CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
EDWARD MONTFORD'S WORST DAY
The garden was 4 am quiet. There wasn't a breath of wind and a vast heat was draped over the city. How hot was it? It had to be at least eighty. The first hints of dawn were offering a vague hint of red to blend in with the orange glow of a million street lights.
The Prime Minister was half slumped on a bench in his shirt sleeves. He knew he really should be trying to snatch at least a couple of hours to fortify him for the day. But sleep was becoming increasingly elusive. When had he actually slept in a bed? Christ. Weeks ago.
Once his wife had stormed out of Downing Street to take up permanent residence in their house in the country he hadn't bothered with the bedroom. What an ultimate bitch she had become. Her absence was actually a blessed relief, though the tabloid speculation about the state of their marriage was a bloody pain. So be it. He had bigger fish to fry. Maybe it was something for him to have a cosy chat about with Hayden De Koch. What price would Holbrooke put on getting rid of a PM's wife? The thought brought a small bitter smile to his skeletal face.
He was far too lost in the thought to hear the approaching footsteps of his older brother.
“For fuck's sake Edward, this is getting beyond a joke.”
Montford wearily turned his head to take in his older brother. Sixty seven now and still a picture of fucking health. And of course, he had his usual smug look. Edward had never met anyone as smug. Big brother Giles had been a smug prick from the moment he filled his first nappy. For years he had grown fat from treating London's army of oligarchs from his Harley Street surgery. The scum of the earth who chose the safety of London to stash their dirty money. £500 for a thirty minute consultation.
“What is getting beyond a joke, Giles?”
“Phone calls at three in the fucking morning, that's what. Get to fucking Downing Street. I've just about had enough of this Edward.”
Another flash of a bitter smile. "Oh isn't life tragic, Giles? Sit down and for Christ's sake stop the bleating. Have you got them?"
His brother sat and passed over a pack of Oxycontin. And now he adopted his concerned doctor voice. "I have done the maths Edward. You're using over 20 a day. This is a serious addiction. You know this?"
The Prime Minister popped three pills from the sleeve and swallowed them. "Yes, Giles I know. And I know it isn't any kind of problem, because when I need a re-supply all I need to do is call my big brother and he will come trotting over like a good chap and sort me out. It's not like I have to go out shoplifting to feed the habit."
“It would be ethically wrong for me to....”
“Oh fuck off with your ethics Giles. You don't know the meaning of the word.”
“Well if you're this way out I might as well....” The doctor made to get to his feet but was eased back down by a claw like hand on the shoulder.
Edward closed his eyes for a moment and eased back his rising anger. His temper was becoming a problem. In truth, it always had been. The constant flow of opiates through his bloodstream allowed him a degree of honest self-evaluation. He had been a bully at school. He had been a brat with his parents. He had beaten two wives. He had raged at his children. He was brutal with staff. It was odd really. He had been blessed with everything most people could only dream off. The rich family, the expensive education, good looks, sporting prowess, Oxford, the City. And now the top job. And yet he had never found a way to stop being angry all the time. His fuse never lengthened.
Twelve months earlier he had been really bad. As the riots spread across the country he had been at a constant boiling point. Through those dire weeks when it looked like the country might completely disintegrate, he had driven himself through day after day with tumblers of vodka. Not that heavy drinking was anything new. He had been a drinker for as far back as he could remember. Both of his wives had at times screamed the word alcoholic at him in their rage. He had always ignored them. Air head bitches. But in the summer of the riots, he had been forced to accept the truth as he ran through at least a bottle a day.
In the third week of the crisis, a gnawing pain in his gut started to pick him apart. He called his brother who told him he had an ulcer. He needed less stress, more rest and a decent diet. Oh. And no booze. And the Prime Minister had screamed at his older brother with a face twisted in rage. Time off! What fucking planet are you living on? Maybe you haven't noticed, but this fucking shit heap of a country is about to go all the way down the toilet and I am the fucking Prime Minister so don't talk to me about fucking time off you smug fucking prick.....
Giles had shrunk from him with a look of disgust. The look had been like cold water. The rage eased back a notch. His brother dug into his case and pulled out a pack of Oxycontin.
“No more than 5 a day. They'll keep the pain in check. Once things settle down, you will need proper treatment.”
Another sleeve of pills.
“These will deal with the ulcer. Four a day. Eat better. Get more sleep. I would prefer it if you found another doctor.”
As if that was going to happen. And very soon Edward Montford discovered the thing he had been waiting for all his life.
He found his God.
The Oxycontin took all his rage and ordered it into a controlled fury. He regained control. The gnawing terror of failure fell away. He achieved a clarity. Better still, he found he could do what needed to be done without any kind of remorse. When he had shaken the hand of Hayden De Koch, he had done so without a second thought. The Oxycontin took away all the fear. Every last vestige. He became unstoppable.
He could sense the hate in his brother. Time to find some common ground.
“Come on Giles. Sticks and bloody stones. It's just a few pills. Hardly the biggest problem in the world right now.”
This provoked a vague sort of grunt.
“Anyway. There are a couple of things I need to go over.”
“You need to start liquidating everything. Stocks, bonds, the lot. Mum as well. Do it over the next three days and for Christ's sake be discreet. Get Johnny Fraser to handle it. Move everything into US dollars and put it all in the Antigua account.”
“Here. This is a letter giving you power of attorney to do the same with my assets. Like I said. Maximum discretion. If this leaks I'll be totally fucked.”
“What's going on Edward?”
The Prime Minister stared up into the slowly lightening sky. "It's the tipping point, Giles. Things might go one way. Or they might go the other. It's the time to get ready for a rainy day."
And then Giles Montford did something his younger found to be profoundly surprising. He smiled.
“A rainy day? I don't think we need to worry ourselves too much about the prospect of a rainy day. Check the weather forecast if you doubt me. They don't seem to think it will ever rain again. Don't worry about the money business. I'll sort it. I actually turned everything into dollars a few months ago.”
The Prime Minister bark out a laugh. “Quite a vote of confidence in your brother.”
Giles got up and left without saying goodbye. Edward resumed his upward gaze into the growing light of the dawn. A tipping point? More like last chance saloon. His 8 o'clock meeting would be as good an indicator as any. He wasn't remotely optimistic about the outcome, but sometimes things could work out better than expected.
Christ, he was tired. The first Cobra meeting of the summer had finally ended at 2 am. For hours they had watched footage from all over the country and hoped against hope the new tactics would work. They had all known the riots would kick off again. It was a 'when', not an 'if'. This time they were determined to be prepared. New plans were signed off and waiting for the day when the growing heat once again ignited the streets. Previous protocols meant the police slowly escalated their response whilst carefully following the letter of the law at every step. Now things would be different. All forces had been ordered to deploy maximum force at the first sign of disorder. They were to go in hard. And they were to film it. The footage was to be made available for the rolling news straight away. With luck and a following wind, the images of a new uncompromising police approach would be enough to stop the riots from spreading.
As it turned out, the first riot of the summer had kicked off in Huddersfield a little after three o’clock the previous afternoon. A fifteen year old boy had been arrested for shop lifting. The police had beaten him when he tried to run away and within minutes a group of over fifty had gathered. Stones were thrown and two cars were set on fire. The West Yorkshire police drove straight into the gathered crowd with two well protected Landrovers. Three rioters were hit and badly injured. Police in riot gear jumped out of the back the vehicles and started dropping bodies to the ground with tasers. The street was cleared in under thirty seconds and for a while an air of optimism started to grow among the men and women of the Cobra committee.
The hope didn't last for long. Within forty five minutes a much larger mob formed on Huddersfield's main drag. A pitched battle raged for over an hour and when it was all over, seventy three rioters and twenty one policemen were hospitalised. Three rioters were killed.
The youngest was eleven years old.
As the baking hot afternoon drifted into a baking hot evening it, seemed almost as if the country was holding its breath. Would the pictures from Huddersfield make other towns think twice? Maybe. At eight o' clock the streets of England were still quiet.
At 9.15 Wolverhampton started
At 9.35 Salford joined in.
Lincoln, Hartlepool, Oldham, Stevenage....
By midnight the country was on fire again.
When he dismissed Cobra, Edward Montford knew in his bones the tipping point had all but arrived.
Just before five. Maybe he could manage a couple of hours of sleep on the couch? By now the opiates were smoothing away all the sharp edges.
At seven his alarm dragged him back to life. He took three more Oxys and a long shower. A white shirt. A regimental tie. Suit. Hard, dull eyes in the mirror. A rattling bag of bones in an expensive suit.
He had decided to have his eight o'clock meeting in the Cabinet Room. Make the greedy bastards feel special. A sterling silver coffee pot and a selection of freshly baked pastries.
Two more Oxys and some charm.
“John... Roger …. Thanks so much for coming …. please.... have a seat …. both of you keeping well I hope....”
John Moore. Chief Executive Officer of Barclays Bank PLC
Roger Case. Chief Executive Officer of HSBC.
Two self-styled masters of the universe who were getting ready to up sticks and leave town. Two men who were about to desert the misery of London and move their operations three hundred miles north to boom town Edinburgh.
Two filthy bloated rats readying themselves to jump ship.
Edward poured coffee and offered cakes and radiated assurance. They all sat at the Cabinet table. He cut to the chase with an easy smile. He mentioned a little Dickie bird who had whispered in his ear. Maybe Barclays and HSBC were about to do a bunk. Surely not....
One look at their faces told him all he needed to know. Of course, he knew their plans. But now he could see from the determined set of their jaws they had no intention of changing their plans. But he had to try. He had to give the dice one final roll.
He offered a sweetheart tax deal. He offered to back date ten years. He offered everything he had. He even offered them both a Knighthood. All he got was shaking heads. They were sorry. They really were. But London had become impossible. They couldn't recruit. All their best people were disappearing to Paris and Frankfurt and Dublin.
And Edinburgh of course.
People were scared. They were scared to send their kids to school. They were scared to drive to work. Their wives were scared to go out to the shops. Overseas clients were scared to come to London.
Maybe in a few years, they might look at things again. But now? No. Sorry. Just not an option. Not now.
He walked them out and kept a fixed smile all the way. Once they were gone he felt like smashing up his office but took three more Oxys instead.
On the dot of nine, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came in from the house next door.
“How did it go?”
Montford shrugged. “Like we thought. They're going and nothing we can promise is about to stop them.”
The Chancellor sank into a chair. “Fuck.”
“Indeed. What about the bond issue?”
Edward asked the question but in reality, there was no need. One look at the grey face was more than enough.
“About as bad as it gets. We've put out feelers all over the world. We've hinted at a three point premium over US 'T' bills and nobody wants to know. I don't think they want to know at any price.”
“Not even answering the phone.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Montford snapped out of it first. “Have your people finished work on the contingency plan yet?”
“They have. It's a nightmare, to be honest."
“No surprise there then.”
They had known for a few months the day would come when nobody in the world would be willing to buy English treasury bonds. The budget deficit had become overwhelming. Tax rises were out of the question. The only option would be austerity measures the like of which nobody had seen since the 1930's. A team of Number 11 boffins had been working up the wish list of nightmares.
“So go on.”
“Well, we both know there isn't an ounce of fat to be trimmed anywhere. And tinkering at the edges isn't going to achieve anything. There's no way we can avoid going to the IMF for some kind of bailout. What we need to do now is get ourselves into some kind of acceptable shape. Were we to go cap in hand now, they would laugh in our faces. So we need to cut the big stuff. We need to cut and cut hard. There are a hundred small measures, but these are the things which will keep the house from falling down. All pensions down by 30% - that's the state pension and all public sector pensions. £50 to see a GP. The first £500 of the cost of any operation. £200 to be picked up by an ambulance. No free school meals. No capital expenditure. A straight 10% off everything with the exception of the police of course."
“Like I said. A bloody nightmare.”
“OK. Fine. Nothing I wasn't expecting if I'm honest. Leave it with me. I will have my thoughts organised for the cabinet.”
The punches kept coming. Left. Right. Head. Guts. Head again. And by the evening half, the country would be out of the streets again.
A tap at the door. His secretary looking like she was about to have all her teeth yanked out.
“Sorry Prime Minister. It's Sir Charles Lampitt. He says it's urgent.”
“Fine. Send him in please.”
Lampitt entered along with a hint of the usual cologne.
“Hello, Charles. Something tells me you're not about to make my day better."
“I fear not Prime Minister.”
The spymaster sat and carefully arranged the creases of his trousers and eased the cuffs out from the sleeves of his jacket.
“The floor is yours.”
“Yes. I rather think it is. I'm afraid I have alarming news. I have just been given the transcript of a meeting held in the offices of the Guardian yesterday afternoon. A whistleblower in the Department of the Environment has leaked all the Holbrooke material. All of it. Contracts. Invoices. It seems the paper has engaged the services of some ex-military types to conduct surveillance on Sellafield and Hinkley Point. So basically they know. All of it."
Montford felt like his bones had been deep frozen. He drew in a slow breath and ordered himself to stay composed. He tried to ignore images of a future which was suddenly roaring towards him like an express train in the night.
Handcuffs. Hard eyed policemen. Concrete walls. A metal toilet. Behind a screen at The Hague.
“When will they publish?”
“Everything is with the lawyers. They want two weeks to look under every rock."
“Is there a chance the lawyers will tell them not to publish?”
“Not in my opinion. Not a chance in hell.”
“Anything we can do? Some kind of 'D' notice?”
“No point. They would merely put it online and the whole world would be reading within seconds.”
“So, two weeks?”
“Thank you, Charles. I will be in touch."
Lampitt slid from the room leaving the Prime Minister alone with the antique clock on his desk.
The tipping point wasn't in the future anymore. The tipping point was here. He swallowed more pills and rested his eyes.
He was down to his last few chips. The time had come to go all in.
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