight news was dominated by the three attacks and the social media exploded. By the time the breakfast shows hit the airwaves the politicians were out in force. The Scottish First Minister was almost shaking with anger as he condemned the racist murder of two of his citizens and severe wounding of a third. He demanded assurances from the Westminster Government that all Scottish citizens would be protected by the English police. The Prime Minister was visibly annoyed by these demands and assured the public that these attacks were in no way, shape or form an indication of the way the vast majority of the English public felt about their northern neighbours.

Then at 8.32 am, a brick flew through the front window of an old age pensioner’s house in Hereford. The missile fractured the skull of the pensioner’s four year old granddaughter who was watching the TV in the front room. The pensioner had moved to Hereford from Selkirk in 1993 and had never lost his Borders accent.

At 8.50 am a fight broke out in the canteen of Preston prison. There was a fatality. The cause of death was multiple stabbing. The victim was from Glasgow.

At 10.23 the four year old granddaughter was pronounced dead in the accident and emergency department of Hereford County Hospital.

Within minutes the First Minister was back on the screen urging all Scottish nationals in England to take precautions. He suggested they should avoid public places, especially pubs and clubs, until the situation calmed down.

Within minutes the Prime Minister was back and now he expressed outrage at the suggestion that the streets of England were no longer safe for anyone with a Scottish accent. He was adamant that England was a tolerant country with a proud history of tolerance of all races.

But the reports kept rolling in.

In Bury a car with a ‘I love Scotland’ sticker in the back window was torched.

In Hull the front of a council house was spray painted with the words ‘Fuck off home Jocks’.

In Portsmouth a newsagent who had travelled south from Bathgate in 1987 was hospitalised when a group of teenagers attacked him and looted £450 worth of cigarettes. 

All afternoon news teams scrambled frantically to cover stories of smashed windows and torched cars and spray painted houses. It became very clear that anyone with a Scottish accent was staying home with all the doors and windows locked.

In Cambridge Kathy and Sir Nigel were locked onto the coverage which by the late afternoon seemed to be coming in from all corners of England. As the hours of the afternoon rolled by a small flicker of a smile appeared on the face of the old spy. His young apprentice noticed.

“Cracks?”

“Oh yes my dear. Lots and lots of cracks. I fear that the gallant Boy Masters will not be having such a good day. I do believe they call it the law of unintended consequences. If things carry on like this for a few more days the mythical warriors of Black Clan will have the look of gallant freedom fighters.”

“Is this the game changer?”

“Not yet. What Boy Masters does next will be the game changer. I can see that you are itching to say something so for goodness sake put me out of my misery.”

She smiled at her own transparency. “Sorry about that. The thing is that I am no longer entirely sure of my remit. It is hard to explain. I….”

It was rare for Kathy King to struggle to find the words she needed and the sight of it made Sir Nigel smile.

“Let me help you out. I am not entirely blind you know. I believe that Giles is also fully afflicted with the dilemma you are facing. Tell me if I am wrong. We started our journey with the goal of addressing the problem of a buried nuclear device up in Faslane. Our goal was to achieve this with the minimum of fuss, thereby ensuring that Britain’s so called ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States of America might survive and endure. But things soon changed. I have noticed that both of my key lieutenants have become seduced by the gallant cause of Scottish Independence. And you have both been outraged at the ghastly cynicism of the forces of the establishment from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and the lengths they are willing to go to in order to achieve the outcome they desire. How am I doing so far?”

She didn’t say anything. Instead she smiled and blushed slightly.

Sir Nigel continued. “Well it seems only right and appropriate that I own up to the fact that I feel exactly the same. I am a very old man indeed and I am desperately tired of keeping secrets for men who do not deserve any kind of loyalty. I no longer retain a shred of what is generally called patriotism. What Britain and America have done over recent years is inexcusable. I agree with your gut feeling. An independent Scotland can become a lighthouse of hope. And if the secret of Faslane is to be addressed, it is best that it is done very publically. No more secrets. No more cover ups. It is time the world gets to see the truth. Once again I will re-iterate the conclusion I have arrived at. The answer to the problem we face lies in Scotland. Initially when we set out on this journey of ours, we were tasked with finding a solution to a single problem, a hidden suitcase bomb. Then things changed when we became aware that Boy Masters had been engaged to engineer a ‘No’ vote. At this point we had the additional problem of how to stop this brilliant lunatic in his tracks. And now we have a third problem. I have given over most of my overly long life to the pursuit of defending democracy. At first I fought Hitler and then I fought Bolshevik communism. When the Berlin Wall fell and Nelson Mandela walked free, a brave new era was supposed to have dawned. Instead the old dream of democracy has been hijacked by the super-rich and multinational corporations who have succeeded where Hitler and Stalin failed. Politicians have been bought off on both sides of the Atlantic and the democracy I fought long and hard to defend has almost ceased to exist. 1% of the population is looting and enslaving the other 99% and it sickens me to my soul. The kind of democracy the people of Scotland deserve is the kind of democracy I fought for. I know Giles feels the same though he hasn’t actually said as much. I am fairly sure that you feel the same way. And so we have a third problem to address. How do we give the five million people of Scotland a fair crack of the whip? Does that help you my dear?”

Kathy beamed and ran him through the two ideas that had been growing in her head throughout the course of the afternoon. When she had finished his smile was every bit as wide as hers.

“I think it is high time you got on the phone.”

It only took Kathy a matter of five minutes get Emma Hope to buy into her way of thinking. Emma marched through the corridors of  Parliament and received an eager nod from the First Minister’s secretary.

His face displayed a mix of fatigue and anger when he looked up at her from the papers on his desk.

“Emma. Hi. Take a seat. Anything new?”

“Nothing concrete. But I have a couple of ideas I would like to pitch. Do you have ten minutes?”

“Of course. I’m all ears. You need coffee?”

“No. I’m fine, really. This came from one of the people who are helping us. It is one of those things that are so blindingly obvious that we were always going to miss it. She says we need to re-activate our grassroots ‘Yes’ network and send it into overdrive….”

Calls were made and threats were made and bad language was used. It took the First Minister just over an hour and a half to bully his way into being granted a slot on Scotland’s TV channels to make a First Ministerial broadcast to the nation. Lawyers were desperately engaged to assess whether a First Minister actually had a right to make such a demand, but the sheer weight of his bullying backed the TV executives into a corner where they shrugged their shoulders and agreed.

In the end they sensed that whatever he wanted to say to his people would make great television.

Mainstream and social media went into predicable overdrive and by the time the First Minister appeared on the screens of the nation at 8pm it was estimated that a Scottish audience of over three and a half million tuned in to hear what he had to say.

“Let us make no mistake; what has happened to our fellow citizens in England over the last 48 hours is appalling. All of our hearts go out to the families of those who have lost their lives. This is not a time for political grandstanding, but it is impossible not to see what is staring us in the face. For some time now politicians of all colours in Westminster have been deliberately peddling hatred of foreigners to curry favour with the voters. The rise of first the BNP and now UKIP has encouraged the mainstream parties to compete with each other in creating an anti-immigrant agenda. It has been both shameful and ugly and over the last two days we have seen the appalling results of the seeds they have sown. I believe that things are different here in Scotland. And that is why so many of us have been campaigning so hard for the chance to separate ourselves from this loathsome agenda. Well that issue will be decided on September 18th. Before that day, we all have a huge problem to address. History is littered with examples of what happens when groups of people descend into the pit of tit for tat. They did this, so we are going to respond. Look at what happened for thirty years in Northern Ireland. Look at what happened in the Balkans. Look at what is happening in Gaza. When any two sets of people set out on this road, the world becomes a dark and frightening place. It is my absolute belief that the people of Scotland are better that this. It is my absolute belief that we will hear words of a very great man who we awarded the freedom of the city of Glasgow. I refer to Nelson Mandela of course. He persuaded his people that there is a better way that hatred. He persuaded his people to step back from revenge and retribution and tit for tat. Now I implore the people of this wonderful country of ours to hear his words. I ask you to do something very simple. Go around to the home of an English neighbour and take them a pint of milk. Understandably they will be feeling frightened and nervous about leaving the house to go to shops. Take them a pint of milk and tell them that they are a part of the community. What has happened to our citizens south of the border is not their fault. Tell them you are happy for them to make their home among us. Tell them that you will be looking out for them. Tell them that Black Clan is nothing more than the invention of very dark forces. Show them that we Scots are welcoming of everyone. It is what makes us different. It is what sets us apart. This is our chance to show the rest of the world who we really are. Thank you.”

For two hours the word had been sent out far and wide to the vast grassroots network of the ‘Yes’ campaign. The word was simple. Watch the First Minister. Listen to his message. And then make it happen.

And they did make it happen.

Hundreds and hundreds of thousands hit the streets and made it happen. By ten o’clock the news channels carried pictures from supermarkets where the milk shelves had been stripped bare.

Never in the course of human history had so many people been given so much milk in such a short period of time.

Nobody was attacked. No cars were vandalised. No walls were daubed in graffiti. And as the evening stretched out, hundreds of thousands of Scots living in England were also handed pints of milk by their neighbours.

By midnight the wave of hate had faded to nothing and the First Minister of Scotland was the undisputed man of the hour. He fielded congratulatory calls from all over the world. The White House was on the phone a little after eleven and his conversation with a chuckling Archbishop Tutu was played live across the airwaves.

One call became very conspicuous indeed in its absence. By midnight there had been no call from Downing St. The Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland appeared in front of the cameras just after midnight. He looked tight lipped and furious and told the assembled gaggle of reporters that he had been too heavily involved in an emergency COBRA meeting to have time to make any calls. In the face of constant demands for his thoughts on the extraordinary broadcast from his opposite number in Edinburgh, he clearly found it hard to overcome the visceral loathing that was all too clear in his body language.

“Of course we welcome any initiatives that help to maintain law and order.”

When the questions demanded to know his response to the accusation that his Government’s anti-immigration stance was partly responsible for what had happened, he turned away and strode back through the door of number ten Downing St.

Sir Nigel snapped off the TV which had been consuming their attention for the best part of eighteen hours and stretched his tired limbs.

“Well my dear, I do believe that you are a complete and utter genius. Now it is time for a good night’s sleep and then we must wait.”

“Wait?”

“Oh yes. It is impossible to imagine what effect the events of this remarkable day will have had on Boy Masters. He will not be happy. Everything was going so very swimmingly and now everything has changed. He has lost all control of events. He will be troubled and angry. His judgement will be impaired. He will be desperate to strike back. And it is my view that he will make an enormous mistake. The mistake we have been waiting for. And so we will wait for his mistake. And then we will destroy him.”