CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
Zulu plus fifty.
Northwood Command continued to have the feel of a firm of chartered accountants. The Prime Minister had used a trip to the Gents to load up with four more Oxys. He had rediscovered some of his inner calm. So Campbell had slipped the net. So what? What could he actually do? Nothing. Maybe he would have week or two as some kind of twenty first century version of Bonnie Prince Charlie. If he did, then so be it.
A flicker of movement caught his eye. A young female officer with a sense of urgency. News for the General in charge. A frown. A turning down of the mouth.
Quick march to the seat of the PM.
“We have just found something. On YouTube. We're getting it up on screen now.”
Edward nodded. Crossed his legs. Waited.
And then the bloody reporter from the Guardian was addressing the camera. Operation Barn Owl was thrown out into the ether for all the world to see.
When Angus Campbell took her place Montford's blood turned to ice. It was like the bloody man was staring straight at him all the way through cyber space. Which was ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. He felt the heat spreading up his neck and into his brain. Everyone in the room was glancing from screen to Prime Minister and from Prime Minister to screen.
And there it was. Like the festering corpse of a poisoned rat. Thrown down on the table for all the world to gawp at. To recoil at.
And every political instinct in Edward Montford's body silently screamed at the screen. You can't throw out an allegation like that! It breaks every rule in the book. There is a way we go about things. But as soon as the thought entered his mind it was kicked in the teeth by blaring reality.
There was no normal. He had ordered an unprovoked attack on Scotland to balance the books. Normal had gone out of the window at Zulu plus one.
Already he started to re-write his address to the nation which was scheduled for noon. Could he still cite the fire as a valid reason for launching Barn Owl? Maybe. He needed some space to get his thoughts in order.
The video ran its course and an almost embarrassed silence settled through the room. All eyes were on him. Was there judgment in all those staring faces? Were these men and women buying into what Angus Campbell was selling? He needed to say something. Anything. He needed to let them know who was in charge here.
“When was this posted?”
“Eight minutes ago.”
“Have we any idea where he was?”
“No, sir. First impressions? It looked like some sort of cafe area. Could be anywhere. Maybe there is enough to I.D. the location but by the time we do he will be long gone."
“Fine. A mere sideshow. I assume there is nothing here to affect the operation?”
“From a military point of view, no. Nothing whatsoever. Politically? Not my thing sir.”
Was there something in the man's eyes? Was he judging? The holier than thou piece of shit.
“Fine. I need to get onto this. I am returning to Downing St. Keep me posted.....”
A cleared throat. He hadn't even noticed Charles Lampitt.
“Not a good idea Prime Minister.”
“What do you mean, not a good idea?”
“I think you need to stay here for at least the next three or four hours.”
“I see. Please explain why.”
“Campbell's video is already going viral. In the next few hours, it will become one of the most watched posts in the history of YouTube. The Guardian also has the piece up. In less than half an hour just about every man, woman, and child in Edinburgh will be awake and watching. Then they will want to see if it is really true. Human beings are inquisitive. In an hour's time, there will be thousands on the streets and they will not be long in fanning each other's outrage. How many? Impossible to say. I would expect hundreds of thousands. For the next four hours, all we have on the ground in the city is a force of eight hundred. 3 Para are not due to land until six o'clock. The earliest we can expect them to start to reinforce the SAS teams is seven and that will be a hell of a stretch."
“What are you telling me, Charles?"
“I expect you are going to make a tough call sometime in the next ninety minutes. The only way the SAS will be able to hold back the crowds will be to open fire. They have no riot control equipment. No rubber bullets. No CS Gas. All they have is live ammunition. My view? I think you are going to have to make the call sooner rather than later. If the crowds become too empowered, there will be nothing else the soldiers on the ground will be able to do. They are only carrying a limited amount of ammunition.”
For a long minute, Montford was sure he was about to throw up. It took all his will power to force the rising bile back down from whence it came. He managed to hang on to his self-control.
“I understand. I will stay.”
Lampitt was proved right within minutes. The people of Scotland's capital filled up the streets in their thousands. Soon the SAS teams were facing down ranks of angry, swearing faces. The first stones and bottles flew at 5.25. The pressure of those at the back of the crowd straining for a view forced the front ranks ever closer to the ashen faced troopers.
By 5.45 am it was clear the lines couldn't possibly hold. By now YouTube was filling up with jumpy images of the growing chaos.
The General broke the silence in the room.
“Sir. I think it is time.”
Montford nodded. “Tell your men to take whatever action they deem to be required.”
The first shots ripped through flesh at three minutes past six. Zulu plus 143. Absolute mayhem reigned for the next twenty minutes as troopers fired into seven separate crowds. Ninety three were killed by gunshot wounds. Seventy two were crushed in the ensuing stampede. Hundreds were injured. Over the next week, the death toll rose to over 200.
By the time a motorcade of vehicles carried the men of 3 Para into the centre of the city, the streets were all but deserted. Operation Barn Owl was supposed to have achieved its goals without a shot being fired in anger.
Things hadn't worked out that way.
The internet all but exploded with hundreds of home movies of the massacre. By mid-morning outrage was pouring down on London from all corners of the world.
Bernie successfully landed his helicopter at Fort George just as the crowds were starting to fill the streets. Jackson was waiting for them with folded arms and a face creased with concern.
“Welcome to Fort George sir.”
Hands were shaken, introductions made.
“I think you best come with me, sir. Things are not looking good in Edinburgh."
Wendel hung back with his pilot as the Colonel lead Sam and Angus away.
“So what's it to be mate? You have a once in a lifetime chance of being a country's one man air force. Fancy it?"
“Piss off. I've had enough batshit craziness for one morning thank you very much.”
“Where are you headed?”
“I've got enough fuel in the tank to get to Norway. I reckon I'll hang out there for a week or two.”
“Fair enough. Thanks, mate."
They embraced quickly. The New Zealander had a brief urge to be completely stupid and stay. Better sense soon prevailed.
“Best of luck Wendel.”
By the time Wendel joined the others in the operations room all eyes were glued to Twitter which was filled with images of angry crowds. The Colonel was on the phone with a Major from the Argyles who was reporting in from the streets around Redford Barracks.
Angus and Sam were clearly enthralled by the unfolding drama, but the soldiers in the room were gripped by a collective sense of dread. Just after six o'clock, all the colour drained from JJ Jackson's florid face.
“They've opened fire.”
For the next few minutes, nobody said a word as the extent of the carnage became apparent. Angus collapsed into a chair and seemed almost catatonic. Tears streamed down Sam's cheeks. Wendel felt like a part of him had died. He pictured the scene through the eyes of his comrades. The increasing panic as groups of four were confronted by crowds of thousands. Getting closer. And closer.
There could only be one outcome. And the Regiment, his Regiment, would be tarnished for ever. Edinburgh would take its place alongside a long list of places of infamy.
Peterloo, Amritsar, Sharpeville, My Lai, Bloody Sunday.
Trained armed men slaughtering unarmed civilians. The unthinkable. The unimaginable. The lower depths.
When it was clear the shooting had all but ended, he got himself back together. “Angus. We need a word.”
The First Minister was glazed over. Barely functional. Wendel knew he needed to be snapped out.
“Come on. On your feet. Can we use your office please, Colonel?”
“Of course. It's just down the corridor.”
He yanked Angus to his feet and more or less frog marched him out of the room. “Come on Sam. Move it.”
Once they had closed the door he spotted a bottle of Black Label. He poured out three generous measures. "Come on. Get it down."
The two civilians were still in a daze. The burning scotch started to bring them back.
Wendel stayed in control.
“OK. No time to mope about. You need to stay on the front foot Angus”
“The front foot! Are you trying to tell me what just happened is the front foot?”
“No. What just happened is called fucking war. And in war, bad shit happens. And bad shit will keep on happening. Get used to it. If you want to stop the bad shit, then get Montford on the phone and tell him you'll surrender. Is that what you want to do?"
This brought on a flare of anger, just like Wendel knew it would.
“No fucking way.”
“Good. You're going to have to feed the anger. Harness it. Let it be your best mate. Right now everything is down to you. You have no time for any self-doubt and agonising. You can do that later. Right now you need to lead.”
Angus drained the rest of his glass and squared up.
“OK. So what comes next?”
Wendel told him and he didn't like it.
"Look, Wendel, I appreciate all your help here, but this is not the way. I am the First Minister of Scotland not some bloody Ned from Easterhouse. You seem to want me to behave like some kind of yob."
Wendel chuckled. "That's better. Look, you're the expert on the politics shit. Fair enough. I'm just a grunt, but I can easily enough give you the military side of things. As of now you've got an army of 800 infantrymen. No planes. No helicopters. No tanks. No artillery. So if this thing plays out as a straight up and down fight, you're going to get your arse kicked. So the way I see it, there is only one show in town. You're going to have to find some friends to come and help you out. Allies, right?"
“OK. Go on.”
“Montford has just done you a huge favour. As of this morning, he is the most hated man in the world. Does that mean other countries will go further than issuing harsh words? No, it doesn't. Not yet. It takes a lot for any country to do anything which isn't pure self-interest. Is it in the national interest of any potential ally to actually put their people into harm's way for Scotland?"
“So. Here is where you need to box clever. Because countries don't only go to war for the national interest do they? More often than not, politicians take their country to war out of pure self-interest. The Falklands? Did Britain really need to spend all that blood and treasure for a poxy sheep farm? Did we buggery. We sailed south because the Iron Lady was tanking in the polls. Why do you think Montford has just invaded you? Is he doing his patriotic duty or is he trying to avoid being locked up for the Holbrooke Securities thing? I know what I think."
“So what are you saying?”
“Politicians like to please the voting public. They want to make them feel good about themselves. Proud. In the mood to wave a flag. So we need to make people all over the world want to be on our side. Everyone loves the plucky underdog. They've all watched Braveheart and Outlander. They like the idea of the plucky Scots battling the odds in front of a postcard backdrop.”
“I think I'm getting there. We need to make it a vote winner for any leader who takes our side?”
“Give that boy a bloody merit badge. So you'll do it?”
“I'll do it.”
“Good. Let's get the show on the road. You all good Sam?”
It took Jackson just under an hour to get his men out onto the parade ground in properly good order. In all, he was able to muster just over 700. The remainder of the Regiment were arriving back at the base in dribs and drabs. Fort George looked a picture under a vivid blue sky. The sea was calm and the lightest of breezes just about managed to flutter the flags.
Once Sam was happy with her set up she gave the Colonel the thumbs up.
A ferocious looking Regimental Sergeant Major split the morning air with a screamed command and seven hundred boots slammed down onto the tarmac.
“This is Sam Keating reporting from Fort George. This morning I accompanied the First Minister as he managed to escape from Edinburgh and come here to Fort George, the home of the Black Watch. First Minister, you have a message I believe...."
Angus once again stepped into the frame. He had showered, shaved and fitted surprisingly well into a borrowed suit.
“Yes Sam, I certainly do. I have a message for Edward Montford. A very clear message. So how is London this morning? I wonder how it feels to be the most hated man on the planet? Not so good I bet? I think you must be feeling just a little twitchy. The charges just keep on stacking up, don't they Edward? All those death squads you sent into Hackney. Getting your Holbrooke Securities buddies to set your capital city on fire. And now this. This obscenity. This moment of absolute shame. How many do you think you have murdered this morning, Edward? Cut down. Slaughtered in cold blood. Men, women, and children. A hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? Do you actually care? It seems England has it's very own Milosevic? How does it feel to have ordered up your very own Srebrenica? Getting off on the power are you Edward? Well, enjoy it while it lasts, you scumbag, because there is a prison cell out there ready and waiting. Tick, tock Edward. Tick, tock.
'Anyway. Let me introduce you to these guys. These are the men of the Black Watch. And this is their home. Fort George. Have you ever visited, Edward? It really is rather impressive. In fact, some historians consider it to be the finest artillery fort in the whole of Europe. And you know what is really ironic? You lot built it! You built it to send the likes of me a clear message. You wanted to constantly remind the Scots who was in charge. And so here we are again. Just like old times, isn't it Edward? The English invade Scotland and within hours you are up to your armpits in innocent blood.
'Let me get back to these guys. Let me tell you a thing or two about these guys Edward. They are brave. They don't go sneaking about in the night. They don't gun down innocent women and children. They are better than that. Better than you. And they are waiting. We all are. We're right here Edward and we don't plan on leaving. Let me tell you something Edward. Let me give you a quick geography lesson. A few miles away there's a place you might just have heard of. It's called Culloden Moor, Edward. Yeah? Know the place do you? Maybe been there as a kid to see where all those jumped up Jocks got taught a lesson? Well, let me tell you something. If you have the guts for a re-match, you'll find us easily enough. You just drive up the A9 and follow the signs when you get to Inverness. We'll be waiting.
'I think you best get a move on though, Edward. The vultures are gathering. Things don't end well for men like you. Maybe you'll get lucky and spend the rest of your life in a cell in The Hague. Or maybe your demise will be rather more dramatic. Like Saddam Hussein. Or Gaddafi. Of Mussolini. Whatever. I for one won't be about to shed a tear. As far as I am concerned, you deserve everything that is coming to you. You will never, ever be forgiven for what you have done in Edinburgh this morning. Never. We Scots have very long memories. So goodbye Edward. I hope you rot in hell."
The whole thing had been played live and loud to the assembled ranks of soldiers who roared out their approval. Fair enough they were only seven hundred. But at that moment, they looked like a whole lot more than that.
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