CHAPTER THIRTY ONE
FRIENDS IN NEED
Eleven o'clock in the morning in Fort George. Angus stood at the window and watched the activity outside which mainly seemed to involve heavily sweating soldiers and sand bags.
“Excuse me sir, you have a call.”
“Oh. Thanks. Who is it?”
“The President of France, sir.”
“Valerie. Bonjour. What a pleasant surprise.”
A forty a day chuckle. “You sound very upbeat for a man whose country has just been invaded.”
“Well, you know. Always best to stay on the bright side.”
“I have been watching your speeches, Angus. In fact, I am a little jealous. I didn't know you had it in you to be this kind of William Wallace. Not bad for a solar panel salesman."
“Nice of you to say so, Valerie. Anyway. Tell me about the view from Paris. I presume you have a few thoughts?"
He heard the sound of a clicking lighter. “Of course I have. I think the people of France have been rather inspired by your fine words. We always love it when anyone looks London straight in the eye and tells them to fuck off. My experts think this new version of Angus Campbell is quite deliberate. Are they right?”
“They think you are being deliberately provocative to win the hearts and minds of the people of the world.”
“Something like that.”
Another chuckle. "Well Angus here's the good news. Your Braveheart act has won over your friends in France. We have made our minds up to be on your side. We have decided to stand up and be counted. We are going to put on our white hat and do the right thing."
The First Minister of Scotland punched the air. "And of course all those tankers of water to Marseilles and Nice would have nothing to do with your much appreciated support."
“Good Lord, no. When does France ever act out of pure national interest? What a terrible thought, Angus. You disappoint me."
“I apologise for my unforgivable cynicism. What kind of help do you have in mind?"
“Well, I don't think it would be a good idea for France to start a full shooting war with England. We need to be more subtle. Tomorrow morning France is calling an emergency meeting of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. We will propose the whole of Scotland should be deemed a ‘no fly zone’."
“Why would anyone support it? There has been no English air activity at all.”
“Not yet. My people think they will attack you today.”
Angus grimaced. "My people think the same. Every man and his dog here are busy filling sand bags."
“Very good. And you must keep your head down. I would hate for anything to happen to my favourite world leader. I hate to tell you this, but you are the key to everything."
It was Angus's turn for a chuckle. "My, my. I'm flattered. Don't worry. When our English friends built this place they weren't messing about. The walls are about half a mile thick. What are the chances of your proposal going through?"
“It is all arranged. I have made the calls. The USA, Russia, and India will all vote to support the motion. China will abstain. Our aircraft carrier 'Charles De Gaulle' is already headed for Scottish waters. President Buchanan has ordered the 'Nimitz' out of Norfolk. The Russians are confident the 'Kuznetzov' will join us by the end of the week. Believe me, Angus, after today you will not have to worry about any more English planes."
“Valerie. I'm lost for words. Thank you.”
“No need. What is it you say? A friend in need is a friend indeed?”
“Next. By the early afternoon, we will have one of our AWACS planes close to you in Norwegian air space. We will be able to see the English planes as soon as they are within 300 kilometers of Fort George. We will warn you."
“One more thing. General Marc Romaine is on his way to you. He will be leaving Norway in a helicopter at about three o'clock. Please don't shoot him down. He is my very favourite general. And don't let him frighten you. I could say his bark is worse than his bite, but that would be a lie.”
“What will he need?”
“Just share ideas with him. Like I said, France is not about to declare war with England. But we are willing to help so long as our role can be..... discreet. Yes. Discreet.”
“We'll be waiting for him.”
“So, I think that is all for now. We will stay in touch. I have only one condition.”
“Ah. The catch.”
“No. I don't think so. When you re-enter the Parliament in Edinburgh once the English have been driven out, I would like to be by your side. I think it will look very nice for the cameras, don't you?”
“Maybe even a vote winner?”
“Oh what a wicked thought, Angus.”
The great exodus from Scotland's capital started in earnest two hours after the SAS opened fire. By noon every road heading west and out of the city was close to gridlock. The English paratroopers could do nothing other than stand and watch as a vast snail's pace traffic jam started to empty out Edinburgh. The social media was awash with offers from the people of Glasgow. And Paisley and Greenock and Dumbarton. Hundreds of thousands of spare rooms were made available to those fleeing the capital. Reception centres were set up in sports halls. Volunteers flocked to help out in open air kitchens.
By the middle of the afternoon, the centres of every town and city in Scotland were filled with flag waving crowds.
By the early evening, Edinburgh was close to being a ghost town. The English general in charge of the city ordered a curfew and by midnight the streets were empty of all life.
When the mass flight had started, Edward Montford had demanded it should be stopped in its tracks. His Generals had asked him just how they were expected to achieve such a thing? They had a force of less than 4000 on the ground. An estimated 400,000 people were on the move. Did the Prime Minister expect the Paras to start shooting them?
Montford backed down.
When Roland Dixon became the new editor of the Guardian in October 2028, he had received a substantial pay rise. His wife Elaine had insisted their improved family circumstances should be put to good use. It was time to move out of London. It was time to take their nine year old son to a better place to grow up. A safer place. A place where there were dairy cows and the sound of cooing pigeons. A place far away from crime wave sweeping through London.
The new mortgage more or less killed them, but it was worth it. What was the price of safety after all?
Their new home was a small cottage which lived at the end of a short track. It had a quarter of an acre of land and a copse of trees. It was well hidden from an outside world which was slowly getting darker by the day.
It was a sanctuary.
Or so they thought. Rural isolation proved to be no kind of protection from the Holbrooke Securities men who arrived in the heat of a baking hot afternoon. Before either of them really knew what was happening, Elaine and Thomas Dixon found themselves tied and gagged on the floor of a van.
An hour and a half later they were filmed cowering in a basement and the film was sent to the mobile phone of Roland Dixon, the editor of the Guardian.
The phone rang as he was trying to take in what his eyes were telling him. An electronically mangled voice in his ear.
“We have your wife and child Mr Dixon. If you go to press with the Holbrooke Securities story, they will both die. They will not die well.”
Dixon played the horrifying 32 second video six times. Then he forced himself to calm down.
Then he started working out how he was going to use the invasion of Scotland as a valid reason for putting the death squad story into cold storage.
And Edward Montford's most pressing nightmare was duly kicked into the long grass.
“The planes have taken off, Prime Minister.”
General Moore checked his simple steel watch. “Just under an hour.”
“Six in the first wave. Ten in the second wave which will take off in ten minutes. Like I said. It will be tomorrow before we can launch a more meaningful attack.”
“Fine. Keep me posted.”
Jackson put the phone down.
“They're on their way. The French reckon forty five minutes. We best get into the shelter.”
“Fine. You all set, Sam?”
“I hope so. We'll find out soon enough.”
For the last hour, Wendel and I had been wiring up three webcams which we hoped would provide dramatic footage of the now imminent air strike.
The shelter was the main armoury which was encased by ten foot thick walls. Jackson was adamant the defenses were strong enough to withstand anything short of a nuclear strike. Thankfully the Trident missile programme had been wound up when the newly independent Scotland served an eviction notice on Faslane.
To be honest, I was pretty much a quivering bag of nerves. The main reason for this was the blindingly obvious reason. I was basically a nice middle class girl from Morningside who had experienced one or two scary moments in my life.
I most certainly hadn't been at the sharp end of an air strike complete with very loud noise and lots of high explosives. It didn't matter how many times the grown-ups in the room assured me the walls were more than thick enough to withstand anything Edward Montford could throw at us. I was scared stiff.
Getting everything in order for my first live online broadcast was something of a welcome distraction. I am OK at social media, but I couldn't have managed to get things set up and ready without the help of one of the Black Watch communications guys who proved himself to be a dab hand.
When the French AWACS told us the strike was three minutes out, I went live. By now my number of Twitter followers had grown to over a million as rubber-neckers from all four corners of the world looked to me for the next instalment of the unfolding drama. My Twitter page guided visitors to my Facebook page where I broadcasted live to the watching world
“This is Sam Keating of the Guardian. I am speaking from one of the shelters at Fort George. We are expecting an air strike any minute now. The mini-screens will show footage of the attack from three webcams we have set up. Everyone here is hoping the ancient walls of the Fort will be thick enough to keep us safe. I guess we will find out over the next few minutes....."
Two of the cameras went dark care of the first missiles. The third survived and beamed out pictures of the havoc wreaked by twenty four incoming missiles. Inside the armoury the noise was appalling and clouds of dust were shaken loose from the ceiling. We were all coated in grey and reduced to racking bouts of coughing.
But we lived.
The second strike did for my third camera. This time there was barely any dust left to fall on us. The sound of forty more missiles assaulted our senses and then the vast noise died away.
Our French eyes informed us there were no more approaching planes and we emerged from the shelter blinking and smeared with dust. Falling masonry had caused three broken bones and one soldier lost the sight in one eye care of a sliver of flying stone.
Ten more men of the Black Watch suffered cuts and bruises.
Three of the outer walls were breached.
But nobody died. We had ridden out the storm.
It was the only air action of Edward Montford's war.
From here on in it would be won and lost on the ground.
Davie Fisher drew his people carrier to a halt thirty yards short of the main gate as the last light of the day was thickening into night. Ahead of him, six sets of eyes and six aimed guns had him lined up.
“Best if you lads stay put.”
He stepped out with his hands well clear of his body.
“OK if I approach?”
“Make it slow. Hands high.”
He made it slow. When he was five yards from their nest of sandbags they told him to stop.
“Do me a favour lads and get me JJ on the blower.”
“Aye right. In your fucking dreams pal.”
Davie grinned. “Come on guys. I'm not the English army and let's face it, there's not exactly a lot happening. He'll be well pissed off if he hears you've fucked me off. Just tell him it's Davie Fisher from Basra.”
He stood and sweated for five minutes until the wooden gates swung open.
“Go straight ahead. He'll be waiting.”
Colonel Jackson was indeed waiting with his arms crossed and a wry smile.
“Well bugger me. This is a blast from the past. You here as a journo, Davie?”
“Nah. I'm done with all that. Let me introduce you to some pals of mine.” He waved the passengers from the people carrier. A rather bemused looking JJ Jackson shook hands with them one by one, duly noting their firm grip and callouses.
“OK, JJ. You're a busy lad, so I'll be brief. By my reckoning, Edward Montford is going to be driving his army all the way up here to kick your arse. It is going to make sense to give the bastard a bloody nose. Slow him down a bit. Fuck up his supply lines. I'm talking real old school here. You know. David Stirling, Land Rovers, biting the Afrika Korps in the arse. See where I'm coming from?"
“Maybe. On you go.”
“So right here you have the best blokes in Scotland to make it happen and we're volunteering our services.”
“You're pretty cocky. You best explain.” Colonel Jackson was already more than a little interested. There was something about the five guys who had climbed out of the people carrier. Something in their eyes. Something in the way they carried themselves.
“Fair enough. Omar, Faisal, and Tariq fought for the Taliban for nigh on four years. You'll have heard of the guy they fought with. Omar's uncle. Faisal and Tariq's dad. Akram Kebir. Ring any bells?"
“I thought it might. Nazir fought for the Free Syrian Army in Idlib. Moses was with the Lord’s Resistance Army for years. Once upon a time, they were child soldiers. Now they are men. And now they are Scots and they are ready to step up. On the drive up I worked out we have twenty five years of combat experience between us. And it isn't just any combat experience. These lads are born and bred guerrillas. They know all about planting IEDs and setting ambushes. You will remember well enough what a nightmare Akram Kebir was. Well, Omar here was the tech guy in the group. Believe me JJ, we're going to be a serious fucking nightmare once we get stuck into them."
Jackson considered for less than thirty seconds. Then he realised this was a gift horse he had no intention of looking in the mouth. He grinned and walloped Davie on the back.
“Good to have you on board. Come on. We're actually kicking things around right now.”
Cool stone corridors took them to the room where Wendel, Alf, and Marc Romaine were gazing down at a map of Scotland in a cloud of smoke. The Colonel announced his guests and asked Davie to make his pitch again. All the while the Frenchman watched him with a question in his hard eyes.
“I know you. I do not remember where from.”
Davie gave a sheepish smile. "I remember you as well General. Chad. 2023. I was the reporter you were so pissed off with. You tied me up and locked me up in a corrugated iron shed for two days before flying me out."
Romaine smiled. “Of course. You were a pain in the arse. I don't like reporters.”
“I figured as much. Luckily I'm not here as a reporter. Today I'm a soldier.”
“You are old.”
“You're not exactly a spring chicken yourself.”
Romaine's ferocious scowl remained in place for a few seconds before being replaced by a grin.
“C'est Bon. Touché. I like the look of your friends. They look like my kind of bastards."
Cold drinks were passed around. Wendel completed a round of handshaking.
“Well boss, a few minutes ago the Scottish Army lacked any Special Forces. Not any more, right? Looks like we now have a force of eight. Two bricks, right? More than enough to light a few fires.”
For the next six hours, they threw ideas at each other across the table. And slowly but surely a plan evolved.
As dawn broke they met with Angus who had also been up all night.
JJ made the introductions like a proud father and the First Minister couldn't help but inwardly shudder as he shook the hard hands and met the even harder eyes.
“What do you need me to do?”
“Well, I think you probably need to sign off. These guys are going to wreak some very serious havoc. We need to know you are OK with it."
“Too right I am. Montford took the gloves off the minute his army opened fire on Scottish Civilians. So long as you stay within the Geneva Convention, you have my blessing to do what you like."
“Good. I will have admin draw up some papers for you to sign. Now. I need you to make a call.”
The call was to the owner of a garage in Inverness who held the franchise for Toyota. Angus told him some of his people would be visiting to collect two Land Cruisers and he should send the bill to the Scottish Government c/o Fort George.
The garage owner was waiting for them in the growing light of the dawn. And like Angus before him, he shuddered at the sight of the eight men. As they loaded their gear and drove away, the Toyota guy recalled a line from Apocalypse Now. The captain of the boat bemoaning his fate.
“My orders say I'm not supposed to know where I'm taking this boat, so I don't. But one look at you and I know it's going to be hot, wherever it is.”
Amen to that.
He watched them leave the car park and head west.
Three hours later the two vehicle convoy was waved through security and into the vast caves of Coulport. Once upon a time, Coulport had been London's very own Hall of the Mountain King. The vast caverns had provided a home for the UK's stock of Trident missiles. Now it was where the Scottish Army kept its stocks of arms and explosives.
When the two vehicles left an hour and a half later they were well and truly loaded up. In Glasgow, they made one final stop at an electrical wholesaler where Omar did all the buying and the others pushed the trolley and carried the bags.
By mid-afternoon they were back on the road and headed south.
Locked and loaded.
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