(illustrations by krisser)
ICE-COLD IN ALEXANDRA PALACE
COWLEY: You've never told me about Bodie. I made you a team, what, two years ago?
DOYLE: Two years and three months.
COWLEY: That's long enough.
DOYLE: Long enough for what?
COWLEY: For him to get up your nose, irritate you.
DOYLE: Oh, he does that, all right. Every day, he does that.
COWLEY: Chalk and cheese, eh?
COWLEY: Ah, it's worked well, though.
DOYLE: Yeah, I've watched his back, he's watched mine. We're both still alive. At least, this morning, we were both still alive.
This is the story of two of those days. It’s July, 1976 - the hottest summer on record , there’s an assassin with a dastardly secret weapon on the loose, a diplomat to be delivered, and all Bodie wants is a nice cold beer.
“We regret to inform passengers waiting for the Seven Twenty-three train to Charing Cross, this service has been delayed at Strood due to…”
The voice over the Tannoy paused, as if checking something. “… due to warped rails in the Dartford area.”
There was a massed groan from the packed platform, and sighs of solidarity from passengers awaiting their own train into Cannon Street. Their sympathy was short-lived; the Tannoy started up again.
“And the Seven Twenty-seven to Cannon Street is also delayed at Lewisham, on account of someone taken poorly on the train. On account of the heat,” the announcer added helpfully, as if the waiting hordes couldn’t have guessed the cause.
Arthur Eames replaced the Tannoy microphone in its box by the main staircase and sighed. At least it was Friday, and the weekend beckoned. He squinted down the crowded platform. Crikey, not even half-past seven and it was a scorcher already. This had been going on since the third week of June and here they were, the second of July, and no sign of a let-up at all. And not a drop of rain for months and months. In the meantime, London fried on a daily basis.
He’d had three faintings yesterday afternoon and they were bad enough. But in this crush, it would be a nightmare trying to get people clear if anyone passed out today. He fervently hoped everyone was going to remain upright, at least until the Seven Seventeen (delayed at Sidcup, revised arrival time, Seven Forty-four) trundled in and hopefully took a good half of these people away with it.
He took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow, then yanked his tie open a bit more. Not much point in having the platform staff dropping like flies, now, was there? Stepping back towards the platform edge (checking to make sure none of the silly fools were standing too close and likely to topple onto the track if they got lightheaded), he spotted a familiar figure making its laboured way down the platform, weaving between the waiting passengers. The heavy bag slung over his shoulder on a strap gave the man a lop-sided gait.
“Oh, Gordon Bennett…!” muttered Arthur, and hurried off to intercept the newcomer, ducking more queries about when the next train was coming in with a polite but patently forced smile. He grabbed the new arrival by the arm and checked his progress.
“Oi, you aren’t seriously thinkin’ of doin’ them chocolate machines today, are you? The platform’s heavin’ with people.”
The other man shook himself free with irritation.
“It’s booked for today. I’ve got to fill them up, haven’t I?”
“The bleedin’ stuff’s meltin’ in the heat. When your mate opened up the one on Platform 2 on Monday there was nothin’ but a pile of brown goo with Crunchies stickin’ out of it!”
“Don’t care,” said the other, truculently. “Got my job to do.”
Arthur placed a restraining hand on the bag.
“Look, mate, can’t you just wait until the next Cannon Street is in? It’s only a few minutes. Then we might have a bit more space.”
The vending machine man huffed.
“I’ve got to be at Waterloo by quarter past eight, and you know what the traffic’s like at the moment. I can’t afford to hang about.”
Arthur was just about to respond in kind when a tall figure brushed passed them both, striding purposefully towards the end of the platform. The heavy navy overalls were striking enough, given the heat, but it was the big black GPO bag that really caught Arthur’s attention. He made after the man, still dragging his prisoner with him.
“Oi! Oi! You! GPO bloke!” The man hesitated, and then turned with a casual, slightly insolent, air.
“Yeah? What d’you want?”
Arthur hurried up to where the man stood, finally letting go of the vending-machine operator so he could point with emphasis at the GPO case.
“Ain’t you been here before? Don’t you know you got to show me your authorisation before you start snippin’ your wires? This is a well-oiled machine, this station” – vending-machine man glanced at the currently stationary state of said well-oiled machine and snorted; Arthur ignored him -“You can’t go onto the pylons without the right say-so, and you know it!”
“Look, mister,” said the GPO man, his voice sharp - and a bit of an accent, thought Arthur – “you take it up with your friends in the main control room. They’ve got a problem with the phone lines down the track. They need me to clear it. All right?” Without waiting for an answer, the man turned to go.
“Oi,” repeated Arthur, “hang on a mo. Who did you speak to?” Vending-machine man saw his chance and started to slope off towards the staircase; Arthur grabbed his arm again.
“Where do you think you’re goin’, Big Fry? Just stay here one minute, why can’t you?” Arthur turned to address the GPO man again, but he was already several paces ahead.
“The man with the red hair,” the GPO man called out over his shoulder, not stopping.
“Red ‘air?” muttered Arthur. “Who the ‘ell is that?” He looked about him in frustration; no one to help him out here, and vending-machine man was still being a pain in the arse.
“All right,” he shouted after the retreating figure. “But I’m going to check!” He turned and gave the vending-machine man an irate push.
“You mind you don’t drop any of that stuff on the platforms! Oh, bleedin’ hell, the delayed Cannon Street will be here in a minute!” And with that, Arthur hurried off towards his office at the opposite end of the platform, bigger fish to fry.
~ ~ ~
In the morning sunshine on the southern end of Platform 6, the general mood was one of resignation. Commuters shifted tiredly from one foot to the other, worn out by the heat already and not yet at work. City gents broke with tradition and slung their jackets over their arms, and some of the pretty secretaries were wearing quite diaphanous blouses in an effort to keep cool, which either scandalised or titivated, depending on the age and gender of the observer.
“Quite exceptional, isn’t it? The hottest summer since records began, they say!” commented a dapper, rather elderly, individual in a dark three-piece, speaking to no one in particular. His near-neighbours smiled politely. One, a youngish man in a light grey suit far more in keeping with the weather, and constantly checking his watch, nodded absently in agreement; the dapper gent took it as a sign to continue the conversation.
“They say today may be hotter still. It was well over ninety degrees at Heathrow yesterday, you know? Extraordinary! 1976 will definitely be a summer to remember!”
The young man smiled tightly, and checked his watch again, looking worriedly down the track to where the delayed Seven Seventeen was showing no signs of appearing.
“My garden is suffering badly,” continued the dapper gent. “Terrible – everything’s dying. Can’t water them, you know. All my roses – very sad.”
“What a shame,” muttered the young man distractedly. The dapper gent unrolled his Times and pointed to the headline.
“This Entebbe thing is pretty bad, isn’t it? Getting far too risky to travel by air, you know. Can’t imagine how it’s going to end up. If it were me, I’d send the SAS in – they’d sort these chappies out in no time!”
The young man looked up with a vague smile. “There would be a little question of violation of international sovereignty, I think.” Dapper gent really wasn’t listening.
“That Amin rascal is just encouraging things. Oh, he’s beyond the pale, if you ask me. No, I really don’t know how it will end. A total stalemate. I suppose eventually someone will back down, or there’ll be a bloodbath. Dear, dear, what a mess Africa is…”
“I think,” said the young man with some irritation, “you’ll find this a somewhat broader issue.” He craned his neck again. “Just where the hell is that damned train?” he muttered to himself. Dapper gent stared into the distance as well. A speck was crawling along in the heat haze.
“When I was in India, we knew how to run a railway; oh, goodness me, yes. Ah, wait a moment - don’t you think that’s perhaps…?”
“Yes, yes!” exclaimed a woman by his side, pointing down the track. “It’s coming, at last!”
“Thank God for that,” breathed the young man, checking his watch again.
“Quite so, far too hot to be waiting like this. At least the dry weather means there’s no mosquitos,” mused dapper gent. “When I was in India…”
The young man slapped at his neck with an exclamation of surprise.
“Ow! Dammit! Something bit me! No mosquitos, you say? Well that was…” He paused, then coughed, then his knees buckled and he drew a noisy, painful breath.
“My dear chap, are you all right?”
The young man fell into a convulsing heap on the hot concrete, his hands clawing at his chest; the crowd broke up in distress, some dropping to the ground to assist, some calling for medical help, just as the delayed Seven Seventeen clattered in.
The medical help was already far too late.
~ ~ ~
The early sun had been slanting through the wide panes of the break-room for a good four hours and the place felt like a sauna. The cigarettes and predictable cigar smouldering in the ashtray didn’t help the atmosphere.
McCabe turned round as the door opened.
“All right, Ray? Thought you were off with Special Branch somewhere today.”
“Been called in to see Cowley. We’re just waiting to be summoned – he’s on the phone.”
“Won’t your new friends miss you?”
“Not much. This interdepartmental working is all very well in theory, but Special Branch don’t actually like anyone playing in their sandpit. And they’re welcome to it. We’ve got enough dodgy proto-terrorists of our own to keep an eye on without having to help look after theirs as well. What’re you two doing here, anyway? And where’s Lucas?”
“Quick break for a cuppa between obbos. Lucas is sorting paperwork downstairs, and we’re giving Anson a lift out to Neasden later. We’ve all got a shift on another load of Kraut students. Anson’s just checking his stock market investments.”
Anson, seated at the table with his head deep in the Sun’s racing page, merely gave a mild two-fingered gesture.
“Might as well get yourself a cuppa, Ray,” continued McCabe, ignoring his colleague. “Kettle’s still warm. Where’s His Nibs, anyway?”
“Downstairs, fighting with the drinks machine. Insisted he had to get a cold Coke.” Doyle sighed. “I dunno how his stomach takes it. It’s only a quarter to ten.”
“He’ll be lucky,” intoned Anson, without looking up. “The fridge unit packed up yesterday afternoon. Burnt itself out trying to cope.” As if on cue, there was the sound of a deliberately heavy tread in the corridor outside and Bodie’s voice could be heard before the man himself came into view.
“Soddin’ thing’s bust, Ray! Everything’s lukewarm, and it took my money and all!”
Anson looked up then at the new arrival.
“Bloody hell! Here comes Sanders of the River!”
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Bodie, his nostrils flaring.
“Smart get-up, Bodie, that’s all,” said McCabe with a grin.
And it was; standing in the doorway, Bodie looked immaculate in a cream linen suit, cut safari-style and neatly buttoned, with a pale green shirt just peeping through at the neck.
“He puts you all to shame, for starters,” said Doyle, brushing past Bodie to reach for the milk bottle to add to his tea. “Oh, for God’s sake, you twerps! You’ve got to put it back in the fridge, this weather! It’s already gone off!”
“A bit much for the office, though, isn’t it?” persisted Anson. “Looks like you should be at Ascot, or something.”
“Keeps me cool, and keeps me smart,” snapped Bodie, with a glare. “Come on, Ray. The Old Man’s ready for us, and I can barely breathe in here.” And he swept out again.
“On his high horse, ain’t he?” grumbled Anson.
Doyle gave them a sweet smile, and started to follow his partner.
“He likes to look good, and he has got a point.” He paused at the doorway. “Tweed does need to get dry-cleaned once in every twenty years, Anson. ‘Specially in this heat.”
~ ~ ~
“Ah, come in, lads.”
Cowley was at Betty’s desk, handing her some papers. He led the way through the panelled door to his inner office, and went back to his chair, while his operatives took their customary positions; Bodie at parade rest, Doyle propped against a filing cabinet. He looked up at them cannily.
“I trust I’ll be getting no complaints from Superintendent Parnell about your short time assisting our Special Branch colleagues?”
Bodie flicked a glance at his partner, expecting him to want the first word; Doyle didn’t disappoint.
“Glad to be back, sir,” said Doyle. “Weren’t allowed to do that much. It was a tad boring, to be honest.”
Cowley’s mouth twitched with amusement.
“Aye, well, I’d better make sure you’re well occupied in future, then.”
Bodie started out of his rigid pose to glower at his partner; you didn’t offer yourself up for more work if you could help it. He opened his mouth to clarify the statement when Cowley slapped a file of papers on the desk and shuffled its contents for them to see. The breeze from the little electric fan, whirring in the far corner of the room, ruffled the edges of the leaves, and he placed his hand on top of them to stop the file levitating further.
“Maybe this will whet your curiosity, Doyle. Take a look, both of you; five deaths in the past three days. All in public places, all of relatively young people – not more than early middle-age at most – in apparent good health, all dead of heart attacks.”
They peered at the papers together - dry documents from different mortuaries across London. The forms were the same in each case and, although the handwriting differed in each, the conclusion was the same: massive heart attack. Doyle straightened up, and gave his boss a quizzical look.
“A city the size of London, deaths like this are pretty common, sir. Heart failure can fell the most unexpected people – young ones, too – and a heatwave can increase the likelihood of casualties. What are we looking for, here?”
Bodie now straightened up as well, and raised an eyebrow at his partner. It didn’t usually do to question The Cow.
“A fair point, Doyle.” Rather than jumping down Doyle’s throat, Cowley was sitting back in his chair, twirling his spectacles with one hand, looking pretty pleased with himself. “You see, because I like to keep my operatives fully entertained in their work...” – Bodie groaned inwardly; Cowley wasn’t going to let that go any time soon – “… I have various contacts around the country keeping an eye on developments, no matter how minor they may seem in isolation, and collating them into what might constitute patterns. Those patterns might then suggest we have an issue to investigate. In this case, my source of information is within the Home Office Pathology Wing.”
“And you suspect a pattern with these deaths, sir?” Bodie felt obliged to enter the discussion, if only to stop Doyle sticking his foot in his own mouth again.
“Aye, something in my water has been telling me there’s a connection. But I can’t pin it down. I called you in so you could have a look yourselves at these incidents, see if you can’t find some common factor.”
Doyle looked as if he was about to suggest Cowley was suffering from heatstroke. Bodie stepped rapidly to the left and onto Doyle’s foot, and managed to get a word in first.
“It must be pretty important, sir,” he said diplomatically, “if you’ve pulled us off the German obbos.”
“I seriously doubt very much any of our German possibles in the UK will do something rash while this Entebbe situation is unresolved. No point in distracting the world’s attention from that showcase for their cause at this moment; later, maybe.”
“So you want us to double-check all this stuff?” asked Doyle, his displeasure rather apparent from the tone of his voice.
“If you would be so kind, 4-5, yes, I would,” replied Cowley, testily. “And to make it even more interesting for you, there is a new development. It was the subject of that phone call earlier. Information has just come in from Guy’s Hospital about a casualty at London Bridge station earlier this morning - a rush-hour commuter; Edwin Rice, 35, unmarried. The cause of death appears to be the same.”
He handed Bodie a handwritten note.
“These are the details, together with the names of individuals worth talking to. I suggest you get going.”
Bodie cast a quick glance towards his partner and began to usher him out of the room. He could feel the tension in Doyle’s body, as the man wound himself up for another misguided outburst.
“Oh, and Doyle…”
They stopped in the doorway.
“I’ll expect your full attention on this. If it comes to nothing, I’ll buy you both a dram later. Mind you, if it’s something, you’ll be the one buying, 4-5!”
~ ~ ~
Cowley listened to their retreat along the echoing corridor outside Betty’s office; if they were complaining, they were keeping their voices diplomatically low until they were out of his earshot. He smiled to himself; he understood Doyle’s reluctance. Here they were, with the world biting its nails about hostages and the potential fallout from the Entebbe crisis, with enthusiastic terrorist cells all over Europe poised, perhaps, to emulate their German and Palestinian colleagues, and yet he’d pulled two of his best men off their assignment to go chasing wild geese? Maybe, and maybe not; it was difficult to explain the feeling he had about the circumstances of these deaths.
He toyed with the various papers again, shuffling them into a different order and looking for random connections, however oblique; in broad daylight, in crowded places; no apparently suspicious individuals - but what if the perpetrators had slipped away unnoticed? And what could have caused the sudden deaths – a disease, a poison, a weapon of some kind?
He was still deep in thought when Betty poked her head round the door.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but a gentleman wishes to see you. It’s urgent, he says.”
Cowley was about to tell her abruptly to send the man away when he heard a muffled voice from Betty’s office.
“George, if you’re too busy, I quite understand. I was just hoping for some advice…”
A broad smile on his face, Cowley rose quickly from his chair and hurried out to the anteroom, his limp almost forgotten.
“Douglas, my dear fellow! Of course there’s time for you! Come in, come in! Betty, get us some fresh tea, please, and some digestives if you can find any. There should be some still in filing cabinet ‘Q’ that Bodie’s not found yet.”
He ushered the newcomer into his office and closed the door, directing the fan toward his guest out of concern for the man’s hot and dishevelled appearance.
“You’re looking well, George,” smiled his guest. “Trim as ever – wish I could say the same for myself. It’s all these faculty dinners, you know.”
At that moment, Betty arrived with the replenished tea tray and there was a comfortable pause while domestic tasks were performed with milk and sugar. Then she withdrew and the two old friends were left alone again. They smiled at each other.
“Douglas, it’s been far too long. How is Oxford? Are you enjoying leaving Whitehall behind you? It’s – my God – three years now since we last had a dinner! At least when you were at Great George Street you were close to hand. A trip up the A40 is more difficult these days, there is always so much to do.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” replied the guest, with a sigh. “I hardly feel like I’ve been there all that time. Still getting used to the academic world. Would you believe it? It’s just as fraught with in-fighting and political double-dealing as Whitehall.”
“Och, you don’t surprise me one bit.”
“So much I’d like to talk to you about, George, and catch up properly. But I am very conscious of the calls on your time, and I myself have something rather pressing that I need to discuss with you. Professionally, so to speak.”
“So the esteemed Principal Clarke of Onslow College has need of CI5, does he?” Cowley replied wryly, and not a little intrigued. Douglas Clarke took a proffered biscuit and settled back in his chair.
“You know how much my life in the Civil Service was involved with international diplomacy, George. And of course, my appointment to Onslow reflected that. Geo-politics is increasingly the issue – very little of significance goes on where there is not some international aspect that needs careful handling. Consequently, I and my colleagues get called upon quite frequently to mediate in discussions, or appear as a kind of honest broker between opposing international parties. Our academic credentials give us an impartiality – or a veneer of it, at least.”
“No doubt it pays?”
“Oh, George, how like you to get to the heart of things! Yes, yes, that’s quite true. But it’s not the only issue, of course. Academic kudos is extremely attractive to us all, both personally and for our institution. And would you believe, there is a tantalising celebrity status that goes with it? We grey professors are only human, after all.” His eyes twinkled, a little private joke between two old friends, and Cowley arched an eyebrow in acknowledgement.
“However, joking aside,” continued Principal Clarke, “Onslow has just been given something of a poisoned chalice. This is, of course, strictly between us at this moment, George. The US State Department, in agreement with the Foreign Office, has requested that we set up a colloquium of academics from all the interested parties in the Entebbe situation, to convene in London. Some are already here – visiting professors at various universities, or attachés to the embassies. I would be representing the United Kingdom at this discussion, and the United States will be sending an attendee, as well.”
“What do they expect to achieve?” asked Cowley, puzzled. “Surely all the key individuals are hard at work dealing directly with Jerusalem and Uganda, and with Arafat in Lebanon?”
Clarke shrugged with a certain amount of embarrassment.
“To tell you the truth, George, that’s exactly how I feel about it. It’s not even as if this is to be seen as something to draw heat out of the situation – it’s to be quite secret; no publicity. There seems to be some thought in the State Department that the growing threat to the world’s economies, and its political stability, that’s presented by the various terrorist groups extant and operating now, needs a properly thought-through and long-term solution developed by people not completely engrossed in the here-and-now. Why it has to happen at this very moment, when we still don’t know how the hostage situation will turn out, I am, I confess, a little bemused, but it seems there is a general feeling that the process must be got underway. And that’s my problem. I am conscious that there needs to be security clearance for such things, and that organisational details must be sorted extremely quickly. Hence my visit to the head of CI5, in the hope he might help expedite matters.”
He looked hopefully at the Head of CI5.
“Well,” said Cowley, sitting back and steepling his fingers, “I’m not sure whether CI5 is the right contact for you. Special Branch ought to be putting the security details together, really. But I can certainly make some calls and get it into motion. What’s the venue?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I know, ridiculous, isn’t it? Alexandra Palace – amusement park and home of Britain’s first television station. Long past its better days, but apparently there are still some habitable rooms there that we can use. The idea came from the Foreign Office. They think it’s suitably incognito.”
“It’s that, all right!” muttered Cowley, still somewhat shocked. A venue like that, untried and untested, would present enormous security issues. “So you do have some of the logistics sorted out?”
“The boys at the FCO put those together very quickly, since the idea was mooted at the start of the Entebbe situation. But the security element seems to have been overlooked.”
“And when is this colloquium to take place?” asked Cowley, jotting details down on a notepad.
“Tomorrow?” Cowley sat bolt upright in shock. “Good God, man, and you’ve only come to me now?”
Clarke looked abject.
“George, I am so very sorry, really I am. The whole thing is being done at breakneck speed and we’ve all had ridiculously short notice to put the arrangements together. In the rush I honestly thought the security details were being dealt with by the FCO, but when I asked them yesterday they claimed it was someone in the Met, and the Met now deny any involvement whatsoever. So you see, I am in something of a bind, and wondered if you could help me out?”
“Dear, oh dear, Douglas. What a problem. Look, I’ll put you on to an opposite number in Special Branch, Superintendent Parnell. We’re working together currently on much of the terrorist supervision that’s happening whilst Entebbe is going on. But you’ll need to have chapter and verse ready for him.”
“Oh, indeed, indeed,” flustered Clarke. “Really, George, I am so very grateful. I would have much more in the way of detail for you today if only I had my assistant with me - young chap, seconded from the FCO for the duration of this little project. I was due to see him this morning; we had an eight-fifteen meeting scheduled. He rang yesterday evening and specifically requested an early hour. But the most horrible thing has happened. Would you believe it? He was on his way to the office this morning, and he dropped down dead! Only thirty-five! What a terrible waste. So I am somewhat at my wit’s end here…”
He tailed off; a predatory look had appeared in George Cowley’s eyes.
“Douglas, what was the young man’s name?”
“Rice, Edwin Rice.”
Cowley clapped his hands together and rubbed them, a broad smile of satisfaction on his face.
“Excuse me one moment.”
He reached across his desk to the telephone.
“Betty, get a message to 4-5, right away. Tell him, he’s buying. Yes, he’ll understand. And tell them both to keep their eyes peeled. There’s definitely something here.”
He replaced the receiver and turned back to Clarke. The smile was now grim.
“Now, Douglas, where were we?”
“Something,” said Doyle blackly, as they made the way up through the long tunnel toward the inbound platforms of London Bridge station. “Flippin’ heck, he could give us a bit more to go on, couldn’t he?”
“Better than nothing,” rejoined Bodie predictably, quickly dancing out of the way of Doyle’s flailing arm of admonition. “God, this place is like a Turkish bath. Look, you can see the water dripping down the wall here.” He pointed at the grimy concrete.
“The sweat of a million commuters…” muttered Doyle grimly.
“Makes me even gladder we’re not amongst them, eh? But I could murder a cold drink. God, it’s so bloody hot. I’d have got one at that kiosk if only you’d stopped long enough.”
“And I thought you had Africa in your blood…”
“Oh, it’s a different sort of heat, out there. You expect it. I’ve fought battles in worse than this…” Doyle rolled his eyes. “Well, I have! But heat like this in England is just wrong. At least in Africa we had the beer to cool us down. All I wanted was a can of Coke, Ray…”
“Don’t whine. You’ve had too much fizz. Nasty, sugary stuff, and none of that was cold, anyway. You’d be better off with a cup of tea. We’ll get one after we’ve left here, all right?”
“Tea?” The tone was withering.
“Yeah, tea. Renowned as a cooling beverage. Now, wits about you, please. Who are we seeing here, again?”
Bodie consulted the scrap of paper in his hand.
“Uniforms let most of the witnesses go. Pain the arse, that is. We’ll have to chase a few up. Here, we’ve got Arthur Eames, platform personnel.”
“What the ‘ell does that mean?”
“Gets the trains out on time, I s’pose.”
Arthur Eames was still patrolling the same inbound platform, which by eleven o’clock was fairly empty. Trains clattered through every few minutes or so, accompanied by sepulchral-sounding announcements over the Tannoy, but the bulk of passengers were by now in their offices or at their shop counters. Arthur scratched his chin and screwed up his eyes, thinking.
“Well, you have to realise I was down the other end, and given all the cancellations and delays we had, first thing, this platform was pretty packed. Not easy to see down it.”
“So you didn’t have sight of the man collapsing?” asked Doyle, ready to be disappointed.
“Nah, not me. That would be those other people at the far end. That tall bloke in the suit – posh type - he did a lot of talking to the coppers.”
“Desmond Greenhalgh,” confirmed Bodie, checking his bit of paper again.
“Yes, that’s the one. All pinstripe suit and little moustache. He was right next to the geezer – passenger, I mean - what snuffed it. No, I was down this end, near the office because of that GPO bloke turning up at the wrong time. I had enough to deal with, what with the delays and that idiot who comes to fill the sweet machines.”
Doyle saw Bodie’s interest piqued.
“Sweet machines?” Bodie asked. “Do they have drinks…?”
Doyle elbowed him out of the way.
“Mr Eames, was there anything about that morning that seemed strange to you?”
“Well, there’s the…”
“No,” interrupted Doyle, tiredly, “I don’t mean the heatwave and all that stuff.”
“Well, there was this GPO bloke I never saw here before. I was trying to sort out the sweet machine idiot and this big bloke in overalls just pushed right past. All the GPO boys know they have to sign in at the office before they do any work on the electrics on the platforms. And this morning, that means me, ‘cos we were all short-staffed and I was the only one on this platform.”
Doyle suppressed a smile, and noticed Bodie’s eyes crinkle with amusement as well. Clearly, Arthur Eames was still smarting from that slight to his authority.
“Well,” continued Arthur, “he didn’t wait for me, just kept on walking. So I went back to the office, just to check what Control had scheduled for GPO to do, and they said they didn’t have no work to be done this morning, everything was working just fine. So I went after this bloke again, but by that time I couldn’t see him. Then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose, ‘cos this man had collapsed on Platform 6 waiting for the Charing Cross train. By the time I got there he was well dead, as far as I could see. Got the ambulance men and they confirmed it, and carted him off. The coppers were here pronto, too.
“And the GPO man?” pressed Doyle.
“Forgot about him, to be honest,” replied Arthur, a little sheepishly. “There was a train coming in right at that point, too. Mayhem, it was.”
Doyle turned to look at Bodie, but his partner was already staring down the platform into the distant heat-haze.
“You said you never saw this GPO man before?” Bodie asked Arthur, his voice thoughtful.
“Definitely not. We know all the regular lads, and they all know the procedure. Plus, he said something funny.”
“He said… well, I asked him who he got his authority off, and he said ‘the man with red hair’. Well, there ain’t no one with red hair in the Control Room today. No one on the staff with red hair, at all.”
Bodie was still looking down the length of the platform, his eyes ranging widely, and now he raised an arm to point.
“This is the platform, yeah? Where did the man collapse?”
“Come on,” said Arthur and they followed him as he trotted down the platform, out of the shadow of the roof and into the fierce sun. Out there in the haze, tiny trains shimmered in the distance, like toys on a child’s model railway; some were crawling away from the city, some crawling back in. Doyle looked curiously at his partner, sensing that Bodie was on to something. While he waited for a pronouncement, he turned to Arthur again.
“You get a lot of heart attacks here? During the year, I mean?”
“People drop dead all the time, don’t they? Happens everywhere. But I have to say, I never saw one here myself, though there have been one or two, over the years. Law of averages, innit? But loads of people fainting and falling over, and stuff like that. Worse in the heat, of course.”
There was little on the platform to indicate where Edwin Rice had breathed his last. Bodie turned slowly on the spot, his eyes narrowed against the glare, taking in every feature. Eventually he said to Arthur:
“If the GPO man was on this platform, where would he have been heading? Where are the junction boxes?”
“Down this end, nothing GPO but the stuff on the pylons,” replied Arthur. “But there’s a lot of it, of course.” He pointed up at the tall metal structure at the end of the platform, which was replicated on all the others. “The phones keep us in contact with the signal boxes down the line, and also we can talk to drivers when they stop at signals. So they’re important electrics. We get them checked over, regular-like, and that stops too many things going wrong, but this heat has been frying quite a few circuits. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been an emergency call today, given the temperatures. But even then there needed to be the right authority, and anyway, Control Room says there weren’t no problems, and they never called the GPO in.”
Bodie was already walking up to the nearest pylon. Doyle shrugged to himself and jerked his head at Arthur.
“Best go with him, I think. No telling what he might get up to.”
They stopped where Bodie had stopped; at the base of a pylon which rose some thirty feet above the platform. Wires from its top led out in various directions, both back towards the main buildings, presumably to the Control Room, and also across to fellow pylons on adjoining platforms. A thick cable ran down through the centre of the pylon’s fretwork, disappearing into a small hatchway in the tarmac; no doubt for the telephone lines and other remote electrical circuits allowing communication with personnel down the track.
Bodie gazed up at the pylon, then slipped off his jacket and handed it to Doyle.
“Hold this, my man,” he said in his best ‘toff’ voice and, leaving Doyle bemused on the platform, caught hold of the lower bars of the pylon and started to climb.
“Oi!” exclaimed Arthur. “You can’t do that! That’s dangerous! You might get electrocuted, and you might damage the cables, and then there’d be hell to pay, and I’m not having that on my conscience, not to mention what Control would say. So you get down, right this minute….”
Bodie kept climbing. Doyle put out a hand in a calming gesture to the irate guard hopping beside him, and kept his eyes focused on Bodie’s careful and determined climb.
“Don’t worry, Mr Eames,” he said, with a confidence that he did not quite feel. “He’s done much worse.”
Which at least was true, he mused, contemplating his partner. Bodie was placing his feet and hands very carefully, but it looked to Doyle as if his main concern was not to dirty the linen suit. The thought made Doyle smile lopsidedly in amusement, despite the niggle of concern that Bodie was likely to land on the platform like a fried chip if he put a hand on something he shouldn’t.
Arthur was gazing aloft, too, his incipient apoplexy apparently overcome by the sight of Bodie ascendant. He squinted upwards with rapt fascination and a kind of admiration.
“Looks good, that suit,” he said, gesturing to where Bodie hung, arching outwards, the merest trace of a breeze at the top of the pylon making the pale green shirt flutter at the shoulder and the small of his back. “Elegant, ain’ he? Clothes like that, must earn a bob or two. Looks a cut-above. Not like…”
He turned to regard Doyle, and then shut his mouth diplomatically and looked upward again. Yeah, not like me, thought Doyle with amusement, conscious of his own thin tee-shirt and battered jeans. Nothing like me at all.
Bodie, having poked around in the metal struts at the top and then scanned the ground below, started making his way down again, just as carefully. He got to the last few feet and jumped lightly off, landing to bounce on the balls of his feet like a gymnast. He grinned broadly at Doyle.
“Nice and cool it was, up there. Got a hanky, mate?”
Doyle looked at him doubtfully, then shrugged and pulled a clean handkerchief out of his back pocket, handing it over. Bodie wiped his hands with it extravagantly, removing a lot of dust and grease, and then passed the hanky unconcernedly back to Doyle, who gave him a look of annoyance, and threw him his jacket. Bodie slipped it on again.
“And was your journey really necessary?” asked Doyle in a peeved voice, regarding the wreck of his handkerchief.
Bodie produced some shards of a light metal from his trouser pocket, and passed them over.
“Not entirely sure. Looks like some sort of shell-casing to me, but not one I’ve come across before.”
“So,” said Doyle, looking up from the metal fragments and handing them back to Bodie, “our GPO man shot Edwin Rice?”
“Shot?” echoed Arthur, with morbid fascination.
Both partners turned to Arthur as if suddenly remembering he was there.
“Nothing for you to worry about, Mr Eames,” said Doyle reassuringly, patting his shoulder. “Just idle speculation. Thank you very much for your cooperation. Someone will be in touch later for a formal statement. We’ll want you to look at some photographs, too.”
“Shot? The GPO?” Arthur was staring at them with rounded eyes, but Bodie was already striding away up the platform; Doyle broke into a run to catch him up. When he did so, he could see Bodie was smiling smugly.
“You can’t mean a rifle?” said Doyle, grabbing his hand and prising the metal fragments out of it again to take another look as he walked along. “A rifle in all that crowd? Someone would have heard something – seen something!”
“A difficult shot, I grant you. But in all that crush maybe people wouldn’t be that aware. Up on the pylon, all dressed up like a GPO man, you’d be disregarded. You could take the shot, then wait for the confusion to cover your exit. Especially if all you had to do was jump on a passing train.”
“But shot with what? You’re holding something back, you bastard!” - then, to Bodie’s grin – “Come on, spill! What is it?”
“Could be something, could be nothing,” grinned Bodie, echoing Cowley and earning himself a groan from his partner. “Now, how about a nice cold beer before we move? There’s some good pubs in Southwark.”
“You’re not getting a beer until we’ve seen the next witness, and even then not till the end of the day,” snapped Doyle. “What’s this about, Bodie?”
Bodie stopped on the empty platform and stared at him, his eyes serious for a moment.
“There are weapons out there, Ray; covert stuff. You read about them, but you don’t expect to see them in real life; not even in our real life. This might be what we have here. I think we need to look at the PM report again.”
“And talk to Greenhalgh.”
“Yep, he’s the next step. Promise you, Ray, I’ll tell you more when we have a bit more info. I’m not sure myself right now. Don’t want to look foolish.”
“Well, that’s never stopped you before,” rejoined Doyle, with an equally serious look, until Bodie’s affronted expression made him yelp with laughter.
~ ~ ~
“Heart-attack gun?” spluttered Doyle. “You’re having me on, aren’t you?”
It was half-past one, and they were tooling, or rather crawling, through the lunchtime traffic, heading north up Bishopsgate. All the windows in the Capri were open in a vain attempt to help them breathe, but that just meant that the hot air merely billowed in at the front and flowed out at the rear, leaving no refreshment whatsoever.
Bodie was driving. He took his eyes off the line of traffic ahead to give his partner a smirk.
“Come on, Ray, you remember the reports. Last year, it was - in all the papers. CIA operatives reporting to the Senate, or Congress, or one of the two, about the dirty tricks work they’d been up to. You know, assassinations and destabilisations, and all the stuff we’d suspected anyway. But they went and owned up to it. And one of the things they talked about was a heart-attack gun.”
“What, on the list just after the mind-control drugs, was it?”
“You jest, but actually they were on the menu, too. No, this was a projectile armed with a poison – curare or ricin…”
“Thought that was in my Snap, Crackle and Pop of a morning…”
“Stop pratting around. Ricin, not Niacin. I read the cereal box, too, you know. The projectile would be made of ice. It hits you, leaves only a red mark, then the poison enters through the skin and you’re dead in seconds - massive heart-attack.”
“An ice bullet? In these temperatures?”
“Well, obviously you have to keep it frozen until the right moment, but that’s not impossible. Even a modified Thermos flask would do it. No, the more difficult thing is the firing. I’m pretty sure the CIA report was only about a handgun. Doesn’t mean to say they haven’t developed a rifle version, of course.”
“Bloody hell,” said Doyle, staring blankly through the window. “So unless you catch them at it, it’s a sudden death, no suspicious circumstances.”
“Good if you want to bump off someone awkward.”
“So, that bloke we just talked to - Greenhalgh, the other witness…”
They had not long left Mr Greenhalgh, where the dark, wood-panelled offices of Unwin & Fox, Underwriters of Gracechurch Street, had been a welcome respite from the heat.
“Yeah, remember what he said. That Edwin Rice slapped his neck, said he felt an insect bite. Except there weren’t any insects…”
“…this not being India,” continued Doyle with amusement, and they both grinned at the recollection of Mr Greenhalgh’s repeated unfavourable comparisons of conditions in London with those on the sub-continent.
“Yeah, so the bullet, projectile, whatever, would feel like an insect bite. We need to see the PM report, find out if there was any kind of mark that would go along with that.”
“And the poison?”
“I gather that’s the selling point with this particular mode of despatch. The poison disappears very quickly from the system, so a post mortem’s unlikely to pick it up, if the pathologist was even looking for it. A heart attack is a heart attack is a heart attack....”
Doyle stared in front of him for a moment, thinking, then turned in alarm.
“Bloody hell, Bodie, we touched that casing! What about the poison?”
“Keep your hair on, mate.” Bodie was grinning. “When it left the chamber it was still ice, remember? And even if there had been anything left behind, it would have evaporated by the time I picked it up, anyway. That’s the whole point. Besides,” he added with an evil leer, “neither of us have keeled over yet, so it must be okay, right?”
Doyle gave him a sideways glower, which only made Bodie’s grin that much wider.
~ ~ ~
Bishopsgate turned into the Kingsland Road. Doyle looked around to get his bearings.
“This is close to my old territory, you know. So, where are we going?”
“Somewhere I doubt even you got to find out about in your wooden-top days,” grinned Bodie, manoeuvring past a delivery van.
“Don’t you think we should call this into Cowley first, though?”
“Nah, let’s just check a detail or two. Won’t take long.”
The traffic thinned a little as they got into Dalston. Bodie parked at the back of some tatty-looking market stalls and led the way to a small restaurant just behind Dalston Junction station. Well, restaurant was perhaps a grandiose title for it, thought Doyle, as he threaded his way between the small formica tables behind Bodie’s confident stride. But modest or no, it didn’t stop his mouth watering at the delicious aroma of grilled lamb and chicken. There were piles of pickled salad and plates of flatbread waiting near the grill, and heavy-set men with napkins stuffed into their shirt-fronts watched them pass with ill-concealed curiosity.
“Turkish, is it?” asked Doyle, just to be annoying, and was rewarded by a particularly pained glance thrown over Bodie’s shoulder.
The waiters seemed unfazed by Bodie behaving like he owned the place, and merely pulled aside a heavy beaded curtain at the back of the room. They passed through, Bodie with an air of easy familiarity, and Doyle with a hard backward glare at the assembled customers and staff – he didn’t like the idea of being hemmed into a corner, and there was no obvious alternative way to get out of there.
The inner room was surprisingly spacious, and furnished with a couch, some chairs and a couple of tables, each covered with a gaily-pattered cloth. Once they were inside, the curtain at the doorway was dropped back, and the transition from the comparatively well-lit restaurant to the sudden dimness made Doyle blink rapidly, to try to adjust. The only illumination came from a low-wattage bulb in the ceiling and a lamp on the each of the tables. In the far corner, in the depths of the shadows, a squat-looking man, sweating in a dark suit and tie, regarded them with hooded eyes. And at the nearer of the tables sat a tall, slender man in beige trousers and a white shirt, smoking a Black Sobranie; the smell made Doyle wrinkle his nose.
Bodie’s easy air dissipated, and Doyle could sense his partner’s sudden tension. Whoever Bodie had been expecting, this clearly was not the right person.
“Where’s Martell?” asked Bodie, his voice sharp.
The man at the table didn’t get up, but merely took a long drag on his cigarette and gestured to them to sit down; neither of them took up the offer.
“I said,” repeated Bodie, “where’s Martell?”
The man in the corner shifted uneasily, but the cigarette-smoker merely put up a hand in a gesture of restraint. He smiled at Bodie.
“Mr Bodie, isn’t it? I recognise you from Marty’s description.” The man’s voice had a tinge of accent – Dutch, Doyle guessed, though maybe a touch of Afrikaans in there somewhere, too. “Please sit down, both of you. No need to be concerned. Any friend of Marty’s is a friend of mine.”
Bodie remained standing, and Doyle took his lead from his partner, turning to keep an eye on the doorway and putting his hand on the butt of his revolver, both as reassurance and as a demonstration of intent.
“Now, now. We need no violence here, please, Mr Bodie. Do tell your friend to relax.”
“He’ll relax when I relax,” replied Bodie, his voice icy. “Who the hell are you?”
“Jason de Vries. I am Marty Martell’s business partner in some of his operations.”
“Oh? Since when?” Bodie was clearly not happy.
“For some years, but I operate mainly abroad. I am just minding the store, as the Americans say, while Marty is away.”
“And just where would he be, then?”
“At the moment, Maputo. A little problem with a shipment that requires some careful finessing.”
“Marty hates Mozambique.”
“Then you can tell how important his trip must be,” smiled de Vries.
Doyle finally lost patience.
“Bodie, get on with it. If you want to play James Bond with your old muckers, leave it to another day.”
Bodie gave him a dark look, and turned again to de Vries.
“Where did I first meet Martell?”
“Djibouti.” de Vries was unperturbed.
“And his first words to me?”
“Bodie, for God’s sake!” hissed Doyle, but Bodie waved a hand at him impatiently.
“What were they?” he insisted, glaring at de Vries.
“If I believe his story,” said de Vries smoothly, “they were ‘Nice arse.’”
Doyle spun round from sentry duty at the door, his eyes popping. Bodie however was smiling broadly, and taking a seat at the table.
“All right, de Vries. Had to make sure, you know.”
“Oh, absolutely, Mr Bodie. I’m sure Marty would send his good wishes if he knew you were here. I gather you have gone legit, these days? Unless this visit means you have returned to the fold?”
Doyle stomped back to the table and glared down at the two men, pretty fed-up with being apparently relegated to the role of bodyguard.
“Oh, he’s legit, all right – CI5. We both are, and with enough influence to cause you some sleepless nights, so I hope you’ll be candid with us.” He punched Bodie on the shoulder with deliberate violence.
“Get on with it!”
Bodie gave him a black look and turned again to de Vries.
“We’re after information, and I'm looking for your cooperation here.”
De Vries’ eyebrow lifted.
“I am sure that Marty would be delighted to assist your organisation, Mr Bodie, but we run a business. There needs to be reciprocation, you agree?”
Bodie didn't wait for the predictable explosion from Doyle.
“Just look at it as a way of ensuring we don't pay too much attention to your activities just now, Jason. Step over the line into illegality in Britain and CI5’ll have your balls for breakfast, all right? That's the deal I've had with Marty, and that's going to have to be good enough for you, mate.”
Bodie pulled his chair closer to the table and leaned over towards de Vries, who sat cool and impassive across from him. Doyle half-turned again so that he was facing the doorway, keeping an eye out for risk, but with his ear cocked for Bodie’s questions.
“Now,” Bodie continued smoothly, “what have you and Marty heard about unusual weapons in circulation, being used here in London?”
“What sort of weapon are you talking about?” returned de Vries, mildly.
“I'm talking Company specials, CIA spook stuff, like what was in the press last year. Specifically, ice pellet guns; probably rifle, but maybe handgun, too.”
De Vries’ facade wavered a little.
“I must make clear, Mr Bodie. Neither Marty nor I have any involvement in such products.” Doyle turned back on a reflex to gauge the man’s expression and veracity, and de Vries met his stare with a cool look.
“Against your principles, is it?” spat Doyle, glaring.
“A matter of pragmatism,” replied de Vries, his eyes locked on Doyle’s. “We have no desire to get involved with supplying the Security Services of any government. As any business man in this sector will tell you, they are considerably more unreliable and cut-throat than the average West African despot, and that, as Mr Bodie will confirm, is saying quite a lot.”
“We're not saying you're involved, de Vries,” interjected Bodie pleasantly, automatically cutting in to present himself as the sensible counterpart to his hot-head partner. “We just want to know whether you've heard of anything on the old business grapevine; any rumours of a job being done.”
De Vries turned his attention back to Bodie, regarding him thoughtfully.
“You think this is the Company’s business, or just someone using their weapon?”
Bodie shrugged, in the time-honoured gesture of ‘who the hell knows, mate?’, and de Vries nodded to himself.
“Indeed. Well, you must appreciate that, should the Company itself be involved in whatever you suspect is going on, my business could suffer significantly if they discover I have been assisting you.”
“You’re a big boy, Jason,” smiled Bodie. “I’m sure you can handle that. And you will have our goodwill, I assure you.”
In the corner by the door, Doyle sniffed at that.
“I will ask around,” said de Vries. “I assume you want any information urgently, so I shall telephone as soon as I hear anything. You have a number?”
Bodie grabbed a ballpoint from his inner pocket and scribbled something down on a paper napkin.
“Someone will take a message here. Ta, Jason.”
As if a secret sign for the end of the meeting had been given, both men got up abruptly, slightly startling both Doyle and de Vries’ minder; the man made a preliminary grab at his concealed weapon but, seeing Doyle’s hand move faster to his own holster, wisely stopped right there. Bodie and de Vries merely shook hands, and Bodie swept out through the bead curtain with an imperious rattling. Doyle looked back coldly at de Vries, who merely smiled politely and inclined his head in farewell. Doyle gave a final snort of disgust, then threw the curtain aside and stomped after Bodie, out into the blazing sunshine.
Doyle’s silent strop lasted all the way back through the City and halfway down the Strand. He made no comments when Bodie called into HQ and relayed what they’d found so far to their boss. Cowley, by contrast, was grimly appreciative of their efforts, updating them on his chat with Douglas Clarke and instructing them to head back to base, whilst he pulled some more threads together and looked at the PM report again. But throughout the exchange, Doyle had remained tight-lipped and surly.
Finally, fed-up of the stony stare out of the side window and the odd monosyllabic grunt in return for his attempts to make conversation, Bodie hauled the car to the side of the thoroughfare, away from the most recent jam where they had been stuck behind three buses and a refuse cart slowly poisoning the population with diesel fumes, and left the hazard lights flashing while he dashed into a Piccolo. His sudden disappearance, and equally sudden and swift reappearance with two bulging paper bags, at least had the benefit of startling Doyle out of his black reverie. His partner jumped as a greasy parcel hit his lap.
“What’s this?” he asked, the first intelligible words he’d spoken for three-quarters of an hour.
“Egg and cress,” replied Bodie, squeezing back behind the wheel and extracting two cans of Coke from his jacket pockets, handing one to Doyle. “So don’t say I never buy you anything.” He swung the car out into the slow traffic again, oblivious to honking horns, and ripped open his own parcel with one hand.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, eat to keep your strength up, then,” replied Bodie, his voice somewhat muffled by cheese and pickle. “And that Coke is nice and cold.”
Silence. Doyle picked once at the sandwich wrapper and reverted to staring out the window.
“Or,” said Bodie, his voice now clearer and the sharp edge to it evident, “you could just spit out whatever’s been revolving in your dark little brain for the last hour and we could be done with it.”
Doyle glanced sideways at him, his mouth a twist of displeasure, but still said nothing.
“Go on,” persisted Bodie, dropping his sandwich into a napkin fastidiously placed on his lap while he applied two hands to the wheel and eased the Capri through an impossibly tight gap between a lorry and a delivery van to gain the relative freedom of a slightly more open road. “I know what you want to say. He’s an arms dealer. You don’t like having to do business with arms dealers.”
Doyle turned suddenly in his seat to glare at him.
“No, I bloody don’t, all right? What the hell do you think you’re doing, letting him carry on business here, giving him a nod and a wink about ‘goodwill’? Just because he’s a friend of yours.....”
“Against your nice, white, liberal principles, isn’t it, Doyle?” cut in Bodie waspishly. “Oh, grow up, you pompous git. Don’t be so bloody sanctimonious. He’s no different to all the grasses you had on your books in your PC Plod days, and still do, for that matter. Someone who can be pressed for the information you need right there and then. Just because de Vries is in that line of work doesn’t make him any better or worse than your small-beer drug-dealers and porn-pedlars and anyone else on the wrong side of the law whose arms you’re habitually twisting for tip-offs.” Bodie paused for a moment in his tirade, then continued in a somewhat softer tone. “And he’s not my friend, all right? Not him, nor his partner. You don’t make friends in that business. You just have people you know.”
“Arms, Bodie! For God’s sake!”
“What are you so worked up about? He’s hardly tossing hand grenades at the brothers in Brixton, you know.”
“You’ve been in wars,” snapped Doyle, stabbing a finger at the dashboard with violence, as if he couldn’t risk making the same gesture in Bodie’s direction, “or so you keep telling me. You’ve seen what happens.”
“Of course I have. But arms dealers don’t create wars, they just feed off them. You go ahead and sort out world peace, Doyle, and we won’t need that line of business. Until then, we use them. And if they can help us here, all well and good. So digest that along with your egg and cress, and cool down. It’s difficult enough in these temperatures without you going all ballistic.”
Doyle turned abruptly away again and fell silent. With a sigh, Bodie swung the car down the Mall, finally finding some clear road, and pressed the pedal to the floor. It was already three o’clock and so far all they had was a mystery in search of a motive. He felt impatient and unprepared, a bad combination in his book. He was still musing, and privately fuming, about Doyle’s double-standards as they approached Headquarters, until a voice broke through his thoughts.
“Nice, that sandwich,” said the voice. “Hit the spot, right enough.” There was a snap as a ring-pull was removed, liberating the Coke can, and the sound of grateful swallowing. Bodie allowed himself a private little smile.
~ ~ ~
A wide-eyed Arthur Eames was waiting in a side office with one of the juniors. He jumped up as they walked in.
“I didn’t know I’d be here this long! My supervisor is going to kill me! I know you wanted help, but if I’m not back for the rush hour there’ll be hell to pay!”
Bodie smiled one of his most charming smiles, reserved for the harmless general public, old ladies and small dogs.
“Don’t worry, Mr Eames. Peter here will run you right back to London Bridge in a jiffy. Won’t you, Peter?” The junior nodded resignedly.
“What’ve we got?” asked Doyle, grabbing one of the chairs, reversing it and swinging himself onto it. He leaned over the table and felt the heat of Bodie’s presence as his partner loomed over him, also craning to see the ledgers and photographs spread out there. The window was opened and the edges of the papers ruffled slightly. With a significant look, Peter pushed towards them a flimsy piece of foolscap clipped to a grainy 6-by-7, and they scanned the limited information typed on it.
“That one!” Arthur was back in the swing of things, now that his worries about getting to his shift had been dispelled. “I’m one hundred percent certain about him. He was the bloke with the case.”
Bodie and Doyle raised their heads at the same moment to direct piercing looks in Arthur’s direction. He flustered immediately.
“Yeah, almost a hundred percent. Ninety-nine point nine, at least. And considering the photo’s not that good...” He tailed off, clearly regretting now his eagerness to assist in other people’s enquiries.
Bodie straightened up and grinned at him.
“Great work, Arthur. Thanks a lot. Peter, get him back to work. Can’t have the whole railway system collapsing into chaos, can we?”
Doyle stood up with the photo in his hand, peering at it with concentration. He looked up at Bodie.
“Cowley,” he said.
“Cowley,” repeated Bodie, with a broad smile, waving him through the door with a flourish, then crowding him annoyingly as they strode down the corridor together.
~ ~ ~
Cowley, it turned out, had visitors.
“Bodie, Doyle – come in. I had expected you here earlier. Anything to add to your earlier report?”
Bodie took up a position by the door, while Doyle squeezed past Cowley’s seated guests and went to lean on his usual filing cabinet.
“Traffic’s pretty bad out there, sir,” replied Bodie. “We got back as quick as we could. Plus we’ve got a photo match from the London Bridge guard bloke.” He looked at Doyle, who handed the foolscap report and photo over to Cowley, giving a sideways look at Cowley’s visitors as he did so.
“Ah, I should introduce you. Bodie, Doyle, this is Professor Clarke of Onslow College, Oxford. Superintendent Parnell you know already.” The Special Branch man inclined his head in acknowledgement, the Oxford don gave an enthusiastic little bob of his head and a nervous smile.
“Corin Hartley,” said Doyle, gesturing to the photo. “Ex-CIA, or so our files says. Rumours that he’d gone freelance, but that could just be a smokescreen.”
“Smokescreen?” echoed the Professor, perplexed.
“Meaning, once CIA, always CIA,” put in Bodie dryly. “It’s been known for operatives allegedly off the Agency’s books to be subcontracted back again for certain jobs.”
“So,” mused Cowley, steepling his fingers together, “here’s what we maybe have. A global hostage crisis, a colloquium of eminent academics and diplomats about to descend on an untried and so far unprotected venue, a number of sudden deaths, including someone central to the organisation of the colloquium, and an ex-CIA operative on the loose in London with a weapon designed for secret assassinations. Just an ordinary Friday, I suppose.”
Bodie gave a polite cough from the sidelines.
“We’re still waiting for our … informant... to tell us what he can find out about the weapon. With that and the picture, we might get a better idea of what’s going on. But what we wondered, sir, was … well, do we think there is any attendee who is a specific target here, sir? Because if whoever it is just wanted disruption, all they’d have to do is lob a grenade.”
“They clearly want anonymity, don’t they?” ventured the Professor. “I mean, if this weapon is designed for covert use. A bomb would surely have the opposite effect?”
“Not if they just hired a random loony to do the lobbing,” broke in Doyle. “There’s enough of them around, as we and the Superintendent well know. And the Entebbe thing has brought a lot more to the surface.”
Cowley gave Douglas Clarke a penetrating look.
“Run through the attendee list again, Douglas, if you will.”
Cowley’s old friend gave an uncomfortable shuffle in his seat, and started counting off with his fingers.
“Three academics from the LSE, all of them resident in London; representatives from the Egyptian and Ugandan embassies – those who allegedly could be spared; we are expecting someone from the relevant Committee of the Libyan embassy; a representative of the US State department – another academic, in fact; and an professor from Tel Aviv, who was over here on a study tour and whom his government is co-opting. Oh, and me, of course.” He gave Cowley an apologetic smile. “I wish I could tell you more, George.”
“Aye,” replied Cowley drily, “I wish you could, too, Douglas. Because what Bodie is suggesting looks very plausible – assassination of one of the delegates. The deaths over the past three days…”
“…would have been practice,” broke in Doyle with sudden animation, the pieces fitting together now. “He’d need to get used to the weapon.”
“From what I’ve read, this type of ammunition has only been used with a handgun in the past – for close quarter kills. Longer distance, you’d need some kind of rifle, or a stock at least, and with a sight. You’d need to get your hand in.”
“But this last bloke, Edwin Rice,” frowned Doyle. “If the shooter hadn’t targeted him we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It would just be a normal security detail for a conference – sorry, colloquium. It’s a hell of a coincidence that he was picked. Could he have been the target anyway?”
Cowley shook his head.
“No, Doyle, I can’t believe he’s the primary target – he’s too low down in the pecking order here. One of the attendees must be at risk.”
Douglas Clarke was looking from Doyle to Cowley and back again, his face distressed.
“Really? You think Edwin died because of his secondment to the colloquium? Oh, dear God, that’s appalling!”
“The post mortem is inconclusive, as one might expect with this weapon,” returned Cowley. “However, Corin Hartley’s presence, and the traces of the weapons casing that Bodie and Doyle found, certainly point to that interpretation. I think we should assume this victim at least was not chosen at random; and if so, there must have been a good reason why he was killed, at such a late stage in the game.”
“Special Branch can manage the sweeping of the venue,” offered Parnell, “and the security detail tomorrow. However, given the other calls on our time at the moment, it would be a great help, Major Cowley, if CI5 could provide bodyguard duties en route to the venue.”
“Aye, I think we can manage that. Superintendent, I’ll have my team contact you about the logistics. Douglas, please could you give my secretary all the details of the individuals attending the colloquium, so we can start allocating their protection? I’ll be in touch with you both before the end of the day.”
Cowley rose, as a sign the meeting was over, though his meaningful glance at both Bodie and Doyle kept them in their places. On his return from seeing his visitors out, his tone was brisk.
Bodie flicked a glance to his partner, then straightened his back to attention.
“A hired kill, sir. No doubt about that. I’d focus on the Israeli and Palestinian delegates, for starters. They’d be prime targets, if whoever it is doing this wants to destabilise the situation in the Middle East even more.”
“The thing is,” mused Doyle, “we don’t know yet who’s running this, so although those are the obvious targets, it could be something completely different. It’s like we know all the bits of a puzzle, but we don’t know what the picture is.”
“Aye,” nodded Cowley. “I feel just the same. Something doesn’t fit here, and it’s because of Edwin Rice. Why was he killed? Right, you two. Get off to Rice’s home, pull it part; see what you can find that might give us some clue as to the picture of the puzzle, as Doyle puts it. And stand ready for bodyguard duty tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir. Just what Saturday’s for, sir.”
“Ach, away with you. And less of the cheek, 3-7.”
~ ~ ~
On the time-honoured basis of ‘if anything more can happen, it probably will’ , Edwin Rice lived in Catford, and the combination of Friday afternoon traffic and the sweltering heat meant there was gridlock all the way over the river and through south London. Doyle drove, leaving Bodie to gaze out of the window in thought, occasionally offering comments such as: “That shop’s got cold drinks for sale, it says!” or “C’mon, Doyle, just a swift half, that’s a nice boozer there. My throat thinks it’s in the bleedin’ Sahara.” Predictably, Doyle ignored each comment, merely giving Bodie a baleful look.
Bodie’s pristine linen jacket had long been relegated to the back seat, and he’d rolled his shirt-sleeves up, now they were back on the streets. Although it was late afternoon, the heat was still intense and, when they got out of the Capri at Charsley Road, it seemed to be pulsing in waves off the pavement. Bodie looked casually around at the dusty plane trees as Doyle expertly jimmied the lock of the tiny terraced house’s front door.
“Going to be hotter again tomorrow, they say,” he offered. “That’s going to be fun, nurse-maiding some diplomat in the car all the way to north London.” Doyle merely grunted, and the door swung open.
There seemed to be little change in the temperature inside the house, even though Rice had left his curtains drawn against the heat as many had been doing recently. They made a quiet trawl of all the rooms, Bodie doing upstairs, Doyle down, with guns drawn, then met again in the stairwell as Bodie clattered down in distinct contrast to his stealthy ascent.
“Nah. And no one’s been here, either, which is a plus.”
They split the more detailed search between them, starting with the sitting room and rifling through the contents of Rice’s desk. Bank statements all seemed to be in order and a couple of building society pass-books held modest sums only. The obvious eliminated, they started on likely hiding places, with Doyle on the hunt in the kitchen, plumbing the depths of food containers and slightly dusty cupboards, while Bodie went back upstairs to the one bedroom/one boxroom arrangement of the little house. It was Bodie who yelled first - a triumphant shout. Doyle dropped the lid of what he’d been poking into and ran upstairs to find Bodie sitting on the bed, a large wad of twenty pound notes in his hands. He looked up as Doyle entered the room.
“Literally under the mattress,” he grinned. “Our lad didn’t have much imagination.”
“A few thousand?” queried Doyle, eyeing the wad of notes.
“Haven’t counted them out yet, but yeah, a good few, I’d think. I wouldn’t say this was a normal withdrawal from the Midland, either. No bank bands on them.”
“Hmph, thirty pieces of silver, but in paper form?”
Bodie raised an eyebrow in agreement.
“So,” continued Doyle thoughtfully, “Edwin Rice was part of this plan, and this is his down-payment for facilitating… what? Something to do with the conference? But got cold feet…”
“…and had to be got out of the way. He wanted an early meeting with Cowley’s mate, Professor Clarke, maybe to blow the whistle. But they got to him first.”
Doyle jerked his head towards the door.
“We’d better call this in, mate. Come on.”
They had only got to the landing when a gentle click from downstairs stopped them both in their tracks, Bodie raising his hand automatically to signal the need for silence. Down below in the tiled hallway, the door was being pushed cautiously open. Two men - nondescript, white, wearing lightweight beige suits – slipped into the house. Doyle pulled his gun.
“Hello, mates,” he said pleasantly. “You got an appointment?”
The two men looked up, each reaching into his jacket for a weapon, but seeing two guns now trained on them from above, they turned tail. Doyle was first after them, thumping down the stairs two at a time.
“Ray, watch those guns!”
Bodie got out of the front door in time to see a dark blue Cortina pulling away from the kerb. Doyle vaulted over the garden hedge – unnecessarily showy, thought Bodie with a frown as he made for the gate – but the next moment he was shouting another warning.
“Ray, look out!”
The Cortina had no intention of stopping for Doyle’s raised handgun. It swerved violently to the left, and Doyle found himself having to vault the hedge once again, in the other direction, to get out of the way. Bodie rushed out into the street but lowered his own weapon; the Cortina was gaining speed, and all he’d do if he fired was frighten the pram-pushers and homebound commuters, not something that pleased Cowley if it wasn’t strictly necessary. He snapped the safety back on and walked back to Doyle, who was extricating himself from the privet and picking bits of twigs from his hair.
“Bit gung-ho there, weren’t we?”
“Says you,” snapped Doyle, holstering his gun again and stomping off to the Capri.
“Yeah, well, I’m the one who’d have to explain to Cowley why you’re plastered all over a pavement, you berk!” shouted Bodie at his departing back. Then he sighed heavily and went to join Doyle as he leant over the car roof, the radio mic in his hand.
“Yes, sir,” Doyle was saying, clearly already patched through to Cowley. “Looks like a considerable pay-off. And two heavies who got there just after us, presumably sent to cover the tracks. The fact they’ve left it so late in the day means they’re either sloppy, or don’t realise we’re on to them.”
“You’ve apprehended them?” came Cowley’s voice.
“No, sir, they had too much of a head start and we didn’t want to shoot up Catford, it being Friday teatime ‘n all.”
That wasn’t going to go down well. Doyle made an exasperated face at Bodie, who tetchily made one right back.
“Ach, well, they know we’re on to them now, don’t they? That’s a disappointment. But never mind, all this shows we are definitely on the right track. I’m pursuing some other leads right now. Await your instructions about tomorrow. Oh, and Bodie, you’ve had a call from your man de Vries. He wants to meet you. Waterloo, seven-thirty, he says. I trust you know what he means?”
Bodie leaned over Doyle to speak into the mic.
“Got that, sir. On our way.”
The connection clicked off and Doyle replaced the mic on the dashboard, then straightened up and gave a long, bone-cracking stretch.
“Gawd, back in the car. I feel like that’s all we’ve done all day. Sit in this bleedin’ car and get suffocated by heat and fumes.”
“That’s because that is all you’ve done, sunshine. But look on the bright side. While we lose our Saturday, you get your chance at achieving world peace. Come on, I’ll drive. We have an assignation.” Bodie waggled his eyebrows. “The clock at Waterloo, no less.”
“That de Vries lives in his own fantasy world.”
“Yeah,” said Bodie, revving the engine and taking off down the dusty street at a less than sedate pace, “but the bullets are real.”
~ ~ ~
Just like London Bridge in the morning, so Waterloo was a crush of hot, irritated commuters waiting for delayed departures. In amongst the sweaty crowds, Jason de Vries should have stood out like a pearl amongst swine, what with his pristine white shirt. But of the arms dealer there was no sign.
Doyle sighed heavily, but a glower from Bodie stopped him voicing his annoyance. Half past seven came and went, with them both being jostled and pushed by dishevelled commuters trying to get home, and both getting increasingly tetchy as a result. A chance remark by Bodie about the pub under the arches outside meant the conversation had been building up to a full-scale row when de Vries’ minder suddenly appeared at Doyle’s elbow, and made a ‘follow me’ jerk with this head. The partners exchanged glances, then followed him, still watchful.
De Vries was in the back of a black saloon car waiting near the taxi rank outside the station. He didn’t get out of the car, and Bodie had to bend down to the window to converse with him while Doyle kept watch on the minder, and the rest of the world around them. There was another man in the car, silent and blank-faced; de Vries did not introduce him.
“Not much,” said de Vries, without preamble. “A snippet here and there. There is gossip about one of these weapons being used, and also gossip about a hit going down, and a foreign shooter, but nothing about the target. Everyone seems as mystified as yourselves.” He smiled pleasantly.
“And the weapon?” pressed Bodie. “Anything about ammo?”
“Rifle and handgun – the gossip talks about both - but definitely a new weapon. I should point out, Mr Bodie, that the ammunition for this weapon is surprisingly easily made, or so I am told. All one would need is a domestic freezer compartment to one’s refrigerator.”
“Has one heard about any ricin purchases, though?” put in Doyle, in an irritated voice.
“I was coming to that,” replied de Vires, smoothly. “The casings are custom-made. One of my contacts had an enquiry about the fabrication of a light-weight metal casing for a small projectile, but he declined to proceed with the order. He might, however, be able to identify the man in question.”
Bodie suddenly twigged and turned back to Doyle.
“Gimme that picture!” The photo of Corin Hartley was duly handed over with a frown, and Bodie handed it in turn to de Vries. The man next to him peered at it.
“That’s him,” confirmed the other passenger. “I know him, from way back. A CIA operative, though I heard he left them some time ago. I asked him about the weight of the metal he needed, but he wouldn’t say any more about the gun involved, only that the casing needed to be able to withstand a distance shot, and that there would be … ah, how did he put it? … unorthodox contents. But he wouldn’t give any details. He mentioned however that a delivery he had been expecting hadn’t reached him, which is why he had approached me. In the end, I turned down the commission. If he could tell me no more, I felt I was unlikely to provide the correct material, and I have my reputation to protect.”
“You don’t say,” snapped Doyle, pushing past Bodie to lean in through the window and snatch back the photo.
“Ricin?” repeated Bodie, in vain hope.
“Horribly easy to manufacture,” replied de Vries. “I know this is not much, in total. But everything I have found out convinces me that just such a weapon is to be used, fairly soon, in this city. I’m sorry not to be able to provide more assistance. I don’t like covert operations, Mr Bodie. I don’t like secret assassinations. It’s not sporting. Give me open warfare any time.”
“Good to know you’re on the moral high-ground,” muttered Doyle. Bodie shoved him aside and leaned in through the window again.
“Any idea where this guy might be holed up?”
“You could try the ex-pat clubs,” replied de Vries. “But I doubt you’ll have much luck. There’s probably a team on this – too many things needed for the weapon for it to be left to one man operating solo. But if the hit is about to go down, the shooter will be resting up somewhere. Think about it. It’s what you’d do, isn’t it?”
With that, the window rolled up and the car pulled away, leaving the partners staring at its departing brake lights.
“What did he mean,” asked Doyle after a moment, “‘it’s what you’d do’? Did you do this sort of thing in the past, eh?”
“Chemical weapons aren’t my bag, Doyle. You should know that. Come on, let’s call this in and then have a go at the clubs. At least there might be a drink in it.”
He strode away, back to the Capri, leaving Doyle feeling oddly dissatisfied with the evaded question.
~ ~ ~
There was a rattle of a chain, and the hotel door opened a crack. Douglas Clarke blinked in the hallway light.
“Oh, George! I didn’t expect you here! I already have your kind gentleman keeping watch on me.”
Cowley nodded to his operative camped on a chair outside Professor Clarke’s hotel room and pushed his way firmly over the threshold. Clarke reeked of whisky fumes.
“You and I need to have a chat, Douglas,” he said, sitting down in one of the room’s armchairs and gesturing to Clarke to take the other.
“Won’t you have a drink?” prevaricated Clarke. “I think I’ll have a little top-up, myself.”
“I think you’ve had quite enough, Professor,” replied Cowley, with an edge to his voice that halted Clarke in his tracks. The man sat down meekly in a chair facing Cowley’s, but dropped his gaze to the floor.
“ ‘I’d tell you more if I could’”, quoted Cowley. “A very transparent clue, Douglas. When you first appeared this morning, I confess I was convinced you had come to CI5 to rectify a simple mistake in planning. But that’s not it, is it? I’ve talked to the Met, and I’ve talked to the FCO – what they both tell me implies that you have been playing them off against each other. Both thought the other was engaged. Yet you came specifically to CI5. Why us, Douglas? Why us at such a late stage in the day? Did you have second thoughts?”
“About what, George? You’re losing me here!” The laugh was weak.
“Stop playing games, Douglas! I think you know you’re part of some kind of covert activity to assassinate a member of this conference…”
“Dammit, man!” Cowley stood in anger and strode to the other chair, towering over Clarke who looked up abjectly. “You’re playing with a man’s life here. What’s going on?”
Clarke slammed his glass down on the side table and stood, a little unsteadily, to pace across the room. Then he turned and pointed an accusing finger at Cowley.
“You won’t be able to trace it back, you know. As far as the security arrangements go, they were not my responsibility, not directly. Edwin Rice was in charge of that. The failure of the security is down to him.”
“Except you gave him the orders, didn’t you? And he was sitting on a stash of blood money to do so. Oh yes, we’ve found it. Would we find something similar if we raided your rooms at Onslow College, Douglas?”
Clarke ran his hand over his brow.
“I didn’t believe it would come to this. That Edwin would be… be removed in that way. You must understand, George, I took instructions for this colloquium from very high sources indeed. Very high sources in both HMG and the US State Department. I was to afford our American colleagues every assistance; I was to follow their lead in all of it. And that is what I’ve done. There is nothing that can be pinned to me, without also incriminating countless senior people. People who would crush you in an instant, don’t you understand?”
“We’ll see about that,” snapped Cowley. “What were your instructions?”
“Merely to ensure the colloquium was staged and that the specified individuals attended. Truly, at the beginning I thought this was simply a secret brief – I’ve done many of those in Whitehall before. But as arrangements progressed, and we were asked to expedite certain aspects, turn a blind eye… well, I began to have suspicions. But they were very persuasive, not to mention generous.”
“So I gather,” said Cowley icily. “And what was it that finally made you seek me out?”
“Edwin rang me last evening, asking for a meeting this morning, which of course he never made. I think he wanted to tell me that we should come clean. I was truly expecting him to turn up. I didn’t say a word to anyone about my suspicions, or about Edwin. But I felt I should talk to you. The thing that had been niggling me all along was not just the strange feeling of it all being an elaborate hoax – why on earth should such a colloquium be called now, and at such short notice? - but it was also the chosen American attendee, and nominated chairman.”
“Go on,” pressed Cowley, feeling that they were finally getting to the heart of matters.
Clarke put his hand out for his glass again, and then withdrew it, shaking his head.
“It’s strange,” he went on. “I hardly know the man, of course, but we have met from time to time at conferences and such like. He’s a very eminent fellow in his field, but his field is not geo-politics, or the Middle East, or even conflict resolution. He has however had a great deal to do with military matters in the US and has advised various Senate committees about the funding of the Armed Forces. I suppose that might make him aware of the pressures of conflict zones, but at base he is an economist.”
“This is Professor Horner?”
“Yes, yes; Ketteridge Tennison Horner. I think there’s even a ‘the Third’ in there somewhere.” Clarke chuckled weakly. “A genial man, very principled and very professional.”
“And he was the favoured Chairman for the conference?”
“Oh, absolutely! My American contacts were most emphatic. He had to be involved. They were by contrast quite cavalier about any other attendees. And that, I promise you, George, is the extent of my knowledge about things. I didn’t know what arrangements Edwin had with our counterparts, but I did not accept any money myself. Of course not! How could you think it?”
“I might not have thought it possible yesterday, Douglas, but my opinion of you has changed markedly. Onslow will have a new wing for its library someday soon, perhaps?”
“Goerge, you don’t understand! You don’t say no to these people!”
“If you’d come to me sooner, perhaps I could have given you the strength to do so,” sighed Cowley. “And now we have a young man dead, as well as five other completely innocent people – people with families - and another man is on the list.”
“I had no knowledge of those details, George! Believe me!” called Clarke to Cowley’s departing back. “And I did call you in, eventually. I knew you would sort it out.”
“Aye, Douglas,” muttered Cowley, closing the door behind him. “I’ll sort it out, have no doubt.”
Saturday, the 3rd of July, dawned sunny and bright – of course it did. The TV pundits could foresee no break in the weather for some weeks yet and, if anything, temperatures for the day were expected to be even higher than Friday’s record-breaker. Bodie sighed and wriggled his shoulders a little, trying to loosen the damp shirt from his back. Today he’d chosen the pale lemon one, hoping that a fresh shirt would keep him fresher in his suit, but it was already soaking.
The Arrivals area of Terminal Three at Heathrow was a new kind of torture in this weather; the high glass walls accentuated the light, and the air conditioning, such as it was, stood no chance against the effect of the baking sun outside. They were standing at the edge of the Customs area, away from the main crowds, the better to spirit their guest away as soon as he appeared. But, if anything, the atmosphere was even stuffier there.
It hadn’t helped that refreshment had been hard to find the previous night; most of the pubs and clubs they’d trailed around, searching for Hartley, were serving only warm beer. Bodie found himself salivating at the thought of a tall glass, beaded with moisture, and full of German lager cooled to perfection. He closed his eyes and sighed – small chance of that happening for many hours yet, if ever, in this sodding extreme weather.
“Stop day-dreaming about beer,” snapped Doyle as he made another pass of the floor where Bodie stood. Oh, yeah, mused Bodie, and small chance of it happening with Ray Bloody Doyle the Prohibitionist around. God, he could be such a trial when he was on his high horse about alcohol and work. Quite another story if he was in a different mood, it was.
Doyle kept pacing. Bodie smiled to himself as his partner once again strode off down the marble floor to check the board for the eight-thirty arrival from New York, even though it had been mere minutes since his last trek. Doyle was in unaccustomed finery, wearing one of his few suits at Cowley’s say-so. Even the jacket was on – a marvel - but not just because they had had a lecture the night before about being smart for foreign visitors; there were holsters to hide from public view. Doyle scrubbed up better than the man gave himself credit for, thought Bodie with appreciation, and a good deal of amusement; it was always entertaining to see Doyle forced to be on his best behaviour.
Bodie stifled his smirk as Doyle turned and tramped back towards him, tightening his tie.
“Says ‘Baggage in Hall’.”
“Not long now, then,” said Bodie encouragingly, swinging round casually to scan the crowds for danger. They were both on edge. Cowley’s briefing late the previous evening, after they had wasted time in those hot and stuffy bars and clubs to no avail, had clarified some things at least; it was good to have a target to focus on. But as to where the threat would come from – well, that was still an unknown, and a very unsettling one.
In front of them was the public barrier, where the ranks of friends, family and others waited less than stoically for passengers to start emerging. Taxi drivers were holding up placards saying things like ‘Mr James’ or ‘Project Computing’.
“P’raps we should have one of those cards,” teased Bodie, jerking his head in their direction.
“Wouldn’t be very incognito, would it? Plus you’d need a hell of a big card for our bloke - ‘Ketteridge Tennison Horner’. It wouldn’t fit!”
“Don’t forget ‘the Third’.”
“Definitely not going to fit. Yanks have such daft names. Oh, hang on – we’re on.”
A slim, late middle-aged man in a light brown suit and carrying a small case came into sight.
“Here’s our bloke,” said Bodie. “Even looks like his passport picture for a change.”
They moved to greet the newcomer, their eyes constantly roving around the Arrivals Hall. Horner saw them and smiled broadly.
“You’re my bodyguards, I hear? Mr Bodie? Mr Doyle? I was wired your pictures last night at JFK.”
“That’s us, Professor,” said Bodie, hurriedly taking one flank while Doyle blocked from the front.
“I’m Ketteridge T. Horner, as you know. Pleased to meet you.”
“And we’ll be pleased to get you into the car, Professor, and out of the open,” said Doyle tightly. “Can you hurry along now?”
“Of course. But please, called me K T. Everyone does.”
“All right, K T. But let’s do the introductions in the car, shall we?”
With that, Professor Horner found himself swiftly and fairly unceremoniously shuffled out of the Terminal to wait, still shielded by Bodie’s broad back, while Doyle was deputised to retrieve the car.
The journey down the M4 was uneventful, with the traffic nice and evenly spaced, thank you very much; no obvious tails as far as either of them could make out. Meanwhile, Horner proved genial and intriguing, with his own take on the situation.
“To be honest, I was as surprised as anyone to be asked to act as Chairman for this conference, colloquium, whatever they call it,” – Doyle looked into the mirror to exchange a quick grin with Bodie at this – “I’m not a peace negotiator. I spot the debits and the credits, I follow the money, I look for economic booms and busts. I know all those things have their effect on wars, and vice versa, but honestly, this conference is not my specialism at all.”
“So why come at all?” asked Bodie, turning from his almost incessant scanning of the surrounding traffic to regard the man beside him with genuine curiosity. Horner shrugged ruefully.
“Oh, you know… doing the right thing, serving your country if you’re asked to do so. And it’s a great honour to be asked, don’t get me wrong. Even though it was at very short notice, I felt it was my duty to come. It’s just… I’m an odd choice.”
And it was also odd, thought Bodie, to be listening to this pleasant man talk about his brief and not be able to share with him the suspicions CI5 had about the current danger. Whoever was behind the threat showed no compunction at all about taking lives - innocent bystanders, innocent academics, not so innocent contacts who might have been losing their nerve, they all seemed to be fair game. Yet Cowley had been clear – Professor Horner should get to the conference without knowing about others’ potential ulterior motives. Their boss had wanted to make further enquiries of his own and speak to the Professor himself later in the morning.
“Well, we think you’re just the man for the job,” said Bodie expansively, “but that’s not our specialism either. Our job is to look after you. What you need to do for us is exactly what we tell you to do, immediately and without question, all right? It’s for your own protection.”
“I think I can manage that,” said Horner, with a smile, “though why anyone would want to shoot me, I have no idea.”
“Yeah,” breathed Doyle as he drove along. “It’s a mystery, and no mistake.”
Their progress, gratifyingly smooth to start with, was checked as they approached the end of the motorway, and the tension in the car became distinctly heightened as the traffic piled up around them and escape routes were blocked.
“It’s like this all the time?” asked Horner.
“Traffic’s always bad around here,” replied Bodie absently, his gaze switching between the lanes of cars, “but on a Saturday it ought to be a bit clearer. We’re having this really hot spell and it seems to be creating havoc with the roads, and the traffic...”
“And the trains…”” put in Doyle, shifting across a lane to get towards the turn-off for the North Circular Road.
“Everything, really,” finished Bodie glumly. “We’re British. This sort of weather doesn’t suit us.”
The car crawled down the exit ramp. Under the flyover, the air echoed with the throb of engines and the odd irate toot of a horn. Bodie’s eyes never left the cars around them, but there was nothing yet that marked any of them out as tails; and all so nondescript – a beige one here, a blue one there, a taxi, a van, a black Capri looking classy in the morning sun. They inched towards the roundabout and Doyle swore under his breath.
“Whassup?” asked Bodie quickly, turning his attention to the road in front; Doyle pointed.
“Look, the North Circular’s blocked. Bloody hell, we’ll have to go through town.”
They got down to the roundabout, feeling exposed all the while. Doyle waved his CI5 card out of the window, hailing a harassed-looking bobby who was ostensibly there to assist with the traffic flow but was really simply gazing around him in impotent dismay. To the (vocal) displeasure of other drivers, the young man jumped at the chance to halt some of the traffic, just enough to get their Capri out of the queue. Though, as Bodie muttered under his breath, they could have done without the extra publicity,
“Yeah,” said the young traffic constable, looking like he might burst into tears at any moment, “it’s mayhem. They’ve been working overnight repairing the tarmac what melted yesterday, but it’s not goin’ well, and they’ve over-run. So we’ve just got one lane workin’ on the 406, and then this bus goes and breaks down right in the middle of it. Plus there’s been a crash further along the A4. Everything’s pilin’ onto the ‘ammersmith road. If I were you, I’d drop down towards Chiswick and try to get through that way.”
Doyle was already edging through the roundabout traffic to take the road towards the river and, after some canny twists and turns, they were soon making reasonable progress, speeding past the shabby high mansions of Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush; they had no followers. But by the time they’d reached Kensington, they’d picked up an oddly familiar blue Vauxhall, which attentively stayed a car or so behind them as they started along the High Street. Then it too pulled away, off down a side street, and a beige Ford took its place.
“New one?” asked Doyle looking in the mirror.
“Might be,” muttered Bodie, blackly. “Don’t mind as long as I can see the buggers.”
A few hundred yards further on the traffic suddenly congealed again, though not before the blue Vauxhall had emerged from a side-street to pull into the queue just ahead. Bodie leaned over the front seat, his chin next to Doyle’s shoulder.
“Don’t like the look of this, mate.”
“Me neither,” replied Doyle tightly, turning the wheel to pull out of the queue and towards the next side-street. “Professor, can you sit a bit lower down, please?” Wide-eyed, KT did as he was told.
Then the car ahead came to an abrupt stop, trapping them in. Doyle exchanged a glance with Bodie, but before they could react, the near-side rear window was smashed with a blow that had them all ducking reflexively. Glass fragments were still raining everywhere when a hand appeared, holding a chunky-looking handgun. Part of Bodie’s brain was registering the unusual design of the gun even as he grappled with its owner, who yelled in pain as Bodie wrenched the gun back and away from KT’s horrified face before the trigger was pulled.
But now it was pointing towards the driver’s side. Bodie pulled hard at the arm, ramming it repeatedly against the door-frame to loosen the assailant’s grip, but despite his efforts there was a strange, heavy-sounding report as the gun went off, and he saw Doyle’s head fall sideways. He lost his grip on the gun and the arm withdrew.
Doyle was up again, sparing merely a quick glance at the chunk of ice that was sliding down the windscreen.
In a split-second Bodie was out of the car, firing at the retreating gunman and sending crowds of shoppers into a panic. He sincerely hoped no one was going to try to cross the road at that moment; and certainly not get in the way of the beige Ford, which was clearly part of the set-up, as the driver was leaning out with a gun, looking for a shot. Doyle got the Capri out of its stall and the car roared back onto life.
“Come on, get in!”
Bodie barely had a chance to get one foot inside when the blue Vauxhall in front was thrown into reverse and driven straight back at the Capri, with a squeal of burning tyres. The impact was significant, shattering the windscreen and throwing Bodie backwards onto the ground; the Capri’s bonnet popped of its own accord and clouds of steam immediately belched out. Doyle grabbed the radio mic and yelled into it.
“This is Babysitter One, this is Babysitter One! We are under attack. I repeat, we are under attack. Abandoning vehicle in Kensington High Street!”
He threw the mic away from him and jumped out. Bodie, on his feet again, wrenched open the back door and grabbed KT by his arms, hauling him out. The first gunman was back, lining up the strange gun once more, and Bodie twisted so that his body was sheltering KT’s.
“Well, this has gone a bit public all of a sudden,” muttered Doyle as he fired. The gunman ducked for cover, giving Bodie a chance to get KT away. He leapt for the traffic close to the kerb, where cars and taxis had, happily if over-heatedly, been loading and unloading moments before. A black cab stood there with its rear door open; Bodie dragged KT up to it and threw him in the back seat. He then ran round to the driver’s side, looking all the while for Doyle.
He couldn’t see him. Still raking the street with his eyes, he reached into the taxi and dragged the cabbie out by his shirt collar, dumping him unceremoniously on the road.
“I’m really sorry, mate,” shouted Bodie, “but you can see I’ve got a rush on. I’d get under cover if I were you.”
With that, he leapt into the driver’s seat and, with an enormous crashing of gears, powered the cab away from the kerb. Somewhere in the background the cabbie was effing and blinding, even more people were screaming, and Bodie hoped to God PC Plod and his mates weren’t going to turn up just then, because that would complicate matters so very much. He was already dreading what Cowley was going to say about them shooting up Kensington High Street. But where the hell was Doyle?
Then Bodie saw him. Doyle was on the ground, behind the cars on the other side of the road, grappling with the gunman. It looked like a worryingly even fight, one that Doyle was going to find difficult to break away from and get to the car; that was a complication. Moreover, though Bodie knew Doyle could cope with one opponent easily, the beige car’s driver had now got out, gun in hand, and was quickly joined by the driver of the Vauxhall, also armed. Bodie’s jaw clenched; on his own, Doyle was clearly outnumbered.
“Hold on, Professor!” he shouted and swung the cab in a tight arc, blessing its excellent turning circle and regretting none of the paint-work ripped away in the process of tearing past stationary cars. He powered the cab toward the newcomers, scattering them. Doyle dragged himself off the ground and made for the cab, only to fall again as his opponent grabbed his feet. Bodie leaned out with his gun, but the shot was too tight; there was too much in the way and he couldn’t be sure of not hitting Doyle if he fired. And in those few seconds of indecision, the two other men were back, and firing.
Bodie drove right for them again, registering only vaguely a side window of the cab being shattered by a bullet as he did so. Then he swerved, pressed down on the accelerator and the taxi smashed straight into the rear of the blue Vauxhall that had trapped them from the front. Bodie was gratified to see the back axle of the car shudder and collapse, while the plucky taxi seemed merely dented. He swung the cab round, meaning to go back for Doyle, but as he did so his opponents’ tactics changed. Clearly thinking Bodie about to drive off, the two men ran back to their remaining vehicle and leapt into it.
Doyle, still precious yards away and in amongst a labyrinth of stranded vehicles, dragged himself up from his personal battle to yell at Bodie.
“Go on! Go, you idiot, go!”
Then he disappeared again. Bodie knew Doyle meant business. If Bodie left now with KT, there was a chance of losing their pursuers and getting KT to safety at Alexandra Palace, where reinforcements were waiting. It made perfect sense, and he ruthlessly squashed the feeling that he was abandoning Doyle; if the other two men followed Bodie, then Doyle only had one attacker to deal with, albeit he’d been making something of a meal of it so far. And they both knew their first priority was to keep KT safe.
Feeling angry and wrong-footed, Bodie gritted his teeth, powered the car forward and swerved violently round the blocked traffic. The resulting noise and destruction of his passage matched his mood completely. Sod it; Cowley could take it out of his wages if he liked, but he was keeping the target safe. And Doyle would be all right, ‘course he would.
“You okay, Professor?” he yelled.
“Just dandy, thank you,” shouted KT in return, as he lurched from side to side. “But I’m not sure about her.”
Bodie twisted the mirror to look in the back. While KT tumbled around, a small, elderly lady sat primly in one corner of the back seat, holding tightly onto the door handle, and not moving an inch.
“I do hope,” she said imperiously when she caught Bodie’s glance, “that you will drop me on Piccadilly. I have a luncheon engagement.”
~ ~ ~
This was getting to be a grudge match, thought Doyle, as he brought the gunman down yet again. The man was well-trained, no doubt about that. Fought as dirty as they came, but Doyle knew a trick or two as well. His energy was in part fuelled by his anger at himself for getting hemmed in and stuck with this bloke. He hadn’t managed to get back to Bodie, and now his partner was off, on his own, with the target. At least he’d drawn the other blokes away, which meant Doyle only had to subdue this one; but that was easier said than done, and the whole process was getting very wearing. And just when he started to get the gratifying sense that his opponent was tiring, he suddenly found himself lifted up and away.
“Oi, what the ‘ell is this?” growled a deep voice in his ear. Two burly coppers had him by the arms. He struggled and kicked out in his frustration.
“Let me go, you pillocks! I’m CI5! That’s a dangerous criminal you’re …” - the man on the ground, now free of Doyle, leapt up and over some neighbouring cars – “… letting escape!” finished Doyle in fury. For crying out loud! The only silver lining to this cock-up had been to get hold of the gunman, which would have removed him from the picture and got him away from KT, not to mention given Cowley a chance to find out who had set this whole operation up, and why. But now even that had been hi-jacked by his erstwhile colleagues in blue. The bleedin’ Met just couldn’t stop ruining his life, could it?
From out of a group of Japanese tourists, who had been watching in wide-eyed consternation amongst the gaping crowd, a small figure launched itself at the two coppers.
“Let him go!” shouted Doyle’s rescuer - a young woman, dressed predominantly in pink. She hammered at the arms and heads of the two constables with her pink parasol, repeatedly shouting: “Let him go! He is a hero! He is a good guy!” The blows rained down thick and fast; Doyle could tell they were really hurting from the way the coppers’ remonstrations quickly turned into yelps of protest.
“Come on, love, leave it aht! We’re only doing our job!”
“Let … him …go! He… is … a … hero!” Each word was punctuated by a loud thwack. The rest of the crowd that had gathered for the spectacle shouted their approval; possibly not strictly because of Doyle’s innate heroism - it was, after all, always fun to see a lady hitting a policeman over the head with an umbrella.
It didn’t take much more of this before the coppers gave up, dropping Doyle’s arms in order to protect their own faces and setting Doyle free as a consequence. He threw the Japanese girl a quick grin of gratitude, getting a blindingly radiant smile in return, and leapt after the gunman, the words “he is a hero!” ringing in his ears. He was still grinning as he ran off. A hero, eh? One up on Bodie, there!
He caught sight of the gunman far down a side-street and set off in pursuit, running like a man possessed. There was no way to stop him other than to catch him. Doyle’s own gun had been long lost during the fight; he dreaded to think what Armoury would say about that. Across Kensington Square and Arundel Street to St Albans Grove, and then they were running down Gloucester Road, his feet thudding on the baking pavements and the sound of his heart pumping loud in his own ears.
Swerving through traffic and people, he knew he was gaining on the gunman. But even as he concentrated on his quarry, a part of his brain charted what Bodie would be doing – don’t go along Piccadilly, you prat, go straight up the Edgware Road, then Finchley and Muswell Hill, and then you’re there. But there could be more ambushes along the way, and things were always harder when you had a civilian to protect…
They hit the Cromwell Road, and the soaring towers of the Natural History Museum rose in front of them. The gunman faltered, then changed direction and headed up the steps of the Museum. Doyle’s heart fell. In amongst the Saturday crowds he’d be harder to spot, and more difficult to take down without endangering the general public. Drawing in painful breaths, he leapt for the steps as well, going up them three at a time, and burst into the Central Hall.
Such was his momentum, he found it hard to stop on the marble floor. He skidded wildly, hitting a raised plinth in front of him and somersaulting forwards to land on his back, right underneath a bloody great elephant. The elephant tottered and swayed, and there was a collective intake of breath from the crowd of people around the exhibit who had witnessed his entrance. Doyle, half his attention on the huge tusks pointing at his chest and half on the whereabouts of the gunman, rolled off the plinth and stood upright again, surrounded by startled visitors, to gaze confusedly around the Central Hall and its bony and long-dead exhibits. The crowd gaped at him, perhaps surprised that the Museum’s displays had suddenly become so lively. A couple of elderly, apprehensive security guards made tentative steps towards him, presumably feeling duty-bound to detain him for interfering with an exhibit, but he waved them away with his CI5 card, while his eyes scanned for Hartley.
A disturbance ahead of him, shocked voices and some shrieks from children, indicated that the gunman was pushing through the Hall and up the grand staircase. Doyle followed, flagging now, but with a determination that wavered only slightly when, having gained the gallery, he looked over the balcony to find that the gunman had already descended another stairway and was even then running out of the Central Hall far below, towards the open air. Doyle braked on the marble and skidded back the way he’d come, with mothers shrinking back to avoid his whirlwind passage and covering their children’s ears at his language. Tripping over the visiting public, he tore out of the main door and down the steps again.
And stopped dead; the gunman had disappeared. He could spot no one running through the streets, no one even roughly resembling the man, as far as the eye could see. Doyle groaned, pulling at his hair. He was deeply regretting his failed strategy, and the waste of time and effort when he could have been helping Bodie. He looked about for a cab that could take him onwards. At least he could now try to catch up with his partner, and give Bodie back-up.
The streets were full of traffic, but painfully bereft of black cabs. Running down the steps to the road below to get a better chance of hailing transport, he was brought up short by an obstruction. A group of people were standing in a circle at the foot of the steps. They appeared to be berating someone in their midst, and fists were being raised in threatening gestures. Whoever it was, they were pretty much trapped by the circle of hostile figures. Intrigued, despite his over-riding quest for transport, Doyle jogged closer while other passers-by, seeing the disturbance, kept well away. He heard one man comment to his wife as he passed.
“Look, it’s those punk people. Dreadful. No public decency.”
It was a group of about eight punks, one with a huge pink Mohican hair-cut but the rest with mainly short, spiky locks, and all dressed in standard studded jackets; some had bondage trousers, the girls were in short leather skirts. And they had the gunman surrounded; he crouched on the ground looking like a hunted animal. Doyle laughed out loud, causing one of the punks to turn and stare at him with quiet defiance. She was small and elfin, her lacy skirt was counterbalanced by huge boots, and her short hair was bright blue.
“What’re you looking at, mate?” she asked, without any trace of hostility.
Still grinning, Doyle gestured to the man in the middle.
“I’ve been trying to catch him. He’s a wanted man.”
“We’re all wanted men,” jeered the pink Mohican, earning himself a dig in the ribs from the girl at his side.
“No, we aren’t, Phil,” she hissed. “Don’t get all over-dramatic.”
“What sort of wanted man?” asked the blue-haired punk, gravely.
Doyle produced his CI5 card.
“Someone we think is involved in the deaths of a number of innocent people.”
“You the filth?” shouted the Pink Mohican.
“Shut up, Phil,” snapped his girlfriend, “You’re bein’ embarrassin’.”
“Yeah,” asked the blue-haired girl, “are you the filth, then?”
“CI5’s a bit different. But you’ve still apprehended a dangerous criminal. I’m really grateful. I’d like to take custody of him if you can hang on to him for a bit longer.”
“Sure,” said the blue-haired girl. “He hasn’t apologised yet, anyway.”
“Apologise for what?” asked Doyle, bemused.
“He ran down those steps and straight into us. Knocked Polly right off her feet. We were telling him off.”
Still grinning, Doyle ran into the road, where he finally spotted a passing bobby and dragged him back to the punks and their prey. With the help of the constable and three of the punks, the gunman was put into an embrace with a lamppost, using the bobby’s handcuffs. Doyle pulled the man’s gun out of his holster. It was square-looking and angular, with a strange barrel. With the gunman looking on, stony-faced, he gingerly checked the chamber – nothing. The ice pellet must restrict it to single-use, needing reloading from cold storage whenever a shot was fired; that was some comfort. Certainly it meant that the bloke hadn’t been able to shoot his way to freedom out of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which was something to salvage from the day, at least.
“Call CI5 and get them to come and collect,” Doyle instructed the constable. “Don’t leave him alone for one second, and don’t fiddle with this gun!”
With a few more jeers and badly aimed gobs of spit, the punks were moving off, honour satisfied and their fury abated. The blue-haired girl, though, was still at Doyle’s side, her face quizzical.
“What’re you going to do now, copper?” she asked, pleasantly enough.
“Find the fastest way to Alexandra Palace,” replied Doyle absently, looking round for a non-existent cab.
“Hang on,” said the girl, and disappeared. Doyle, still vainly waving for a cab, saw her again less than a minute later, astride a motorbike – a Harley Davidson, no less. She powered up to where he stood, and revved the throttle encouragingly.
“Right,” said Doyle, slightly thunderstruck and lost for words. “Yes, great. This will do nicely. Thanks very much.”
He went to take hold of the handlebars, but the punk gave a jerk of her head.
“Pillion, mate, or not at all.”
Doyle stared at her in admiration.
“This isn’t your bike, is it?” he asked, trying not to sound too much like a policeman.
“All property is theft,” replied the blue-haired girl. “Hop on, if you want to get there. I haven’t got all day.”
~ ~ ~
By the time they’d got to the far end of Hyde Park, two things had become abundantly clear to Bodie. One was that he and Doyle were in the middle of a major operation; as well as Corin Hartley there were at least two more men, possibly the same blokes as in Catford, who certainly also had security service training, as their tailing and ambush skills were exemplary. It was cause enough to worry that whoever was bankrolling it all might have even more men waiting on every street corner between there and Ally Pally.
The second thing was that, despite outward appearances, the plucky cab was more badly damaged by the crash than he’d first thought. He could see it was losing oil very quickly. The vehicle was unlikely to make the rest of the journey, so it was time for another mode of transport.
Which at least gave him a chance of dealing with his inadvertent passenger. Even now she was calling from the back.
“Young man! Young man! I need to be dropped at Fortnum’s. I’m quite happy if you want to stop just opposite.”
“You’re lucky I didn’t toss you out at Harrods, you old bat,” muttered Bodie under his breath, not entirely meaning it; in any case, he’d been far too intent on getting ahead of his pursuer to waste time opening a back door, and KT would probably have baulked at chucking the old dear out of a moving vehicle.
He swerved his way round Hyde Park Corner with scant regard for traffic-flow priority, and accelerated down the long hill towards Green Park. Or at least, he tried to accelerate; the taxi was starting to cough and red lights were blinking ominously on the dashboard. The Tube it would have to be, he decided, though it was hardly the perfect option.
Checking the rear-view mirror, he couldn’t spot the beige car that had been after them since Kensington; maybe Hyde Park Corner’s congestion had hemmed them in for a few welcome moments. Enough anyway for Bodie to swing the cab up into Berkeley Street, just next to Green Park underground station, and leave it by the kerb.
“Hop out, Professor,” he said to KT, who was looking steady but apprehensive in the back seat. “We’re on public transport from here.”
“This is not Fortnum’s!” brayed the old lady indignantly.
“It’s as close as I’m taking you, love,” replied Bodie, through gritted teeth.
Oh Gawd, he couldn’t leave her here. What if their pursers decided to shoot up the cab when they saw it?
“All right, grab hold of your handbag.”
With a squeak, the old lady found herself scooped up in Bodie’s arms and out of the cab.
“How dare you, young man! Put me down at once!”
“Just put a sock in it, love, please,” said Bodie in a pained voice, scanning the street. They really didn’t have time for this. Then, with sudden inspiration, he made for the building that stood at the corner with Piccadilly, KT at his heels. The ground floor was the Aeroflot office, all plate-glass and plastic chairs, with a lone model Ilyushin passenger jet sitting in the window.
He burst in, much to the surprise of the bored girls sitting behind their row of desks.
“This is my aunt,” he announced, depositing the old dear on a plastic seat next to a wilting aspidistra. “She’d like to go to Moscow. Or failing that, Fortnum and Mason’s.”
“You can’t leave me here!” announced the old lady. “They’re Bolsheviks!”
“They do a nice cup of tea, though,” winked Bodie, and then barrelled out of the door again, a one-man whirlwind, sweeping the bemused KT with him.
Being knights in shining armour, however unwillingly, had cost them dear. The beige car was in sight, and it accelerated sharply down the last stretch of road, clearly having seen the two of them. The man on the passenger side leant out of the window, gun in hand.
Bodie pulled out his own handgun.
“Get down into the Tube station, Professor!” he shouted. “Go! Go!” And, as KT turned to run across the street towards the station steps, Bodie blocked the gunman’s shot with his body and at the same time fired at the car, aiming for the offside tyre.
He heard a bullet whistle past him, but his own shot had hit its target. The tyre blew in an impressive shower of rubber and the car swerved violently; it careered across the carriageway and crashed violently into the iron railings that ran down the centre of the road. The impact was enough to propel the man with the gun out through the windscreen and onto the bonnet of the car, where the bloody state of his head gave Bodie grim satisfaction. The driver’s door burst open, and the other man stumbled out.
One down, one to go, thought Bodie. He turned and hared after KT.
Down, down an escalator, pushing past people, pushing KT forward, then down a second escalator, and then they were at the Victoria Line platforms. Bodie pulled KT to the northbound side, where a mass of people were patiently waiting. There was the stuffy hush of a crowded platform, with mumbled conversations and limited movement, and far away the rush and rumble of other trains on the network, at levels above and below.
Nothing was up on the indicator board. Bodie cursed under his breath. He could have done with a train waiting for them, to whisk them away from their remaining pursuer – Bodie had no doubts the third bloke was still on their tail. But this enforced wait for a train was cutting down their head-start.
Ignoring the complaints from other passengers, he kept pushing up towards the head of the platform, dragging KT with him. As they moved, so the crowd in their wake closed up again; it gave Bodie a comforting sense of having covered their tracks. Plus, being further way from the escalator in all the crush would make it more difficult for their opponent to find them.
The indicator board flashed up ‘Seven Sisters’, and there was a collective murmur of anticipation amongst the crowd. From far down the tunnel there came a muffled rumble which grew louder as the seconds ticked away; a cushion of cooler air, pushed ahead by the advancing train, burst onto the over-heated platform, providing much-welcomed refreshment for a second or two. Then, with a sudden crash and rattle and the squeal of brakes, the tube train was upon them.
Bodie pushed KT into the first carriage and forced a way through the other passengers to get to the door to the driver’s cab. The carriage was already full and those getting on at Green Park had made it fuller still, so Bodie’s determined passage won them no friends. The train lurched forward again, and Bodie craned his head to read the map that ran along above the window opposite.
Oxford Circus; Warren Street; Euston; King’s Cross St Pancras…..
He looked round warily as they made their first stop and passengers squeezed in and out at Oxford Circus. The doors rumbled closed again.
…. King’s Cross; Highbury and Islington, Finsbury Park….
So, only five more stations to go. Not long at all.
Bodie schooled his thoughts. What would he do if he were the other gunman? Well, for starters, he’d try to check each of the carriages along the train; get out at each station to check his prey wasn’t leaving, and then get on the next carriage up. And he’d have time, because Finsbury Park was the obvious destination. So, should Bodie take KT off the train to get another, and hence confuse their trail? Or would that simply lose them time and increase the risk?
He gave KT, who was swinging uncomfortably from an overhead strap, a reassuring smile, not feeling very sure himself. No, he concluded, stay on the train. They’d already reached Euston, and the crowd would lessen at King’s Cross.
If anything, more people were piling on at King’s Cross. Where the hell were all these people going? He and KT were crushed up against the driver’s door more firmly. Bodie, taller than many around him, had a good view down the rest of the carriage. And that was when he saw him, shouldering on with the crowd at King’s Cross; it was the bloke from the beige car. He pulled KT’s hand off the strap and stood in front of him, obscuring him from view. KT saw Bodie’s expression and paled.
“He’s on board?”
“Yep. We’ve only got two more stations, though.” Bodie gave him a tight smile.
Now, the journey from King’s Cross to Highbury seemed excruciatingly slow, and the man was using the time to push slowly through the carriage, scrutinising the passengers as he went. Forcing their way out at Highbury was not an option, Bodie realised, and he let the doors slide open and closed again at that station without making a move; he still had his fall-back, the driver’s cab.
The train started up again and rattled along the stretch to Finsbury Park. The gunman was by now uncomfortably close – certainly near enough to try again with the gun if he got a clear sight – but Bodie judged that the man would only want to do so when the train reached a station, so he could make his getaway.
Bodie started to manoeuvre himself so he could make his covert attack on the door lock but, at that moment, the train gave an untimely lurch and most of the standing passengers, himself included, lost their feet for a second or two. He righted himself and looked back. The crowd of heads behind him had parted with the sudden movement and Bodie saw their pursuer staring straight at him. The man smiled, a curiously pleasant smile, and started to move forward.
Bugger, bugger, bugger.
He spoke to KT out of the corner of his mouth.
“Get ready to move into the cab, when I give you the word.”
“How…?” began KT, and then he shut his mouth, suddenly seeing the other man for the first time.
The man moved closer; the train seem to crawl, grinding along at a snail’s pace. Bodie started counting seconds off under his breath, trying to guess speed and distance, and how close the next station might be. The man moved down the last row of seats, pushing between the people standing and ignoring their indignant looks. His hand was reaching into his jacket.
Bodie gave up counting, hoping that it was far enough. The train gave a little lurch and he reached up as if to take hold of a strap, and turned instead to lean over and grab hold of the emergency stop chain, red-painted in its little recess along the top of the window, pulling hard.
The effect of the emergency braking was impressive. The train screeched to a halt, the momentum throwing the crowded passengers around the carriage. The gunman, unprepared, lost his balance, and toppled over onto people on the seats.
“Gun!” shouted Bodie. “Gun!”
The man was using both hands to right himself, and in one his strange-looking gun was now clearly visible. The carriage erupted into a screaming, panicking mass of people, all trying to get away from him, knocking him off-balance again and obscuring his view of Bodie. Taking full advantage of the chaos, Bodie turned and brought the butt of this own handgun down onto the lock of the driver’s door, shattering it; the door swung open, and he pushed KT inside.
“What the bleedin’ hell?” shouted the driver.
“Get yer head down,” yelled Bodie, trying to shoulder the door closed. “KT, open the side door, get down on the track. Don’t step on the rails!!”
The driver pulled at his arm.
“Get out of my bleedin’ cab, you ‘ooligan!”
Bodie tried to brush him off but, in doing so, lost his grip on the door and it was rammed open again from the other side, the gunman squeezing his shoulder through and levelling his weapon at KT’s back as he wrestled with the outer door. Bodie smashed his handgun down on the gunman’s wrist; the strange gun fired, and the ice pellet shattered on the driver’s control panel.
“Don’t touch that stuff!” shouted Bodie to the aghast driver, still grappling with the gunman. He twisted to try to bring his own gun to bear, for a shot at close quarters, but the driver got in the way again, still not fully aware of the danger he was in and trying to push the two of them back into the carriage. In frustration, Bodie broke free; he dropped out of the outer door, landing on his feet, but with painful impact, on the ballast below, and found himself teetering on the side of the other track, with the electrified rail less than a foot away. He rocked there for a perilous moment, steadied, and then took a long stride to join KT, who had shrunk against the brick wall on the other side of the tunnel. Not far ahead, where the tunnel split into two, the lights of the Finsbury Park platforms were shining.
“Make for the lights,” shouted Bodie, and they started running, stumbling over the ballast. There was a crunch behind them as the other man jumped out of the train and onto the stones below. Bodie turned and fired down the tunnel at him, but the glow from the train’s windows didn’t provide much illumination. The other man was luckier as both KT and Bodie were silhouetted against the distant station lights, and now the man was firing a conventional handgun, Bodie noted bitterly. He also knew that in his light-coloured suit he was presenting an irresistible target. He urged KT onwards, but the professor was tiring and running awkwardly, and their progress wasn’t fast enough.
The man fired again, his bullet hitting the tunnel brickwork uncomfortably close to where they were, and Bodie decided it was time for a change of tack. He fired again to buy them a few seconds and then pulled KT to the tunnel wall where he could see a workmen’s recess deep in the shadow. He saw KT’s anxious face looking up at him from the gloom, but silenced him with a finger to the lips. Then he turned again and took some more steps, bent double and making as much noise over the stones as he could.
The man fired a volley into the darkness, and Bodie gave a theatrical grunt and dropped to kneel on the ballast, hugging the tunnel wall, and turning as he did so to face their pursuer. He still wasn’t sure enough of his target in the blackness beyond to risk a shot, especially when KT might be injured by any ricochet.
The man kept walking up the track, clearly proceeding with caution, until Bodie heard his muffled oath of surprise as he found KT’s hiding place. That was Bodie’s chance; he launched himself off the stones, cannoning into the other man and punching his gun-hand wide, to follow through with a heavy blow to the man’s gut. The gunman staggered backward, giving Bodie the chance for a shot at him, but before he could pull the trigger the man, still toppling, tripped on the outer rail on the track and, with a startled cry, fell backwards to land on the electrified rail.
There was a bang, and a shower of sparks, and the man twitched vigorously for several seconds, then lay still. The lights in the train went off; apart from the dim glow of the station lights far ahead, the tunnel was now in complete darkness. Shouts and screams of terrified, and now stranded, passengers broke through the sudden silence. Bodie stared for a moment, thunder-struck, thinking: ‘Doyle’ll never believe this!’; then he turned and ushered KT along the track, until they could climb up onto one of the platforms.
~ ~ ~
Their exploits had brought Finsbury Park Underground Station to a standstill. What with a shorting of the electrical current which had brought the whole Victoria line to a halt, a fatality, and a stranded train near the station itself, staff were stopping anyone at all going down the escalators. The two of them got some funny looks as they emerged into the crowded ticket hall, rather oily and the worse for wear, but Bodie’s fancy footwork got them away from awkward questions and into the fresh air outside, where they both gasped for a moment, still looking around worriedly. Then Bodie grabbed KT’s sleeve and they made for the overground station, racing through the unmanned barriers in the completely empty ticket hall – another benefit of single-handedly bringing the Tube system to a halt, thought Bodie, with some pride.
A suburban train stood at the platform, heading north. Bodie pushed the panting KT on board and slammed the door. Within moments, the train shuddered and started to draw out of the station. They both heaved sighs of relief, and then started chuckling at each other.
“Welcome to London,” said Bodie with a grin. Then ruefuly: “I can’t even let people know we’re on our way. My RT’s in our car in Kensington. I’m going to get a bollocking about that, and no mistake.”
“And I thought Detroit was scary,” replied a smiling KT. Then his face sobered. “But what about your colleague? Will he be okay?”
“He’s a resourceful bloke. He’ll be all right,” replied Bodie, mentally crossing fingers as he said the words. He knew he wasn’t going to relax until he saw Doyle again, hale and hearty. His partner was an excellent street fighter, but Bodie didn’t like the way this operation had a way of expanding, seemingly exponentially. First there was one gunman, then there were three. He thought the blokes in Kensington were the same as those in Catford, but he couldn’t swear on it. An awful lot of resources were being put into this.
“Have you guys worked together long?”
“A year and a bit. He’s ex-police. I’m ex-military.”
“I guessed,” said KT with a smile. “I spend much of my working life with the military, and you can always tell a soldier by their bearing. Plus, my brother’s eldest son was a soldier, a fine one, too.”
“He’s on civvie street now?”
KT shook his head slightly.
“Killed in Vietnam, along with two of my cousins’ kids. You were Special Operations?”
Bodie shrugged politely.
“Yes, of course. Dumb of me to ask. Well, I am most grateful to you both. Clearly you and Mr Doyle have saved my life on countless occasions today.”
Bodie held up his hand.
“I haven’t got you there yet, Professor. Keep the thanks until it’s all over and you can buy me a drink. A cold beer would be nice. I’ve been longing for one for days now.”
“It’s a deal,” said KT.
The train lurched along, with high embankments on either side of the broad track-bed. The whole journey would take less than ten minutes, so in about five more they would be running again. But at that very point in time, everything seemed to stand still, just the two of them in an empty railway carriage, counting their blessings for this safe passage, however short.
“So, what I can’t work out, Professor,” said Bodie heavily, after a moment’s silence, “is why people are after you. Because there’s some serious time and money being put into this.”
KT stared out of the window for a moment, then turned back to Bodie with a rueful smile.
“I haven’t been entirely forthright with you. There is an issue which makes me unpopular with some people at home. I was naïve, I suppose, not to think that there might be some ulterior motive behind the invitation to chair this conference, and that in fact it was a way of getting rid of me behind a smokescreen of terrorism connected to Entebbe. But truly, I never thought they would go to these lengths.”
“Who’s ‘they’?” asked Bodie.
“Much of my recent work has been in the economics of military spending - its effects on the domestic economy, on foreign policy, on the future plans administrations need to have, and how they pay for them. That kind of thing. But as part of my research I’ve become increasingly aware of problems with tendering and contracting in the defence industries. Big over-spends, covered up in dubious, not to say fraudulent, accounting. I had already made my disquiet known and have been compiling a dossier that I intended to bring to the Secretary of State for Defence next week – well, of course, that’s been shanghai’d by this conference. But very shortly, anyway. I know the defence industries and their close contacts within the military and security services have their own concerns about that, for a number of reasons. Frankly, I’m appalled at the level of kick-backs that seem to occur. Not with all personnel, of course - far from it – but a prominent few.”
KT leaned over towards Bodie with an intense expression.
“And quite apart from the goddamn waste of public money, this fraud so frequently leads to soldiers and other military personnel being sent into the field with sub-standard equipment. There have been deaths on training exercises, for instance. And I told you about my nephew; I’m not convinced that the deaths of his platoon in ‘Nam weren’t occasioned by faulty equipment, supplied at exorbitant cost by the contractors. So you can see, this is something of a personal crusade for me, and I’m determined to stamp out these rotten practices. But it seems…” he tailed off.
“…that there’s too much money in it for people to let go easily?” suggested Bodie.
“You’re right there, Mr Bodie,” replied KT, wryly. “And yet, I feel I need to keep going.”
Bodie thought for a moment, registering that the train was slowing and Alexandra Palace station was getting nearer.
“Speaking as a soldier, Professor, please keep right on going. The ordinary squaddie needs someone to fight his corner. But play a long game, eh? Get some help; you can’t go at this alone. See where it’s landed you now? They think you’re one voice, and all they have to do is silence that voice. You need back-up.” He smiled to himself at a sudden thought. “Yeah, we all need back-up in life.”
“Wise words, Mr Bodie. I shall pay heed to them. And I shall see it through, however long it takes.”
The train juddered to a halt; Bodie had already unlatched the door.
“All right? Now, let’s run for it.”
~ ~ ~
They seemed to be climbing all the time; first the footbridge, then the steep path through the woodland, and then the park’s long grassy slope where the roadway wound up the hill. Bodie took them from tree to tree, from bush to bush, maximising cover where he could. They panted over the grass, their goal of Alexandra Palace towering over them in all its Victorian splendour.
As they grew nearer, Bodie saw to his surprise that everywhere was covered in flags and other bunting. He could even hear music – it sounded like a jazz-band playing. A bit much for a conference, surely? Especially one that was supposed to be incognito. KT had the same thought.
“Seems like they’ve realised how much you want your beer, Mr Bodie.”
A huge banner was slung across part of the Palace façade; it read ‘Ally Pally Annual Bierfest’. Bodie felt a little spurt of slightly hysterical laughter. No wonder there had been so many people on the Tube; had the FCO actually checked if there were any other events going on when they chose the venue for this highly secret get-together?
Breaking into his thoughts came the roar of a powerful motorbike. He looked back down the hill and the snaking roadway to see a girl on a Harley expertly swinging the bike up through the curves. As pillion passenger, face set grim, was one Ray Doyle. My back-up, thought Bodie, grinning.
“Oi! Doyle! Over here! Oi!”
His voice probably didn’t carry much over the roar of the engine, but Doyle’s keen eyes caught sight of him waving from the bushes. Bodie saw him lean forward and speak to the girl, and the motorbike immediately changed direction and headed over the close-mown grass towards them. Bodie stepped forward, leaving KT still hidden. Only when they were in the shelter of the shrubbery did Doyle allow himself a smile.
“Walked here, did you?”
“Ha bloomin’ ha. How the hell did you manage this, you jammy devil?” replied Bodie, pointing at the bike.
“What can I say?” beamed his partner. “Girls have been throwing themselves at me all day.”
The blue-haired girl smacked him on the arm.
“Don’t you wish, mate. And a bloody awful back-seat driver, you are.”
“You have my sympathy, love. You can come out now, Professor.”
“I’m very pleased to see you unharmed, Mr Doyle,” said KT, emerging from beneath some branches. “Good morning, young lady. Or is it afternoon? I’ve lost track.”
The blue-haired girl inclined her head graciously. Doyle got off the back of the bike.
“Bodie, anyone after you right now?”
“We got rid of the two from the car,” replied Bodie. “You?”
“Just the one,” said Doyle, then in an undertone: “Show-off.” Bodie smirked at him.
“Okay,” Doyle continued, “that’s good news, but we still better be careful. I’ve no gun, Bodie, so you’ll have to cover us all. Professor, can you get on the bike, please?” KT swung onto the saddle, and Doyle tapped the girl’s head.
“All right, Blue-bonce, nice and slow on the way up, so we can keep pace, okay?” The blue-haired girl gave him a disdainful look, and the whole entourage moved off up the last hundred yards or so of grass to the top of the hill; Bodie and Doyle were flanking KT on either side, keeping a sharp look-out and the girl revved the bike constantly to keep it at jogging pace.
As they drew closer, and further up the hill, they could see the extent of the beer festival - there were long tables with white awnings all along the gravel in front of the Palace façade, and large numbers of people were milling about. But they could also spot the Special Branch snipers stationed on the roof of the Palace, and the group of police cars to one side of the Palace’s forecourt; Cowley’s Rover and other CI5 cars were also visible.
They had no way of announcing their arrival other than to drive right up into the midst of it all. On Doyle’s instruction, the bike took a long sweep so that they still had some cover behind trees until the last moment. By the time the trees ran out, however, there was nothing for it but to make a dash for the police presence.
As it happened, Cowley saw them almost immediately they breasted the top of the hill. His arms flew in all directions, giving orders and, in moments, Bodie, Doyle and their charges were surrounded, with the Special Branch snipers on the roof now looking far more animated, focusing on protecting the new arrivals. KT was lifted off the bike with care and walked to a waiting ambulance to be checked over. He gave a backward wave of thanks.
“I haven’t forgotten that beer, Mr Bodie!” he called.
“Neither have I, Professor,” returned Bodie, with a grin.
“Your report, Bodie?” asked Cowley sharply, his eyes still worried.
“Yeah, well, we got ambushed in Kensington by two cars, as you know,” replied Bodie, sobering instantly. “Three blokes, all neutralised. Haven’t seen anyone else, but can’t be certain there aren’t more. An awful lot of time and money’s gone into this, sir.”
“I agree,” mused Cowley. “Well, we may find out more when we interrogate the operative that Doyle managed to subdue, though if he’s security-service we may not get far. Should I assume the two others are less likely to be able to answer questions, 3-7?”
“Umm… desperate circumstances and all that, sir.”
Cowley threw him a pained look.
“Just for once, Bodie, keeping them alive for questioning… ach, never mind. Special Branch have taken over now, so you and Doyle can stand down. And you can have the next two days off.”
And with that he turned and strode away towards the Special Branch team, leaving Bodie grinning at his departing back. He was still grinning when he turned back to Doyle, who was giving the blue-haired girl a bone-crushing hug. Released at last, she coloured a little and whacked his arm to hide her smile.
“Enough of all that, copper,” she said, and then with a little wave she wandered off, leaving the Harley where it lay on the grass. Doyle watched her go with a fond and bemused smile.
“You all right, Ray?” asked Bodie, keeping his voice light.
“A few scratches,” replied Doyle, turning to eye him up and down narrowly, looking for injuries. “You?”
“Pretty bloody awful, seeing as I’ve had to resort to public transport to get here. Unlike some.”
“You’re a bit oily, I see.”
Bodie looked down at his trousers which were, admittedly, rather smeared with engine oil from the underground track.
“Dry-cleaners will get that out,” he replied resolutely. He really liked that suit.
“Bad journey, was it?”
“Oh, you know what it’s like on a Saturday. Millions of tourists, as usual, travelling with their deadly weapons. Our man got a bit of shock, though, as you might say, which sort of blew the Tube’s fuse-box. We’d better go home by bus.”
He grinned proudly, and Doyle whistled.
“Really? Bloody hell. No, all I got was a run-in with an elephant.”
“An elephant? In Kensington?”
“It’s been there a while, I believe. You left your RT in the car, didn’t you?”
“So did you. And you lost your gun.”
“Ah, ummm, yeah. Another black mark for me.”
“You’d better not make a habit of it. Oh, and I got a bonus old lady!”
“You get extra points for that, do you? Does that trump my elephant?”
They stopped on the grass, facing each other, knowing and relaxed grins on their faces. There was a wonderful feeling of relief that someone else had responsibility now, and they could step down for the first time in days and relax. And there was an equally satisfying feeling, though not outwardly acknowledged, that the two of them were safe; they had both got through it all, relatively unscathed, and ready to fight another day.
“I think it does, so I think you owe me that beer. Finally,” crowed Bodie. Doyle’s grin broadened.
“Well, as you’ve been slumming it on the Tube today, I think that’s the least I can do.” He dodged an affectionate cuff from his partner as they walked up towards the long tables where the beer festival continued in full swing, the attendees apparently unaware of the high security operation in progress all around them. To their right, KT had finished being checked over and Cowley was leading him away to his own car. No doubt another venue had been chosen, thought Bodie. He hoped KT would emerge from this all right; he had warmed to the man and his crusade.
“Nice bloke, that professor. He’s doing important work, and I think that’s why he’s being targeted. But by God he’s got resourceful enemies. No wonder they could roll out the funny stuff to try to take him out before he could make his research public.”
“And they must have been desperate, to come out in the open,” mused Doyle. He smiled at Bodie. “You can tell me more over that beer. I could really do with one, and all.”
“Plus,” said Bodie expansively as they walked up to the long tables, “you need to tell me about that fight you were having. I could give you some advice, you know. It took you one hell of a time to subdue Corin Hartley.”
“Oh, that wasn’t Corin Hartley…” began Doyle, and they both froze, staring at each other.
“The ones after you?” asked Doyle.
“Not Corin Hartley,” confirmed Bodie, his face grim.
Without needing to confer, they both started running, but in different directions; Bodie towards the crowd, Doyle towards Cowley to warn him, shouting to get his attention.
“Sir!” shouted Doyle. “Watch out!”
Cowley turned, standing now on the gravel in front of the Palace as he led KT to his car. He looked back in surprise at Doyle.
“We’ve got one unaccounted for,” shouted Doyle as he rushed up. “Corin Hartley’s still at large!”
Cowley pulled his own gun, while shielding KT with his own body.
“Here, Doyle! Give us cover.”
“I don’t have a gun, sir!”
Cowley frowned and threw his own handgun.
“Get us to the car, Doyle!”
Bodie by now had reached the long white tables, with their vats of ice and beer bottles, and lines of cask ales, where anonymous people served and imbibed. The whole area was a confusing mix of people ambling about, people sitting at tiny tables with parasols, and queues and queues of punters, several rows deep, lined up trying to buy their drinks. Flags and signs flopped from poles in the non-existent breeze and the jazz band was enthusiastically thumping out ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. Trying to spot Hartley in this hubbub was a nightmare.
He pushed his way through the ranks of people waiting at the bar, his eyes ranging everywhere; he had a growing feeling that something was about to kick off. His gun was drawn, but he held it down and out of sight, to avoid attention and panic. And it was there, jammed in amongst a mass of loud-voiced and slightly inebriated party-goers, that Bodie saw him; Corin Hartley, in a waiter’s coat, and drawing a conventional handgun from the inner pocket. Hartley pushed some glasses off the table in front of him and jumped up to where he could get a clear shot of the group of men on the gravel, making their way to Cowley’s car
Bodie yelled his name - just a yell to distract the man – and briefly it worked. Hartley jerked his head to one side, and spotted Bodie in the crowd. Turning away, he started running along the table. Bodie shouldered his way forwards, gun now up and visible, trying to find a line of sight. But much of the crowd had by now noticed not one, but two, men with guns, and suddenly the mêlée around the tables was a hundred times more confused and crushed than it had been before.
Bodie couldn’t get the space for a decent shot and, even if he could, he knew it would be risky to fire amongst the milling crowd. And it seemed the Special Branch snipers were taking a tea-break, or else they had their own concerns about hitting the crowd, because he wasn’t getting any help from them; he knew he’d have to take a chance. He jumped up on the table as well, and took a shot.
Stoppage! Sod it, sod it, sod it!
And Hartley, it seemed, was a consummate professional in his trade; he wasn’t leaving without his kill. He halted suddenly on the table-top, and turned again to line up on where KT was being hurried along the gravel. Bodie, still trying to clear the stoppage, let forth a bellow.
“Doyle! Over here!”
Doyle had his back to the Professor and Cowley to shield them, his gun braced and ranging from side to side as he looked for a threat. But his view was being obscured by all the flapping awnings and bunting; clearly he hadn’t spotted Hartley, and the noise of the band drowned out Bodie’s yell. So Bodie didn’t wait any longer.
Three more long strides, and he launched himself over the bottles and glasses and pitchers, colliding with Hartley just as the man was pulling the trigger. The bullet went skywards, while Bodie continued on his own trajectory over the length of the table, taking Hartley with him. The two men crashed over the side into the vats of ice-water and bottles that stood on the grass below. Their feet, trapped in the tablecloth, pulled the brimming of jugs of foaming beer, together with plenty of glassware, on top of them.
Drenched from head to toe, Bodie rose from the ice-water vats like a monster from the deep, hauled Hartley up by the collar, and laid him out cold with a powerful right to the man’s jaw. Dropping the limp body into the ice-water again, he dragged himself upright, and finally had a chance to assess his personal situation; he gazed down at his suit in dismay.
“Oh, bloody hell! This is the last straw!”
Special Branch were around him in seconds, taking care of Hartley. Bodie waded out from the mess of glass and mud around him and stood dripping on the grass. Doyle came running up.
“Good one, mate. And KT’s okay…” Then he burst out laughing.
“I fail to see what’s funny,” snapped Bodie, attempting to wring out a sleeve. “Do you know how much this cost me in Cecil Gee? It’s ruined, it is.”
Doyle was bent double, wheezing with the strain of laughter.
“It’s just… it’s just… Well, you did say you wanted a beer!”
“You bastard, Ray Doyle. There’s only one response to that, you know.”
Doyle looked up, and then started running.
~ ~ ~
The Rover moved smoothly off, KT nicely ensconced with Cowley in the back seat. A wee dram had been offered, purely for medicinal purposes, and was gratefully accepted, despite the heat.
“Once again, I have to say how grateful I am, Major Cowley. Your guys have been marvellous. I hope I’ll get a chance to thank them properly.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged,” replied Cowley. “And in the meantime, you are adamant about continuing with this rather bogus conference?”
“Yes, I am. I know a few of the people in the group and I’m sure it would be helpful for us to at least exchange ideas. This Entebbe situation could last for weeks, and we might be able to suggest something of assistance. Will Professor Clarke be joining us?”
“I believe he is sending a substitute,” replied Cowley smoothly. “And what of your other work? The way your attackers were prepared to turn a covert hit into an open one speaks of their desperation, and that leads to mistakes. They are by no means all-powerful. An hour or so ago I finally managed to speak to my own contacts in the Pentagon, who were very enlightening about the subject of your admirable work. And they were very supportive, you know. It was they who confirmed my suspicions about your being the target, and the likely reason. There are good people there, if you can find and recruit them.”
“Yes, Major, I’m sure there are. And what I’m now convinced about is the importance of back-up. That was brought home to me today, very forcefully. I shan’t go it alone in future.”
Cowley nodded in approval.
“The new venue isn’t far away…” he began, when the car braked suddenly. Two men ran at full tilt across the road; the leading one was laughing uproariously; the other, his wet clothes flapping around him, followed close behind, bellowing imprecations and brandishing an open can of Harp lager.
“Hey, wasn’t that…?” KT twisted in his seat to see better.
“No, it wasn’t,” said Cowley sharply as the car moved off again. “None of my men would behave like that in public, I can assure you. Not if they valued their lives,” he added, in an undertone.
The Rover sped away. On the grass, two men lay side by side, both covered in beer, and both helpless with laughter. A girl with blue hair and big boots was executing graceful cartwheels down the smooth slope of the hill in contented solitude. And the world was safe again, for a moment or two.
1976 was the year of the Great Drought in Britain, when very hot weather in the summer exacerbated the effects of low rainfall in the preceding 12 months. There was widespread water rationing, and some places were forced to use standpipes. On top of this lack of rain, temperatures soared in the summer of 1976 (by British standards, at least!). For 15 consecutive days from 23 June to 7 July temperatures reached 32.2 °C (90 °F) somewhere in England. The hottest day of all was 3 July, with temperatures reaching 35.9 °C (96.6 °F) in Cheltenham, one of the hottest July days on record in the UK. The hot weather continued until the end of August that year, when heavy thunderstorms broke the drought.
Note that Britons in the 1970s used ‘Fahrenheit’ rather than ‘Celsius’ to describe temperature.
“Ice Cold in Alex” is a 1958 film starring John Mills, Harry Andrews, Sylvia Sims and Anthony Quayle, and is set in the Western Desert in the Second World War, after the fall of Tobruk. The story involves a mismatched group of people trying to get to safety in Alexandria, a British stronghold. Their adventures are as much about getting their battered ambulance across the harsh desert terrain, and the tensions within the little group, as the risk of being found by German forces. Mills’ character promises himself an ice-cold beer as soon as he gets to “Alex”, hence the title of the film. The ambulance, an Austin K2/Y, is nicknamed “Katy”, which allows me to shoehorn in another name parallel!
As for the Heart Attack Gun described: well, The Conspiracy Wiki says it’s …
“… a weapon that was revealed in 1975 at a hearing of a committee lead by Frank Church. At the hearing Church showed off the CIA's heart attack gun. The gun is electrically powered by a battery and fires a bullet of frozen water mixed with shellfish toxin. Once fired the bullet enters the target and melts without a trace except for a small red mark on the victim from where the bullet entered. The cause of death of the victims is said to be heart attacks and the gun is used by the CIA to commit assassinations that can't be traced back to them. Many believe that the CIA is still using this gun today.”
The theory seems to be that although the toxin might get picked up in a post-mortem examination, in most deaths once it’s known it’s a heart attack, those checks don’t usually get carried out.
I’ve changed a few details here, including the poison used, because hey, this can’t be true, right?
The Entebbe hostage crisis (which is only peripheral to this story) began on 27th June 1976 when Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine working with two members of the German group, Revolutionary Cells, and eventually ended up in Entebbe, Uganda. After days of aborted negotiation, the plane was finally stormed by members of the Israeli Defence Force. The hijackers were killed, as were three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers. The only Israeli soldier to be killed was the raid commander Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of the current Israeli premier. The aftermath involved a lot of political arguments, with many countries condemning what they saw as Israel’s violation of Ugandan sovereignty in carrying out the raid, and also appalling bloodshed, when President Idi Amin, who had supported the hijackers, ordered reprisals against Kenyans living in Uganda in revenge for Kenya’s assistance to Israel in mounting the raid.
An ‘under-the-radar’ conference in London to discuss the Entebbe crisis is entirely a figment of my imagination. Similarly, scandals involving US defence contractors were in real life some years away from becoming public knowledge, but I have imagined here that the seeds of those scandals were being sown quite early on.
And whatever the good (or otherwise) intentions of the organisers and participants of this imagined Alexandra Palace conference, it would have been to no avail, anyway. The airliner was stormed on 4th July, 1976, only one day after Bodie’s suit was ruined….
Other little nerdy points….
Alexandra Palace is a Victorian-built ‘People’s Palace’ with a long, varied and important history. Do look at this wiki page:
which summarises everything that’s happened there. At the end there a photo which nicely represents the grassy slope on which Bodie and Doyle are cavorting in the final scene of the fic!
There were beer festivals at Alexandra Palace for a number of years, but the first one was 1977, so I am stretching a point here. In any case, the actual festivals were organised by CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale ), so I doubt they would have had a can of Harp lager available!
“Snap, Crackle and Pop”, refers to Rice Krispies, the box of which used to (probably still does) refer proudly to the fact that the product contains niacin, thiamin and riboflavin – all good stuff, but my brain, like Doyle’s, easily conflates the words with nastier substances!
And finally, as a little bit of (unnecessary) Pros nerdism, Cecil Gee was a long-established menswear firm which merged with Moss Bros in the 1980s, though all but one shop was sold off to JD Sports in 2011. In the 70s it was a high street stalwart. Actress Prunella Gee (of “It’s Only a Beautiful Picture”) is a denizen of that house.