I AM IN BLOOD STEPPED SO FAR
Valerie Latour was dragged from agreeable sleep by the sound of her mobile phone.
“Good morning Madame President."
She could sense the amusement in the voice at the other end of the line. Henri Jardin, Director of the DGSE. Her forever insubordinate chief spook.
“Fuck off Henri. I'm not in the mood. What is it?”
A chuckle suggested her pre-dawn grump hadn't caused any offense. "I have just sent you an e-mail. You'll find it is worth getting out of bed for."
“Fine. I will call you when I have seen it. You're at the office?”
She threw on a gown and stomped into the kitchen to get the coffee machine going whilst at the same time lighting up the first cigarette of the day.
By the time she had watched the YouTube video from the Balerno cafe for the third time she was very much wide awake.
Cigarette number two. Speed dial.
“Henri, I need you to call me with whatever we have on these Holbrooke Securities people in no more than half an hour. Fifteen minutes would be better.”
Shower. Clothes. Coffee number two. Cigarette number three.
Jardin was back in seventeen minutes.
“Give me a minute Henri.” Pen. Notepad. “OK. Continue.”
“These are a few bare bones. I will have much more in a couple of hours. Good enough?”
“OK. Holbrooke Securities. Privately owned. We are pretty sure the majority shareholder is Hayden De Koch. South African. White. Lots of blood on his hands from the Apartheid regime. He's in his mid-seventies now but he's still a real bastard. We have come across him a few times in Africa. He is a provider of mercenaries to the highest bidder. Tends to work for mining companies. I'm amazed he's not on the top ten most wanted list. There are all kinds of allegations of atrocities and torture. If Angus Campbell is right, the English have really scraped the bottom of the barrel."
“OK. That's enough for now. Be in my office in forty five minutes. And find Marc Romaine for me and get him to Paris.”
By the time Henri Jardin was shown in she was onto cigarette number five.
“Sit down Henri. There's coffee in the pot. Eat if you wish. Any news of Marc?”
“There is. You are lucky. He is attending a conference. I expect him anytime."
Five minutes later there was a knock on the door and General Marc Romaine snapped into the room. Valerie couldn't help but smile at the contrast between the two men. Jardin was all smooth urbanity whilst the General was a collection of rough edges. In the three years of her Presidency, she had learned to trust the opinions of both of them.
“OK. What can you tell me?”
Romaine shrugged. He had watched the video, nothing else.
Jardin took the floor. "I have talked with our people in our Edinburgh Embassy. It is too soon for much detail, but everything seems to back up what Angus Campbell said."
“Marc. The operation. Assuming it is all true. What do you think?”
Romaine lit up what for him was cigarette number two. “My first thoughts? It is impressive. A surprise strike. Not too complicated. Not too many moving parts. It seems like the English have used their special forces. I hate to say it, but I am quite impressed.”
“Will it work?”
“Maybe. Allowing Campbell to escape was a huge mistake. So long as he is free and broadcasting, it is hard for London to claim any kind of victory. From a military point of view, sure, the English have won. That's it. Politically? Maybe not?”
The three of them worked through a variety of potential scenarios for the next two hours as the news of the massacre of civilians slowly started to take shape. A secretary knocked and entered.
“Madame President, there is another video. Shall I play it?”
When the short film wound to a close Romaine chuckled. "My boys will love that. Seven hundred of them and they're giving the finger to the whole of the English Army. Maybe we should make them all honorary Legionnaires."
Valerie barely heard him. She was already lost in thought. Again there had been mention of Holbrooke Securities. Could it really be true? She had despised the English Prime Minister from the time they first met. He made her skin crawl. But this? Would he really pay mercenaries to set his own capital on fire?
“OK. Back to basics. Henri. Why are they doing this? What is the main reason? Give me your best guess."
“My best guess? I think they are running out of cash. Like I said before, we have been hearing plenty of whispers. They have been scouring the world for anyone willing to buy their bonds for the last month. It looks like there were no takers. London is desperate for three things right now. Electricity, water, and money. Scotland has all three. The England First Party has fuelled a lot of anti-Scottish feeling. It all makes sense if you think about it. If Montford can join the currencies and take all the Qatari cash into the Bank of England....."
He finished the sentence with a shrug. They all got it. No more budget deficit. A surge in the value of the integrated currency. No more power and water shortages. Public rage fed. It was all horribly logical.
Valerie thought aloud. “Yes. You are quite right. And if Angus Campbell hadn't got away, things would have looked very different. Montford would have been able to keep control of the news cycle. There would have been no mass protests because by the time the people of Edinburgh woke up to what was happening the paratroopers would have already been in control. It was almost a perfect operation. I wonder who betrayed him?”
Henri picked up the thread. "I have been thinking along the same lines. The betrayal is strange. Think about it. If the traitor had alerted the Scots, they would have been ready and waiting. The SAS would have been hopelessly exposed and they would have failed completely. It seems clear they were not expected. The special forces were able to secure all of their targets with complete surprise. The traitor seems to have done one thing only – he got Angus Campbell out of Edinburgh and all the way to Fort George. It is very strange."
“Put yourself into Montford’s shoes, Henri? What are you going to do next?"
France's top spy took a moment to consider. "They are not shoes I would much like to wear. The massacre has changed everything. The English have watched what Turkey, Israel, and China have got away with and thought, OK, why not us? But now there is a big difference. There was no bloodshed in any of the recent invasions. All those dead civilians will change everything. There will be huge global condemnation. Things might fall apart. Will his party stick with him? Will the Parliament allow him to continue? He is in a very dangerous position I think. He needs to finish things very quickly before events run away from him."
“And what does finishing things quickly look like?"
“He needs to take Angus Campbell out of the picture as soon as he can.”
“Marc? Can he do this?”
“Not easily. Fort George is 300 kilometers from Edinburgh. No way he will have any assets in the Fort. You need to take a look at this place Madame President. It really is a Fort. As far as I can see, he has only one option. Air strike. If what we are hearing about the takeover of the Leuchars air base is true, the Scots have no air force. England owns the skies. If he is desperate......"
Valerie sat and absorbed. Both her advisors knew to leave her be. It was how she rolled. After two minutes she snapped back to life and lit up cigarette number eleven.
“OK. My mind is made up. France is going to help. Marc, is there a way we can warn Campbell of an imminent attack from the air?”
“Sure. Why not? If you can get permission from the Norwegians, we could put one of our AWACS surveillance planes into their air space. We would see the English planes from two hundred miles out."
“How quickly can this happen?”
“You make the call and we can have a plane in position in under two hours.”
“Fine.” Five minutes proved to be plenty enough time for her to sweet talk the Norwegian leader. Marc had a plane in the air twenty minutes later.
“Good. Excellent. So here is what we will do next. I am going to schedule an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council tomorrow morning. France will propose a no fly zone covering the whole of Scotland and a demand for an immediate English withdrawal."
Henri Jardin gave a low whistle whilst General Marc Romaine grinned. Valerie continued.
“I do not expect the English to withdraw. I don't think Edward Montford can afford to withdraw. He will have to find a way to attack. And Marc, I need you to find a way for France to make sure he fails. I am not planning to return to the wars of Napoleon. I want you to come up with the kind of plan you have used in Africa. Do you understand?"
“Yes, Madame President. I understand completely. Low numbers, maximum impact. Give me 24 hours. I will need to get to Fort George. I presume you will be talking to Angus Campbell. Tell him to expect me."
“How will you get there?”
“A fast helicopter about ten feet above the waves. You will need to call your friend in Oslo again."
Every eye was on him. Boring into him. Every eye in the room.
The Prime Minister focused on sitting perfectly still.
They had watched the Fort George video in grim silence. And he knew the soldiers in the room must have secretly admired the way the seven hundred men of the Black Watch had roared their defiance.
He could feel the hate. And he could understand the hate. These were proud professionals. These men and women had dedicated their working lives to the English Army. And they were proud of their service.
In a matter of minutes, everything had changed. After the massacre on the streets of Edinburgh, the English army would be forever sullied. The men firing into the packed crowds had not been raw conscripts. They had been the elite. 22 Regiment Special Air Sevice. The best. The most admired. The most respected.
But not anymore. From this day forth they would be known as murderers. The whole of the English Army had been tainted.
No wonder every pair of eyes in the room was filled with hate.
And there was more. He could sense the question each and every one of them was asking themselves. Who was Holbrooke Securities? What was Holbrooke Securities? What had Edward Montford done?
He forced himself to sit for a further five minutes. And then he slowly rose to his feet.
“General Moore. I need a room. Calls to make.”
“Of course Prime Minister.” Spat out words. Like pieces of gristle. Rotting prawns.
He was given a room. As soon as the door closed he collapsed into a chair and rubbed at his temples. He wrenched out five Oxys with shaking fingers. He swallowed and closed his eyes and knew he would have to wait several minutes before calming opiates soothed his rising panic.
His rising terror.
For twenty minutes a line from Macbeth had been playing through his brain on a constantly repeating loop.
“I am in blood stepped so far, that should I wade no more returning were as tedious as go over.”
Stepped so far. My god, had he ever stepped so far. Death Squads in Hackney. Roasted corpses in Kings Cross. Murdered civilians on the streets of Edinburgh. If he stopped now he would be tried and convicted as a monster.
Because he was a monster. How had it happened? How could it have come to this?
He angrily brushed aside the beginnings of self-pity. He hated self-pity.
In blood stepped so far. It was a mere statement of fact. He was already well past the point of no return. There was only one way forward. Somehow he needed to find a way to win.
At any cost.
A victory could still win him the backing of the people. Millions and millions of them. And if victory meant they could have a shower whenever they liked and afford to pay the electric bill, then they would forgive him more or less anything. Victory would mean a chance. If he backed away now he was done for. He had seen the look in all the eyes. If he backed away they would want to see his head on a pole.
His lips cracked into a small smile as the Oxys started to kick in. He took out his phone and picked out a number. As he hit 'send' he gave himself a pat on the back for making sure he had a fall back plan lined up. At his last meeting with Charles Lampitt, he had seen the growing weakness in the MI5 man. Lampitt was soft. Pathetic.
So Edward Montford had taken care of his own contingency planning.
The call was picked up on the fourth ring.
“Execute as we discussed.”
“Within the hour.”
“OK. It's done.”
Stepped so far.......
He buzzed in his cabinet colleagues and General Moore. By the time they joined him the opiates were like a suit of armour.
“Sit down please.” Good. The old snap was still in the voice.
“Obviously things have not gone as planned. So be it. No point crying about it. Now we need to regain control. Every time Campbell makes one of his broadcasts our country is humiliated. I will not accept it. General Moore, I want an air strike on Fort George as soon as you can achieve it. And you will keep hitting Fort George until there is nothing left. Am I understood?"
“Yes Prime Minister.”
The general checked his watch. "There are a lot of logistics. This wasn't a part of any of our plans. Maybe we can manage two strikes today? By tomorrow we should be a position to launch rolling strikes. Fort George is a difficult target. I will take some time to fully neutralise the position."
“Make sure we hit him today. We need to show the world we mean business. Campbell will lose his swagger once we light him up. By this time tomorrow, the world needs to know there will only be one winner in this war. OK. Arrange it. I need some time with my colleagues. Thank you, General Moore."
Davie Fisher's day had been no different from just about every man, woman and child in Scotland. He had been pulled from a light sleep a little after five by a call from his sister and ever since he had been glued to his computer. Of course, he hadn't believed any of it at first. Nobody had. It had to be some kind of super elaborate hoax. Only when the First Minister addressed the nation from a kitsch cafe did Davie start to be convinced.
And then the troopers from his old Regiment opened fire on swirling crowds of protesters. A small part of him was torn up with instinctive sympathy for the poor bastards who had been put in a position where they had no choice but to open fire. A much larger part of him was filled with rage at the man who had signed the order to put them there.
He made calls to his old bosses at Al Jazeera and asked them if they wanted a freelance man on the ground. They did. Of course, they did.
He was getting his stuff together when he heard the heavy knock at the front door. A parcel? Some neighbour asking after a lost cat? He wasn't expecting anyone. As soon as he opened up he realised he really should have been expecting someone.
Omar and Faisal and Tariq and Nazir and Moses. The famous five. The boys from the Calais Jungle. Only they were no longer boys. Now they were fully grown men and all looking fit from working on building the new hydroelectric plants in the mountains.
It was the boots they were all wearing which started to give the game away. The temperature was already touching eighty. It was a day for sandals or light running shoes. So why were the guys all wearing heavy mountain boots? Davie had an inkling.
“Well, this is a surprise. Come on. In you come."
Omar spotted the half-filled bag. The camera equipment carefully arranged on the kitchen table.
“Are you going somewhere, Davie?"
“Edinburgh. Al Jazeera has hired me on as a man on the ground. Coffee lads?"
“No thanks. And I don't think you should go to Edinburgh.”
“Oh really. You better enlighten me. Where should I be going, Omar?"
“We have been watching the news. The invasion. What the English have done.”
“We have talked. We are Scottish now. Scotland is our country. So we must fight. We think you should fight with us.”
Davie blew out his cheeks and sat on a stool. “Bloody hell lads. I'm fifty four years old. Can't you just leave me to be a reporter?”
Omar grinned. He had noticed the flare of excitement in the eyes of his old friend. “No. Not an option. You need to take us to Fort George. Tell them who we are. What we can do. How we can fight. They will listen to you.”
Davie smiled. “Maybe. I know JJ a bit from back in the day. We bumped into each other a time or two in Iraq.”
“He's the Colonel in command of the Black Watch. I guess he will be looking for all the help he can get. Do you have anything in mind?”
“The English will need to drive their army all the way to this Fort George. They will need to drive through many mountains. I know how to make this a drive of death. Like before. I still remember the lessons I learned with my uncle Akram."
And Davie could remember the lessons he had learned about David Stirling and the bunch of adventurers he had talked into becoming the first version of the SAS. Just a few crazy guys in Land Rovers and they had managed to wreak absolute havoc to Rommel's supply lines. And he thought of all the corpses on the streets of Edinburgh.
Not such a hard decision then.
“Fair enough. I'm in. Just don't expect me to keep up. Grab yourselves a brew. I'll be ready to roll in ten minutes.”
And now all five of them were smiling. But they weren't the kind of smiles they might have switched on when watching their kids play football. These were very different smiles. And Davie Fisher was suddenly very glad indeed he wasn't an English soldier.
The boy soldiers were about to be men soldiers.
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