CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR
SETTING UP THE LONG CON
The Gambian Civil War exploded into its hideous life in the early months of 2028. It only took a matter of days for all sides to start to plunge the depths of medieval brutality. The country was already on its knees. Starvation was widespread on the back of three years’ worth of pitiful harvests. More of less every penny of income the meagre economy managed to produce was grabbed by the President's thugs and duly wired out of the country to various off shore accounts.
The civil war meant extreme nastiness as the President and all his men fought to hang onto what they had and most of the rest of Gambia fought to get it off them. It was a war of guns and machetes and the rest of the world rubber necked the whole thing with familiar horror.
When things finally became too precarious in Banjul, the President jumped on a helicopter in the dead of night and two days later he turned up at his £50 million mansion in Hampstead.
An uneasy, fractious peace managed to establish itself and the UN voted to keep it. Nobody was surprised when Scotland committed the Scots Guards to don blue helmets and deploy to West Africa. In the years since Independence Day, the Scottish Army had become a firm favourite at the UN. The new country was viewed with affection all over the world and the quiet professionalism of its soldiers was widely respected.
In Gambia, the Scots kept the peace with soldiers from Kenya, Nepal, and Chile. By the time Edward Montford invaded their homeland they had been in place for just over a year.
France was in charge of the deliveries of emergency food. A distribution centre was established at Kaolack airport which was a few miles across the border in Senegal. Every day convoys of trucks ran sacks of grain to the Scots Guards compound where the food was re-packaged and sent out into the countryside.
A convoy of twenty trucks rumbled into the compound just after three o'clock in the morning. One by one the engines were killed and slowly the silence of the baking hot night settled with the dust.
Marc Romaine jumped down from the lead truck and stretched out his limbs. He passed a cigarette back into the cab for the driver and lit one for himself. He inhaled the familiar smell of Africa along with the smoke and both tasted pretty good.
A tall figure strode towards him with an outstretched hand.
“Yes. You must be Colonel Henderson.”
“I am. It is a pleasure and an honour, sir. Come this way please.”
Already ten fork lift trucks were off loading pallets and stacking them in an open sided warehouse.
HQ was a rather dilapidated old building built way back in the dying days of British rule. The wall of Henderson's makeshift office sported a faded calendar showing off Firestone's 1954 range of tyres.
“Have a seat, sir? You'll be ready for a coffee I expect.”
Coffee was served by a sun burned Private who looked like he was about thirteen.
Tin mugs and sugar straight from the packet. Marc managed not to wince as he took a sip. For the love of God. The British and their coffee.
“Thank you, Morris. So, General, I gather you have more or less come straight from Fort George. How did you find things?"
“Things are good. High morale. Everything is on track. Are your men ready?"
“And raring. When do you want to get on the road?”
“As soon as you are ready. I think we should be moving before first light."
“Of course. I can't see any problems. I will get the ball rolling.”
Once each of the trucks was emptied of its cargo of wheat, a replacement load filled up the space.
Forty men to each truck. They wore no uniforms. The only baggage they carried was a five litre bottle of water to keep them hydrated.
An eagle eyed watcher of a satellite view of the compound might possibly have noticed one or two things which were different from the norm. As a rule, grain deliveries came in from Kaolack on flatbed trucks. Tonight the convoy was made up of curtain sided trucks. But why on earth should anyone pay any heed to such an inconsequential detail?
The convoy rolled out of the main gate just as a blood red dawn was lighting the sky. Three hours later eight hundred profusely sweating passengers jumped down from the trucks and jogged across the tarmac to board the French Army cargo plane which had flown in the relief supplies the evening before.
The plane took off into the growing heat at 9.33.
Eight hours later it landed at the Evreux Fauville Air Base where a rather more comfortable convoy of eighteen coaches collected the Guardsmen and drove them to the naval base at Brest
By ten o'clock they were out like eight hundred lights on the floor of the base's gymnasium.
Marc had flown north from Kaolack in rather greater comfort. His President had splashed some cash on a Gulfstream to take him to Africa and back and within seconds of sinking into one of the deep leather seats he was snoring.
Three hours later he was in Corsica and being driven to Camp Raffelli by a murderous looking sergeant who had joined the Legion to escape a gang feud in Manila.
“They say we are to be deployed, Mon General?”
At Camp Raffelli he showered and exchanged his civilian clothes for combat fatigues and spent four hours with Lieutenant Colonel Roget and his senior team. Then it was time for full dress uniform and the mess hall where the 813 men of the Second Legion Parachute Regiment hammered at their tables as he took his seat.
He looked out across the room and felt the adrenaline surge through him. 813 cropped heads and tanned faces. Men from seventy three countries all bound together as one. These men had overcome every brutal hurdle the Legion could put in their path. First, they had made it into the Legion itself. Then they had made it into 2 REP.
The elite who didn't acknowledge the word surrender.
March or die.
Too fucking right.
He rose to his feet and the thundering sound of hands hitting the tables reached a new crescendo.
Marc waved for silence and got it. It had been years since he had commanded 2 REP but it didn't matter. He was theirs and they were his.
“Legionnaires. Tomorrow we will be setting out for Scotland. We are not supposed to be going there, but we are going all the same. So fill your glasses.”
813 hefty tumblers were filled to the brim with the rough red wine which was served every night to wash away the desert sand.
The General's eyes gleamed as he raised his tumbler.
"Legionnaires, we're going to go and fuck the English Army up the arse!!"
The wine was drained. The tables were slammed. And for the next two hours the room shook with a familiar playlist of songs. They sang out at the top of their voices. Songs of Camerone and Dien Bien Phu and Kolwezi. Songs of heroic victories and defeats in places the world had barely heard of.
By ten Marc's head was spinning and the ash tray in front of him was overflowing.
“It is enough for me Jean. I will see you in the morning.”
He took one last look at the men of 2 REP and grinned.
“God help those English fuckers when this lot arrive on the field of battle.”
“I think they will need rather more than God, mon General.”
Angus Campbell's escape from Bute House on the night of the invasion was hardly down to luck. It was down to me and Wendel and Alf. Well, mainly Wendel. We got Angus to Fort George and from there he was able to start sticking spokes in English wheels.
The fact Suleiman Khalidi was in a position to do the same was pretty well entirely down to chance. His Georgian home in Edinburgh's New Town had been high on the SAS list. When the designated troopers crashed through the front door at Zulu plus one, they found nobody at home other than two hissing cats.
Instead of being asleep in his Edinburgh bed, Suleiman was very much awake and seven hours into an epic game of backgammon in a suite at Gleneagles Hotel. His opponent was Roger Frederick, the Governor of the Bank of Scotland.
The two men had become close friends as the relationship between Scotland and Qatar had bedded in. They had discovered a mutual obsession with backgammon and from time to time they would meet up to play. Their wives would go to bed and leave them to it through the quiet hours of the night.
Suleiman was just about ahead when Angus called him from the cafe in Balerno.
“Are you at home?”
“No. I'm we're up at Gleneagles with Roger and Jane. Why on earth do you ask?”
Suleiman's brain reacted to the news of the invasion with its usual measured clarity. He called Angus back half an hour later and asked to speak with me.
“Hi, Sam. I think we could do with the services of the hacker you told me about. Can you fix it?"
I could and I did. My takeaway loving friend was on the case within Zulu plus two hours. Roger Frederick was able to furnish him with the access codes for the Central Bank's main computer systems and within minutes they were all changed.
When a team from the Bank of England arrived the following morning, none of the codes for the front doors were working. A team of explosives experts was required to get the men from London into the bank. Once they were inside, they found all the power to the building had been shut down. It took a full day to hook the wiring up to a generator and nobody was remotely surprised when it became clear access to all computer systems was denied.
Suleiman used the time my hacker bought him well. Over the course of 48 hours, he hectored and harried a number of officials who broke all records to set up a new bond issue for the State of Qatar. At Zulu plus 47 hours, the newly issued bonds were good to go. On the order of the First Minister and his newly constructed Cabinet, Roger Frederick took every last penny of Scottish Government reserves and used the cash to purchase Qatari Government Bonds.
£796 billion worth.
And with a few taps of a keyboard in a Gleneagles suite, Scotland's treasure was lifted out of the reach of Edward Montford's grasping hands.
Ten minutes later Angus spoke truth to angry power.
“Sorry Edward. More bad new I'm afraid. It all just keeps going wrong, doesn't it? First, you lose 30% of your electricity. Ouch. I gather you're having to ration it out. That must be getting people seriously pissed off. It gets pretty hot without air conditioning, don't you think Edward?
'Well, I guess I better tell you things have just taken a pretty serious turn for the worse. As of five minutes ago, the Scottish Government has purchased £796 billion of Qatari State Bonds. I gather they have an account with Credit Agricole in Paris. So when your guys eventually manage to cut their way into our vaults, they will find a whole lot of nothing. Zip. Zero. There's no treasure, Edward. It's all gone. What an absolute sickener. Maybe you shouldn't have made so many promises to your people about all the baubles and trinkets you were going to buy for them with all the stolen Scottish gold. I guess you better come up with a new story. Best of luck with that, Edward. Let me show you another video before I go. It is our parade ground. Look at how many more guys we have now. We are almost up to two thousand. And we're waiting, Edward. We're waiting."
The two DGSE men had been hiding in their chosen Yorkshire hawthorn bush for nearly thirty hours when something finally happened to break the tedium. The hide gave them a fine view of a shallow valley where grain fields lay either side of the A1. For thirty hours there had been nothing to see which was worth making a note of. Traffic flowed silently north and south. At no time was it particularly heavy. Above them, small groups of sky larks fluttered about the place. A couple of jaded rabbits gave the watchers the once over before getting bored and hopping away. And all the while the sun hammered down causing a deal of low cursing.
And then in the late afternoon of their second day, there was something worth noting down. All of a sudden there was no more traffic on the northbound carriageway. Then a clutch of eight police cars came and went.
And then the first convoy came into view. They started to upload live footage to a satellite somewhere tens of thousands of feet above them.
“You're loud and clear Team Three.”
“You getting this?”
“We are. You're picture perfect.”
Convoy One. Over a hundred trucks, armoured personnel carriers, and tankers. Two infantry regiments?
Convoy Two. Fifty low loader wagons, their loads tied down under tarpaulin. Fifty trucks. Artillery Regiments?
Convoy Three. Not so hard to guess. Sixty low loaders carrying sixty battle tanks in full view. Sixty trucks.
Convoy Four. Trucks and armoured vehicles. Probably more infantry.
Convoy Five. All trucks. Supplies.
In the DGSE command room, they analysed and assessed the footage and made calculations. Then they made the call to Wendel.
“What do you have for us?”
“There are five convoys. At the present speed, the first will be with you between 0100 and 0400. Your target is convoy three. ETA 0230 to 0530. Total length, 800 metres. 100 hundred vehicles in all.”
Wendel clicked off and nodded to seven waiting faces.
“Looks like it's showtime guys.”
As the huge English Army ground slowly north up the A1, the stream of trucks bringing supplies into Fort George started to thin out. The analysts in Northwood made their calculations. Satellite images showed a total of 653 deliveries to the new seat of the Scottish Government. Well over 200 of the trucks had made the journey cross country from the vast weapons store in the caves of Coulport. Hastily written computer programmes suggested the garrison had sufficient food, water, and weaponry to hold out for between three and four months. But the men in command were unconcerned with the estimates. The bombardment they were planning would see an end to things within a few days. Maybe a week. Maybe even a fortnight. Three to four months? Not a prayer.
The satellite pictures showed the delivery vehicles making their way through several security checks and into a large storage warehouse which would soon be target number one for every artillery piece and battle tank of the English Army.
What the satellite pictures did not show was what was happening inside the storage warehouse.
What they missed was exactly the same thing as they missed in the Scots Guards compound in the Gambia. Supplies were off loaded and replaced by men. Over the course of three days, over sixteen hundred of the men who had appeared on the First Minister's video of the parade ground were no longer to be found in Fort George.
As Angus Campbell told Edward Montford he wouldn't be getting any Scottish treasure after all, the defences of the great fortress were manned by a force of less than three hundred.
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