CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
Over the last few hundred years, many millions of British school kids were taught all about how a fire in Mr Farriner's bakery on London's Pudding Lane set alight the first Great Fire of London on 2 September 1666. The conflagration raged for three long days and when it was finally done, 13,000 buildings had been destroyed and 80,000 Londoners were left homeless.
The Second Great Fire of London started at roughly the same time as the first: just after midnight. An abandoned warehouse in Kings Cross went up like a torch and within minutes three secondary fires within three hundred yards tuned a serious blaze into something close to an inferno.
This time the blaze lasted for just over 24 hours and although many fewer buildings were destroyed the second time around – 723 – their collective value was a hell of a lot greater.
For much of Monday afternoon, there was a significant degree of panic. Did the city actually have enough water in its reservoirs to put the thing out? Was London about to suffer a terminal hammer blow?
The army was called in to blow up six streets and thereby create a fire break which just about bought enough time. By Tuesday morning, the Fire Brigade had prevailed but it had been a skin of the teeth affair.
The Prime Minister announced he would be giving a statement and millions tuned into to see what excuses he was about to come up with.
There was nothing apologetic about The Prime Minister when he appeared. He started out by praising the heroism of the emergency services. Then he made the gathered ranks of journalists gasp.
“I am in no mood to beat about the bush this morning. There comes a time when it is important to call a spade a spade. Yesterday the greatest fire our capital city has seen since 1666 threatened to run out of control. At its peak, the blaze was worse than anything the bombs of the Luftwaffe created in the Blitz. In our emergency Cobra meeting, we were forced to make a contingency plan on how we could successfully evacuate two million people. I will repeat the number.
'We could easily have had a national catastrophe on our hands yesterday. Thanks to the magnificent efforts of our firemen and soldiers, we merely have a national disaster to deal with. Dealing with the aftermath will be a huge challenge to each and every one of us. Our insurance companies are facing collapse. Tens of thousands of Londoners are homeless. Hundreds more are being treated for appalling injuries. I have two messages today. Number one. This government will provide the support and resources to enable our capital city to recover. To heal. To rebuild. To once again take up its historic place as one of the greatest cities in the world."
He took a slow sip of water and when he looked up there was something unusually fierce in those famously dark eyes.
“Number two. Yesterday we nearly ran out of the water. As a result of the huge volumes of water we needed to douse the flames, this summer's ration is going to be half of what we had planned. We knew we were going to have to face chronic shortages of water months ago. We were determined to plan accordingly. We approached the Scottish Government and asked them to supply our Tilbury reservoir with ten tankers per month. The Scottish Government refused our request. They were only willing to supply us with four tankers per month whilst sending over fifty to France. I think we can all take a clear message here. It seems like hundreds of years of shared history counts for nothing. So much for a neighbour who is willing to help out when times are hard. Sadly we don't have a neighbour like that. Yesterday proved it. And the coming dry summer will continue to prove it. It would be nice to think the First Minister of Scotland might spare a thought for his English neighbours when he takes his two showers a day. But I am not holding my breath. I think he should be ashamed of himself. I will not be answering any questions today. Thank you."
Exit the Prime Minister of England and Wales.
Cue two days of media frenzy. A few voices here and there tut tutted at Edward Montford's less than diplomatic performance. Not many. The majority view was one of approval. Fair enough, he was a toff, but at least he had the bottle to say what everyone was thinking. Jock bastards.
Johnny Tranter appeared on Newsnight and said as far as he was concerned, the PM had totally bossed it. A spade had been rightly called a spade. The EFP was right behind Montford on this one. Johnny just hoped this was going to be the shape of things to come. It was about time England started to stand up for itself.
Weeks later, an extensive investigation into the causes of the fire discovered clear evidence of accelerants being used in four carefully chosen locations. Someone with a degree of expertise must have been involved in placing the devices.
No paper trail ever led to Holbrooke Securities.
But the lack of clear evidence didn't stop people from wondering. Soon feature articles started to make comparisons from history. One comparison soon jumped to the head of the queue. In February 1933, a communist Jew who went by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe allegedly set the fire which burned out Berlin's Reichstag building. Hitler claimed a vast plot against the Fatherland and used the event to ram through new legislation which put him well on the road to absolute power. Most agreed the fire came in pretty handy for the new Chancellor.
Some people continued to believe it was pure coincidence that the second Great Fire of London raged just three days before Edward Montford signed off on London's last Colonial War. Some people kept the faith. Just not many.
Not surprisingly the PM's bombastic appearance was met with outrage in Edinburgh. Angus Campbell's response was a little more diplomatic, but it was generally agreed he didn't miss and hit the wall.
There was nothing neighbourly about the words which bounced between London and Edinburgh in the immediate aftermath.
The row was so compelling, it was hardly surprising when the media more or less missed a statement from the President of France who didn't try so very hard to hide just how pissed off she was.
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
THE VERY WITCHING TIME OF NIGHT.
'Tis the very witching time of night
when churchyards yawn
and hell itself breathes out contagion to this world'
The early hours of Thursday morning found the British Isles lying under perfectly clear skies. A three quarter moon bathed everything in a soft silver glow. Only the high slopes of the mountains felt so much as a breath of wind. It was 81 degrees in London and 76 degrees in Edinburgh. Only those with excellent air conditioning were enjoying sound sleep. Millions of others tossed and turned and cursed and threw off sheets damp with sweat. Rats scratched at the bin liners stacked on pavements. Urban foxes flitted in and out of dark alleys. Rough sleepers hawked through broken dreams. Owls hooted into the thick warm air.
Wendel was counting down the last minutes before his life would change forever. He was crouched in the space behind a line of wheelie bins with three troopers. Fifty yards away was the front door of Edinburgh's largest independent radio station where a night staff of seven were sending out soothing music into a night filled with too hot to sleep listeners.
Zulu Hour minus 45.
The planners had avoided making Zulu Hour either on the dot of three or on the dot of four. Watchers subconsciously became more alert when the minute hand reached the top of any hour. Years of films and novels had used three and four in the morning as the preferred time for the doing of dark deeds.
So Zulu hour was to be 3.40.
A time designed not to stand out. Neither one, nor the other. Wendal's appointed task was one of the more straight forward. Use a small charge to disable the front door lock. Sweep the building. Get the staff into one room and secure them with plasticuffs. Ensure no broadcasting capability. Target time for operation - 4 minutes. Secure and report.
A milk run.
Across the city, 200 teams of four were waiting for the last minutes to count down. Eight hundred men. Four hundred would secure Glencorse, Redford and Dreghorn Barracks. Their goal was to take control of the armouries, the entrance gates, and the Comms Rooms. 20 teams would secure all police stations. 15 teams were tasked to capture senior Army staff. The remainder of the force would take control of a variety of other targets.
The rest of the Regiment was split between Edinburgh International Airport and the home of the Scottish Airforce at Leuchars in Fife where they would work alongside the SBS.
The force had quietly been deployed over a period of three days. The Navy and the SBS had landed the weapons required for the operation at three locations on the Scottish coastline. The hardware had been moved in hired vans and distributed to the attack teams.
The troopers had entered the country in cars and on the train. Some flew into Edinburgh and Glasgow. They had come either alone or in groups of two or three. Vehicles had either been driven in or hired locally. Slowly but surely the four man 'bricks' formed up and deployed.
And now they were locked and loaded. A grand total of 1200 special forces troopers. The tip of London's spear. 1200 sets of thoughts. 1200 sets of fingers resting on the triggers of 1200 lovingly oiled semi-automatics. Not one of them was wearing any kind of uniform. They were dressed for a Saturday afternoon football match. A walk in the countryside with the kids. A pint or two down the pub.
They were probably the most unlikely looking invasion force the world had ever seen. Wendel's drifting mind summoned up images from other invasions. He pictured the men of Napoleon's Grande Armee as they waited for the order to cross the border into Russia. The storm troopers of Hitler's Wehrmacht in the last minutes before doing the same thing. Young GI's in landing craft trying to keep a lid on their sea sickness as they approached Omaha Beach.
Such grand sweeping names. Operation Barbarossa. Operation Overlord.
This invasion would be bequeathing a rather more discreet name to the history books. Operation Barn Owl. He actually rather liked it. It was appropriate. The most ruthless of nature's nocturnal killers. The MOD lackey who came up with it deserved a pat on the back.
Zulu minus thirty for 1199 special forces soldiers.
Zulu hour itself for one special forces soldier. Wendel MacDonald. Time to leave the reservation. Time to go native.
Time to cross the line.
He made a show of listening to instructions coming in through the comms bud in his right ear. Then he spoke quietly.
“Roger that. With you in five.”
He drew his troopers close. “Something's come up. I need to do one. Terry, you're in charge. No drama, right? You lads can do this in your sleep. See you on the other side.”
And with that he left, a silent ghost in the night.
He fired up their vehicle and covered the mile and a half to Charlotte Square in four minutes.
Zulu Hour minus twenty four.
Alf and Sam were waiting by a car they had hired two days earlier. A quick embrace.
Alf shook his head. “No. Business as usual.”
Four nights earlier Alf had climbed one of Charlotte Square's many fine trees and fitted a camera in the high branches which gave a clear view of the front door of Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister of Scotland. The footage had shown a light security regime. Two armed policemen on the front door. One more inside to open the door and check guests. A few hours earlier Angus Campbell had entertained the Malaysian Foreign Minister and now he was probably fast asleep. Alf had kept Wendel up to speed with his surveillance via a number of text messages to a burner phone.
“Let's get it done. Sam, you know the drill?”
I nodded. “Two minutes after you go in, I drive to the front door and park up.”
“In one. See you in a bit.”
The two men half jogged across the park where Prince Albert sat on his horse and no doubt looked forward to the lesson this particular bunch of restless natives were about to be taught. They stopped fifty yards short of the residence and Alf pulled two rifles from a sports bag. The guns were designed for game park use with darts primed to neutralise any mammal between 100 and 200 kilograms for up to forty minutes. The night vision scopes were an unusual extra.
They checked their aim.
“OK. On three. One... Two ….”
The darts flew silently through the air and hit the two policemen in their thighs. Three seconds later they were both down on the floor.
Wendel reached the front door thirteen seconds later and it took him a further 33 seconds to secure a small charge.
They split to either side of the fine Georgian doorway. This time Wendel counted down with his thumb and two fingers.
One... two … three ..
The charge popped the door open with a soft thud.
In. Target three at a desk with eyes widening. Wendel fired a taser into the middle of his chest and held the charge until he was well and truly down. Alf rolled him, taped his mouth and cuffed his hands behind his back.
Wendel took the stairs and followed a mental map. Sam had visited Bute House three times and had a good working knowledge of the layout. Third door on the right.
Inside the room was dark. Two sleeping figures.
He reached down and shook a shoulder.
A groggy, disorientated voice.
“....yes.. what is it.... who.....”
“First Minister, you need to come with me right now.”
Angus Campbell took in the gun which was three inches from his face. Wendel didn't give him time to speak. He yanked him to his feet and had him through the door and out into the corridor before he had a chance to say another word.
Angus couldn't work out if he was dreaming or in the midst of a horrible reality. By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs he was beginning to accept horrible reality.
Another man waiting. The front door officer on the carpet staring with blind panic. A taped mouth. Hands secured behind his back.
Already outside. A car by the kerb. And Sam.
What in the name of Christ was Sam doing here....
So a dream after all....
It had to be....
The first man more or less threw him onto the back seat and clambered in. The second man took the wheel and they were on the move.
Sam was in the passenger seat. She turned to look her best friend's dad in the eye. “Angus. You need to stay calm. Nobody is going to hurt you. I will explain as soon as we are clear of the city. OK? You just need to trust me for now. Can you do that Angus?”
“Twenty minutes. Wait twenty minutes and I will tell you everything. OK?”
There was something in her eyes which managed to cut through. He had always liked her. He had been delighted when her career had found the fast lane. He had spent many an hour listening to her dad's fears for her safety. Could he trust her? Of course, he could.
By now Alf was throwing them through a preselected route of small roads which all took them west.
Wendel listened in to the chatter on his comms piece.
“... no idea what the fuck just happened. Two men. Balaclavas. Took down the cops on the front door.... in and out in two minutes …. came out with one man … could have been our Tango. Can't confirm 100%.....”
“Wait out team seven.”
Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds.
“Team seven proceed with the operation as planned."
Wendel let out a long breath. “They're doing what we thought.”
Alf gave the steering wheel a triumphant tap. "Fucking A to that."
Zulu hour minus eighteen.
They switched cars in a street close to Murrayfield Stadium and passed under the city by-pass at Zulu Hour minus six
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