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, September 15, 2014

MIGHT STUART'S 'WEE BLUE BOOK' BE THE MOST INFLUENTIAL BRITISH BOOK IN A HUNDRED YEARS?


Nobody will find it all that very surprising to hear that as an author I am kind of interested in books. Lots of people are. We still put books up on the kind of pedestal that that films and songs and paintings never seem to get close to.

There is a generally perceived wisdom that books are important. Look at the angst parents go through at their kids' preference of playing the Xbox instead of spending quality time with a quality book.

I reckon that if you were to ask most people if they think books are influential, they would invariably tell you of course they are.

Duh!

However a canny follow up question might cause them a few problems: it certainly caused me a few.

It goes something like this. OK then, why don’t you name me the top ten most influential books to have been written in Britain in the last century.

The key word here of course is influential. As in having an influence. Making a difference. Changing the game.

We’re all well used to the whole top ten thing. And I guess many of us would quite enjoy thrashing out our top ten favourite books. Maybe we could also kill some time guessing at the top ten bestselling books of the last hundred years.

But influential books? Not so easy is it?

Extend Britain to the whole of the world and we can call up Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’. Add in another century and Karl Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ walks into the top ten. Extend to 2000 years and the Bible, Koran and Talmud enter the fray.

But what about Britain and the last 100 years?

As ever, when in doubt, go to Google. I was utterly amazed to find that Google was every bit as unable to answer the question as I was and this of course is genuinely rare.

So maybe books are not all that important and influential after all. It certainly seems that way.

You might well be thinking that I must be some kind of seriously artsy type to  be spending my days mulling over which books of the last hundred years have had a profound and lasting effect on Britain. To be honest, I’m not. The sole reason that mind wandered in this particular direction was Stuart Campbell’s remarkable ‘Wee Blue Book’.

First up, I haven’t actually read ‘The Wee Blue Book’ in the traditional sense. I listened to it. I downloaded the audio version from Michael Greenwell’s outstanding ‘Scottish Referendum Podcast’ and took an hour and a half’s worth of time out to walk the dogs and listen to Stuart’s uber-compelling case for a ‘Yes’ vote on Thursday.

Whichever way you look at it, this is one hell of a book on all kinds of levels.

Unlike the trash that drops through the letter box from both sides of the campaign, it contains no condescending, dumbed down photographs of perfect looking smiling families enjoying a healthy day out in the Scottish wilderness, no doubt complete with picnics heavy on ‘5 a day’ items. It speaks to its reader as an adult. It avoids using show off long words and it is thankfully clear of political jargon.

Basically it is a serious book for adults written using words and sentences that everyone can understand. It takes heed of the fact that people have other things to do with their lives by telling the reader up front that it is designed to be read in no more than an hour and a half.

So from the very get go, the reader knows what they are getting.

Then I have to take my hat off to the way that Stuart takes complicated stuff and makes it simple to understand. This is truly a rare thing in an era where politicians of all colours love nothing better than to confuse us with their government-speak words and their collections of initials. How many people have the first clue what Quantative Easing is? Or the Structural Deficit? Get my drift?

Let's just take the whole issue of the border as an example. Ed Milliband, that gallant berk at the helm of the Labour Party, has made a number of speeches threatening the prospect of border posts should the immigration policy of an Independent Scotland differ from the immigration policy of the rest of the UK. No doubt his spin doctors are laying eggs at the thought of handing yet more poisonous ammunition over to Nigel Farage to fire off at the massed ranks of the Labour Party’s blue collar core support.

Whatever.

What Stuart does is dismantle Red Ed’s nasty nonsense in a few crisp sentences. Why would there be borders? To stop the Anglo/Scottish border become a preferred entry point for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants. OK. So if you were an illegal immigrant hell bent on being a 21st century version of Dick Whittington and making your way down to London’s gold paved pavements to prepare over sized mugs of tall, skinny de-caff latte, what the hell are you going to do when you arrive in Gretna only to be confronted by one of Red Ed’s border posts?

What you do is actually pretty straight forward.

You walk across the fields stupid. Bugger the border post. Who needs a border post if you are an illegal immigrant? So what do countries do who have long land borders? They build fences. They shell out endless millions of border forces. Check out the Texas/Mexico line. The land border which separates Scotland and England for just over a hundred very lonely, very rural miles long. So will Red Ed seriously spend God knows how many millions on building a giant fence? And will be spend many more endless millions on paying for a large force of border guards?

Of course he won’t.

Which of course means that his speeches are nothing but lies. Yet more scaremongering. It takes Stuart a single paragraph to rubbish this nasty, dog whistle drivel. So why don’t the overpaid political correspondents of the mainstream media do a similar job? Well I wonder…..

It comes as no surprise whatsoever to me that most people who hand over an hour and a half of their lives to read the ‘Wee Blue Book’ almost invariably move across into the ‘Yes’ camp. More than this, they become active advocates of creating an independent land for all of us to live in.

And then when they are done, they pass their copy of the ‘Little Blue Book’ on to a friend or a work mate or a family member.

They keep it viral.

At the very get go, Stuart reminds the reader that every single one of the 37 daily newspapers on sale in Scotland are supporting the ‘Better Together’ campaign. Almost all of them are owned by huge corporations based in London, so it comes as no surprise that they are such enthusiastic mouthpieces for the status quo of the British Establishment.

It is worth going back a couple of years to Stuart’s decision to set up his ‘Wings Over Scotland’ site. Back then the odds must have seemed pretty well insurmountable. 'No' was leading 'Yes' by 2 to 1 and there were few who saw the big vote being anything resembling close. Stuart set out his stall to provide a counterbalance to the whole of the British Establishment and its compliant media. One guy? Living in Bath? I mean, come on! How long a long shot was that.

And yet over the last couple of years Stuart has completely defied gravity. The perceived wisdom is that you can only sway political opinion if you have the big bucks behind you. Look at the crazy sums that get spent on American elections. Well on that basis, Stuart was surely destined to be the loser to end all losers. He wasn’t famous. He had no support from any party machine. He had no corporate backers. And from what I can gather, he had no vast treasure trove of personal wealth to throw into the pot.

So. An open and shut case. No chance. He was destined to be just another voice yapping away in the wilderness of the internet.

But it didn’t work out that way. Slowly but surely, more and more people found their way to Wings over Scotland and they liked what they found when they got there. There was a clear hunger to hear the other side of the story. The unspun side of the story.

And there was a clear hunger for someone to take on the challenge of picking apart the endless propaganda and lies of the Establishment.

When Stuart asked his readers for a few quid to keep the show on the road, they responded in their thousands. A couple of quid here, a fiver there. Soon he had enough crowd funded backing to take on his task full time and with every passing week his site generated more and more hits.

Until the hits ran into the millions.

Right now not one of the 38 newspapers who are waving the Union Jack with such fervour can dream of generating the kind of traffic that finds its way to ‘Wings Over Scotland’

And still the cash rolled in. A couple of quid here, a fiver there. And all of a sudden Stuart found himself in the position where he had enough cash to produce a book.

The Wee Blue Book.

I might have my figures a bit wrong here, and the odds are that I will be on the low side. Bear with me.

To date the Wee Blue Book has been downloaded 600,000 times.

350,000 hard copies of the book have been distributed to all corners of Scotland.

5000 people have downloaded the audio version of the book from The Scottish Independence Podcast site.

Check it out.

We’re talking a million people here. More or less a quarter of the electorate. And this is no coffee table book. This is a book that is being read from cover to cover. This is a book that is turning hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from 'No' to 'Yes' every single day.

Right now the polls say that 'No' is two points ahead. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the 'Yes' side carries the day on Thursday with 51% ( I actually think it will be a shed load more than that, but that is just me.) And let’s assume that 85% of the registered voters make it to the polling stations. Here is how that looks

YES               – 1865000

NO                 -  1790000

MAJORITY – 75000

If that turns out to be the case, then I think it can be said with complete certainty that those million copies of the 'Wee Blue Book' will have proved to have been decisive.

The 'Wee Blue Book' will have got us over the line.

Just think about what that means.

A Union that has lasted for 300 years will have been broken.

Boris Johnson will have to look under the cushions of his Harrods couch for the £1.5 billion Scotland was earmarked to throw into the pot to pay for Crossrail.

The Chinese and the Russians might find a way to remove the United Kingdom from the UN Security Council.

Countless millions of Russians will no longer be a matter of minutes away from being wiped off the face of the earth care of a first strike from the British Trident fleet.

5 million people will get the chance to live in a kinder, richer and fairer country where everything is not arranged to feed the voracious greed of the richest 1% of its population.

We are talking something that is absolutely huge here. Monumental. And if it happens, one of the biggest factors in making it happen will be Stuart’s 'Wee Blue Book'.

Surely that simply has to make it the most influential British book in the last century.

It really is quite something when you think about it.

One regular, ordinary person thought it up and wrote it.

Thousands of regular, ordinary people threw in the cash to see it printed and distributed.
 
A million ordinary, regular people took time out to read it.

And now it might just make all the difference.

It’s what they call People Power and there has been all too little of it for far too long.

The Establishment of the 1% really thought they had us all locked down for ever.

Well Stuart, you have proved them completely wrong.

Whichever way things play out on Thursday, you will always have my complete respect.

You have rekindled the dream that the little guy can still make a difference. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR


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 FOUR

SEPTEMBER 2014

STIRLING, SCOTLAND

Boy Masters was only a matter of miles from the rented cottage when he realised that he really needed to take some time out to calm himself down. He brain was racing almost out of control. When he had started our on his drive north from the hotel in Wales, he had still been enjoying a glowing satisfaction at his attack on the media. But during the course of 300 miles of motorway everything had changed. Someone, somewhere had been breathing down his neck all the time without his ever knowing how close they were. Of course he should have known better. Maybe he should have backed out of the mission when Saj Khan had alerted him to the discreet investigations of the Strathclyde Police at the behest of Emma Hope MSP.

But he hadn’t backed away. Instead he had been arrogant and he had mistakenly believed in his own invincibility. Well. He wasn’t so invincible any more. Things had seemed pretty bleak in the dark months he had spent hiding away in his miserable Croydon flat waiting to see which one of the vultures circling overhead would be the first to swoop down and peck his eyes out.

Now those Croyden days seemed like some kind of sunlight idyll. In the course of a few hours he had been named and branded as the most wanted man on planet earth. Christ, they had even found their way to Jeannie. He had completely forgotten the existence of that common little cow and now here she was telling her pathetic bleating story to the redtops. Unbelievable.

And yet it wasn’t unbelievable at all.

The problem was that it was entirely believable. It was a brutally efficient counter strike carried out by people who knew exactly what they were doing. They had taken on board his online tactics and turned them back at him.

They had no proof whatsoever, but it didn’t matter a damn. They could allege anything they liked because they made their claims through hacked e mail accounts. It was actually pretty bloody perfect. He could say nothing to refute the allegations for the simple and unavoidable fact that he was now the most hunted man in the world. And even then, that wasn’t the point. The real point was that each and every one of the revelations represented nothing more than the complete truth.

They hadn’t needed to make anything up or exaggerate. The truth was enough and more. His back story was a treasure trove of dirty secrets. A small bitter smile creased his lips as he pictured the frantic shredding that would be going on in offices on either side of the Atlantic.

It would be long night of ashen faced civil servants and thousand dollar an hour lawyers.

It would be a night for frenzied late night phone calls and checking the small print for what could and couldn’t be buried away under the thirty year rule. He was quite certain of one stark fact which had muscled itself to the front of the crowd: if the authorities had their way, there would be no way in a million years that he would be allowed to be taken alive. Those in the corridors of power in London and Washington would go to any lengths to ensure that Charles Letchworth Masters would never step up into the dock of any public court.

He was toxic.

He would be quarantined.

He would be put down like a hunting dog gone rogue.

He parked up and sat in a gateway to a recently harvested barley field. Bright moonlight cast the stubble in a soft glow. Maybe there would be a frost later. And when the dawn broke in a few hours time it would carry the crispness of autumn.

And then another year would end and a new one would begin. Soon the field would once again be filled with barley swaying in the wind. And skylarks would pick flies out of the warm air. And the world would spin around whilst mankind busied itself with being mankind.

And one day they would come. Man with blank eyes. Men for whom killing had ceased to be any kind of novelty a long, long time ago. Men like he had once been. Men who would do what had to be done without a qualm.

They would put his lights out with the same efficiency that the owner of the field in front of him would harvest his crop of barley.

Not useful any more. Good chap once; a bloody liability now. Went off the rails. Best dealt with quietly.

So.

What to do? Give up or fight the bastards? Well that was a no brainer. He had never given up in his life and he wasn’t ready to start now. Maybe there was an upside. The new era he was about to step into had certain attractions. It would the ultimate game of hare and hounds. In the red corner, the security forces of planet earth. In the blue corner, Boy Masters. It promised to be quite a buzz. A whole new sport to have a crack at.

The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. For years he had been chasing the next high and those highs had become increasingly hard to find. Well the next few months would have no dull moments. He would need to be at the top of his game for twenty fours hours of every day.

It would be a fitting way to check out.

He finished his cigarette and flicked it away into the night and engaged reverse with a new calm. Things were all mapped out. And things were fine. There were still chapters to be written.

When he entered the cottage a little after 3 am, Gordy and Richard were slumped in front of the TV in two armchairs that may well have been the height of fashion in 1957.

“Evening lads.”

Two sets of eyes looked up and registered his presence. Gordy had the glazed look of a man who was swimming in a warm sea of vodka. And Richard? Richard was Richard. Richard had the neutral eyes of a hawk.

Calm. Unblinking. Unjudging. Un-anything.

“Hello Boy.”

“I guess it looks like we’re well and truly rumbled. Time to bug out I think. I’ve transferred all the cash into your accounts. Tell you what though, we didn’t half give the fuckers a run for their money. Not bad going for three old bastards.”

Gordy got to his feet and stretched. “I was wondering what that recording about the mainstream media was all about.”

Boy laughed. “They needed a shock to the system. Bloody hyenas.”

Richard dropped the volume on the TV.

“Warrenpoint, right?”

Boy grinned “Top marks to the man from Accrington. Sorry I never told you. I just couldn’t resist. No hard feelings?”

Richard shrugged. “Why would there be? But you mentioned something about bugging out. Does that mean that the operation is over?”

“Indeed it is. Done and dusted.”

“But the ‘Yes’ side are 53 points ahead in the polls. It just said so on the news.”

“So?”

“So the mission was to get a ‘No’ vote.”

“And your point is?”

Richard shrugged. “My point is that we haven’t completed the mission. Are you telling us to retreat Boy?”

Masters frowned. “Course it’s not fucking retreat. Jesus Rich, look at what we achieved. There are only bloody three of us for Christ’s sake. What we managed was nothing short of a bloody miracle.”

“OK. Fair enough. So we pack up and go our separate ways? That’s what you’re saying?”

“That is what I’m saying. We disperse and we go to ground. We make like the Provo triggermen who detonated the bombs at Warrenpoint. Come on lads, less of the long faces. What we have achieved has been bloody fantastic. Let’s have a drink. A toast in fact. A toast to us. OK?”

Gordy shrugged. A drink was a drink when all was said and done. Richard kept his unblinking eyes on Boy.

“OK. Why not? Let’s have a drink.”

Boy turned and was about to pick up a bottle of scotch when Richard stepped forward and pushed one of their tasers into his neck. 400,000 volts put Boy to the floor like a dropped sack of potatoes. For a moment his whole body twitched and his confused eyes stared up at the nicotine stained ceiling.

Richard and Gordy manacled his hands and feet in plasticuffs and taped up his mouth. By the time Boy’s brain unscrambled itself, he was in an armchair and well and truly trussed.

Richard stood with his hands in his pockets and stared down dispassionately.

“Gordy and I had a chat. We figured that the bomb would be your big curtain call. Christ Boy, your vanity really knows no ends. You have no idea what a complete wanker you are, have you? Anyway. It doesn’t matter any more. We’ve decided we aren’t ready to be defeated just yet. You’re such a shallow twat that you seriously thought that the media were the problem. Bloody typical. Was it the media that got us to execute all those guys in the desert? Was it the media that ordered us to sit by and do nowt whist Lazar Boric murdered women and kids? Was it the media who sent us out into the bush to torture people in Africa? Was it the media who paid us behead whole families in Al Anbar? I don’t think so Boy. I’ll tell you who it was. It was your lot. It was the fucking Establishment. All those good old boys from the big houses and the public schools. The ones who owned all the slave ships and the cotton mills and the oil fields. The ones on the boards of the banks and the hedge funds. It’s the one percent Boy. And you always think you can take dumb fuckers like Gordy and me and point us in the right direction and tell us when to shoot. And who to kill. And who to behead. And then when you decide that enough is enough, you think you can put us back in our box until next time. Quite a speech, isn’t it Boy? Quite a speech from the man who always does as he’s told and asks no questions. Do you have anything add, Gordy?”

“No mate. On you go.”

“On I go. Well I suppose that is the nub of it. Gordy and I have decided to go on. There will be no retreat. There with be no returning to base for a debrief. We’ve decided we’re not going back in the box. And you, Boy? Well I’m afraid life is about to become something of a fucking nightmare as far as you are concerned Boy. Sorry about that, but let’s face it, you bloody well deserve it.”

They had already packed everything they needed away in the back of the Land Rover which meant there was now only one item to be loaded on board: Boy.

Richard gave him another blast with the taser and then hefted him onto his shoulder fireman style and carried him out into the night. Gordy locked the front door and left the keys under a plant pot in the front garden as per the instructions of the letting agency.

They drove for three miles along narrow winding roads which climbed into the hills through blackthorn hedges. They drew into a yard surrounded by long deserted farm buildings. Once the engine was killed, the silence of the night was absolute. Far below the orange lights of a village provided a lonely glow in the midst of an eternity of darkness. Gordy donned a head torch whilst Richard manhandled their comatose prisoner from the back seat. Once again he made like a fireman as he followed Gordy’s beam of light across the overgrown yard.

A wreck of a door hanging off its hinges. A room with half a roof which once upon a time had been home to fifty pigs. Windows with long broken glass. A grimy calendar from 1973.

Another door, this time leading to what had once been a feed store. Not a large room. Ten feet by twelve feet. But this room had been given a makeover. The floor, ceiling and four walls had been covered in snug fitting plywood. The old door had been replaced with a new and stronger door designed to keep out hopeful burglars. The only furnishings were a mattress and a steel bucket.

Richard dropped his human load onto the mattress and the torchlight picked out the burning fury in the eyes of Boy Masters. Richard spoke in a bored tone, all of his unaccustomed passion having vanished during the short drive up the hill.

“So. This is your new home. It’s one that we prepared earlier. Good old Homebase. A bit of a far cry from your country pile in Lincolnshire I’m afraid. We will be nailing up the door so there’s no point in you wasting your time smashing away at it. But have a go if you like. Behind the plywood are stone walls so there’s not a lot of point battering away there either. But. Like I said. Help yourself if it makes you feel better. It might pass the time. There is no light so you best get your bearings whilst you have the chance. See the boxes here. There is food and water. Plenty to keep you going for a few days. You can piss and shit in the bucket. And that is pretty well that. We’ll be off now. I’m going to give you another zap in a moment or two and then we’ll take off the cuffs. I suppose you might find a way of topping yourself if you really put your mind to it, but I can’t see how. There’s nothing sharp, but maybe you’ll find a clever way we’ve not considered. Whatever. Other than that, you’ll just have to sit tight and wait to see who comes through the door. But don’t build your hopes up. It’s not going to be some handy lads with orders to slot you with a double tap to the head. It’ll be coppers who will be taking you away with a view to putting you on trial. We’ll make sure that the press get here a few minutes before the boys in blue. Then you’ll have your day in court to tell everyone your side of things. Best of luck with that. Anyway. We’re off now. I could say it’s been nice knowing you, Boy, but I would be lying if I said that.”

Another 400,000 volts sent Boy back into twitching paralysis whilst they took off the manacles and ripped the tape from his mouth. He lay in the blackness and was vaguely aware of the sound of six inch nails being hammered into the door to his Homebase cell. The sound of the Land Rover starting up and driving away just about made it into the old food store. And then there was a bottomless silence.   

Considering the fact that the media was in danger of breaking news overload as they chased down the leads into the secret world of Boy Masters, it was rather ironic that the consternation of many senior civil servants in Whitehall was witnessed by nobody but themselves.

Of course they had been genuinely shocked by the emerging pictures of the trail of brutality that Boy Masters had blazed over thirty murderous years. And of course they were more than a little alarmed that for much of this time he had been doing his bit for Queen and Country. But there were still plenty of glimmers of light to be found. It was becoming increasingly clear that the very worst of Boy Masters’ crimes had been committed in return for American and Canadian dollars. Those in charge of looking after the brand image of Great Britain Plc were quietly confident that there was plenty of blue water separating Her Majesty’s Government in Whitehall from the primordial cruelty their one time attack dog had wreaked in West Africa and Al Anbar Province. The ‘shoot to kill’ stuff remained safely locked down under the 100 year rule. The business in the Iraqi Desert at the outset of Desert Storm could be brushed over under the old cover of war being war. There was a general view that the Bosnian business could be spun in Whitehall’s favour.

Once Boy Masters resigned his commission in the Coldstream Guards and flown the nest, he had ceased to be one of theirs. Everyone was more than confident that he could be well and truly disowned. Only when he had become a creature of Montreal and Washington did he descend into his pit of insanity. Oh it was thin of course. But the consensus was that they had enough to be able to keep deflecting the worst of the spotlight away from London and over to the other side of the Atlantic.

The fact that Pro-Active Solutions Ltd had worked out of a smug base in Mayfair was tiresome, but little more than that. The fact that this operation had been funded by start up capital supplied by hedge funds set up by old Marlborough pals was also a tad uncomfortable, but when all was said and done it was still manageable.

All in all, the Boy Masters story seemed like it was going to be controllable. The real problems would have to be dealt with in corner offices in America and Canada. In truth, the mandarins of Whitehall had much bigger fish to fry. The unravelling of the Black Clan story had sent the ‘Yes’ vote into the stratosphere. For months pundits had predicted a close run thing when the people of Scotland headed to the polls on September 18th. Few in Whitehall had believed it. Privately they had been quietly confident that there was little or no chance of a vote for Scottish Independence. A decision had been taken several months earlier not to make any contingency plans for a ‘Yes’ vote. Bitter experience had taught everyone hard lessons that such planning would inevitably leak and then there would be hell to pay. Lovingly tendered final salary pension funds would be shredded. Long yearned for knighthoods would be snatched away. It would be best for all concerned to show the world a confident face and rely on the Scots to get cold feet.

Well that outcome was now a complete pipedream. The polls showed that the ‘Yes’ side had broken the 80% barrier and there was no doubt whatsoever what the outcome was going to be. The toothpaste was out of the tube before a single Scottish citizen had cast a vote. And a whole host of pigeons were coming home to roost. In the finance sections of the media, a number of hard questions were starting to be asked. What would the consequences be for the rest of the UK once Scotland’s oil and whisky exports were removed for the balance sheet? What would happen to the pound sterling when the trade deficit suddenly doubled overnight? In the light of the wall to wall outrage north of the border at the Black Clan conspiracy, would the people of Scotland still be willing to share the pound sterling with their southern neighbour? And if they chose not to share, would there be a run on sterling? Before the emergence of Black Clan, there had been a general consensus that it would be no great problem to call a quick post referendum U turn on the currency question in the days after the unlikely event of a ‘Yes’ vote. Now that option didn’t seem quite secure any more. The world was rallying around Scotland as governments from every continent sent their messages of brotherhood and support. It was becoming uncomfortably clear that there would be plenty of international support to help a newly independent Scotland to establish its own currency which would be born with the silver spoon of a huge trade surplus in its mouth.

Somehow bridges needed to be built and they needed to be built quickly. The problem was that nobody in Edinburgh was in the mood to pick up the phone. Callers from London were informed that everyone was in meetings. The Prime Minister’s slow response to the killing of Scottish citizens was not going to be forgiven in a hurry. It had looked bad at the time and now that the Black Clan conspiracy was unravelling at such breakneck speed, it looked a whole lot worse.

And then just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse for the groomed men and women in their oak panelled Whitehall offices, they got a whole lot worse. A telephone rang in the Foreign Office and a junior official from the White House delivered a bombshell into the astonished hands of a junior official of Her Majesty’s Civil Service.

The call was described as a courtesy call. The caller from the White House informed the call recipient in Whitehall that the President of the United States of America was going to be making an unscheduled stopover Scotland en route to planned visits to France, Germany and Poland. No assistance would be required from Her Majesty’s Government in Whitehall. The President’s team was liaising directly with the staff of the First Minister in Edinburgh.

One thirty year man was overheard claiming that it would have been easier to take if the bloody Yanks had dropped a nuke on them. There was consternation. It was as if the Scots were already independent. Every protocol in the book had been torn up. It was an outrage. How dare they!

But they had dared and there wasn’t a thing anyone in London could do about it. Angry calls were made to Edinburgh and once again everyone was in meetings. Eventually a terse e mail laid out the itinerary of the flying visit. Airforce One would be landing at Glasgow International Airport at 1100 GMT. A helicopter would take the President and the First Minister to Gleneagles Hotel where both would enjoy a round of golf on the Kings Course before sharing a private dinner at the hotel with their wives. The President would be returned to Glasgow Central at 0800 GMT the next morning from where he would fly to Paris.

It was seen as the snub to end all snubs and there wasn’t a thing that anyone in London could do about it. Nobody was ready to buy the cover story. People considered the cover story to be a crock of shit. The cover story was that the President couldn’t resist the opportunity of playing the Kings Course in the week before the cream of European and American contested the Ryder Cup.

As if.

Frantic meetings ran deep into the night and a consensus was soon reached. The Americans were getting in their damage limitation early. They were terrified of what was about to emerge about what role Boy Masters had played in the Al Anbar bounty hunting initiative. Of course the fact that the same maniac had turned up seven years later to wreak havoc in Scotland wasn’t down to them. But they would be guilty by association. And there were many millions of US voters with Scottish roots across the length and breadth of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. This was the President getting in early and promising to be the new country’s best buddy.

The bastard.

And with that kind of backing, there would be no obstacles whatsoever to the new country establishing its very own shiny new currency and sticking up two fingers to the Bank of England.

And then the money markets would really start to take a long and hard look at the how the Great Britain PLC balance sheet would look without all of those billions of pounds of oil and whisky revenues. And they wouldn’t much like the look of it. And it wouldn’t be long before they started demanding the same kind of interest rates they were charging the likes of Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Nightmare.

Loosing Hong Kong to the bloody Chinese had been bad enough. But this? This was worse than anything that had ever gone before.    

Both Chad Forrester and Sir Nigel Telford had reached an age where sleep seldom lasted for more than three hours. Sir Nigel’s normal restlessness was compounded by the fact that for the first time in over ten years he was attempting to find sleep in a strange bed. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with his room. The room was appropriate to the four stars their hotel proudly displayed in all of its marketing materials. Their party had checked in a little after midnight and after a nightcap in the bar they had headed to their rooms. At first Sir Nigel had been quite convinced that he would be out for the count the minute his head hit the pillow. The day which had started with a minibus ride north from Cambridge and ended with the meeting in the office of the First Minister had been the most draining day he had known in years.

But the hoped for sleep refused to come. Instead his brain swirled with the events of the last few hectic months.

After trying to coax himself to sleep for an hour he gave up and got up. He killed slow time in front of the news which was still frantic as it rolled through the hours of the night. His attention was only ever half on the screen as he considered the next few hours of his life. One way or another there would be a conclusion. There was no escaping the fact that success now seemed more or less assured. Their mission had evolved. They had started wearing familiar clothes and looking out for the interest of the country they served. But then things had changed. There hadn’t been a single moment when they had decided to rebel against their lords and masters. They hadn’t even discussed it really. Somehow they had all come to the same conclusion at the same time.

There was no point in talking about the worth of democracy for the sake of talking about it. Sometimes you had to make the decision to stand up and be counted. To do something. To actually do the right thing for once.

Had they done the right thing? Oh yes. He was quite certain they had. He was more certain than he had ever been before. And it was perfectly clear that they had achieved their main goal. The people of Scotland would get their chance to vote for something better. And it was eminently clear which way those million of votes were about to be cast. A new country was only a matter of days away.

As the darkness of the night outside his window started to ease, he donned a thick coat and made his way outside. The main reason their hotel was able to get away with charging as much as it did was the fact that its hillside location gave a jaw dropping view of the majesty of the Clyde Basin. He took a seat and wrapped his coat tightly around his tired old limbs and waited for the coming dawn.

“Can’t sleep, huh?”

Chad took a seat and sank his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket.

“Not really. You?”

“Been a long time since I slept all that well, sir. I don’t suppose I have really slept too good since Nam.”

“You have travelled a long road Chad.”

“Guess so. Not as long as yours though. Kathy tells me you were a spook all the way through the Cold War?”

“I was indeed. Almost sixty years.”

“And World War Two before that?”

“And World War Two before that.”

“My daddy was there. Used to call it the Big One. He was a Screaming Eagle as well. One of the first. Normandy. Bastogne. The whole nine yards. He didn’t sleep so good either. Do you think any of it was worth it sir?”

Sir Nigel smiled. How many good men like Chad Forrester had come to him in search of absolution over the years? Too many. Far, far too many. Giles had been one of them.

“I do wonder at times. I expect you are much the same?”

Chad lit up his first Marlboro of the day and the smoke wandered out from under the pulled down brim of his hat. “Yes sir, I do. I’ve been wondering all the way down the line from Hill 937. I was involved in some pretty bad things. You know. Nam. Central America. The guys who sent us out to defend freedom told us that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. But they sure as hell never seemed to be around to see the eggs get broken. For years I tried to persuade myself that I had done the right thing. You know. Done good. I gave up in the end. Did you know I went back a few weeks ago? To Vietnam?”

“No. I didn’t know that.”

“I went back to the A Shau valley. Hill 937. Climbed all the way back up to the top. I had a local guide. Chinn Bao. He had been one of their guys defending the hill. We had only been about twenty years apart at one point. It was good. We sat there for hours looking down into the valley. Talked it through.”

“Did it help?”

“Yes sir, it did. I figure meeting Chinn Bao is the main reason why I’m here. It’s never too late, right?”

“Let’s hope not. Might I tell you a story of my own?”

“Yes sir. You most surely can.”

The sun quietly lit up the sky behind them and the vastness of the view before them slowly emerged. For the first time in seventy years Sir Nigel told the story of the execution of the terrified young German lieutenant in the Bohemian Forest. Of how he had stood by and watched. Of how he had colluded. Played a part. Become a part of the world of Boy Masters. And as he gave words to the horror of a long forgotten event which had been played out in the midst of a world where casual murder had become normal, his voice lost all its usual bounce and became a monotone.

When he was done both men shared the silence of the dawn whilst the smoke from Chad’s Marlboro wandered into the still air.

When Chad finally spoke, it was little more that a murmur.

“You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me.”

Sir Nigel raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Apocalypse Now sir. The movie. You know it?”

“Yes I do. I watched it only last week. I thought the words seemed familiar. Boy Masters is obsessed with Apocalypse Now you know. Has been for years. I think Boy has always dreamed of becoming Kurtz. Maybe over the last few weeks he has achieved his goal? Who knows?”

“Did you ever go back? To the forest?”

“No. Never. I have considered it. But I never found the courage to go back there. Maybe I should. When all of this is over.”

“If you decide to go sir, it would be my great honour to accompany you.”

Sir Nigel smiled. “Would you really? My word. I might well take you up on that.”

Both men had reverted to a comfortable silence when Kathy joined them with a tray of coffee.

“So. This is it then.”

“Indeed it is my dear. I trust you slept well?”

Kathy laughed. “I didn’t sleep a wink. I couldn’t seem to switch myself off. I have a favour to ask. Is that OK?”

“Of course it is.”

Kathy asked her favour and the favour was granted. And then they drank their coffee in silence as the sun rose over the hill behind them.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'THREADS' - MY IRAQ WAR THILLER WITH TOMMY SHERIDAN PLAYING A WALK ON ROLE.


A few years ago when I was writing ‘Threads’, I came up against an obstacle that will be more than familiar to anyone who writes the kind of books I write. My two main characters found themselves in possession of the kind of secret that can all too easily get you killed. Their only hope of getting out of the dire situation they were in was to find a way to get the secret out into the public domain.

The big question was how on earth they were going to do it?

I remember spending several hours trying to find a way to move the story forward. Going to the press certainly wasn’t any kind of an option. This was the kind of secret from the murky depths of the Establishment that the Press would never touch with a barge pole. And it must be remembered that ‘Threads’ was written in the days before Twitter created such a magnificent platform for the whistleblowers of the world.

And then all of a sudden the answer came to me .

Parliamentary privilege.

There are times when Parliamentary Privilege can be the last flickering hope. Any MP or MSP has the right to get to his or her feet and say more or less what they like without having to fear being carted away by men in dark suits and locked away.

In theory this is a truly wonderful thing. In practice it seldom works out that way. Any MP or MSP who chooses this particular nuclear option can pretty well kiss their career goodbye. The Establishment detests whistleblowers with a passion. The Establishment has years and years of practice of squashing whistleblowers like irksome cockroaches.

In my lifetime I cannot remember seeing a politician get heroically to their feet to claim Parliamentary Privilege to expose some dastardly deed. The only reason I know it exists is that it has happened a time or two in books I have read.

Fiction books.

Once the idea of Parliamentary Privilege had climbed into my head, I got to wondering what kind of politician would have the passion and the bottle to get to their feet to start a major tear up.

And then it hit me that there was no need to go to the bother of making up a fictional character to send my tale along to its climax. The very man was already a member of the Scottish Parliament.

The very man was none other than Tommy Sheridan MSP and he was very much a member of the Scottish Parliament at the time. I knew Tommy well enough to have his mobile number. So I called him up and asked if he was OK with the idea of appearing as his factual self in my fictional story.

He was.

So I finished the book and sent Tommy the manuscript which he duly signed off.

The book came out and a few people read it and once again I categorically failed to make like any kind of John Grisham.

And then I got a really bad feeling. For a few months after the book was published, the forces of the Establishment colluded to take Tommy down. For the next couple of years I watched with a distinctly uneasy feeling as the Government, Police and the Murdoch press danced their nasty dance and succeeded in getting Tommy out of Parliament and into prison.

Had some minion from some dark corner of the Establishment read my book and decided that Tommy Sheridan MSP represented a threat to the Realm?

Of course I had no idea and I still have no idea, but it was an uneasy feeling. All of which has made it an utter pleasure to see Tommy come storming back as the most compelling voice of the ‘Yes’ campaign. Two weeks ago I had the great honour of sharing a platform with him in Moniave where he brought a packed room to its feet.

If we get a ‘Yes’ next week, Tommy will have been one of the greatest foot soldiers of a grassroots campaign that has shaken the British Establishment to its very foundations.

Tommy, whether you like it or not, if we get our new country you will be one of the fathers of the nation. You’ll be able to take up your place with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Kwame Nkrumah and Lech Welesa.

Bloody hell, they might even put up a statue one day. That would be the untimate kick in the teeth for Andy Coulson and his ilk.

Well. All of the above makes it seem like a pretty good time to put ‘Threads’ in the free section of the Kindle Store. If you would like to have a read just follow the link below. I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

'TOXIC' - CHAPTER THIRTY THREE


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 THREE

SEPTEMBER 2014

SOUTH SCOTLAND

Boy Masters had just passed the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign at Gretna when the news started to dramatically change direction. Strange tweets had appeared from a number of MPs and senior police officers. Suddenly and out of nowhere there were three names in play.

Charles Letchworth Masters.

Richard Maltby

Gordon Campbell.

Three of the MPs in question were door-stepped by gaggles of reporters. All three did all they could to exhibit genuine confusion about what had happened. They were adamant that their Twitter accounts must have been hacked. But they were also adamant that they had never heard of any of the men in question. However, it wasn’t hard to sense that the tone of the questioning suggested that the reporters had caught the unmistakable odour of lies.

Boy’s face tightened in anger and he had to focus hard on keep his speed to a steady 70mph.

He recognised the voices well enough. Two of the voices had been familiar to him from the days of his prep school. He had more or less drained his last offshore accounts to pay for these three old pals to keep him clear of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

How long would they hold the line? Not long. They were contemptible. He had hated the process of schmoozing them in their clubs. Tiresome memories of long lost public school days washed down by bottle after bottle of exorbitantly priced claret in wood panelled dining rooms. He had played the part of larger than life Boy. Teflon Boy. Peter Pan Boy. 79 to win the match against Stoneyhurst Boy. He had laughed at their pathetic jokes and treated them to conspiratorial smiles when they shared their adventures with favourite escort agencies. He had pretended to share their love for the ridiculous hot pudding served with custard which transported them back to the golden days of their privileged youth.

He had fed their corruption and bought their loyalty which they sold to him at top dollar prices. And they had been true to their side of the bargain as they had worked the technicalities to keep him clear of the glare of the spotlight. But now everything was changing.

Someone, somewhere knew of their backroom machinations. And he could hear the terror in their voices.

But there was no terror in the next voice. It was a voice he had come to know well in his bleak days in the Croydon flat. It was a voice from the closed down coalfields of South Yorkshire. Twenty years in Westminster had done nothing to soften its hard edges. It was the voice that belonged to the man who had been the driving force in the campaign to put Boy Masters in front of the cameras. In full public view. To expose him for what he was.

“No I didn’t send that tweet. Must have been hacked. Don’t ask me how it all works. I get my grandson to do all that stuff. Tell you what though. I know one of them names. Oh aye. Do I ever. Charles Letchworth Masters. Boy Masters they call him. How’s about that for a toff’s name? Marlborough and the Coldstream Guards. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth was our Boy. But he went bad. Very, very bad. I can’t tell you lads all that much, or they’ll cart me straight off to the Tower of London. I’ve been trying for three years to get our Boy in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Thought I’d managed it too. A few months back. But then he just vanished off the face of the earth. But like I said. Most of the stuff about our heroic Boy will be locked down under the thirty years rule so there’s not a lot I can say without getting myself into hot water. Let’s leave it at this shall we? Number one. Do I think that Boy Masters is capable of being behind Black Clan? You bet I do. Number two. You lot claim to be investigative journalists. Well get on and do some investigating. Some digging. I’ll give you a couple of clues. Try 2007. Try Al Anbar Province. Try and find out why everything went so quiet all of a sudden. Anyway, that’s all I’m saying lads. Probably said too much already. I usually do…”

The next MP to be hacked was a Paul O’Shaughnessy who represented a constituency in East Tyrone.

His voice seemed over loud as he gave his statement. It was the voice of a man accustomed to giving speeches to audiences filled with hecklers. It was a voice that made Boy’s face twist with instinctive hatred.

‘I can confirm that I did not post any of the tweets that have appeared on my account. I do not know any of the names who are mentioned in the tweets. If it proves to be true that these men are ex members of the SAS, then it is of course a matter of public record that I have been campaigning for many years to force the Westminster Government to release all the details of the shoot to kill policy that the murderers of the SAS carried out throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s…..”

Next came a freelancer who worked mainly for the Los Angeles Times. A BBC reporter managed to track her down to her home in the outskirts of Seattle.

“No. I most certainly didn’t post any of the tweets.”

“And are you aware of any of the three men who are named in the tweets?”

“No. Not at all. I have never heard of them.”

“One of the Members of Parliament who had his account hacked suggested that we should ask questions about Al Anbar Province in 2007. Does this ring any bells with you?”

A long silence on the line. And then a new tone to the voice. Suddenly the reporter was very careful.

“I think it is well enough known in certain circles that I have been involved in a long running investigation into widespread allegations of bounty hunters operating in Al Anbar during that period.”

“Bounty hunters?”

“Yes. There were many strong rumours that sums of money were put on the heads of the senior Al Qaeda commanders who were behind the Sunni insurgency during that period of time.”

“Do you have any reason to suspect that any of these three British citizens might have been involved in this… this bounty hunting?”

“Not really. There was always a great deal of speculation that those involved must have had a background in the Special Forces. I gather that the allegation is that all three of these men were in the SAS?”

“It is.”

“I see. There is one other thing. There were many rumours in Al Anbar at that time. Some people claimed that the most feared bounty hunter was an Englishman. They called him ‘Shaitan.’”

“Shaitan?”

“The Devil.”

Next came a tweet from the CEO of the Montreal based mining conglomerate, Colmere Holdings. The tweet claimed to remember Boy Masters as an outside contractor who had provided security for one of the company’s more profitable mines in West Africa in the late 90’s. A statement was quickly issued by the company which stated quite categorically that the Twitter account of its CEO had been hacked by persons unknown. The company was however willing to confirm that it had engaged the services of Charles Letchworth Masters to undertake security work at its Mdanga mine. All other aspects of the company’s relationship with Charles Letchworth Masters were subject to commercial confidentiality and there would be no further comment on the matter.

The next hacked account belonged to a social worker in Hull who was clearly extremely bemused.

“Have you ever heard of any of these three men?”

“No. Never. And I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to hack my account.”

“I don’t know if you have heard, the account before yours to be hacked belonged to the CEO of Colmere Holdings of Montreal. They confirmed that Charles Letchworth Masters had been engaged to provide security services at their Mdanga mine in the late 1990’s.”

“Oh right. Christ.”

“Are you familiar with the Mdanga mine?”

“Not now. But I was. When I graduated I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to change the world I suppose. I went out to Africa on a wing and a prayer. I thought the Mdanga mine was going to be my ticket to the big time.”

“Can you tell us more?”

A moment of pause. “I suppose I need to be very careful here. I don’t want any more trouble. I have left all that behind. I’m just a social worker now. I have a family. I can only give you some bare bones. For a while it seemed as if the rebel army was going to overrun the mine. Then things changed. The rumour was that the mine security had upped their game. The word was that they started to take the fight to the rebels. The locals claimed they were sending out search and destroy teams. There were all kinds of rumours. People were scared to death. The word was that when they caught up with rebel groups they……. God… let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I had only been chasing the story for a couple of days when a bunch of men in balaclavas came one night and beat the hell out of me. I was in hospital for three months. Once I was mended, I came back home and became a social worker. I can tell you one thing though. When they had finished beating me one of them leaned down and spoke to me. He told me to keep my nose out. He told me to go back home. And I can still hear his accent. It was English. Public school English. Know what I mean….?”

As he drove by Cumbernauld, Boy Masters snapped off the radio and drove on with a face like stone. Who was behind the hacked twitter accounts? And how the hell did they know so much?

Then he realised that it didn’t matter who they were. All that mattered was that it was completely clear that the game was up. The time had come to get the hell out of Dodge.

And would his beach house in Senegal offer any kind of long term sanctuary?

Not a chance. All it could ever be now was a stepping stone. He forced himself to calm down. He would take it stages. Get out of Scotland. Get to the South Coast. Get to France. Get to Senegal. And then? No point worrying about anything beyond Senegal.

That could all come later.

Now it was time to go into full-on escape and evasion mode.

 

The fact that it was the first time that Sir Nigel had left his Cambridge cocoon in over five years made everything feel like a school outing. Giles had been allocated the task of hiring a minibus and putting together a picnic for the journey north. The holiday feel was further enhanced by their shared delight as the radio told the breathless story of the succession of hacked Twitter accounts which slowly but surely took the listener into the darker corners of the life and times of Charles Letchworth Masters.

By the time they reached the outskirts of Edinburgh, the men and women who occupied the news studios were almost hyperventilating. The story of the public school boy who had gone over to the dark side was almost too perfect. By the early evening newshounds were chasing down a variety of new trails which opened up new and ever richer seams of breaking news. By now there was almost too much for them to keep up with.

Even the long lost Jeannie from Wolverhampton had her hitherto moribund account hacked and much to her evident astonishment she found her small council house besieged by the world’s press. Luckily for Jeannie her mother stepped into the fray and instigated a bidding war between three tabloid newspapers. It cost the winner £25,000 to get their exclusive and by seven o’clock a nervous Jeannie told the camera of long lost days on the beaches of Goa when she had been Boy’s woman. She had dug out her long lost photo of Boy and Leroy beaming to her camera from their table in front of the Khe Sahn café.

Other reporters chased down the forgotten story of the execution of Lazar Boric and his murderous henchmen. Financial experts trawled Companies House for memories of the golden days of Pro-Active Solutions Ltd of Mayfair, Luxemburg and Grand Cayman.

By the time they parked up in the short stay car park at Glasgow Airport, Boy Masters had become an amalgam of Osama Bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal. Although there was no actual proof whatsoever that Boy Masters was the driving force behind the Black Clan phenomenon, the media seemed to already have made up its collective mind about his guilt. He just had to be guilty. He was just such a perfect bad guy that the thought of him being innocent was quite unacceptable. 

Sir Nigel beamed as he worked his way through a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich.

“Well. I think we can safely assume that the gallant Mr Masters is well and truly out of the picture. He is evidently a thoroughly resourceful chap but even he will struggle to find a way out of this particular net. Now we can direct all of our focus onto resolving the Faslane issue.”

They had arrived with enough time in hand for coffee whilst they waited for the arrival of the incoming American Airlines flight from Chicago. Sir Nigel found a quiet corner and placed a call to a voice he had not heard in over thirty years.

He had first met Theodore Berlin when the American had been posted to the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square as the CIA’s second in command. It had been 1984 and the Cold War had still been too hot to touch without oven gloves. Sir Nigel had been given the role of liaising with the new man and they had become firm friends. When Sir Nigel had finally retired, he had accepted an invitation to spend a week with Theodore and his family at the American’s home in Vermont.

Berlin had left the CIA in the mid nineties to make a career in politics and he had been a Senator for ten years.

“Nigel! Wow. It has been far, far too long. I can’t tell you how good it is to hear from you. Please forgive me for not being in touch…”

They did some small talk. The Englishman asked about the American’s family and the American asked about the Englishman’s health.

In the end it was the Senator who took the initiative.

“Something tells me this isn’t a social call Nigel.”

“No. You’re quite right Theodore. It isn’t.”

“Well. In that case I figure the best thing is to just shoot.”

“Maybe it is. Theodore, I hate to be presumptuous, but do you still trust me?”

“Come on. Don’t ask me that. You know I do.”

“Do you believe me when I tell you that I am not senile: that I am still in possession of all of my mental faculties?”

“You sound pretty on the ball to me. Come on friend. Stop dithering. Just hit me, OK?”

“Fine. I need you to speak with the President. And I need you to persuade him to take a person to person call from the First Minister of Scotland at midnight Greenwich Mean Time tonight.”

“Jesus H Christ.”

“Indeed. I cannot go into any details. This is where the trust issue comes in. What I can tell you is that if your President wants to look after the interests of his nation, he really needs to take the call. And there is something else and here is the diplomatically tricky part.”

“Go on.”

“It is vital that the conversation stays strictly between the First Minister and the President. London doesn’t have to know about it. In fact London mustn’t know about it.”

There was a long silence on the line that felt like it stretched all the way across the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Theodore Berlin knew there was no point in pretending that he didn’t have the kind of access required to have such a conversation with the leader of the Free World. Both men knew that he was one of a select band who could make a call and be granted five minutes of the President’s time. Sir Nigel decided it would be a good idea if he were to break the long silence.

“If you do this Theodore, I can absolutely promise that you will be doing the very best thing for your country. I think you know me well enough to believe that I would never lie to you about something like this.”

“Yeah, I guess I do. No point in trusting someone if you dump the trust the moment things get hairy. OK. I’ll do it. I’ll call at twenty three hundred Zulu and I’ll let you know if it’s a go or not. If it’s a go, we can get the tech people talking with each other and set the thing up.”

“Thank you Theodore. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

“Hell Nigel, surely you didn’t for a minute think I wouldn’t play ball?”

“No Theodore. I didn’t. We will speak at the appointed hour.”

The board announced the arrival of the American Airlines flight and Giles made his way to the designated waiting area whilst Sir Nigel stayed in the café. When the Forrester family emerged from Customs control, Giles couldn’t help but smile at how completely American they looked. Chad was two stones lighter than the Chad who had visited the Peace Camp in May, but he still cut something of a dash with his soldier’s gait and Stetson hat. He was holding the hand of a fine looking grey haired woman and flanked by two tall sons, one of whom was pushing a trolley laden with the family’s luggage.

Kathy was out in front of the group looking frayed but triumphant. Nigel had sent her to Missouri with barely a string to her bow. All she had was her conviction and her youth. They had no guns in their armoury to coerce Chad Forrester into joining their cause. All they could hope to win the day with was a gut feeling that they could make a successful appeal to the better angels of Chad’s nature.

Sir Nigel had been adamant that the task was for a young person. A person untainted by the grinding realities of the world. A person still capable of hope.

Kathy.

And now she was returning home with a great victory under her belt. She beamed as she spotted him and much to his surprise she enveloped him in an embrace.

Chad waited patiently with a small smile. Giles disentangled himself from Kathy’s unexpected affection and extended a hand.

“Hello Chad. Welcome to Scotland.”

“It’s Giles, right?”

“It is.”

“Giles this is Louise, my wife. And my two boys, Dale and Holbrook.”

Hands were shaken and smiles exchanged.

“Please come. I’ll take you to Sir Nigel.”

When they arrived at the cafe Sir Nigel also received an unexpected embrace before being introduced to the family. He hung onto Chad’s bony hand and looked long and hard into his eyes.

“I cannot tell you how good it is that you are here, Chad.”

“It’s good to be here, Sir. Real good.”

Traffic was light as they mad their way into Edinburgh and the castle was framed in the last crimson light of the day. When they arrived at the Parliament, Emma Hope was ready to meet and greet and fast track them through the formalities. Inside the corridors of Scottish power were empty and the lighting was turned down low. They made their way through the warren to the office of the First Minister where the lights were still burning bright.

Introductions were made and coffee was served with warm shortbread. They took seats and killed a few minutes with small talk. Everyone pretended to be at their ease, but nobody was. A wall clock ticked down the minutes with painful slowness. At twenty to eleven, the First Minister decided that they could all use a dram and nobody disagreed. Old malt splashed into heavy tumblers and slow minutes ticked by.

Sir Nigel’s phone rang at four minutes to the hour. He glanced at the caller I.D. and nodded to the waiting group.

“Theodore. Hello. Oh that is marvellous. I cannot begin to convey my gratitude. Good. Splendid. Just let me get a pen. OK. Fire away. Excellent. Yes, right away. Of course. We’ll speak later.”

He hit the end button.

“Well, it appears we are all systems go. Here is the number for their technical people.”

The First Minister suggested that Emma should do the honours. She collected the piece of paper and hurried from the room.

Soon eager technicians were setting up the room. A camera was pointed at two chairs where the First Minister and Chad were miked up and sound tested.

“Have you ever spoken with your President, Chad?”

“No sir. I can’t say that I have. I have to admit that I’m getting kinda nervous here.”

“You’re not on your own. Believe me.”

At five to midnight the screen burst into life giving a live view of the Oval Office. Both sides checked that the other side could see and hear and then the most recognisable man on the planet took his seat and gave his trademark smile to the screen.

“Good evening First Minister.”

“Good evening, Mr President.”

“I guess I should start with some introductions….”

The Secretary of State and the White House Chief of Staff said their hellos.

“…. And this is my old friend, Senator Theodore Berlin.”

“Good evening everyone. Might I ask if Sir Nigel is there?”

“Yes. Sir Nigel is right here.”

“Good evening Nigel.”

There was a slight moment of awkwardness once the introductions were complete. The First Minister was aware that the call was down to him so he took a long, deep breath and dived headlong into the icy waters.

“Mr President. This is Chad Forrester. He is an American citizen and I think it is extremely important that you take a few minutes to hear what he has to say. Before I hand over to Chad, I will give you his details so that your people can check on his authenticity while he is talking. Is that agreeable to you?”

It was. The First Minister dictated the various numbers that would give fast track access to the story of Chad’s life.

“So. Chad. I think the floor is all yours.”

Chad was surprised by how calm he felt. He remembered how everything had once upon a time slowed down in the moments before a fire fight as the adrenalin coursed and turned the world around him into slow motion.

He realised he had reached what would be his final rendezvous with destiny. Hill 937. HMNB Clyde. The Scottish Parliament.

“Good evening Mr President.”

“Hi Chad.”

“Sir, I think it will be best if you will allow me to tell my story. I figure it will take twenty minutes or so. When I’m done you can ask any questions you may have. Is that agreeable, sir?”

“Quite agreeable. You take all the time you need, Chad.”

Chad took the time offered. He laid out his story in the way he had been trained by the instructors at West Point. He fired out the facts. It was a post operation debrief. And when he was done, the four faces on the screen were rigid with shock.

“My good Lord.” The President leaned back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling for what seemed like a very long time. Finally he brought his head down and resumed his eye contact with the camera. “Chad,  I want to thank you for your honesty. I know it must have taken a lot. You have served your country well this evening. You should know right here and now that there will be no recriminations. I can see that you are a true American, Chad. Every step of the way you have done everything in your power to act in the interests of America. I understand this. You have my respect sir. And you have my protection.”

“Thank you sir.”

“Now. First Minister. I don’t figure you would have made this call if you didn’t have a proposal for me. Am I right?”

“Yes Mr President. You are quite right.”

“Then I guess we best hear it.”